Fairlane had been busy all night customizing Horatio’s Hall. The regal accoutrements were nautical in theme, harking back to the days of wooden ships and iron men. The senior staff from the various sections assembled to get more specific instruction from Commodore Maxby, their new Captain. Just twenty minutes earlier, they had attended the Captain’s address to the crew, which was short and brutally direct. Most of the staff hoped this meeting would be more civilized.
Maxby entered and put the officers at ease even before the order to attention had a chance to echo. “I have asked you here today to inform you that in the coming months I will be asking for more than I should expect from the finest of officers. There are big plans in the works. Plans that only this ship can see through, plans that can propel us to the heavens or if we fail plummet us into the pits of Hell. My only regret is that I cannot yet reveal the Core of the plans to you. Suffice to say, you will be given a complete accounting of the stratagem as soon as I am released to inform you. Is that understood?”
The assemblage chimed back a serious “Yes, sir” in imperfect unison.
“In the mean time, I will be asking all of you to do some uncommon tasks. Ayers.”
The first mate answered back instantly, “Here, sir.”
“Your section will be the busiest of all. Focus all their efforts on their core responsibilities and recruit assistance from other sections as needed.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Ayers retorted crisply.
The Engineering chief countered in a knowing voice that did not conceal all the umbrage. The Chief was dressed in his class As, but the grime of the engine room was evident in many places.
“I have recruited sixty shipwrights from the yards to assist you in getting the engines on-line. I want you to work them to the bone as they are costing me civilian scale, and my pockets are not as deep as they used to be. They should be reporting to Engineering at the top of the hour. I suggest you be there when they arrive.” The Commodore walked over to face the now confused engineer and grasped him by both shoulders and said in a tone that was only shared between the two men. “I will be counting on you the most.”
Charles Winston’s eyes melted from implacable ice to warm admiration. “It will be done, sir.”
“Gunnery section,” Maxby uttered next.
“Lieutenant Commander Farrell reporting, sir!”
“I know you must be let down by the lack of ordinance and weaponry aboard the Dauntless. According to the original Specifications, we should have two more main batteries and double our present number of lightning guns. What we do not have in firepower I expect you to make up for in efficiency, accuracy and tactics. Your crews will have to be the best in the fleet within thirty days. To achieve this, you will be scheduling frequent exercises and drills. When you are not performing live ordinance practices, your men will be conducting simulations and efficiency training in the spectro-holistic theatre. I will be increasing your crews’ watches to twelve hours a day until we are scheduled for war games with the Defiant and the Constitution. I need to know ahead of time that we can defeat them soundly. The future of our primary mission will depend on you and your men.”
Maxby looked into the face of the stern tactician and admired his honesty when Farrell replied, “We’ll do our best for you, sir.”
Maxby rebutted, “I know what your best is and I’m confident we will exceed even that.”
“Lieutenant Commander McLeod.”
“I would like you boffin chaps in the science section to help out the crew in calibrating the Æthervox systems. You should have several people who have experience in sub-æther sensors, Æthermetrics and elopic scanners. That’s where I’ll need them at least for now. Put any personal projects on hold until we are over the hump. Our maiden voyage will be taking us to Venus to assist the Ukp science outpost on the Chuthlani or Chutney Sea. You will be in charge of the landing party. The doctor assigned to the ship will not arrive until tomorrow. I want the other doctors to make cabin calls on the men who cannot be scheduled into Sickbay for their initial physicals and inoculations. I do not want to hear any complaining about it either. The burden is best shared together.” Maxby paused as if finished but added, “You have a certain Ensign Dahl assigned as a Babbage technician. In addition to his other duties, you will assign him three hours of extra duty each day working with a special project that I will outline for the both of you later.”
With a certain amount of suspicion in his eyes, McLeod answered, “Aye, Captain.”
“Marine Commander Blackpool.”
With the perfect salute that is the trademark of the Æther Marines, she responded, “Reporting as ordered, sir.”
“I will be addressing your marines presently. They will also have an onerous burden to bear. In conjunction with the Gunnery section, you will be performing constant drills. These drills will focus on boarding actions and ship intrusion and capture. The regular order of training will be postponed temporarily. In addition to these exercises, I will be doubling the shipboard guards and patrols, and the highest level of discipline will be maintained. Usually, I would not meter out such strict discipline during so hectic a time as this, but I have found that the first weeks aboard a new ship will set the tenor for the remainder of the cruise. The marines performing ship’s police duty will have to stick to the letter of every regulation. No crewmen infringing those rules will be passed over. This duty will be difficult for your men to execute, but every regulation will be observed.”
Blackpool deduced the intent of the undisclosed mission by the clues left in each of the Commodore’s addresses. With that trademark salute, she simply stated, “Yes, sir.”
“It is my belief that the success or failure of our ultimate mission will be determined in the next thirty days. In Victoria’s mind, success is the minimum expectation. Let it be ours as well.” With that, Maxby turned on his heel and strode out of Horatio Hall with Mr. Ayers. The officers looked at each other for a brief instant before taking Blackpool’s lead and marched out of the mess and back to work.
Ayers spoke softly to Maxby in the corridor, “So when will you be letting me in on this mission we are boning up for?”
The Commodore replied, “All will be revealed in its own good time.”