TRSV Tesla - Mars Orbit
"We've received permission to dock, Commander."
"Very good, and watch the smaller vessels. We came close to a collision back in Lunar orbit, and I do not want to hear more insults from the Pearl Harbor concerning my ship or my crew."
"Sir, if Commander Zai had not been trying to maneuver in our space..."
"If we had been paying attention to our surroundings, I would not have had to fill out an Incident Report for the event. I am not judging your piloting, Descoteaux, I am merely cautioning you to avoid placing me in a position where I might have to fill out more forms in triplicate and submit each one to a different part of the galaxy. Eyes forward, relax."
Moldovan had never been at the helm of a great beast like the TRSV Tesla, and though he'd been trained extensively in the theory of piloting a carrier, he hoped that he would never have to do it. He had absolute faith in Descoteaux's ability to maneuver the ship into the appropriate contact with an orbital station--the boy had done it many times without incident, the narrow scrape with the Pearl Harbor had been his first, and only because Zai's helmsman had misjudged his incoming speed. The blame didn't rest solely on Zai's shoulders, though, and Moldovan knew that if he himself had been paying more attention to his own ship, the Tesla and the Pearl Harbor wouldn't have even come close to each other.
A collision in orbit wasn't like a collision on the ground. It was a thousand times more violent, and a thousand times more likely to kill a great number of innocent civilians, marines, and naval personnel. After being thrown about like rag dolls in a washing machine, there was then the threat of decompression if the hull was breached. Hit the appropriate part of the vessel and the loss of power could cause life support to go down, as well as create problems with the artificial gravity that kept people square on their feet. No matter how gracefully one handled a null gravity environment, it was still not enough when matched against flying against a bulkhead and snapping one's neck. The ships were designed to be as space-efficient as possible while still housing over five hundred living, breathing, working individuals.
"We're in," Descoteaux confirmed. He had merely had to get the vessel into position; the automatic docking protocols would take care of the rest once the computers linked up. It didn't take long at all, and soon the Tesla was being secured. The funny thing about maneuvering a large ship into an orbital station, the station was, from their perspective, upside-down. Moldovan knew that this was a product of the artificial gravity, and never had any trouble re-orienting once he was outside of the ship, just as he never had trouble re-orienting when the gravity went down (which it sometimes did). As he walked toward the elevator that would take him to the airlock, he heard Sykes broadcast the arrival message to the carrier's inhabitants. Due to the nature of the stop, only authorized personnel would be allowed leave.
Sergeant Crews and Gunny Warburton were already waiting, the sergeant to start his duty as the ship's loadmaster and the gunny to ensure that no unauthorized persons attempted to enter or exit the vessel. Crews was too busy to take notice of his commanding officer as he fiddled with his data pad, but the gunny gave Moldovan a crisp salute as he approached. Moldovan, even though he wasn't really one for such formalities, knew that the gunny would be deeply offended if it wasn't returned, and as such, returned it. Anything to keep peace and order aboard the Tesla... the smallest things, it seemed, could spark a mutiny, and the last thing he needed was the ship's security chief at the head of one.
"I may be expecting a visitor later," Moldovan said, addressing the gunny, "Commander Heinlein is to be allowed aboard if he so wishes--he knows how to access the bridge. As you know, in accordance with the docking protocol for imminent exercises and engagements, no personnel other than Sergeant Crews and his loading team are to be allowed outside of the ship. All personnel are essential, as is timing, and we cannot have anyone wandering around the station unaware of passing time. It is also possible that additional personnel may attempt to board. They are extra researchers and personnel that will be coming with us on our little foray into the unknown. They will have the proper identification and security discs, and are to be allowed aboard after verifying their information."
He didn't have to tell the gunny that exceptions, notably for the higher-ranking officers and staff, were to be made in the case of an emergency, but he did like to go over the proper protocols during non-routine events. He had no doubt that Warburton had things under control, and that there would be no problems as long as he and his crew were defending the Tesla. With his piece being said and supply workers beginning to gather, Moldovan headed back for the bridge, where he would wait patiently, either for a confirmation from Crews that the ship was resupplied or to be called on by his old chess partner. He knew that the fleet wanted him to participate in the maneuvers that were going on using the nearby moons, but he didn't feel the Tesla needed the practice. They had just drilled using Luna to practice orbital maneuvers, and there were supposed to be frigates and dreadnaughts in place to protect the carriers, anyway. The pilots for the dropships and the fighters had their own simulators, anyway, there was no need for them to waste fuel playing war when they really needed to focus on the jump at hand.
