Chapter Three

“Damn, you are a slow eater. Do I have to wait on you all the time?”

The captain had a big grin on his face.

Kelly was astounded. LCDR Timmons had blasted through his meal while maintaining his end of the conversation during lunch. Blake had barely made a dent in his food. Once again, he had to wolf down a few bites and follow LCDR Timmons out the door.

“Come on. Let’s go meet the Vigilant.”

Kelly had a hard time keeping up with LCDR Timmons. The captain had a broad stride and a quick pace. Kelly was almost running to keep up.

“Keep up, Exec! You’ll have to get used to this pace with me. I’m not in my twenties any more and I need to exercise to keep myself from turning into a butterball, especially as much as I like to eat. We spend a lot of time in space and there is no room for jogging on the Vigilant. Treadmills bore me. So I push myself while planet-side.”

They walked along for about a mile to reach the gate to the shipyards. Kelly was breathing heavily by this point. He was only slightly amused to see that LCDR Timmons was, too. At the gate they presented their ID cards to the guard and were admitted. They walked by a row of six warehouses, dodged a few man-lifts moving about, and reached the dock holding the Vigilant.

They opened the dock door and stepped in. As formidable looking as the Vigilant had been from the office window, she was immensely more impressive in person. She was matte black, with no shine at all. She looked, no, she was deadly. She was 30 meters tall and 100 meters long. The semi-triangular shape was evident from this angle just outward of the forward landing gear. The port turret with the dual particle cannons looked particularly lethal. Kelly could see this ship as home.

“Come on. Let’s go see Chief Miller.”

They moved aft of the forward landing gear and up the gangway into the ship. The ship’s interior could best be described as utter chaos. Workmen were everywhere. Major ship components were strewn about. Packing material and stray bits of wiring occupied almost every other remaining space. There was only a small pathway through the clutter, so Kelly followed close behind LCDR Timmons. Chief Watson joined them there.

“This area is fire control, or at least it will be once they get all this stuff installed. That gray box there is one of the new gun control servers. It will increase target acquisition and speed up slew rate on the turrets. This way.”

They moved aft through the fire control area and into an area of small cubicle-like spaces.

“This is the sensor control center. As you can see from the lack of clutter, these systems are pretty much installed. Our sensor operators work from these cubicles. Our old sensor suite was pretty good, but these new sensors are even better. We have the normal assortment of spectral receivers, magnetic anomaly detectors, infrared sensors, electro-optical sensors, chemical sniffers, and also the new mass optical array. It will give us a real advantage out in dark space where, sometimes, the only indication of another ship is when it passes in front of a star.”

“We had something like that on the F-53.”

”Right, it’s the same principle, but this one extends over the entire skin of the ship. The resolution is supposed to be unreal. The Vigilant will be the first ship equipped with it. It wasn’t ready for installation on the Valiant during their last refit. We get to test it for Fleet. That means we’ll have several specialists on board for our first patrol. They will run the tests while we conduct our normal patrol. At various points along our patrol path, other ships will be positioned to test the system’s sensitivity and resolution. Come on, let’s go see Engineering.”

They continued aft, through what were obviously crew spaces, up to a large iris hatch. It opened as they approached and they entered a completely orderly space. The components were arrayed neatly next to the spaces they would occupy once installed. There was no packing material anywhere. The floor was immaculate. It almost looked polished. In the rear of the space was a Chief Petty Officer watching two shipyard workers moving a component into its place.

“Now don’t go banging it against the sides as you slide it in. Watch out for those connectors! That’s better. Keep it coming. Keep it coming. Good, now plug it in and lock it down.”

He looked over at the two of them and said, “Hello, Captain, this is the new engine synchronizer. No more manual balancing of thrust. This device does it all automatically.”

LCDR Timmons smiled and said, “But Chief, it was always so entertaining to hear you curse the engines. What will we do for amusement now? Ensign Blake, this is Chief Machinist Mate Miller.”

Kelly extended his hand, “Glad to meet you, Chief.”

Chief Miller wiped his hands on a rag and took Blake’s handshake. “Glad to have you onboard, sir. Welcome to the Vigilant.”

LCDR Timmons said, “Chief, you’ve done a great job in here organizing the engineering spaces. When are you going to do the same for the rest of the ship? It’s a mess out there.”

“Captain, Engineering is the most important space on the ship. If the engines don’t work properly, nothing else on board happens. I’ll get around to the rest of the spaces as soon as I get this area finalized.”

“Come on, Exec. Let me show you the rest of the ship.”

Kelly said, “Good to meet you Chief,” then had to hurry to catch up with LCDR Timmons. Chief Miller chuckled to himself as he watched Kelly almost run after Timmons.

