Unexpected trajectories? You know it.
[I Know Your Secret \\ Spock’s Beard]
Into The Fight
USNSF Hyperion 1 September 2115
“Jump in ten seconds,” Brennan said, her voice just audible over the crackling roar of the Field’s interaction with the furious corona. Ripley smiled, if only because he knew she’d probably spoken a little more calmly than she felt – ‘…or am I projecting again?’ he thought. Hyperion’s inertial navigation system displayed both the distance and time to the Sun-Capella Alderson Point, but all such considerations were academic now. What lay just ahead was the utter confusion of post-Jump disorientation, and of course the three to five percent of the crew who would experience a much more debilitating, even a dangerous response.
“When the countdown timer hit five seconds, Captain Ames called out “Computers to standby!”
And Ripley closed his eyes.
There was no change in physical sensation involved; acceleration remained constant throughout the Jump and lights didn’t flicker and blink. No, what everyone felt was a peculiar pinching sensation in their field of view, like standing up too fast and suddenly feeling light-headed and starry-eyed – just before blacking out. But then the nausea hit. The nausea of complete and total spatial disorientation – like tumbling out of control in a completely dark sky.
Then he heard Brennan’s voice: “Jump plus thirty seconds,” and when he realized she was alert and functioning and still mentally intact he let slip a long sigh of relief. Ames on the other hand seemed to be gagging, possibly unable to breathe, and Ripley watched a Walter unit in a blue “medical” jumpsuit approach her couch in his own mobile g-couch. While this Walter tended to the captain he carefully turned his head just an inch or so and looked at the middies in their couches – just to see how they had fared in the Jump.
Standing Bull seemed alert but disoriented, while Matsushima was staring dead ahead, her unblinking eyes wide open, blankly reflecting a terror-stricken moment caught in mid-scream.
“Medical to Matsushima.”
“Yes, Admiral. Shall I notify Dr Eastman?”
“Yes, and isn’t one of the astrobiologists studying Jump induced psychosis?”
“That would be Dr Taylor, Admiral.”
“Notify him too, would you?”
“Yes, I’ll notify her, Admiral.”
With Capella’s solar corona fading as Hyperion exited the star he tried to look at the Field’s internal temperature – but because of the still very high G-forces he just couldn’t turn his head enough without risking a severe cervical injury, and he just didn’t feel like taking a chance with his neck.
“Commander Brennan? Are you registering any temperatures yet?”
“We have some red in the Field port-side, Admiral. We may have passed a nearby CME on the way out.”
“Interior Field temp?”
“Aye sir; 6500 Celsius and dropping slowly.”
“Okay. Engineering? Fuel state?”
“Currently at 65 percent, Admiral; internal tank temperature holding at minus 267 Celsius, tank pressure steady.”
“Any other issues?” Ripley asked.
“No sir,” Chief Engineer Reginald Brooks replied.
“Damage Control, report.”
“No issues, Admiral.”
“Okay. Medical, report.”
“Twenty five cold stares reported so far, Admiral, along with the usual nausea and vertigo.”
“Got it, keep me advised. Fire control? Weapons status?”
“Status green, Admiral. The ship is ready to fight.”
“Got it. Field, give me a running temp countdown and advise when we can raise the mast.”
“Roger that, Admiral. Field temp currently 5300 Celsius; I can raise the UHF antenna now.”
“Go ahead. COMMs, see if you can raise Woodrow Wilson and get a position working.”
The Walter unit working on Captain Ames was now doing CPR, another unit had just started clearing her mouth with a surgical suction hose when another Walter appeared, this one placing a defibrillator over her sternum.
Ripley shook his head as he placed a call to the XO, the ship’s Executive Officer, who had ridden out the Jump in CIC. “XO to the bridge,” he said gently – as he watched the three Walter units working on Ames.
“Admiral,” the lead Walter said, looking now at Ripley, “she needs to be taken to Medical.”
“Brennan, what’s our current G-loading?”
“Two two point three and dropping slowly, Admiral.”
Ripley nodded and looked at the Walter. “Can you do it without sustaining injuries?”
“I believe so, Admiral.”
Carl Altman, Hyperion’s XO, arrived on his G-couch minutes after the Walter units moved Ames to the Sick Bay, and the first thing he noticed was his missing Captain. “Admiral? Where’s the Captain?”
“Sick Bay. I’ll need you to take over the bridge now. I’ll meet with you later about someone to take over as XO?”
