THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Sadly, this story has been turned down for publication many times, which makes me sad because it's the first one I wrote "seriously" and it's supposed to be a comedy. It's also quite long...
Trillions of miles from anywhere, the ships of two mighty but very different empires pass, flashing, in the night. Usually, and for good reason, they would never meet...
Major Gordon Banks could see nothing except the endless panorama of space through the plexiglass of the massive forward ports. But the Galatic Patrol Ship Defiant's scanner crystals had definitely been perturbed by something - something packing a bigger punch than even an atomic pile at near-critical, so by rights it should be plainly visible. On the cramped command bridge a small crew of men in the League of Planets (Galactic Patrol) uniform watched row after row of indicators, screens and dials. They were still on yellow alert after their encounter with a strange dimensional warp that had flung them hundreds of thousands of miles off course.
"Go to red alert. Raise defensive screens, power up all batteries, load torpedo tubes, ready null-field generators, auxiliary reactors to stand-by, seal emergency bulkheads!"
A chorus of "Ayes" followed the Major's orders.
Defiant had been out from Galactic Patrol HQ nearly six months now. Her crew was one of the best the League had to offer - and the League only took the best to begin with - but they were tired of space and wanted to go home. Uniforms were crumpled, chins were stubbled and six months of bruises from banging into superstructure beams and hull struts gave them all a less than salubrious appearance. Defiant herself had been a gleaming streamlined needle when they'd left Earth, proudly displaying the three-suns-chained-together insignia of the League. Now her drive tubes were blackened and her hull scarred and pitted, all shine lost to the ravages of interstellar space. Still she was a force to be reckoned with.
The chief engineer's voice belched through the tannoy at the rear of the bridge: "Major, the atomic pile's holding at max."
"Thank you, Mr O'Reilly. Hold till I give the word."
O'Reilly coughed, but there was a muffled "Aye aye, sir" followed by a click as he thumbed his com-circuit off.
The Mighty Grace slid back into normal space, flaring briefly with Cerenkov radiation before vanishing from all sight, moulding itself seamlessly to fit the space-time topography until it was all but empty again. A constantly shifting, dividing and combining array of Escherian modules and paisley field extrusions, the Mighty Grace was never still, never twice the same.
Inside, Als van Vogt Projena exocon was tense in shipspace, the computer generated sensorium that was the world of the Mighty Grace and her optional human crewmembers whilst in flight.***
"What is that, Nosine?"
Eska mal Curloe Nosine exonom yawned but swung out a full sensor array towards the thing, mapping, analysing and configuring its structure directly through the craft's sensors in looksee mode. Currently as blind as Projena in normal terms, the sensorium made them both practically omniscient within the Mighty Grace's systems. Nosine affected a highly stylised multi-channel emotor symbol of "vexed-unfamiliarity-with-an-absurd-proposition". A shrug in some ways.
Minor AIs sped through all possible solutions: an artwork? A practical joke? Eccentric project? Hallucination? Borgesian slip?
After conferring with all shipboard entities, Nosine summarised their conclusions. The thing contained 25 human beings just like Projena and Nosine, albeit in an entirely basic state. It was emitting hard radiation from all over at a prodigious rate, bristling with potentially dangerous…stuff. Potentially more worrying was that it seemed to have come from the same place as the Mighty Grace too: Earth, as an emissary of some outrageous organisation calling itself The League of Planets. AIs hooted and screamed and denied all knowledge that such an organisation had ever existed. There was nothing on, around or from Earth or any of its related communities, polises and adjuncts called The League of Planets, and fortunately there had never been anything like the thing which was apparently called "Defiant" (or perhaps "The Defiant" - it wasn't quite clear).
Eyes bugging out through sensory channels Projena and Nosine looked over (The) Defiant, isolating, dissecting, listening, empathising, and even tickling it. Blissfully unaware of this examination, Defiant's crew were doing some looking themselves.
There was no further trace of the alien ship's presence. A young but drawn looking Ensign "Sparky" Watts swung his chair around from the banks of scanner crystals to look at the Major in the relatively bright centre of the bridge.***
"Nothing, sir. Could it have been another short circuit?"
