ARC I: HYDROGEN LINES

"The annual Commissioned Officers' Promotions List has been released."

Commander Crois Deliquoix looked over to her Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Robert Hershel, seeing the man four years older than she sitting at his station at the Naval Tactical Data Center where several digital marquees displayed updating statuses of the Ocelot-Class Destroyer Torpedo Boat Linx, displaying upon the translucent Organic Light Emitting Transistor SMARTglass monitor in front of his duty station as well as that of what was known as 'the big screen'. One of the Petty Officers posted at Watch of the Bridge had called the deck to attention at her arrival upon the Quarterdeck, where the Linx's Command Deck was located at the aft of the two-hundred and fifty meter vessel, technically 'overseeing' the entirety of the vessel from bow to stern if there had been any physical viewports available. The start of Gold Watch was to commence in an hour, and per her usual routine, showed up prior to as she had everyday for their six-month rotation.

The thirty-two year old woman took to her chair at the 'rear' of the CIC, where she could look upon from her post and see the entirety of the Bridge Crew from her station at the aft of the Quarterdeck, able to monitor the various streams of information from her own OLET SMARTglass monitor at her position while looking through the transparent panels to physically look upon the crew. Stepping up to the small raised platform that put her half-a-meter above the deck, she took to the Command Seat with practiced ease as she unofficially started her day an hour early, seeing the Officer of the Watch, 1st Lieutenant Ray Jefferson, an Unrestricted Line Officer and her Chief Ordinance Officer, at his position forward and to her left, while Lieutenant Commander Hershel was forward and to her right at the Navigation Center.

"I am aware." Commander Deliquoix allowed as she queued up her chair's terminal, her transparent monitor swinging up from its housing compartment at the side of her seat and swiveling just to her right, where she didn't have to look through her work to look upon the crew; she felt they should know when their Commanding Officer was paying attention to them, for good or ill, instead of guessing if their CO was merely looking through the contents of their NavNet Box. The SMARTglass activated as the computer immediately accessed the AROS System, logging her onto the Linx's Naval Tactical Data System, as well as that of her own personal server. Slipping on her Augmented Reality Haptic Interface Glove onto her right hand, she queued up a screen for both the NTDS and her own personal NavNet InBox. She frowned at the sight of seventeen accumulated messages in her personal server, most of them stamp-addressed to vessel Commanding Officers, a few stamp-addressed to Commissioned Officers, and a couple of general ones that went out to everyone in the Navy. There were three addressed to her personally.

"There were a few names on the list that pertain to the Linx." Robert said from his chair, looking through his work station as he turned his chair slightly in its swivel to look at her through both his OLET SMARTglass as well as the Augmented Reality Overlay Visor that he wore that gave him depth-of-perception for both his personal station and the NTDS's circular monitor that was large curved piece of SMARTglass that displayed the tactical information pertaining to the Linx, the ships under its command for the Perseus Patrol Squadron, and Sector 2708, where the star system Blackleigh resided in. Blackleigh was a M-Class Red Dwarf in the most southern part of the Gemini Quadrant of Axiom Space, with a few cold terrestrial rocks in orbit, low in metallacy and gases, and hardly worth a mining venture amongst some of the bigger energy conglomerates.

Yet one man's trash was another man's treasure, and the Linx and the Perseus Squadron were out on patrol in the Gemini Quadrant for 'unofficial' mining and resource exploitation efforts, hunting for any indications of illegal prospecting and fracking upon unclaimed sites; a popular venture for those with a cheap vessel, cheap gear, and a will to flout the law and take their chances running into a Navy patrol. It was seventeen weeks into their twenty-four week patrol, and it been a fairly eventful deployment for the Linx and its four Frigate entourage. Seventeen weeks in the outer Gemini Quadrant, patrolling the sixty Sectors that extended beyond the Fifteen Light Year Line, where nine inhabited stellar systems existed out in the further reaches of Axiom Space, and another six existed with little to no human effort to colonize or resource-development.

