0096: Command and Control

Ziggurat #4

Since his death, even the allure of real coffee hadn’t been strong enough to overcome the aversion Lamont felt at returning to a command deck devoid of Rex’s presence.

Westward’s command deck was located at the aft of the great ship, on its underside. Since the whole 350-foot vessel could be traversed from end-to-end in about five minutes, it took little physical effort for Lamont to reach it; he merely had to turn left out of his suite, take the lift down one level, and walk halfway across the width of the ship along the hallway that separated the command deck from the control deck. The psychological effort, lately, proved to be more problematic. For months, Lamont had spent the better part of most days on the command deck because it was the place where members of the senior staff were most likely to be coming and going, stopping for chats and making decisions. It was also where the limited supply of the senior staff’s private coffee reserve, grown in a dedicated pressure chamber in hydroponics, could be drawn from if one was around at the right time of the day. A certifiable addict, Lamont had come to structure his routine around the availability of this nectar of life.

That is, until a month before, when Westward’s first planetary expedition resulted in the death of Rex O’Neil. The effervescent young pilot had been invited to join the exploration party on a whim, and had been killed in a senseless misunderstanding with the pygmy natives of the planet shortly after their arrival. Since Lamont’s routine largely mirrored Rex’s duty schedule at the pilot’s console, he had come to strongly associate his time on the command deck with the enthusiastic and nearly constant banter of the young pilot. He had found it annoying at first, but like everyone else, he was eventually won over by Rex’s wide-eyed interest in practically everything. Since his death, even the allure of real coffee hadn’t been strong enough to overcome the aversion Lamont felt at returning to a command deck devoid of Rex’s presence. 

If the boy had merely died, Lamont thought, he could have handled that. But the way Captain Carter had managed to, for a brief and horrible moment, bring him back… Lamont shuddered and steeled himself against the thought as the lift doors opened into the hall of the ship’s lower deck. He had a job to do, he told himself resolutely, and he had been neglecting an important aspect of it for far too long. Also, there was the coffee.

The newspaperman nodded in passing to the crew members that were perpetually hurrying from one room to another along the hall that separated command from control. The corridor buzzed with the familiar clicking, clacking and beeping of the control deck’s many computers and instruments, most of it hidden behind closed doors. Underneath it all was the deep, powerful throb of the ship’s advanced fusion engine, which propelled Westward through local space between Escherspace jumps. All the control deck doors were located on one side of the hallway, facing aft, while the single set of doors in the center of the other side opened into the command deck. These doors slid open for Lamont automatically when he stood in front of them for a moment, controlled by an electronic eye.

“Blimey,” he whispered as the doors slid to either side, presenting a view that should have been familiar.

Next: A Symphony of Light