"We've been having problems with this bloody equipment for weeks now, son. I dread to think."
"I can check the circuits again, Major. That'll help."
"Do it quickly son. We stay at yellow alert until we're completely sure there's nothing waiting for us. If anyone is letting rip with that kind of power then the League needs to know about it."
"Major, we ought to report this to Galactic Patrol HQ...just in case." Communications Officer Charles Murray was a deeply cautious man with an impeccably pressed uniform and a most through grounding in Galactic Patrol directives. He continued to stare over at the Major, who nodded without looking.
Sparky jumped up suddenly from his console where he had been expertly shuffling the scanner crystals in front of him.
"Got them, Major! Ahh…no, it's gone again. Just off the port bow, only a blip but it was there. I can't understand how they're avoiding our detectors. I'm switching to third level emitters, they can't possibly avoid them!"
"Message sent, Major," added Murray.
The Major nodded sagely.
The Mighty Grace was just as unhappy.***
An Infinitesimal-Level ZipShip, the Mighty Grace supported just two human passengers on experiential trips of a standard six-month duration. It wasn't a very fast, powerful, large or especially clever ship. Carrying two youngsters like Projena and Nosine it had no reason to be.
This far out from the cosy confines of the Integrated Confederation of Standard Intelligent Class Entities of Sol Environs they were (almost) on their own. Although Majestic level AIs could be accessed for real emergencies, Nosine and Projena were supposed to be learning how to make decisions.
Just now they were learning how to have an argument.
Pulling back from looksee footage of (The) Defiant, Nosine confronted Projena in shipspace with a recommendation for immediate contact, which Projena refused. Ship guidance momentarily wavered within the inordinately complicated democratic system by which the Mighty Grace was controlled as a physical and mental extension for them both, interpreting the unprecedented confusion of intent as a partial uncloaking.
The Mighty Grace sizzled into being on a limited frequency range just three kilometres behind and below the (The) Defiant. Nosine and Projena goggled at each other (figuratively speaking), recloaked and crash-jumped the Mighty Grace away.
There was a good deal of consternation afoot aboard Defiant. The sudden appearance and disappearance of the mysterious vessel less than two miles away had blazed across Sparky's scanner crystals like a solar flare, prompting the Major to bang a sweaty fist onto the battle stations alarm. Klaxons wailed, red lights blinked and the so-often-idle crew leapt to a near hysterical state of readiness.***
Atomic torpedoes dropped into launch tubes, hair triggers tensed, ray emitters span restlessly searching for targets, Gunnery Lieutenants Jones and Kelly practically flew along the narrow crawl-spaces into the main gunnery positions to port and starboard, slipping into their small turrets and eyeing the darkness outside with suspicion. Defiant was ready for anything.
The Major flicked his com-circuit to All Stations.
"Listen up, we are now at red, repeat red, alert. An unknown ship has been detected which must be found and… contacted. We will remain at red alert till the ship has been, er, accounted for. That is all."
The Major's voice echoed back at him along the thin metal of Defiant's corridors, which transmitted all vibration quite exceptionally well.
From three-quarters of a million kilometres off the Mighty Grace sheepishly arced back towards (The) Defiant. Nosine had conceded the argument to Projena, primarily because of the prodigious amounts of unambiguous effort (The) Defiant seemed to be expending in trying to shoot them down.
Roused specially for just such occasions as these, the Battlecom, a deliberately rude and unpleasant specialist AI system, was sanguine about their ability to stand up to anything (The) Defiant could throw at them.***
Both humans had agreed that discretion was temporarily the better part of valour. (The) Defiant was a death trap, but more for its own crew than the Mighty Grace. The damaging emanations pouring from every orifice were barely shielded with primitive alloys and basic EM deflection techniques. (The) Defiant's weaponry also had to actually connect with the Mighty Grace first, and since the human crew aimed and fired everything manually this was unlikely in the extreme.
