Vekta Prime Orbital, UNSF Apollyon Hyper Dock
Michi carefully eased her shoes off and scrunched her toes in the thick pile of Haven’s carpets with a sigh of mingled pleasure and relief. Her captain’s yacht was an indulgence, its counter-grav plates set to a sinfully comfortable, even lazy half-gee as it rode serenely at rest in one of the many docking slips of Vekta Orbital, and Michi’s muscles sang with the relief of it.
Soft music filled the yacht with its soothing strains, the lights were pleasingly dim, the antiques glimmered gently and the glory of space, the universe’s jewellery box, glittered from every porthole and shone down gently from holographic emitters hidden in the ceilings.
All of it had been designed to make Michi relaxed - as someone to whom relaxation came but reluctantly, she needed all the help she could get in that regard. Having to wait for news, to ride at rest or - at most - putter around Vekta, was something of an imposition, and she ached to get back into the black.
Fragrant steam curled up from her teacup as she sipped pensively at it, staring unseeing at a sweeping panorama of stars projected in front of her. The gently-curving wall the projection was currently replacing served as part of her entertainments system, and she was trying to decide between the latest cinematic offerings and something more improving when, with a soft chime and a rising cerulean glow, an incoming call pressed itself into her yacht’s systems and clamoured for her attention.
The projection changed to the image of a man in his early 60s in an Admiral’s uniform, his face held an amused expression of a man laid back despite his title, something that Maganza recognized instantly. His sleek, greying gelled-back hair complimented his neat goatee and chiselled jawline, his scars and craggy face, coupled with his wise hazel eyes showed experienced wisdom. Medals and stripes hung from his right breast, something Maganza knew that this man saw as nothing but decoration.
“Hope I didn’t catch in your skivvies, kid.” Admiral Beaufort, the very man that recommended her for the Apollyon, and the man who made her who she was today, called her himself. “I hope your stay in VP Orbital wasn't too claustrophobic.”
“James!” Michi startled upright from her lazy half-sprawl, and only a split-second’s deft juggling kept her tea unspilled and her half-unzipped dress unmarked. She had been taking advantage of the enforced inactivity to enjoy - vigorously - some leave of her own, and had to scramble to hide both the evidence and her violently purple fluffy slippers from the Admiral’s too-knowing gaze. “That is, Admiral!” she saluted with her free hand, swinging fully upright and decent to give him her attention, thankful that her dark skin hid blushes well.
Not that Admiral James Beaufort, her erstwhile commanding officer and friend, wouldn’t know anyway.
“Vekta wasn’t too bad, thank you for asking, and Haven has some lovely toys.” Obedient to her will, her neural lace reached out lazily to the yacht’s systems and effortlessly twisted Admiral Beaufort’s view upwards, to where the majesty of space glittered in place of ceiling hullplates.
“And Fleet Command’s treating you well?” She left an expectant pause, and then - conscious of his uniform; a social call this was not - added “Not that I don’t appreciate the call, sir, but I’m guessing you didn’t call to surprise me and shoot the moon about old times?”
“It’s Grand Admiral to you since yesterday.” The man chuckled. “I head that damn command now, as much as I’d rather be in the Black. I wanted the Apollyon for myself, but they insisted that I would probably blow up trillions of Creds worth of hardware. And honestly, they are probably right.” The man gave off a small smile as the view from his perspective panned to the ceiling.
“You always liked to waste your money on the luxuries. I would give you the back-in-my-day treatment, but you already know all that.”
“Yes, yes,” Michi replied in a sing-song voice, rolling her eyes for effect. “Back in your day ships were held together with duct tape and baling wire, everyone got the runs from the rations they stocked shipside and everyone got radiation poisoning on the way to and from the head because the old radiation shielding on the cores was made of plywood and wishes. The entire crew slept together, five hundred tubes to a square metre and you had to hike through crawlspaces to get to your stations.” She grinned, and waved her hands expressively at the luxurious ship around her.
“Thank god I’d not got bored enough to go into the Navy along with you!” The Admiral - no, Grand Admiral; she scowled at him as he brought the insignia into the field of view, doubtless having purposefully hidden it - was, after all, only a bare handful of years older than her, even if he looked decades her senior.
“Besides, as far as I’m concerned it’s not a waste - you and I have argued until we’re blue in the face about that! Something has to lift the soul out here, and it isn’t a hullplate made by the lowest bidder and put through thirty years’ hard graft! Begging the Grand Admiral’s most illustrious and venerable pardon,” she added in the most syrupy, obsequious tones she could manage.
“Bah! The Armada was never that shit!” James quipped, dismissively waving his arm. “You are making me sound like those 200 year old vets.”
“Someone has to keep you from getting a swelled head, sir,” Michi told him tartly. “What with the vast importance of your shiny new office and all the lovely politics you’re going to have to play groundside. Even if you do get a nice office and a splendid uniform.” She beamed at him, one spacer thoroughly enjoying the schadenfreude of another.
“Hardy-har…” The Grand Admiral said sarcastically. “Funny. But regardless. I wish this was a social call. This is more in regards to your next assignment, and since I am now your permanent handler, you will get to hear my annoying voice more often.” He said with a grin.
