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Chapter 3

All of the ships in the fleet are moving on the same navigational path and are spaced fairly close together.Well, close in the astronomical sense. Ships could be anywhere from 500 to 5000 kilometers apart. This made hops from ship to ship relatively short trips. It was possible to travel from one edge of the fleet in less than a day. It wasn’t the time of the trip that made me anxious. It was the method of getting there. Fleet ships are powered by gigantic ion engines, moving them at a fraction of light speed. And they are constantly accelerating. The acceleration is miniscule, but at these speeds, a .00003%  per second increase is enormous. And the retrofitted cargo pod I was getting into could never hope to match the fleet’s speed. So it doesn’t even try. The cargo pod is launched using the rotation of the Cassius. Its released in the general direction of its destination, aimed slightly ahead. If the timing is right, the pod reaches the destination just as the destination ship catches up to it. The launch and docking is completely handled by computers and works perfectly nearly every time. But still, once you know how it works you are either completely confident in having your trip executed by essentially a complicated physics puzzle, or you’re terrified that your trip is you literally being thrown at another ship with no real way to correct things in case of a mishap.

The Cassius, like most other large city ships, is self sustaining and closed off to mass immigration and most major trade. We don’t have a need for a lot of ship to ship travel. So I was about make my journey to Fleet Conference in a converted cargo pod. Its amenities consisted of a bolted in chair and a box of rations. The control panel was little more than a data pad that showed basic flight info. There weren’t any controls since I’m not a pilot, so even if there were, they’d have been foreign to me. I was strictly a passenger.    

There was no welcoming committee when my pod arrives. I didn’t expect a lot of fanfare, but I thought there would be more than the plain tray at the bottom of the gangway with my name and credentials on top. As I reach for the lanyard, my hand is scanned automatically, matching my dna to the files on record. I also retrieve the flat data screen from the tray. As soon as I pick it up, it begins to flash information across the screen. Times of assemblies, lists of scheduled speakers, rules and regulations of the conference. I’m overwhelmed. It’s starting to hit me that I’m actually at the Fleet Conference.

“First FC, I’m guessing?” a voice pulls me out of the daze I must have fallen into.

“Excuse me?” In front of me is a slight man in a blue rumpled suit. Under one arm is a glowing data tablet and in his hand is a glowing beverage. His other hand extends toward mine.

“You can tell the first timers from the look of simultaneous awe and disappointment. This is my 4th Fleet Conference, Tyger Teegs, from the Washington Evers.’ He’s shaking my hand and before I realize it, I’m following him down the corridor.

‘The Cassius is one of the big ones right? Well, the Evers may not have the population, but we make up for it in production. Harvest is above capacity every year for the past 87 years. Best apples in the fleet.’

We enter a bright cavernous room filled with people at tables, all in either suits or uniforms.

‘So this is Fleet’ I tell my new friend.

‘This? No, this is the dining hall. Fleet Conference won’t actually begin for a few hours. But this is where all the important deals happen. Once the festivities begin, it’s all a foregone conclusion. I gotta say, I was never fond of how the bot ships run FC. When an Agro ship hosts, there’s fruits and food all over the place. Here, I got handed one of these glowing contraptions and a schedule.’

A new voice entered the conversation from behind me. ‘That’s all of the nutrients you’ll need for the day and wrapped in a solution blended for the tastes of your home ship’. The stern voice belonged to a woman in a milship uniform. The beverage in her hand glowed orange as she took a sip. ‘Wanna switch?’

‘Janna! Back again. Sure, take mine, I think it’s supposed to be apple. This is the new rep from the Cassius’ Tyger motioned to me

I went into my prepared greeting, designed through years of diplomacy ‘Hello, my name is Darius Lever, as a representative of the Cassius I’m honored to...’

‘First time, huh?’ Janna laughed. ‘Look, believe me, I’m as by the book as you’ll see here, but Fleet hasn’t even officially started. When it does, there’ll be enough diplo-talk to drown all of us in. For now, it’s all meet and greet. Most of us don’t get a chance to talk with other ship citizens. I get a kick out of just listening to the accents. I can barely understand half of what Tyger here says most of the time’

‘Bah, I don’t have an accent. It’s your words that are barely recognizable as Standard.’ Tyger took a drink and immediately winced ‘I have no idea what this is, but I think I love it.’

Tyger continued, ‘Janna is right though. When fleet starts, we all go into the Nav Conference’

‘The definition of boring’ Janna added.

‘It doubles as the roll call. Each ship is called out and they announce if they want to enter a course change for the fleet’.

‘When was the last time that happened? I’ll tell you, never’, I could hear the annoyance dripping from Janna’s words.

‘She’s not wrong. But it’s tradition. And then we split into the different tracks for meetings pertaining to your ship’s interests’

‘Meaning, all of the important ships head off to the military strategy sessions and the others talk about grain shipments’

‘I personally would reverse those labels, but the essence is correct’

A service bot rolls up to me and a blue glowing drink rises from it’s serving tray. I taste it and am amazed how they somehow managed to accurately simulate the root tea that’s a staple on the Cassius while at the same time having it taste nothing like the drink I had almost every day.

‘What’s yours? You Cassius reps are some sort of tea or coffee right?’

I begin to hand my beverage to Tyger.

‘Oh no’, he motions me to stop. ‘I’m just fine with this milship poison I have’

‘You’d be lucky to get that in your rations Teegs. Hey, Newbie, you could always swap with the Matriarch reps. She gestured to the robed men huddled together in a corner away from the other attendees. ‘I wonder if they somehow managed to replicate the blood of the matriarchs that they live on’

‘Thats a myth and you know it’ Teegs interjected.

‘Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, who knows for sure what goes on inside those ships.’

I added to the conversation, ‘We’ve have almost zero communications with a matriarch ship for as long as the records show. The only real facts about them came from the Mycellian Death Cult incident and that was admittedly an extreme situation’

Janna spoke up, ‘Was it though? My point is, no one has any idea what’s happening on those ships. They could all be another death cult waiting to happen. Our ship has drills on the scenario where we’d have to go in and put down another outbreak like Mycellian.’

‘That was  three hundred years ago and the outcome was less than ideal’ Teegs offered.

Janna begins a detailed monologue on the use of force to manage a populace, but I’m barely paying attention. Instead I’m drawn in by the ghostlike visages of the matriarch ship reps and trying to imagine what life must be like on their ship.     

Next Chapter: Chapter 4