Chapter 6: The 10 Year Mission That Wasn’t One – Year 1
Prometheus was initially commissioned for a 5-year mission to penetrate as deep as possible into the unknown regions of space as possible and make its way back. For that challenge the ship was equipped to handle all possible events to come, from battle, to diplomacy, cartography, and outpost construction, on paper both ship and crew were ready when the mission began, but interviews with the crew speak of a different picture. Interview questions will be in bold and answers in italics.
If you had to describe the launch, what was it like?
(Commander Arroway) Nightmare.
Well, everything was still in flux. The beam weapons weren’t field tested yet, scratch that most of the weapons systems weren’t tested yet. I mean it’s understandable with the railgun because that thing is just way to destructive for a solar system with less and less uninhabited space to use, but still. I went to the captain about two weeks away from launch and begged her to talk to the admirals and postpone our launch. She asked me if we could leave space dock and go to hyperspeed. I told her that we could. That seemed to be more than okay to her.
So the problems following launch were her fault?
I didn’t necessarily say that. The captain was just following orders at the time. The launch date was set 10 years beforehand and it had to be on the day that the original Prometheus experimental ship launched to its first hyperspace flight. Ceremony and celebrations had a lot to do with it, I suppose. Then again… I mean she was Jive’s granddaughter, and she was kinda obsessed with the ship. When Chief Stevenson hit the hull markings with the space dock inspection shuttle while in dry dock, she made him go out in a spacesuit to give it a touch up. I mean that might sound crazy for an outsider or an onlooker but the captain had a way like that. So yeah, she wanted that on-time launch as well. A few weeks later when we were under attack she considered turning the ship around to head home to finish installing and calibrating the weapons. Eventually she decided to do it in-flight.
So the ship continued to have problems after launch?
Yes. Our defensive systems were unsynchronized, our aft cannons not operational, and our teams didn’t have enough time to train on them. Prometheus was a self-sustaining eco system and big enough for us to manufacture whatever we needed to finish the job on the go. We had the plans so we just printed everything after extracting raw material from asteroids in the first system we cartographed.
But that’s when you were attacked for the first time?
Yes, it was in our third week of mapping Proxima Centauri when a ship left hyperspace and eventually attacked us without provocation. Small missile salvo. Captain ordered the ship to full alert and counter-measures were deployed. Our autocannons took down all but one and the last one was absorbed by our armor plating. Nothing more than a bruise really. Ship decided to high-tail it out of there directly afterwards when we sent out some missiles of our own. Thankfully, since they tumbled into an asteroid shortly thereafter or just gave out. Shoddy design, had to overhaul it all on the fly.
Wasn’t there any real concern when you were attacked in our closest neighbor system?
Scared as hell, but the captain decided to press one. If we decided to run back home every time someone tried to bully us we would never have gotten out into space.
The ship’s log to that date shows an entry by Captain Connors musing on whether or not the ship might have been Vaude-built. Your thoughts?
That’s that whole “Cray-Cray Connors” nonsense again, right? Look, I can’t say it often enough, but the captain wasn’t crazy. Just passionate. And especially passionate about our mission. She wanted the mission to succeed and I suppose if you deal long enough with the Vaude like she had to through her family and after being named captain of the Prometheus you do start to see enemies everywhere, even if it doesn’t make any sense. She asked Commander Cobenzi if he knew the design, and he denied it, after that she never mentioned that theory again. I can’t stress this enough: she didn’t think the Vaude were out to get us.
In those first few months, what was your general mission statement?
(Lt. Commander Prisha) Our first mission statement was a general shakedown cruise.
In deep space? Without any rescue vehicle?
Anything outside the Solar system was the point of no recovery in time. No ship in the fleet was fast enough to reach us in time should anything happen so the captain decided to just go ahead and screen systems for colonization and garrison work.
Did you agree with this method back then?
No, not at the time. I asked the captain if it was logical to, as she put it “make it up as we go along”. Highly questionable move and against the plan laid out by the mission planning office in the ten years before launch.
So there was a handbook the Captain just decided to throw out?
She bent it somewhat, but it wasn’t that bad. The mission parameters stated that we should move ahead to a new system when we decided we were ready. And in all cases we were. Personally, I preferred it to move along as quickly as possible.
I was the ship’s linguistics expert. Mapping star systems is highly stimulating for my colleagues trained and interested in that field, but I was already an expert in all human languages and was practicing my Vaude with Commander Cobenzi. I had nothing to do in the first two and a half months we were in space.
Is that why logs of the first few months show you running errands?
I was trying to find a way to make myself useful. I might have outgrown my programming as a pleasure bot, but companionship and helpfulness are still virtues I was intend of practicing. Helping out in different departments and doing other things helped pass the time.
