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Chapter 4 – The Compromises of Making a Fleet
After having now set up the background knowledge, it is now time to dive deeper into the material that was made usable over the last years. After my first archive searches, I was actually approached by the Head of Spacefleet’s Historical Preservation Society, retired Rear Admiral Jaylah Chen. Admiral Chen was present in the debriefings of all of Prometheus’ senior officers and crew after the ship was decommissioned. I asked her why they would knowingly put some truly damning evidence on record when they could have easily hidden it. She just looked at me, smiled, and said: “We keep secrets in order to protect our nation and our people. When the time comes to make things public and learn from the mistakes of our past we will do it. After head have cooled down of course.” I will comment on this at a later, more appropriate time when I give my final remarks, but I wanted you to keep this in the back of your mind while we move along with our little history lesson.
Spacefleet was founded almost directly after EarthGov itself, rising from the mid to late 21st century’s obsession with private space exploration and a deep pacifist streak in Earth’s general population after a decade long series of Resource Wars and final imperial grasps by the world superpowers. It is not hard to accept then that Spacefleet would a reaction to that, not unlike EarthGov. Though while EarthGov was created in response to a weak United Nations, Spacefleet was created as a purposefully weak military organization. To this day many historians like Wehler or Tenzin believe that events might have turned out different had First Contact be of a violent nature, but in between peaceful first contact and Earth’s latest series of devastating wars, Spacefleet was founded to united Earth maybe even more so than EarthGov itself. Navies have always been big meritocracies going back centuries because of the professionalism that even primitive blue water navies required, something that survives to this day in Naval tradition regardless of how professional the rest of the armed forces have become. But like I said, originally Spacefleet was not designed as a powerful military. There was no need after all. Human colonies were administered by EarthGov and part of the planetary federal system from the start. We had met one alien species and they turned out to be good people, the whole business about trying to quarantine humanity in their solar system because they pulled the trigger too fast on first contact notwithstanding. Additionally, EarthGov created the Earth Space Agency in order to foster peaceful exploration and colonization of the Solar system. Spacefleet was never more than a planning and development force until the year 2159. Crewed with less than 10.000 sailors in a time when human population of the Solar system started to reach the 10 billion mark. ESA’s corps of astronauts was similarly small, while part of a bigger organization. Even at its height in 2145 when ESA astronauts completed Gateway Stations 1 through 40 at the edges of the Solar system, the Agency never had more than 200 astronauts with less than 200 crafts. And while Spacefleet was organized around a small corps of tacticians and planners, who tried to figure out how to wage a hypothetical war in space and on foreign soil with the ESMC (Earth Space Marine Corps), they never operated more than two converted cargo ships. None of their ships were ever designed to fight a war, even though Spacefleet’s first three Chiefs of Staff always pressured the Senate to give them more funding.
Neither ESA nor Spacefleet ever received major funding during the first 60 years of their inception, something which showed in the organizational structures of both forces. Military protocol in Spacefleet began to slide and ESA was a civilian organization to begin with, that based itself on the tradition of the Apollo, Ares, and Fire Star Missions. Many of its astronauts were former test pilots, both military and civilian, and every single one had at least two Master’s degrees or a doctorate in a STEM field. Spacefleet, meanwhile, was somehow stuck in the present, without any real tradition to base itself on because of its international nature. Saluting was abolished in the days before artificial gravity and never re-introduced, ranks simplified in a time when there weren’t enough sailors to even have a proper command structure. From 2101 to 2159 Spacefleet was commanded by a Rear Admiral since there couldn’t be enough Vice Admirals and Rear Admirals to make a Four-Star appointment viable. For a long time flying with Spacefleet or the ESMC was considered a cushy armchair assignment while the true heroes of the day were ESA maverick test pilots, who had a 17.3% mortality rate in their best years and a 50% test rate in their annus horribilis in 2159, the year that changed both services forever.
Had it not been for the annus horribilis, as Admiral Diogo remembers in his memoirs To The Stars, the modern Spacefleet we know today, the Prometheus Project in its final form, and characters like Captain Kate Connors would have been able to shape Earth’s space going history as we know it. For good and for ill.