For her two-hundred and seventy-five man crew aboard the Linx as well as the thousand plus men whom served upon the Osprey-Class Fast Attack Frigates known as the Robin and the Hummingbird, the Albatross-Class Missile Frigate Bomber known as the Turkey Vulture, and the Kingfisher-Class Fleet Support Frigate known as the Peregrine, the far reaches of the Gemini Quadrant was theirs to own, their ships their homes. For seventeen weeks, duty and responsibility filled their days with Watch Shifts and Non-Watch Shifts, dividing their twenty-four hour days in half with work and rest. Out in those stellar frontiers, it was they that were the guardians and protectors of Mankind.

At least the twenty-four week patrol hadn't been utterly uneventful. There was that.

"I noticed that." The Commander replied to her Executive Officer, working between both of her screen as she did so, getting an updated status on the Linx's location, velocity, stellar direction, and current running percentage while sifting through her InBox. Everything on the board was green, mostly overall updates as oppose to the more technical details of actual numbers if one wanted to see just how many missiles and torpedoes one had since the day before when none had been fired, or how much foodstuff had been consumed over a ships' day. That would come with the Daily Report at 0600 at the start of the Gold Watch. For now, she was merely concerned that all systems were running in the green. She also eyed one of the messages addressed to vessel Commanding Officers in general, dealing with minor changes in the Bureau of Personnel allotments for incoming personnel and Needs-of-the-Navy.

The Ministry of Defense Naval Bureau of Personnel, known unaffectionately throughout the Fleets as 'BuPers', was the source of personnel allotments, promotions, schools, training, and changes of station. There were almost as asinine as the Bureau of Allowances and Expenditures, knowns as 'BuAxers', the Navy bean-counters that were always crying for a bigger budget while pinching their pockets. Crois swiped the message away as read and archived as she went to another pertaining to another Commanding Officer-oriented one in regards to Fleet Movements. "Looks like we'll be doing a few promotions here at the beginning of the month." It was standard to do promotions at the first of a month, as the date of rank always fell on the first. One of her Ensigns down in Engineering would be getting their Lieutenant (junior grade) while one of her rocket jockeys was up for his Staff Lieutenant. No doubt her fighter pilots would celebrate that one with style and 'unauthorized' beverages.

"I saw your name on that list as well, Crois."

She couldn't help herself; she looked up from her work and smiled at Robert.

"Won't be able to get officially promoted until we land back in civilization, unfortunately." The Commander said, but her tone said it all; she was pleased, and very much so. At thirty-two years old, with ten years active service in the Axiom Union Navy, she had made it to the holy of holys; she had made her Captaincy. Most considered getting it in twelve to fifteen years fairly quick, yet she was getting her 'fourth rope' at near record-setting time-in-service. She had barely just past her time-in-grade as a Commander when BuPers had released its mass index Promotions Listing for the beginning of the Fiscal Year; when Command-Grade and Flag-Grade Promotions came out. The message was sent to everyone's NavNet InBox, including Enlisted Promotions, Non-Commissioned Officer Promotions, and Commissioned Officer Promotions; a monthly routine. Yet for the month that was the end of the Fiscal Year, the Commissioned Officers throughout the Axiom Navy waited with abated breath for the release of the list for those who would make their Staff Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, and Commander. For potential Flag Officers, Commanders crossed their fingers and toes as well as held their breath. Getting the 'fourth rope' was a very big deal in the Navy. "Still, I'll be frocked at the beginning of the month." Crois told her Executive Officer with a smile. "Any word for you?"

"Same line; wait until next year." Hershel replied, and it had must have been an effort on his part to sound as neutral as possible. He was thirty-six to her thirty-two, and a full rank below her. In two weeks time, she would be frocked Captain Crois Deliquoix while he would still be an LC; four full years her senior but two full ranks her junior. At fourteen years, Robert should have been reading his name on the Commissioned Officers' Promotion List for making Captain, not her. Their roles should have easily been reversed, with him at the Conn and her the Executive Officer. During her three years as a Lieutenant Commander, she had been the Executive Officer for a Patrol Fleet on a Osprey-Class Fast Attack Frigate for a year, and an Executive Officer for a Cougar-Class Assault Destroyer for a year, with a staff position on one of the Naval Bases in between; a standard rotation, if short for a 'fast-track' such as herself. Five years was nominal for a Lieutenant Commander, and Robert should have made his Commander by his tenth year in service, even at a normal pace. Neither one of them needed to say it, that pink elephant; he would never obtain Captain-rank for… whatever reason BuPers had it out for him. Crois wasn't even sure if there was a limit or not how many times one could be passed over for their 'third rope', unlike for Captain, in which the limit was three. Robert was going to do his twenty and get out a Commander. Hopefully.

