The bridge smelled like someone needed a shower, noted Lieutenant Commander Leander. He shifted in the command chair and scraped his elbow on the hole worn into the plastic of the armrest. All of the command team were righties and they tended to slouch against the right armrest, eventually wearing a hole in the imitation fabric.
Leander smirked at the notion. His gaze panned across the nine stations of the bridge. Crewman watched their screens more or less carefully, faces lit by the screens. Cables from backup comms equipment swung languidly from the overhead. Scuff marks decorated the deck between the stations. WT1 Utama buried his hands in some equipment, occupying himself with minor maintenance. Starman Copin looked elegant as always, her auburn hair coiffed in another complex braid. Somehow, she she made Navy-issue coveralls look tasteful.
The details Leander watched were endless, down to the chipped paint on the intertial-damping console, but all of it was simulation. In fact, the bridge was a near featureless space, with only nine acceleration couches for the bridge crew, and damn-near nothing else. The helmet Leander wore, that connected to his brain through complex bio-circuitry, simply told him what he saw. In a warship, like their heavy cruiser “CSS Kenya,” living-space came at a premium. There wasn’t room for an airy bridge with lots of space between stations, yet it was a very natural human desire to want such things. Regardless, it wasn’t practical from a military perspective, especially not when a standard Virtual Reality Helmet could project the comforting impression of space and detail.
If Leander removed his VRH, the boring, cramped truth would be revealed.
“Contact!” called ST2 Henning. His fingers danced expertly across the flush keys on his his console. Data scrolled across the holographic screen before him. “Gravitic anomoly bears 0-1-2 Zulu 3-2-7.” He pronounced each integer in the bearing numbers (012 and 327) individually, the Navy way, to avoid mishearing a value.
Leander didn’t even bother to check his display. One of the advantages of VRHs was training simulations could be run often, as they were now. While cruising the very edge of Human Space, where nothing ever happened, simulations were a way of life for the bridge crew. Nearly always, the simulations included some kind of combat to keep the crew sharp. Once in a while, just to keep folks on their heels, the boffins in the Tech Center, ran a simulation without combat. Leander had friends down there in “The Hole” and he new for a fact nothing was scheduled to happen in this watch’s simulation. “Check it again, Henning. Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sir. Already double-checked. CIC confirms the contact.”
Those bastards, scowled Leander. No more blackmarket porn for them until they learn to slip him accurate info on the sims. Fine! Time to see what the geeks have dreamed up. “Range to the contact, Henning?”
“Sir! It’s…5,000 yards and closing!”
“Yards?” In space, point-blank range was about 100,000 kilometers. “What the hell, Henning?”
“It’s very small, sir…” A loud clang reverberated through the bridge, interrupting Henning. “It’s hit us!”
Leander winced. A boarding sim? The crowd in The Hole had been working overtime. That explained why they didn’t give him the straight poop. They wanted to impress him. Leander sat up in the chair. This was a different and interesting simulation at least, He brought up a signals window on his screen, “Marines! Standby to repel boarders.”
An explosion hammered Leander and the bridge crew at their stations. Dust and particles of the ship’s armor swirled in clouds. Leander marveled at the work the boffins put into simulating the explosion. He turned in his chair to see a hole, cables and shattered structural members dangling, in the back of the bridge.
The first one entered in the sudden null gravity of the compartment. It looked like a slender, predatory dinosaur, albeit one in a spacesuit complete with armor and a very obvious assault weapon in its four-digit hands. Two more, then three more slipped through. They moved with the uncanny grace of supreme athletes, each step perfectly balanced, poised.
Leander couldn’t help his wide grin. This is the best combat simulation ever! As he took his helmet off to release an elated cheer, he dimly heard Henning’s voice screaming something from the helmet. He ignored it as he saw the bland, featureless bridge.