Bridge, Star Fleet Auxiliary Ship Wichita Falls
        "Approaching Battle Station K6," the navigator said.
        "Very well," Commander Crawford replied. "Hail them for docking assignments. Tell the cargo crew to step lively."
        "Yeah, I don't want to be here any longer than you do, Skipper," the XO said.
        "Actually, I don't mind it at all," Commander Crawford said. "After we're done here, we have to run along the border to restock the warning posts and evacuate their surplus personnel."
        "You didn't mention that," the XO said.
        "No, I did not," Commander Crawford said. "No sense upsetting the crew any sooner than necessary."
        "They won't like being lied to," the XO replied.
        "I didn't lie to them," Commander Crawford said. "I just did not mention the extended run."
        "A distinction without much difference," the XO said.
        "You can run the ship your way when it's your ship," Crawford said. "By the way, that will be in less than a month."
        "What?" the XO blurted.
        "Admiral Connell wants me on his staff," Crawford said. "I'm finally getting off of these transports. This is the third one I have commanded, you know."
        "I know that," the XO said. "You're very long in the tooth for this kind of job. Most officers who get stuck on transports retire after a tour or two ‹ or get promoted out of them."
        "I never intended to stay on transports," Crawford laughed, "but after I was a prisoner of that alien ship, nobody trusted me on a warship. Now, I have more experience running transports than any officer has ever had. Admiral Connell thinks, with a war coming, that my experience will be valuable."
        "Lucky you," the XO said, starting to think about the changes he was going to make once he took command.

Office, Remote Warning Post K64
        "So just how is this going to work?" Ensign Stone asked.
        "Which part of it?" Lieutenant Evans replied. "The lottery or the surrender?"
        "Well, both," Ensign Stone answered.
        "There are 11 of us here," Lieutenant Evans replied. "The transport will be here in a few hours. Four of us will remain, while seven will leave on the transport. Anyone who wants to volunteer to stay can do so. Other than that, the lottery determines who stays, and who goes.
        "And I draw first?" the ensign asked.
        "Correct," the Lieutenant answered. "Assuming no volunteers, there will be 10 chips in the cup, four black and six white. You draw one. If it's black, you stay and I leave and the nine enlisted crewmen draw the other nine chips to see who stays with you. If you draw a white chip, then I take one of the black ones out of the cup, you put the white one back in, and the nine enlisted men draw to see which three stay with me."
        "And when the Klingons show up?" Ensign Stone asked.
        "If they invade, some Klingon ship will stop by. Until then, we keep recording the sensor readings and transmitting them back to battle stations K6 and K7, the commo relay satellite, and the next warning station to either side." Evans mentally noted that the satellites in question were not actually satellites, since they were not actually orbiting anything, but the term had stuck a few centuries ago.
        "And when a Klingon ship shows up?" Ensign Stone asked.
        "Whoever is still here surrenders, since we have no ability to fight, and dying is just stupid," Lieutenant Evans said. "In all probability, the Klingons will question the prisoners, but we don't know much, and they know that. They'll drop us on some habitable planet and leave something in orbit to watch us. A few years later, the war will end, and we get all of our back pay, promotions for time in grade, a prisoner of war medal, and a ticket back home."
        "Assuming they don't kill us," Ensign Stone noted.
        "Why would they?" Lieutenant Evans answered with a smile. "They are just as likely to wave as the last four people take the shuttle and go to the colony on Epsilon Kabinda Three."
        "So why don't we all leave now?" Stone asked.
        "You know the system, Ensign," Stone said. "This warning station, and 50 others on this border, are important. Sure, the computers can track ship movements and signals intercepts and forward the data by themselves, which a thousand unmanned satellites are already doing. These stations are manned because things break, sensors need to be recalibrated, and things happen. About 10% of the satellites are out of service at any time, which is why there are so many of them.
        "It's a multi-layer network, Ensign," Evans continued, and not for the first time. "The Klingon border is guarded by 1,000 or so unmanned satellites, 50 manned warning stations, eight battle stations with bigger sensors and serious firepower, and a starbase, not to mention two dozen police cutters and the entire Third Fleet. The battle stations are not close enough together to see everything in real time, and the unmanned stations don't always keep working, so the manned warning stations guarantee total coverage, year in and year out.
        "These warning stations can be run by four people working around the clock, assuming that nothing we don't have a backup for actually breaks. Four people cannot work around the clock for very long, and major systems do break sometimes, so the standard crew has enough for three shifts, because the stations have been out here for decades. Even with Falkenburg out sick, 11 of us have had a comfortably busy time here.
