Method to His Madness
Around the table sat the command staff and Bridge crew of the HMS Dauntless waiting to hear from their new Captain. Commodore Maxby sat at the end of the table composing his thoughts. "Ever since my unannounced arrival last night I know I have sent the ship into a tail spin. The turmoil, I assure you, is absolutely necessary. Hopefully I can sufficiently explain myself and the ultimate goal of there efforts."
Maxby rose and started a slow pace around the table. "Ætherfleet Command is a military organization based on sound military principles. The strength of the fleet rests in the strength of her ships. Mr. Farrell, describe the strength of this ship." Commander Farrell started in with no hesitation. "We have polarized plating to hull rating of 5. We mount 6 main batteries organized into 3 turrets, 8 lighting guns organized in 4 turrets, 8 torpedo tubes organized into 4 torpedo bays, we can make a top sustained speed of æther-factor 5. We carry 100 Æther Marines including infantry support and vehicles." Maxby smiled and said, "Your answer is exactly as Æther Fleet Command would dictate." Maxby paused as he continued his pacing. "To our discredit that is how every RAF ship is rated, defenses, cannon, speed, troops. The emphasis on military superiority is paramount." Maxby looked down the length of the table and frowned. "This well known fact is our weakness! Most of the RAF's ships are muscle bound goliaths with limited flexibility. They're great in a straight fight but all of our real enemies are no longer foolish enough to engage us in that manner and our new enemies will use our strengths against us. There are a few people within Ætherfleet Command who agree that versatility and not force of arms is what will be needed." Maxby's face softened a bit and continued, "With that goal in mind the design of the Dauntless was laid down. If you look at her interior configuration you will note that more space in committed to science and research than any other ship in the fleet. The internal compartmentalization is designed to be reconfigured dependant on need. The engines were specially designed to run efficiently on scavenged fuel sources. The fabrications capability has been expanded so we can virtually produce anything we will need on an extended voyage. The most important feature is her crew. Admiral Clemet and myself poured over almost every RAF personnel file and chose this crew based on versatility, initiative and resourcefulness instead of the usual efficiency, discipline and success rate. The Dauntless could be the prototype of a new paradigm in Ætherfleet strategy if not for the military conservatives. A block within the RAF tried to block the plans for the Dauntless at every turn. It was only through the deepest bureaucratic machinations that we were able to get her built." Commander Ayers interjected "So what ordeal must we pass to prove the worth of the Dauntless." "Very astute number one. It was unfortunate that our opposition was also the committee that generated our success criteria." The officers could see the seriousness in Maxby's eyes. "We will have to prove the supremacy of versatility over brute strength in a straight out naval battle against superior forces. Namely the war-games scheduled a month from today." Knowing glances were exchanged across the table. The stern actions of the Captain since he came onboard started to make sense.
Maxby let their situation sink in before dropping the second shoe. "Mr. Ayers, is this ship and crew strong enough to win this fight?" Ayers stood before belting out a resounding,"We are sir!" "That's good Mr. Ayers." Maxby's eyes narrowed as his gaze seemed to penetrate to Ayers soul. "Now tell me, Mr. Ayers, is this ship and crew strong enough to loose this fight?" Ayers looked momentarily perplexed and said,"I don't quite follow sir" Maxby's eyes had narrowed further and he assumed an expression of mischievousness. "I intend to loose that battle." The rest of the officers faces joined Ayers in silent puzzlement. "I intend to loose not only the battle but I intend to barely pass our æther trials. For the next thirty days every ill omen, bad portent and misfortunate coincidence will plague this ship. Its reputation will be the ridicule of every garbage scow pilot who threads through the æther." Some at the table were wondering if Maxby hadn't gone off the deep end but the Commodore's mischievous smile assured them that there was some method behind his madness.
Maxby sat down and activated the Visograph in the middle of the table. "Ætherfleet Intelligence has collected evidence that suggests that the Klinkons are building a strike force that could rival the fleet. It is suspected that they are working with the O'Ryan syndicate who are providing funding and supplies. The O'Ryan, Klinkon alliance must be broken. The best way to do this is to bait the Klinkons into open conflict before their new fleet and invasion forces are ready. If the Klinkons are drawn into war prematurely their plan will collapse and the O'Ryans will withdraw wanting to keep their operation concealed. The Klinkons will be forced into just the sort of battle the rest of the fleet does so well and in the end, win or loose the Klinkons will have to pay the butcher's bill. Paying back the O'Ryan syndicate for a failed war and invasion should keep them in check for a good long time I should think." Lieutenant Jones spoke up but just barely. "But how do we lure the Klinkons into a straight fight when we know they will avoid all conflict to protect their grand plan?" "That Mr. Jones is why we are going to loose our war-game. In the next thirty days we work to acquire the worst reputation of any ship in the fleet. Klinkon tradition is based on honor. I am absolutely certain that a challenge from a ship with a reputation as bad as ours will be, will force the right Klinkon Captain into open conflict. That is why I asked if our ship and crew were strong enough to loose. I think our men can do their duty while enduring the ridicule of every ætherfarer in the system, even when they know that at any time we could reach out and snap them in half. And I am betting that the Klinkon's are not strong enough to do the same." As the entire picture came together in Ayers mind his face beamed with enthusiasm.
"Our main problem will be moral. The men cannot know about the O'Ryans or the Klinkon build up. They will have to endure the loss of face without the knowledge that they will have this shot at redemption. In addition to the training schedule and taking every opportunity to muddy our good name we will also be running endless errands for our diplomatic supporters who we had to rely on to get the Dauntless built. Our first jaunt to Venus is just such a mission. A favor to the Science Division to avoid the normal channels and to save their budgets by sacrificing ours. We will have many such calls for quite some time until our favors are sufficiently paid back."
