A scattering of assistants and minor officials flitted about the banquet hall in preparation for the morning’s ceremony. Windows looking onto the dry dock and hull of the HMAS Dauntless was the backdrop for the guests of honor. In front of the podium stood a huge jeroboam of champagne mounted in a wreath of gold leaf and laurel leaves.
Representative Durano entered the room and looked surprised. Under his voice he sputtered, “This will not do, by Donerzvettr, this will not do.”
Durano fell upon the serving staff like a whirling dervish and started to command. The napkins were folded wrong. The glasses were not placed correctly. The bunting sag was not consistent throughout the hall, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. The staff was too busy to notice when he placed the champagne bottle inside its original box. As he started in rearranging the foliage on the wreath, he signaled the waiting transmigrator operator to telegraph the bottle back to the ship.
The replacement bottle was waiting in the hands of McLeod. He had been up all night constructing an inertial dampening contrivance out of transparent parts. The switch was made in no time. McLeod crossed his fingers that the scheme would work. Durano took the rigged bottle from the box once the new bottle appeared and polished it extraordinarily clean. This last action was more intended to remove his own fingerprints rather than to shine the bottle. With his mission complete, Durano retired to the ready room where the officers were congregating.
In the ready room Commander Ayers was making himself the center of attention. He welcomed all the guests on behalf of the Dauntless. To make the reputation of the Dauntless reek with incompetence, Ayers had taken on the air of a complete twit, eager for command and completely self-absorbed. Lieutenant Commander Farrell sat at the table with a large glass in his hand. He readily toasted anyone the first mate greeted. Farrell was fully in command of himself as Doctor Tandekar had administered an alcohol antitoxin elixir. Farrell intended to worsen his sham inebriation until his climax just before the ceremony so he would be excused. His absence and mutterings of the officers would be all he needed or could stand. Farrell would allow the existence of rumors but would not allow the press to confirm them.
As the Admiralty and other members of the Ukp started to arrive, Ayers jumped from group to group like a puppet with an epileptic operator. He managed five faux pas, three Freudians, and several gaffes before attempting a gigantic blunder involving an Endurian ambassador and his wife. Just as Ayers was considering a dramatic pratfall by stepping on a woman’s train, Maxby made this entrance.
The Commodore came in, looking much the worse for wear, assisted by his trusted servant, Fairlane. His back seemed hunched and bent, his shoulders bowing under the weight of his arms. He started in greeting well-wishers with both hands in the way that only old people do. Fairlane constantly corrected his seemingly failing memory and primped his sagging uniform like an over-protective mother. Maxby feigned exhaustion before greeting all the guests which was certainly an insult to some. Fairlane sat the Captain down for a rest when Admiral Toboll joined him. Toboll said in hushed tones, “I can not believe that you are going through with this implausible stratagem, Maxby. You’re risking your career and the reputations of all your crew. And for what? For a chance to start another war with the Klinkons. You know this is sheer lunacy, Maxby.”
Maxby saw the true regard in his old friend’s eyes but could not compromise his deception. Maxby stood and replied to Admiral Toboll in a voice that could only be construed as vociferous whispers of an old man that is hard of hearing. It attracted the attention of all around the Commodore. “Don’t worry, chum. I’m only in command until they can find a captain with standards low enough to accept the commission. You’d not believe how many turned the Duchess down already.”
Toboll corrected the Commodore, “That’s Dauntless.”
Maxby mumbled, “Whatever. Heaven help us if we had to give command to that twit, Ayers, couldn’t command a toy boat in his own bath without sending her to the bottom. But think, old chum, this is my last chance to find a Klinkon and put the boot in for Queen and country.”
At that moment Farrell leaped to his feet and bellowed, “Here, here. Here’s to put’n the boot in!”
Farrell raised his flagon and proceeded to inhale its contents, but he had overestimated the protection provided by the anti-alcohol elixir. It was at this point that Farrell realized that maybe the doctor’s concoction had reached its limit. His glass slowly descended as his glazed eyes stared into space. Then it hit with the force of a bursting dam. Farrell’s stomach lurched into reverse and showered its contents upon the unsuspecting dignitaries in his vicinity. Admiral Toboll looked at his soiled boots and then to Maxby who was playing at looking confused and trying valiantly not to break out laughing. Toboll’s parting words were: “God help you, Algi, God help you all.”
Farrell was removed by a pair of post security officers and escorted to the transmigrator chamber in a very real state of nausea and delirium. A number of the guests caught in the eruption also left for some much-needed damage control as well. At that moment the guests were called to take their places in the banquet hall. Ayers took point, climbed to the podium and preceded to dictate to the entering guests his own seating plan based on color coordination and gender. Fairlane escorted Maxby to the front table and seated as if he was an invalid relative in a nursing home.