Coming back to the previous point: did Captain Connors ever feel like she was running from something?
She was certainly driven and very tense in those first few months before we made our first non-Vaude alien contact. In-system she had as little to do as I had and during transit there is also not much to do. Hyperspace is very boring, after all. Nothing can attack you in hyperspace. If it weren’t for the frequent stops ships had to make back then in between jumps and were defenseless otherwise, cryosleep would have been more efficient… But I think the Captain was just worried because of that first attack in Proxima Centauri.
In your third mission month and 32.3 lightyears away from Sol, the ship’s log records the ship’s second alien encounter, again with the ship or a similar one to that from the Proxima encounter. What was that like?
(Lieutenant Yuedan) It was only a matter of time. I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, that the aliens were just testing us. Hit and run guerilla tactics. Very efficient to test what we were made off. Turned out okay in the end, we still got diplomatic relations with the Leonids to this day, so no harm done, nobody died.
The Leonids are not a very martial species, but why did the first four encounters with them over the course of half a year always lead to confrontation?
You don’t get to be top dog in your ecosystem by being a fucking peacenik. Strength is the universal language in space. I’m sure had the captain allowed me to board the Leonids in that second encounter we would have hammered out diplomatic relations then and there.
So you think Captain Connors made a strategic mistake at that point?
She was trying to conflicted at the time. Frankly, she was no good as a superior officer back then.
Spacefleet is a navy first and foremost, and a naval captain defends her ship and crew above else. The Captain was still trying on her explorer boots at the time and wasn’t done breaking them in. I think she didn’t want to seem too barbaric in-front of the Vaude, Commander Cobenzi. Problem was that she was too impulsive back then but not impulsive enough to take charge. The Leonids saw that as weakness and continued to harass us.
It seems like the ship encountered basically nothing for the first four months but then had DEs (Distinct Events) every other week.
(CMO Troughton) Yeah, just our luck. God, did I miss the first couple of months of quiet. I got to work on my research instead of working on patients. After that it was temporary insanity, time distortion fields, alien viruses, mind control, and other shenanigans 24/7. Would drive a man to drink if I hadn’t been doing so already.
Did you ever find out why?
Nah, the Vaude didn’t tell us nothing. Why the Vaude? I tell ya why, because them fellas set up a quarantine around Sol for like 20 lightyears in every direction to make sure nobody came calling for us. Sure, gave us time for a proper shakedown before things got hairy, but mark my words, it was them purple-blooded buggers.
How was the crew holding up after the DEs started increasing?
I’m a doctor, not a psychiatrist, but surprisingly well. We didn’t start losing people until the Actium thing so all was still fun back then. Idiots. Space is illness and danger that boils you alive if you look at it funny. That we survived all of it just shows how fucking lucky we were all the time. Mark my words, nobody would have made it without using up luck for three entire generations, I mean just look at the current fucking fleet.
What are you referring to?
Just look at them. For all the luck we had they pretty much pay the price now. We stumbled onto the scene when there wasn’t much going on yet, but we made so much noise, that the people following us are paying the price. I mean higher fatalities and higher casualty rates. You take out an away team and you can be sure that someone won’t come back, maybe even half the team if it’s a particularly bad day.
So you think this is why Prometheus’ fatality rate was never above 10% throughout its entire service history?
Well, it’s only ten percent anyway because we literally had zero fatalities in our first two years and very low rates in the second half of our mission. Basically, everything came from the middle five years. Flesh wounds, mind rape, gunshot wounds, the scraps the captain always got herself in only to get her ass kicked, it adds up, but if nobody dies people don’t give a shit.
How do you think this effected the thinking of Spacefleet back home?
All the fucking holidays wrapped into one for them, they got to brag with that. People back home saw the mission reports and news postings and declassified sensor readings and saw a grand adventure. They never had to see me stich people back together with a glorified stapler, print prosthetic limps, or anything. Nobody died, that means it’s safe, right? Anyway… it got Spacefleet a huge manpower boost, enough to crew and enhance all the new outposts we were building in our wake and they came out to crew.
From the impressions, I’ve been getting so far from the senior officers it’s that the first year went about as well as one could have hoped for.
(Commander Cobenzi) In a way. It certainly didn’t make my job any easier, since that was to advice caution whenever prudent. Needless to say, caution was always blown to the wind, as the expression goes, and I ended up less than endearing myself to the crew. It was strange to be on the ship in that first year.
Because you were the outsider?
