CC Ch1

Changes in the Crew

Chapter 1

 

“She can’t take it anymore, Captain!” Commander Duval yelled over the intercom. “I recommend we give the order to abandon ship, sir.”

Captain Haldeman only took three seconds to make his decision, but the pain was evident on his face. “Understood,” he said. “Boatswain’s mate, sound the call to abandon ship.”

The boatswain blew his pipe, then said, “All hands abandon ship! All hands abandon ship!”

“Get out of here, Captain,” Lieutenant Stock, the general quarters officer-of-the-deck urged.

“The captain goes down with his ship,” Haldeman said, without a trace of hesitation in his voice.

“Not today, sir. I’m not leaving, so either we both go down or you leave.”

The captain locked his gaze with Lieutenant Stock for a few short seconds, and then Captain Haldeman nodded.

“You win. I’ve enjoyed having you under my command,” Haldeman said, as he hurried to an escape pod.

“Let’s hold her together for as long as possible,” Commander Duval told Lieutenant Stock.

“Will do, ma’am.”

Commander Duval died at her post when engineering took a direct hit from a Draconian penetrator missile. Lieutenant Stock died a few seconds later when a plasma beam shot a blast through the hull of the Heinlein, and the bridge was breached. They were both posthumously promoted to the rank of captain and were both awarded the Dalton Space Force Medal of Honor.

I saw a flash, and I relived the deaths of other friends. Kate, Spencer, Alan, Ryan, and Collin, had all died when we tried to escape from London Proper. Many more had died in the Battle of the Blockade. Still more had died on the colony station Plymouth as it took a direct hit from a Monarch-class battleship.

“Captain,” the voice of my executive officer, Jennifer Kade, snapped me awake in a cold sweat.

“Yes, X?” I replied. I was still a little shaky from the nightmare, but I was already halfway into my uniform.

“Sir, someone is here to meet you. They’re in the hangar.”

“Say again?” I asked. The Starwarden was cruising just above light speed toward Lexington, one of Jack Dalton’s colonies outside of Sol System. We had jumped into the system going at low Kelven speeds. Our Kelven drive wasn’t operating quite up to spec since the beating we took at the Battle for the Orbitals. We were still a light day away from Lexington, and no one should have been meeting us until we reached orbit.

“Someone is here to meet you, sir. She says that she has secure information from the Sky Marshal and Jack Dalton. She’s in the hangar.”

“How?” I asked. “No fighter or shuttle can go at K-speeds.”

“Apparently this one can,” Jenny said. “Kai is already headed to the hangar to admire the craft.”

“I’m sure he is. I’m on my way.”

I decided to grab my dress jacket and donned it over my ship suit. I passed by a couple Canids, dog-like humanoids who were one of our best allies. Unfortunately, there weren’t many of them left. The Draconians had tried to eliminate all of them, but their ruler, High Alpha Sonnel, managed to escape with a crew of a couple hundred and had sought refuge in Sol System.

“Captain.” I turned to see who had called out to me.

“Yes, Lieutenant Grumak?” I asked the Passerine.

Passerines were very odd-looking people. They had elfin features, pointed ears, youthful faces, and wings, but they stood an average of seven and a half feet tall, with their wings easily adding a foot to their height. It was sometimes hard to retain command presence in front of someone who looked like an angel and towered above humans.

“How long are we going to be here at Lexington, sir?”

“The current plan is a week, why?”

“Well, I think I’ve worked out some of the problems with the K-drive. Richard is eager to test them.”

“I’m sure he is,” I said, smiling.
Commander Richard Winters was my engineering officer. However, his skills were wasted serving on a ship. He had worked for both Solar Fleet R&D and The Lab. He loved working on a ship, but we needed him back at The Lab where he could develop new toys for us to play with in the battlefield.

“I’ll talk with you later, Grumak,” I said, as I reached the hangar. “I have some business to attend to.”

I arrived in the hangar just in time to see the pilot getting out of the cockpit of a fighter that looked like a cross between a Spaceraider and a Tomcat. When the pilot jumped down to the deck, I was shocked to see how short he was. I was accustomed to working with a human crew on the taller end of the spectrum and Passerines who towered over humans. And this pilot couldn’t have been an inch over five feet.

When she took off her helmet, revealing long locks of red hair and brilliant hazel eyes, I was surprised and a bit confused. Few crewwomen or officers have long hair. Hair just gets in the way if the ship loses gravity, and no aviator has long hair, since it is even more impractical in a fighter.

“Captain Manning, I assume,” the short aviator said.

“Yes, and you are?”

“Captain Shey Hunter, quad-ace, and holder of three naval crosses and not less then seven medals for distinguished flying. I’m your new CAG.”