"That's horse shit." The Commander said, frowning. She had read the mans' Officer Record Brief, his bi-annual Officer Evaluation Reports, and his bi-annual Fitness Reports. Everything she had read showed Robert to be a competent, solid Commissioned Officer, earning himself a degree in Engineering from the Axiom Union Military Academy (Aquila) in Richdall of Sector 0713. He was a little better than middle-of-the-road, no real 'sparkle' but no mistakes either; a solid Officer who was there when one needed them, and twice as much when things were heading into the black. Not a big risk-taker, but no bad career moves or decisions either. Good solid intelligence, an eye for details, and on top of his job.

Somewhere out there in the black, someone had a bit of a grudge. Sadly, that happened.

"Agreed." The Lieutenant Commander's tone indicated that it was best to leave the rest of that conversation alone; one generally didn't like espousing about the negative things in their life, especially on the Bridge of a ship. Crois let the subject drop as she finished reviewing the Fleet status updates, minimizing the screen to a tab and continued to look over the messages of her NavNet InBox. It took her another fifteen minutes to scan through the rest of her messages before she finally reached the first of three addressed to her personally.

The first was from Rear Admiral James Kessler, a man she had served under on numerous occasions throughout her career; two years as both a Wasp-Class Interceptor Pilot and as a Squadron Commander for the Capital-Class, the Battleship Grizzly when Kessler was a Commodore and herself a Lieutenant (junior grade) and as a Staff Lieutenant. A few years later, she was given orders for a staff position for her staff time as a Lieutenant Commander and became the Aide for the newly-frocked Rear Admiral, organizing his routines, daily business, setting appointments, reviewing hearings and reports, and attending meetings that Admiral Kessler did as the Admiral of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Prior to her becoming the Commanding Officer of the Linx, Crois had served as a Bridge Officer for the Capital-Class Battleship Kodiak where Rear Admiral Kessler commanded the Fourth Fleet (IV FLT, known as the Quetzalcoatl Fleet), serving as the ships' Navigator, its Tactical Officer, and its Gunnery Officer. As a former 'rocket jockey' himself (what Navy called Naval Astroaviators), Admiral Kessler had taken a professional shine to Lieutenant (junior grade) Crois Deliquoix when she had first arrived on the Battleship Grizzly as an Interceptor Pilot, having served a year on the Ocelot-Class Destroyer Torpedo Boat Cheetah as an Ensign rocket jockey with a bit of a hard-to-ignore reputation stapled to her name. She, after all, was a Star of Valor recipient; the Axiom Military's highest award.

They did call her the Legend Killer, after all; her callsign from after the Battle of Sector 1815.

'Saw your name on the Promotion List', Admiral Kessler's InMail began, with the tagline of 'Congrats'. 'Years of taking you under my wing and mentoring you are really paying off now for the both of us. You've always been a dedicated officer with a willingness to learn and not afraid to get your hands messy, and now it shows with you finally earning your fourth rope, especially so early. Yes, your Star of Valor is a big part of that, but you wouldn't have been accepted if your Evals, Fitnesses, and Reviews didn't reflect what I saw when you were just a little j.g. rocket jockey with a big medal on your neck and the willingness to back that up and prove that wasn't a one-time deal and that you weren't a one-trick pony. I saw potential, true, but you also followed through with it. Seeing your name marked with the approval of your Captaincy fills me with pride knowing that I molded something that was great to begin with into something even better. Hard work and dedication got you to where you're at now, and I hope you feel even better than I do with your acceptance.

'Keep this up, and I might end up having to salute you first even without you wearing your Star of Valor.

'James Kessler, RADM.'

