A Very Blue Moon 21

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 21 Draft (02-18-11)

The ship was still tied to Cardoman High, but only an hour remained prior to departure; her passenger lounge was crowded. The Castleton was registered to the Cardoman Navy, but as a pure transport. Unless she was assigned duty supporting some type of fleet movement she would operate just like a civilian transport, and be open to the paying public for both passengers and cargo.

Cargo space went to the highest bidder. Passenger tickets were two tiered. For Cardoman citizens they were issued on a first come first served basis at 50% of an off-worlder’s fare, for others that were not military or governmental assignees, full price or a rarely negotiated discount at the governments pleasure.

Using a navy ship in this way, most of the time totally commercial, might seem odd at first. But there had always been a scarcity of starships, far more demand than supply. And now that the war prevented all of those ships based or registered in the Caliphate from having any contact with Cardoman or the few worlds she could call her allies, a booming economy driving rapid population growth that required expanding shipping and those not already involved making preparations, just made the situation worse.

Rising profits from wartime price increases made Cardoman a favored port of call for non Calp vessels claiming neutral status. Similar factors were in play on every world with any tie to the export market and using the Castleton like this was a partial solution. Even if the Cardoman yard made an effort to arm and armor her to naval standards she would be a poor excuse for a warship.

Cardoman, by using her navy’s transport ships in the commercial trade, including her G-2M’s whenever possible added a couple of extra percentage points to the planet’s already rapid growth rate just because of the cargo the brought home with them, and all of the money earned could be plowed bank into the Navy without being a drain on the tax base.

Cardoman’s wasn’t the only planet with a navy whose transports were so engaged, but she had been one of the first starting even before the occupation.

From a passenger’s prospective the main difference between the Castleton and a normal transport liner was the level of creature comfort. The Navy was never going to require its own personal to act as nursemaids or servants, and it refused to hire an outside firm to manage a staff to do the same. There could be no divided loyalty on a CNS starship. Waivers signed when tickets were purchased highlighted this fact. What resulted was something like the setup on an ancient terrestrial Tramp Steamer.

The passengers did for themselves, excepting for such things as meals and laundry, even the bar, when open, was fully automated with costs charged against ticket price and supplemental deposits. A G-3 battle cruiser normally carried a crew of three hundred, three times what was the minimum necessary to fight the ship. Four standing watches and the need for redundancy and damage control was what swelled the number. A transport devoted to cargo alone might get by with a crew of thirty when visiting a class one or class two port, a system with an orbital station able to supply landers and take care of loading and unloading, with warehouse space for transshipment,

A cargo or passenger ship like the G-3T Castleton would have pre-war carried perhaps eight hundred “Paying Guests” with a crew of five hundred. Only about fifty of those would be directly involved with making the ship go from point A to point B.

Claude Germond learned all the above and more in the week between his being offered the reportorial chance of a lifetime and coming on board. Like the vast majority of native Cardomans he had never been off planet before except for a rare trip to Cardoman High. And in his case his work sent him on a trip to one of the belt mining operations where he had a juicy story about sex and corruption to cover. Even then on in system ships, tickets in what was jokingly called steerage started at two years of a reporter’s wages.

He was now down in engineering, which was the uppermost section of the ship’s lower sphere, with Yuri Borselov. There by invitation while the ship finished loading and buttoning up for departure. Two large view screens on the engineering compartments dominated the compartment’s outer wall,

One showed a deck by deck schematic of the ship, with bold lines in green and red, marking areas public and those limited to crew or others with a special pass. He was going to get a copy of that for publication. The ship seemed to be much more like a large building than a moving object,

View screens were placed wherever architecturally convenient. They might show a blank wall, a view outside, a stored planetary scene night or day, or even a commercial video or news cast. Only a very few of them had a real view of the world outside. It made getting a feel for the ships dimensions difficult to impossible,

The amount of compartmentalization used during the ships construction kept the length of sight lines short and the curved hull was often hidden by walls hiding equipment spaces, ventilation, and power runs. Here on the display it was all laid out.

Dumbbell shaped, the Castleton was two hundred fifty meters long; two sixty-five meter spheres connected by a tube thirty meters in diameter. Attached by blade like standoffs to the tube were four long twenty-five meter diameter fuel tanks or optionally identically shaped cargo pods. Three ring like drive bands, one just above the midpoint of the upper sphere. one below midpoint on the lower, and one circling the fuel tanks at the ship’s centerline provided gravity control and what passed for motive power once the ship entered hyper. These tanks were often replaced rather than refueled and they provided the base structure for most system’s orbital and deep space construction.

In the lower sphere a dual fusion torch and an internal fuel supply took up a third of the volume and provided ship’s power. It was also was the reaction engine for acceleration while in normal space and sent hydrogen fuel through the core and out the exhaust. It was almost always kept hot to power ships systems.