They moved forward past storage compartments, through the crew quarters, the galley, past sensor control, all the clutter in weapons control, and into chiefs’ country. Each chief had a small suite with a sleeping area and a small desk space. Each cabin was equipped with a fixed bed and a drop-down bed that opened out from the wall above. Kelly’s quarters would have the same arrangement. Only Chief Watson’s and the captain’s sleeping areas were singles. Chief Watson’s space also had a small conference room attached.

A common head would divide the chiefs’ country from the two officers’ quarters. At the moment, though, there were no officers’ quarters, only a space where they would be. Both captain and executive officer spaces were missing, while several shipyard workers installed pipes and cable raceways. The captain’s stateroom would be on the port side and the exec’s to starboard.

As he remembered from the diagrams, the captain’s stateroom also had a conference room as well as sleeping area, private head, and office space. The exec’s was smaller by the lack of a conference room, but was incredibly spacious in comparison to his quarters on the Bolivar. It would be pretty classy if they ever got it re-installed.

They moved forward through another large iris hatch and onto the bridge. The bridge was in pretty good shape. Most of the major components were installed. Several smaller components still needed to be installed. Even though there was a lot still to be done, Blake could get a feel for the layout. It was wedge shaped, with the pointed end of the wedge forward. There were two positions forward and two steps down. Helm was to starboard and, he assumed, navigation was to port. The positions looked like two fighter cockpits side by side. Aft and one step up from those two positions were weapons control, sensor control, and engineering. Blake remembered from his research that the whole ship could be controlled from the bridge. Each position had an integral seat with four-point harness.

Aft and one step up from these three positions were three more. The center position was the captain’s. The port side position belonged to the senior chief, Chief Watson. Kelly’s position was to starboard. Each position had a multipurpose workstation, capable of controlling any function of the specialized consoles. Kelly was especially happy to see full flight controls and weapon controls at his workstation.

The captain asked, “What do you think of the bridge?”

“It’s pretty roomy, compared to an F-53 cockpit. It will take me a bit to get used to it. I like the layout. It’s logical and I like the redundancy in the three command positions. I like the way that the three position sets are terraced. Each level has an unobstructed view out front, to the sides, and above. Coming from fighters, I appreciate having a glass view screen.”

“This is a slightly different layout than we had before refit. They implemented some of the recommendations we made based on our patrol experiences. Before, only the captain’s position had a multifunction terminal and flight controls. Because there is a traditional hesitance to sit in the captain’s chair, that position was wasted during all watches that I wasn’t present for. Our solution was to make all three positions identical. That way we have redundancy on top of redundancy.”

“Now let’s get out of here before the yard chief gets on our butts for keeping his crews from working.”

Chief Watson spoke up. “Sir, I’m going to stay here and see what Chief Miller is doing in engineering. There were a few things back there not quite in accordance with the schematics. You know how he likes to tinker. I’d better go see what he connived out of the yard crew.”

LCDR Timmons headed down the gangway and back into the dock. “Come on, let’s take a walk around.”

Kelly trailed Timmons as he pointed out various components on the ship’s exterior.

“This is our new dual particle cannon turret. Each cannon has a rate of fire of one blast per second. The cannons are set to fire consecutively. That gives each turret an effective rate of fire of 120 blasts per minute. Come forward.”

Kelly followed him toward the nose of the ship.

“If you look right above your head and you look real close, you’ll see part of the sensor grid. They’ve done a pretty good job of blending it into the ship’s skin, but you can just make out the circular indentions where the sensors were faired in. Now, if we move to the bow, you can see the three forward-firing plasma cannons. When they first laid out the plans for this refit, these three cannons were left off. I convinced Admiral Craddock that even though we live by stealth, we die by lack of firepower if stealth doesn’t work. So, we have a little more sting. It gives us a bit more flexibility in tight situations. We don’t always have to hide with pride.”

“I can see where that could come in handy. Tell me sir, is there a simulator for this class of ship on the base?”

“As a matter of fact, that’s our next stop. Come on. This is all there is to see here for now. We’ll do a more extensive walk around when they finish the refit.”

They left the warehouse area around the yards and proceeded to a three-story, squatty-looking building near some hangars.

“Exec, this is the flight simulator facility. They can build you almost any bridge of any ship in the fleet. The Vigilant’s new bridge is ready for a test flight. Come on in.”

Kelly followed Timmons inside, where an attractive female Chief Electronic Technician met them in the entrance. Her name tag said Blankenship.

“If you’ll follow me, Captain, I’ll get you both set up in the simulator.”

