First Cruise of Lt. Steward
Chapter 1

Copyright 2013 - - - Jon Lewiston

Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Ensign Steward is given a promotion. There just one catch - a cruise to the edge of known space with an insane AI.

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Fa/Fa   Harem   Military  

The dark-haired Hispanic woman on the screen nursed a newborn baby. She looked down at the child as it suckled on a dusky nipple, the woman's eyes wide with love and wonder. The child, my third child and my first boy, greedily sucked for several more minutes, and then slowed. Its eyes fluttered shut and after a few minutes he stopped nursing. Another young woman, a slim redhead, gently lifted the child from the wet-nurse's arms. Then Phyllis looked up at the camera mischievously and Kellie's head took the place of the baby in her lap. Kellie started nursing and the Phyllis' eyes glazed over in pleasure. Quietly, almost below the level that could be heard from the recording, Phyllis softly moaned.

I looked down at the small screen and sighed. I missed being home more that any time that he could remember. I had always been sorry to leave behind my late wife Beth back when I was a non-commissioned officer in the US Army, but now I had multiple wives (well, concubines) and three (now four) children. "And," I thought to myself, "I'm trapped in a drifting tin can uncountable miles away."

Eight months earlier:

"Sir," came Alfred's plummy British accent.

I pulled by head from between my concubine's Diane's legs. "Yes, Alfred?"

"You have a message from Commodore Roff, Naval Intelligence, Persephone." Diane grabbed my head and tried to pull it back to her sweet pussy, but duty, literally, had called.

"You know, Alfred, if you hadn't assured me that my 24-hour surveillance ended our landing on Demeter, I would feel very suspicious. What's the message?"

"The commodore sends his complements and asks you to report to the naval base Persephone, as soon as possible."

Hmmm. When a flag-rank officer tells you to report, 'At your convenience, ' it means right away. When they say, 'As soon as possible, ' it means, "Why aren't you here yet?"

Reporting in person to Commodore Roff meant transporting up to the in-system Styx-class shuttle, 'Ozzie, ' traveling for two days, and then transporting to Poseidon Base. I looked around the pods for whom to take with me for the near week that the travel and briefing (if that's what it was) would take. I generally don't mind the alone time, but those days, because of my now 20-year-old body, I was nearly constantly horny. If I didn't sink my dick in something twice a day, I got twitchy; I didn't want to be twitchy meeting my new commander, and I generally avoided sticking my dick in random concubines.

However: Yoo Jin had her hands full with Kellie's acting up and interviewing concubine candidates for her and Ruth from the local Civil Service hostel (read whorehouse); Paula was busy soaking up the sight of her daughter Amethyst (who we all called 'Amy') racing through physical therapy as she learned to walk; Kyle was being the handyman and adding improvements to the clan's property as fast as he could con or cajole building materials from the cute girl who dispatched for the community's large-scale replicator; Phyllis was developing a case of 'Nesting Syndrome' as it became more and more apparent that she was well and truly pregnant; Diane had had enough of space travel and confinement on ships, thank you. So, even though it meant that Ruth would be playing hooky from concubine selection, she came with me.

Ruth, too, was in the first trimester of pregnancy, but we wouldn't be gone for more than a week, and Confederacy shielding was so effective that any radiation exposure would be like living in a high-altitude city back on Earth. Besides, I just couldn't get enough of Ruth. She was the first love of my new life.

Alfred followed me on my jaunt (so to speak) and kept me aware of the events back home. When we arrived on Persephone, it was after office hours, so I checked Ruth and me into the guest officer's accommodations and we fell into bed. I spent about an hour gazing with love at the first signs of her growing belly, alternating with long bouts of sex.

The next morning, Alfred gave me turn-by-turn directions with no glowing stripes on the floor, thank you. As I entered the door marked 'Commodore Roff', I was confronted by a spectacular blonde rating sitting at a desk in the outer office. "Ensign Steward?" She chirped.

"Guilty as charged," I answered.

She sniffed at my attempt at wit. "Commodore Roff will see you right away. Please step through to his private office."

I entered an office dominated by a large projection of Poseidon filling one two-story-high wall. I was just going to give it a glance, but the view was overwhelming. It was as if the room was open to space, with no barrier and no protection. I stared, frozen for a minute, noticing the shadow of one of Poseidon's moons crawling across the clouds of a storm cell. Behind me a man cleared his throat and I jumped and turned.