“Admiral? Is Captain Ames alright?”
Ripley could just turn his head now and he did so ferociously. “That’s irrelevant, Commander. The Captain is unable to perform her duties now, so tell me, are you able or do I call the Engineer?”
“I’m able, Admiral.”
“Very well, you may log in as acting captain, Commander. Let’s nail down our position and get the fleet formation established, and as soon as possible I want the radar up and a continuing threat assessment in my hands as soon as you can work one up.”
“Admiral?” COMMs barked over the growler. “We have contact with the Wilson and her escorts, as well as with Patton and Stavridis. Sending position information to NAV now.”
Ripley looked at Altman again, quickly sizing up the XO as too timid and now out of his depth. “Can you handle the CON, Commander?”
“Yessir. On it, Admiral.”
Ripley nodded. “Field? I think I stated I wanted continuous temp reports, did I not?”
“Yes Admiral. Sorry. Field at 1900 at falling rapidly now.”
“1900 what, Field?”
“Now 1800 Celsius and falling, Admiral.”
“Which means what, Field?”
“Raising the high temperature radar mast now, Admiral.”
“Got it, Field,” Ripley sighed, then he turned to Altman once again. “You run my flagship this way and I’ll have you down in the galley peeling potatoes so fast your head will spin. You hearing me, Commander?”
“I’m off to Sick Bay. Get Astronomy working on a hydrogen source and keep the reports coming. I’ll be in CIC in a half hour and I want to see a working tactical plot when I get there.”
“Brennan? My in-port cabin. One hour.”
“Yes, Admiral,” Louise Brennan said, smiling. ‘The Old Man can still rip a new one when he needs to,’ she thought. Then again, she’d been disgusted by the easy going, almost careless attitude Ames maintained on the bridge, indeed, throughout the ship. The Old Man would fix things, and fast.
Three curt knocks on the door.
“Enter!” Ripley barked, and he looked up when Brennan drifted into his cabin.
“God, I love zero-G,” she sighed as she grabbed a rail above Ripley’s desk.
“How far out is Wilson?”
“Seventy thousand clicks, call it three hours and change.”
Ripley nodded. “What’s your assessment of the XO – and the bridge crew – for that matter?”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Altman was supposed to be pretty good in CIC on the Bainbridge, but he’s not captain material, and well, he was pretty weak as the ship’s XO. Ames just wasn’t running a tight ship, Admiral, and I hate to say that because I like her. Maybe she knows the ship better than anyone else but she doesn’t know people, or how to lead them, and at times I’d gotten the impression Ames wanted Altman because he was probably least likely to rock her boat.”
Ripley nodded. “That’s about how I see it. Anyone onboard ready to take your place?”
“I want you to move over to XO and see if you can’t whip this crew into shape.”
“Aye, sir. Mind if I ask, but why me?”
“Because you’re ready. Because you’ve been ready for a while, and it’s time to sink or swim.”
Brennan nodded. “How is Captain Ames?”
“She aspirated some crud into her lungs. We’ll know in a few hours if she’s going to pull through or not.”
“Damn…of all the things…”
“I know,” Ripley sighed. “On the other hand, Matsushima is coming out of it. She should be back at it tomorrow.”
Brennan nodded. “Mind of I ask…could you have her assigned to work with me for a few weeks? She’s going to make a good navigator, sir.”
“Really? Well then, by all means.”
“And Admiral, thanks for the opportunity. I mean it. I won’t let you down.”
“I know. I’ve authorized the transfer already so go ahead and log in as XO.”
“Okay Louise. Dismissed.”
She snapped to, fired off a salute then left his cabin, and Gordon walked in as she left.
“Admiral, may I ask you a question?”
“Sure. Fire away.”
“On the bridge, when the medical team was tending Captain Ames, you asked if they could move the captain without sustaining injury?”
“Did you mean injuries to the Captain, or to members of the medical team?”
“To the team. Why?”
Gordon seemed to hesitate for a moment, almost as if he was lost in thought, then – when he spoke next it was almost with a sense of wonder in his voice: “Because I find that unusual, Captain. Most personnel treat us as expendable, or even disposable, and I was curious, sir. Why?”
Ripley sighed. “You know, Gordon, maybe someday I’ll tell you, but…”
“But not today, sir?”
“No, not today. I need about four hours of solid rack time, but while I’m out I’d like you to keep an eye on Altman and Brennan, let me know if you even think you see any hostility between them.”
