Authors: John G. Hemry
Tags: #Science Fiction
|Burden of Proof|
Aboard the galactic cruise
When a freak explosion on the
First printing, February 2004
A Baen Ebook
Copyright© 2004 by John G. Hemry
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Electronic version by WebWrights
|To Thelma Durnan,|
whose heart has been big enough to include
not only her husband, children and grand-children,
but also dozens of midshipmen far from home
who will always remember her as
I am indebted to my editor, Anne Sowards, for her valuable support and editing, and to my agent, Joshua Bilmes, for his inspired suggestions and assistance.
"The burden of proof to establish the guilt of the accused is upon the government."
Rules for Courts-Martial
Manual for Courts-Martial, United States
"Okay, Kris. I've got it." Paul Sinclair, his left hand locked firmly onto the nearest tie-down, saluted Lieutenant Junior Grade Denaldo with his right.
Kris Denaldo saluted him back, her happiness at coming off watch duty clear. "I stand relieved." Raising her voice so it carried through the bridge, Kris called out, "This is Lieutenant Junior Grade Denaldo. Mr. Sinclair has the conn."
"This is Ensign -" Paul bit off the next sentence required by the ritual of relieving the watch as the enlisted watchstanders grinned at his mistake. "Correction. This is
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Sinclair. I have the conn."
Kris, laughing, tapped one of the silver bars now adorning Paul's uniform in place of the gold ensign insignia he'd worn until a short time ago. "When
got promoted, I didn't forget it so quickly."
"We can't all be as good as you, Kris."
Denaldo laughed again at Paul's sarcasm as she unstrapped herself from the chair at the Junior Officer of Deck's duty station. "That doesn't mean you can't try." Grinning, she pulled herself to the hatch and off of the bridge.
Paul strapped himself in, checking once again the status displays whose light provided much of the illumination on the darkened bridge. Scores of status lights shone a soft, comforting green from their positions on the several other watch stations that helped crowd the bridge of the USS
. Pipes, cables and ducts ran across the overhead in a controlled riot of vital wiring and ventilation. Despite the responsibilities he'd just assumed, Paul still felt comforted by surroundings which had become familiar in the months since he'd reported aboard the ship.
The straps holding him into the seat, on the other hand, weren't so comfortable. Paul jerked at one tight band, trying to ease a tensioner locked into a setting which had been comfortable for Kris Denaldo's smaller frame. His pull brought forth a loop of slack, which snapped quickly back into a slightly less oppressive state. "Are they ever going to fix these?"
Lieutenant Carl Meadows, seated not far from Paul at the Officer of the Deck watch station, shrugged as he fiddled with one of his own straps. "I doubt it. In any case, it beats floating around in zero gravity."
"Floating I don't mind. It's those sudden accelerations that I worry about." Paul focused on the large maneuvering display with its view of the outside. Beginning just off the
's port bow, the Milky Way formed a brilliant banner against the blackness of space. Innumerable other unblinking points of light hung everywhere, marking countless stars, distant galaxies, and all the other luminous objects the universe held. Somewhere off the ship's starboard quarter, Paul knew, a bright blue and white disc marked the planet Earth, which the USS
was currently headed away from at a velocity measured in kilometers per second. Despite that speed, her crew would experience weightlessness until the
's main drive or thrusters were lit off again. In an emergency, those might be fired without warning, and since the force of those drives would send unsecured objects and sailors flying painfully into the nearest bulkheads, experienced space travelers followed the ancient seafaring rule of "one hand for the sailor and one hand for the ship." Or, in this case, "keep your straps tight."
"It's not the acceleration that hurts," Carl reminded Paul. "It's the sudden stops when you hit something. So, now you've attained the exalted rank of lieutenant jg. Are you drunk with power, yet?"
"Give me a break. I just got the jg bars pinned on half an hour ago."
"So? You're not an ensign, anymore. You're no longer at the bottom of the officer totem pole."
