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 at the start of the project, click here
For a brief list of acronyms and initialisms used, click here
Andrea – in search of space. Chapter three, part three.
The pool of talent available for training in the various fields needed for self-sufficiency was far too small. Their best estimate suggested that they needed another thirty-five people as a starter pack to fill all the roles. Andrea passed this information to Meredith but received little sympathy.
“You wanted to be independent, Andrea,” Meredith said, “If that’s what it takes then so be it.”
Andrea didn’t bother arguing that it was not her idea to cut loose either administratively or financially. It wouldn’t have done any good. “I’ve heard talk of redundancies in Packway support staff. Is it true? And, if so, would it be appropriate to offer any of the positions I have on C-pill to some of them?”
“You do know they are all civilians, don’t you?”
“So was I at the start of Prodigialis. Look, I have to reset the ship’s establishment anyway, is there any reason I shouldn’t include a number of civilian employees in support roles: management, accountancy, teaching; that sort of thing?”
“Except they wouldn’t be subject to military discipline. That’s never been a problem here but out in space I’m not so sure how it would work out.”
“Don’t worry about discipline. Their contracts will make it very clear that they will be subject to the same military discipline as their enlisted or commissioned colleagues. I’m also looking to recruit Gravit Ass to our cause. I understand that he’s not happy where he is, and I think this challenge would be right up his street.”
“Good luck with that – he’s a difficult one to deal with, but I’ll pass the offer on and see how he reacts to it. Otherwise – I’ll send you a list of the proposed redundancies; if you’d like to select some names, you can either come down here to interview them or see them up there. The Sir Prijs will be ready for you next week and the applicants can come up in that.”
“Thanks, Admiral. I’ll get back to you once we’ve studied the list.”
Within minutes the list of more than a hundred redundancies appeared in Andrea’s inbox. Within the areas where she had needs, she could immediately identify seventy-three that could be suitable. She called Meredith back and asked if her Personnel chief could notify these people that there were jobs available but that they would have to travel to the ship for competitive interviews involving at least one overnight stay on board. She also asked Meredith to make sure that all of those contacted were fully aware what a job in Deep Space Ops entailed in terms of accepting military discipline, on-board living and absence from home.
The following week C-pill received the Sir Prijs, captained by her new master, none other than the disgraced and recently demoted Commander Algernon Pippington with equally disgraced and recently demoted Lieutenant Jacob Postlethwaite as his First Officer. On board were sixty-six applicants for the thirty-five new jobs that had been settled on chaperoned, or more likely shepherded by the redoubtable Commander Patsy Pratt and kept in line by none other than Warrant Officer Duncan de Sauderley.
WO de Sauderley marched the recruits to their temporary quarters where newly promoted Lieutenant Anusha Nambeesan delivered a thorough briefing, introduced them to C-pill’s Ship’s Standing Orders and ran through the routines and the lists of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
Jason took Pippington and Postlethwaite into his ready room for a similar briefing and solid warning of what fate would await them in the event they breached any of the ship’s codes of conduct. He also pointed out to them that, as a DSO vessel, the rules, regulations and codes that applied on board the Colin Pillinger, as well as the sanctions outlined, would be equally applicable on Sir Prijs. In answer to Pippington’s query as to when these would start to apply, Jason confirmed they already did.
Whilst all this was going on, Andrea took Patsy into her office for what is best described as a good old chinwag.
“Is it true what Meredith told me, Andrea?” Patsy asked.
“That rather depends on what you’re talking about and whether your level of clearance is enough for me to give you any more information, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, come on, Andrea. This is me, Patsy. We don’t have any secrets, do we?”
“Personally, no. But as commander of Deep Space Operations, I am privy to a lot of information that isn’t available outside certain tightly regulated circles. I’m bound by Regimental Standing Orders and by the Official Secrets Act to guard with my life, if need be, information that is deemed sensitive.”
“So it’s right what Meredith and Joan are saying – you have become a jobsworth.”
Andrea was a long way from amused by that remark but chose to let it pass. “What is it you wanted to check with me, Patsy?”
