Authors: Chris Hechtl
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #High Tech, #Military, #Hard Science Fiction
The Wandering Engineer 6:
By Chris Hechtl
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and
events portrayed in this book are fictional. The exception are the volunteers
who graciously gave me the go ahead to use (and abuse) their names as red
shirts. Any resemblance to other people is purely coincidental or in parody.
rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book and or portions
thereof in any form.
Copyright 2013 by Chris Hechtl
Cover art Copyright 2013 by Chris Hechtl
Edited/Proofed by: Gord Archer, Jacob Larson, Thomas
Burrows, Brandon Bynum, Poon Yee, Jory Gray, and Ulrich Schlegel
Special thanks to Ulrich for the hyperspace tables and
Dedicated to the growing number of fans out there.
Yes! Here it is, the beginning of the end. (Yeah,
well, sort of) The following starts (or slightly alters) the ending week or so
in Plague Planet. You may also wish to read the sideline stories Jethro Goes to
War and Jethro: First to Fight to keep from feeling totally lost. :)
Now, on with the story! Enjoy!
Federation Fleet Admiral John Henry Irons, Engineering Admiral
and last known surviving flag officer of the Federation decided to make a long
jump from the Epsilon Triangula five system toward Bek. He had meticulously planned
the jump, eschewing crossing through the normal route of Gaston, to Pyrax to Beta
101a1 in favor of a nearly unheard of long jump from Epsilon Triangula to the Beta
100 omega system adjacent to Beta 101a1. If it worked it would be a five-month
journey. It would be hard on man and machine, but doable. He would also be
better off, since B101a1 had no gas giants or resources to exploit, while B100
omega had a few gas giants and sparse resources. Once he set up shop in Omega
he would spend a month siphoning off sufficient fuel from the gas giant for the
next leg of his journey while also making any necessary repairs or upgrades as
Had he gone the other, safer route he would have taken four
months, but he might have been caught up in the tangled mess in Pyrax. He was
still avoiding it for his own reasons. It wasn't just the painful memory and
aftertaste that bothered him, it was the simple fact that he didn't want to get
tangled in the rat's nest of political intrigue. He may have friends in the system,
technically most were subordinates, and in some ways he was abandoning them,
but he also needed to keep an eye on the long view.
He had recovered Phoenix in Antigua just prior to his
self-imposed exile from that system. She was a good ship, a former corporate
courier yacht turned naval courier during the war.
Lieutenant Commander Sprite, the Admiral's Chief of staff and
central AI had fashioned Phoenix AI and brought it online during their transit
south from Antigua to Epsilon.
Epsilon... the Admiral's lips pursed in thought. It was another
tangled mess, but one that was slowly straightening itself out. Which was
another thing, another reason for his absence. Sometimes the best thing to do
was to have a hands off approach, let people work out their own problems. Many
resented the interference from an outsider he thought.
He took a quick internal review. Proteus, his nanite AI, was
monitoring the engineering systems of the ship along with his own cybernetics.
Lieutenant Defender, a dumb AI, was in charge of the Admiral's personal
security as well as monitoring the Admiral for signs of treason. He was both
shield and sword in one. The AI preferred a dark knight persona, rebuffing
others and normally keeping to itself.
Sprite on the other hand was almost human. She had a human form,
pixie like, but still human, albeit pale and with green hair. She was lively,
sometimes logical, and sometimes emotional. She certainly kept him on his toes!
Which was probably a good thing.
Rounding out his AI crew, at least for the semi smart AI, was
Phoenix, the AI that used the ship they were in as its body. Phoenix had a
simple stock human male jig form for now, though the avatar was evolving as the
AI matured. Experience was sometimes the best teacher, Irons thought, glad the
AI had settled on a male personality. They'd decided to give the AI the time he
needed to grow into his role as a ship's AI. That had helped a great deal on
the trip down from Antigua. But it meant the Admiral and his AI trinity manned
the ship's stations most of the time. Now Phoenix was chafing, eager to take on
new roles and expand his abilities.
