Chapter 4 – Aboard Blue Dragon
“Come on Thane, we’ll take that elevator at the port hatch and board. The rest of the crew will not return until two days from now. This will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with some aspects of Blue Dragon before the crew returns and sends you on wild goose chases to non-existent parts. Let’s go see if her insides are still functioning. We missed breakfast so perhaps she can cook us a good lunch, what do you say?”
“Oh yes!” The juvenile-sounding exclamation surprises Zelleus but he lets it pass.
If you have ever been inside a mid-size cruiser whose function is for swift and silent attack of a larger enemy, where space is allocated first to drives and fuel, then computers for navigation, weapons and shielding systems, and what’s left scattered throughout for a crew ideally not to exceed seventy to eighty individuals, then you can visualize the insides of Blue Dragon. Functional, pragmatic and as far as human body needs, quite uncomfortable. But there is purpose to madness. A body is only uncomfortable when it seeks comfort and gets used to it. Cruisers need sharp crews, not couch potatoes. Occupied with their endless tasks, the crew does not miss the lack of comforts. Those who strongly object, after a tour of the ship while in port, remain in port. Their name is entered in Zelleus’ comrec and such individuals will never be part of the crew muster on Blue Dragon. This is an attack vessel, not a cruise ship. Zelleus expects his crew to be forever aware of this and because of this, has lost very few crewmen to accidents or conflicts over the years.
The hatch responds only to manual and Zelleus’ comrec lights up as he makes a note of the failure. Inside the lighting is at minimum and he guides Thane through the low tunnel-like passages until they reach the galley. “Kitchen, two regular lunches, please,” he says casually to a wall as they head for a table.
“Welcome back captain. And sorry but phase two and three are being re-programmed and re-loaded. They will be on-line in, Pallarti time, four point oh seven hours. Can you please order two breakfasts instead?”
“I understand. Breakfast times two. One coffee with enhancements. One hot chocolate.”
“Thank you for your understanding, captain. There are fresh fruits available in your storage unit also. Droids Kaffie and Lattie from the land party secured them from Thurog Shipping, as per your instructions captain.”
The neutral computer voice goes silent and in exactly three minutes a silvery droid shaped like a small table with six extensible legs and four arms approaches and serves the meal with quiet efficiency. It retreats quietly to a special recess, plugs and locks itself in and waits for the command to clean up. Thane enjoys his second real meal, without interruptions this time. He doesn’t mind the constant drumming that assaults the ears and creates vibrations under foot.
After the meal Zelleus introduces Thane to the main parts of the ship. “She is more than a ship, actually,” he explains. “She has the ability to split up into six separate working units, each with a specific purpose. The crew is fully trained to handle at least any two of each units.” They enter the control center, or command deck and he explains: “This module can separate from the ship at a given moment. When in combat mode it is already detached ready to jump free, the seals closed and disengaged and held to its place only by a weak but specific force-field that even a direct hit could not break. Do you see the advantage of this technology, Thane?”
“Yes captain. Instead of providing one large target to the enemy, they find that what they were tracing as a single cruiser becomes a small swarm of ships of unknown configuration, design, ability and purpose, not only depriving them of their main target but forcing them to treat each part of ‘Blue’ as a fully armed battle cruiser. Thus they must rely on their computer to tell them which part they should go after since they cannot deal with all of them at once. I can imagine much confusion and doubt with some commanders overriding the computer and making mistakes. Is this design common to all human war vessels now, sir?”
“No Thane. What you are seeing here is another of those necessary adaptations, or evolution of technology we must constantly engage if we are to remain in the game. The idea came to me when some years ago I was pursuing a particularly wily high-jacker uncomfortably close to the flux field of the Mushroom nebula as it is called. I lost him there, and probably he never returned either, but as I was scanning the field to make sure he had indeed vanished inside, not just decoyed me, I saw what seemed like intelligent creatures apparently roaming within the field, like cattle grazing. Suddenly another group of creatures, smaller and greater in numbers seemed to attack the grazers. These immediately broke up into small pieces, equal in size to their predator and proceeded to evade or attack their attackers. In the end it seemed that both came out even. The predators killed, if I can use that word, some of the grazers and began feeding, abandoning their attack. The grazers killed some of the predators then re-assembled themselves to carry on grazing.
