I'd like to thank Mulligan and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
Ensign Harry Webb, newly commissioned in the Confederacy Space Navy, paused to look at the vessel docked alongside the space station and silently cursed his luck at being assigned to this pathetic specimen of a ship for his first assignment.
Through the viewport the young man could clearly make out the less than sleek lines of the USS Maiden Castle. She was one of the many Castle class corvettes used by the Navy since its introduction to the inhabitants of the planet Earth and the revelation that doom threatened them all with the approach of the Sa'arm.
Harry's time at the Naval academy on New Annapolis had prepared him for the role of a junior officer in the Navy with a specialisation in tactics, an area he didn't see serving on one of these pretend ships would enhance. He'd managed to achieve a position in the top five of his graduating class and was the only one of those who'd been assigned to a corvette; only time would tell what this assignment would do for his long-term career prospects.
The simple fact that the Navy had two corvettes for every other ship in its inventory didn't mean a thing to the disappointed young man as he approached the Marine at the end of the ship's boarding tube. The Marine came to attention as he approached and saluted, possibly a little casually but Harry wasn't prepared to question the man's attitude.
He offered his ID card as he announced, "Ensign Webb to join the ship's company."
The Marine didn't reply; he simply flicked his eyes to a screen on his left and then jabbed it with his finger. Almost casually he handed back the ID card, saluted and then spoke for the first time. "Thank you Sir, if you'll make your way to the ship, the duty officer will meet you at the hatch."
Harry returned the salute and gripping his small day sack in his left hand he made his way along the boarding tube, thankful that the tube was fitted with the artificial gravity plates. Having to navigate the same tube in free fall with every one watching was not the sort of thing a newly commissioned officer wanted to happen to him.
As Harry walked along the tube he ran through the details of the Castle class ships in his mind. Technically they were classed as a patrol or escort vessel with a nominal complement of six officers and thirty-eight ratings. They were just short of eighty metres long and had a mass of two thousand, two hundred tonnes, which might be a lot for a ground vehicle but when compared to the Presidential class attack carriers, which came in at nearly a hundred times that, they were dinky. The key details as far as he was concerned were the minimalist weapon fit, a forward arc plasma torpedo launcher as the main strike weapon and two class one particle beam projectors in three hundred and sixty degree hemispherical mounts to support it.
In simple terms it meant that anything dead ahead of the ship could be hit by two beams and a torpedo, which was a fair punch but away from that it could be down to a single particle beam. Throw in the four-point defence systems for protection against incoming missiles, systems that Harry didn't even consider as weapons and you had everything that the corvette had to offer.
Not particularly inspiring to a young man who'd commanded the massed batteries of a close support ship, at least in combat simulations if not in real life.
Shrugging his shoulders Harry checked himself over and prepared to meet the officer of the day as he stepped out of the boarding tube and into his new home.
Harry braced up and saluted the United Nations colours that had been adopted as the human's flag and was fixed to the wall above an embossed ship's shield and held the pose as the officer of the day stepped forward.
The officer of the day returned his salute casually and stuck out his hand.
"Welcome aboard," he said, "I'm Roger DeSilva."
As Harry shook the proffered hand he realised that the man before him held the same rank he did. He was shocked that an Ensign would be the officer of the day and his thoughts must have been clear on his face as Roger grinned.
"That's right, I'm the officer of the day and now that you're here there will be three of us to carry out the job."
"Three," gasped Harry in surprise.
Roger was nearly laughing, "Come on," he said turning away from the hatch. "The skipper is on the station so you won't get to see him until later."
The Ensign led Harry through a couple of hatchways before pointing up a ladder, "Your quarters are up there," he looked at Harry and added, "Be prepared, they are not much bigger than you had at the academy."
He glanced at Harry's day sack and motioned him up the ladder, "Dump your bag and I'll take you to meet the rest of the wardroom."
Harry obediently scrambled up the ladder and entered a small suite. Roger hadn't lied, it wasn't much bigger than the space he'd had but at least it was private. He dropped his bag on the desk and didn't waste any more time looking around before he returned to the companionway and the seemingly jovial Roger.
The wardroom was through one more hatchway and was empty as the two Ensigns entered. Roger dropped into one of the comfortable looking seats and waved towards another.
"I'm glad you're here," he said, "doing day on, day off was becoming a bind."
"They have Ensigns doing Officer of the Day?" asked Harry unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.
"Yeah," said Roger. "It surprised me when I got here six months ago but when you think about it who else are they going to give the job to?"
As Harry contemplated what Roger had said the young man called out "James!"
Thirty seconds later a man stuck his head into the wardroom and looked around.
"James," said Roger, "This is Harry Webb, he's joining us. Harry, this is Staff Sergeant James May, he's the ship's steward and the greatest provider of essentials I've ever known."
The steward frowned at Roger and nodded in simple greeting to Harry.
"Any chance of getting a pot of tea?" asked Roger to the steward.
"I'll get one sent in, Sir," replied James as he disappeared back through the hatch.
"We've got pretty much a full crew now," said Roger. "Which means the Captain, who is a Captain, the Exec and the Chief Engineer who are Lieutenants and you, me and Kerry. Throw in the thirty-six ratings and you can see that we're only two short of what the book calls for."
A pretty woman in the plain grey smock of a concubine entered the wardroom and silently deposited a tray carrying a teapot, milk jug, sugar bowl and two mugs on the occasional table between them.
"What about concubines?" asked Harry after the woman had departed as silently as she'd appeared.
"Each of us has one aboard," replied Roger with a casual wave around the wardroom, "the crew get one between six."
Harry raised an eyebrow at that statement.
"I know," said Roger, "the bigger ships may have the room for every one to bring a concubine but we're pretty short on space here hence the one in six rule. I wouldn't worry about it though, we don't have time to do the dirty with them really as we're generally standing alternate watches as it is."
"Then why bring them?" asked Harry.
"We may not be getting a chance for any fun but the rating's concubines may be 'doing the dirty' each and every watch in order to service their assigned six masters," replied Roger. "And they need to keep the ship clean in the meantime.
"So the ratings get to play and we just work?" said Harry.
"If we get stuck on convoy duty, yes," replied Roger. "I'm sure things are different on some of the other possible tasks but we've been running supply convoys forward for the six months I've been here."
Harry shuffled forward and lifted the teapot before glancing up to Roger.
"White with one, please."
Harry nodded in response and poured the tea into the two mugs and then added a dash of milk to each before dropping a heaped spoon of sugar into the mug he'd designated as Roger's.
Sitting back he asked, "Have you any idea what job I'm going to be given?"
"If the skipper doesn't change things around you'll be running Sensors and Communications," said Roger as he sipped his tea. "I'm the gunnery officer and Kerry Bogdanovich is the logistics officer."
"You mean they've got us actually heading sections?" asked Harry. "Is that on paper or for real."
"Oh it's real enough," replied Roger. He set his mug back on the table before continuing, "I'm guessing that in an ideal world we'd all be at least second tour Ensign's or even Lieutenants before we got the responsibilities, but we are what we are. The Exec keeps a pretty close eye on us and that makes things easier, believe it or not; but it's your section and you get to run it."
"Just a suggestion," said Roger seriously, "If your Gunny tells you something you'd do well to listen. Most of the senior guys are either ex-wet Navy or have been out here long enough to learn their way around and they're pretty cool when they're dealing with us newbies."
"I'll remember that," replied Harry as he sat back and took a calming sip from his mug.
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /