All hands waited. Some were in the halls, standing, listening; others were in their quarters, sitting quietly. The Scipio had been in orbit, falling around Terra for nearly two months since it's arrival from Vanduul space, in shambles; towed by port tugs. It had undergone extensive repairs, refits and had an overhaul of its crew and crafts.
The work had been exhausting for port authorities, shipwright laborers and all the other civilian and military personnel it took to get the Scipio up and running at full potential once again. All that work had come to this, the moment where she would once more travel under her own power.
Admiral Jameson was sitting in "The" chair, the chair that Captain Anderson most often sat in when the Admiral was in his ready room, dealing with the upper echelons and coordinating the battle group. Today, however, Admiral Jameson was not in his ready room. He stood, watching the horizon of Terra slip past them as the Scipio continued to fall, endlessly toward it. "Lieutenant Commander Stark." he said, a smile creeping on to his lips.
"I would like to do this one myself."
Lieutenant Commander Stark's eyebrows raised. "That is, your prerogative sir."
Jameson walked down from his elevated position on the bridge and made his way to the helm.
Lieutenant Spade looked over his shoulder from the controls. His eyes rose until they made awkward contact with the Admiral who stood not but an inch away from the helmsman.
“You are relieved Lieutenant.”
The young man nodded stood and walked away, unsure of where to stand while the Admiral took his position at the helm.
Lieutenant Commander Stark shook his head and waved away Lieutenant Spade, as though he were a pesky fly. The young officer staggered off to the side of the bridge.
“Lieutenant Commander Stark, what are your orders?”
The navigation officer looked at his console, plotted the required course and burn and then sent the data to the helm. “To break orbit for the Jump point we'll need a pro-grade burn at periapsis in the order of two thousand and twenty six meters per second velocity. The burn should take -”
“Yes, yes Lieutenant Commander, I have the burn time on the console. Thank you.”
“You're very welcome sir.”
Jameson looked over his shoulder. “Lieutenant Rice, open a channel to all decks please. Route the input to the helm.”
She nodded, “Yes sir.” Her fingers went to work. “Ready sir.”
The Admiral turned to the controls and tapped his finger on the communications dialogue that Rice had sent to his console. “Scipio, this is Admiral Jameson. At the moment, we are less then a minute from maximum velocity around Terra as we fall toward our nearest point in orbit. I am currently sitting at the helm, and will personally launch us toward the jump point. This vessel came to Terra a wreck, barely capable of sustaining it's own atmosphere and gravity, let alone move through a jump point without the aid of tugs and heavy shielding. In no more then forty seconds we'll be launching ourselves into the unknown aboard that same craft. I am honored to be in command of this age old sword of war, and I am equally honored to serve beside all of you. If you are in the fore decks, you should listen closely in the next few seconds. If you're in the aft decks, watch your ears.” Jameson brought the Scipio's power plant to sixty percent output. The rumble could be felt even on the bridge as massive amounts of material were consumed and transported through vast networks of conduits to the engines, where they waited to be expelled into the vastness of space as propellant. “Ten seconds.” Jameson said, setting the commands into helm for the coming burn.
Lieutenant Commander Stark looked down at his console, a set of numbers flashed red on his display. “Sir.”
“I see it.” said Jameson as he fired eight of the Scipio's maneuvering thrusters, pitching the massive craft so that it lined up perfectly with its vector node. “Scipio.” he said, over general communications, “We are away.” He slammed his finger down, acknowledging to the computer that his previous inputs were to be carried out. The six massive engines erupted, spewing propellant with such force that the dampening systems sent alerts to structural engineering; nothing they hadn't expected.
The sound reverberated throughout the ship, and was still relatively loud when it washed over the Wolf Pack's quarters.
“Wow.” Mathew said, wincing at the sound of the engines roaring at aft. “This is a terrible day to have a hang over. It isn't always this loud is it?”
McKeen, who was sitting in their common area with him, looked up from his reading. “No. The Scipio's got a lot of mass, so escaping a gravitational field isn't an easy feat. Not to mention the jump point isn't exactly close. Breaking to a Terran escape trajectory takes a lot of power. Generally she's pretty quiet, though you almost always hear the reactor churning away when we're on a slow burn somewhere in deep space.”
“How long is it going to be this loud?”
McKeen thought for a moment. "To tell you the truth, we normally wouldn't have stopped here for repairs, so I have never experienced a Terran escape burn. I have no idea how long it'll take.”
Mathew nodded, holding his head. “So you're a hundred percent positive that the infirmary won't give me anything for this headache?”
McKeen laughed. “They don't treat superficial self-inflicted discomfort Martyr. Suck it up.”