Nosine had dropped back from Battlecom Tactical into shipspace on reading the summary and had picted an image of "deep-scepticism-at-a-very-poor-joke/please-explain -now" at Projena and could they please decide on either "Defiant" or "The Defiant", anything but "(The) Defiant".
Projena ignored the pict and continued examining Defiant's records which they'd eventually managed to download after discovering the very dull majority of them to be on a magnetic tape storage system.
They faced a dilemma: Defiant's crew were all absorbing a nasty dose of radiation, a dose which Projena's check on their medical records had shown was not readily treatable since the medical facilities they had were astonishingly crude. If truth be told Defiant shouldn't really have been in space at all. The unisex nature of the crew (all male and proud of it) might be explained by the radiation levels but apparently dictated that there was no sexual release on board either, which led to a certain psychotic degree of free testosterone in the air. And since the cause of the damaging radiation levels was Defiant's high level of battle readiness, its atomic pile (of all things!) racing at maximum output in response to the Mighty Grace's appearance, they really ought do something about this. Or so Integrated Confederation of Standard Intelligent Class Entities of Sol Environs Moral Protocols suggested.
"What did you get, Sparky?" asked the Major, swinging his chair round and cutting the alarm klaxons to a conversational level. Another squinting scanner technician, woken from an off-duty period, had joined Sparky, and moved to take the place of the young ensign as he turned from the crystal grid.***
"Major, I had a trace leading off to 02-45-50, but it's very faint and brief. Those fellahs could be anywhere. I'm scanning on 4th level frequencies, sir, but..." He spread his palms.
"Keep looking, son." came the reply. "No response from your end I take it, Mr Murray?"
"No sir, they're not responding. I'm continuing to broadcast on all frequencies."
The Major thumbed his worn com-circuit and bent back to the speaker grille.
"Mr O'Reilly, how are we holding?" The grille buzzed and popped with static for just a second.
"We're holding for the moment, Major, but we'll have to damp the pile down soon. Things are gettin' awful hot." The engineer was shouting over a steady whine on the com-circuit.
"Can you give us another 15 minutes?"
There was a sigh over the tannoy. "That I can, sir, but no more. We're built for fightin', Major, not waitin'."
"Acknowledged Mr O'Reilly, Banks out. Mr Johns?"
Johns, a moustachioed corporal with a British accent was based in one of the bridge's darker corners. He whirled around.
"Power up the null-field generator. Ready to activate on my mark."
"Sparky, you heard them, son. Don't let me down."
Nestled snugly deep in a sub-spatial hyperfold, the Mighty Grace was a hive of invisible, undetectable, incomprehensible activity. Nosine was getting ready for any surprises Defiant could conceivably come up with (pointlessly, since AI systems had finished doing it an hour ago, but even the Battlecom had enough social skills to stop it pointing out the total redundancy of Nosine's well-intentioned contribution). The process, augmented by an army of specialist systems, normally took just seconds to plot for an entire Splinter Dust Fleet of microssiles on random subspace convergence vectors (assuming them all CAM-capable, of course) but had been taken almost five minutes working on Defiant's bizarre capabilities.***
Nosine had narrowed the shipspace comlink to a slim contact thread because Projena kept trying to interrupt. The narrow thread bulged as the bored Projena's "Let's-talk!" requests backed up along it. When they began to get whiny Nosine transposed inputs back to shipspace and Projena.
They had a problem.
Nosine could have sworn the gel support quivered as Projena watched the sitrep, but that was, of course, impossible. Still Projena had switched to audio only, interface window a slow pulsing purple, either overloaded or censored.
"How-can-that-be?" Projena picted with distinct overtones of concern for Nosine's competence.
The plain fact was there: Defiant's technology did not work, something their initial scans had failed to notice. AIs couldn't always check for everything: if a craft was obviously there and functioning, you didn't check the basic physical principles underlying it. You shouldn't need to.