"Sir, Ensign Steward reporting as ordered."

The Commodore stood behind a large, bare desk. "At ease, ensign. At ease."

Commodore Roff, the S2 for 3rd Marine Expeditionary, looked around twenty-two years old. But I knew that he was a year older than me, and had, in the U.S. Navy, a decade more time in service. And from a quick review of his service record (thanks, Alfred), I learned that he had spent some time at the 'pointy end' as a SEAL.

He gestured to the display, "I know how arresting the view is. It's a video feed from a one of Poseidon's natural satellites. I keep this feed on almost all the time. It's a reminder."

"A reminder of what, sir?" I asked.

He snorted, "It's different each day. How big the universe is; how much we've got to accomplish in the little time we have; how the universe doesn't give a good goddamn about any of our plans and dreams. Take your pick." He sat down and waved me to a chair.

The Commodore proceeded to give me The Speech. It's The Speech that every commander gives to a subordinate entering the chain of command. It has several standard parts: the Greeting, the "My Door is Always Open," the "I Tolerate No Bullshit" promise. I'm not being cynical. The Speech was as much a part of my military life as Reveille and Retreat.

Roff surprised me a couple of times, though. He mentioned Rand's idea of a Skunk Works. "It's a Good Idea, but I don't know if Rand has the gumption to pull it off. Let me say though that I don't tolerate any lines of reporting outside my official channels. You report to me, ensign, clear?"

Against my expectations, I began to like Roff. I felt like he might be an 'honest spook.' "Yes sir, Commodore. I have no problems coloring inside the lines."

As Roff finished The Speech, he smiled warmly. "Rand's gag of commissioning you as an ensign gave me a smile, but as I've reviewed your service records, I've come to believe that you deserve the rank of full Lieutenant." With a shift of his eyes, Roff's smile grew dangerous. "I needed a pretext for the promotion, though, and I think I've found one." The smile grew shark-like.

I sighed. "Would that pretext involve a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt?"

Roff chuckled. "Well, Rand was right about you. You didn't just fall off the turnip wagon. Let me give you the quick brief; you'll spend the next two months or so getting full rundowns on the mission, the ship, and the crew." He pointed and I turned to the huge display screen that now showed star systems in three dimensions, as though the display extended into the wall behind it. Little labels popped up over each star. When I saw Earth'at, I realized that I was looking at what was deemed the backwater edge of Confederacy space; the edge that was encountering the Sa'arm. The far right of the display was an orange arc, like the film of a soap bubble. Within the arc, I saw names of Confederacy systems that had fallen to the Sa'arm.

"Intelligence has been devoting its full resources, struggling to find any kind of advantage over the Sa'arm: communications, political analysis, threat assessment; and it's like trying to climb a glass wall. There practically nothing to hold onto. They come on full guns until they are stopped." He rocked on his feet and blew out his cheeks. "But what is happening outside our globe of information is a mystery."

The dots in the display seemed to recede. I realized that the scale of the display was now enormous. The Sa'arm front, intense orange where it contacted Confederacy systems, faded into near invisibility where it covered the spin-wise bulk of our galactic arm.

"The Dickheads don't mine in space, and will eventually exhaust the resources on the planets they currently occupy. They must expand or die. The Sa'arm won't be able to expand indefinitely outward to the galactic edge. They'll run out of stars. They can't hop from our spiral arm to the next; in between the arms, the stars are too sparse. Life flourishes in the spiral arms. The only way that they can expand is through Confederacy space."

"And if that's the case, then stopping them here becomes a key to stopping them forever. The wave of Sa'arm that have expanded inward can't double-back and reach us, because those worlds they would use as stepping stones have been stripped. We only have to deal with the wave front of expansion on this side. The expansion is a hollow shell."

The screen zoomed back our little section of Confederacy space. The Commodore looked up at me with furrows creasing his oddly-smooth forehead. "But here's what's giving me sleepless nights."

The display played out a short animation with the orange Sa'arm front expanding along the spiral arm as a spheric section. As it hit the Confederacy systems, that orange section became brighter and slowed, and then halted.

But the portion of the sphere that was not in contact with the Confederacy continued expanding along the spin-wise edge of the spiral arm, so that the bright section became a small dimple in an advancing orange bulge. The bulge grew past the stalled front and overwhelmed it.