That is what I originally thought when I got on board. I had of course lived on Earth for 2 years before launch when I attended Spacefleet training courses, since only an idiot would not train an exchange officer in alien technology, custom, and language. There were many things on board that I got used to, like preparing my own food and keeping it away from the rest of the crew because of our chemical incompatibility, always triple-checking my atmosphere regulator so I wouldn’t die, all of these things I could deal with. I could not deal with how wrong I turned out at every opportunity regardless of how insane the other senior officers appeared to be in their judgement.
Could you elaborate?
When my people first went out among the stars there was even less stellar travel around than when Prometheus was launched. Many species had developed FTL at this point and were no longer quarantined under First Contact laws. In theory, Prometheus’ first year should have been more eventful and we had thought it would be, that is why we had a fast battlecruiser shadow Prometheus for the entire year, just waiting for them to fail horribly and tow them back home in disgrace.
But that didn’t happen.
No offense, but sadly not. Captain Connors and her senior officers did everything wrong from our point of view. Landing parties, always approached everyone with open arms and weapons holstered, stumbled their way through mundane anomalies and mysteries that would have killed anyone else dumb enough to attempt it. Technically we should have all died when we got intoxicated from that nebula in the Eridani sector, but even that we survived.
Maybe Captain Connors was just so good that she got everyone through those situations just fine.
Please don’t make me laugh. I have come to respect Kate Connors as both a captain and a sapient being over this last human decade, but that was a person forged in the years after launch, not the person that accidentally let her opioid addicted chief medical officer vomit on sacred trees. No, luck was everything.
You seem to have a lot of scathing criticism for the captain.
Early Captain Connors, yes. Not later Captain Connors.
There is a difference?
Early Captain Connors was a spoiled, underachieving brat. Nepotism and public relations coupes is what her got the appointment, not cunning, intelligence, resourcefulness, or empathy. The Captain Connors that launched with Prometheus twelve Earth years ago was not the person that can rightfully be called a Sis’Ko, an exceptional being of destiny. Twelve years ago I met a Captain Kate Connors that had appointed an idiot who had no concept of higher mathematics to oversee a fusion reactor, an addict with post-traumatic stress as Chief Medical Officer, and a barely trustworthy artificial intelligence as chief communicator. She was bigoted, hotheaded, going into situations without assessing them first, and did many stupid things that should have gotten us killed multiple times over.
And yet here you sit.
And yet here we sit, because we were allowed to ease into the mission. It was a once in a millennium random chance. We had very uninteresting, almost cliché missions, by current Spacefleet standards at least, at the beginning of our journey. A couple of anomalies, problems with the ship’s systems not unheard of from shakedown cruises, some alien encounters, but very few real combat scenarios. Besides the Leonids we mostly dealt with local widelife threats planetside and I specifically vetoed missions to hapitable planets because I knew we weren’t ready yet. It was an uneventful, boring year for the most part and I was thankful for it. I knew we wouldn’t be able to keep up that streak forever though.
I placed Commander Cobenzi’s interview snippets at this point because I believe they give a wonderful look behind the façade of early Spacefleet. Prometheus was not legendary from the start, it began with simple surveys, outpost building, the occasional anomaly or encounter, a few landing parties. A year might seem like a long time and yet it wasn’t. Less than ten major events happened during the first year, all of them testing one or more aspects of Prometheus’ capabilities or those of her crew and captain. The great achievement of this year being official first contact with the Leonids and establishing relations with them, encapsulates this: early encounters seemed dangerous for the people back home and because of transmission gaps in form of dispatch boats bringing word home over the course of weeks and then waiting weeks again for new news to arrive from Earth’s sole and therefor premier deep space explorer, made people’s imaginations run wild. The number of events faced by Prometheus in its first year were only a portion of what later years would bring, circa 20 events per average. The months between events were without note, hyperspace travel and surveys are unglamorous and boring to the highly stimulated brains of humans, which is why you will never find it in the news coming back from the stars. A people hungering for news from Prometheus though, was willing to take every single breadcrum Spacefleet Command was willing to offer.
A hundred years after Prometheus’ launch and with Humanity having long since become a multi-system species, we are now used to receiving our news delayed. The lack of FTL communications and a widely-spread network of ships and colonies have acclimatized to this, but a mere century ago this wasn’t the case. Humanity was a one star system species and was not accustomed to waiting for news anymore. So, while Prometheus’ blind luck in its first year of service is most definitely worth addressing, as was done through the excellent collection of interviews as provided by Commander Hobbs, the truly interesting fact to me remains that an entire species sat glued to their computers and celebrated every little anomaly and mundane, by today’s standards, mission. Arguably, this is the only reason to even address the first two years of service, as it will provide some good context for the Prometheus’ mission in its prime and its declining later years.