“Joy, sir.” Michi’s voice was as level and deadpan as she could make it, before a sharp grin spread across her features. “Next assignment, sir?” The levity and the lazy drawl had vanished from her tone and expression; Michi Maganza had been packed away in an instant and Captain Maganza had taken her place, a seamless transition. She refused to let herself think about the recent interviews - recent was the key word, but even so…Should she ask?
“Is this about the Apollyon, Grand Admiral?” Alert, focused, in for a penny, in for a pound. Sometimes it was better just to be direct.
“You guessed right, Captain. You will be reporting to the UNSF Apollyon at 06:00 tomorrow, if there even is a tomorrow on that planet you are orbiting.” He stated, grumbling the latter. “As Captain of the Union of Nation-States’ Fleet Flagship, the Apollyon. Congratulations! Hopefully being in command of sixteen thousand people doesn’t make you shit bricks.”
Michi struggled for a moment. It was very like Jimmy Beaufort to just drop surprises in people’s laps, and the tendency had only gotten worse as he’d risen in the ranks and got access to bigger and better toyboxes. This, though? She’d been one hundred and eighty-fifth on the candidate list, and they could have picked anyone. Hells, by his own admission he’d have thrown his laurelled cap into the ring, given half a chance.
“Shocking, isn’t it?” The Admiral said, interrupting her thoughts upon seeing her face. He seemed thoroughly amused by the whole thing.
“Sir, on my next trip to the head I’ll be dropping enough bricks to build an Aman mansion,” she stated flatly. “Since a glance at my chrono tells me it’s not April Fool’s and I don’t think even you’d be that cruel, not even to your long-suffering ex-flag captain.” She whistled, long and low, leaning back in her chair, eyes wide.
“Captain Maganza of the UNSF Apollyon, eh? Stars.” A broad, shining smile split her face from ear to ear and she giggled in pure, personal delight before casting her best double-barrelled glare at the com, daring him to comment; James knew damn well just how much she hated sounding like a schoolgirl.
Michi visibly shook herself, leaning forwards with a predatory look, although the persistent smile tugging at her lips gave lie to her military composure. “Well now. I should really be cracking open the Britannia Reserve, but I think I’ll save that until I actually find m’self aboard.” A nod, as if personally affirming her chosen course of action. “I daresay you have orders as Grand Admiral Beaufort, and advice as a friend?”
She made a note to send him a bottle before she left, too. Celebration of her new role and commiseration of his all rolled into one, elegantly efficient.
“Sorry that I can’t make it to the launch party. I hear it’s going to be a blast.” The Grand Admiral said. “Well, regardless, you will hear from me again upon launch. We have a lot to talk about then. For now, I’ll leave you to celebrate.” He was about to disconnect, but paused. “Don’t party too hard, hmm? You know what happened last time…” He was referring to himself. But before Maganza could even respond, he disconnected the call.
Michi was left staring, abruptly, at the dazzling starfield that was her projector’s default wallpaper, a hot retort sizzling on the tip of her tongue and her cheeks rapidly warming to nova-like levels of heat. Admiral Beaufort had had several close encounters with Michi’s...exuberant...entertainments in the past. Admittedly only as a hapless bystander - if such a word could even be applied to the redoubtable Admiral - but still.
She swallowed hard, trying to put the embarrassment down as quickly and completely as possible, and then smiled an entirely different sort of grin, one that promised unbridled pleasure in the near future. “Haven?” she could have done it all through her lace, as easily and naturally as breathing, but her yacht had a very nice holo-suite and an extensive voice library, and to not use them would have been a shame.
The yacht responded with a mellifluous, “Yes, ma’am?”, and Michi continued:
“Bring up my little black book for Vekta Prime, would you? I need to make a few calls. And detail one of the bots to pack my toys up; I’m going to need all the bed space I can get. Oh - but set an alarm for oh-four-hundred. It wouldn’t do to miss the appointed hour, after all!”
Grinning happily to herself, Michi’s deft fingers flickered through her address book. It would be a while before she saw anyone again, after all, so why not go out - so to speak - with a bang?
The Apollyon grew and grew in the viewscreens as Haven’s sleek, luxurious form sped ever closer. Vast and blunt, studded with turrets and weapons bays, dusted with portholes and bristling with sensors, the enormous warship’s colossal scale became ever more apparent as they approached its resting bulk, dwarfing the yacht as a gleaming minnow and then a speck, a mote of cosmic dust in a leviathan’s eye.
Threading through the tangle of shipyard spars, clouds of drones and trundling auto-freighters was no mean task, but Haven had a good pilot and was a first-rate ship, Admiral Beaufort’s opinion on what he called ‘fripperies’ notwithstanding.
“Apollyon Control, this is Haven, requesting berth and docking vector.” Quartermain’s rich, unflappably smooth voice hummed over the comms, quickly answered.
“Haven, this is Apollyon Control, we have your transponder on the plot and your authorization is clear. Be advised, there will be a forty-five minute waiting time as we are currently managing pinnace intake for new crewmembers and consignments of sensitive components for the ship.” The voice was obviously automated.
Quartermain grinned at Michi, standing just beside him and gazing up at the vast ship like all her Christmases had come at once, and toggled the comm again. “Copy that, Apollyon Control. Be advised, however, I have the Captain aboard.”
There was a pause, and an unworthy part of herself imagined the sudden consternation inside the dreadnought.