It wasn't that Defiant didn't work on an engineering level - it quite blatantly did - it was that Defiant shouldn't/couldn't work/exist (even Mighty Grace's high-level communications channels had trouble with nuances of meaning here). Atomic piles to drive it, an energy sensitive crystalline lattice as its primary sensors, armed with "Ray emitters" and "Atomic torpedoes", something (Majesty knew what) big, spherical and heavy called a "null-field generator", no radiation or acceleration shielding for the crew, not even any proper computer assist; a magnetic tape records storage facility, and finally the dismal array of leisure and recreation facilities for the unisex crew. Scans had noted five chessboards (but only three full sets of pieces) and a medicine ball, if that could be included under leisure facilities.
Projena in particular was sceptical about this.
Sparky, greasy young face twisted with concentration, was outlining a plan to Major Banks, who sat tight-lipped, eyes wandering.***
"So if we send a massive null-radiation pulse out it should show us where the alien is. And sir, if we don't vent some of our energy soon we're going to hit critical anyway. A single broadside of null-rads will do us all a favour. It's probably our best bet for, er, contacting the alien."
The Major's red eyes rolled around to look at the youthful tech,
"Son, you just earned yourself a full commendation if you can get that crazy idea to work. How long will it take?"
Sparky had a grin big enough to fill the bridge on his face as he looked up at the Major.
"Give me five minutes to reroute the projectors, Major."
Nosine and Projena were still arguing in shipspace when one of the Noteworthy-Event-Alerts whirled madly around them. A ring of small ports encircling the Defiant's enormous single hull irised mechanically open.***
All of the Mighty Grace's systems more complicated than the nutrient regulators stopped to watch. A human analogue of the Battlecom would have given an ugly grin and cracked its knuckles.
A cloud of what looked like smoke blew out from the Mighty Grace and swarmed towards the Defiant.
"Projector rerouted, Major. We can fire at your discretion."***
The Major's eyes narrowed as he stared out through the front ports.
"Everyone keep their eyes tight on those scopes. Mr Jones, Mr Kelly, hold fire; wait for my mark."
There was a short, reflective pause.
"Let 'em have it, Sparky."
Sparky's thin young fist banged down on the activator plate. Sparks leapt from individual crystals as unimaginable swathes of null-radiation poured from Defiant's titanic central atomic pile, through projectors and across space. Defiant glowed with the stupendous reams of energy, whose smallest fraction, undirected, could have destroyed her. Space itself rippled and flared under the onslaught of those gargantuan forces.
Havoc reigned for a moment, but the crew, no matter how weary they might be of the void, were veteran spacers. Red emergency lights flickered on to reveal Sparky braving singed fingers to replace blown crystals on his board.
"We have them Major. 24-03-98 at almost 700 miles."
The Major steepled his fingers, then reversed them outwards, knuckles popping and cracking.
All of the Mighty Grace's non-biological components were braced for impact a whole second before the wavefront hit. Brisk and businesslike, the Battlecom locked the human crew safely into a stasis bubble, field-sealed the craft and threw it into subspace, projecting only a working effector image of the Mighty Grace into normal space.***
It was just barely enough. Indeterminate massive anti-particle analogues roared across the effector image in normal space, drenching it in raw seamless energy that made it glow with the intensity of a ship-sized supernova. If the Mighty Grace had actually been there it would probably have been a ship-sized supernova. As it was the energy boiled up along the effector channels like flood water and only some very smart and lucky refractive safety delays built into the effector units slowed and diverted the tide sufficiently to dissipate it without destroying all the effector modules.
Projena and Nosine were both reintroduced out of the stasis bubble, screaming as loudly as they had been when it was imposed just seconds before. Both stopped.
"Wha-?" began Projena, always the quicker witted. Nosine promptly fainted.
In shipspace Projena's eyes rolled at the Battlecom which, in a superhuman display of tact for a Battlecom, having explained the situation, remained mute.
There was a strong smell of ozone aboard Defiant.***
"Jones, Kelly, hold your fire. Keep the alien covered. Mr Murray, updates to Patrol HQ. Mr O'Reilly, take us in towards it, very slowly and very carefully."
"Sir," Sparky was stood at the Major's shoulder and spoke quietly. "Crystals are giving us all kinds of nonsense on that ship, sir. We can't tell what it's made of, how many crew, what's powering it - anything, sir."