After listening to Ayers argue with the guests regarding why they should listen to him instead of sitting at the place where printed markers had been placed, Maxby shouted at the top of the lungs, “Ayers, quit being an idiot and sit down!”
Ayers turned to rebut the insult, but before he could speak, Maxby continued, “And shut your flapping gob!”
Ayers descended from the podium and started to argue with Fairlane regarding his seat. Vice Admiral Ptomac came to the podium to prepare the crowd for the royal arrival. Ayers finally took his seat, and the music began.
Prince Frederick Albert Wilhelm entered, wearing a spotless white uniform and gold cavalry saber. On his arm was the celebrated adventuress, Lady Farthing-Whitely ‘Tigress of the Empire’. Her exploits were legendary if not all fictional. The two glided down the main aisle like bride and groom with all the dignity of Britain glowing in each stride. They took their places at the main table to the applause of the dignitaries and special guests.
Admiral Ptomac embarked on the first speech of the hopes and dreams for the Dauntless. As he finished and introduced Commodore Maxby, the crowd watched as Fairlane nudged the Captain out of his catnap. Maxby grinned at his audience, stepped behind the podium, thanked the Admiral for his Introduction but called him “Eddy” which visibly confused the Endurian Admiral.
Maxby started slowly, “The launch of every RAF æthership adds another tool to the ability of the United Kingdom of Planets not only for Defense and order but for exploration and understanding. It is my hope that the Dauntless can fulfill whatever variety of roles as is required by you, the members of the council, and by the people you represent.”
With that said, Maxby returned slowly to his seat. Ayers rose at the same time as Admiral Ptomac but was restrained from reaching the podium when Fairlane seized the belt of his uniform and held him in place. The audience chuckled as Ptomac took the podium and Ayers retook his seat.
Prince Frederick was introduced to a roar of applause and cheers. His speech was full of good wishes and appreciation. Frederick’s politically correctness was well rehearsed so all the member’s delegates were acknowledged in proper order and length. Maxby shamed another catnap and did not stir until the applause at the end of the speech. Over the length of the speech, the audience could see the æthersuited crew of the Dauntless assembling on the outer hull of the vessel for her send-off. As it was time for the officers of the Dauntless to depart, the guests of honor rose and exchanged farewells and God Speed. Commander Ayers made lengthy discourse with the Prince and his escort, refusing to relinquish their hands until he had had his say. Underneath Maxby’s foggy cover, he was deeply impressed that his first mate would take his role to the length of embarrassing himself before royalty. This sort of opportunity did not present itself often, and his reputation might never recover in the eyes of the royal personage of Prince Frederick.
The three transmigrated directly from the banquet hall just before the soliton field outside the windows, of the banquet hall were activated and the windowed wall slid silently away. The strange look of no visible barrier between the guests and the emptiness of the Æther was always a little unsettling for the spectators.
In the concealed recess of the Dauntless’s outer hull, Corporal Macgregor readied the Romlian Interrupter rifle. Marine trained snipers were as good as any in dealing out their deadly trade. MacGregor was intent on hitting his mark and knew he would only have one shot.
The bottle of champagne was secured on the tether, and Lady Farthing-Whitely wished the ship luck and good voyage. With the strength of hardy British femininity, she hurled the bottle toward the hull of the Dauntless. The cheers were almost deafening as the bottle rushed to its final spray of ceremony, but it bounced upon contact. Upon its rebound, MacGregor loosed his single unseen inaudible shot. The tether serpentined momentarily until the cork unexpectedly shot out. The jeroboam rocketed down toward the lunar surface with the tether acting as a colorful streamer.
Upon the Bridge of the Dauntless, Maxby said, “There’s our cue.”
Jones took the helm, rotated the ship out of the dock in expert fashion, and pointed the bow toward the rising sun. Maxby turned to Chief Winston and said in a concerned tone, “I don’t want you to lose any of them, Chief.”
The Chief responded reassuringly, “As if they were my own children.”
The Chief manually controlled both the inertial dampeners and the polarization of the hull plating. As the main thrusters fired, the Dauntless bounded forward, and the crewmen standing on the outer hull were jolted backward in full view of the dignitaries and onlookers. Some came within inches of the trailing edge of the ship before their magnetic boots were affected by the increased pull of the hull polarization. In a blaze of indignation and humiliation, the Dauntless soared into the æther and on to its maiden voyage.
“God help them, God help them all!”