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(Part 8) M31: First Blood
Posted By: Greg and Wes Foutch<hockey0935@yahoo.com>
Date: 28 July 2003, 6:03 PM

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Saturday, August 16, 2865
09:30 hrs.

"About an hour ago, the U.S.S. Santa Maria was launched for unknown reasons," he heard the news reporter say. "As most of us know, the Santa Maria is a colonization cruiser, and immense 1 kilometer long space ship, built with its own greenhouse in order to oxygenate the ship on long journeys. Officials at NASA/SEC, as well as the military officers we have contacted, refused to answer any questions concerning this unscheduled launch. Due to the astronomical expense involved in such an undertaking, defense analysts here at W.D.D.B. speculate a breech of Commstar Security. Commstar, if you remember, was at the center of attention a few months ago, under a watchful eye of congress, as hackers in the remote deserts of the U.K had interrupted a reported downlink. We can only hope we get some answers throughout the day, but for now it remains a mystery, and we can only wonder. Bill?"

"Thank you, Kathy. It certainly is a mystery. Also coming up later today-" Captain McAllister reached over and put the forward mounted external camera on the view screen. Already got it all figured out, do ya boys? He thought. With the power of the ansible, they could get to the point where the Pinta sent its message, or even beyond, and still watch T.V. from home.

"It's amazing boys; they're already talking about our departure back home. Those media types sure don't waste any time taking their stab, huh?"

"Yeah, no shit, Captain. You can't keep anything from the media these days," said the pilot, Airman Paul Senior. McAllister had been promoted to the status of Captain before the mission launch. Although a great military leader, Russ McAllister was rather laid back. After 3 decades of military service, Russ had heard all the "yes sirs" and "no sirs" he could handle. Don't be misled, he still believed in the military's chain of command. He totally expected his men's respect, but he permitted, sometimes actually preferred, the crewmen not to use terms like "sir" unless in the presence of Base Command. This was, after all, an extremely long flight, and was probably going to get pretty tense, so they might as well be comfortable with each other.

The U.S.S. Santa Maria was just as large as her sister ship, the Pinta, if not larger. The inside was no different. She was made of the same bland, colorless walls. The Bio Dome was, by far, the largest area in the cruiser. Containing a dense forest, a lake, fed by a waterfall coming from and opening in the wall, and a large clearing. This was a place where the men could sit back and relax, if they had the chance.

The bridge was extremely large, one of the biggest rooms in on the vessel. A large view screen, 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide, covered the entire front wall of the bridge. It was connected to the vessel's multiple cameras, and the General had the ability to access them all and put them on the view screen. 16 cameras kept a watchful eye on matters externally, while micro-cams watched the full gamut on the interior. Each room, excluding Commander and crew quarters, were equipped with tiny, non-descript digital cameras, so well hidden that many were oblivious of their existence.

Nearly 15 feet behind the plasma view screen, an actual bridge had been constructed about 10 feet of the ground. This was where the commanding officer stood, observing all. From this point, his eye could see everything going on in the bridge, as well as easily giving commands. Under the bridge, and filling the rest of the floor space, were control terminals. These terminals controlled the ship's navigation, radar, weapons, and system diagnostics, just to mention a few. The orders from these terminals were relayed down to Engineering, where they were carried out.

Engineering was certainly the heart of the ship. Orders from the bridge were relayed to the massive room. The crewman at that station carried out the orders; Engineering had double the amount of people on the bridge, in order to work faster and more efficiently. Every possible free space was used for control panels and view screens; if someone entered the room, who wasn't stationed in Engineering, and they needed to do something, it would take a considerable amount of time just for them to find the right control panel, much less know the sequences to go through.

Each person stationed on the Bridge, or in Engineering, worked in 14-hour shifts, with 3 rotations. The Captain stayed on the bridge for 16-hour shifts, and chose a second in command to watch the Bridge for about 10 hours.
The crewmen had, by military standards, generous and spacious living quarters. Each room had six bunks against one wall, three on top, and three on bottom. One wall of each room had a small square window. A small plasma screen television sat in the corner, on top of a night table, so they could keep up with Earthly events. A desk sat on the remaining wall, with a terminal for the crewman.

The officers and high-ranking enlisted men had much more spacious living quarters. A terminal on a desk was set on one wall, and bed inset into the opposing. The terminal could also be used as a television. They also had windows in their quarters, but they were the same size as all the others, for less of a chance of depressurization.

But most crewmembers did not spend as much time as wished in their quarters, often working over 16 hours a day. Other than the subtle color differences, the two ships were the same, equipped with the same supplies. Each consumed near the same amount of energy, produced the same amount of water. The major difference was that the Santa Maria had undergone several changes for her to be used for military purposes.

Major weapons had been produced over the course of the last month, and installed into the cruiser. Forward plasma cannons and aft plasma cannons had been added. The cannon shot a large bolt of plasma, the friction of it leaving the cannon gave the plasma its heat: enough heat to completely melt a large cosmic liner in half. The Santa Maria had also been equipped with four "nukes", each large enough to wipe out one of Earth's continents in a single blast. Many smaller, more conventional, nukes had been stored in the vessel's cargo bay. These were onboard if the situation got ugly: each would surely take out any hostile space cruiser or fighter in a single blast.

After a few hours in space, the U.S.S. Santa Maria sped up to four times light speed and was climbing fast. Even at this speed, it would would be months before the marines would reach the area near where the Pinta had sent her last message. The homing audible was already being tracked from the Emergency Security Pod (ESP) as it drifted aimlessly through space. Little did they know, they would find more than they wanted in the twisted wreckage of her massive frame.