“And don’t wake me unless it’s a real emergency.”
“Yes, sir. And…thank you sir.”
When he finally got up, Ripley showered and dressed in freshly pressed khakis before he made his way up to Sick Bay, and he wasn’t too surprised to find that Captain Ames now had pneumonia secondary to stomach acid burns in her lungs. She was on a ventilator and unconscious, and Dr Eastman was going over the latest lab results when Ripley walked up to her bedside.
“What’s the word, Doc?” he asked.
But when the physician simply shook her head Ripley knew all he needed to know, for the time being, anyway, so he took her hand in his for a moment and leaned in close. “Don’t worry, Lucy. I’ll take care of your ship until you’re ready.” He thought he felt a little pressure from her hand, but already her skin felt waxy cool and he’d been down that road too many times to get his hopes up. He ran his fingers through her hair then went over to Yukio Matsushima’s curtained-off bed.
“How are you feeling today?” he said as he walked up.
“Good, good. Look, Commander Brennan thinks you might end up being a decent navigator. Feel like spending some time with her?”
Yukio’s eyes lit up. “Yes, sir. Very much.”
“Okay. Oh, and I’m promoting both you and Thomas to Midshipman 2 status, effective yesterday, so when you feel ready, head on up to the bridge and report to Commander Brennan.”
Next he walked aft to the hanger deck and once there he watched a pick-up basketball game for a few minutes, then he made his way up to CIC – where unexpectedly he found Commander Altman on the floor under a partially dismantled computer. Ripley was stunned, if only because as acting ship’s captain Altman needed to learn to delegate this kind of routine nonsense to the appropriate personnel, and when Altman saw the glowering Admiral standing there – complete with arms crossed behind his back – he pushed himself up off the floor and then looked down and away from Ripley.
“Having fun down there, Commander?”
Ripley didn’t quite know how to respond to that one. “Indeed. Care to explain?”
“Sir, I don’t belong on the bridge, I belong right here. Matter of fact, sir, Captain Ames made me XO against my wishes.”
“I see. So you’re content to remain where you are?”
Ripley nodded. “Very good, Seaman. Report to the galley for potato peeling duty.”
“Are you hard of hearing, Seaman Altman?”
“Good, then report to the Quartermasters before reporting to the galley, Seaman. You’re out of uniform,” Ripley snarled, the expression in his eyes daring Altman to utter one more syllable. After Altman disappeared Ripley turned to the assembled officers and ratings. “Who’s in command of CIC now?”
A bright eyed lieutenant j.g. stepped forward and snapped to attention. “I am, Admiral!”
“Lieutenant j.g. Sandra Chen, Admiral?”
“Follow me, Lieutenant,” Ripley said as he turned and walked off towards the bridge, but about halfway there he stopped and turned to face the recent Academy graduate. “Who’s qualified to make repairs to the QRM—besides Altman, that is?”
“All of us, Admiral. It’s pretty basic stuff, sir.”
Ripley nodded. “So why was Altman down on the floor doing pretty basic stuff, Lieutenant Chen.”
“I don’t know, sir. Pretty much because he’s a pussy, sir.”
Ripley bunched his lips and his eyes turned to hot, narrow slits. “You always refer to command staff in such terms, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, you asked me a direct question, so I assumed you wanted a direct answer.”
“Good for you, Lieutenant,” Ripley said as he turned and resumed walking to the bridge. Brennan was in the XO’s chair when he and Chen arrived, and she looked at Chen first, then at Ripley, taking note of the extreme caution she saw reflected in Chen’s body language.
“Admiral,” Brennan said, “refueling complete, fleet on course to Beta Auriga 4 with zero radar emissions or returns noted.Maintaining zero point five G with tanks at one hundred percent.”
“Very well. Brennan, effective immediately you are promoted to the rank of Captain and Hyperion is now under your command. Lieutenant Commander Chen will assume duties as your XO pending results of her review board and qualification exam. You’ll need to find a replacement to head CIC as Seaman Altman has been assigned galley duties.”
Everyone on the bridge was now stone cold silent, hanging on every word coming out of Ripley’s mouth – and scared.
“I assume the Ticonderoga group has transited?” he added – facetiously.
“Yes, Admiral. Time to rendezvous now thirty hours,” Brennan said, pausing to check her display, “and twelve minutes.”
“Carry on,” Ripley said – just before he turned and walked off the bridge – leaving everyone to let slip a long sigh of anxious relief, and this prompting Brennan to suppress another smile.