When the ship wasn’t using energy for high G grav control the fusion core was dialed down, and all excess energy was stored in the drive bands superconducting interior replacing what bled off whenever a transition was made. Excepting for the engineering control and some life support functions, the rest of the lower section of a 3T was used as cargo space; hauling cargo was after all her purpose.

The upper sphere, starting from the front, contained a two deck high section with the bridge/control room in the center and forward looking sensors and electronics filling the wedge shaped outer ring. The next three decks down were all devoted to ships operations and various crew spaces including living quarters for most of the ships officers and enlisted. That was essentially the upper third of the upper sphere. Next came cargo space, or on the Castleton two decks of passenger compartments.

The center of the top sphere contained the boat deck and main loading ports. The lower section of the sphere was once again cargo space and on the Castleton another passenger level.

Starting in engineering at the bottom and ending one deck down from the bridge at the top was a long structural cylinder that was nearly twenty meters in diameter. Inside the cylinder were a pair of small diameter, two meters each, passenger lifts and a much larger open freight elevator that opened to the boat deck.

In the thirty-five meter tube connecting the twin spheres and up whose center ran the elevator shaft were heavy power runs feeding the upper two drive bands along with power and data channels for the rest of the ship. It also housed water and waste pipes, ventilation and ladder-ways, vacuum tubes, and rooms with various kinds of ships equipment.

“How much do we mass,” Claude had asked Cmdr, Borselov.

“Forty-five tones empty, twice as much fully laden, though it does depend on what we carry. The goal is to operate at maximum mass level because even if you are only hauling extra fuel to drop at a tank-farm somewhere the cost of one of these ships is so great that even the normal carrying charges are small in comparison. The fuel tanks we use and those on a military ship are similar but ours lack the external armor layer and the active insulation.”

“Active Insulation?”

“A military tank pumps heat between the fuel inside and the tank wall to minimize IR signature,”

“Anything else I should know about that makes a G-3T different from the military version?”

“Construction details could get pretty boring but the major difference on the engineering side is we have less powerful grav compensators. That doesn’t change our speed in hyper but in normal space our maximum acceleration is 32 G’s and not 58 and our max delta, make that velocity, in N space is less because our particle shields aren’t as good.”

“So smaller a smaller compensator and power plant, lower acceleration, lighter construction and less armor, gives us much more empty space for cargo. Correct?”

“That’s about it, Mr. Germond, though the total mass that any G-3 can get into hyper limits at the same amount and when hauling something like heavy metal that mass limit is reached long before the space inside the ship fills out.”

“Thanks for the lecture, Cmdr, Borselov.”

“Sure, and call me Yuri, I’m a civilian at heart, Cardoman’s rank structure is impossible to figure out in any event.”

“I’ve noticed that. And it’s Claude here; I am another who is very much a civilian at heart.”

“Fine Claude, let me know if you need anything else.”

The second screen showed a picture of the outside almost identical to what was visible in the passenger lounge but without the crowd. It also had the advantage of small blocks of text that could be touched and enlarged to give information about what was showing next to them on the display. A most satisfactory place to start his trip.

He wished Ellen Nesberg was here to enjoy it with him but she was on the bridge engaged in last minute communications with Cardoman’s military office of Plans and Intents where analysts had just finished their review of the information brought back by the Widow.

Borselov was back to his own work now, calling up screens, perhaps making notes, and then going on to another. He’d met Borselov the day before just after coming up early to the ship. He was struck at once with how young the full Commander looked, not older than mid-twenties, far too young for his rank and younger still to be the Chief Engineer of a ship costing billions. Claude was only thirty himself and his research had shown senior ship personnel, department heads, to average twenty years in service on the civilian side, with military rank about the same or only a couple of years younger.

At first sure that Yuri was older than he looked, after meeting more of the ship’s crew, he was equally as certain he had been wrong. It seemed like half of everyone crewing this ship was on their first tour, and most definitely on the underside of twenty-five, and he wondered if he should mention that as color for the article he would send down to the syndicate in a few minutes. He decided not to and hit send on his comp screen saw the data bar sink to zero as the data transfer ended. Now to finish up a post for the ship’s paper that was due out tomorrow. One more glance at the screen and he went back to work.

“Claude just finished his download Sir, would you like to see it?”

Wes was in the overhead control room on the boat deck seated in front of the hatch controls when he took Captain Nesberg’s message. “So long as he didn’t say anything about me being on the ship I’ll read it later Ellen, I don’t think he’ll go off the rails this early, but if he does their isn’t much harm he can do at this point.”

