From the Author
A massive solar flare roared across the pockmarked face of the sun producing static interference on every display console operating in the tiny spacecraft as it approached the United Planets' battle cruiser Repulse in orbit around Jupiter.
"No need to worry young man, we're almost there," said the aged pilot.
"I'm not concerned about the storm," said newly commissioned Midshipman Henry Gallant. Eagerly, he shifted in his seat to get a better glimpse of the massive ship that was to become his new home for the next two years.
The pilot maneuvered expertly to minimize the worst effects of the x-ray and gamma radiation until the craft made its tortured way from the sunlit brilliance into the cold black shadow of Repulse. The tiny ship quivered gently as its tractors reached out to the behemoth bulk of the warship slowly drawing alongside.
When it attached to the Repulse's docking hatch, Gallant transferred to the warship and made his way to the bridge. He found the Officer of the Watch standing next to the empty captain's chair surrounded by its nest of displays and virtual readouts. The officer rested his hand briefly on the panel concealing the Artificial Intelligence (AI) tactical analyzer.
"Midshipman Henry Gallant reporting aboard, sir," he said, standing as tall as his seventeen-year-old gangly figure would allow. He tugged at his uniform blouse to straighten the buttons into proper alignment.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Gallant. I'm Lieutenant Mather." Mather was of average height, barrel-chested with sharp-angular facial features. Stoic, he showed little interest in the new arrival. "Please give me your comm pin."
Gallant handed over his pin and Mather made several quick selections on a touch screen console. He swiped the pin past the chip reader which loaded the ID and personnel information into Repulse's computer.
Gallant took the opportunity to look around the spacious semicircular compartment with its numerous apparatus and instruments. The captain's seat was centrally located and he noticed that many of the other chairs were also unoccupied. Apparently some watch stations were only manned during conditions of higher alert.
He observed the watch standers carrying out their ritual duties. The communication panel was manned by a midshipman who looked occupied with an incoming message. The radar station was also manned, but by a technician who was diligently studying his display. Gallant couldn't tell what he was tracking, but there were several blips on the scope. The weapons and astrogator positions were vacant; several science analysis stations were operating automatically. To Gallant's approving eye, the entire bridge watch seemed a model of efficiency and diligence, just as he had been trained to expect at the academy.
Soon his attention was captured by the huge view screen at the front of the compartment that revealed the gas giant Jupiter with its orbiting space station. He marveled at the spectacle.
"Junior officer authorization, verified. The ID pin has been updated with Repulse's access codes," announced a computer's voice emanating from a nearby speaker. It had a neutral soothing tone that reminded Gallant of a rather cold and distant teacher he had had in basic math years ago.
"Did you bring your personal gear aboard?" asked Mather.
"My duffle bag is forward at the docking port, sir." The aged pilot had helped Gallant carry his gear from the craft through the airlock onto Repulse. He had given him a cheery smile and said, "Good luck," as he departed. Having no family of his own, Gallant had found some faint comfort in the good wishes.
"I'll have your gear sent to your quarters. For now, you had better see the captain," said Mather, as he flicked an eyebrow at Gallant.
"Aye aye, sir," said Gallant.
Mather turned to one of the bridge's junior officers, a young woman who wore a single thin gold stripe on her blouse sleeve indicating she was a Midshipman First Class, one year senior to Gallant. He ordered, "Midshipman Mitchel, take Mr. Gallant to the captain's cabin."
As they left the bridge, Mitchel said, "Henry Gallant. I remember you from the academy. I'm surprised you're still in uniform."
Gallant grit his teeth, as he had done many times before when confronted with what he perceived as overt disapproval. He didn't recognize her, but he couldn't help observe that she was a pretty brunette with a trim figure.
"Will you be training as fighter pilot, or missile weapon's officer?" she asked.
"I had basic fighter training on Mars and I will be taking advanced pilot training with Repulse's Squadron 111."
"I'm a qualified second seat astrogator in 111. Most likely, we'll wind up flying together at some point."
Since her demeanor displayed no indication that that state of affairs either repelled or appealed to her, Gallant merely nodded.
When they reached the captain's cabin, she said, "I'm Kelsey by the way. Good luck."
Gallant watched her walk away, wondering if the remark was sincere.