A larger universe requires more people, more places, and more things. You’ve seen how I handled Anderson’s approach to Nightwind for the first time in the original book. Now…well, let’s just see.
Venus Shipyards was a tiny, bright dumbbell hanging against the darkness of space. David could have increased the magnification and filled the viewscreen with the image of the station but he refrained. If he could see the shipyards he would certainly be able to see the ships. The ship. His ship.
“You know you can change the magnification,” his companion said, seemingly reading his thoughts.
“Okay, then.” Commander Jenkins fell silent again.
The pair sat alone on the cramped command deck of the Earth Command frigate Coyote. He’d been a passenger aboard the tiny ship for almost a month, from when he departed his old command at Ishtar Station, through the long passage to Earth, and now the short hop to Venus. The ship had an odd reputation in the fleet, as its crew rarely ever turned over and were legendarily tight-lipped among the rest of the gossip-loving Earth Command Navy. David finally understood why.
“You know, Commander, I feel I owe you an apology,” Anderson said.
“Oh?” Commander Jenkins turned towards him and raised an eyebrow. “Whatever for?”
“I…” he paused, searching for the least offensive words he could muster, “I guess I had always assumed that you were a failure of an officer in charge of a ship full of misfits.”
Jenkins laughed. “Then I’ve done my job, captain.”
“I finally realized that just now.”
Commander Tonya Jenkins was in her mid-forties and had been in command of the Coyote for twelve years. Such a long tenure in a relatively low post was almost unheard of in the Earth Command Navy. The little frigates were seen as testing grounds and the first steps on the way to the bigger patrol ships. David himself had spent all of six months serving aboard the Peacemaker before transferring to the Wyvern.
“I wanted the Coyote when she first launched,” Jenkins said. “Rumor had it she and the Raven were test beds for new alien technology. I was actually offered the Wyvern, but turned it down. The rumors,” She paused to pat one of the consoles, “Turned out to be wrong. Nothing on this ship other than good, old-fashioned Earth tech.”
“That must have been a disappointment.”
“Not at all. She was still a brand-new ship. We don’t get too many of those in Earth Command.”
“True enough. But she’s not new anymore.”
“No,” Jenkins shook her head. “But that’s not why I’m still here. About six months after I took command Admiral Belden called me to a secret meeting on Luna base. She told me about the Venus Shipyard expansion and said that she would need to read a few select commanders in on some of the secret projects she was running. She flat told me that if I accepted the position it would probably hurt my career. I’d probably be a Commander in charge of a tiny ship for a very long time and if I told anyone what I had learned I’d probably spend a very long time deep down in an extremely dark hole somewhere.”
“And you decided that was the best move?”
Jenkins sighed. “I wanted to be Admiral Belden when I was coming up through the ranks. I studied her career. I read and re-read all of her reports. The more I read the more I realized that there’s one thing Belden has that I quite simply do not.”
“I don’t know,” she shook her head, “I just don’t know. And that’s why she has it but I don’t. Some of us are born to greatness. Some of us find greatness within ourselves. Some of us look upon greatness from the outside. I would have given anything to be Admiral Belden. Now I’m happy to just say that I’ve given everything to support Admiral Belden.” She fell silent.
David stared at the viewscreen as the Shipyards slowly grew. They were close enough now that he could just barely begin to make out a second structure, just below the shipyards themselves. From a distance it just looked like a slightly bulging line. He knew it was the Nightwind, launched from the Shipyards and waiting for its final component.
“What do you know about the project itself?” David asked.
“Only what they tell me.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure. You’ll know more than me soon enough, I suppose.”
“Do you think I can do this?”
“I doubt you’d have the job if you couldn’t.”
“Admiral Belden told me,” David paused for a moment, “She told me that I was being assigned to the Nightwind because I’m the most prominent Martian officer in Earth Command. So while I’m excited to be here I feel that I just have the job because of politics.”
“I’m sure there’s more to it than that. No one would be foolish enough to assign someone to such an important post based entirely on how it will look in the news vids. Especially not Admiral Belden.”
“I haven’t been able to help thinking of George McClellan ever since I left Earth.”
“Who’s that? A failed ship captain?”