“I sent the Cardoman upload to the comm unit in your quarters Sir, skimmed it as it was streaming, nothing new that jumps right out.”

“Thanks Ellen, I’ll look at that later too then. After we boost go see about helping Claude and invite him to the Captain’s table for dinner. He can meet Ustinov and afterwards I have some background that I want him to start thinking about. And dress in you civilian clothes, nothing fancy, we save that for off ship. I don’t want the rest of our passengers speculating on what you are talking about and if possible keep them from even considering that you might be military. This dress as a civilian goes for everyone on the ship that is not part of her regular crew. When Connie and I eat out we will just sit somewhere in a corner and try not to draw any attention. Let Claude know about this.”

“Will do Sir.”

The mess deck, on a passenger ship called the dining room, was the largest open space, except for the boat deck, on the entire ship. On the Castleton it was a wedge shaped and took up the inner two thirds of a quarter section of deck six, or in passenger terminology — B-deck. Architecturally an attempt had been made to keep it from looking like a slice of pie and it almost succeeded,

Food service, a cafeteria style system, started just beyond the entrance. The Captain’s table, the only one permanently assigned, was against the middle of the room’s outer wall. When the Captain wasn’t using it the table belonged to Lt George O’mara, the ship’s First Officer.

There were hatches in that wall at either corner, separated the dinning hall from the lounge and giving entrance to the corridor circling the ship leading to the passenger cabins abutting the ships hull and those inboard.

The dinning room was carpeted with seating for perhaps three hundred. It was in almost constant use because the crew ate there as well and they took meals in shifts,

In addition to the elevators two stairways led to “A Deck” above and hatches on the sidewall to the kitchen and the decks outer ring passageway. Overall interior was like a nice restaurant and not to the four star standards a true Luxury Liner employed. Still, pre-prepared and machine cooked meals, were the planetary norm and the ones on the Castleton were at least as tasty,

“I don’t know if you can keep this up but if the rest of the meals aboard ship are as good as the first then I will need to revise my long held opinion that when people said food on a Navy ship was really quite good it was mere propaganda. Or is this something special because the Castleton is a transport?”

“Not at all Mr. Germond. The care and feeding of a crew is such a trivial expense when it comes to operating a warship or commercial vessel, and morale and retention so important, that anything else would be foolish. The difference for me is that on a ship not carrying passengers I would grab a tray and seat where ever I chose; or even take most of my meals in my quarters or day cabin. Here I have an assigned table and even a chair along with a need to be seen as a boost to passenger morale.

For the rest of our trip, or until everyone has had an opportunity, our Boss’n Jenny Joyce will be issuing invitations to eat at the Captain’s table. You’d be surprised at how many people think the ship is in trouble when the Captain is a recluse.”

“This is your first ship command I understand Captain, what do you find surprises you the most so far?”

“Not much really. I had commercial experience before I entered the Navy and a ship’s First Officer keeps as busy as her Captain, and with similar responsibilities. I have noticed that ever since the passengers started boarding, I must pay far more attention to appearing regal.” Vince Ustinov laughed a bit at his response to the question.

“One thing does stand out even eight hours into our voyage. Any well trained member of the Navy wishes to avoid the notice of his captain except when required by duty. For many of our passengers it is just the opposite. And unlike the Calvert’s I must not only dress the part but make myself available when ever I am in public.”

“Why do you say you must be somewhat available? Why not an order, of call it a rule, that one may not speak to the Captain unless spoken to? ”

“Because a Captain’s orders have the force of law and my means of disciplining passengers are somewhat limited.”

“Look out,” Ellen Nesberg said, softly. “The man in the plaid jumpsuit heading this way, his wife, or traveling companion as the case may be, has been egging him on and now he is heading this way.”

“Good evening Captain Ustinov. I’m Godfry Justice, Justice Investments out of Freehold. I don’t mean to intrude but my wife will not leave me alone about this. Might I ask you when the casino opens? No one seems to know, at least amongst those of your crew I have asked.”

“I am sorry but we have no casino Mr. Justice, and no gambling is a rule of the ship. However there are two small exceptions to the rule. We can set up a lottery to benefit the Cardoman Widows and Orphans fund with 50% of the draw, or you could download a game of chance from the ship’s library and play against the ship’s systems on your own comps or through the terminal in your room.”

“It’s not what she is looking for but how well does that pay out Captain?”

“It does not I can assure you. Low stakes, and anyone able to beat the built in percentage gets tried for tampering with the ship’s programming, but not to worry, it will never happen.”

“Thank you very much Captain, thank you!” Justice said visibly pleased. “I am overjoyed to hear this and my wife can look for something new to complain about.”

After Justice bowed and went back to join his wife Ustinov remarked, “Claude, make sure you note in our ship’s news first edition to send all questions concerning ship’s operations to the “Captain’s Corner” and that the ones of interest to all passengers will be published.”

