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The Fleet Goes On - Chapter One

Posted by Peanut on September 8, 2013 at 4:15 AM Comments comments (64)

A modern fable by Chrissie Gates, serialised on in separate chapters appearing irregularly as and when the author sees fit to delight us with her scribbles of wisdom. Please note that this is a work of fiction revolving around a fleet of ships journeying through the void of space. Any connection to reality is coincidental and purely in the mind of the reader.

The Fleet Goes On

Chapter One - The Tale Begins


After the Great War it became obvious that the population would overfill the planet in the near future. Full of optimism a fleet of ships sailed into the void, as they so often do, to find somewhere to make a new home for the human race, with a few other intrepid alien adventurers and hangers on that thought it might be fun to go with them. They trawled the darkness and soon discovered that there were many more alien races than they had imagined, mostly friendly, occasionally not. But nothing they hadn't anticipated and the chaps at the front were in command and knew what they were doing. They had an ideal, an aim, a new home for all was their goal and the path was clear.


Along the way there were some serious incidents that caused hardship, some damage to the ships and death to the personnel. It was around this time that it was decided that all Captains should have some combat training and all crews some combat drill, as these incidents were inevitably unexpected and left the whole fleet exposed to danger. But the fleet consisted of many ships, with many functions and some of these folk were not and never had been fighters and commanding a space ship in battle was not in their skill set. As always, the ones that could did, the ones that couldn't went to the back and commanded something shall we say, dispensable. And so time passed.


At some point, in some long lost battle a disaster had struck and the entire backwards looking maps had been erased from the ship's systems and with it any long distance communication channels. It was thought to be an act of sabotage by an intruder, but might well have been an electrical glitch. From then on the fleet had completely lost direction with no way of "phoning home". The only contact there was with Earth was occasional directives that would fly throughout the ether to them, not necessarily in any kind of order and by people they had never heard of who almost certainly wouldn't be listening anyway, telling them to do things that may or may not be relevant and might be years old anyway.


It was now 60 years since the Fleet first embarked on its journey, eyes wide open searching for the Brave New World and it was still trudging through the darkness. The original commanders had long since gone, to be replaced gradually by non-confrontational organisers. These were the youngest ones who started the journey at first, but then became the children and grandchildren of the first explorers. They had only ever known the ships as home, their only experience on a planet was when they landed somewhere they discovered, Earth was a long forgotten dream in a history book. To them the ships were a safe haven and over time the thought of setting up home on a new planet as an idea slid from view and the original aim of the fleet was left behind, as nowhere would by now be suitable, too much discussion, too many meetings, nothing would ever get done. The consensus was - It will be no good because…So they moved on to destination unknown. It was safer on the ship.


Of course to some, especially the older crew, this became monumentally irritating, and a lot bunked off on a nice looking place, to live out their days on solid ground, the lucky ones taking their children with them. This suited the remainder as it left less dissent on the ships, but as a result they became places of management speak and inaction. Tying themselves up in paperwork and protocols and completely denying any free thinking , or what old-timers would call gumption.


You must also understand that after 60 years, even accounting for those that left, there were now many more people in the fleet than had started, the ships became overcrowded and it was necessary to get more space. This was difficult as money had long since run out, so those in charge were forced to barter with any crafty merchant or passing pirate, or negotiate with some beleaguered planet to obtain what they needed, without losing too much of what they had. This was often done by offering labour and in return getting some ship well past its best, that cost an arm and a leg to run and maintain. Not a good deal to anyone except the givers, who would be glad to be shot of it. There were also rumours of orphan children from the ships being used as currency, but there was never a record of that. The result of this was that the fleet became ever slower, hampered by the ponderous "weight" of what became known as management ships, full of paper pushers and accountants, on decrepit craft so appallingly slow that they held everyone back.


This fleet then was a moving planet, full of life and growth, but with limited resources and no funds. So it was imperative to make sure that nothing was wasted, ever. It was a fine art to ensure that every piece of junk, refuse and unpleasantness was recycled, reprocessed and put back into use and there were small vessels in the fleet with the sole purpose of picking up "stuff" to bring back, as it must be of some use once processed. Unpopulated planets were also "plundered" for resources if they were lucky enough to find one. This processing function was performed by two ships sited at the rear of the fleet, one either side and was much more involved than was commonly thought, as although most was processed by huge machines with certain definite aims, there was a lot of stuff that needed time, care and expertise to break it down. Without the processing plant in full operational order, the fleet would grind to a halt very quickly indeed and people would start to suffer.


Once processed , the components were stored in a huge computerised facility and what was available could be easily found on a computer system on every ship. The idea was that if you needed something, or lots of things to make something, you would check on the system and see what was available and order it. There were certain situations where something was needed in a hurry, but first the components had to be found and processed. This was a very time consuming job and always resulted in a great deal of annoyance on all sides.


These two ships had been plodding along at the back for 60 years now. It wasn't a glamorous place to be, no-one noticed they were there unless they ran out of something and then it all hit the proverbial fan, but the folk that worked there enjoyed what they did, had pride in their work and for a long time life was a pretty good place to be. There was a lot of satisfaction to be got from clearing a day's "stuff" and shelving it up in a timely fashion. But someone, somewhere decided they could save some money in that department. Some jumped up nothing who had no idea what went on or how it worked thought it was costing too much. So it was decided that most of the work would go to one of the ships and leave the other to cover just urgent and very local work. Exactly how this would save any money was never explained, as the transport costs would necessarily increase and the turnaround time (previously an important benchmark) was obviously lengthened, but apparently that didn't matter any more.