The InMail had Crois smile as she went to the second one and was a little surprised to see one from Commander Royce Abraham Mason, her old Squadron Commanding Officer back from the Gull-Class Assault Interceptor Frigate Crow back when she was a Cadet serving her mandatory six-month shipside posting in between her Junior and Senior year at Axiom Union Military Academy (Sagittarius) in Nicholburg in Sector 1204. Royce had been a j.g. while she had been a Cadet, a cowboy rocket jockey that had been the only other Naval Astroaviator to survive the Battle of Sector 1815 with her out of ten Wasp pilots. Though she never served alongside him again, they bumped into each other over the years and made time to visit one another in a on-again, off-again fashion. Mason was, like herself, a Squadron-Grade Commanding Officer in charge of a Destroyer Patrol Fleet, though Royce had what was known as a 'heavy' Destroyer Fleet as oppose to her 'light' Destroyer Fleet; Royce commanded five Destroyers of various Classes while Crois commanded one Destroyer and four Frigates of various Classes. She hadn't known he had shipped out yet, though with the composition of his Fleet, she didn't doubt that he was patrolling the Draco Quadrant, where all the Heavy Patrols went.

'Can't believe I have to salute you now!,' was the tagline, which made Crois snort as she opened the InMail.

'Saw your name on the Promotion List, and I had to get one of the Bosuns' Mates to help pick up my jaw once I realized you made Captain at thirty-two! I still remember the little Academy brat who was practically bouncing on her toes ready to do her first CAP, me making sure I wiped the wet from behind your ears before you jumped in the cockpit, and now you're getting your fourth rope before me. Proud as hell of you, Red, I know you deserve it. Next time we're both at the same base, we'll have to hit the Officer's Club so I can buy you a drink and celebrate it properly. Chances are I'll have my fourth rope next year; thirteen years isn't too shabby either. Don't forget to hound BuShips proper to get you a real command; you're positively wasted on spitball light ships. Perhaps you'll find yourself the CO of a real ship like Cruiser or Carrier. Then you can count the days where you get to command a real Fleet; Heavy Cruiser Patrol, Carrier Fleet, no cute little Light Cruiser Fleet for you!

'Who would have thought that little redheaded kid who needed a boost to get into a cockpit would end up a big dog?

'Good luck out there, Red. Give them hell.

'Royce Mason, CDR.'

Commander Deliquoix snorted at the jib at her height; she wasn't that short. And she certainly didn't need a boost getting into a cockpit or anything else! Crois fully resolved herself to answering the InMail back to Royce when she went to her Ready Room with a few jibs of her own, probably spawning a little trigital battle of the wits between them for the next few weeks or so, as had happened before on a few occasions. Honestly, it felt good to hear from her old flightmate and former Squadron Commander, corresponding with a man she had relied upon and trusted with her life just over a decade prior.

The next InMail was from BuPers, with several attachments. One was her Orders for Promotion, and another reiterating that her times as the Commanding Officer for the Linx would be up approximately three months after the end of the deployment, with a Change-of-Command hassle involved; those were always fun. The last attachment was a tentative set of Orders pertaining to… well…

…her next command.

In the Navy, despite its many positions, there were really only about four things one could do as an Officer. As a Watch Officer, it was one's responsibility to run and maintain a department or section on a vessel, such as Engineering, Ordinance, Maintenance, Crypto, and Propulsion just to name a few. As a Deck Officer, one maintained an area of responsibility on larger vessels, such as a Cruiser, Carrier, or Capital-Class Vessel, sometimes being the Fore Torpedo Room, sometimes the Gun Deck, perhaps even the entirety of a Deck depending on the vessel and rank of the individual. As a Bridge Officer, one was generally in charge of an entire Department, such as Navigation, Tactical, Communications, and a list of others depending on the size and responsibilities of a vessel. There was Staff Officer, a 'planetside' posting that had one working officially for a berth that wasn't tied to a vessel, such as a part of the Logistical Division, Steelworks, Sail Loft, Administration, Finances, and a whole slue of positions that kept the Navy up-and-running from behind the ships and behind the scenes. Then there was Command; what every Officer wanted. For the lower Commissioned Officer ranks, Command was generally small departments and divisions such as being a Watch Officer or Deck Officer as an Ensign or a Lieutenant (junior grade). But when one reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander, Command became that of a vessel; a Corvette generally, sometimes a Frigate. The higher in rank one got, the larger the ship one commanded.