"What have you got, Johns?"
"Major, all our sensors reading from the target are nonsense. It doesn't make any sense."
"Sparky?" The Major turned, arm crooked around the back of his chair to look at the ships' young whiz kid. Sparky's trademark specs were held in one hand under his chin, and he squinted towards the bow.
Murray coughed. "Updated mission report sent, Major."
The Major raised his other hand in acknowledgement, still looking at the rapt Sparky.
A crash of static rolled from the bridge tannoy, followed by a howl of feedback, intolerable in the close confines of the bridge. Everyone winced except for the Major, who looked askance at the aft bulkhead with gritted teeth.
Even Kelly's rough tones came as a relief after that:
"Major! The shields! Look at the shields!"
Out the immense forward ports, Defiant's energy shields could be seen glowing in a finely plotted geometric grid, like lace.
The Mighty Grace was most assuredly over the event horizon without gravitic compensators. Only a nominal working effector presence in normal space, bandwidth through to the field image only 15% of normal, facing an impossible ship, days away from any help and one human crew member refusing to come round from a faint.***
Projena's own adrenalin levels began to fluctuate. Psych-monitors flipped and began cooing and stroking in shipspace, trying to reassert the more useful aspects of Projena's intellect back into their normal role.
The (frankly disgusted) Battlecom gave a listing of 131 feasible responses. 29 were instant death for all concerned (flat in matt black), a further 100 (in embossed red) had less than 50% survival rates (94 expected both craft to be destroyed, six saw only the Mighty Grace survive), and two (both in cheerful 3D orange) gave the Mighty Grace odds better than 85% to both survive and assist the Defiant.
The small Battlecom sprite resurfaced alongside Projena's shipspace presence and grinning inanely gave a confident thumbs-up.
"Major, shields show incursions at all points in a precise array. It looks like a...some kind of...net, sir."***
One of the Major's grizzled fists was in front of his mouth, but his gruff voice could still be heard.
"Mr O'Reilly, get us out of here. Heading 45-40-15, full thrust. Mr Johns, ready for another null-radiation burst, exactly as before. If that doesn't..."
The Major's voice trailed as he narrowed his eyes at the front ports. The lacy pattern overlaying their shield perimeter rippled and faded. Johns' moustache twitched as he followed the Major's eyes.
"Quickly Johns, bring the projectors around for a short range broadside. Now!"
Eyes wide and eyebrows raised, Sparky had stepped back from the scanner crystals. Some were still burnt out, but the remainder were flickering madly.
"Major!" said Sparky, his body turning to face his superior, eyes still glued to his instruments.
"Major, sensors have lit up like a Christmas tree, sir! Something's trying to get through the shields, sir!"
"What the hell is going on here!? Mr Johns, we need the null-field blast. All crew into space-armour. Hull lights on full - no, belay that order. Where is that bloody alien?"
"Still off the port bow, Major."
A klaxon whooped through the ship as the crew raced for their space armour. Struggling into his, Johns bellowed an all-clear for the broadside. Sparky was poised, as always, and hit the activator plate again hard.
The scanner crystal board dimmed, radiance flooded through all the viewports and a drifting smoke-like haze was illuminated all round the ship. Then the deep roar of Defiant's tremendous twin engines began to rise.
This time the Battlecom knew what to expect, although it was fortunate the broadside of unknown radiation from the Defiant was not now actually being targeted against it.***
Projena and Nosine were able to watch the spectacular energy crest rush towards them but quickly dissipate to lap mostly harmlessly against the normal space field-presence, which flexed slightly under the onslaught before snapping back into shape.
Defiant's twin exhaust vortices of cold hard radiation washed over them as the ship prepared to depart.
Projena was outraged.
"That's-outrageous/We-might-have-been-unshielded+Look-how-far-those-plumes-go/" Ever the fan of BRUTALIST! Art, the Battlecom watched with frank admiration.
A small AI piped up from behind its auspices with colourful holos of the plumes, their trajectory, potential obstacles, likely duration, damaging genetic effects etc. Projena posted a semi-interrogative image: Charles-Atlas/kicking-sand/at-a-schematic-of-the-Mighty-Grace.