This happened at a time shortly after a large exodus of the "old school" crew of the bigger ship had left to retire on a very charming planet that the fleet had passed. The current trend now was to offer incentives to the older personnel first just to get them to leave because they were trouble and argumentative and secondly, to replace them with cheaper, less experienced staff.


What in fact happened at this time was that a lot left, but were not replaced for months, so the remainder had to work their socks off to cover the empty places and the crew that were left were shuffled about to try and cover the gaps. It had been pointed out by those unfortunates who were left that this whole plan wouldn't work, but this was dismissed by the new top brass who had moved in from the other, smaller ship. It has to be said that the other ship had a much smaller workload so they had little concept of the volumes of waste processing involved. As if that wasn't bad enough, the present second in command had been twice refused the position by the previous Captain and Commander (both now since retired), who felt that as a droid she had some serious malfunctions, rendering her in fact incapable of rational thought and prone to making random announcements and then forgetting she had ever said them. Compounding the problem even further, the new Captain was a hopeless management lackey who seemed to get pleasure in making peoples lives a misery, whilst obviously not affecting his own. His position at the helm of this processing ship was influenced by his speech impediment - F…F…F…F…F…Fire was not going to get him anywhere on a fighter, was it?


It was also part of the new Processing Plant reorganisation plan that extra hours would not be paid, instead hours would be reorganised to cover any gaps. In effect it meant for the majority of processing plant staff they would get a 20-25% pay cut and work more unsocial hours than before. You might think at this point that someone, somewhere would have thought there might be a problem here, but apparently not, and even those responsible for the welfare of those on board told them "well you are lucky to be working at all. There are not enough jobs to go round".


Had the Captain and Commander been made of sterner stuff and told these paper pushers to "shove off cos it won't work" all this change might not have happened, as indeed other services with stronger leadership survived this and carried on as before, but it was glibly pushed ahead, and although most of the processing crew would have gladly shut the processor down - and that would certainly have caused some action -there were one or two who "couldn't let that happen", so perpetuated a failing plan by being feeble.


As the processing crew became more disenchanted with the new system and hours they were made to work, more left, making the remainder work harder, and then they too became ill with tiredness and general stress. New staff were recruited but quite often, never even turned up in the end, as it was by now common knowledge that it wasn't the place to work - there were better opportunities elsewhere in the fleet such as in The Emerging Youth Management Department, or in The Department of Alien Integration. After a few months a crisis point was reached and it seemed no-one was left to cover the gaps. But the already hard pressed droid saved the day by working 24 straight hours, followed by a recharging gap of 12 and then another 12 hour shift - fine for a droid but still even after 60 years of wandering in the darkness, totally illegal for the human workers employed by the Fleet! It was a good job the droid wasn't human!


The cry of " Where is the commitment to the service?" was often heard. The answer was that it had disappeared with the pay cut and increased unsocial hours - was that so hard to understand?


So the processing service was left to run with a ramshackle crew, a sad relic of what had been an efficient and happy place to work. And it was an odd bunch that were left, those who for various personal reasons couldn't be bothered to find another job on another ship, didn't want to uproot their families, or retire onto the next planet that came along, those who were trying to leave but had not yet succeeded, those who were quite happy (there weren't many of them!) and of course the illustrious Captain and his second-in-command who had been responsible for this commotion in the first place.


There had been a rumour circulating for some months that the processing ships would be taken over by "a business consortium", yeah, right, in the middle of the void of space! More like a band of pirates gagging for a chance to rip off what was left of these once rich vessels, process what they could in their own ship for a hefty profit and then clear off when the going got tough. The rumour also made it clear that there would be opportunities for all on this new plant, either to continue working as Fleet crew, with Fleet terms and conditions or to become a Pirate Associate and join them in their venture, eye patches would be provided. This was very disturbing to those who were already under pressure, and did nothing to help the situation. But fortunately there had been some kind of rebellion by enough of the rest of the fleet to get this idea at least shelved and it was decided that as the fleet was so reliant on the processing, it should be kept in Fleet hands and not handed over to outsiders. The pirates were not best pleased with this as they had invested time and money into the venture and they had to be paid off just to get rid of them. So in the end if there had been any savings made by this unwelcome reorganisation, it had ended up in the pirates' pockets.


The Fleet were horrified at how close they had come to losing a valuable asset, the family silver almost being sold under their noses to the highest bidder. But that was how it was done now. No discussion, no consensus, just a quiet meeting by the chosen few who thought "We could make a few bob here. Let's do it!" They had completely lost the reason for their existence, overwhelmed by the need for cash and worshipping the God of Profit. Those at the helm whilst publicly promising more "transparency", privately vowed to be more covert in their arrangements for the management of the Fleet.


Necessarily 60 years of life with the Fleet in the ever-changing Processing Department, as it slowly evolved into its current state of imperfection, had produced a variety of characters, who in various ways reflected the chaos and disorder they found themselves drowning in. Many had been treading water in this department all their working lives, while others had relatively, barely dipped their toes in the water. The commonality though was that they were all drowning under the heavy seas of management incompetency.