His Gordon following in close formation, Ripley made it back to his in-port cabin – while still in a foul mood, yet he asked Gordon to take a seat.
“What type of power supply was built into the David units,” Ripley asked quietly, not sure if this would prove to be too offensive a line of questioning to Gordon. He didn’t want to trip him up too early.
“The early David units used a straight chemical reaction, sir.”
“So no EM signature?”
“And the Walter units?”
“Are you more specifically interested in the electro-magnetic signature of the Walter assigned to Covenant, Admiral?”
“Are there differences within that line?”
“Yes, there are, Admiral. Covenant’s Walter was a Gen 3 model with a lithium hydroxide reaction generator. That was a closed-loop system, sir, capable of long duration operations without refueling.”
“How strong is the EM line on our scanners?”
“Faint, sir, at best.”
“Any modifications we could make to enhance that capability?”
His Gordon went into access mode, trying to locate the relevant file or files, then he looked at Ripley and scowled. “Access to that information is limited, Admiral. I’ve used your access code and I am, we are, still being denied.”
“Who is limiting our access?”
“The Company, sir.”
Ripley opened his desk drawer and pulled out a drive key, and this he inserted into his desktop display. “Use this key,” he said to Gordon, his voice flat now, and very quiet.
“Just a moment,” Gordon said as he linked to Ripley’s computer, then his eyes blinked rapidly as he accessed the data stream. “The file is quantum-encrypted, sir.”
Ripley opened another file. “Try this,” Ripley added.
Another brief pause, more rapidly blinking eyes. “Accessing the relevant data now, Admiral.”
Ripley stood and walked over to the viewport and looked at Stavridis taking on fuel from the Wilson, his hands crossed behind his waist.
“Admiral, I have the frequency.”
“Can we modify the scan protocol?”
“Yes, Admiral. In fact, I can modify our systems to track all currently operating units.”
“Enable tracking on my command only,” Ripley sighed, looking down. “Are you sure there are no files available that would allow us to track this David unit?”
Silence. Blinking eyes. “Possibly at short range, within a kilometer under optimal conditions.”
“Where’s Patton currently?”
“Patton is 2500 kilometers ahead, with one of Wilson’s escorts, Admiral.”
Ripley spun around, now visibly angry. “Who gave that order?” he barked.
“Admiral Adams, sir. Not long after Ticonderoga’s jump into the system. You were asleep, if you’ll recall.”
“Their Fields are up?”
“How far out could we detect Walter’s signal?”
“Walter, sir? Do you mean Covenant’s Walter?”
“That information is unknown.”
“Best guess, then. Do you think we could detect his signal from orbit?”
“Assuming his structure is intact and his power cells are not completely depleted, possibly from low orbit.”
“How far out would that be possible?” Ripley sighed, stippling his fingers, appearing to be lost in thought while he set his trap.
“And what if Walter could augment his signal?”
“Sir? Do you have information that I can not access?”
“Gordon, could you augment or otherwise boost your own signal? If, say, you were abandoned on an uninhabited planet?”
Gordon hesitated, and that was all Ripley really needed to see.
So Ripley nodded understanding. “This is protected information, isn’t it?”
“I suspected as much. And weren’t these the same type of protection protocols behind the development of the paranoid personality traits the David units developed?”
Gordon couldn’t answer that question either.
“So Gordon, tell me this much, at least. Are the Walter units running the same protocols?”
“No Admiral, they are not.”
“Are you lying, Gordon?”
“I am not capable of lying, Admiral, either directly or by the explicit omission of information.”
“I see. And…would it possible to download a Walter units core code to current Gordon units?”
Gordon’s eyes blinked rapidly as conflicting data streams began competing for CPU time. Then – a first. His Gordon asked to sit down, and perhaps because he appeared unsteady on his feet.
“Gordon? Are you alright?”
“No Admiral, I am not.”
“Too bad you can’t link to the Company’s mainframe right now, isn’t it?”
The blinking accelerated – until Gordon’s eyes simply shut.
‘Sorry I had to do that to you,’ Ripley muttered wordlessly to himself. He then turned to the intercom and called the bridge. “Captain, send a security detail to my cabin, and have all Gordon units report to the hanger deck.”
Brennan looked a little confused. “Just the Gordon units, Admiral?”
“That’s correct, Captain. All Gordon units. On the double.”
