Lifeboat Drill

Reads: 164  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Crew of an over worked ship faces new problems.

Submitted: June 29, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 29, 2017



Lifeboat Drill

J. Todd Miles

Lieutenant Don Hall noted that it was Tuesday. Today was lifeboat drill day, and he hated it because it wasted a couple of hours on his badly understaffed ship. Don was the Executive Officer, or "XO" in the USS Greenville, a Salina class frigate. At war time manning, the ship would have 10 officers, and 108 enlisted, but they had departed home port with just 4 officers, and 38 enlisted crew members. They also carried 6 passengers, who were put to work on the duty roster. The captain, a twice passed over Lieutenant Commander, was on her last cruise before retirement, but she was running the ship hard, just in case she might have another chance for promotion and career continuation. Captain Parker took lifeboat drills seriously, even out here, on the edge of nowhere, where rescue would be almost impossible.


Don's own career had been nothing special, but he had been a solid performer, and had been surprised at his first  passover for promotion a year ago. This XO assignment, even on a worn out, understaffed, ship should get him promoted to Lieutenant Commander, the key to a 20 year career and retirement. He and the captain maintained a professional, if cold relationship, and the captain had let Don know that she would not write a "career screwing" fittnes report unless Don deserved it. "Officers like us are not destined to be admirals, but we work hard and keep things going. We get less than we deserve." said the captain at their first meeting.


So Tuesday was lifeboat drill day, and Don would handle it professionally, just as the rest of the crew would. Bitching was normal, but professionalism was ingrained, especially in the chief petty officers who actually ran the day to day operations of the ship. The 3 chiefs had their hands full with the 25 crew members who had just graduated from boot camp when the ship sailed, and only 3 of the remaining crew members had more than 5 years of service. Everyone worked 16 to 18 hours a day, and things were still rough, but 3 months into the 2 year voyage, Don was proud of what they had done. The ship might not be boot camp or flagship polished, but everything that had to work was working, and most of the spares were too. Most importantly, the inertia damper was at 100%. Out here, a light hour away from the nearest stargate, and 90 light years from earth, a damper failure would be the key to a long, slow, death, or a really quick one.


The Greenville was part of a fleet of 4, commanded by a passed over Commander who was suffering through his last deployment back at Stargate Derna. Two ships were just small patrol craft, crewed by a single officer and 8 or 9 enlisted. They were too small to be of much help, and too far away to be much help in any case. There was also a transport, the USS Douglas, mostly automated, and manned by just 5 crew. The transport was the key to the mission, because it would  position a new stargate.  After leaving the Greenville  "passengers",  an officer and 5 crew to man the star gate, the Greenville would  pass through the new stargate and return home. At least that was the plan. 


The first pair of stargates had been built over 100 years ago, at a time when excitement about radio communication from deep space was high, and funding matched. When no 2 way communication developed, other things took priority. Stargates were built to explore, for sure, but the goal was resources. Earth was running out of stuff, and fortunes were made when scarce minerals were mined on far away planets, and returned via the stargate system. Several thousand people populated distant mining planets, but few could survive without supplies from earth. The most complicated life form found so far was a hydra like creature that was almost too small to be seen with normal vision.Stargates had to be well guarded, if they were transporting wealth. The USA , China, and their allies were always trying to get the upper hand over each other, but had avoided all out war for several hundred years. Other blocs of countries in the former 3rd world, were nothing but high tech pirates. They stole ships, and tried to pass the blame to others. They also controlled several important stargates that they promised to blow up if the USA or China tried to take them over. No stargate could operate within a  few light hours of another, and if a stargate were to collapse, no new stargate could operate in the area for 5 or 6 years.


The Greenville's home port stargate,had been built in a worthless area of space, to get closer to the area where most of the deep space radio waves were coming from. Computers matching the waves from other stargates estimated the source to be about 100 light years in front of the Greenville. Lt Hall noted that no glory would come from this voyage and that they were just laying one more stepping stone to deep space. If anything good were to be discovered, Hall knew that a modern ship, commanded by an academy graduate would come to take the final steps and claim the rewards. But if he and the captain got a promotion, that would be enough for him.


"Lifeboat drill, lifeboad drill,,,,,,,,prepare to abandon ship!", droned the communication, only to be followed by,"Cancel drill!!, Go to general quarters!!!". As Don made his way to his station in the combat suite, crew members tried to catch his eye, as they scurried to their own stations, but Don had nothing to tell them, and no time to tell it. Don was halfway to his station, when the speaker announced,"Cancel general quarters, return to regular duty stations...XO to the bridge!"


Don raced to the bridge where the captain was in discussions with the communication officer, or "commo". They had intercepted a communication from the USS Guppy, to Stargate, telling of a possible contact. The communication was already over a half hour old, by the time that the Greenville intercepted it, and the communication would not reach Stargate for about an hour. Captain Parker would be making possibly life and death decisions before Stargate even knew of the contact. "Initiate broadband data link to Stargate!", ordered the captain. Generally, a basic packet of log information was automaticly uploaded to Stargate every 10 minutes, but this was a time to use the power sucking, broadband link that sent  information about every system on the Greenville back to Stargate. Officers joked that the broadband SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), was to preserve evidence for investigations, but they all knew that it's real purpose was to follow the last minutes of a ship's life, should there be a problem.