“The idea of creating a splitting ship was born in my mind and would not stop growing until I re-built this cruiser with that new technology. Cost me a bundle, that, especially the contract for secrecy on the force-fields involved. That too came from the nebula. The creatures used those fields to hold themselves together. I discovered this after thousands of computer simulations.
“So I determined there would be no other ship like mine for as long as I could prevent it. Not surprisingly, that is another reason I have to be wary all the time. My technology makes me (and by association, my current crew) worth a lot more dead than alive, you understand. Some have seen what ‘Blue’ (as you seem to enjoy calling her, and I don’t mind) can do from recs retrieved on ships I have brought back from deep space. That couldn’t be helped. These stories and her reputation for survival against larger ships carrying three to five times her complement of lethal armaments and shields tend to precede her arrival, and mine wherever we go. But there is one other aspect of this design that you missed Thane!” Zelleus winks at him and waits.
Thane exclaimed, “Yes! Of course! When Blue is split up in six parts, each unit can also function as a jump ship. Any one of these could be landed separately from the others, some parts on an asteroid, for example, and some on a nearby planet, thus each keeping an eye on the others and covering the space in-between by simple telemetry.”
To say that Zelleus was pleased with Thane would remain an understatement.
Many a wonder of modern technology did Zelleus display to Thane. He kept nothing secret from the boy, not even his own codes. Each time he’d notice himself drawn to Thane through some affection he did not understand, he would note this in his comrec. By correlating the facts of his unusual attraction he’d be able to reason the bigger picture eventually, or so he hoped anyway. He already suspected there was more to Thane than met the ordinary senses. For example, he had an uncanny ability to remember specific commands. Almost Borg-like, but Zelleus had carefully re-scanned Thane’s brain patterning aboard Blue Dragon, leaving nothing to chance. Thane was definitely all human. For now, Zelleus chalked it up to a kind of freak genius that he was lucky enough to have encountered and seized upon.
But Zelleus does not believe in luck. With enough factual evidence he would create a plausibility scenario that would demonstrate logically why he was drawn to Thane in La Rosa, and why he latched on to him. Logic would explain it all, in time. Meanwhile Thane was a marvel to work with. He was brilliant at battle games and when asked to take apart and re-assemble complex parts he demonstrated dexterity with long slim fingers that seemed to work of their own volition even while he asked questions about things apparently not related to the work at hand. As well he demonstrated a super-human patience and understanding of purpose. Twice already in so many days Thane had pointed out little improvements on servo-motors in the gun turrets.
His hunger satisfied and knowing that food was always available Thane no longer jumped at the mention of meal times. The opposite was happening. He’d take some hard fruit or pieces of bread and ask if he could remain in the battle room, or in the weapons’ chamber to work instead of coming to the galley for their next meal. He also spent hours watching the testing of the complex of integrated drives, the massive torch that propels the heavy cruiser out of a gravity field, the warp or flux drive that drive Blue in magnitudes of the speed of light, usually called fugue flight, or the solar winds or ion “sail” drive that allowed the cruiser to travel vast distances silent as the grave and without using up internally stored energy. With shields at peak she could thus sail past inhabited or monitored systems unseen and safely observe inbound and outbound traffic, looking for tell-tale signals that a particular cargo or cruise ship was being tailed.
Zelleus was pleased with these developments and would join Thane in like manner whenever time permitted.
