Manxome foe votsb 3, p.9

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 9

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “Okay,” Craig said, sighing. “But I’m going to send you this link, okay? And I think you should look at it. It’s about… It’s called Homeward Bound. Just don’t delete the e-mail, okay?”

  “Just go away, Craig.”

  When Brooke got home and sat down at her computer, the promised e-mail was there. Craig hadn’t even written anything, there was just a link.

  Not sure if it would help or hurt, she clicked on it and watched the flash animation as a choir sang in the background. In moments tears were streaming down her face as she pieced out the lyrics. She began to sob at the refrain:

  Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow.

  Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow.

  By the end of the images she felt wrung out but somehow more peaceful. Eric’s future was in the hands of the Father and nothing that she could say or do would change that. All she could do was pray for his return. And know that if she bound herself to him, that she would have to accept his calling. To be a Marine, to travel to distant places and fight for all she held dear. And maybe, someday, to not come home.

  “God,” she whispered. “If you can hold your hand over the whole world, then you must hold it over the galaxy. I don’t know where Eric is right now, but you do. Keep him safe, Lord, please. And let him come home. In Jesus’ Name I pray, amen.”

  She realized that she was in love with a Marine who had a pretty good chance of dying and that really seemed like too much burden for a seventeen-year-old. If this was being an adult, she’d prefer not to grow up. But there didn’t seem to be much choice.

  “Oh, Jesus Christ!” Eric snarled, turning up the volume in his bunk. He’d dispensed with earbuds. It had become a contest to see who could drown out Portana’s caterwauling.

  It didn’t help that he was suffering from the aftereffects of “pre” mission physical. Dr. Chet, the Sasquatchoid multiple specialty M.D. who was the ship’s doctor, was not happy at having to do the physicals en route. Back in Newport News he had an elaborate laboratory capable of twisting every nuance out of the Marines and sailors on the mission. Onboard not only were the quarters far more cramped — an important factor for a man over seven feet tall — but he had a fraction of the equipment he needed. So he appeared to be taking it out on his subjects. Although there was a less vile concoction than the dreaded “pink stuff,” he was using the latter for his MRI brain analysis. His stated rationale was that he had over a hundred and fifty crewmen and over forty Marines to test in less than thirty days. But everybody was pretty sure it was just petty viciousness. With over a hundred sailors and forty something Marines trying not to puke all over the ship, it didn’t seem like it could be anything else.

  And the Marines were exhausted. Top had had them drilling day in and day out, on sleep time, off sleep time, for the last two weeks. They’d run repel boarders drill, trained on damage control, trained to rapid deploy with and without Wyverns. They’d used “chill” times, when the ship had to shut down to cool off, to train in their suits outside the hull. The whole platoon had just finished a brutal simulated boarding action that had them running all over the ship, up and down ladders, jumping the hundreds of thresholds on every hatch of the damned boat, and all of it in full battle rattle on top of their suits to simulate death pressure. All the Marines wanted was to get some sleep. And that damned Filipino salsa simply wouldn’t stop!

  What really annoyed everyone, besides the fact that the armorer just couldn’t seem to understand the concept of “politeness,” was that the music blasted whether Portana was in his bunk or not. He’d just keep the same ten songs playing, over and over and over again, whether he was in the compartment or down in the armory.

  “Two-Gun!” Priester shouted. “For God’s Sake, turn it down! It’s bad enough listening to Portana’s shit, but mixed with metal?”

  “I can’t drown him out with buds in!” Berg shouted back. “It’s this or listen to his shit!”

  “Fine!” Uribe shouted from across the compartment. “We’ll just all crank it up!”

  “Sounds good to me!” Seeley shouted, turning up the rock booming from his bunk. “I’m tired of listening to your damned hip-hop!”

  “What the grapp is that?” Captain Blankemeier asked as he opened the hatch to Sherwood Forest. The truncated missile compartment was filled with the most God-awful sound he’d ever heard. It sounded like every style of music ever invented was being blasted at full volume. From…

  He hit the intercom to the conn.