Maxby did not wait for his subordinates to agree or object before pushing onto individual assignments. "Ayers, It will be your job to prevent any moral reduction from effecting the Performance of the crew. You can tell the men anything you wish without divulging our true purpose. The men are not stupid they will know that we are putting up a pitiful facade but they'll be ignorant of the purpose. It will be your job to provide them a purpose that will keep their moral and efficiency high without compromising the mission. If you want me to say anything to further those ends you need but to ask." Ayers looked irritated but acknowledged the assignment.
"Chief Winston, as always the ship's systems will be your responsibility. I know you have been itching to get the engines working to full efficiency but that will be only one task. Speed will be important but maneuverability will be more so. I would like you to install three auxiliary steampulse thrusters, starboard, port and neck so that the ship will be able to jump down or laterally in an instant. I read your monograph on phenolic field extensions. I would like to have you modify the ships control surfaces and keel so we can turn on a penny and stop on a farthing. Upgrades to the inertial dampeners will also have to be made for the crew to survive the maneuvers I'm planning. All of these enhancements to maneuverability must be complete and tied into the helm a week prior to the games. Your enhancements to overall speed and power will have to wait until then." Another irritated look knitted the brow of the chief engineer as he too acknowledged the assignment.
"Lieutenant Wælrave, for the next thirty days I'd like your ear glued to the sub-æther astrograph monitoring any Klinkon communications available. It will be your job to find our mark. You'll have to create a personality profile on all the Klinkon ship commanders you can identify and find the one that has the most hate for the British and the shortest fuse. If you can find any sensitive buttons to push it would be a bonus. Ætherfleet Command has a database of known Klinkon Captains but it's not very complete. We may be able to find out more after we travel to Mars and can pick up local hyper-heliograph traffic. We may also be able to solicit such information from the locals. I have also had the parts for two additional sub-æther astrographs loaded into the hold. Have fabrications install them in the signal room and have them set for separate frequencies. You will need to come up with an encryption scheme using all three. Frequency hopping and combinatoric decomposition should boost our bandwidth and make our communications absolutely indecipherable." At least Lieutenant Wælrave had an enthusiastic look on his face.
Now onto Lieutenant Jones "Any time your not pulling bridge duty I would like you to be spending time in the spectro-holistic theatre running battle simulations. These simulations will have to be altered to account for Chief Winston's modifications. You'll have to guess at the performance levels at first but as we bring the modifications online you can match the simulation program. By the time of the war games you will have to have the highest level of control possible." Maxby looked deep into the young lieutenant's eyes and added."Allot will be riding on your expertise." Jone's look was serious and determined. Maxby could tell he was resolved to succeed.
Lt. Commander Farrell looked to be the most enthusiastic in the room. Maxby felt that the idea of baiting a Klinkon warship into all out combat was something Farrell had been waiting for. "Mr. Farrell, in addition to all the training and drills your men will be receiving you'll need to make some modifications to your weapons. Memory cards from a derelict Romlian scout identified a torpedo guidance system that could home to a soliton field. The technology is considered obsolete today due to the increased speed of phlogisten torpedoes but retrofitting our torpedoes may change a near hit into a direct hit. I also want to replace the warheads of half our torpedoes with a multiple warhead payload with delay detonation mechanisms. A top military scientist at Ætherfleet has a theory that serial detonations of phlogisten ordinance has a better chance of blowing Klinkon defensive screens dead. Unfortunately the blockheads at the top feel that bigger warheads are always better." Eagerness graced Lt. Cmdr. Farrell's face but then he blurted out. "But what about the war games." Maxby smiled with that mischievous smile and said,"I have some specific plans that I'll be sharing with you all later."
"McLeod, your boffin chaps in the Science section have a mixed basket of jobs. I'll have need of a linear Teslanic scrambler installed into one of the launches. The device should knock dead any hyper-luminary signals within eighty thousand miles or more. There are elements of the Æthervox that need to be tied directly into the helm. The graviton beam will have to be modified to deliver human payloads short distances in a small amount of time without harming the passengers. This new method that you have yet to invent should also be undetectable by short-range sensors. You will also have a number of away missions that I will put you in charge." These tasks should be challenging but not impossible." McLeod grinned and said "Nothing is impossible." "Glad to hear it McLeod" Maxby said with a nod and followed up with,"I have a feeling that I will make you regret you ever said that."
Maxby's attention directed itself to Representative Durano. "Mr. Durano, would you believe, it was my suggestion to Ætherfleet and not the diplomatic corps, to make your post permanent on the Dauntless? I have captained ships for a good long time and know the value of an official, non-military voice. One that can speak with the authority of the United Kingdom of Planets and not just Ætherfleet Command. I am giving you acting rank equal to a lieutenant commander. The bridge seat normally assigned to the chief yeoman is henceforth assigned to you. It will be your job to keep our noses clean and to make sure I don't do something that might start a war, present mission excepted." Maxby gave a chuckle. When war does come you'll be there to sign the declaration, albeit it will probably have to be the short form, as you'll probably have just a few seconds to sign it. It is my hope that we will need your services in a wider variety of roles as we police the system and explore the outer rim. I have many hopes for you aboard my ship. I'll be satisfied even if just a few of them are realized."
Maxby had made it through his monolog and was sitting back in his chair. "Before I address your questions there is one piece of the plan that needs a solution very soon. It's one of the many pieces that I haven't quite figured out yet." Straightening up in his chair Maxby's face contorted. "I want the christening of the Dauntless to have some ill omen to launch our horrid reputation. The gravest sign I can imagine is launching the ship without having the bottle of champagne breaking." Maxby's eyes scanned the group from one side to the other. "I wonder who can think of a way to make that happen? "