The trip out was shaping up to be a long one. The Admiral loved
ships, he loved engineering, but there was such a thing called too much of a
good thing. Fortunately Phoenix the ship was in good order, he, Phoenix, and
Proteus saw to that. Any issue was jumped on quickly.
Irons was used to living in uniform, but Sprite had insisted he
take at least several hours a day off for mental health time. He spent a lot of
time with the cheetah cubs Dorah from the Io 11 had given him. They were a
rambunctious pair, lovable with their simplistic view of things, and their
antics did make him crack a smile and the occasional guffaw from time to time.
That was normally how it was with babies, their inquisitive
nature and their zest for life made him feel alive again. Less bogged down by
the crushing responsibilities and heavy duties he had.
Sprite had come up with a list of common names. He had named the
alpha of the sisters Blaze, and her quiet introverted sister Goldie. Both names
tied in to their golden pelts while also tied them to the ship.
One of the issues he did have with them was their interest in his
little truck garden. Sprite had surprised him by sneaking in seeds, soil,
fertilizer, and seedlings in the inventory before they had left. He had
overlooked such a simple thing, focusing on parts, supplies and fuel, along
with tons of fresh food. When they had departed Epsilon orbit the AI had
surprised him with the package.
He knew the importance of greens, not just for diet, but also for
morale and to help scrub the air. There was something to be said about looking
at plants, they seemed to break up the sterile confines of the ship quite
nicely. He had to admit, it had been a chore to get it all set up, but worth it
now that things were sprouting.
“Is that a smile?” Sprite teased. “Did you really crack a smile?”
The Admiral exhaled noisily and then shrugged sheepishly.
“I take it my small efforts to change the atmosphere and add a
little color to this drab gray interior, no offense Phoenix, has improved your
“If you mean
efforts in doing the work for
little project...” the Admiral teased right back, ducking his head.
“Right,” the AI drawled. “I did the
work of finding
the plants and materials and sneaking them on the shuttle. All under your nose,
which by the way wasn't as easy as you thought it was. You just had to
implement it. A nice simple project something for you to do and get your hands
dirty with. It has kept you busy for a while now and improved the life support.
I think it's a... proper role reversal for once isn't it?”
The Admiral paused and cocked his head. “Something like that,” he
finally admitted. “Trust a female to want to change things,” he murmured.
“What was that;
?” Sprite growled, eyes flashing on his
HUD. He knew she was mocking him but her tone said angry woman alert.
The Admiral chuckled. “Nothing, nothing Sprite,” he replied,
hands up in surrender.
The AI looked at him for a long moment. “I thought not,” she
said. He smirked like a mischievous kid getting away with something. She shook
her head in exasperation.
“You two sound like an old married couple,” Phoenix teased. The Admiral
sniffed as he finished watering the herb rack.
He'd set up the seedlings and seeds in small plastic pots in
areas that were kept lit a lot, such as the bridge and main corridor. Most hung
along the walls from pieces of plastic wire from the ceiling. That way they
were both accessible, but out of the way. And they tended to brighten the room
up a bit.
Areas that didn't get a lot of light, such as the latrine
received a few shelves of mushrooms and other plants that did well in little
Food replicators were fine, but most of the dishes were bland.
He didn't mind bland, but every now and then he wanted something different, a
past favorite or craving. And throwing a little dill or oregano or rosemary
into the mix didn't hurt. It had taken weeks before the plants had gotten large
enough to trim, but he'd stepped on his impatience and let them grow out until
they were ready.
The brats had discovered the plants a few days after he had set
up his small spice rack and had added shelves to the walls in the galley. The
dangling pots were enticing, but fortunately, out of reach. The shelves however
weren't. Where Blaze went, Goldie inevitably tried to follow. He had caught
them trying to climb them, or jump from a counter to the lowest shelf. He'd
learned to shut the galley door when he wasn't within.
Fortunately Sprite had had the foresight to exclude plants that
were poisonous to the cubs, or warned him so he could tuck them away in a cubby
or place them within plastic containers so the cubs couldn't get into.