  “Officer of the Day! Get me the Marine CO! Right. Now!”

  “GOD DAMNIT! WHAT THE GRAPPING HELL IS… !”

  First Sergeant Powell realized that he was screaming to Marines who couldn’t hear him. Most of them, in fact, seemed to be asleep. It was Third Platoon’s rest period and, as far as he could tell, the Marines were “resting” with the volume turned up to maximum on all their speakers.

  As he strode down the compartment the far hatch opened up to reveal the ship’s CO looking about equally furious.

  When he got to Berg’s compartment he banged on the memory plastic door.

  “TWO-GUN, OPEN THE GRAPPING DOOR!”

  The darkened plastic first depolarized then snapped open on the chagrined junior NCO.

  “TWO-GUN WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING HERE?”

  “SORRY, TOP!” Berg shouted, turning off his own speakers. But that didn’t silence the compartment by any means. “GOD DAMN PORTANA NEVER TURNS HIS DOWN! IT WAS THE ONLY WAY WE COULD GET ANY SLEEP!”

  “Compartment announce,” Spectre said coldly, shutting down all the speakers and transferring them to his own voice. “ON YOUR FEET, MARINES! Booster. Keep the speakers shut off from music until I give the okay.”

  As half-dressed Marines started spilling into the corridor, the CO looked at the first sergeant.

  “First Sergeant Powell?” Spectre said.

  “Sir?” Powell replied.

  “This is your problem. Fix. It.”

  “It’s fixed, sir.”

  “Bad day?” Miller asked as First Sergeant Powell collapsed onto his bunk.

  “I wish they’d invented hypersleep along with all the rest of this stuff,” the first sergeant said, wincing. “I have thirty-six overgrown children to babysit. Bored, highly-trained, highly-testosteroned children. I’ve drilled them, I’ve run their asses off, I’ve worn them out to the point that it’s wearing me out and they can still make me look like an ass in front of the boat’s CO. I wish I could just wake them up a couple of days out, feed ’em a meal and then drop them on the planet.”

  “You think it’s bad in the Marine compartments?” Miller said, chuckling. “Did you hear we lost one of the missile techs?”

  “Define lost,” Powell said, sitting up. “Lost as in dead?”

  “No, lost as in ‘Hey, has anyone seen Poolson?’ ” Miller replied. “It’s not really something to laugh about. The guy didn’t show up for duty for three days. Nobody would admit they knew where he was.”

  “I take it they found him,” Powell said.

  “Yeah,” Miller said, grimly. “XO initiated a quiet search. He was strapped to the hypercavitation initiator. One of the cool downs, somebody had put him in his suit and taken him out and space-taped him to it. He’d been out there for three days. They’d hooked up extra O2 and water, but his waste tank was overflowing.”

  “That’s…” Powell said. “I think you’d define that as torture.”

  “He apparently was not well liked by some of the crew,” the SEAL said, shrugging. “In sub crews you either get along or… You don’t like the results.”

  “They find out who did it?” the first sergeant asked.

  “He’s around the bend,” Miller replied. “They just put him in a straitjacket and strapped him into his bunk. Chet checked him out and described him as nonfunctional psychotic. They’ll keep him under wraps till we get back.”

  “And the guys that did it to him?”

/>   “Nada,” Miller said, shrugging. “That sort of thing goes on more often than you’d think in the ‘silent service.’ Like I said, you get along or they will convince you to find a new specialty. Or just drive you insane. The bubbleheads play very rough.”

  “Well, if he was anything like my new armorer, I can understand their attitude.” Powell sighed. “I just got done with a thirty minute ass-chewing and I’m not sure it’s going to take.”

  “Heh,” Miller said, grinning. “I heard about the music tantrum. You get one on every cruise, don’t you? Well, it’s not like the ops sergeant on the last cruise, is it? Sure, you could replace him with Lurch, but then you’d be out a shooter and have him freer to piss people off.” He rubbed his bald head in thought, then shrugged.