On the morning of their third day aboard Blue Dragon, some hours before the crew was due to board, Zelleus put his heavy arm solidly around the slim Thane and said, “I like you, Thane. If I had a son, I’d want him to be you. I don’t know what’s come over me. I don’t normally become so drawn to individuals, and certainly not to my crewmen. In any other but myself I would frown on this kind of relationship. I am enjoying it but it does bother me. If you can think of a plausible cause for it, you’ll be sure to let me know, yes?”
“Certainly captain,” answers the boy as he lifts his face to the light and Zelleus finds himself startled by the clarity and depth of feeling coming from his large blue eyes. ‘Such eyes’ he thinks, ‘I’ve seen before, but where? When?’ The question goes in his comrec for cross-referencing in due time. And time he knows he will have in over-abundance when Blue Dragon leaves Pallarti’s atmosphere to enter hyper space on her next search, hunt, cornering and capture.
By oh-nineteen hundred of Pallarti’s approximately twenty-eight hour day reckoned from old earth time, the crew has reported in full muster. Every member is clean cut and shaven. Every uniform, some of them obviously newly-purchased, is spotless. Their boots shine in the now full lighting. Their faces indicate they are pleased to be on board and they salute their captain smartly, Zelleus waiting just a few seconds to give the “at ease” command. Then he introduces Thane to all of them, naming each member and his specialty aboard ship. This ritual over and before the crew files out to their personal areas to stow their gear, Zelleus, peremptorily, asks them to wait.
“Thane, who is this man?” He points to a tall, slim man with a trim beard and thick black hair in a crew cut ending in a long pony tail twisted in a tight knot.
“Gallik Natat, navigation, sir!” Intones Thane in his high-pitched young boy’s voice, waiting for the next test. But the response pleases Zelleus and he asks nothing more.
“Excellent, and thank you gentlemen. We will meet at oh-twenty hundred in the mess. Secure your gear. Remember to hand in all firearms and discharge weapons to weapons engineer Alexi Spurgeon. Carry on. Thane, since you are already berthed, you will remain.”
“Yes sir.” Thane waits for instructions but Zelleus, for the moment, seems to forget he is there. He grabs a cleaning cloth from his coveralls’ back pocket and starts cleaning. Zelleus comes out of his apparent reverie and notices Thane at work.
“Leave that for now Thane and listen to me. In twenty-four hours, less if humanly possible, we will lift off this world, your world. Do you realize you may never see this planet again? Do you have any understanding of what lies out there for you? This journey, in standard time, will far exceed any normal man’s lifespan, Thane. Tonight, with navigation officer Gallik and two sub-commanders from each Blue Dragon unit we will plot a whole new course that will take us, I hope, to the very edge of human explored space. I don’t mind telling you that some of the crew are uncomfortable with this plan but I am the owner and captain of this ship and she goes where I say she goes.
I have been unfair to you, Thane. I brought you into my confidence before I appraised you of my plans and the danger involved and even if you so desired, I can’t let you go back. You are now a full-fledged member of Blue Dragon’s crew and like all the others, are sworn to secrecy on every matter concerning the Ops on this ship. Do you understand?”
“I understand captain. I was certain to die very soon on Pallarti. I had no means of staying alive. My brother’s gift of the Borg dog Suti was gone. It was the dog who protected me and stole food for us. I have no other friend in this universe but you captain. Wherever you go, so shall I, for you saved my life and put your trust in me. Now, in exchange, I put my trust in you. And if, in this voyage I should die, I hope it will be for a purpose that serves you.
“When I came with you a few days ago it was because I thought I had no choice sir. Now, given a choice, I would still come aboard Blue to serve under you. My life is yours sir.”
Blue eyes lock steady in black ones. One can measure the intensity of feeling between these two. Finally Zelleus turns away so the boy will not see the tears forming in his eyes. Despite his vast experience in dealing with human nature, he is not prepared to deal with such open-hearted commitment from another. That is a new fact. One he has no idea how to enter in the comrec. An unusual feeling steals across Zelleus’ powerful trap of a mind: uncertainty. Specifically, uncertainty as to who is leading whom.