Crois had joined the Axiom Union Navy through the Axiom Union Military Academy (Sagittarius) in Nicholburg in Sector 1204 as a seventeen-year old young woman with the dreams and aspirations to being one of the so-called 'rocket jockeys'; a Naval Astroaviator for the Wasp-Class Interceptors. While she dreamed of flying a Fighter Vessel, it had a bonus dream attached to it; commanding one of those megastructure vessels that housed hundreds if not thousands of souls in the name of Man and Space. Anyone who entered into one of five Academies as a Cadet had that eventual dream; to become a Commanding Officer of one's own vessel, where lives and fate were decided upon by the decisions of just one man or woman. Of course, the reality of it wasn't so romantic, as one was always under the authority of someone, and the Commanding Officer also at the whims of the subordinates under then as well. Yet every Naval Officer dreamed of sitting in that chair, to stand upon a vessel as its highest-ranking officer, the font of all discipline, decisions, and authority. Crois remembered well the first time she stepped upon the Albatross-Class Missile Frigate Bomber Flamingo as its official Commanding Officer, hearing the Chief Petty Office of the Quarterdeck bellow out 'Attention On Deck!' when she graced the vessel with her presence for the very first when stepping onto the Gun Deck via the gangplank at the Covington Naval Shipyard in Sector 1613, the incoming Commanding Officer having finished her Change-of-Command Ceremony and Relief-in-Place with the outgoing CO, Commander Michael Rappart. That day had been the answer to that dream that she had held for almost a decade.

She had captained her own Frigate. She was captaining not only her own Destroyer, but a small Fleet as well. Now she was going to get her Captaincy with only ten years in service for the Navy, and Crois was looking at the orders that basically told her that she was going to be the Commanding Officer of what would most likely be a Cruiser within a month of her getting her official rank. She wouldn't be flying or piloting a desk at some department at one of the many Naval Ship Yards throughout Axiom Space, nor would she end up a Watch Officer, a Deck Officer, or a Bridge Officer for a Cruiser, a Carrier, or a Capital ship. She had been on the fast-track for bigger and better commands every time she was promoted, and even her staff positions had been illustrious; she had spent a year as the Aide for Rear Admiral Kessler when she had been a Lieutenant Commander, the second time she had served him, the first being when she had been assigned to the Kodiak-Class Battleship Grizzly first as a pilot and later on the Squadron Commander of a full wing. She had also spent a year directly under the command of Admiral Kessler as a Bridge Officer for the Battleship Kodiak, the Admiral giving her assignments and lessons to improve upon her leadership skills, knowledge, and decision-making skills as e groomed her for bigger and better commands.

Ten years in the Navy, and Crois Deliquoix was going to get her fourth rope and the command of a Third-Rate Cruiser.

Messages read and everything in the green, the Commander looked upon the Navy Tactical Data System's main monitor that occupied the center of the Bridge, the large pane of AeroGel-crafted SMARTglass crafted into a cylinder through the means of manufacturing Chromium Oxide in a process which would 'gel' the product while removing the liquid version in a supercritical drying state in a vacuum to render the liquid into a gas, trapping it into the synthetic porous ultralight-weight material that was structurally-sound, thermally-insulating moldable object that was lighter than breathable air per cubic meter yet able to hold the weight of a man easily. It made for highly-effective imaging equipment thanks to its low index of refraction, making ultra-high definition images that could be magnified several times over with very little loss of quality.

The NTDS monitor, known as 'the big screen' by the members of the Bridge, was currently displaying several different images in relation to the work stations of the various Enlisted crewmembers of the Linx, while the center of the trigraphic image contained a system view of the Blackleigh System as well as small relief of Sector 2708. Crois noted the positions of the Perseus Patrol Fleet, seeing a solid yellow line representing the direction and distance of travel going back a full-standard day, fading to orange for the day prior, and then to red for the day before that. Ahead of the Fleet's projected image was a dotted line indicating its advance, starting with green for the projected travel for the next Watch without changes, blue for the Watch after, and then purple for the intended destination. The slightly-curved line of travel that went above the stellar plane of Blackleigh showed that the Patrol Fleet had entered through the systems' heliosphere a day and a half before, and was going to 'tour' the system in a spiraling manner for the next several days in a triquetra configuration; generally known as the 'trinity knot'.