TRSV Tesla - Mars Orbit
"Your clearance file says that you've been re-assigned to the Da Vinci."
"That's absolute nonsense! You do realize that the Da Vinci is docked at a completely different station?"
"Now, look here, Doc, I don't make the rules, I just follow 'em, and this says that you're supposed to be aboard the Da Vinci. I can't just let you on."
"Is there a problem, Gunnery Sergeant?"
The woman that stood before them wasn't the most impressive person Howard Kessler had ever laid eyes on, but judging by the marine's reaction, she either had rank or quite the presence. Her hair was close-cropped, and she looked just about ready to take on anything. Right now, her gaze was slowly passing between Dr. Kessler and the marine who was trying to keep him from boarding the TRSV Tesla. She didn't really seem to care one way or the other, but it was clear that she wanted some kind of answer before moving on.
"His paperwork is updated. He's supposed to be on the Da Vinci."
"The Da Vinici is docked at a completely different station."
Kessler's hopes peaked as the marine's face fell, "Ma'am, Commander Moldovan..."
"Does not put up well with bureaucratic nonsense, Gunnery Sergeant. Does his clearance file contain previous orders for the Tesla?"
"Then let him aboard. I will inform the Commander of the situation."
"Welcome aboard, Mr..."
"Doctor," Kessler said, instinctively, "Dr. Kessler."
"Right. Have you ever been on a carrier before, Doctor Kessler?"
Despite her having come to his rescue, Kessler was immediately starting to dislike the woman. Of course it had been pretentious of him to correct her, but she didn't have to be that way about it. As for space travel, Kessler was rather new to it, and he'd never stepped foot on any ship as massive as this--in fact, before a couple of months ago, he'd never set foot in a spacecraft at all. Much safer on the ground, he'd thought, and he was more than willing to stick to it.
"No," he admitted, "I haven't."
"Right. You'll find that Commander Moldovan has been very generous on that account. If you look to the floor of any compartments, you'll see different-colored lines that lead to the important parts of the vessel, all you have to do is memorize the colors. It's also useful for re-orienting yourself when the gravity comes back on."
"Comes back on?"
"Yes, Dr. Kessler, we sometimes have issues with the artificial gravity. All one needs to do to find out which way he's going to fall after it comes back on is look for the colored lines. The system has saved us quite a bit of medical care in the past. Which reminds me... the first person you'll want to speak to is Lieutenant Hutchins. Follow the red line, it will lead you to the infirmary."
Kessler nodded and thanked the woman, who proceeded to walk off as though nothing had happened. The red line led Kessler through a bunch of twists and turns he was sure that he couldn't have navigated on his own, despite the "street signs" that were installed to tell the crew members which part of the ship they were in. A lot of the marines and naval personnel he saw were navigating by these, rather than the lines on the floor (he could tell because they were looking up while he was looking down), and he suspected that the lines in the floor were for civilian visitors or other passengers. They would take him to the parts of the ship where he was supposed to go, and if he didn't want to get lost, he'd stick to them.
Kessler managed to reach the infirmary without much incident, and found that it was rather spacious. Even more impressive, it was rather empty. There were only three people in there, and only one of them seemed to be injured. The other two, a tall black man and a slightly shorter white guy, were conversing over him.
"Look, I tell him not to touch the damned thing, and what do he do? He touch the damned thing."
"Don't worry, Vicci, I'll get him fixed up."
"You should cut it off, teach him a lesson about not following my orders."
The injured man blanched, and the black man gave the other guy a stern look.
"I'm not amputating anything today," he said, "Now get the hell out of my infirmary before I give you a reason to stay."
"All right, all right."
The man identified as "Vicci" left the room, brushing past Kessler with a contemptuous glance, as though it had been all his fault.
"Ah, hello there, you must be Dr. Kessler," the large black man said after Vicci had gone, "Have a seat and I'll be right with you."
"Are you the only one here?"
"Today I am. Usually it's a bit busier in here, but my crew's helping with the equipment inventory. We don't want to go out past the belt without the proper supplies, could get ugly."
Kessler waited patiently while the black man treated the injured man. He seemed quite proficient with burns, and this seemed to be a minor one, so the man was out the door before too long. The black man turned to Kessler and extended a hand.
"Sorry about that, burns take priority to physicals around here. Benjamin Hutchins, by the way."
"Howard Kessler," Kessler said, and Hutchins nodded.
"This isn't usually too bad, and we've got your files, but we like to conduct our own inspections so that we know how you'll handle space. If you'll walk this way, please..."