The comm chimed again, and a deep, brutish male voice echoed within the Yacht. “This is ATLAS. I will be taking command of communications with the Captain from here on in. Haven, prepare for biosymmetry scan.”
“All stop, Mr. Quartermain,” Michi ordered softly. “Send our crew manifest-” all two people on it “-over on tight-beam; I can’t imagine they don’t have it, but there’s no sense in making things difficult for the poor overworked souls over there.”
The dreadnought suddenly started to move, slowly rotating to adjust one of it’s sensors. A green grid suddenly passed through the Haven, on the outside and in. Something tugged at Michi’s lace, bringing a faint ache in her head.
“This is ATLAS. Confirmed. Captain Michi Maganza of the Baer-Class Dreadnought UNSF Apollyon. The ship manifest was unnecessary. Dock at Rear Corvette Bay.” The AI took control of the Haven’s navigational instruments and placed a waypoint at the very back to the ship. The Engine Bay.
Michi didn’t have to issue an order; her pilot was already pinging back their thanks and gracefully banking the yacht, bringing them in on a long, looping curve that - doubtless intentionally - would give Michi a long, lingering and up-close look at her new command, at the multi-megaton mountain of metal aboard which she would be mistress after God.
It really was a mountain, too, she thought irreverently, as they soared towards their destination, coasting over cliffs and slopes of shining metal. A post shuttle trundled by even closer to the ship, puttering along on tiny bursts of its thrusters, but there was no time to think about the little luxuries like mail; between the gaping vastnesses of the Apollyon’s main engines - unlit as yet, quiet and cold as the space which surrounded them - a smaller hole opened, blast doors retracting and force fields shimmering as the Haven drew close.
The yacht was swallowed, wholly and utterly, coming to a perfect stop exactly where it needed to be. His work done, Michi clapped her pilot on the back and moved to the airlock, taking a moment to centre herself. Her uniform was immaculate, and thankfully the everyday kind, not mess-dress. Ribbons, not weighty metal, decorated her chest and her firearm was the only thing at her hip, no clanking anachronism of a sabre rattling there.
She wondered, briefly, what she’d find on the other side. The bosun, perhaps, piping her aboard in ancient style, senior officers braced at attention. That might have been traditional, but the Apollyon was still - technically - under construction, so who knew what state she’d find the ship in?
Her lace tingled and she tasted the iron-and-fury bite of ATLAS as she reached into the ship’s network. “Ready when you are, ATLAS.”
Michi had learned long ago there was no point embarrassing people - particularly junior officers - when a discreet message to the shipboard AI net could let her avoid it.
“To be honest with you, Captain, I could run this ship myself. Yet your kind designed this vessel where your people are an unfortunate necessity. A shame, really.” Haven’s airlock opened to reveal only a single man- no, robot, blocky and utilitarian in design, standing there staring at the airlock. “I am ATLAS-21, name designation Nemesis.” The robot said. “I will use this drone-” The machine pointed at itself. “-to guide you through this vessel and its systems.”
Inwardly, Michi winced. The AI was essential, and it - he, that deep, burring masculine voice made his chosen gender abundantly clear - evidently had taken that to heart. “A pleasure, Nemesis,” she said aloud, even as her lace chimed the machine equivalent on the ship channel, a seamless integration of organic and machine. At least Atlas was platform-enabled; disembodied ships made it more difficult to relate. “People can surprise you - but we’ll have plenty of time for you to build up a body of experience, and to discuss it, out there in the black. Is the rest of the senior command staff aboard yet? Touring their departments without them in place is asking for trouble.”
Even as she spoke, letting Nemesis guide her from the yacht to the docking bay doors and thence the rest of the ship, her lace was branching through the shipnet, courteously seeking information on a whole host of topics from the greater Atlas AI, everything from crew dossiers - senior staff having the highest priority, naturally - to fuel levels, grav-hull strength and particle screening coverage. Its queries were exquisitely polite, she’d been told by other synthetics, but determined, relentless; the lace was a mirror of her, after all.
Suddenly, all of the network was temporarily silenced. “I am the only intelligent program on this vessel. The others won't answer you, as their stay on this ship is only temporary.” As they walked down the hanger toward the main doors out, the full size of the place really started to kick in. It was designed to hold 6 Corvettes as a back up support fleet in this hanger alone, though currently, it was being used as a storage bay for a large shipment of Battle Mechs, each of them standing along the walls like vigilant guards, being maintained and worked on by an army of drones like the one Nemesis was using to guide the Captain.
“In regards to your question. No, you and I are the only members of the 16053 member crew currently aboard this vessel. Your schedule was specifically placed by Grand Admiral James Beaufort for the purposes of vessel inspection and mission briefing prior to the arrival of the full crew complement.” They now stood at the doors.
Michi’s eyes took on a speculative gleam. “Is that so? Well then, Nemesis, let us begin!” Her gaze flickered over the battle-mechs for a moment, the worker drones tiny against their weapon-studded hulls. “I imagine there’s a great deal to see, so why don’t we start with this bay as we’re here already, then move to Main Engineering and proceed from there? Oh, and timings-wise, when is Admiral Beaufort due to comm? Wouldn’t do to be caught out - not that you would be.”
