Fifth Chapter WIP for 'Invisible Enemy'

Continuation from Chapter 4.

Everything written is subject to change, even the names. Also may be some continuity or plot changes from the previous chapter. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook.

Chapter 5

UCNS Venger

Chief Engineer Javier Mitchum assessed the damage within his spacesuit as he stood at the top of the long column of Venger’s Engine Room Two. It was a laser strike, and a minor one at that. The tight beam made it through the ablative armor and hull. Below him, hull technicians were patching the inner hull while damage control robots crawled outside the ship and applied nanofoam sealant and patch repairs to the outer hull. He watched the chief mechanic working with his crew as he surveyed for any other damage, climbing through the three story silo that was Engine Room Two. Red lights flashed about the compartment, warning that the atmosphere wasn’t sustainable for humans. Still, it was a lucky hit. He sighed. There was a time before the war when warships were regularly repaired to maintain peak operational performance. Now, the warships depended on their internal machining and expertise to make in-flight repairs and refits focused only on the critical issues. Venger had just gotten a major overhaul, and most systems were operating at peak efficiency. Still, it was war, and he had to admit he enjoyed the challenge of keeping the ship in one piece in combat.

He surveyed Venger’s large main engine. There was only two types of ships that had a high thrust to mass ratio: warships like and space tugs. As a corvette, Venger had one of the highest thrust to mass ratios. She was nimble and quick, and Mitchum enjoyed this ship more than any other he’d served aboard. He'd heard the Venom class had an even higher ratio, but he'd also heard of some design issues. The Anvil was a good class, and all of her surviving sisters were still in service. Plus, his propulsion team tuned the new drives to squeeze out an extra five percent performance, which seemed small, but combat advantages were measured in small numbers.

He punched the bridge code and placed a gloved hand on an interface plate, which gave him communications access to the ship circuits.

“Conn, engineering, damage report: Laser damage to port main engine coupling. Thrust limit until the replacement is seventy-five percent. Will be able to re-pressurize engine room two once outer patch complete.”

“Engineering, conn, aye. How long to you need to repair main engine two?” The OOD replied in his suit speakers. It always seemed loud in his suit though the only other sounds were his own breathing and the ship’s vibration through his hand and magnetic boots.

“Conn, engineering, repair estimate is two hours and the main engine will have to come offline. Starboard main and engine room one are operational.”

“Engineering, conn, aye.”

There was a chirp on his suit and he hit the engineering circuit button and put his hand back on the pad.

“Chief Engineer,” he opened the circuit.

“Chief, maneuvering, ready to restore compartment.”

“I concur. Remember, you don’t need my permission.”

“Yes, Cheng,” the ensign replied. Mitchum smiled. Ensign O’Malley was a good kid and would make a fine officer. He still needed coaching, however. His suit chirped again, command circuit this time. He punched the code and touched the pad.

“Chief Engineer, sir.”

“Javier, this is Jolly. How bad is it?”

“Not as bad as all that. Lost no one, if that’s what you’re asking, sir.”

“I’m asking about the Venger,” Jolly said.

Mitchum went to scratch his cheek, but the helmet got in his way. “Just a pinprick. Coupling’s warped, but serviceable. I’d like to replace it if we can spare the time. What happened, skipper?”

“Your skipper got complacent,” Jolly frowned.

Mitchum shrugged, which was hard to do in a spacesuit, but Mitchum was a big guy. He doubted the enemy got the drop on Jolly. Something more clever or implausible happened.

“Pressurizing engine room two,” the Engineering Watch Officer announced to all suits, and the lights shifted from flashing red to pulsing amber. The outer bugs must've sealed the hull. The hull technicians were just about finished. We'd have to return to Alexandria to get a permanent fix. Being near a shipyard made it easy to get repairs effected. In the outer systems, it was more problematic. Warships were hardened and hard hulled for a reason beyond battle; they had to get home.

“Five minutes and we can stow for flight,” Mitchum said.

“Fast work as always, Javier,” Jolly said.

“Like to stay in the fight, sir,” Mitchum replied, and the captain disconnected. He checked external suit monitor. He climbed through the ship, checking the engine out of habit. He stepped onto the level where his hull technicians were and Chief Hull Technician Anders was testing the patch. As he approached, his suit connected to the proximity circuit the chief was on.

“I don’t give a damn about what the skipper’s doing. I’m just tired of getting shot up. We just got Venger in shape and he volunteers as bait while the Fleet goes off for glory,” one of the junior techs named Nolan was griping.