2159 was the year P-124, the first Mark IV hyperdrive test ship, was lost with all hands. 10 ESA astronauts were lost when the ship exploded and scattered, 90 astronauts died during the sabotage of Gateway 12 by isolationist terrorists, and finally P-125 was also lost with all hands at the end of the year, after what was originally thought another engine malfunction proved to be another act of sabotage. Within one year ESA’s astronaut corps was reduced from 220 to 110. Rear Admiral Diogo, Spacefleet Chief of Staff from 2155-2160 remembers:
2159 was a terrible year for everyone in the space program. There was always a certain resentment from Spacefleet towards ESA. Of course there was. We were the readheaded bastard child of the federal government. A ceremonial force, training and planning for a war that would never come. Colonel von Steuben, then commandant of the Marine Corps, had one of his cookie German compound words for it: “Trainingsweltmeister”. Kings of the training ground but losers in reality. A derogatory term, of course, but it was hard not to feel the sentiment even within the service itself. And then 2159 rolled around and the entirety of Spacefleet couldn’t do anything but stand by as the civilian program suffered losses after losses. I don’t know, I suppose they got too cocky. You know how that goes, once you don’t expect anything bad to happen anymore you just feel invincible and that’s when it hits you. After that all sense of competition was forgotten and we stepped up to do our part. At that point the whole pacifism movement that founded our service had long stopped mattering to EarthGov and we got the call from Hong Kong to deploy and help ESA out. As basically the only federal military force allowed, not to mention capable, to operate within the Solar system we got those bastard terrorists. Marines took out their ground bases on Mars, Io, and O’Neil One before they could blow up the prototype O’Neil cylinder. The fleet component helped out the rest of the astronaut corps get P-126 launched and make history by breaking the Light 2.5 barrier. We thought we were done after that. One mission in 58 years of service. Didn’t think I’d see another one in my lifetime. But there is reason for the old saying that God protects small children, idiots, and the navy.”
After the Annus Horribilis of 2159, the depletion of the astronaut corps, and a populous shaken by acts of terrorism and barbarism not seen in decades, with an imminent threat stopped but not vanquished, EarthGov passed the Naval Defense Act in January 2160. It stipulated that the civilian Earth Space Agency and military Spacefleet should become a combined service under the united name Earth Spacefleet, a term which was changed to simply Spacefleet in 2174 after the Colonial Equality Act. The combined service received additional funding to build the first two dedicated warships in its history the same year, but only one ship, EDS Mulan, was ever completed, its sister ship’s space frame saved from scrap by being turned over to the Prometheus Complex in 2162, as previously mentioned in chapter 3.
Secretary of Technology Tomaso Holden, McBright Cabinett I 2163 to 2170 remembered in his debriefing by Rear Admiral Chen:
The combined service didn’t really go anyway until 2162. Late 2162 actually, if I remember correctly. That’s when McBright had his Kennedy moment. ‘We choose to go to the stars in this decade’, that kinda bollocks. Okay, bit unfair, but he really knew how to play politics. He knew that just bumbling about didn’t really get us anyway. The Vaude weren’t a real help. The Foreign Office and Spacefleet Intelligence had concluded more than a decade prior that the Vaude would stall our technological advantage as much as possible. Of course, that was before we knew of the quarantine nonsense they had going on, but McBright decided to just stomp ahead and he did so in such a public and bombastic manner that there really was no choice but to launch a ship by 2172, the hundredth anniversary of First Contact. We knew that it was a sink or swim situation. Either we finally leave the Solar system and made a name for ourselves out there or we might end up as a Vaude protectorate or something to that effect, like I said we really had a bunch of weird conspiracy theories running around the cabinet back then.”
Not all were as optimistic as the Secretary in their assessment of the situation. While politicians were telling the public that Earth’s first Deep Space Explorer would launch in time for the centennial anniversary, Spacefleet scrambled to get ready. In order to ready itself, the federal budget allocated doubling of resources and funding to Spacefleet. Their mission now was to get a ship and a crew ready within ten years. The ship was already under construction, as described in chapter 3, but the crew was another story.
Earth Space Marine Corps Commandant Colonel von Steuben wrote in a private internal memo to the Strategic Planning Committee of Spacefleet in 2173:
We’re fucking woefully unprepared for suddenly being considered useful. Earth nations haven’t fought a war in nearly a hundred years. Blue water navies and ground armies are basically just ceremonial at this point. Disaster relief missions, clearing land mines and other nasty stuff from the old days, that kinda stuff. Atrophied like Spacefleet. We’re really fucked when Spacefleet and the ESMC kept their military skills honed the most. I’d never thought we would end up missing the military-industrial complex at some point. Society has completely shifted its focus away from everything slightly military to promote this utopia angle. All the power to them, but then don’t come up to me and tell me to raise a military from the ground up in ten years to not only start a Deep Space Exploration mission but also an advanced defense force back home should our explorers encounter any hostiles out there. Or start our first space war through incompetence. Knowing the laws of probability guess what I think will happen sooner or later?