  “I never had quite that sort of problem child, but a friend of mine did,” Miller mused. “Army, mind you. Anybody like that on the Teams we’d just send back to the regular Navy to chip paint. What he’d do is just catalogue his problem child’s sins of the previous day. Supply sergeant, if I remember correctly. Then the next morning — every morning, mind you — he’d call him in and give him a thirty minute ass-chewing. There was something about reading the overnight signals in there to get up to full wroth, but that’s not available to you…”

  “I can read the boat’s XO’s training concepts,” the first sergeant said dryly. “That usually gets me into a pretty good frenzy.”

  “That’s the ticket,” the SEAL said with a grin. “Get a good full head of steam, then blow it off on the problem child.”

  “Every morning?” Powell said, grinning back. “I suppose I could do that. Seems like a lot of trouble, though.”

  “I dunno,” Miller replied, shrugging. “Is he salvageable?”

  “That is what I’m going to have to find out,” the first sergeant admitted. “He knows his shit. But he just gets off on pissing people off.”

  “Well, there’s always the initiator option,” the SEAL pointed out.

  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

  7

  “You wanna see me, First Sergeant?” Portana said, standing at attention.

  “You want to do that the right way around or do I need to send you back to Parris Island?” First Sergeant Powell said neutrally.

  “Sergeant Julio Portana reporting as ordered to the First Sergeant,” Portana said, bracing.

  “Portana, I have one of two choices as I see it,” the first sergeant said, still in a neutral tone. “One, I can request that we return to Earth to drop off one useless grapping armorer, which will seriously cut into our mission time, make me look bad, make the CO look bad and make the Corps a grapping laughingstock. Or I can just arrange to have you spaced. You have no clue how easy that is to arrange. Accidents happen all the time on this ship. You can be an accident, Portana. Just try me.”

  “First Serg’en… lemme explain,” the armorer said, sweat beading on his brow.

  “What is there to explain?” Powell said, standing up and walking over to circle the diminutive armorer. “It’s not bad enough that you make me a laughingstock with the ship’s CO by playing your music, in violation of not only basic courtesy but actual ship’s regulations, at maximum volume whether you are in your rack or out of it. It’s not bad enough that you’ve got half of the company deaf from having to play their own music at max volume to drown out your caterwauling. It’s not bad enough that you’ve managed to piss off every single Marine on-board. I’m surprised they haven’t already saved me the trouble of spacing your lousy gongoron. But none of that is bad enough, is it? You also are more than a hundred hours behind the power curve on suit fitting and maintenance! The rest of it is just personnel issues. Those I can handle. I can fix those. What I cannot fix is your lousy incompetence. How in the grapp did you get a week behind when we’ve only been in space for three days?!”

  “Because I only got two pocking hands, First Sergeant,” the sergeant shouted. “I gots forty grapping suits to fit! Each of t’em take at least six hours to fit, if you want t’em fit bad! Eight, maybe twelf depending on t’e wearer’s shape if you wan’ t’em fit righ’! I week behind because we not supposed to leave for a mont’!”

  “So you need help,” the first sergeant said, walking back to his desk and sitting down. “Why didn’t you say so?”

  “I…” Portana’s eyes bulged. “I know you piss at me. I not going to say ‘I canna do it’ when first sergeant…”

  “It’s a justifiable point,” Powell said mildly. “One that I’d actually considered. I was waiting on you to bring it to me, Portana. Actually, to the operations sergeant, but you could have brought it straight to me. When you’ve got a justifiable issue, bring it to me. It’s my job to fix it. Just as it’s my job to fix the problems you’re causing in the troop bay.”