Carl leaned back, scanning the maneuvering screen. "Looks like smooth sailing this watch. Except for that skunk passing near our operating sector."
Paul nodded. "Yeah. Kris told me he'd been hanging around." For reasons lost in the mists of the past, unknown ship contacts were referred to by the Navy as "skunks," a terminology carried into the Space Navy. "All we're getting from him is a generic scientific mission identifier. What do you suppose he's up to?"
"Hopefully, nothing. He's the only spacecraft anywhere close to us, except the range safety ship." Another Navy ship, its blue symbol shining clearly on the maneuvering display, had entered the area ahead of the
to ensure no one had wandered into restricted space. "That skunk could mess up this weapons test if he doesn't stay clear." Carl checked another screen, scrolling through information, then tapped an internal communications key. "Hey, Combat."
"Combat, aye," the Combat Information Center watch officer answered immediately.
"How are you reading the telemetry from the target?"
"Five by five, good buddy."
Carl chuckled. "Good to hear. Thanks." He leaned back and highlighted a symbol on the display that represented their target. "It's a fine day for blowing holes in things. Okay, everything's ready for the test firing. We've got forty-five minutes to go. I figure that means the captain and XO will show up in about half an hour."
"I bow to your wisdom. I'll try to look professional about that time."
"You do that. Me, I'm almost gone."
"Don't rub it in. Did you hear who your relief is, yet?"
"Yeah." Carl rubbed his chin with one hand. "Lieutenant Scott Silver."
"Silver? Why do I know that name?"
"Maybe because he's Naval Academy, like you. Or maybe because his daddy is Vice Admiral Silver."
"Oh." Paul scratched his head, frowning in thought. "Yeah, I remember now. There was a guy named Silver a couple of classes ahead of me at the Academy. That must have been him."
"You only had one guy named Silver at the Academy?"
"Naw." Paul glanced back at the enlisted watchstanders to ensure they weren't listening, then lowered his voice a little more. "He took five years to graduate. Academic problems."
"A hold back? They allow those at the Academy? I thought they just kicked out people who couldn't hack it."
"Most, they do. They grant a few waivers. Word was Silver got taken care of because he was an admiral's boy."
"Nice." Carl's tone gave the word full sarcastic force. "For him, anyway. Was he a jerk?"
"No, I never heard that. He got an extra-good deal, but he seemed fairly popular. Maybe he was just too laid-back for the Academy."
"Huh. Well, maybe he turned out okay. It wouldn't be the first time someone grew into responsibility, and Admiral Silver's supposed to have all his ducks in a row, so maybe his son's okay. I'm not going to judge the guy before he gets here."
Paul laughed. "What do you care? You're leaving, heading for the paradise of shore duty, where they actually let you go home at night instead of making you work some more."
"Hey, I earned it. Three years on the
is about two years, eleven months too long."
"Tell me about it."
"Buck up. You've got less than two years left, now."
"The first year was bad enough." The first captain of the
whom Paul had encountered was Peter Wakeman, a frustrated and impulsive officer who had caused innumerable headaches for his crew and ultimately ordered the mistaken destruction of another ship. The resulting court-martial had turned on Paul's testimony about the ambiguous orders the
had been operating under, testimony Paul had reluctantly concluded he had a moral and professional duty to volunteer.
fault," Carl observed. "Okay, not entirely. But any baggage you picked up from Wakeman's court-martial came from your own freely reached decisions."
Paul smiled. "Part of that baggage is Jen."
"Well, if you complain about
, you'd really be a cretin."
"Not at all. Jen Shen would have me for breakfast. I prefer my girlfriends a little less, um . . ."
Paul laughed. "Jen's dynamic all right. Also dynamite. I hope her ship's in when we get back."
"If you want to date another space warfare officer you have to be used to a lot of goodbye's."
"We know that. So far the hello's have more than made up for the goodbye's."
"Please. We're under zero gravity right now and my stomach's already a little queasy. Speaking of which, do you think our new captain has his space legs, yet?"