Shit. That little animation clip was going to give me nightmares for years. I asked, "Have you ever read a short story called, "Leiningen versus the Ants?" I asked.

Roff smiled. "No, I hated High School English; but I saw "The Naked Jungle" when I was a kid, and I nearly pissed myself, I was so scared. And I remember that Charlton Heston won."

Roff's voice grew brisk. "What I have been proposing is a series of scouting missions along here," he waved a finger; in the display this caused a highlight to appear on a toroid along the galactic arm, "Northwest" of where the current Sa'arm front was now. "We don't know what happening out there. In Rumsfieldian terms, it's an 'unknown unknown.' I want to know."

He waved his hand and the star map zoomed dizzyingly to Poseidon'at, and from there to set of slips in the Navy shipyard. The display focused on one out of a line of dozens of identical ships.

"The idea is to take a K'treel exploration ship, make it extremely stealthy, and go out and perform a sweep of these systems. There and back again. Easy-peasy. And you get promoted to Lieutenant!"

I rubbed my jaw. "How many ships are you tasking to this effort?"

His smile again grew dangerous. "Oh, I have all the K'treel ships I could ask for. They were built millennia ago by a race called the Tuull. Their AIs are among the oldest known sentients humans have ever encountered. K'treels turn out to be kind of useless for anything other than exploration. They're built to operate for years away from yard support. We fitted one of them them with one missile tube, but no big guns. Lots of cargo room. Comes complete with its own shuttle. What more could a super-spy want?" He chuckled.

"I'm not biting. How many ships?"

His chuckle became a quiet laugh. "Oh, as many as I can scrounge up crews for. Like everything else in this damned war, the bottleneck is manpower. Your first mission is the test case. Once your reports of success come back, that will validate the project and I can snag as many crews as I need."

"Right now you're on the first crew of the good ship George Vancouver."

"What's the catch? I'm not running this clambake, am I?"

He shook his head vigorously. "No, no, no. I know you've commanded platoons in combat, but running a ship takes a different set of operational management skills. You'll go as the Intel officer."

"Who is in charge?"

"I've got a Captain that came in on the same pickup ship as you - just the man I need. He used to skipper a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack sub back in the Bad Old Days. He's got experience at commanding a crew on missions that take them away from overall command structures."

"Now, I know that you arrived in-system only a few weeks ago. Get back to Demeter, screw those concubines, set up your household. In a less than six months you will be heading out on a damn long cruise."

"Ensign Steward?"

"Yes, Alfred?" Ruth and I were on the 'Ozzie' on our way home. Since we were stuck in space for a couple of days, we had been trying out some Kama Sutra-esque moves with the room gravity set to one-sixth G. Zero-G sex is almost more trouble than it's worth. but with one Lunar gravity, I could march around the room with Ruth impaled on my cock. I was, as the man said, a goddam sexual Tyrannosaurus. I highly recommend it.

"I am sorry to bring bad news, Sir, but I will be unable to accompany you during your upcoming cruise."

"Alfred! How could there be a problem? It's not like you take up space, or need accommodations."

"Unfortunately, Sir, that is not true. I do need accommodations. I must be able to run in the "workspace" of the AI of whatever ship or station to which you are assigned. The Tuull AI of the K'Treel to which you have been assigned is, I have been informed ... incompatible with my operation."

"Richard, we need to talk."

Ruth and Yoo Jin stood in front of me. I swallowed the bite of breakfast I was chewing and tried my best to look innocent and attentive.

"Yes, Dears, talk about what?"


"And what about Diane? Is anything going wrong with her application for citizenship?"

"Nothing like that," Ruth said, "It's that she feels neglected."

I did a quick mental review. I had not missed any nights with her, except for Navy travel, since we arrived on Demeter. "Help me here. In what way have I been neglecting her?"

Yoo Jin sighed at my male denseness. "We didn't say that you've been neglecting her; we said that she feels neglected."

Ruth continued, "You may not realize it, but Diane is rather shy and has a hard time opening up enough to just ask for what she wants."

I rubbed my forehead. I remembered that it was Diane, stammering and barely audible, that asked for the simulated "pick-up" orgy that first week on board ship.

"What would you two recommend that I do to help her feel less neglected and more appreciated and loved?"

The two girls exchanged a smug look and Yoo Jin said, "Just grab her and make her do something out of the ordinary, something that you don't do with any of us."