Colonel von Steuben’s memo of warning would proof prophetic for Spacefleet and lead the way to the eclectic mixture of crew that eventually took Prometheus out into the unknown in 2172. In the year that Prometheus was laid down in dock and construction began, the race was on to start assembling and training the crew that would eventually man it. All of the existing Spacefleet crew was already out of the picture. Many of them were too old and too specialized in Solar system defense. Even the younger recruits that had been able to recruit since the budget had been expanded would be needed to crew base stations, man ships, and protect extra-solar outposts in the years to come. Prometheus would carry a compliment of Marines in addition to a regular Naval crew, but Marines are experts in close quarters battle, boarding, and boarding-repellent. Eventually it was decided to draw on former ESA astronauts as the department heads. Though even the astronaut corps was heavily depleted and, like their Naval counterparts, would be required to mostly stay within the Solar system to do jobs that would still need to be done while the Prometheus was off having adventures. So, the next ten years would be spent giving existing personnel and new recruits cross-training in military tactics, leadership, science, and diplomacy. A strict chain of command was insisted upon by both military and government, which is why the captain of the ship was also required to be the chief diplomat on-board.
Ten years later when the ship launched exactly on time, the crew of Prometheus was like the ship: made up of compromises, elbowed-in fixes, last minute changes, serendipidious appointments, pragmatism, and, what first Prometheus Chief Surgeon Doctor Troughton said in interviews: “The big three C’s: connections, connections, connections”.
The eclectic crew of Prometheus and its CO, Captain Kate Connors, where not lost on the journalists and commentators of the day. Jacky Fisher, Reuters Solar News Service reported on January 22nd 2172:
“The compliment of Earth’s first deep space starship Prometheus is an odd bunch. Crewed by 400 people the majority of crew seem unremarkable, the regular normal humans of all walks of life you see working throughout the Solar system now. It is only once you get to the department heads and senior officers that some odd choices may appear on the resumes, that Reuters could obtain from an anonymous source within the DoD. Cargo hauler pilots, High School dropouts, claustrophobics, former spies and adventurers, androids with Pinocchio complexes, oh, and a Vaude nanny, all rounded out by a trust-fund kid captain with issues and connections. The psychological reports of the DoD’s own experts are damning. How this ship can be allowed to launch is beyond this reporter.”
Fisher’s reporting, which was re-posted by many other news organizations throughout the system, was eventually lost in the hype and spin created by the Department of Defense and EarthGov both directly after the launch, and after the first adventures of Prometheus were reported back home. Though many of the words Fisher reported on in the days leading up to the launch and up to three years later until the Actium Crisis was resolved by the swift intervention of Prometheus. My colleague Commander Hobbs wrote me the following ten years ago in a text when we were discussing the Prometheus and the upcoming declassification of federal files:
“What many people, us history experts including sometimes, is that there was a surprising amount of backlash against the way Prometheus’s crew was put together. They had to tone most of the weird crew make-up down for the vid adaptations. A cargo hauler pilot, an idiot savant chief engineer tinkering with an anti-matter reactor without even basic formal education? Face it, the ship was a vanity project that was supposed to make some rounds around the a 10 to 20 lightyear radius around Sol, plant some flags, and then come home. It was a placeholder, something they designed to have for the 100-year anniversary. The senior officer roster was molded to the specifications of the captain they eventually chose when they knew that they had to heavily market this ship when they realized they had built a lemon. The Vaude realized that real early, why do you think they put an exchange officer on board? You can quote me.”
While she can feel herself quoted now, Commander Hobbs’s sentiment been mostly upheld by the new documents found in the archives. Many of the senior officers were requests by Captain Connors. Old friends, young idealists, both clashing and complimenting personality types.
The idea that a starship captain could hire crew at random instead of receiving an assignment like it would be done today might seem strange, but this were the early years of space exploration. We had our rules and experiences within the Solar system, but none outside of it.
The Vaude had told humanity as little as possible about the world outside the Oort Cloud by design to discourage exploration. They only wanted to introduce humanity to other species within the second century after first contact. Humanity was unprepared to go into the unknown. Prometheus was designed to take the first steps into the neighboring systems. The fact that they went ahead with using a spaceframe that would not be able to sustain light centuries or more speaks volumes about the lifespan they expected of the first ship. It is only through coincidence that Prometheus’ history is as illustrious and legendary as it ended up being. A history that is worth exploring and worth criticizing and worth learning from.
The next chapter will highlight the senior officers and shine some light on the legendary starship captain Connors, and why one should never hope to meet one’s heroes.