They followed her down the hall and into a large triple height room. In the center was a large box suspended above a gimbaled mount. They followed her up the stairs and inside, to an exact replica of the Vigilant’s cockpit.

Exec, you take the helm position. I’ll sit back here in my chair. Chief, will you get us up and flying?”

“Aye aye sir, strap in and hold on.”

Kelly didn’t quite know what to expect. He pulled hard on the four-point harness and braced himself. He had spent hours in fighter simulators and knew how much they could throw one about. He was unsure how something with the mass of the Vigilant would react.

The simulator lights dimmed. He felt the gimbal mounts kick in and lift the simulator away from the steps. He waited for something to happen.

“Uh, Exec, now would be a good time to turn on your console.”

Kelly turned red. He had been waiting for something to happen and had forgotten to fire up his console.

“Roger, sir. Just getting the feel of her first.” Kelly hoped he’d covered up his screw-up. He toggled on his controls and the simulation started. He found himself looking out at a generic planet that they were obviously orbiting.

“Okay, Kelly, let’s move out of the solar system. Navigation information is appearing on your screen.”

Kelly accepted the course plotting on his display and moved the Vigilant out of orbit and into open space. He verified the plotted course wasn’t passing near any of the planets or major objects in the system and gradually increased his speed.

“Kelly, hold up on making the jump until we pass the last of the orbital planes.”

At the touch of a button, the orbital plane of the system’s planets appeared in his display. He was a minute away from clearing the last orbital plane. He took that time to study the console more closely. He had full engine controls, weapons control over the stationary plasma cannons, and the ability to overlay maps or sensor data over his display. He also had partial control over the navigation shields. He could increase the forward shield intensity, but complete shielding was controlled on another console. He focused back on his job and watched as he crossed out of the system.

“Exec, new course data is coming to you. Let’s turn onto the new course and jump to FTL.”

Kelly did a quick check on the new course, accepted the course change, and throttled up to light speed. The sensation in the simulator was almost exactly as it was in reality.

The simulation was very good. The floor conveyed a faint vibration as would be felt in flight. The view out the front screen made that peculiar shift and blurring brought on by moving at light speed and higher. It had the unpleasant effect of making some people queasy. Kelly never had that problem.

“How does it feel?”

“It feels great, Captain. I don’t have any experience with this ship, but it feels like my past experiences on other ships, right down to the slight vibration through the floor. How does this feel compared to the real thing? How fast will she fly?”

“Its pretty realistic, but the mass feels slightly heavier than the Vigilant. Of course, some of this could be based on differences from the refit. Top speed will be near power 6 light speed.”

“Okay, now take a little time to get the feel of the ship. Engage in free flight. See how she handles.”

Kelly took the control yoke and put the simulator through its paces. He dropped to sub-light speed and ran through a number of drills from his fighter flight training. The mass of the Vigilant wouldn’t match the maneuverability of an F-53, but it was remarkably responsive. He toggled on the stress indicators on his display. He stayed well within tolerances. He kept pushing the envelope to see if there were any maneuvers that caused more stress on the ship than others. It was important to know the structural limitations of a ship. He dove, climbed, rolled, yawed, and looped the ship. He knew he was in a simulator, but it was amazing how real it felt. He was just about to try some maneuver thruster drills when a proximity alarm went off. Kelly looked at his display and saw an asteroid in their path. He had three options: change course, increase shields, or blast it out of their way. Kelly, still a fighter pilot at heart, toggled on weapons and blasted the asteroid to small bits that were easily repelled by their navigation shields.

LCDR Timmons chuckled, “Chief Blankenship owes me a beer. She was sure you would try to jockey us around the asteroid. I said you’d blast it.”

“I guess I’ll have to work on being more unpredictable, sir.”

“Just don’t forget you almost always have more options. In this business we may not be able to blast our way out of situations. Sometimes we need to employ a little finesse.”

“Time to head for the barn. Chief B, that’s all we have time for now.”

The lights came up, the outside view and Kelly’s display went blank. He felt the simulator lower and lock itself into the steps. Chief Blankenship opened the door to let them out. Kelly followed LCDR Timmons out and down the stairs, thanking Chief Blankenship as he passed out the hatch.

Kelly and Timmons power walked back to their offices. They passed several bemused officers and enlisted. Kelly was determined not to break into a trot. When they got back to the building Kelly had significant shin splints, but he had kept up. He wasn’t about to limp or complain in front of the captain.

The two went into their respective offices and collapsed in their chairs, rubbing their sore legs. Each was convinced he had achieved a victory over the other. Chief Watson and the yeoman, who had watched them come in, smiled and chuckled quietly.

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