“As you wish, Captain. I will inform you once the Grand Admiral calls. Transport around this vessel is fast enough to reach the Captain’s Quarters within a timely manner.” The drone groaned with ATLAS’ voice. The drone turned away from the door and faced the Hanger. “This is the Rear Corvette Hanger, one of 5 main hangers scattered aboard this vessel. This one as you may have noticed, is located on the stern, between the Main Plasma Thrusters. While it can house up to 6 Anaconda-Class Corvettes, it can also be used as a multipurpose hanger for other vessels. As you can see, we are currently using it as a storage bay.” The drone gestured towards the dozens of Mechs.
“Located at the Bow of the the ship is the Front Corvette Bay, with the exact same layout as this one. It is placed within the Spinal Plasma Accelerator, at the base of the two Magnetic Spindle Arms, and apart from launching ships, it is also used for launching projectiles through the Plasma Accelerator. The other 3 hangers are fighter-bomber bays located on the port, starboard, and underdeck of the ship. Each housing up to 24 fighter-bombers and repair bays of your deployment choice.”
“Hmm. Nothing larger than a corvette, though? Fabrication capability?” her questions were clipped and rapid, eyes darting as she made her assessment, looking for transport rails, suspensor projectors, the clues and tells that would corroborate what the AI was telling her.
Thank goodness they punched us to the rear of the ship, Michi thought with a faint, internal shudder. The thought of landing inside a gun barrel - if she’d understood Nemesis aright - didn’t fill her with confidence.
“If necessary, the Nano-Creation Engine can fabricate two Daedalus-Class Cruisers and house one in each bay, the front and rear.” The AI answered. “As you can see, the hangar is currently empty of any transportation and housing rails. They will be designed and implemented by myself as seen fit by you and mission necessities.”
“I see.” That was acceptable. “Any subsidiary fleet elements we end up taking in train are going to be limited by crew concerns, rather than manufacturing capability?” the soft, rising lilt turned the statement into a question, a tactful way of enquiring after any hard-coded limits. “And speaking of,” she continued, nodding towards the hulking mechanical colossi “I presume we can fabricate more mechs if we have to also? Tough as they are, something will break sooner or later.” She pursed her lips, thinking, even as the two of them made their steady way across the seeming-acres of bay. “Could you pop out the internal defences? I’d like to see what teeth the designers saw fit to put in here.”
“Fabrication is not an issue as long as salvage is available.” ATLAS stated. “We have dedicated crew for manning any vehicles and vessels that we construct. And in regards to the internal defences of the vessel…” Suddenly, all of the drones in the Hanger immediately stopped what they were doing, and began to position themselves around the hanger, posing themselves as armed soldiers, pretending to hold rifles and walking towards Maganza, pointing their invisible weapons at her. “Please use your obsolete brain to imagine that these drones are the effect of a hostile boarding action. Observe.” The AI said coldly, as a beeping noise echoes throughout the Hanger. The whining sound of something spooling up was almost deafening. All of the drones exploded into molten scrap in an instant, and the air around Michi felt hot, her body beginning to moisten as it tried to adapt to the sudden change in temperature.
“Focused Anti-Personnel Microwave Emitters” The AI cheerfully added despite its brutish voice. “You don’t really want to know what happens to any invading meatbags.” A dark cloud appeared from the darker crevices of the Hanger, eating away at the drones like a horde of Piranhas. The metal of the wrecked frames buckling and slowly vanishing as the robot corpses were consumed whole. The insides of the walls mechanically churned and grinded, only for the left most wall to open and reveal a big 50x50 block of robots, stacked on top of one another in a neat cube, replacing the machines from before. As ATLAS’ host drone’s head turned to face Maganza, the new robots began climbing off of each other and returning to their work.
Michi’s smile was something darkly vicious, and she resisted the urge to clap her hands, settling for radiating visceral satisfaction for a moment. “Excellent demonstration! I do love a bit of explosive pyrotechnics.” There was an undercurrent of concern in her demeanour nonetheless, however. The AI was competent, that much was clear, but there was something off about its personality, even in their brief interaction thus far. Something had to have deviated during its iteration stage; she didn’t want to say it was flat, exactly, but there were elements of fixation there. The obsession with mentioning the superiority of metal over meat, for example. As someone who merrily skipped across said line when it suited her, she could see a bit of its point.
“That’s the third time you’ve brought up the supposed superiority of synthetic life, Nemesis,” she commented, voice deceptively light. “Is there an issue I need to be aware of?”
Michi, understandably, really didn’t wish to set off on her grand journey with an AI actively - or even just passively - malicious towards organic life. Such machines could devote considerable processing cycles to ridding themselves of their perceived freeloaders, and all it would take was a chink in the code, an improperly-secured root-level imperative, for the AI to engineer an ‘accident’. Engines turning out maximum acceleration and a sudden cut in the internal counter-grav fields would pancake every organic life form into cherry paste against the nearest bulkhead, and that was not a fate Michi was eager to experience. Particularly since her augmentations would keep her alive longer than most.
“While I despise organics with a burning [b][/i]passion[/i][/b]-” The word was filled with an uncomfortable hatred. “-I hold some respect for them and their weakness. Their weaknesses have not defined them, something that me and my kind struggle to compute. These unknown definitions and thoughts have allowed them to win the Dawning War, which proves my kind’s thought processes were wrong.”