The harassed-looking Battlecom accomplished the equivalent of turning from what it was doing to look exasperatedly at the presences of the two humans.
It grew a mortarboard, gown and pointer, and rapped it pointedly for attention. Somewhat unfamiliar with this way of doing things both Nosine and Projena obediently watched and then leapt to watch the plucky Battlecom's inspired attempts to save them all - Defiant included.
Major Gordon Olaf Banks, Commanding Officer aboard The League of Planets' Asimov Class Cruiser Defiant, currently on patrol in the Delta quadrant, 6 months out with just two weeks duty remaining, was ready to retire from the Galactic Patrol. From a career viewpoint he'd been ready for this for some time; now he was also ready emotionally.***
Defiant's magnificent atomic engines were forcing her through the void at an ever-increasing speed, putting out enough energy every second to power a modern city for a year. The space around her still glowed residually from the forces her null-field generators had recently unleashed. Space ahead was twisted and skeined in ultraviolet shades by the awesome magnetic shield generators encased in her prow.
2nd Lieutenant Charles Murray, Communications Officer on Defiant scribbled assiduously into the notebook on his console, transcribing events for an emergency communications torpedo to be launched for the nearest League Station light years distant should the Major's precautions prove insufficient.
Ensign "Sparky" Gulliver lay beneath the scanner console, re-routing and replacing blown crystals. There came the occasional clink of glass on glass as the young man's specs knocked against the faceplate of his armour.
In the two low gunnery blisters, port and starboard, 1st Lieutenants (Gunnery) Jones and Kelly sat hunched over the twin handles of the ray emitters at their disposal. Neither blinked.
Back in the steel cavern that was Defiant's engine room Chief Engineer George O'Reilly was shaking his armoured head, first at the clutch of assistants around him, then at the glowing containment sphere which contained the star-like energies driving Defiant. He looked at his wrist chronometer for the third time that particular minute.
In the spaces between hull-plates, in outlet valves, scanner mountings, torpedo ports, airlock hinges, anywhere a seam crossed or a joint met, all across Defiant's hull and, increasingly, inside, a hidden menace grew.***
The Mighty Grace fully snapped back into normal space. Inside there was an explosion of graphics utility memory usage as Projena and Nosine picted celebrations of their incredibly brave and resourceful escape from the black jaws of doom back and forth across shipspace.
Battlecom, recognising the need for calm and order, rushed to dampen their enthusiasm with a cap on all frivolous graphics utility usage, appeals for calm and some blatant hormone manipulation.
Nosine and Projena now watched with solemn attention as the relieved Battlecom of the fully reconstituted Mighty Grace rolled the ship down a steep groove in the fabric of space-time to take invisible station in the lee between the Defiant's twin drives, only metres behind the huge ship.***
The crew of Defiant were breathing again after the alien craft seemed to have been destroyed. Unfortunately they now seemed haunted by an unseen presence that was causing a certain amount of havoc onboard.***
Space engineers were notorious for their drunken tales of cursed reactors, ghosts of long-dead fitters roaming ships' darker corners, or the spirits of ancient aliens attracted to the lights of craft traversing the void, and Defiant's engineers excelled in this area as they did in their technical prowess. When the com-circuit had crackled out of operation a few minutes ago, following a host of confused messages from O'Reilly, the Major had recalled Jones and Kelly from their turrets and sent them both, armed with pistols, to see what had happened.
More than likely it was only Clarke, the ship's cat, coughing up a furball over the innards, but coming this close on the tail of their rattling encounter with the strange alien intruder, the Major didn't want to take any chances.
Murray had taken an inspection plate from the rear bulkhead to the check the com-circuit at this end, and was rattling about with a screwdriver inside.
"Sparky, anything to report?" asked the Major.
With a sigh of air from puffed cheeks the young tech looked at the Major and shook his head, no.
Johns, in the twilight of the null-field console, was scratching his head and wearing a good-natured smile of bemusement, pulling up short as he saw Banks watching him.