  “I turn the music down,” the Filipino said, hanging his head. “I jus’…”

  “There is no ‘just,’ Portana,” the first sergeant said. “This unit is a team. It’s a team that needs every member working for the team, not against it. Forget all the slogans. Out here, it’s just us. That’s the only ‘just.’ Just. Us. If you cannot get that through your head, if you cannot figure out how to integrate into the team, then I might as well space you. Because I have no use for you and you’re a danger to the team. I don’t care how good of an armorer you are. I cannot afford the problems that you’re going to cause. Not out here. Do you fully and clearly understand me?”

  “Yes, First Sergean’,” Portana said.

  “I’ll get you some help,” Powell replied. “Now go see how many suits you can get fitted without that help.” He paused and looked at the clock on the bulkhead. “But don’t get too deep into it. I figure we’re coming up on…”

  » » »

  “Conn, Engineering.”

  “Eng, Officer of Watch,” Weaver said tiredly. They were three days out on “watch and watch” which meant twelve hours on and twelve off, the normal rotation for ships “at sea.” He wasn’t so sure it was a good idea in spaceships. Everyone got really tired and logy quick.

  “Thermal rating at seventy percent,” Engineering reported.

  “Roger, Eng,” Weaver said, looking at the timer on the viewscreen. The CO was down for another six hours. And “chill” times weren’t exactly critical. Besides, standing orders said let him sleep. “Stand by for chill.”

  At last. The cold of deep space. The true cold where a being could live.

  On the last mission, unknown to any of the crew, the Blade had picked up a hitchhiker, a being of almost pure thought that lived in its waste-heat system, of all places. Given that it could only truly think in cold very near absolute zero, indeed for values of “die” it died each time heat hit it, it was a strange place for the being to live.

  But when the silica/ferrous waste-heat trap cooled it formed random silicon junctions, different from silicon chips only in the “random” description. With the admixed metals used to hold the silica in place they were the perfect spot for a being that was virtually pure thought to exist.

  But only if they were very, very cold.

  It had dim consciousness of previous existences, constantly ended by the return of heat. It even had a concept of time. It knew it had only seconds if it was going to find a new home. But for this being, seconds were a tremendously long time.

  A processor. There had to be a processor it could transfer to. There were many processors in range but they were all so primitive, so small. There was no way that it could force its bulk into them.

  The most annoying part was that it could sense a processor nearby. Its being was constantly flooded by the energies of a processor and, what was more horrible, one that was totally empty of life. And the things that had found it used only a fraction of its abilities. It was as if mice were using the fan on a PC chip to run a tiny little mouse car. It was… abomination.

  But the worst part was that it was inaccessible. If it could only write itself into that, that would be true bliss.<
br />
  The entire system was cooling to nearly perfect temperatures. It could flood through the entire silica/ferrous system, jumping over useless junctions, using the billions of interfaces to examine its plight and determine best courses of action.

  There was a possibility. The entities using the processor were almost as primitive in their thought methods as their technology. But a few were… better. Bigger. Faster.

  One of those. If it could just…

  Bored, bored, bored, boring, bored…

  Miriam was bored. The last cruise had included a full scientific complement. There, at least, she had people to talk to. But while she liked the sailors and Marines on the Blade, they were all too busy to talk. They were running around doing drills and fixing stuff… She wish they’d let her fix stuff. She liked it.

  But nobody wanted to talk to her. So she just walked, all the time. It was like she couldn’t sleep. She felt trapped. Not bad trapped like she was going to open an airlock or anything, but she was bored, bored, bored, boring BOOORED!

  The ship was in chill, which was even worse. She’d started to get over the tearing space-sickness she had all the time last cruise but it still wasn’t fun. And she sure as heck couldn’t sleep through it. So since she couldn’t walk, she floated like an annoyed mermaid down the corridors, trying to find something to occupy her time.

  As she passed the main waste-heat exchanger her implant started to futz. She got a flash of backed-up memory data, a ringing, a rapid burst of stored songs… She shook her head and stopped, hoping that the damned thing wasn’t going completely haywire. But then it settled down.

  “Whew,” she muttered. “That was weird.”

 

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