The Gospel According to Earth – Chapter Eleven

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“Anchors aweigh, my boys, anchors aweigh!”

“I swear,” Lang shouted down below decks, “if I hear that damn tune again I am turning this boat around and taking us back to Copernicus.”

Two new voices joined in the chorus. “Faaaaarewell to college joys, we sail at break of da-a-a-ay!”

Lang snorted and sat back down in the pilot’s chair on the yacht’s bridge. Most of the controls had been removed, leaving wires and boards and wires and capacitors and wires and semiconductors and wires all over the place. A couple of enlisted technicians were working on sorting out and replacing the relevant components under the direction of 2nd Lieutenant Fresh Face. Lang was trying to figure out the pilot’s controls with the assistance of his AI.

“You know, you’re just encouraging them,” Fresh said, looking up from his own AI display with a bemused expression.

“Yes. Sir,” he added just in time. “I’m aware of the futility of expressing annoyance.”

“Then why do it?”

“It makes me feel better. Also I’m pretty sure these Toroidal Mark 4 AIs see a performance boost when you’re annoyed. 3-4% better return on your subconscious brain cycles.” The Princess 48 yacht model they’d chosen for the expedition was either very old or a retro model because it still had actual physical controls like a sliding throttle, a steering wheel and numerous dials and switches for various functions. Stone age stuff. It was soothing to run your hands over while talking to annoying officers. “Try closing the sonar circuits again.”

“We’re still getting that error message,” Fresh said after a brief pause. “I suspect the annoyance preference has more to do with the end user’s preferences than anything in the software architecture of the AI.”

“If I prefer it, does it count as annoyance?” Lang toggled through several menus as he tried to figure out the yacht’s software. “Wait, I think I found the maintenance logs. What’s the error code?”

“76-01:20.” Fresh looked over the shoulder of his other tech. “On the starboard side. Port side is 76-01:10, so my guess is they’re on separate command circuits. And yeah, I’ve known plenty of people who enjoyed being annoyed and spent a lot of time around people that just pissed them off for the fun of being pissed at them.”

“The logs say that’s a software fault. The operating system wants to run an update to check for new drivers because it’s sixty years since the last update was run.” Lang rubbed his hands over his face then left his chin on his palms as he stared out the bridge window. “We’re gonna have to codebreak that and get past it somehow. I’ll add it to the Captain’s list of programming tasks.”

The Lieutenant leaned down to one of his techs and said, “Try the same override code that we used when the reactor wanted to update.”

A couple of seconds later Lang’s screen refreshed and the maintenance logs cleared the error codes. “Ooookay, let’s move on. The checklist says we need to do a test run on the engines. Do we have any updates on whether the screws are clear yet?”

“Harrigan, check on that, will you?” One of the techs acknowledged and clambered down the steps to the main deck. Fresh stood up and stretched, eyeing the rats nest of wires. “Do you think they wove this whole boat out of cables?”

“Too watertight for that,” Lang muttered, looking over the boat’s navigation system again.

“True.” The Lieutenant sat down in the copilot’s chair and watched Lang pick at the controls for a minute. “Have you discussed possible approaches to the power plant with the Captain yet?”

“Didn’t know she wanted to talk them over with me.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

Lang swallowed a sigh and set the yacht’s computer back to it’s idle mode before giving Fresh his full attention. “Why do you think Captain Tsukihara would want to discuss our course to the power plant with me? I’m not an expert on ground warfare, seafaring or the infantry in general.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been here before.”

“Not within five hundred kilometers of this place.”

He nodded, unphased by Lang’s dry and uninterested responses. “That’s fair. But you did capture a member of UNIGOV’s Directorate so that means you’re the only Copernican spacer to outfight an Earth commander in the war so far. Like it or not that makes you the expert on their approach to… well, everything.”

“Wait. Sir, I’m not a psychologist, I hope people are taking that into account when they come to me for my opinions on Earthlings. This isn’t something I’m uniquely qualified for.”

“I’m not sure about that, Sergeant. You beat them once on their home turf and pulled some crazy stunts out on Mars from what I’ve heard.” The Lieutenant grinned, full of naivety and excitement. “Just think what we can do now that we’ve got a full company of people on the ground now.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “We could sink a whole boat full of people!”

“It’s okay,” Fresh said. “The Major and the Captain are both experts on historical warfare and the Major keeps a ton of texts on the subject in his AI most of the time. If UNIGOV was still fighting with the tech level we see now we’d be in trouble. But they don’t fight at all so we still have the leg up on ’em.”

“If you say so, Lieutenant.”

“I do.”

“Sir!” The second tech returned and saluted his officer. “Captain says we’re ready to reconnect the generators and the main turbine. She wants you down in the engine room, pronto.”

“On my way.” He set his readout aside and carefully got up, picking his way around the wires. “Good luck with those controls, Sergeant! We’ll be ready to take it to the Earthlings in no time.”

