Chapter 4:


From Nowhere to Sender

Combing over the details of the manifest and applying the intelligence made available to her revealed that the upcoming convoy had the potential to be a logistical nightmare. Esma supposed she should be thankful for this distraction, if her mind remained this occupied throughout the transit then maybe nerves would never have a chance to set in. This would be her first official taste of field service after all.

Compiling the manifest and the intelligence documents she'd requested, Esma made her way out of the locker room and towards administration. Before departure, crewmembers were required to drop off their manifests and any other documents related to the convoy at one of the station's administrative counters for processing and destruction.

Manifests actually served several roles, one of which being a waiver of sorts. Donation of organs, and what not. Naturally Esma had gone over the contents of the waiver in the ongoing effort to avoid reality. Everything fell into her realm of expectations, including the need to relinquish the manifests before departure. Keeping them on your person meant the potential of losing them or having them taken by force. Naturally it was counterproductive to provide raiding party's with intel on the routes and cargo of any given convoy.

Having dropped off her documents Esma made her way over to the assembly area adjusting her uniform along the way. Truth be told field service personnel had a rather generous assortment of options concerning uniforms. Reason being unlike station personnel having uniforms based on division and rank actually put crewmembers at a disadvantage during convoys. If Hussards could discern the experience levels and responsibilities of each crew member at a glance, they'd be able to target or avoid troublesome individuals more accurately, increasing their likelihood of success in raids.

Hence they could mix and match most aspects of their uniforms, granted everything shared a similar color scheme and aesthetic. The only really unique aspect of a crew members uniform was their belt. Federation belts displayed one's division, years of service and qualifications in the form of colored strips, badges or other insignia. In essence revealing everything about someone's recognized capabilities. Therefore Federation personnel were encouraged to keep their belts concealed under tops and jackets.

It was beyond Esma as to why someone would willingly show their hand to potential enemies, but she knew from experience that a great many enjoyed showing off their aptitude. As if to say "This is what I'm capable of, try me."

Alternatively, many were on the opposite side of the spectrum and went to great lengths to hide their belts. Before graduating she'd even heard rumors that some people wore fake belts or acquired belts of the deceased and inactive just to throw others off.

It was all very engrossing. Just by taking notice in something as simple as another's uniform she could glean information about their dispositions and verify or refute her theories based on how they conducted themselves during convoys. She'd start by guessing an individual's division based on outward appearance and body language. The tricky part would be finding an optimal location for fraternizing with crewmembers ahead of convoys. Waiting until boarding would make the exercise futile as members of the security division would be armed and engineers would be identifiable by their presence in the bridge or engine room.

Communication officers like her would also be in the bridge but they generally arrived at the assembly hall first, to greet the head communications officer and go over details such as weather, check-in frequency and route topography. Something she should have attended in hindsight, this being her first time. Alas a lengthy commute and obsessing over what she needed to bring with her onboard had delayed her to this exact point in time. She technically wasn't late, but her time of arrival could be frowned upon by her seniors.

No one would need to see or speculate about her belt to know that she was new to field service. She'd still make an effort to conceal it all the same, empty as it is, keeping it hidden would give her more options down the road.

Passing through the now empty assembly hall, Esma entered the terminal where the four class 3 Crusaders sat waiting for departure. She took a single deep but shaky breath as she sought the Crusader that she had been assigned to.

"What's your Crusader number?"

Esma flinched at the unexpected verbal stimulus and unceremoniously jerked her head to the right to determine its source. There she saw a woman in a field service uniform with a gentle smile. This would have been an excellent chance for Esma to attempt her exercise, if only she could manufacture the mental capacity to do so. But it already took her far longer than socially acceptable to register the question she'd been asked let alone respond to it.

"Uh...its C248. I'm the communications officer for Crusader C248."

"Ah, so your the new girl. I looked for you at the meeting this morning."

Esma internally goraned at her inability to be on time this morning. Before recalling the crew roster from the manifest and realizing that of the four comms officers assigned to this convoy, only two of them were female. The other female being...

"I take it you're the head communications officer..."

"It seems that would be case. Flannery Prentice, it’s a pleasure to meet you Miss Villard." [Flannery Prentice, 29, Communications Division]

"You weren't waiting for me were you. I'd hate to waste any more of your time."

"You're fine, I was actually waiting for the Convoy Commander and caught you in the process. Don't mind missing the meeting earlier, it isn't as if its mandatory. Though it would probably benefit you to attend a few in the future."

Why did it feel like she was being scolded by a parent. This woman seemed too young to have children but her tone reminded her of a neighbor's mother growing up.

"Did you have any questions for me before departure? Maybe something you would have wanted to confirm this morning?"

Did Esma have any questions? Probably, but something about the way she'd been asked spurred another thought. Was this meant to be a leading question? Did something from the manifest require confirmation, or had something changed?

The political state of affairs in New Kantler remained problematic, and the effects it could have on the convoy remained the greatest hurdle they'd have to overcome, possibly on the fly. It could very well be that new information had arrived out of Belveer ahead of departure, something akin to the planned response by protesters. If that was the case it's possible the route would be altered at some point to circumvent forms of resistance. Wait, best not get ahead of herself on pure conjecture alone.

"Is there any new information out of Belveer I need to be made aware of?"

Flannery smiled at the young woman's choice of words. "I need to be made aware of", she said. In other words, don't feel the need to share sensitive information with a rookie who might make too much or too little of it. Her way of being thoughtful perhaps.

"There isn't. But that's subject to change as we proceed further along the route. How would you go about interpreting such new information?"

Esma's response was immediate, her efforts to avoid overthinking hypothetical situations just now having failed.

"We'd need to be careful about conforming to information that could be readily available to raiding party's looking for approach points."

Flannery studied Esma for a moment, just long enough to find what she was looking for.

"Crusader C248 is on the far right. One of the girls will want to check you for contraband before boarding. Let's do our best out there."