“Will you answer them yourself?”

“A few of them yes, as for the rest—that’s why we have a First Officer,”

After they were finished with dinner, Ustinov, Claude, and Ellen cleaned up their table, in this the Captain needed to set an example, and took the lift upwards. The elevator’s AI recognized them; otherwise anything above A deck would have been off limits. In case of problems with the AI the crew had pass codes but they were seldom needed.

Ellen and Claude got off at deck 2 the Captain continued to the bridge. They walked only a few meters around in the passageway that circled the elevator shaft and Ellen touched a plate halfway up the outside wall and the hatch slid open to what looked like a normal office area filled with desks and screens, the kind you would see in any professional building. But every one of the dozen employees inside was wearing Cardoman duty uniforms and the interior was very obviously wedge shaped.

Seated at the first desk in was a woman Claude judged to be about thirty with what seemed like a dozen hash marks on the sleeve of her tunic, red hair not quite to her shoulders, and a good looking though no nonsense expression on her face. The sign on the desk said Boss’n Joyce,

“Hello Ma’am. The Major said to send you right in.” Her voice was not at all as rough as the title indicated.

“This way Claude,” Ellen said leading and touching the plate on another hatch just beyond the boson’s desk.

This was more like it, Claude thought as he stepped inside and down a ways then saw the room’s interior. This was the first compartment he had seen on the ship that could actually be called plush! Deep pile patterned carpets and what looked to be real paintings on the walls, dark leather covered wooden furnishings and even a chandelier hanging from the three meter high ceiling.

Except for the boat deck and dinning hall it was also the largest room he had seen on the ship thus far, even larger than the main engineering control room. A table that could seat twenty was in the room’s center reflecting lights from the chandelier above. Ship time was near eight in the evening and the lighting level here was set to match,

Claude recognized the Calvert’s, Connie and Wes, and also the Cardoman Foreign Minister Victor Shearing, but the other three individuals seated at one end of the table were new to him. Ellen led him over and Wes Calvert made the introductions starting with the Finance Minister whom Claude had recognized but had never met and then proceeding to the two unknowns. One was introduced as James Phillips, from Union President Reshevsky’s staff and the other a stocky dark haired individual with a pronounced nose and jaw line, as Shemuel Ben Judah, Cardoman reserve officer and a member of Calvert’s staff.

That name was familiar and Claude almost at once realized he was one of the survivors from Marais that had made their home on Cardoman, developing a new farming territory some three years earlier around a town they had named New Hope. The man’s uniform insignia was that of a light colonel, finally someone whose rank matched their perceived age,

When he finished with the introductions Calvert said, “As of today Claude, you know only half of the reason why you are with us on this trip: helping to get a favorable reaction to our various trade proposals from the local news organizations and reporting on what happens to the people back on Cardoman. As to the other part I’ll let Mr. Phillips explain.”

While seated quietly Phillips was the most nondescript person Claude had ever seen, or almost not seen, it was like you needed to look twice to realize he was even there. When he spoke though he immediately got ones attention, especially if his comments were directed at you.

“I was at first opposed to your being included not only on the ship but in this discussion Mr. Germond, but I have been convinced me otherwise. Before I continue I want to make it clear that nothing any of us say here leaves this room. If you cannot agree to that then I must stop now. Mr. Germond?”

All eyes were on him when he said, “How can I agree to that when I don’t even know in general terms what this is all about?”

“Fair enough. I’m sure you have figured out that there is more involved with this trip than just improving trade relations and a little vacation for the Calvert’s. You probably have even guessed it must have something to do with the direction or next stage of the fight. If so you are correct. There is a long history of news people spying for or against their countries and governments via propaganda or more overt means. We want you to spy for us, and what we ask will provide information concerning the war effort that must not be published.”

“As you say Mr. Phillips, us newsies slant and spin, always have, always will. I try in my own small way to keep a balance but I see that balance is no longer is enough. So go ahead and continue. If you ask me to do anything I can’t or won’t I’ll tell you then. And anything said up to that point remains confidential, not a blank check but close.”

“I think that’s good enough for now,” Wes said. The data record concerning much of this are located and accessible only from this room, the same will be true of anything you add to that database. As of tomorrow morning, after we jump, you will have access to most of it. Start reading and before we reach Novi we can get more specific about what we want and how you can help us. Between now and then I’m not asking you to spy on anyone in particular but should you run across someone with a bomb in their luggage you could let us know.”

An hour later Claude was dreaming he was in bed with Ellen when the muted alarm sounded and the Castleton transitioned out. Cursing the non-fraternization rule in effect while on ship he fell back into a restless asleep.