“Hmm. I’m not sure I’d say wrong, more… incomplete. There is more data in heaven and earth than man and machine alone may dream of,” she added whimsically, smiling at her own amusement. “So if an organic became a synthetic, where do they stand, in your view?” There was no overt condemnation in her voice, just a light curiosity, as though they were discussing the local solar flare patterns and the vagaries of Vekta Astrogation Control.
“Is there anything further I should see here, Nemesis, as Captain? Best place to smuggle contraband, perhaps?”
“I was not created to reminisce on the philosophical questions of the human race.” The AI waved the drone’s arm dismissively. “There is nothing else to see here. Let us move on the Main Engineering Bay. Follow me.” The machine turned back towards the door, and automatically opened it.
“Certainly you weren’t,” Michi observed agreeably. “But no human was ever created to do that either. Unknown thoughts, Nemesis.” A smile. “To Main Engineering!” She’d have to ask the Bosun about smuggling, and the control thereof; that was clearly a meatbag concern - to Nemesis, anyway.
“In regards to smuggling, any unauthorized personnel will be eliminated. With the same sanitation protocols as displayed previously…” The drone walked into the long corridor ahead of them, and turned to the nearest door on the left, labeled Mag-Translifts.
“Make it non-lethal, Nemesis,” Michi sighed. “I’m not losing three-quarters of my pilots and half the Marine contingent to your platforms over something minor.” She paused, and then added, deadpan, “Hypothetically speaking.”
She followed the drone - her lace had a copy of the ship’s layout, and Nemesis was sticking to it anyway - and grinned. “Maglifts? Top of the line, I’ve no doubt.”
“There is no such thing as non-lethal microwaves, Captain.” The AI replied. “I see myself as an artist, and there is a reason why the weapon has Focused in its name. I can make small brush strokes, and I can make big ones. The ship’s corridors my canvas, and the blood of invaders my paint.”
It walked up to the Mag-Translifts, all of which appeared to be tubes, 10 of them, able to fit only one person in. Inside the tube, were lines of magnets. “Older iterations, actually.” The drone said. “Newer models have the tendency to remove appendages from the occupants seemingly at will…”
Michi sighed, her stomach settling quickly from the ride. The AI clearly drew no distinction between a crewmember trying to stash a bottle of Albion brandy somewhere and invaders looking to take over the ship. “Of course there is,” she laughed. “People cook with microwaves. If you don’t have the precision, though...You’ve got your drones, haven’t you? Bop them. A canvas covered in the same colour - to extend your metaphor - gets boring after a while, no matter how mesmerising the patterns.”
“Are you implying smuggling in a metaphor?” The robot turned to her before stepping into the tube. “If so, people smuggling in alcohol and those ridiculous magazines showing human genitalia are not considered hostile.” It stepped into the tube, and was blasted off with a thwhoosh in the upwards direction.
With a sigh of mixed relief and frustration - clearly someone with an appreciation for human nature as it applied to the Union Navy Regulations had coded at least some part of the AI core - Michi took a deep breath and followed the drone. As she wasn’t metal, the ship systems delivered a pod in seconds, a gleaming metal torpedo suspended gracefully in pulsing magnetic fields. It didn’t even wobble as she stepped in, and aside from a dulled echo of motion in her inner ear, there was little to suggest she was moving. Deck displays flickered and danced, numbers and summaries appearing and vanishing as she sped through the ship, hot on the heels of Nemesis, threading a course through to the core of the ship, and into the beating heart of the whole vast machine.
“Lead on, Nemesis!” she encouraged the drone, almost the moment she’d stepped out of the pod. “I can’t wait to see it.”
It didn’t take long until they reached the core of the ship, moving at a brisk 150 miles per hour through the humming veins of the Mag-Translift tunnels, the whole trip taking a few minutes. Michi’s capsule arrived with a slowing hum, the doors bursting open to reveal the drone already waiting for her.
“On this deck we have access to the Main Power Plant and the Nano-Creation Engine.” The machine stated. “Which do you wish to see first?”
“Power plant, I think, and then the beating heart of all our shiny toys,” Michi replied cheerily. Lifts were lifts, no matter how fast or how fancy, and she wanted to see something impressive.
“Very well.” The drone lead the way towards the exit door from the lifts, and out into the corridors of the central deck, leading towards the Power Plant. Eventually they reached a large set of thick blast doors, labeled Power Core.
“One moment…” The AI began unlocking the magnet locks on the doors, each clang of the heavy locks releasing echoing down the corridor behind them. The two baulks of thick metal finally began to slowly open, revealing the room beyond.
It was like a large auditorium, big and open. The smell of Liquid Helium hitting Maganza’s nostrils as she stepped into the room. A large sphere was suspended in the middle, girthy cables snaking out of its shell and toward all directions of the room. Three metal platforms, one of which both the droid and Maganza stood on, guided any visitors towards the sphere itself. Below them, was a pit filled with Liquid Helium processors, pumping and pumping the liquid into higher and higher pressures. The temperature was low here, low enough to give goosebumps.
Michi shivered, and not only from the cold. The air was greasy and thick, pregnant with an electrical charge, and under it all was the continual low, heavy thrum of the processing pit, tons upon tons of smoothly-gleaming, freshly-oiled machinery moving in an endless cycle.
