After The War

Here is an excerpt from something I'm writing. The title is "After the War". Unlike the majority of WC related fiction, After the War is not about pilots. The protagonist is Gunner's Mate Joel Harris, of the TCS Gettysburg.

This excerpt is from somewhere in the middle of the work. The time is just after the Mutiny of the Gettysburg. Notice: there's a little profanity in here. Feel free to comment.

- TCSGettysburg

Forward Mess Compartment
TCS Gettysburg
Terran Confederation

Joel shook his head in confusion. From the surface, everything seemed to be business as usual aboard the TCS Gettysburg. Joel and his fellow gunner’s mates still had to stand in line for their supper in the forward mess compartment. The faces around him were still the same familiar faces he saw every day. He still wore the dark blue Confederation spacer’s uniform that he had worn for the past few years when aboard ship. The mess compartment looked the same, as well. The bulkheads were still painted light blue, and the stainless steel tables and chairs still gleamed. A few framed prints hung on the bulkheads, and a few potted plants on counters, both of whom tried to give the mess compartment a less utilitarian feel but managed to fail. Rows and rows of hungry men and women eating with commendable speed. The easy banter of old and true comrades. Everything looked and felt the same as it had yesterday, before the Mutiny. But, something was different. Joel just couldn’t put his finger on it.

He sat down at a table. As usual, he ate with his gun crew. Even though he had many good friends aboard the Gettysburg, Joel usually ate with the other gunners of Turret “A”. Most meals were unmemorable. The only things that really changed were where in the mess compartment they sat, what food they ate, and who sat in what position at the table. Today, Chief Franklin sat to Joel’s right, while both Hans and Menachem sat across from him. For lunch, Menachem had been to Joel’s right, Hans to his left, and Chief Franklin had sat across from him. Doubtlessly, breakfast would bring yet another seating order.

The food hadn’t changed, either. It was just as good as it had been yesterday. The mess chefs of the Gettysburg were a legend in the Fourteenth Fleet. There was a reason why the Gettysburg had earned the “Best Mess in the Fleet” award three years running. Pride in their ship was what made the mess chefs take a little more time than was usual, given the fact that they had to feed several hundred men three meals a day along with mid-rats and snacks. He remembered the slop that had passed for food at basic training and gunnery school. In comparison, the food on the Gettysburg could almost be home cooking.

Joel tore into his large slab of roast beef with great gusto. Heaped onto his mess tray was also a pile of steaming mashed potatoes topped with thick gravy, steamed vegetables, and a pair of buttered dinner rolls. In a tall glass with the Gettysburg’s crest emblazoned upon it, he drank lemonade. Despite the vitamin supplements that had been issued to ship’s crews for nearly seven hundred years, it was still traditional for spacers to drink lemonade, just as their ancestors had drunk lemon juice to ward off scurvy. Joel didn’t drink it because of tradition. He drank lemonade because he was tired of drinking coffee. He drank enough coffee when on duty, and he hadn’t felt like drinking soda.

He had just swallowed a piece of beef when the PA speakers began to crackle. Joel put down his fork, and waited. A moment later, Wing Commander Ransom’s voice came onto the PA. Unlike the voice of Commodore Cain, Ransom’s voice was wonderfully calm. Joel could tell that Wing Commander Ransom was proud of being able to lead a successful mutiny, and also proud of the fact that he was now the acting captain of a Waterloo class cruiser. It was a big step up from commanding a Rapier medium fighter, which is what Wing Commander Ransom had commanded the day before. The din in the mess compartment quieted down in a hurry. Everyone wanted to hear what the new captain of the Gettysburg had to say.