Traveling straight lines in space, especially in a stellar system, was generally not recommended for a wide variety of reasons, safety being the big one and fuel efficiency being the second. Ninety percent of all stellar system matter generally orbited its parent star in what was known as the 'stellar plane', where one would generally find objects of great mass such as planets, belts, asteroids, and comets orbiting the systems' core object; its star. Traveling at great velocities in an area where foreign object damage was likely was dissuaded, so most vessel traveled 'above' if heading towards the interior, and 'below' if heading outward to avoid potential near fly-bys at speeds that could ripple and damage a hull even if at distances one didn't think possible thanks to the Stellar Doppler Effect. Also traveling in the triquetra pattern was one of the most fuel-efficient ways to inspect a system while searching nearly all of its stellar area in a reasonable amount of time. The pattern would use the gravity of the systems' sun to help produce a more fuel-efficient 'burn-and-turn' when executing the long acute curve of each leg of the triquetra that would start at one end of the system and end at a terminator point at the end of the curved hypotenuse, performing the same curving leg a the same degree of turn but heading in a forty-five degree angle. After the third and final leg was finished, the ship or Fleet would end up right where it started with a large degree of space inspected by sensor sweeps along the eight electromagnetic bandwidth scales as well as the four radiation bandwidths, searching remote and rather uninhabited Sectors such as 2708 of any illegal activities or anyone trying to disguise efforts that weren't allowed in Axiom Space.

Well, those were the nice reasons, of course. There were less-pleasant ones for the extensive searches the Navy did constantly in every system in Axiom Space, after all.

Crois brought up the ships' navigational data onto her personal terminal that was connected to her chair, monitoring the speed, fuel consumption, broadcast area of the Linx's sensors; the normal 'view' that a space vessel had when traveling in space. She was pleased to see that, heading just past Blackleigh for the second time on their second curving leg, that they were actually slightly ahead of schedule thanks to 'falling' into the stars' gravity well at the right degree for maximum acceleration while minimizing their fuel consumption, shaving a few minutes off the second leg of their patrol of the Blackleigh System.

Swiping the screen aside, the Commander pulled up a static line chart that represented the sensor readings for the past several hours on both the electromagnetic scale and the radiation scale, pulling up two graphs that were populated by spiked lines that indicated the intensity of its sensor readouts with different colored lines to represent the electromagnetic scale and the hard/soft radiation scale. The graphs weren't meant to be an in-depth study of intensity, distribution, range, or magnitude like one of her Sonarmen; instead, it was just an overview for her to keep abreast with the going-ons' of the Linx. She then touched a tab that included the visual bars for the Robin, the Hummingbird, the Turkey Vulture, and the Peregrine, who were flying in the same triquetra pattern as the Linx, but with different start positions so that as much of the system could be covered as possible. In an M-Class System like Blackleigh where the heliosphere measured only twenty Astronomical Units in radius, it measured up to twelve hundred and fifty-six squared AU's in circumference. Thankfully, most systems weren't very 'thick' as it were, generally within a third to a half an AU thick, ninety percent of a systems' objects generally orbiting their star more or less along the same stellar plane within a few thousand kilometers of the Stellar X-Axis. Looking at the sensor readings of all five of her vessels, kept in integrated continuity with laser-link connectivity once per Watch, Crois was satisfied with what she saw; all was quiet in the southern front, as it were.

Well, perhaps today would be a good day for a little Drill.

"LC," Crois looked up from her personal monitor and towards Hershel as she stood from her chair after taking off her Augmented Reality Haptic Interface Glove, "I'll be in my Ready Room. Send me the updated Duty Roster along with the Promotion List to my NavNat InBox, as well as the Daily Report when it comes in at 0600. You have the Bridge, XO."

"Aye aye, ma'am." Robert stood and saluted as the Commander stepped away from the raised platform, exiting the Bridge via the rear bulkhead accessway as Lieutenant Command Robert Hershel took to the Command Seat.