Sunday serialisation – Andrea 1.4

Andrea cover300

Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.

Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.

The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.

For the cast of characters, click here

For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here


Andrea – in search of space. Chapter one, part four.

 At eight-thirty the following morning, Andrea looked around her new command office and smiled with quiet satisfaction. Although it wasn’t as expansive as the accommodation her boss enjoyed, it was larger than Joan Weinberg’s and, most importantly, considerably more spacious than Jason’s ready-room. It was comfortable without being luxurious, and well-equipped whilst avoiding ostentation. Sitting at her computer terminal she called up the camera in the adjacent conference room and was gratified to see eleven of the twenty seats around the enormous round table already occupied. Facial recognition software embedded in the systems tagged the eleven occupants and Andrea spent some time putting faces to names as well as observing the developing inter-personal relationships displayed by the officers’ body language.

A tone sounded on her desk speaker interrupting her study, and a window on her terminal showed Jason standing at her office door.

“C-pill: open my office door,” Andrea said. An indicator on the outside of the door glowed green, the lock was released and the door silently opened. Jason entered.

“Ready, Ma’am?” he asked.

Andrea nodded, rose from her seat, grabbed some papers from her desk and marched towards the door leading to the conference room. Jason ran ahead of her, held a hand up to prevent her from opening the door and said, “May I?” She nodded agreement. Standing in front of the door, Jason intoned, “C-pill: open this door.” The AI, of course, knew exactly where Jason was and hence which door he wanted it to open.

The door opened, Jason took a step into the conference room and called the room to attention. All conversation stopped. Six men and five women stood to attention, pushing their chairs back, turned to face the door and saluted as Andrea entered.

“As you were,” their commanding officer said then quietly, addressing Jason, “Thank you for that, Commodore, but maybe a little less formality going forward?” Jason nodded.

The eleven officers took their allotted seats again; Jason pulled Andrea’s chair out for her and pushed it back in after she had seated herself. He then took his place at her right hand. The circular table gave the impression of an egalitarian meeting-place, though it was universally understood that proximity to the CO’s position was an indicator of seniority and respected the unwritten hierarchy that exists in most large naval and space-going vessels.

In front of each seat was a recessed monitor connected to a camera and microphone which allowed the ship’s systems to record every movement made and every word spoken in the room. A red LED on each microphone confirmed that it was active and, during a meeting, a green LED on the microphone shows when it is live and the image on the monitor of a Māori tokotoko or talking stick indicates who has the floor. Most officers were familiar with the arrangement and so were highly circumspect in their use of language and gestures whilst in the room. Except for Tarquin, obviously. He spent the entire meeting looking first at Andrea, then at Nusha, his eyes betraying a mix of admiration, confusion, adoration, lust and indecision. However, when comparing this with his normal expression, the AI didn’t choose to flag anything as noteworthy.

Andrea called the meeting to order. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” she said, “Each of you has been selected because you are among the best in your field. Together, you make up the team most likely to achieve the objective of the mission I’m about to reveal to you. You also all have the highest possible level of clearance, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. What the regiment doesn’t yet know is how you will perform as a team.” She looked around at the group and noted the confusion on their faces. “Before I tell you what our mission is, standing orders require me to remind you that, in this and other meeting rooms, every interaction is monitored, recorded and logged using video and sound. Your continued presence here will signify your acceptance of that. If you’re not okay with this you are free to leave and request reassignment.” No-one moved. “Good. Thank you all. One other point: If, during any meeting in this room, you wish to speak, you must signal your request by pressing the blue button on your monitor. The person speaking will see the request on his or her monitor and may accept or reject the interruption. You may speak only when the tokotoko is on your screen. If you all familiarise yourselves with these conventions our meetings will run faster and more smoothly. To continue: I want each of you to take away what you learn in here this morning and, with it in mind, study carefully the information packs that Commodore Strangename will be giving you shortly. I’ll be briefing you individually over the coming days. All okay so far?”

A round of nods and indistinct murmurs told Andrea all she needed to know.