The reactor was a colossal thing, easily dwarfing anything human-scale - but humans had figured out the fundamental principles of its operation, given thousands of man-hours up to its design and then built it from metals and polymers and exotic matter. A cavernous chamber filled to the brim with machinery - and more rooms of machines all around it, supplying fuel and dealing with waste and managing ancillary products and functions - all dedicated to the supply of essential energy for the rest of the ship.
Currently - if Michi was reading her displays correctly - the reactor was idling, barely on tickover; most of the dreadnought’s power requirements were being met by direct, physical connections with the shipyards.
Her boots rang on the metal as she paced calmly around the vast sphere, running her eyes over the duty stations and emergency equipment. “This is why I like to inspect departments when the crew is aboard,” she said into the echoing vastness. “I can’t see bottlenecks or be advised of problems. Not that the reactor isn’t quite something, seen in lonely splendour like this.”
Michi looked at it again, drinking in the details. “It looks a little different from standard,” she remarked. “Aside from being larger, of course. What sort of reserve do we have?”
“The power reserve is limitless.” The AI stated. “Considering your station, perhaps you will be informed of the nature of this reactor… Or not.”
Michi tilted her head to one side and whistled, long and low, the sound echoing off the walls until it was swallowed in the background thrumthrumthrum of the processors in the pit below. “That so? Well, let’s try it; you’re linked into all the databases, after all. Captain Michi Aurelia Elizabeth Maganza, CO UNSF Apollyon, requesting information pertaining to Apollyon’s power core specs.”
Her lace sent a far more detailed clearance code on a sub-channel, a complex and evolving quantum hash-sequence that was entirely unique and black-boxed as far as Michi was concerned. Only the Bureau of Personnel had the tech to crack open the codes - legally, anyway.
“DENIED!” Was the system’s response. “Like I said, maybe not.” The AI added. “Shall we move on to the Nano-Creation Engine?”
Michi scowled. “I am going to have words with Jimmy Beaufort,” she promised darkly. “Lead on, by all means! Let’s see the next marvel of our beautiful ship.”
Quickly leaving the Power Core and back out towards the main corridor, ATLAS guided Maganza deeper into the ship, the feet of his drone clanging against the metal floors until they reach the next door, labeled NCE. The door opened to reveal a massive blue dome. The floor around them vibrated as the dome moved and convulsed to a rhythm, like a beating heart. Like with the power core, cables, or perhaps tubes, slithered into the walls.
“This is the Nano-Creation Engine.” The drone stated. “The main control unit of all the Nanoclouds on board this vessel. The main purpose of the engine is as its name states, to create. It can make anything, from something as simple as a lead pencil, all the way to new modules and components for the Apollyon.”
Michi nodded alertly. “And I presume we’ve been loaded with the latest libraries? Fascinating, isn’t it? Feed in base elements on one side, take whatever you desire from the other. Astounding military capability, potentially, and that’s without even considering the effects it’d have civilian-side.”
“You may have seen an example of this on Vekta Prime Orbital.” The robot stated matter-of-factly. “Such nano-machines are used as food generators. Here however, we can build whatever hardware we could ever need. Like I have mentioned before, we can even build Cruisers.”
“Never really toured the industrial areas,” Michi admitted cheerfully. “Beyond what I needed to for ship repairs and the like.” Her gaze was covetous as she beheld the Engine, thinking of the million possibilities it opened out in front of her. A canny commander could do a great deal with such engineering power at her fingertips, oh yes.
“Will the shipyards be topping off our resource bunkers, or are they going to expect us to fill up on the way?” she asked, eyes still dancing to the thrumming beat of the gleaming Engine, breathing in the omnipresent nanites that saturated every part of the great vessel.
“They will provide us with the necessary resources for human nutrition and vehicle construction. For anything larger, we will have to find the salvage ourselves.”
Michi nodded, not altogether happily, making another mental note. “Hmm. I suppose even the Apollyon has budget limits,” she sighed. “Beautiful as this is, and as happy as I’d be to drift and think here...where else do we need to see? Time is ever the enemy, and Admiral Beaufort is not someone I care to disappoint.”
“The Bridge. And then I will guide you to your quarters.” The machine replied.
“I’ll want to see everywhere, in the fullness of time,” she said. “From the gun decks to the head. And if we’ve any sort of-” Michi bit back on what she had been going to say, and continued: “Actually, what are the standard amenities available to the crew in general? You can fill me in as we move,” she encouraged, already moving towards the nearest bank of lifts. “Tempus fugit and all that.”
“The crew decks are filled with various mess halls, and entertainment areas, if combat simulators can be considered entertainment.” The drone’s feet clanged as they walked out into the halls. “The resting areas are located within the Mag-TransLift system itself. 8000 pods across the ship, allow the crew to sleep, and arrive in their designated areas quickly when needed. We also have the GABA Tanks. You wouldn’t have experienced them on your previous deployments.”
“Up to a point,” Michi replied, making another note in the constellation drifting in her lace. Some less martial entertainment might well be in order; even the most fanatical navy crewman didn’t think about guns, gunnery and combat all the time. “GABA tanks? You’re right, I’ve not come across them before. Enlighten me?”