“The commander of my space group is Kai Drove,” I said, thinking there was obviously a mix-up. Kai Drove was the best pilot in the Force, and I couldn’t afford to lose him.

“Not anymore, sir. Kai is relieved of command effective immediately.”

“What?” Kai asked as he picked the most inopportune time to dash into the hangar.

“Excuse me,” I said. I was losing patience with this stuck-up aviator. “I am the Captain here.”

“I have my orders.”

“And I give those orders, if you are, in fact, under my command.”

She handed me a memory orb. “All the information you need is stored on this. Most of your officers are being replaced.”

“Captain, what’s going on?” Kai asked.

I was really lost, but I knew I needed to see what was on this orb. “Captain Hunter, stay here with your spacecraft. I’ll be back. Kai, I’m not sure. Just keep an eye on her.”

“As you say, sir.”

I went through a side door and into the aviators’ briefing room. I locked the door behind me and plugged the orb into the console. I navigated through the files until I found what I was looking for.

“Almek,” the face of Jack Dalton said, as the recording started up. “You have some of the best people in the Four Species Alliance aboard your ship. Many of them are needed elsewhere. Richard Winters, has been reassigned to The Lab. I need Kai to report to the flight school over Colony One. Captain Hunter is at least up to par with Kai if not better, but she isn’t worth a duststorm on Mars as a teacher. Commander Jennifer Kade has been promoted to Captain, and she has a ship to command. Commander Kyle Kern is going to be the exec of Captain Kade’s ship. There are many other transfers that also need to be made. The Sky Marshal waited to send these instructions to you until you reached Lexington, because he didn’t want to deal with your arguments. You are to release all of your transferred crew to the cruiser Prideful when she arrives in system, which should be around the same time that you achieve orbit over Lexington. Good luck.”

I called the Sky Marshal a couple of choice words under my breath. Sometimes the Sky Marshal, commander of both the Solar Fleet and the Solar Marine Corps, got on my nerves. He had good reason to give me these orders when I was out of range for a secure communication link. When he assigned my girlfriend to an EMP grapeshot frigate a few months ago, I just about jumped down his throat, because I knew the casualty rate of grapeshot frigates was unbearably high.

I settled deeper into the chair. The Starwarden was a new construction. She had only been commissioned eight months ago. She’d had the same crew the whole time. Now I would be losing the top echelon of human officers. All my Canid and Passerine officers would stay aboard, but I would only be keeping Lieutenant Commander Jade Robins, who just happened to be the best navigator in the Alliance, and Lieutenant Emily Connaley, my comm officer and human chaplain.

It wasn’t good to change up the officers like that. On the other hand, I wasn’t very likely to convince the Sky Marshal to countermand his orders. If I wasn’t worried that the United Monarchy of Europe might be able to intercept our communication link, I would have opened a channel with the Sky Marshal anyway.

I opened up an implant link with all of my officers. This is Captain Almek Manning. All human officers report to the wardroom immediately. I know it will be a tight squeeze, but we must meet face to face. All Passerine and Canid officers may view the broadcast from the secondary wardroom.

I walked out into the hangar and found Shey showing off her custom fighter to Kai. I knew that Kai was tense after hearing that Shey was my new CAG, but that didn’t stop him from admiring a good fighter.

“Come with me, Commander,” I told her.

“Sir?”

There is only ever one captain on a naval warship, and that is the skipper of the ship, the Captain. Normally, other captains are bumped up one rank socially. For example, Captain Kai Drove, my former CAG was always called commodore, but if the Captain wishes he can bump a captain in his chain of command a rank downward and call her commander. I didn’t like this snotty aviator, so she would be Commander Hunter until she proved herself worthy of being called anything else.

We walked through a few corridors before we bumped into Commander Chandler, my supply officer.

“Suppo,” I called out. “Can you assign Commander Hunter a temporary bunk.”

“Sure thing, Captain,” he said. “Come with me, commander, and I’ll get you settled in.”

“So will you tell me what’s up now?” Kai asked.

“You’re being transferred, along with most of the Starwarden’s officers.”

“What … why?”

“It’s what Dalton and the Sky Marshal think is best. I won’t contest it. I’m not happy about it, but it will happen.”

“Yes, sir.”

I reached the wardroom just as Commander Kade … Captain Kade arrived.

“Captain,” she nodded at me.

“Commodore,” I replied.

She glanced at me sharply. “What did you say, Almek?”

I handed her an orb that contained her orders and the specs of the ship she would be commanding. She plugged it into her palm reader and gasped.

“But I belong here,” she said, looking at me pleadingly.

“If we weren’t at war, I would agree,” I said. “But we are. You are easily captain material.”

“Sir,” she objected. “I’ve always been your second-in-command. I’m not leaving you.”