“This is the acting captain. Now that the murderous Commodore Cain has been sent to Ghorah Khar to account for his actions, we had no choice but to break station over N’Tanya. If we had stayed on-station, we would have been hunted down and destroyed by the Concordia or our former escorts. Due to our lack of communications, we have no way to explain our actions to ConFleet, and must act accordingly. Right now, we are in the Antares system, and will continue to traverse the lesser-traveled systems of Enigma until we reach our destination. Our destination is the Rigel Depot, where we will take aboard more supplies. Continue to carry out your duty, men. You have performed excellently, and are a credit to the Confederation.” The speakers crackled once more, and then there was silence.

And with that, the din returned in full force. The topic of conversation may have changed, but the fact of conversation did not. The spacers of the Confederation Fleet were generally a vociferous lot, like the sailors of Terran waterborne naval ships. While they might not have much in the way of money, or free time, or shore leave, one would never know just from listening to their conversations. Stories about past shore leaves, legendary card games, and women were traded quite frequently amongst the spacers. But, those tales of liberty now fell by the wayside as the men began to discuss their situation. Mutiny in the Confederation Fleet was rare, the last recorded case having been aboard the TCS San Jacinto. There, the mutiny had been because of the crew’s unwillingness to retreat from the enemy. Now, of course, things were very different. The crew of the Gettysburg had deposed their legally appointed captain, and any officers loyal to him. They had abandoned their station over N’Tanya, and were now headed to Rigel. For all Joel knew, the Gettysburg was headed for the Landreich, or the backwaters of the Confederation, after Rigel.

As it was, the Gettysburg might not make it to Rigel, either. The quickest and most efficient jump path to Rigel would have been from N’Tanya to Ghorah Khar. From there, Rigel was only a jump away. Transit time would have been a few days at the most.

However, Ghorah Khar was where they had sent Commodore Cain. Without working long-range communications, the Gettysburg had no way to explain the illegal actions of the Commodore. The data uploaded onto the Crossbow’s computer could only do so much. If ConFleet deemed the Gettysburg and her crew to be the ones at fault, they would shoot at the Gettysburg first and ask the survivors questions. A Waterloo class heavy cruiser was simply too dangerous to be allowed to roam freely. In addition, Ghorah Khar was defended by at least one fleet carrier, and the odds were good that it was the Concordia. The first sign of the Concordia and her escorts the Gettysburg would get would be an Alpha Strike of Broadswords and Sabres. Admiral Tolwyn was not known for either leniency or dereliction of duty. He would protect his ship at all costs.

Thus, the Gettysburg was forced to travel the lesser-traveled jump paths. Once they had driven their escorts off, the Gettysburg had jumped to Firekka, then to Antares. From Antares, it would be another four jumps to Rigel. Joel knew that, in general, there weren’t many warships in the systems on the way to Rigel. Thus, the odds of the Gettysburg actually reaching Rigel were a lot higher, weeks long transit time or not.

Menachem turned to Joel, a questioning look on his face as he spoke. “That’s odd. Colonel Ransom didn’t say anything about ConFleet. Would they really hunt us down? For disobeying illegal orders?”

Joel shrugged, and said, “I don’t know, Menachem. Without long-range communications, we have no way of explaining our actions to the Fleet or Admiral Tolwyn. For all they know, they think we’re pirates now. Firing on our escorts didn’t help things any, either. I have the feeling that things aren’t going to be as easy as Colonel Ransom makes them out to be.”

Hans belched, but said nothing. Both Joel and Menachem turned to look at Chief Franklin, and awaited his opinion on matters. All three of the lower ranking gunner’s mates assigned to Turret “A” had a high respect for the opinion of Chief Franklin. The Chief had a habit of being correct, despite his generally outlandish or cynical opinion. Joel attributed that to the fact that the Chief had been in the Confederation Fleet as long as he had been alive.

Chief Franklin shrugged, and leaned back in his chair. It creaked under his weight, a sign that the Chief had been neglecting his daily calisthenics. He looked at Menachem first, and then Joel, shaking his head at the pair of second class gunner’s mates. The Chief said, “As long as we get some shore leave, I’m happy. Been far too long since we had liberty, damn it. I can’t remember the last time I went on a drunk and got laid. Anything else doesn’t matter as much as a good liberty, men. When you’ve been in as long as I have, you learn to keep your expectations low, and you learn to let the officers do most of the thinking.”

