Chapter 17
Stand By Me
ESS Ticonderoga, Plutonian Sphere
Date: Thu 07 May 123
Time: UST 0800

Right as the day shift was starting, the ship's intercom chimed and Commodore Frazier announced, "Attention, all hands. Attention, all hands. This is the Captain speaking. In 24 hours, the Ticonderoga will be embarking on a special solo mission. Details are classified at this time, but participation is entirely voluntary. Any personnel who wish to opt out, please report to your immediate supervisor. Department heads and other commanders, I want a complete count by 1100. That is all."

* * *

Date: Thu 07 May 123
Time: UST 0902

Admiral Mfume and Commodore Frazier sat by themselves in the conference room. The viewscreen blipped and the feed from the Brasidas was patched in.
"Admiral Vargin, Captain Rajamani, thank you for coming," Admiral Mfume said.
Blunt and to-the-point as ever, Admiral Vargin asked, "Sir, what's this about?"
"The Ticonderoga is about to go on a special mission," Admiral Mfume explained. "Participation is voluntary, so we have about thirteen hundred crewmembers who have elected to opt out. We would like you to host these personnel until the mission is over."
"This is... unusual."
"Admiral Vargin, you will assume command in my absence."
"Of course."
There was a pause before Admiral Mfume continued.
"You may be told certain things, things that will sound outrageous. Rest assured that it is all part of the mission. I would ask you to play along."
"Are you saying this is some kind of simulation, sir?" Captain Rajamani asked.
"I cannot divulge any details, but that is about as apt a description as any."
Doubtful, Captain Rajamani said, "Sir, this is all highly irregular."
"Do I have your cooperation, Captain?"
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Whatever this scenario is, we'll play our part."
"Good. Thank you. Mfume, out."
The feed cut out, leaving Commodore Frazier and Admiral Mfume to themselves. The Commodore leaned back in his chair and said, "If we told the crew what was really going on, it might just be the two of us flying this tub."
"Even this risks tipping our hand," Admiral Mfume replied, "but it should help reduce our potential losses."
"How many do you think would side with us if they knew the truth?"
"More than you might think. Enough at any rate."
"Any chance we lose some of the traitors with this bunch that's heading out?"
Admiral Mfume stroked his chin and replied, "I imagine they would slip in at least one to keep an eye on things. If nothing else, there are one thousand three hundred and twenty-five people we will not have to keep an eye on."
"How do you plan on handling the next stage of the plan, sir?"
"I have not come to a decision yet. We will deal with it when the time comes."
"Doesn't seem like you to fly by the seat of your pants, sir."
The Admiral sighed. "Under the circumstances, I would say that it is necessary."
"No plan survives first contact with the ground, you mean?"
"Especially now, yes."