When he cleaned out a closet he placed dwarf wheat, radishes,
strawberries, lettuce, mimulus, and brassica on shelves within, with a UV lamp
and solar lamp. The solar lamp was specifically built to replicate the sunlight
that the plants like the gene engineered strawberries would need. The UV lamp
alone lacked the ability to encourage growth with those and a few of the other
plants. After the second month he'd started popping by the strawberry plants to
pick a couple off as a snack.
The cubs normally cuddled with him in his quarters when he slept,
or cuddled with him on the flight couch when he was on duty. Their rumbling
purr was soothing. But they also had a natural inclination to roam and get into
mischief. Their occasional play fights and ambushes were quite fun to watch. He
had thought he'd planned for their mischief, but knew they'd find some way to
get around his planning.
He'd remembered that after cleaning up the mess they had made of
his mini lemon tree. He had also remembered the distant lessons he had had when
his family had had pets. For one, that a spritzer bottle was good for more than
just watering the plants. A squirt when the cubs were getting too nosy made
them scat fast, which was amusing... and sometimes messy when they ran into
things in their scramble to escape his preemptive strike.
Unfortunately that only helped when he was around to do the
spritzing. The plants hanging he didn't have to worry about, most were where
the little monsters couldn't jump on to and get into. But others were lower, on
a rack he had set up. So, he rigged a robot with a spritzer and assigned
Defender to guard his plants. The AI had been a bit put out, but he'd taken the
task without formal protest.
The Admiral had run through the fresh food in a month. That was
the downside of fresh food lacking preservatives it spoiled quickly. The cats
had helped of course, eating bits of chicken or beef that he mixed into their
When the duo was asleep he tended to talk with the AI when off
duty. He had taught Phoenix to play games. Now they played a lot of chess or strategy
Sprite spent a lot of time explaining to the new AI movies and
videos. Unfortunately Phoenix was lacking social experience, a critical
component of his development. To compensate the AI was viewing media files, but
that lead to lists of questions. Sometimes the Admiral was brought into the
discussions, which helped keep boredom at bay and gave the growing AI a new
perspective to consider.
Carefully, the Admiral ran a check on their hyper log and
estimated travel, and then checked the projected course. It was crude, but the
best they had on hand.
They had lingered in Epsilon's space, drifting outside the system
as Phoenix and Sprite had correlated the data from the ship's sensors. For a
week they had probed the space along their projected flight path, using every
sensor in the ship's arsenal right down to cameras reconfigured as telescopes
to map out the path. Then they had exhaustively compared the data to the
petabytes of star charts of the sector, aligning everything while taking into
account seven centuries of interstellar drift and planetary body movement.
Finally, they had thrown their charts into a simulator Sprite had
coded from the Admiral's files. The simulator took each mass and projected its
mass shadow and its effects in hyperspace. It wasn't exact, but it would
hopefully give them a rough bearing on markers along their course. One of the
biggest was a white dwarf. It would serve as a North Star in their navigation
for the first part of their journey. Without that mass shadow as a waypoint,
the ship's odometer, and the other six major and nineteen minor markers along
their intended course they would be hopelessly lost within days of transit
All seemed well so far; they had four months of transit time
remaining, but so far so good. The Admiral nodded and then ran a system's
check. The nodes were still stiff; the constant up and down through the octaves
and bands was putting stress on them. The force nodes on the hull projected not
only the particle shields, but also worked with the hyperdrive to bend or warp
space around the ship so it could enter hyper. Subtle variations in the nodes
strength and positioning changed their fields, allowing the ship to surf the
slipstream of hyperspace like a boogie boarder or surfer.
Before the jump the Admiral had worked on overhauling and
fine-tuning the hyper drive while the AI worked on mapping their course. Fine
tuning the drive was tedious, and it had competed with the computer resources
for a short time before Sprite got exasperated and set the sims and tuning
software to run when she and Phoenix each had their down time.
Normally only an explorer ship, or a colony ship from the dark
days of colonization would take a chance on an unproven course. Cruisers and
ships with sufficient computer support or a class 1 hyper-navigator could
handle the jump easily. They weren't quite going where no one had gone before,
but what they were doing was something no one had done in centuries. That is
they got there in one piece. That had yet to be determined.