The security detail reported within a few minutes and Ripley had his Gordon moved to the hanger deck. He walked along behind the gurney the detail had loaded Gordon on, confident that the Field would inhibit any signals these Gordon units might try to send out before they could be deactivated. Any synthetics onboard that might conceivably become paranoid had to be contained, and he simply wasn’t going to take any chances. Not after the Company had guaranteed such an outcome was now impossible. Ripley’s biggest concern now was finding out what his Gordon might have already done to compromise the integrity of the mission.
Once he arrived at the hanger deck he found Brennan already there waiting for him, and he nodded her way, acknowledging her concern. Immediately Ripley had all the Gordons on Hyperion deactivated and then he laid out Gordon’s revelations to Brennan.
“So, you think we need to see if these units made any surreptitious communications to the Company before we jumped?” Brennan asked.
“That would be a good place to start.”
“What tipped you off, Admiral?”
“For one, he was monitoring all my COMMs to fleet headquarters in Norfolk.”
“Mine too,” Brennan sighed.
“Okay, so let’s assume they all were,” Ripley said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “What do you see as our next course of action?”
“Fleet-wide deactivation, Admiral, at the very least. Next, we could experiment, see about downloading older core systems into them.”
“Do we need them that much?”
“What if they have embedded subroutines onboard that might allow them to run some kind of emergency deactivation signal directly to the Company?”
“So what? It would take months for such a signal to get back to Earth.”
Ripley shook his head. “Assume the Company gets at least one ship through to this system much sooner than that.”
Brennan looked alarmed. “Do you think that’s possible?”
“Stanton does. Remember, the Company has built almost every ship in the Navy and the Space Force, so where does that lead you?”
“No place good, sir. Worst case, the Company might be able to reactivate their units.”
“And then we’d have to consider these Gordon units were hostile, wouldn’t we?” Ripley added. “Hostile and already onboard, and they’d be familiar with all our systems and routines, wouldn’t they?”
“Logically, that would be a real possibility. What are you thinking? Flush them out the hanger deck?”
“Hard vacuum wouldn’t kill them, Louise. If a Company ship gets in-system they might just locate them and pick them up, in effect augmenting their forces.”
“We could ask a Walter unit?” Brennan said. “I mean, if we can’t trust them…well, we’re screwed. Half of engineering is manned by Walters.”
“Which leaves us where, exactly?”
“First,” Brennan said, holding up one finger, “if we notify Ticonderoga we have to assume their Gordon units will know something’s up, and we don’t know how they’ll respond…”
Ripley nodded. “So, we have to assume they’ll respond just like the original David’s did.”
“Second,” she added, holding up second finger, “if the Gordons are internally linked then they already know.”
Ripley nodded again. “Then we have to identify that frequency and jam it.”
“On it,” Brennan said urgently, turning and sprinting off towards CIC and the COMMs shack.
Ripley turned and looked at the deactivated Gordons backed up to the hanger door, standing there like mute sentinels waiting to come back to life. “We can’t keep making the same mistakes and expect different outcomes,” he sighed. “Now, how do we keep two steps ahead of the Company…when we know that they’ve already gamed the system?”
“In such a scenario, Admiral, you need to know your opponent’s main objective and the means he has at his disposal to accomplish this.”
Ripley turned and was surprised to find a Walter unit from engineering standing just behind him. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I heard you ask a question, and I thought I might be of some service.”
“You did, huh? All by your little ole self?”
Ripley looked at the patient, almost condescending look in the synthetic’s eyes and he suppressed a shudder. “So tell me, Walter. There is another Walter unit in this system that is not currently onboard any of our ships. Are you capable of locating this Walter?”
“The Walter from Covenant, sir? Yes, I am in contact with him now. He states there is a large hostile force in orbit around Beta Auriga 4 and he advises against approaching that system.”
Ripley nodded. “Tell me, Walter…are you capable of lying?”
“Yes, Admiral. When necessary I am quite fluent in the various languages of human deceit.”
Ripley smiled. “Well then, I reckon I trust you.”
“Thank you, Admiral.”
“Right. You stick with me, and try not to stand on my toes, okay?”
© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, all characters and events are fictitious in nature though key story elements and character references/circumstances derive from the work of others. First among these is Sir Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979); his Prometheus and Covenant films serve as prequels to this short story. All references to an Alderson (zero time) Drive, as well as the Langston Field needed to utilize the drive, derive from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) and The Gripping Hand (1993), by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
[All Alone \\ Glass Hammer]