On the bridge, Admiral Jameson got up from the helm. He watched as the Terran horizon slowly dropped from view, and saw their orbit's Apoapsis elongate on the helm's display, until it broke free from Terra's grasp and shot out into the system beyond. He smiled. “Helmsman, you can reclaim your station.”
“Yes sir.” said Spade, timidly returning to the helm.
When the Admiral walked past the navigations officer, he stopped. “Thank you Stark, I needed that.”
Lieutenant Commander Stark smiled. “No problem sir, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.”
Jameson returned to his chair and peered toward Captain Anderson who was sitting to its right. “Captain, you have the bridge.”
Anderson nodded, smiling at his old friend with an almost mocking grin. “Thank you Admiral.”
“Don't give me that look Michael, I need all the excitement I can get these days.”
Michael sighed. “I trust you'll have plenty once we're out there.”
The Admiral frowned. “Williams.”
“You have the bridge, Anderson, I think we should retire to the ready room and discuss the logistics of the rendezvous.”
Michael looked to Williams, who raised his shoulders in a discrete shrug. “I suppose we should.” he said, before getting up and following the Admiral to the lift.
Williams watched them go as he too rose from his seat. He straightened his uniform by tugging at the bottom of his tunic and then sat down in the largest chair on the bridge.
When the Admiral's ready room closed behind him, Michael was greeted with a glass of scotch.
“Take it, you have my permission.” said Jameson, pouring his own as he spoke. “I know the Scipio wasn't in a battle group when you were the first officer. You didn't have cruisers or destroyers or support craft. You didn't have an Admiral on board, and so this is not the command position you were expecting.”
“I knew we weren't going to go back there as unprepared as before, but I didn't expect my promotion to Captain to be sitting in the first officer's chair the whole time.”
Jameson laughed. “Michael, don't worry. You're the Captain. I'm in charge of the overall battle group, I won't be pulling stunts like that very often.” he said, pointing with his arm in the direction of the bridge as the scotch rolled like golden velvet to the lip of the glass and back. “I was serious about needing excitement. I've been behind a desk for the past five years and it's been getting to me.”
“Well, now you know why it took me so long to accept a position as Captain. I never want to leave the field Richard, I'm not meant to be a desk jockey.”
“Trust me Michael, with the rise in attacks and the unsettling reports on the rim worlds, I'm pretty sure battle group formations are going to become more common. The Scipio isn't the first to run with escorts and starfarers, but I can assure you she definitely won't be the last.”
“We're not going to the border worlds to quell some resistance are we.”
Jameson halted his hand mid way to a sip, closed his thirsty lips and sighed. “No. There are other reasons for us to go to that sector, but the resistance reports are not falsified.”
“What's waiting for us there?”
“You're going to hate me for this Michael, but I can't tell you. Not yet.”
“Are you serious? What the hell is going on that you can't tell me? It's not like I didn't realize something was up when we got word of the rendezvous. The Scipio alone is a force to be reckoned with, to have that many support craft just begs the question 'why'?”
“I know this isn't fair to you right now Michael, but I have my reasons. You'll know when you need to know.”
“Cut the bullshit Jameson, when I need to know? What is this? Some kind of low budget mil vid?”
“Look, when the time comes, everything will be clear. For now, I need to keep things under wraps. Call it OPSEC, call it what you want.”
Michael shot the scotch into the back of his throat and slammed the glass down on the Admirals desk. “If you were any other man, I'd call you an idiot.”
Jameson smiled. “I'm not any other man, I'm your friend and we're practically family.”
“That is why I'm calling you a fucking dumb ass. I'm going to be stuck here with you on this boat for who knows how long and there isn't a soul in the world that could need to know where we're going more than the man in charge of this vessel. You said it yourself, I'm in charge of this vessel. Then why can you not tell me what we're heading into? I just barely survived an encounter with a Vanduul raiding party that obliterated half of my crew and craft, killed my Captain and spaced half the ship. If we're going into anything similar to that I'd like to know.”
“Michael, what difference would it make if you knew?”
He stood there, furious. His mind was erupting with anger, but the logic that Richard had just thrown at him was irrefutable. The pure truth of it somehow transformed the anger into hopelessness. His breath slowed and his shoulders dropped. “None.” He said, nearly a whisper. “It wouldn't make a damn sliver of difference.”
“Let me do my job and I'll let you do yours. When the time comes that something I know will benefit you immediately, I'll give it to you. As it stands, nothing I know will help you in your duties. Trust me Michael, I'm not your enemy. We're working together here.”
Michael nodded. “I just don't want to bring a ship full of kids to their deaths without knowing why I did it Richard. I can't do it. Not again.”
Richard walked to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Scotch fell smoothly into the empty glass. “Take this. Sit down, let's talk.”