Yeomen and the ship’s crew had been working all day bringing the Commodore’s personal effects on board. Rumor had it that he had moved half the contents of the London museum to his quarters. Ensign Laird was on duty at the main larboard airlock. It was 0230 hours, and the traffic had been dead. A couple of engineering techs were just signing out when the word came down from the harbor master: “Commodore Maxby coming onboard.”
The ensign retrieved his consciousness from the stupor of boredom, swallowed deeply and typed onto his terpiscompendium: “Captain onboard/initial procedure.”
The small Visograph of the terpis spat out:
1. All command staff on receiving platform.
2. Traditional piped salute.
3. Transfer of command from Ætherfleet Command fleet operations officer to Captain assuming command.
4. Band music (optional).
The ensign keyed the studs of his console to hail the first mate, Mr. Ayers, who had come aboard late in the evening. With the sound of a running shower in the background, Mr. Ayers acknowledged. The ensign choked in a clear but unsteady voice, “Captain coming onboard, sir.”
Before the comm went dead, he heard the response, “Bloody hell!”
The ensign’s console showed the outer door to the gangway cycling. He desperately keyed in the code to the armory officer, Commander Farrell. A groggy voice answered, “Farrell here.”
“Captain coming onboard, sir.”
A dead silence persisted until the ensign heard: “Are you sure, ensign?”
Laird responded, “He’s on the gangway right now, sir.”
The comm terminated to the sound of rending bed sheets.
Chief Winston was the only other command staff officer onboard presently so Ensign Laird keyed in his hail. The hail was answered by Lieutenant Caruthers in engineering, “The chief is busy right now. What is it?”
“Captain coming onboard, sir,” repeated the ensign.
The console visograph popped on with a picture of Chief Winston inside the ship’s Furnace. He was knee deep in fuel residuum, looking like a comedic impersonation of the Jazz Singer with his face completely covered in dylithium coal dust. The Chief’s arm was engulfed inside one of the Ætherine Injectors that seemed to be oozing a dark red slush. The chief asked irritatedly, “When’s he due to come onboard?”
Laird responded, “He’s at the airlock right now, sir.”
As the Chief’s head jerked up to look at his visograph, his head collided with a pipe making a sound reminiscent of a church bell. His language that followed, however, was nothing you would expect to hear in a church. The screen went black before the chief reached the crescendo of his inflammatory monologue.
The main hatch cycled, and Ensign Laird activated the cylinder player with recorded entry music. When the music started to play, the ensign remembered that the megaphones had been set for ship-wide announcements. The piercing volume of the music totally masked his expert piping. Laird was already at attention and holding his salute. There was no opportunity to break posture and turn down the volume.
Commodore Maxby was dressed in class A uniform that looked immaculate. Upon seeing the nervous ensign, his eyes rolled up as his ears were assaulted by the blaring music. The Commodore walked over to the console and disengaged the cylinder recording. The high-pitched piping terminated when Commodore Maxby’s finger pressed against the pipe’s reed hole. “Ensign, if I had wanted a bloody triumph when I came aboard, I would have brought my chariot.”
Ensign Laird looked disappointed as he dutifully sustained his salute. The Commodore returned the salute. The ensign reported, “Sorry, Commodore, only following protocol.”
Following the Commodore was what looked like an antique automata carrying two large streamer trunks, one on each shoulder. Some sort of mechanical clockwork dog trailed behind the robot. The Commodore looked at Laird and said, “Recording on.”
The Ensign complied.
“This is Commodore A.R. Maxby of Ætherfleet Command, Office of Fleet Operations. I hereby transfer command of Her Majesty’s Æthership Dauntless, Raf 1123 to Acting Captain A.R. Maxby.” There was a slight pause as the Commodore looked perturbed with the idea that he had to make official record that he was handing the ship over to himself. “This is Commodore A.R. Maxby. I hereto accept the command as Acting Captain of the HMAS Dauntless, RAF 1123.” The Commodore looked at Laird and nodded as if to gain approval from the lowly ensign. “Will that satisfy the protocol, ensign?”
“Yes, sir,” responded Laird.
“Does anyone else know I’m onboard, ensign?”
“I informed the XO, the Armory Officer, and the Chief Engineer.”
“Oh, bother,” the Commodore puffed under his breath. “Hail them all back and tell them to ignore your last hail.”
“Yes, sir,” Laird said as Mr. Ayers skidded into the room.
“Commander Ayers reportinggg…” Ayers’ mind raced. As ordered? No! For duty? No! Before the pause grew too pregnant, he concluded, “Sir!”
The Commander’s hair although just combed was dripping water at the ends and making miniature puddles on his blue and gold epaulettes. The Commodore returned the salute and beamed a friendly smile at his new first mate. Maxby thought if this man performs half as well under a real emergency situation he would do me proud. Just as the smile was setting Ayers’ mind at ease with his new CO, Maxby’s countenance changed to one of official efficiency. “Well as long as you’re here, make ready the following: I will address the entire ship’s crew on the Hangar Deck at 0830 hours. This will not include the Marines. At 0900, I will meet the senior sections staff personnel and Bridge crew in Horatio’s Hall, no food or drink will be available. At 0930, I will make a formal inspection of the Æther Marines on the vehicle deck. I want them ready for full regimental pass and review prior to populating the frozen watch. At 1000 hours, I will meet with section chiefs in the bridge conference room. Prepare them all for inauspicious tidings. At 1030 hours, we will have a chance to talk and discuss my plans for this ship and its missions.”
As the Commodore was rattling off his itinerary like some Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, Ayers was making mental note of each and every detail. The Commodore continued, “It seems that Prince Frederick and his darling escort, the Lady Farthing-Whitely, intend on bashing a jeroboam of champagne against this ship’s shiny new hull tomorrow morning. Much needs to be done prior to their arrival.”
Although the Commodore was certain that Mr. Ayers had made perfect mental note of each and every item, Maxby continued, “If I dictated all that too rapidly, see Ensign Laird as he has neglected to discontinue the recording of the transfer of command.”
Both officers looked at the ensign. Laird’s eyes dropped in remorse after noting his blunder.
“That will be all. Come along, Fairlane. Our digs await us. Anubis, heel.”
Ayers again snapped a salute, which was returned in conjunction with a gesture directing the mechanical dog down the passageway. Ayers realized that he had not spoken a word except for his initial report. He did not know what to expect from this Captain, but that brief glimpse of a smile on the Commodore’s face put him at ease.