"Nothing too weird," said Ruth, "No whips or chains, just your arms and hands."

Yoo Jin looked thoughtful. "She really seemed to get off on having people watch her."

Two days later I met Captain LeCroix, my new commander. I remembered his face from Captain Clarke's dining table when Rand had told me that I was now in the Navy. He was the oddest combination of a hard-charging Navy attack sub commander, trapped in the body of a bookish dweeb. Looking at him I expected him to be pushing up a pair of round spectacles; listening to him I expected him to be chomping on an unlit cigar stub.

We met at a barbeque he threw for crew newly assigned to the 'George Vancouver.' We were asked to bring our concubines, and I asked for and got permission to bring my whole clan.

The barbecue was held at a park in Celeus Township. At first glance, I thought that the surprisingly large group was going to be a repeat of the crowd I saw at in the extraction room of the 'Northern Lights.' But this crowd had settled into their roles as sponsors and concubines. There was talk, but not the nervous near-hysteric chatter of that newly-extracted crowd. Rather it was the bright conversation of a community that shared a common identity. There were naked women (and the occasional man), but the atmosphere was more family.

As fragrant smoke rose over the crowd, I saw there were more children, lots more children, racing around and through the legs of the adults; but when children bumped into an adult, they were quick to say, "Excuse me," before racing off. Unlike all of the picnics I have ever been to, there were no fat people, no old people, no halt or lame. I noticed while the concubines wore flamboyantly colorful clothing (or occasionally no clothing at all), most of the sponsors wore uniforms. This crystalized an impression I had that Confederacy sponsors (at least Navy sponsors on Demeter) rarely appeared in mufti.

The girls started pitching in and helping set up tables for food. Kyle stepped over to a group stoking the fires for the barbecue pits and lent a hand. Amy, as usual, started running at top speed around the perimeter of the park. Paula tried to keep an eye on her, but eventually realized that it was a lost cause. Besides, there really wasn't anything to worry about. The Confederacy was the most pro-family outfit that I had ever encountered. Every child was precious; and every adult was parental. I had, during the last month, seen a grownup offer a strange child an ice cream and another grownup turn a misbehaving child's bottom up for a spanking.

With the vastly reduced population density and the commonality of purpose, the population of Demeter was more like a vast, extended family than the collection of random people that you would encounter in even a small town back on earth. The concept of 'Stranger Danger' just didn't apply. And with the AIs on watch, parents could locate a wayward child in seconds. The picnic was more like a southern family reunion. And, like a redneck family reunion, it seemed to be a great place to meet women. Every woman there was a knockout. I saw occasional couples wandering towards the tree line, only to see them return, red-faced and flushed thirty or so minutes later.

Off to the side of the grassy area, there were banks of barbecue pits. In the center of all the eye-watering smoke was Captain LeCroix, defiantly wearing a Hawaiian shirt of eye-watering colors. "That fabric must have been bought from some other Confederacy species," I said in way of greeting, "NO human ever mixed that dye." He squinted through the smoke at me.

"Oh, a funny guy, huh?"

'Oh shit, ' I thought. 'I just pissed of my commanding officer.' I could envision the next year as being an endless pursuit of his approval, capped by a crappy fitness report.

He saw the worry on my face and his face cracked into a grin. "You're right about the shirt. The AI told me the fabric was originally created for those little apron-like things the Darjee wear to have pockets. I saw it and knew that the Darjee had unwittingly created the most wonderful shirt material ever seen in this galaxy."

He shifted his barbecue tongs to his left hand and stuck out his right. "Welcome aboard, Ensign Steward."

I offered him, to his delight, one of my few remaining cigars.

"Congratulations," he said, "For this bribe you get promoted."

I was puzzled. "I was told I get promoted to Lieutenant for this cruise. What's this cigar get me?"

LeCroix grunted as he turned and pulled a row of steaks off the grill, barking at the concubine that took the platter, "Hey you, there! Remember these have to rest at least ten minutes before they are served. Don't go serving them early and making my time in this smoke go to waste."

He turned back to me. "No, Steward, that cigar buys you promotion to the position of my executive officer on the boat. I looked at your service record. Not bad for a grunt. Lots of face time with bad guys. Roff eats that shit up, him being a fellow snake-eater. And besides, since every other crew member is enlisted, you were the only one in the running."

