As soon as I put on my headset, all I hear is screaming. Well, yelling to be more precise. There’s a very clear, very loud voice threatening to kill everyone on this ship. All 75 million of us. I hit the mute button and look to my training officer, Barry.
‘I think this one needs to be moved up the chain to someone higher up’. I may have just been promoted, but still, handling genocidal threats seemed above my paygrade.
Barry slid his chair over to my station and looked at my com-screen. ‘Nah, that’s a Mil-Ship. Let me guess, they’re demanding we change course or they’ll open fire?’
‘Pretty much.’ I hand over the headset, hoping to distance myself from possibly starting a war on the first day of my new job.
Barry refuses to take the equipment. ‘Empty threats. There hasn’t been ship to ship warfare in centuries. It’s just bravado. That’s the only way they know how to talk on Mil-ships. I bet they greet each other each morning by threatening to eviscerate their loved ones. Find out what they actually want.’
I slide the headset back on. After the initial shock of being told we’re all going to die, it dawns on me just how ridiculous of a threat it was. This ship, Cassian, was created eight hundred years ago by hollowing out an asteroid. Even at it’s thinnest point, it would take 10 times the ordinance a Mil-ship could carry just to leave a noticeable mark.
As calmly as I can manage, I ask the voice on the other end to restate their request. The response is just a loud as the previous one. ‘Unless you modify your heading plus .13 by .023 by .11 degrees immediately, you will be violating the sovereign area of the Military Vessel Angel Ford. We will be forced to open fire with a defensive salvo to protect our citizens from your reckless actions.’ I check the nav computer, even though I already know what it will read. The Cassian is perfectly on course. Before I moved up to communications officer, I spent 2 years in the navigational bay. Keeping a ship the size of the Cassian on a steady course was a task that took 3 shifts of 50 people working full time plotting and inputting corrections into the 2300 thrusters fastened to its rocky surface. That’s before you take into account the two massive ion drives that move us through space. The navigational bay is an important job, but it’s also intensely monotonous. A row of ten workers would plug in the same equations into their terminals to make sure the results matched. Then those results were sent to the thruster simulators and we got a new set of results. And if those matched then the updates would go to the next team who would repeat the process. By the time any of the thrusters were actually fired for even a tenth of a second, the procedure had been checked hundreds of times. Its was tedious. But when you are moving the home to 75 million citizens through the galaxy, it’s important to not make a mistake. And Cassian was just one of 225 ships in the fleet, all traveling within a hundred thousand kilometers of each other. So precision was key.
That’s why I knew there was no way that Cassian was ‘violating the sovereign area’ of the Angel Ford. I had a good guess about what was going on. I’ve never been on a MilShip. In fact I was like most citizens and never travelled outside of my home ship. When it comes to other ship types, each has it’s own stereotypes that go with it. In communications training we were told not to fall prey to those misconceptions. But I had a feeling that the stories about MilShips using outdated nav boxes, minimal food plots, and under maintained thrusters, because they spent all of their time training and loading up for a war with non existent aliens were true. Why increase the efficiency of your navigational computers when you can research new sonic rifles? What was more likely, their two hundred year old nav box being slightly out of sync or the Cassian’s deck full of workers forgetting to carry a one?
‘Angel Ford, we are tracking our course as nominal as of .05 seconds. Request that you recalibrate your navigational system with the updated data. I am sending a pulse file of the needed mapping updates so that you may check them against yours. The mapping data can be used to verify courses on nav boxes and it can also replace entries that may have been corrupted by gravitational waves.’
Barry looked at me quizzically. ‘How can something be corrupted by gravitational waves? Is that even a thing?’
‘I have to give them an out so they have some kind of excuse instead of having to admit they’re on a ship with obsolete equipment and obsolete data. At least this way they can update their mapping information’. I still wanted to avoid giving the voice on the Angel Ford any provocation to open fire on us, no matter how useless it would be.
After a few tense minutes, the voice on headset spoke ‘Affirmative, Cassian. We have received your data pulse and will confirm that it matches with ours and repair any possibly corrupted mapping coordinates.’
Barry put both hands on my shoulders and gave a victorious shake. ‘Interstellar War averted. Thats a good way to start the day.’
For a minute there I was regretting the promotion that I had been working so hard for. After the tedious, boring, day to day work navigating the Cassian, I thought communications would be a cushy job. I was mistaken. It turns out there’s nothing cushy about dealing with 224 other ships, with between 1 million and 100 million citizens on board.
There are four major classifications of ships in the fleet.
You have Bot Ships that are pretty much run by computers and robot attendants. The citizens on these ships have almost nothing to do with the operation of the vessel. They make up the majority of the vessels in the fleet but each ship is small. No bot ship has a population over 5 million and most are less than a quarter of that size.
MilShips are fewer in number but slightly larger. They were first manned by the militaries of the final governments on old Earth. Their mission was supposed to be to protect the colony ships from all threats, from without or within. It’s more likely they were built to attempt to enforce the might of whichever government built them. Those ties have long since melted away but the military philosophies have been maintained. They still prepare for the day that they will go to battle with an invading alien force. Nevermind that in the centuries since the Journey began, nothing more dangerous than a sour fruit on a near barren planet has been discovered.
City Ships, like the Cassian, were the original colony ships. Huge masses carved out of rocks with engines fitted to the back.
And then you have the Matriarch ships. There are only a handful of them in the fleet. Not a lot is known about them except that they supposedly have a single person in charge, running everything. Who knows what that means. Theories range from a simple dictatorship, to some monstrosity with thousands of cables and wires plugged into it, living in a vat in the center of the vessel. The truth is, of all of the ships, Matriarch ships are the most solitary. They rarely interact with the rest of the fleet and when they do, the exchange is short.
My training was supposed to prepare me to communicate with all of these vessels. There’s hundred of pages of regulations and instructions to guide me through every eventuality. But it’s day one and I’ve already learned the most important rule. Ignore the rule book.