          "Now that we are under a war warning, doctrine says that we need to reduce the warning stations from their normal crews of 12 to skeleton crews of four, since that means fewer people get captured on the first day. Since no one knows when the Klingons will actually invade, we cannot leave the warning stations unmanned. In two or three days, half of them would stop working, because our more powerful systems are more complicated than the systems on the satellites."
        "And what happens if the Klingons don't show up?" Stone asked. "What if there is no war, no invasion?"
        "Well, figure a week before some major system and both of its backups fail and about that long before the skeleton crew is too exhausted to function at all. Before that happens, some starship will come by and bring four of the people leaving today to replace the four who will stay. While they're doing the exchange, their engineers can pop over and fix anything that needs it."
         "Why don't they do that all the time, then?" Stone asked.
        "Because starship supply runs cost more than leaving people here for a few months at a time," Evans explained. "You know that, and going over what smarter people already figured out is not going to change anything, now is it?"
        "I guess not," Ensign Stone said with a sigh.
        "Now, run along, check the systems, and make sure the crew is in the dining room in an hour. I have some work to do."
        Ensign Stone left the office, clouded by dejection.
        "Unhappy puppy, Bill?" Crew Chief Andresson said after coming into the office and closing the door.
        "More depressed than unhappy, I guess, Amanda," Evans said. "How's the crew holding up?"
        "Feeling used and abandoned," she replied, rubbing his shoulders. "We all are. I don't guess he ever did figure out what we're doing here. I know he thought he was volunteering for starship duty."
        "We all thought we were volunteering for starship duty," Evans replied, shifting in his chair, "and we all knew in our guts they were not going to use us for that. I don't think he ever figured out how the whole system works."
         Seven months ago, Star Fleet had asked the National Guard for thousands of volunteers who were already trained for space duty. Many responded, but instead of finding themselves as part of starship crews, they found themselves taking over the myriad of deep-space outposts and smaller supply bases that Star Fleet normally manned.
        Star Fleet's personnel system was a combination of a necessity and an opportunity. Hundreds of outposts and stations needed crews, and Star Fleet needed to prepare for a sudden wartime expansion of the fleet, using dozens of older ships kept in reserve. The solution was to have the Academy and training schools produce more people than were needed for starship duty, and to use the excess to provide the crews for warning stations, outposts, system stations, bases of all sizes, auxiliary ships, transports, and so forth. When war came, the billets on outposts and stations could quickly be filled by National Guardsmen that Star Fleet did not trust on starships.
        Even rusty old freighters carrying government cargo had retired Star Fleet officers who could return to active duty, their space skills kept more or less intact by duty on those freighters. If war came, civilians could take over those jobs.
        All of those released and returning Star Fleet personnel (who were probably less qualified for starship duty than the National Guardsmen who replaced them) could be sent to the mothball ships and to new construction, which was why Star Fleet had called in the Guardsmen and used them to take over every small facility on ‹ or anywhere near ‹ the Klingon border. Evans wondered, for a moment, where the 2,000 Star Fleet personnel they had replaced had been sent, and what they were doing. What Evans desperately avoided thinking about however, was that Star Fleet had offered up the hated Guardsmen as sacrificial lambs in order to preserve their own personnel. Any Star Fleet officer posted to a warning station must be someone even Star Fleet didn't want on a starship, so why did Star Fleet want them back instead of using Guardsmen who had been serving on starships for the last months or years?
        "I was a gunnery officer on Revenge," he muttered to himself, "using a phaser control panel identical to the ones in Star Fleet's front-line cruisers. So why am I here instead of warming up one of the reserve cruisers?"
        "I know, darling," Crew Chief Andresson replied, leaning over to kiss him. "You know that if you draw a black chip, I'm going to immediately take a second one out of the cup and stay with you."
        "Maybe we'll get a nice prison planet?" he said to her. "Do you think we might go ahead and have children?"
        "Only if you get the captain of that transport to marry us," she laughed.
        "That would be against regulations," he sighed.
        "And what are they going to do to us?" she said, looking him in the eyes, "send us to a remote warning station on the Klingon border? If we lose the lottery, I'll have the marriage paperwork ready when the transport gets here. You're taking me into a Klingon jail as an honest woman, Bill. Count on it."
        "Yes, dear," Lieutenant Evans replied.