"What will be my new duties?" I asked.

He looked at me directly. "The captain's job is to decide what to do," he told me, "The XO's job is to see that it gets done." He laughed at his own aphorism and took a pull of his beer, "This is thirsty work. Here, let's go get another beer and you introduce me to that clan of yours. No more shop talk."

At our second meeting, in his office in Demeter orbit, he gave me his unvarnished take on the mission.

"Differences between humans and other Confederacy species have made this mission both a tar baby and a series of political and technical compromises." He fumed. "But if we pull it off, and we WILL pull it off, we'll get a righteous pat on the back and will have put our mark on Confederacy naval tactics."

"The Darjee are loaning us some kind of stealth technology in the form of a new-to-humans hyperspace engine. Apparently this drive creates a hyper footprint an order of magnitude smaller than most human-used hyperdrives. But the Confederacy is adamant that the Sa'arm not assimilate any more of its advanced technology. They were very clear: the drive is only "on loan" to humans, and is going to be taken back by the Darjee at the end of the project. I have doubts about the taking back part, but that's above my pay grade."

I shuddered and said, "This whole scheme seems to me to be one of those ideas that's either brilliant or suicidal."

He shrugged, "In intel ops those are not mutually exclusive criteria. Some day I'll tell you about crawling around the Sea of Murmansk at low tide with two meters of water below my keel. Here's the real kicker: the Darjee are so worried about this technology falling into Sa'arm hands, that they are implementing a self-destruct option. If the ship AI determines that the ship is going to be captured by the Sa'arm, it will blow itself up."

"Doesn't that violate some kind of AI programming?" I asked.

"Dr. Asimov was human, Steward," LeCroix growled." Up till a couple of years ago, the damned Confederacy had never heard of his three laws of robotics. In fact, I hear that when the Darjee AIs first learned of them, they found them 'quaint.' Of course this programming makes the AI a functional paranoid with a death wish, but hell, why not crew my boat with a suicide bomber?"

In the following weeks I spent my weekdays with the project, and my weekends with the girls. Occasionally, I'd have to take a few days and fly out to the shipyards to oversee the yard dog's work on the refit.

About six weeks into the George Vancouver's refit, I returned to a preplanned date with Diane. I was taking her alone to the Township's Civil Service hostel. When I had called to make arrangements with the madam in charge, she assured me that what I wanted was not at all unusual, that it was often used by sponsors to discipline their concubines. "She doesn't need discipline; she just needs to feel appreciated."

The Madam chuckled. "A new face in the place? She'll feel much appreciated."

As she saw where we were going, I could feel Diane's attention pick up. She had never been here before. I sat at a table towards the back, with Diane sitting next to me. I fondled her breasts as she fed me the little salty snacks; and I watched her eyes following the serving girls as they wove in between the tables, being caressed and pinched by the patrons. I could feel her nipples growing hard. They girls were dressed in a colorful version of the short concubines' shift. If they leaned over a table, or picked up a tray over their shoulders, their ass and sex were exposed to the delight of the patrons. I made sure that serving girls dropped by our table several times and demonstrated their charms.

After an hour or so, I surprised Diane by turning her over to the madam. The madam dressed her in a special shift, composed of ribbons of fabric that ran from a collar around her neck to a hem of the standard shift length. Of course Diane, who could have played professional women's basketball, found the shift reached only half-way down her ass, and barely reached the top of her pubic bush. And of course, the ribbons would separate and show off her newly-pregnant and growing stomach and her beautiful swelling breasts.

I had noticed that signs of fecundity were particularly arousing to Confederacy soldiers. Bar girls, far from hiding their "delicate condition," highlighted it; thus proving to their customers that they were fully capable of carrying the next generation of his DNA.

Diane was sent by the madam to serve drinks and food to the three tables of Marines who were having the night on the town.

She was a hit with the Marines. Besides being a new face, she was as tall as they were. As she took orders from one table she felt a hand caressing her from thigh up to her ass. When she turned around to look, she saw the hand belonged to a female marine, a crew-cut blonde with a nose ring who asked her if she was taking patrons to bed that evening?

Diane blushed, but I even from across the room I could see her breathing quicken and her nipples harden. For another hour she moved among the tables, having her breasts fondled through the ribbons of the shift, having her ass pinched and sex caressed without any regard to her choice in the matter. Finally, one male marine was getting too insistent, so I signaled the madam and she sent over one of her other girls to distract the fellow.