“Splendid. My fellow officers: our planet is in trouble. Within less than a century from now, the human population will exceed the planet’s ability to feed, clothe and house it. The mission that has been entrusted to us is to identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which to which we can send, as migrants, a large proportion of the current population.” An icon on her monitor indicated that Tarquin has requested an interrupt. “I’ll give way later, Captain. We are looking at what could best be termed an overspill planet.” Around the room people looked at each other with quizzical expressions. “I know. I know what you’re all thinking: that the closest known candidate habitable planets are tens of light-years away, that they’re small in number and widely scattered, and that this vessel is not capable of reaching even the nearest within any of our lifetimes. And you’re right on all counts. That, my fellow officers, is our challenge. Everything you need to know, or at least all we currently have, is in your information packs. You will find details of technologies, not all of Earth origin, that are available to us or that will be developed for us to enable us to proceed with this mission.” She paused for the muttering to die down. “This is the serious part. Nothing of what you learn on board this vessel may be communicated to any outside person by any means without written clearance from Commodore Strangename or myself. I’ll say that again because I need you to be completely clear on this. Nothing of what you learn on board this vessel may be communicated to any outside person by any means without written clearance from Commodore Strangename as ship’s captain or myself as commanding officer. Any communication of classified information from this project will be classed a capital offence.”

Despite the cameras and microphones, a general hubbub arose around the table. Jason stood and started handing briefing documents to the attendees. Each contained a detailed overview of the project followed by an in-depth exposition particular to each participant’s department. Andrea sent an alarm tone to all monitors to to regain the room’s attention.

“Thank you. We shall meet again in three days. This room, 0900. Meantime, my door is open. Dismissed. Captain Stuart-Lane, you’re with me.”

Andrea left her seat and returned to her office, followed by Jason and Tarquin.

“Take a seat, Captain,” Andrea said as she seated herself at her desk. Jason stood at her side.

“Cripes, am I in trouble already? I’ve only been here a couple of weeks.”

“No, Tarquin. Not yet, anyway. Look at the file Jason gave you.”

Tarquin looked at the front page and frowned. “I think you’ve given me the wrong one,” he said.

“The wrong one what?”

“Sorry,” Tarquin flinched, raised his eyebrows and relaxed. “I think you’ve given me the wrong one, Sir.”

“That isn’t what I meant, Tarquin,” Jason said, “Why do you think I have given you the wrong file?”

“This one says First Officer. Isn’t that your job?”

“Let me explain,” Andrea started, “although I am the ranking officer on board, I do not count myself qualified to be master of this vessel. I have delegated that responsibility to Commodore Strangename and assumed the role of commanding officer. You, Captain, I have appointed acting First Officer. No change in rank, status or pay, but I thought you deserved a crack at a proper job. The position is subject to confirmation after a trial period of six months. So, to summarise, Commodore Strangename is captain and master of the Colin Pillinger and you are his first officer—”

“Subject to confirmation—”

“After six months, yes. So do a decent job and the position with its rank, status, privileges and pay will be yours.”

“And if I don’t?”

“You will.”

“But if I don’t?”

“Corporal Formme is still looking for help with Hotay.”

Tarquin blanched, stood and saluted to the two officers. “I’ll be the best damned First Officer in the fleet, Ma’am,” he said.

“No need for that, Tarquin. Just be competent and—”

“Don’t screw up?”

“Don’t screw up. Now, off you trot and read the file. Anything you don’t understand, Commodore Strangename will be happy to fill you in on – won’t you, Commodore?”

“More than happy to fill him in, Ma’am,” Jason said with a wink. Turning to leave, he said, “I suppose I should go and study my brief now, Andrea – with your permission, of course.”

“Of course. And I mine. Where will you be if I need you?”

“On the end of the comm. In my ready-room.” He stood, unmoving, looking at Andrea. He raised one eyebrow.
Reading his intention, Andrea asked, “Must we do this, Commodore?”

“For the time being, Admiral.”

“Okay. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Jason came to attention, saluted, turned and left the office.

Over the course of the following two days, Andrea spoke with each of the department heads to clarify their understanding of the roles assigned to them, to get to know her top people better and to cement her understanding of the relationships involved. The interviews were all recorded, giving Jason the opportunity to review those he hadn’t been able to attend in person.

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