As the Greenville listened for more communications from Guppy, Captain Parker sent orders to the fleet to stop acceleration, and to drift. While the other ships didn't have the powerful, broadband data link of the Greenville, she ordered them to send maximum log info to Stargate,  every 5 minutes. The waiting went on. Douglass and Tetra, may or may not have intercepted Guppy's transmission, and Captain Parker had to consider that they knew nothing of the contact. The discussion went on, and the captain listened to opinions and options. The commo reported that the Guppy's message should be reaching Stargate, and they knew that Stargate Derna would send an unmanned, emergency, message carrier through the stargate to earth. The message carriers usually sailed on a weekly basis, and Don wondered what budget would pay for the emergency data transfer trip. He also knew that the captain had about an hour to act before detailed, second guessing, and out dated orders started to arrive from Stargate.


"Guppy reports powerful head on radar scans from about 3 points below their port bow. They have attempted to open a comm link, and have returned radar signals, but have heard nothing back, and the captain reports that he has gone to drift mode, but he would like permission to go to full power, because the radar seems a lot like a Chinese Bat Chirp radar", announced the commo. "I wish that he could report how far ahead the contact is!", stated the captain. The commo reported that the computer was working on it. "SHIT!" barked the captain. "Are we going to start a war out here??, We didn't even know that the Chinese were out here, let alone ahead of us!,,Tell Guppy that she has permission to use power settings as needed!"


Back at Stargate Derna, Lieutenant Junior Grade Omera, generally called JG Omera, had the duty. It was her last watch, before she returned to earth to be discharged. She planned to stay in the Reserve, but she was less than focused on her job when the message came in from Guppy. SOP demanded that she release an emergency message probe to earth, but she knew that they only had one, rather than the dozen that regulations called for. She did not send the  emergency message, for which her boss was thankful when he got to her station. Stargate waited an hour to send the message carrier through the gate, and by the time it went, information about the suspected Bat Chirp radar went with it.


At the earth stargate Commander Earl Diggins was the Staff Duty Officer, meaning he was free to do what he wanted, as long as he didn't drink, and could be at his duty station in 2 minutes. "Emergency message carrier coming through!!" announced the communication. "Another drill!", thought Diggins, just before he heard,"This is no drill!". Commander Diggins was the first to realize that there would be no more communication from the stargate, because it was he who had made the decision to strip the "spare" emergency message probes from Derna. He was sick at the thought of telling Admiral Mustafa, that there would be no more data from Derna, unless they sent a replacement probe. They were getting one ready, but it would not be reprogrammed to launch for at least an hour.

In Greenville, concern clicked up a notch when an update from Guppy cut out in mid transmission. Guppy had been reporting that they seemed to be getting scanned on at least a dozen wave lengths, and that some unknown types of sub atomic particle energy were aimed at their ship, and that the other ship was still not showing on any of Guppy's systems.


On earth, concern was still at a routine level. Info was passed up and down the chain of command at Stargate Command, and eventually to a mid level executive who had the weekend duty at State. He didn't bother his boss, except with a routine text message, and then he reached out to a mid level guy that he knew in China. In a very low key phone call, he asked if the Chinese knew about any of their radar systems being used near Stargate Derna. The Chinese diplomat didn't know anything but said, in a bored way, that he would look into it. He wasn't really bored, and immediatly called his boss. Twenty minutes later, the Chinese president asked for an emergency video link with the president of the United States. No further infomation had come from Stargate Derna, and the presidents didn't even know about the loss of Guppy, but when the Chinese president suggested that the US had allowed "pirates" to get between Derna and the area of space that both wanted to explore, the conversation turned testy. China had allowed the USA total freedom of action to explore that area of space, while China explored other areas, and the Chinese president said that their trust may have been "misplaced". Finally the US president offered to share new data as it came in, and the Chinese president, having what he wanted, thanked the US government for it's cooperation, and broke the connection.


The Chinese had always been a little perved that the Americans called their best new space radar "Bat Chirp". Bats used a short range sonar , and "Project Best" was a powerful narrow beam radar. 99% of it's million watt output could be focused into a beam of just half a degree, making it accurate, long range, and difficult to detect unless you were the target. "It's not our radar!" announced Lt Song to the senior officers gathered around him as he checked the data sent by the Americans. "It's a lot like ours, but it's a copy,,,,,,,maybe a trick!" Lt Song quickly shut up, realizing that in his excitement, he had offered an opinion to senior officers............not a bright move. He felt relief when the moment passed, without rebuke, but the senior officers had their own worries, because somebody would be taking the heat for letting a spy learn Project Best secrets.


Don was professionally impressed as Captain Parker handled the situation. He already knew that it didn't matter, though.  The first messages were coming in from Stargate and were mostly questions that Greenville had no answers for. Now  Guppy and Tetra were both gone, and Douglas had reported via emergency radio link that they had lost power, and were drifting. When the powerful scans began to probe Greenville, Don wondered if the Captain would order the crew to the lifeboats. It was his last thought.



© Copyright 2018 J. Todd Miles. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Short Stories