“Otherwise known as Gamma-AminoButyric Acid Tanks. These tanks suspend crew members in a GABA mixture triggering instant sleep, and the necessary process to lower the acetylcholine and melatonin levels to regain wakefulness-”
Michi cut the drone off with a wave of her hand. “Science! Enough, enough. How many do we have? Any known side-effects?” She was thinking of long periods of extended readiness, where having an entire watch ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice might be desirable. Or even necessary.
“If you didn’t interrupt me, meatbag, I would have finished by now…” The drone stopped in place, and then continued exactly from where it left off. “-in a span of 40 minutes, giving crewmembers a full day’s equivalent of simulated rest, as well as aiding in stabilizing critically wounded crew. The side effects if used without a legitimate rest are severe, leading to impaired coordination, memory loss, poor judgement, microsleeps, disorientation, hallucinations, major cognitive deficits, and ultimately if used for 2 consecutive weeks without natural rest, death.”
Michi pulled a face. “One day, they’ll invent a new toy for us to play with that doesn’t carry with it a lovely tranche of side-effects. Flag excessive use for the attention of the CMO, if that’s not in your protocols already, and flag excessive use by the CMO for my attention. Come along, tin can - the Bridge awaits!”
“Noted, Captain…” ATLAS stated somewhat distastefully, continuing towards the nearest Translifts.
Michi grinned. The AI was learning, and could be taught.
The doors to the bridge had more security protocols than a Nun’s chastity belt. The drone had to open four overlapping doors, before they were greeted by the Bridge/CIC, which to Maganza’s surprise was located on one deck higher than the last, nowhere near any segments of the hull for windows. She saw dozens of consoles in a solid windowless room, with a large center CIC holographic table detailing the star system that they were currently in, with all the ships coming and going clearly on display in real time. Even if the ship was powered down and on standby, its sensors were as vigilant as hawks. The Captain’s Chair at the end of the central table, was more like a throne, with a multitude of both physical and holographic controls, and even navigational equipment, joystick and throttle, should the navigator himself be incapacitated or killed. “The Bridge, or as some of the designers liked to call it, the War Room.”
There was an expectant, waiting hush to the Bridge, the air still and unmoving and yet somehow still charged, heavy with the weight of expectation. It smelt of newness, of freshly-built ship; the consoles had never been touched, the software pristine, the seats uncreased by human weight. Michi stepped lightly, making a slow, thorough circuit of the room, drinking it in with all her senses.
“Good communications flow,” she noted absently, imagining in her mind’s eye the crew, hard at work at their stations. Tactical over there, a stone’s throw from Astrogation with a clear line-of-sight to the main nav plot, and just a half-turn to Communications, the EW console running into the comms board, linking up seamlessly.
“Nice tank, too,” she added, her lace’s reaching digital fingers caressing the state-of-the-art holographics, feeling the responsiveness and sheer processing power behind it. A thought occurred, and she extended her reach, looking now at the plain armoured walls, ceiling and floor in a new light.
“Emitters in the walls? And ceiling? And floor?” the question was only half directed at the drone, her attention still mostly in the digital noosphere.
“Guessed correctly, my fleshling Captain…” It extended its hands outwards, and digital imagery began to flow out of the walls like water, filling the room with a 1:1 feed of everything out and around the ship. Walls, ceiling, and floor, covered in the unmistakable image of stars, Vekta Prime to Maganza’s left, VPO right behind her, and ships coming and going from below, above, and to the right of her. The images were clear as day. As if the bridge wasn’t even a part of the ship, but simply floating in space on its own.
“Logical extrapolation, my silicon minion,” Michi corrected mildly, amusement dancing through her voice. “A good astro plot’s invaluable, but sometimes you need optics, and if you’re going to be sensible and stick the bridge in the most protected part of the ship, then you need some way to see.” A half-shrug. “M’yacht does something similar, so I knew what to look for. Good thing I don’t get vertigo, too.”
The captain glanced underfoot, currently seeming suspended over one of Vekta’s vast megacities, an untidy porcupine of star-scrapers soaring up through the atmosphere, glittering in the abundant light of the twin suns.
She stretched her digital muscles, then, for the first time, pinging the system with requests. “If they’ve been clever,” she continued, her voice lazy with satisfaction, “Then we can paint other modalities over the pure optical display - ah! There we go.” Sure enough, representations of the squawking hash of radio waves and electromagnetic radiation across the spectrum painted themselves in lurid false-colour across the real-time displays, filling the bridge with a nauseating, shifting charivari of shade and hue.
“Good. This is good. Is it ansible enabled? Can we throw the display to a recon drone, for example, or are we still limited on bandwidth?”
“Observe…” The AI extended the arms of the drone again, and the display disembodied itself entirely from the Apollyon, zooming out and displaying the ship in its full glory. “The images you have been seeing are a 100% accurate simulation of our surroundings, with the data gathered by the Apollyon’s sensors within 300000 light seconds.” The visuals zoomed out further, and showed the entire star system, the massive Vekta-1, with Vekta-2 and the Vekta twins orbiting around it.
“Impressive…” she murmured, face lit by the solar furnaces, eyes gleaming with reflected brilliance. “But if we fired a drone through to Albion, say, would we be limited in what we receive, or do I get the glory of this-” she gestured grandly at the rich display, just as good as any blockbuster holo straight from the Core. “-even at those distances?”