I love Jenny. She and I had a lot of history together back in the London Proper Detention Facility. She had saved my life many times, and now we thought of each other as brother and sister. It was going to be hard for both of us, but there was a war on. Plus, I wanted to organize a rescue mission to save our friends who were still in London Proper. If I was going to get the Sky Marshal to approve that plan I’d need to stay on his good side.

“What class will you be commanding?” I asked, ignoring her statement.

“Sir, don’t make me leave. You can contest this.”

“Jen,” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to miss you more than you know, but you are captain quality. The Alliance needs you to be commanding a warship, not helping me command one. My new XO won’t be as good as you, but I’ll survive.”

“Almek,” Jenny started to say.

“No. You’re taking the ship. What class?” I asked again.

She glanced down at her datapad again. “I’ll be among the first ten captains of the Solar Fleet’s fast-cruiser carriers.”

“Heinlein-class?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They’re among the best.”

“That they are, sir,” Jenny said, a faint smile coming to her face.

We waited in silence while the rest of the officers arrived. Commander Ardent, my Canid XO, and Commander Drumair, my Passerine XO, arrived shortly after Jenny did, and I gave them the quick rundown of the situation.

“Men and women of the Starwarden,” I said, once all the officers had arrived. “It has been my great pleasure to serve with you for these past months. All of you have provided great service while on this ship. And, together, we earned the Presidential Council’s Unit Citation with a Silver Star. However, we are at war with no less than three enemies. We cannot sit back and relax while our enemies grow stronger. We must continue to fight.

“The Sky Marshal and Jack Dalton have given almost every human officer aboard this ship new orders. Ten of you are getting your own command. Another twenty will be getting first officer slots, and most of the rest of you will be at least department heads. Once we reach the orbit of Lexington, we will be met by the Prideful. She will bring the new officers to the Starwarden, and our departing officers will transfer to the Prideful.

“I expect you to show the rest of the Alliance how great it was to serve on this ship. Uphold the honor of being a valued member of the Starwarden family, serve to the best of your abilities on your new ships, and fight for the everlasting glory of the Alliance. Good luck!”

“Dismissed,” Jenny called out. “I will be contacting each of you within the hour with your new orders.”

 

***

 

The next day I was saying goodbye to my officers as they boarded the Prideful.

“Jenny,” I said, giving her a hug and holding tight.

“Almek, I don’t think it’s very proper for the captain of a ship to hug his first officer,” Jenny said, hugging back and trying not to cry.

“It isn’t like anyone’s going to court martial me for that,” I said.

Jenny laughed, and we broke our hug.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” she said. “From London Proper to captains of two great warships, the Starwarden and the Steve Wood.”

“It has been great, hasn’t it?” I agreed.

“Yeah, it has. Don’t worry. I expect to be on your staff when you’re promoted to Sky Marshal.”

I laughed. “Okay. If I ever have a command that gives me an opportunity to pull you back, I’ll do it.”

“You’d better.”

“Jenny,” I said, as she was turning around. “I almost forgot.” I handed her a memory orb.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“It’s my proposal on how to spring our friends out of London Proper. Please make sure this gets to the Sky Marshal.”

“I will,” Jenny said. “This is just as important to me. I don’t know when I’ll see him, but as soon as I get a change, I’ll give this to him.”

“Thanks.”

It was going to be hard running my ship without Jenny at my side. She had been my second-in-command when we were in London Proper. She had always been a sure voice of reason on my team. I had relied on Jenny while in London Proper. The Sky Marshal had broken that reliance when he sent me to be the Solar Fleet liaison with Dalton Space Force. I had been put in a command position without Jenny at my side, and I adapted. However, once I was given the Starwarden, Jenny had easily slid back into her role as my second-in-command, my executive officer. I knew that she would make a great captain, but it wasn’t going to be easy for me to be a great captain without her. I had worked with other executive officers at Boot Camp, like Isaac Jones, but I had never clicked with anyone like I had with Jenny.

“Richard,” I said, turning to him, as Jenny boarded the Prideful.

“Yes, Captain.”

“I want you to come up with some new toys for me to play with.”

He smiled from ear to ear. “I have some ideas, but I’ve been so busy getting this ship back together that there hasn’t been any time. Just make sure your new engineer, Lieutenant Commander Duval, doesn’t do too much damage to my engineering spaces.”

“I’ll try, and if he does, I’ll make sure to call you.”

“You do that,” Richard said with a smile. “See you later, Almek.”

Richard boarded the ship, and the hatch closed behind him. It was going to be an interesting couple of months getting this new batch of officers into battle readiness. Especially Commander Shey Hunter. However, I looked forward to talking with Lieutenant Commander Duval. I hoped he could match his mother’s engineering ability. I had served under her on the RAH, and she had been a great engineer.

