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The Star Sailors' Story
Chapter 4
Love can do much, but duty more. - Wolfgang Goethe, Earth (Human)

Colonel Sir Jons Seins, Knight Commander of the Royal Hydran (Sword Worlds) Marines was bored. At the moment, he was on the bridge of the light cruiser Succession. For this ship, the hour was very early morning, and his Marines were still in their sleeping chambers. Safely in orbit around the Federation starbase at Toulagai, there was really very little to do for Marines. His battalion, spread throughout the four ships of the task force, were certainly not going to be invading Toulagai and weren't terribly likely to be conducting boarding operations against any of the other ships in orbit either. Peace could be so dull.

Still, it was their duty to remain ready at all times and he was not one to fail at his duty. His normal command post was aboard the carrier Kingdom but he liked to make these little unannounced inspections, usually combined with a drill of some sort. It helped keep his troops on their toes and at their best. He would wait another few minutes and then see how this company performed.

The Hydrans were a small interstellar Kingdom made up of several humanoid races spread across half a dozen planets. All shared a few traits in common “ they were quite small in stature and inter-breeding had given them a genetic predisposition towards skin and hair in a wild mix of colors. One Federation wag, a fan of ancient entertainments, had tagged them with the nickname 'Oompa-loompas', an obscure reference to characters in a pre-atomic story who happened to look a lot like the Hydrans. Calling a Hydran an Oompa-loompa was a sure way to start a fight. - but the nickname had stuck.

Their culture was a very strict patrilinear feudal caste-system where women usually stayed home and tended to hearth and family. Seeing female Hydrans in any position of power was rare and meant an individual of surprising drive and capabilities, as well as powerful patrons. The Colonel wasn't too sure how he felt about being placed under the command of Admiral Lady Kremble Mika, despite her connections to the Duke he owed his fealty to. His own wife was at home, where she belonged, managing his estate and finances and seeing to their four children, as was right and proper, while the Admiral wasn't even married. He harbored certain suspicions about that situation.

As he inspected the various bridge stations aboard the Succession, he paid particular attention to the helmsman. Seated, Star Fleet Ensign Akemi Yoshida was nearly as tall as his 4' 2”, and he was tall for a Hydran. As he scanned her workstation for flaws, he briefly wondered if the Federation was sending a calculated insult to his people by assigning a woman to their officer exchange program. He would make a point of inspecting her sleeping chamber and reviewing her Chief's reports on her efficiency and attention to her duties.

For her part, eighteen year-old Akemi was nervous. It was an honor to be nominated to the Federation's Officer Exchange Program, but she wished her Lieutenant had given her a few more months to get used to fleet duty aboard the USS Yorktown before she had to try to learn her duties and an entirely new culture as well. And why THIS culture? The Hydrans were so conservative they still treated their women like chattel most of the time. They lived aboard ship like monks, complete with daily rituals and strict codes of behavior. And now the Colonel she had heard was a total bear was standing right behind her, no doubt looking for any mistake. The bridge of the Succession was a small rectangular chamber with the Captain's station above and to the center rear with various stations around the edges and a holographic sphere projecting the space around the ship hovering in front of everyone. It felt even more cramped with the little Colonel looking over her shoulder.

Suddenly, all her nervousness was swept away by stark terror. Her hands flew across the helm controls and the Succession rolled into a tight corkscrew, her engines straining at the sudden override demand from the helm position. The gravity wavered slightly from the power surge and the Colonel opened his mouth to demand answers from this alien woman. Before he could speak a phaser blast lanced into the space where the Succession had been moments before, flashing green light into the bridge from the forward view-screens, and the alarm horn sounded its brassy notes.

“What in the seven hells is going ON?!” the Colonel barked out. “Who is firing??”

The defense officer spoke quickly as he began routing power to weapons, shields, and defensive fields, “Sir, the Dosadi! They just started firing. They didn't even use targeting systems! They've also engaged the Kingdom and the Horval. Sir, they scored hits on both before they got their shields up.”

Lieutenant Rals Orens, the watch commander spoke up “Colonel, incoming message from the Admiral.” and seconds later, the image of Kremble filled the front of the bridge. After a moment scanning the bridge crew, she spoke “Colonel Jons, I'm afraid you're going to be stuck over there for the duration. The Dosadi have elected to attack us, the Gorn, and the Klingons for reasons that I'm sure make some sort of sense to them.

In any case, we massively out-gun them. Lieutenant Rals, you will keep the Succession in close formation with the Kingdom. I intend to use you as the anvil and our fighter groups as the hammer and crush them between our fires. The Gorn are taking the opposite flank while the Klingons hold the center. This should be quick and easy. By the numbers, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, Admiral. You can count on us.” He stood and bowed, as did the Colonel.

When she had cut the connection, the Colonel turned to Ensign Yoshida with a frown on his violet-skinned face. “Ensign. You acted without orders and without authority. How did you detect the phaser fire? Sensors had no warning whatsoever of any targeting or shields being raised anywhere.”

Sweating and sitting at rigid attention she said, “Sir. As helmsman, it is my duty to keep the ship on a safe course at all times. That duty provides the authority to act in an emergency. As part of that duty, I have been maintaining a regular scan of all other vessels in orbit near us. I noted the Dosadi vessels' power-consumption curves going to emergency maximum. The Command Destroyer Shagrat rolled to present her starboard weapons pod to us while other Dosadi vessels were maneuvering similarly. I concluded that they would try a snap-shot and acted accordingly.”

He studied the young Earth woman for a moment. Glancing up as the Succession's captain stalked into the bridge he continued, “Well done, Ensign. Continue your attention to your duty. As I must attend to mine.” He headed off the bridge to the Marine command post. The Marines did double-duty as damage control techs during combat, but were always expected to be ready to conduct boarding or defense operations as well.

Almost a thousand kilometers directly beneath Colonel Jons, Commodore Selek and Commander Jackson gave up trying to talk to the now wildly maneuvering ships racing out of orbit.

Jackson gnawed at his cigar, “That's done it then. They got hits on the Kingdom, the Horval, Tyrannus, Tooth, and the Devisor. Someone was awake on the Succession though. That was their only miss “ woulda hit 'em right square in the bridge too from the looks of it. I swear the Dosadi have 'relations' with their weapons. No one should be able to shoot that well without computer targeting.”

“There is no need to be crude, Commander. It is well known that the Dosadi drill extensively with their weapons both with and without targeting systems. Evidently, the prevailing wisdom that it is impossible to hit maneuvering targets at battle distances and speeds without computer assistance is incorrect.

“Raise shields and energize the weapons. I do not anticipate becoming involved, but there may be stray weapons fire. I do not want to see this situation spiral any further out of control. Also, make sure that all available sensors are tracking the battle and recording. If nothing else, this should provide excellent intelligence for Star Fleet analysts.”

News nets throughout the Starbase and the entire planet of Toulagai were alive with reports of combat in orbit. Both ground-based and orbital sensor platforms began feeding live views of the battle across the nets. Starship combat in near-space when they weren't shooting at YOU was something that simply did not happen.

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