Lang watched him leave and blew out a breath. “Whew. Was I ever that young?”

“Certainly you were before the war, Sergeant Langley.”

He jumped a little, then rose all the way out of his chair. “Captain Tsukihara.”

“At ease, Sergeant.” The captain picked her way onto the bridge from the other side of the boat, the combined challenges of the rocking deck and rampant wires forcing her to move very deliberately. “What do you make of the good ship Armstrong, Langley?”

“Didn’t realize that was it’s name, ma’am,” he said, relaxing just a bit.

“Corporal Hu decided Tangerine Mist was a terrible name for a warship so we rechristened it in honor of your lost destroyer,” she replied, crouching down by the Lieutenant’s readout long enough to disconnect it and set it up on the control panel. Then she stood up and started carefully picking apart the nest of wires. Like Priss, Captain Yiyun Tsukihara was of Han stock and stood a little over five foot tall, with dark hair and a rounder face. Unlike Priss she was starting to go gray. Her right hand showed the warts and scars of constant use and, based on her left hand’s comparatively pristine skin, Lang guessed Yang had lost at least one limb during her career in the Spacer Corps that was later cloned back into place. “But you didn’t answer my question. What do you think of her?”

Lang shook himself and forced his mind back to the present moment. “I don’t know enough to make an educated judgement.”

“Bullshit.” She stopped what she was doing long enough to give him a disbelieving glare. “I’ve met enough flyboys to know you have an opinion on anything with joystick, all the way down to and including your own torso. I want to know if you think we’re wasting time on refurbing this boat or not.”

“It’s sturdy, it should be fast if the turbines ever run again and it’s got a sensor profile that will keep it low to the horizon,” Lang said as he sat down and worked the computer panel. “The major systems are computerized and I’m working on linking them to my AI. Just steering the thing will be pretty easy, it looks like the steering is intended to be idiot proof, but navigating is another thing entirely. It is linked into some kind of global navigation system that needs orbital satellites or a network uplink to function. So it’s useless on two fronts.”

“We can’t use it without giving ourselves away,” Tsukihara mused. “What’s the other way it’s useless?”

“Pretty sure any satellites it ran off of are gone now and I’m not in a hurry to try and tie this thing’s computer into the FleetNav. I’m 99% sure UNIGOV wouldn’t have left behind viruses or backdoors in their nav computers but I’d rather not run the risk.” He pulled up the boat’s map catalogs. “However we can just follow the coastline in this case. We just need to keep an eye out for a few landmarks and we should be able to make our landing just fine.”

“How do you feel about your team?”

“My team, ma’am?”

Tsukihara stopped sorting wires and gave him another look. Then, realizing he was serious, she set the wires aside, stepped up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “I forgot you just got your third stripe and from a field promotion at that. Sergeant, we’re going to have twenty people on this boat and I need to keep Lieutenant Bailey with me, not just to keep an eye on the engines but to help me set up and command the deck guns. That’s the entire boat out of officers, which means you’re going to have to put together the your own bridge staff to handle keeping lines of communications open and do whatever else you think needs done up here.”

“I… you want me to put together a team? Ma’am, I don’t have the best record of leading teams.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. You managed to make one out of three Spacers and two Earthlings effectively enough. Not everything worked out the way we might have preferred but…” Tsukihara summarized the team’s capture and Dex’s death with a casual shrug. “You’re still better at it than you think you are. I know you’ve never really been trained to consider command situations but we’ll see where you feel you’re at and go from there. How many people do you think you’ll need, in total?”

“To run the bridge?”

“Yes.”

“Two. Maybe three, if there’s a communications blackout and we wind up having to run messages.” Lang shrugged. “Although I don’t see much chance of that given current situations.”

“Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.” Yang fiddled with her belt absently, her fingers counting up and down as she worked on the arcane mathematics of command. “Is three how many you expect to need in combat or just those to handle normal functions of the post?”

“More the latter,” Lang admitted. “In a full blown combat situation I’d expect to need a fourth if things go bad.”

“Did you have anyone in mind?”

“I…” Lang frantically ran through potential candidates in his mind. “I’m afraid I don’t at this moment.”

“Well, take a few hours today to work out what competencies you’d need on the bridge then interview people until you can fill those roles with three people. We’ll assign you a fourth as a runner and damage control member for combat situations.” The Captain started bundling the wires together again. “Command is mostly about assigning people you trust to handle specific tasks, Sergeant, and most NCOs get to where they are because they’re good at reading and assigning people not because they’re smart or courageous. Besides, the odds of combat on this mission are low, so don’t make a life and death decision out of this. Go with your gut. We can always shuffle assignments on further outings if it proves necessary, understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” She finished with the string of wires she was holding and set them aside. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Sergeant Langley. Get me your personnel requests by the end of the day.”

She left him staring at the console and ignoring his AI, his brain running through the spacers on the boat and where they would best fit in its operations. That was the kind of decision making he could get behind.