I went up to my stateroom, so that I could look over the records of my new officers. I started out with the most junior ensigns and worked my way up the list. I had only just finished with the ensigns when my implant was pinged by the Master Chief Webb. Chefo was the man in charge of all the meals, and every member of the crew loved him. He could make anything taste great, and he was also able to cook meals that the Canids and Passerines said were brilliant.

Yeah, Chefo? I asked.

It’s half an hour after your usual meal time. Are you planning to have dinner tonight?

I checked the clock on my implant and, sure enough, Chefo was right. I got caught up with work. Could you bring me whatever it was you cooked today?

Sure thing, Skipper. I’ll be there in a couple seconds.

I moved onto the lieutenant junior grades, while waiting for Chefo to show up. He arrived shortly, carrying a tray weighed down with food.

“Can I help you with anything else, sir?” Chefo asked, putting the tray on my table.

“Yeah,” I said, looking down at the food. “Help me eat it.”

Chefo laughed. “I thought you’d be up late. So, I gave you extra food for later on tonight.”

“Chefo, what would I do without you?”

“Starve, or at least forget to eat for a couple days.”

“Probably,” I said, smiling at him.

“I’ve got work to get back to, sir. The new supply officer wants to inspect the galley tonight.”

“Chefo,” I called out before he could exit. “I need to talk with you.”

“Fire when ready, sir,” he said, turning around at the hatch.

“Everyone in the crew likes you, and you always seem to know everything about everybody on the ship.”

“I try to stay connected so I can be useful, sir.”

“How do the enlisted feel about the change in officers?” I asked him.

“This could take a bit,” Chefo said. “May I sit down, sir?”

“Yes, please.” I gestured toward the empty chair.

“Thanks. I don’t like what the Sky Marshal and Mr. Dalton did. It may be good from a Fleet perspective, but it really, and I do mean really hurt crew morale. You were never enlisted, but you were a JO right?”

“Yes, of course. Not long enough, in my opinion, but I was an ensign and a lieutenant.”

“Well, you have to learn just how to work with each officer. Some like you to do a task one way, while others want you to do the same task a different way.”

“Yeah.” I nodded my understanding.

“If you change out one to five officers at a time that doesn’t make a huge impact on the ship. Some things have to change, but stability is maintained. However, we’ve got a completely new officer cadre. The ship is going to change drastically, and a lot of crew members are going to get chewed out for doing something the right way under their previous officers, but doing it in a way that their current officers don’t like.”

“I see what you mean, Chefo. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I’ve thought about this for quite awhile, sir. That is, I thought about it the whole time I was making lunch and dinner. The only thing I was able to come up with would be to promote a couple of the enlisted. For example, Chief Petty Officer Kristine Taggart. I know she doesn’t want to be an officer, but she would make a great ACICO. She can run CIC like no one else. Except maybe you, Captain.”

“She can run it much better than I can. I don’t think she would accept the promotion, though. She doesn’t want to be an officer.”

“I know that, sir. But this is war. We need all the officers we can get. We need good enlisted too, but Kris has command presence. If she becomes an officer she would be commanding a warship within a couple of years.”

“I agree. I’ll think about what you said, Chefo. Thanks a lot. I’ll instruct our new suppo to give you an extra day for the inspection. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir!”

I did think about it, and, before I had even touched my food, I called Kris Taggart to my stateroom.

“Chief Petty Officer Kristine Taggart reporting as ordered, sir.”

“Drop the salute, Kris. Sit down.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Kris, how’s crew morale right now?” I asked her.

“Bad, sir. These new officers are not making people happy. My CIC crew has already been chewed out multiple times.”

“That problem was brought to my attention. What if I told you I had a solution to ease the tension in CIC.”

“I’d love to hear it, sir.”

“I’m promoting you.”

“Sir,” Kris said. “I would love the promotion, but what difference does it make if I’m a senior chief instead of a chief?”

“None.”

“Then what are you saying, sir?” Kris was now confused.

“I’m promoting you to ensign, Kris.”

“I don’t have the education, and you can’t do that to me, sir!” Kris said, jumping up from her chair and knocking it to the deck. She picked it up, but the fire in her eyes wasn’t abated by the mishap.

“I can, Kris. I need an ACICO. That will be you.”

“Sir,” Kris said. “I don’t want to be an officer. I like where I am now.”

“Kris,” I said, looking directly in her eyes. “I would much rather be an ensign right now, but I’m a captain. I took on extra responsibility because of the war. Now I’m asking you to do the same.”

Kris was silent for a long time as she stared off into space.

She sighed heavily, and we locked gazes again. “I’ll do it, sir, but I can’t say I like it.”

“That’s fine. I’ll swear you in now. I expect you to move into officer quarters tonight. Your duties as ACICO start tomorrow.”

“Understood, sir.”

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