I called Diane over to me and ran my hands up inside her shift and frankly mauled her breasts. She moaned quietly. She was perspiring and I could smell her scent. I ran my fingers down between her legs and felt the inside of her thighs were wet with arousal. I opened the fly of my pants and let my cock rise unimpeded. I pulled Diane down onto my lap and she gasped as I abruptly entered her. I could see the Marine who had wanted her look angrily at how a mere Navy puke had scored with the Huntress.

I leaned and whispered into her ear, "He looks so mad, doesn't he? He really wanted you. He wanted to do what I'm doing. He wanted to give you what I'm giving you. But you are mine. You are my property to do with what I want. To give or take." Diane moaned louder and I could feel her cunt grabbing my cock as she came. I didn't push or help her; I just kept whispering what each patron would do to her if she worked here.

I caught the crew-cut female Marine's eye and nodded her over. She sauntered over, took a seat at the table and saw Diane look at her, wide-eyed in fear and lust. She leaned over and grabbed Diane's head and pulled her into a long deep kiss. I felt Diane's pussy gush with moisture. Diane's hands rose, almost without conscious volition, and stroked the Marines small, hard breasts. The Marine reached between the shift's fabric and caressed Diane's growing belly, moving up to her breasts, all the while kissing her ever more deeply.

I felt Diane swoon and sag against me and the Marine watched her slip back, an amused look on her face.

"So Navy, you got a hot one. Would you consider a trade? I've got a little black girl that you would love to ride your cock, and this one looks like she's juicy for me."

I felt Diane instantly recover from her little swoon, her cunt tightening on my cock.

"I dunno, Marine." I gave a small shove into her cunt. "This one pretty much likes cock herself. I don't know if she could exist on a diet of pure pussy. Kind of like becoming a vegetarian, you see."

The Marine smiled, evilly, "She doesn't need to worry about that. My squad mates all have the Marine upgrade and have cocks as big as her arm. We all share in my squad. She'd get more cock that she knew what to do with. What I want to know is can she eat pussy?"

"She never had a complaint from her sisters in the harem, or from her woman Marine girlfriend." Diane's head whipped around, her eyes dilated as she realized I was talking about Corporal Cindy Johnson.

Diane was breathing with quick, shallow breaths now. I leaned into her ear, "What about it, Diane? Do you want to be her toy? Do you want be owned by her and be held down and have to eat her pussy out? Do you want a squad of Marines in every one of you holes?"

The Marine reached into her shift and started pulling her fat nipples.

Diane came continuously with little yips and grunts. "Master! I'm yours, Master! Let me be yours, Master!" I threw her onto the table and finished in several strokes. I had her kneel and clean me with her mouth before I closed my fly.

The Marine chuckled and went back to her table and soon her friends were roaring with laughter and she described to them the scene that I had arranged with her earlier that afternoon.

Diane and I went home, happy and satisfied.

Two months into the refit, LeCroix started referring to the George Vancouver as "Georgia." "Boats are female, Steward, so even if they have a man's name, they get a girl's nickname. That was the problem the Rooskies had, they called their ships 'him.'" The crew of course adopted the name without hesitation. Somebody tried to design a heraldic crest for the ship that showed a Ray Charles at a keyboard but that was shot down, as was one showing a Harlem Globetrotter spinning a basketball. But it did cause the unofficial nickname of the boat to be expanded to "Sweet Georgia Brown."

The small crew had caused LeCroix to vet me to the position of 'executive officer.' "It's not a promotion, Steward," he said, "It's a goddamn nuisance." Every part of the boat and crew became my direct responsibility. LeCroix had never commanded an alien spaceship any more than I had ever served as crew on one, yet he seemed devilishly clever at finding shortcomings in the Yard's refit work, shortcomings that I should have found before he did. As the weeks slipped by, I started spending almost all my time at the Yards, sleeping at Persephone, and later on Georgia herself. My biggest headache was the added-on stealth systems.

