Act I, Scene 9 of 2100 CE.
“Captain, we’re in hailing distance of al-Basra.”
“Thank you,” Braddox said, though his attention remained fixed on the console in front of him. For the past twelve hours they had been monitoring a pair of sensor pings shadowing them at a variable distance of two hundred to two hundred fifty kilometers. Even without an atmosphere to interfere with their line-of-sight, the enemy’s entanglement weapon still affected this region of space. It acted as a sort of “quantum fog,” making it impossible for long-range sensors to discern what lay beyond the fog’s apparent horizon, some one hundred sixty kilometers from the affected object. Adding to the problem was the sheer amount of physical debris littering this part of the Greek camp—the trojan asteroids at SJL-4—which likewise made detecting enemy warships at great distances difficult. They were forced to rely on the computer’s algorithmic estimations to calculate identity probabilities based on a database of known silhouettes, thruster signatures, IFF, et cetera.
Of all the possibilities stored in its database, the ship’s tactical programming determined that the sensor pings carried an eighty-five percent probability match with the shape and size of Separatist destroyers.
It was why, to the duty officer’s chagrin, that Ryan Braddox had elected to remain on the bridge since the initial report had come in.
He was tired and on edge, and the bridge crew could clearly sense it. They were looking to him now for stern leadership, leadership he suddenly felt he might be lacking. The series of events leading to this moment hung heavily over his thoughts. Mere hours before their planned departure, having already lost the majority of the combat wing, he had suddenly received orders to release the majority of his crew. They were being pulled to fill the re-commissioned Unity, while the Leopard was to operate on a minimal skeleton crew. “So as to give the impression of a relief mission,” Stewart, Drommel’s chief of staff had told him. The other captain gave his contemporary a quizzical look. “Did you really tell the admiral that three escort frigates seemed excessive?”
“For a relief mission,” Braddox echoed, “yes.”
Stewart blinked. “He has agreed with you. The Lumia will remain in port to provide escort for the Unity.”
“You cannot possibly be serious.”
Stewart blinked again, expressionless. “This is how you wanted it, Captain.”
He had initially asked for the order to be rescinded, which Stewart said he would attempt in the time before the Leopard’s departure. When a replacement for the Lumia failed to materialize in the given time, Braddox knew better than to contact Drommel’s office. He was on a strict timetable and he knew waiting would prove fruitless.
On his console, the blips representing the enemy destroyers had long since become diffuse, vague forms. The probability estimates no longer gave specific ship types, and when he prompted it for a percentage on any warships, it replied with a simple err: extreme low probability parameters, cannot calculate.
They may not even be there any more, the logical part of his mind told him.
But he consciously chose to ignore that. Not only could he not shake the uneasy feeling that they had been spotted crossing into neutral space, but if they had in fact been spotted, then as the Captain he felt obliged to remain on the bridge.
He continued staring for a while, but when the computer projections once again did not change, he allowed himself to lean back away from the glowing screen. Running a hand over the smooth pate of his head, he thought, If we can’t see them, they can’t see us.
A ping at the console drew his attention, but instead of the order to action stations he expected to give, he instead found a private message. It was from Cseltor down in the operations centers. No doubt the duty officer had alerted him to their captain’s unusual behavior. The message read simply: i can take over.
no, thank you, Braddox responded, though the message was clear. Cseltor did not usually interfere like this, and if he did, then it was evident Braddox needed to get some rest.
He returned his attention to the bridge and the duty officer’s earlier message. “Calculate a laser-lock with al-Basra and alert them to our arrival. After you have confirmation, contact the Cisco and Stratus and order them to proceed to their predetermined stations. We will then proceed with preparations for docking.” He paused a moment, waiting as the orders were relayed from the duty officer to the various responsible parties. He glanced down at his command console: it was just after eighteen hundred hours. “Mr. Tenant, I will in my quarters. Report to Commander Cseltor in the OC anything out of the ordinary. Wake me when we are thirty minutes to dock.”
“Aye, sir,” the duty officer said, echoing the traditional response.
Raising his voice to address the bridge crew, Braddox said, “Attention the bridge, Lieutenant Tenant has the deck.”
The usual formal responses and exchanges followed. Braddox had heard it all a thousand times and went through the motions mechanically. With bosun’s calls still whistling behind him, he exited the bridge.