Joel shook his head, and thought for a moment. Right now, the Gettysburg didn’t have all that many officers left. Commodore Cain and the XO, Commander Bartlett were gone. So was the Chief Engineer, Commander Morton, and the other two senior officers in the engineering department, Lieutenant Commanders Bell and Rodham. The Damage Control Officer, Lieutenant Commander Holland, had been shot to death in his cabin by a disgruntled ensign. Both the Astrogation Officer, Commander Kyung, and the Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Commander de la Cruz, had left the ship via Crossbow. The Wing XO, Lieutenant Colonel Moyer, had also been on the Crossbow sent to Ghorah Khar. And, the Communications Officer had been caught in the crossfire on the bridge between Ransom’s men and the Commodore.

The only officers left of the Gettysburg’s wardroom above the rank of Lieutenant were the Gunnery Officer, Commander Morris, Lieutenant Colonel Poelma of the Crossbow Squadron, Chaplain McNeil, and the Medical Officer, Lieutenant Commander Covington. Four senior officers remaining, two of whom were not in the chain of command, and the third merely a visitor aboard the Gettysburg. Not much of a wardroom at all. Sure, there were still plenty of lieutenants and ensigns aboard, but Joel wouldn’t trust most of them to get a cup of coffee from the wardroom successfully, let alone run a heavy cruiser.

Joel said, “Chief, Commander Morris doesn’t make much of a wardroom. Do you really want to leave what happens to the Gettysburg to Colonel Ransom, Commander Morris, and a bunch of snot-nose junior officers? What if they get it in their heads to take on the Concordia or the Wolfhound? Or to defect to the Kilrathi? Then what do we do, Chief?”

Chief Franklin snorted. He looked as if he wanted to spit onto the deck. “Joel,” he said, “now who’s being crazy? Defect to the Kilrathi? Whatever you’ve been smoking, I want some. You and I both know that Colonel Ransom hates the Kilrathi like a dog hates cats. Attack the Concordia? He’s not crazy enough for that. You and I both know that Colonel Ransom is a damned good officer, and a damned good Wing Commander. He won't pull any crazy shit like what you’re talking about. I bet we’ll get the comm section repaired, and then things will get back to normal.”

Joel shook his head. “A damned good Wing Commander. Remember, Chief, Colonel Ransom was always TCSF. He never commanded anything bigger than a Broadsword, much less a corvette or destroyer. Running a flight wing’s a lot different than running a heavy cruiser, and with only one experienced ship’s officer still aboard, there’s no one aboard with enough rank so that he has to listen. If he acts like a damned fool, no one’s going to tell him otherwise. Just wanted to put that on the table, Chief.”

As expected, the Chief snorted yet again, before he replied. “Joel, by now, I’m sure you know, but I’ll just remind you, just in case you forgot. The officers may think they own and operate the Gettysburg, but it’s the Chief’s who actually run the ship. We’ll make damned sure that the Colonel doesn’t do anything foolish, you hear? If he does, we’ll show him just how stupid he is.”

Joel looked down at his meal tray while absorbing the Chief’s latest words. Somehow, it had emptied itself, despite his intensive mental calculations. Nothing was left on the tray but some scraps. Across the table, Hans cracked his knuckles before saying, “I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is kill Cats. Not much else that I’d care to do.” With that, he picked up his tray and walked away. A moment later, Menachem followed him, still looking lost in thought. The Gettysburg’s current situation must be much harder on Menachem, thought Joel. Both of Menachem’s parents were in the fleet, and had raised him accordingly.

Joel nodded. “I hear you, Chief. I just hope you’re right, Chief. I just hope you’re right.” And with that, Joel stood up with his meal tray in hand and began to leave the mess hall.