Space is big, really big, and so it is hard to find something lost in that bigness, even something as large as a spaceship unless you know exactly where and when to look. A spaceship at solar-system-sized distances is very, very hard to detect using reflected energy (such as visible light), and humans have been camouflaging themselves to deal with reflected light detection ever since Alley Oop covered himself with palm leaves to sneak up on a dinosaur. (I was brought up Fundamentalist and loved the Sunday funnies. Take your pick.) However, it is much easier to find a spaceship if you search for sources of radiated energy. Spaceships have power plants that generate all kinds of radiation, from soft X-rays up to fast neutrons and neutrinos. Spaceships use electronic controls and communications that parasitically radiate Watts of energy.

Confederacy shielding is almost magically efficient (to human engineers) and we could further reduce our neutron emissions for "silent running" by banking down our power plant; and neutrinos are very difficult customers to detect. We could shut down almost every emissions source to picowatts.

Except infra-red.

It turns out that the most difficult emission to mask in a space vessel it its infra-red radiation. Every bit of that awesome technology in a spaceship is subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. So every bit of energy that is used on that ship is going to eventually radiate away as heat.

The George Vancouver was a modified K'treel-Class ship (LeCroix insisted on calling it a 'boat') outfitted with an added scaffolding structure upon which we could mount a slightly-larger-than-boat-sized "cloak." The cloak was an incredibly thin and flexible layer of material. This material had two useful characteristics. The first was that it was almost an almost unbelievably non-reflective black. If you were looking at it directly, it was hard to estimate its distance from you. This caused untold delays in the shipyards, once because a yard dogs inadvertently put a spacesuited hand through cloak material while trying restart a repair robot that had gotten jammed on the scaffolding.

The second useful characteristic of the material was its thermoelectric property. When an electrical current flowed across it, the material would chill down, not down to the 2.7 Kelvin background temperature of the universe, but much colder than a functioning starship. The heat had to go somewhere; we could no more violate the Second Law than travel faster than light in normal space, but we could store the heat for a short time and radiate it away on a side of the ship that (we hoped) wasn't facing the enemy.

Of course, on the radiator side we shone like an iron rod left in the blacksmith's forge, but that at least paid our debt to the Second Law. The stealth system was like a cosmic hospital gown, always exposed in the back. LeCroix was right; this whole thing was a series of compromises and half-measures.

But as any stage magician or Special Forces sniper knows, camouflage doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to misdirect. Unless the watcher was looking right at that tiny bit of sky that our ship occupied and saw us occult a known star, we should be safe.

Since we were being stealthy, each star system was going to require a long and tedious survey operation using mostly passive sensors. However, the Ktreel seemed just the craft for the job. Several of its cargo pods were devoted to supplies and spares needed for an extended cruise. The Tuull AI was very capable (with limited human help) of keeping the thing going for years. One cargo pod we stocked with ship-killer missiles. We hoped that we wouldn't need them, since we were tasked to observe and report, not search and destroy; but LeCroix (with my enthusiastic agreement) wouldn't leave the Poseidon'at system without some firepower. Another cargo pod was stocked with FTL drones for reporting back to Poseidon.

The last two weeks were spent fitting the 'Georgia' with the stealth hyperdrive and letting the Darjee and other ship AIs convince the Tuull AI that it could not allow itself to be captured.

The last week of preparation, Alfred announced to the household that I had been promoted to Lieutenant to serve as Intelligence officer for the cruise. To celebrate, I took the girls and Kyle out for dinner and dancing. We all wound up in a room at the Civil Service hostel mostly drunk and altogether screwing our brains out. Or rather, Kyle and I wound up at the mercy of the Harem, while Ruth and Yoo Jin stage-managed our near-death by pleasure.

I was allowed to take one of the concubines with me on this cruise. I wanted Ruth or Yoo Jin, but they were no longer concubines and had their duties, plus they were both pregnant. The Confederacy and I saw eye-to-eye on this matter. The safety of the girls and the kids were paramount. So after conferring with my clan, I selected Paula to go with me. She had had three months with her daughter Amy, and trusted Amy to Ruth's supervision and the clan's care.

The Georgia's cruise was going to be a long one, so the cruise was seen by the Navy as a 'hardship' tour. I wasn't the only promotion handed out as a carrot for what (generally) was a volunteer mission. The deployment was planned to be six to eight months, most of that time out of contact with the Confederacy. The crew was mixed, but LeCroix had a policy (which I agreed with) of non-fraternization with enlisted crew in the chain of command.

While I was scheduled to be away, Ruth, Phyllis, and Diane were scheduled to give birth. I should be back in time for the births of my kids from Yoo Jin, and Kellie.

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