“It’s not bait. It’s called patrol. Put more years in the crash before you talk military strategy,” Quint said.

“Bunch of fucking bullshit if you ask me. Hey, chief, how come you’re still on Venger? Ain’t you supposed to transfer off this bucket?”

Anders never moved her head from her work. “I don’t go to the best ship. I’d rather be where I’ll survive. I’m tired of this goddamn war and I want to get home. If that means keeping one ship in one piece so we can end it, I will do it. I’m sticking with our dread pirate captain. At least until his luck runs out.”

“And when it does?”

“It won’t matter won’t it, Nolan?”

“Are we done? I’m so hungry I might eat my suitgoo.”

“It’s got everything a growing boy needs,” Anders replied.

“Even you?”

Quint chuckled. “Chief’s got bigger balls than you. Don’t make her whip them out and show you.”

“That’s fuckin’ gross, Q.”

“Hey, Chief, Nolan’s thinking dirty thoughts about you. Want me to hold him down while you tea bag him?”

“I’m surprised there are any thoughts.” When she saw Mitchum, she straightened up. “Hull sealed, sir.” The proximity circuit got quiet.

“Testing the weld?”

Anders nodded with a smile. “Only takes a minute and the bots have to stow hull-side.” Anders was rough to deal with at times, but she was efficient. Wartime had made her more so. She was also due to rotate from Venger soon and was ready for a promotion to a work team on a bigger ship. The amber lights blinked green at the same time their suits gave a happy chirp. Mitchum hit the retract so he could talk. The air was still thin and his ears popped. Anders did the same, showing short tight curls of auburn hair around a hardened face and dark eyes. She still smiled. She checked the tab, pulling it from the stop cord on her suit. “A laser strike, sir. What’s the plan?”

“Plan is we get into our crash couches and hold on. Skipper won't give us any time. We have a sub to hunt down.”

“You heard the man, get your asses stowed,” Anders barked without hesitating. She tossed the test kit to Nolan, who threw it over his back. The two men, Quint and Nolan, hiked up the ladder well Mitchum just departed. The other, a hull tech named DeGrasse, went down toward the bottom where the drive cone met the hull. Mitchum looked at the patch as a matter of formality. It was excellent work. “You didn’t come down here to see my sorry ass, did you sir?” Anders asked.

Mitchum had to admit that was true. He liked Anders a lot. They’d even been together when he was the navigator for at a time. That had to change when he’d been promoted to Chief Engineer. Another tour on board Venger and he may end up as XO when Kowan moves on for command. The ship had a crew and there were rules regarding the chain of command. Used to be no one could date or be together onboard ships, even back in the ancient days of naval power planet side. Things had to change in space. Time away from home was measured in more than a year, and now that this godforsaken war was on, a year extended to two or even three, with leave spent only where shore was available. The rules had relaxed somewhat though there were clear restrictions in place for superior/subordinate relationships and concise documentation. It sounded ridiculous, and perhaps it was, but the Fleet had to make sense of women and men serving together for years at a time. Relationships closer than crew and friendships often formed. Sometimes, couples served on ships together from ship to ship. They also had a long time to work out the kinks, but the Fleet settled into conformity. “I’d thought we’d hit a mine at first.”

“I love your sweet talk, sir,” Anders chuckled. “But I know what hitting a mine feels like. This wasn’t no mine. This was a laser strike from the enemy. Hope the skipper knows.”

“He does,” Mitchum put a gloved hand on Anders’ shoulder. She frowned and looked him in the eye, but put a gloved hand on his suit.

“I’m good, sir.”

Mitchum nodded and dropped his hand. He turned and went up the ladder toward Maneuvering. He hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time he saw her, but war held no promises. Friends and lovers were gone in an instant. He hoped to hell he could do it to them first.

His mind turned to the problem of the sub. Why had the ship holed their main engine compartment rather than torpedoing them? It could’ve been a matter or range and speed. Torpedoes in space can only turn and speed up within limits….

He jogged to the nearest pad and stamped the command circuit.

“Figured it out, have we?” Jolly replied.

“Yes, the sub passed us by.”

“And we would’ve taken the bait. Head to your crash couch. We will shake them before they decide to hole us.”

“Aye, sir,” Mitchum said and ran to his crash station as the ship’s maneuver alarm sounded.

Ken BritzComment