The Major rubbed a hand across his stubbly chin.
"Sparky, anything to report, lad?"
Sparky's open mouth closed as he turned around and shook his head again. A raucous, many-voiced cheer emanated from somewhere down the access corridor, making Johns grin. Something funny was probably going on here.
"Sparky…" began the Major.
The Mighty Grace's work on the Defiant was proceeding as planned. The Battlecom had pronounced itself satisfied and much to the relief of all the other systems aboard had returned to the emergency store from whence it came.***
A bored Nosine had retreated into a shipspace sim, but Projena continued to watch the Defiant and it's inhabitants.
The nanoswarm was completely overhauling Defiant, an unusual step that the Battlecom had deemed necessary after that overbearing use of mutually damaging force which had almost removed them from normal space.
A deeper search of possibilities had revealed some tenuous links to Defiant; very tenuous, hence the ridiculous time the search had taken. Similarities with Defiant had been noted in some preserved mid-20th century entertainment.
"Science fiction..." began the report. Projena flicked it away, bored already, and slipped into Nosine's sim to see what was happening. A host of monitor AIs continued patiently watching and directing the inconceivable level of activity, from the atomic level upwards, on board Defiant.
Nosine's psych-monitors blushed briefly pink as Projena inputted the sim.
There had been a few changes on board Defiant in the last twenty or so minutes. Those miserable stanchions on the corner by the rec-room, the ones that had caught everyone a blow to the head at some point, had retreated into the softly glowing walls, the softly glowing walls that now substituted for those horrible sickly light tubes that had previously given everything such an unhealthy pallor. The new walls had better acoustics too; Defiant was quieter. It also smelt different, unobtrusively fresh - sharp after the old stifling locker-room haze.***
Inconceivable as it sounded, the Major was now lost on his own ship. Checking the com-circuit on the soft walls the Major broke out into a broad grin when it informed him, politely, that the rest of the crew were in the vicinity of the engine room.
The polite voice from the com-circuit screen offered to direct him, and furthermore indicated a small chute beneath which dispensed a delicious Sirian brandy. Peeling off his space armour and uniform in the delicious dry heat he continued, bright-eyed, on his way down to the engine room.
Another pleasant but unfamiliar voice sang through the air.
"Hello everyone. Just to tell you all that radiation emissions everywhere in the ship have now been reduced to exceptionally safe levels. That's exceptionally safe. Thank you!"
The Major whistled happily as he strode along Defiant's warm and welcoming corridors towards the engine room. Another Sirian brandy in hand, he couldn't remember having last felt this...this...marvellous!
A vague guilt nagged at him - they were still technically on patrol and should be looking for disgusting alien intruders; but at that moment as the Major turned the corner a wall mural came into view depicting the Defiant as she had looked upon leaving Earth - utterly glorious! The Major's head swam as he looked at it, taking another large snifter of brandy. He was almost certain this hadn't been there before.
The large swimming pool and accompanying furniture were certainly new additions to the engine room, he thought briefly, distracted by the sight of a distinctly out-of-uniform Mr Murray racing past towards the pool.
"Captain's privilege, Mr Murray," grinned the Major, placing an admonishing hand upon Murray's shoulder before diving into the delicious water of the pool.
"There's plenty for everybody!"
Momentarily crestfallen, Murray then screamed with delight as he was flung far into the churning waters by Lieutenants Jones and Kelly.
It's refinements upon Defiant concluded, the Mighty Grace siphoned its drives up to optimum, on its way once more. Nosine and Projena remained en-sim but would certainly be pleased to learn, upon emergence, of the extensive remodelling and conditioning, and its enormous success both for the Mighty Grace and Defiant.***
Most of the nanoswarm would be shutting down soon, becoming inert molecular dust once more. A maverick group of AIs on board Mighty Grace had volunteered to stay with Defiant and follow her home through the strange dimensional warp that had brought her here in the first place.
Onboard the recently rechristened Defiant (now the "What Galactic Patrol?") Mr Johns turned the music on the sound system up even louder.