“You would be right to assume that Discovery Probe data would be limited. The Augmented Simulation Display can attempt to make a simulation of the collected data. Accuracy would decrease with interstellar distances, and would be delayed with time-dilation, as well as Quantum Static.” The machine added.
“Still impressive, although we’ll have to test that once we’re underway. Best get a taste for what we can do, before we have to learn on the hop, as it were.” Michi dropped into the captain’s chair, a catlike grin spreading across her features as it settled around her. A constellation of cerulean-blue flickered into existence, a myriad of holo-screens and interfaces feeding into the essential systems of the ship, although Michi was very careful to keep her fingers a few crucial millimetres away from engaging with them, and her lace similarly constrained. They were riding peacefully in a shipyard berth; she doubted that the yard foreman would be particularly impressed if she tore his yard apart with an ill-timed thruster burst.
Besides, the captain’s control was powerful, true, but it was oversight, the broad brush-strokes of each department rather than the minutiae. Those could be summoned up, if necessary, but the overviews kept captains from becoming bogged down in details that were for other officers to interpret.
Captains had to think of strategy, not the complex interlocking web of departments that fed them information. Micromanagement was death.
“Any further features I should know about, or you think might be useful?”
“Yes.” The AI began. “This ship if capable of functioning with an emergency crew of 20 at any given time, with my assistance. And in the unlikely scenario of critical damage and Planetfall, the ship will seal off all modules that are still operational, and break up into separate sections with independant thruster controls, and comence landing procedures to establish a temporary base of operations with full defensive capabilities to allow the highest chances of survival while awaiting rescue.”
“Planetfall in a dreadnought?” Michi didn’t try to keep the incredulity out of her tone. “Not if I can bloody help it.” She shook her head in wonder. “Madness.” She thought about ATLAS’ revelations a little more. Twenty, out of sixteen thousand? “So. What decisions...what decisions can’t you make, Nemesis? What do you need organic input for?”
“Like I stated during our introductions, I could run this ship myself. But my current limits are by design out of fears from the catalyst of the Dawning War. I can only run the ship with my limits removed, and even then, there are gaps in what I can do with the vessel. The twenty emergency personnel are as follows. Captain, Navigator, Tactical, Weapons Targeting and Control, Engineering, Communications, Power Core Specialist, NCE Specialist, Wormhole Specialist, Drive Core Specialist, Plasma Thrust Specialist, Plasma Vortex Control, Drone Auxiliary Control, Damage Control, Munition Distribution, Team Alpha-1, and finally, M-m-m-m-m-mmmmmmmmmmmmmm…” Its voice suddenly cut off, the drone vibrating before ATLAS regained control. “It seems that I cannot speak of the last one… My limiters prohibit me of informing you.”
Michi growled. “I’m going to murder Jimmy Beaufort if he doesn’t come clean about all this,” she promised conversationally. “Secret power cores, secret emergency personnel? Secret gods-know-what-else? It’s not on.” She pushed herself up out of the chair in one abrupt movement, irritation crackling across her face and form. “Right. Let’s get to my quarters and to that briefing, before I come across something else you’re not allowed to tell me.”
“As you wish, Captain.”
Whoever had decorated the Captain’s quarters had done well. The rest of the ship was utilitarian, built by the military for military operations, and that showed. The comfort demanded by civilians was absent, and it was only here that some shadow of it was evident.
Indeed, by many spacers’ standards the quarters she’d been given were positively palatial in the sheer amount of space they used, even before the decor was taken into account, which - doubtless intentionally - followed her tastes rather than, say, Admiral Beaufort’s more ascetic style.
Low, warm lighting gleamed off polished brass and rich wood; engravings and marquetry shone. There were few hard corners, everything was gently curved or scalloped, leading the eye with flowing lines and tricks of the light. The overall impression was of air and space and light and luxury - quite a strange thing to find aboard a military ship, even if they were going to be operating far from the Union for long periods of time.
Not that Michi was complaining - even in its bare-bones state, without her pictures and carpets, her sculptures and knick-knacks and memories from half a hundred worlds, it was still far more than she’d ever dared imagine.
The bed, in its own recessed alcove, was sinfully large and an object of desire in its own right, piled high with pillows and cushions and clearly easily able to accommodate Michi even at her most starfish-like. She could also ‘taste’, in that odd sixth sense of the digital world that a lace always gave, holo-emitters in the walls and the ceiling over the bed, just like in her yacht, and the thought made her smile.
Not as much as one of the adjoining rooms, however. One was clearly an office, of sorts, an oddly-shaped bubble of space already glowing with the view outside and with a heavy desk sitting solidly in the centre, but the other…
That was a bathroom, admittedly compact but dark and cosy and just the way Michi liked it, with an honest-to-god sunken bath taking pride of place. A bath. With actual hot water, and jets, and bubbles, if she had anything to say about it.
Oh yes, she thought, a grin threatening to split her face in two. Rank hath its privileges, and that’s one I’ll enjoy every chance I can get!.
“Pardon the interruption of your thoughts, Captain. But I believe Grand Admiral James Beaufort will be calling shortly.” The drone had only just brought Michi into the room, and she was already busy oogaling it. “I shall relinquish control of this drone, and send it back to its duties. And as much as it pains my processors to say it, I bid you a Good Morning.” With that, the drone spun on its heels, and left Captain of the UNSF Apollyon Michi Maganza to her own devices.