“Meredith says you’re taking your ship into a deep space orbit, millions of kilometres away.”
“I suppose if the Admiral deems it okay for you to have that information, it would not be proper for me to contradict what she has told you.”
“So you are?”
“What else did she say?”
“Just that. She didn’t say when or where. She didn’t say whether we’d ever see you or your ship again. I mean, what about supplies? How will people get home for leave? Do you have those Jinthae pod things yet?”
“I’m sorry, Pats; I truly am, but I can’t address those things without specific authorisation from Meredith.”
“You’re as bad as Joan. She won’t tell me anything, either.”
“You’ll have to talk to Meredith. If she puts you on the team, you’ll know everything. In the meantime, there’s nothing I can do, I’m afraid.”
“So, what’s your next move?”
“We have sixty-odd people to interview for thirty-five posts.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“How well do you know the applicants?”
“Most of them by name only, I’m afraid.”
“That’s okay. You know what it’s like living on board a space vessel and you’re familiar with working under military discipline?”
“Right, then. Commander Boyle, my admin and personnel chief, will be interviewing the candidates for their suitability for the roles they’re applying for, backed up by our head of administration services.”
“Ooh, that sounds posh. Who’s that?” Patsy asked.
“Anusha Nambeesan? Little Nusha the steward?”
“Let’s not forget who we are and where we’ve come from, shall we, Patsy the galley-maid? Short of Paige, Anusha is the best qualified person we have in Admin. Anyway, it would be a great help if you could interview them for their suitability for on-board life, bearing in mind they could be away from their homes and friends for years at a time. You can have Gravit Ass to back you up, if you wish. Jason and I plan to sit in on some of the interviews as observers but if we do, you should pretend we’re not there. And remember – it’s not you being judged, it’s the potential recruits. What do you think?”
“I’m in. How’s Tarquin doing?”
“Quite well. He’s in the First Officer’s chair for a trial period – seems to be making a reasonably decent fist of it so far.”
“You know he’ll screw up, don’t you?”
“Sadly, yes, but I think he deserves a shot at proving himself.”
“Does Meredith know?”
“About Tarquin being XO?”
“And when I told her, I thought she might die laughing. Still, if she did, that would increase my chances of another promotion; dead men’s shoes and all that sort of thing.”
“Ooh, you’re hard. Can I have some fun with Tarquin?”
“What sort of fun?”
“You know, play with his head a bit. EPHS.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Spoilsport. Who can I play with? I haven’t messed with anyone’s head for ages.”
“Alright, Patsy. When you’ve finished all the interviews, if you have any time left before you have to go back, you can have some fun with Postlethwaite.”
“Oh yes. Jacob Postlethwaite: currently First Officer on my old ship. previously, as I recall, Leading Hand Postlethwaite made me open the car door myself when he drove us from Swindon to Packway. I owe him one, and he doesn’t have Farquharson watching his back now. Thank you, Admiral; I shall enjoy that. And if I don’t have time to do him here, I can do him on the way back.”
“Exactly. Let’s have lunch then get started, shall we?”
Interviewing and testing the applicants and offering jobs to the successful candidates and condolences to the rest took a lot longer than they had bargained for; almost two weeks in all. On a positive note, that allowed all the recruits to interact socially with the crew, in many cases rekindling old friendships, and to become aware of what life is like on board a vessel like the Colin Pillinger. Whilst all that was going on, Andrea, Jason and Tarquin busily called in all the favours they could muster to identify and appoint accountants and legal counsel to support their dealings with government. Andrea and Jason flew down to the planet in Shuttle 1 for the final negotiations and contract signing and made sure that appropriate channels were opened to meet their ongoing needs. They were somewhat surprised by the eagerness with which these professionals viewed the possibility of occasional trips to deep space and wondered to what extent they actually understood what was involved.
Nonetheless, within a few weeks, the pair had successfully engaged all the staff the ship needed for its initial operations. There followed a period of bedding in, when the new civilian recruits found their places in this highly-structured military environment.