Steff gazed at The Oracle slowly getting larger as they approached. She was on board a shuttle ready to take command of the ship. It was two months since her meeting with Admiral Owens, and now finally the ship was almost ready to leave on its mission. During this time Steff had finalised the crew for the ship and looked through extensive star maps of the known wormholes to plot the best and safest ways to get to Gamma Sector. Alternative routes were also memorised.
The Oracle was cylindrical with thrusters at the sides in the aft and two “wings” on either side in the fore section, just below the ships bridge. These wings housed most of the ships weapons, aside for the missile tubes, which were in the underside of the ship under the prow. Also on the underside was the docking bay that smoothly jutted out in the mid-section. The Oracle’s skin was polished chrome, though in reality it was thick armour designed to withstand laser blasts and missiles from potential enemies. At just over 200 metres long, Steff felt she was definitely looking at a frigate, not a scout as the Admiral claimed it was. It was as though there was something Space Command was concerned about, but wouldn’t tell her. But whatever it was classed as, it was under her command now.
The shuttle landed in the docking bay. As soon as Steff disembarked, she found a small company of crew standing there saluting her. In front of them was Security Officer Frank Edwards, also saluting her. He was average height though thick set. His brown hair was cropped short, though he also had a mustache, which was fairly uncommon these days.
“Welcome aboard Captain!” he said. Steff saluted back, and then picked up her bags.
“Thank you. At ease everyone.” Steff replied.
“This way Captain.” Edwards said. Steff walked alongside him as they walked to the lifts.
“Can you give me a report?” Steff asked.
“Most of the crew are here now. The ship is fully stocked with consumables and ordinance. We are ready to leave when you command.” Edwards replied.
“Most of the crew?”
“Yes. Several officers are still yet to arrive.”
“Who are we waiting on?” Steff queried. Everyone should have been here by now.
“The Medical Officer, Communications Officer, and the Gunnery Officer.”
“All of them important. Get in touch with them all and tell them to get here immediately.” Staff commanded.
“Yes Sir!” Edwards replied. As soon as the lift doors opened he made for the bridge, while Steff headed for her quarters.
She dropped her bags on the floor of her quarters. The rooms were a good size and there was a comfortable bed in the side of the far wall of the main room. There was also a desk, as well as a computer console. The smaller room had a table, and she guessed it would be useful for dining with the other officers. She also had her own bathroom.
“Welcome aboard Captain Stephanie Clarke. I’m SARA, the ships computer.” Said a soft feminine voice.
“Hello SARA.” Steff replied.
“I thought you would like my voice at this pitch, though I can modulate it, if you so wish.”
“No it’s fine.”
“Current mission and route selected to Gamma Sector has been uploaded. All personnel records have been uploaded. The Oracle is ready to leave and is at 100 percent capability. Currently the Communications Officer, Gunnery Officer, and Chief Medical Officer are not on board.”
“Thank you. The Security Officer has already informed me of the missing officers.”
“If you have any need or question just let me know.”
“I will. Thank you SARA.”
Steff looked through the windows at New Earth, named after humanity’s original home. It was roughly the same size as the original Earth, and also had large blue oceans like Earth used to. Steff then left her quarters and headed for the bridge. As soon as she stepped foot on the bridge, the First Mate stood up and saluted.
“Captain on the bridge!” He said. Everyone stood up and saluted. Steff saluted back.
“At ease everyone.” She said. They all sat down again and resumed their duties. Steff walked up to the First Mate. “Lieutenant Blake, how is everything looking?”
“The ship seems to be running perfectly Captain. We’re all just waiting to leave.” He replied. Blake was of medium build. He had short black hair and slightly darker skin, though everyone had darker skin than Steff…
“We’re waiting on some officers. Are there any further shuttles approaching?” She asked.
“Yes one shuttle had just left New Earth, so it should be here soon.” Blake informed her.
Steff sat on her chair and gazed through the large windows of the bridge into the blackness of space. It was good to feel surrounded by stars and the dark again. Maybe she was still out there somewhere, Steff wondered…
“This is the Captain speaking. Once the remaining crew are finally on board, we shall be setting off. The first wormhole is around two days travel away. We will be traveling through a network of wormholes to the Gamma Sector. It will take several months to arrive. Our mission is to find new planets suitable for colonies, resources, or possible terraforming. I’m not expecting any trouble, and so long everyone carries out their assigned duties we should have no problems.” Steff told the crew over the intercom.
A couple of hours later the final shuttle docked with the Oracle. The last three officers disembarked. Steff watched them from a monitor as they walked towards the lifts.
“SARA, tell the officers who have just arrived that once they put their belongings in their quarters, they must come to the bridge immediately.” Steff commanded.
“Yes Captain.” SARA replied. Steff knew she would have to make an example of them. She didn’t particularly want to, but she had to show the crew she would not tolerate any disobedience. A short time later the bridge doors opened. Steff swiveled her chair around so she could face them. The three of them stood there: Dr Teresa Philips, a woman in her late thirties who was rather tall and thin with long blonde hair, Lieutenant Sofia Garcia, the Communications Officer, who was in her twenties and had brown wavy hair and darker skin, and lastly Lieutenant Peter Hunter, the Gunnery Officer, who was a rather serious looking tall man with short dark hair. They stood at attention and saluted her.
“So nice for you three to finally turn up. I hope we’re not getting in the way of your obviously busy schedules.” Steff said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry but we all had a delay in getting to the spaceport.” Dr Philips replied. The other nodded in agreement with her. The rest of the bridge crew turned around to watch.
“You were meant to be here by the time I boarded the ship. All three of you have important responsibilities on this ship. How can I trust any of you if you don’t seem to take your positions here seriously?”
“I’m sorry it won’t happen again.” Dr Philips replied. She looked at Steff with distaste and disgust, even thinly disguised hatred. Steff knew that look, she had seen it often before. She knew Dr Philips had been reluctant to join the crew and had been surprised when she finally relented.
“Good, because I will not tolerate tardiness, or any other disobedience to my command. Do I make myself clear?” Steff asked.
“Yes Captain.” They replied.
“I’m watching all three of you closely from now on. Go to your posts.” They nodded. Dr Philips and Lieutenant Hunter left the bridge while Lieutenant Garcia took her post on the bridge. Steff swiveled the chair around again and faced the bridge. “And now it’s time to leave.” She announced. “Engage engines.”
The thrusters were engaged and the starship sprang to life. Slowly the speed built up. Steff could feel the ship vibrating, like a cat ready to pounce. In a short time they were surrounded by blackness and New Earth was just a faint glimmer behind them. A few hours later Steff left Lieutenant Blake in charge while she went to her quarters.
“You have been informed about our secondary mission?”
“Yes, to find the missing scout ship Argos IV.”
“What do you think happened to it?”
“I don’t have all the information. It could have had a mechanical failure or been hit by asteroids.”
“Admiral Owens suggested that Separatists could have destroyed or captured it.”
“Unlikely.” SARA stated. “It is almost on the opposite side of the galaxy from the Alliance of Free Colonies. There is certainly no record of them ever having any presence near there. Also it wouldn’t make sense for New Earth Space Command to send you to a place in danger of encountering them.”
“What do you mean?” Steff asked.
“Well if I was an Admiral of Space Command and sending you back into space, I would send you in the exact opposite direction of the Alliance of Free Colonies, which is what they appear to be doing. I’m aware of how the Alliance of Free Colonies regard you.”
“Do you wish to discuss this further?”
“No.” Steff stood up from her desk and looked out at the distant stars. She wondered if there was something bigger going on that she was unaware of.
©️2021 Joanne Fisher