“No,” David shook his head. “George B. McClellan was a general in the American Civil War. It was fought almost exactly five hundred years ago by men armed with muskets and riding on horseback. The ships were mostly wooden and powered by wind, but the first ever battle between armored, self-propelled warships happened.”
“And George B. McClellan was in charge of one of those?”
“He was in charge of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union army in the war. He was a brilliant organizer and commanded the loyalty of his men like few others could. But in the field he was a terrible general who nearly lost his army to inferior forces led by better men time and time again. So he was fired.”
“As it should be.”
“Shortly thereafter the army suffered a major defeat and McClellan was brought back. No one in charge wanted him. But they recognized that they had a choice between a poor general who could keep the army together and poor generals who couldn’t even do that much.”
Jenkins stared at the slowly expanding Venus Shipyards for a long moment. “I’m sure that Admiral Belden would not have given you the position you’re in if it were solely political. The situation with Mars is delicate, but I believe that a poor showing by the captain of the Nightwind would make things much, much worse while your personal background won’t help all that much.”
“Besides,” Jenkins smiled, “You don’t really have to do too much. The Nightwind’s sister ships are launching soon. All you have to do is tour the colonies and wave the flag. How hard could all of that be?”
David fell silent again. They were close enough that the thin line below the Shipyards was beginning to resolve into the form of the ECS Nightwind. He could make out the arrowhead-shaped fore section and see the tiniest bit of space between it and the long, ovoid main hull. The spars holding the main drives seemed delicate, impossibly fragile.
“Prepare for maneuvers, Captain,” Jenkins said.
Coyote had accelerated out from Earth at nearly 1 g mere hours after David’s meeting with Belden three days before. Halfway through the trip the little frigate had flipped end for end and began decelerating, also at 1 g. By now her speed had bled off relative to the shipyards and she was free to maneuver normally.
“I never allow my crew on the command deck during the final approach,” Jenkins said. “I cut off all external feeds to the crew area. You never can be too careful.”
“Thank you for trusting me,” David said.
She laughed. “It’s my pleasure.” She pressed a few buttons on her command interface. “All hands, prepare for maneuvers,” she said into the bridge microphone.
The viewscreen cut off. A moment later the rumbling of the main drive ceased and gravity cut out. Lateral thrusters kicked in and the ship spun around on its axis. After a moment the main drive fired off again in a brief pulse and then went silent.
The viewscreen lit up again. Nightwind filled the view. It felt like they would crash into the forward section in moments.
“Dramatic, Commander,” David said. “But you can turn the magnification down again.”
“Same magnification, sir. We’re here.”
The edge of the arrowhead fell away and for a brief moment he could see space through the thick columns connecting the hull sections together. Then they were sweeping along the main hull. It was smooth, but slightly mottled. He knew that each of those imperfections marked the location of a sensor hub, repair hatch, or weapon cover. They were simply moving too fast to make out any specific details.
The spar holding the ventral engine loomed up ahead of the frigate. As they approached he finally realized the sheer scale of the ship. They had looked so fragile from a distance but up close they were huge. The spar was thicker than the Coyote and swept back into wing-like shapes that ran most of the length of the huge main engines.
They cleared the main engines and Jenkins flipped Coyote again. She fired off two quick pulses from the main drive and began a much slower and more stately approach to Nightwind’s starboard docking bay. As Coyote came to a stop and began to extend the docking umbilical Jenkins made one more maneuver, rotating the frigate so it was oriented vertically relative to the battlecruiser.
Coyote docked with a dull thud that reverberated through the ship. David released his restraints and activated his magnetic boots before standing up from his chair. He turned to Jenkins.
“It’s been a pleasure flying with you, Commander,” he said.
She grinned at him, “I’m sure you’re about to find something much more to your liking, sir.”
“I’m sure I am.”
“And if I may speak frankly?”
“I’m sure you’ll make an excellent captain for the Nightwind, sir. It’s the ones who don’t have doubts I worry about.”
“Thank you, Commander.”
So the interesting thing here is that I put Commander Jenkins and the ECS Coyote in as, let’s call it, filler. But then she started talking and she got a backstory and a character arc. This is what’s so great about writing. Sometimes things just fall together.
Also, this might offer up some clues as to how I’ve changed the overall plot. There are definitely clues…