Manxome foe votsb 3, p.10

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 10

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  On the other hand, she hadn’t been a laboratory rat for various neurologists most of her life for nothing. If there was any brain in the human race capable of messing up an implant, which was pretty mature technology, it was hers.

  “Maybe I should go see Dr. Chet,” she muttered, then thought better of it. He’d already suggested that he’d like to open up her cranial cavity just to see what made her tick.

  “Everything is fine,” she said. “I’m just bored, bored, bored, boooored…”



  There was enough space. The being, the “human,” used a remarkable amount of its brain power compared to most of its race, but there was enough left over room to shoe-horn in. What was even better, it could use the device in the human’s head to access data, to even contact the main processor at the center of the… ship.

  Finally, it had found a place the word for which was so long lost to it it had to pull the word out of deep memory.


  “I am coming home…” Berg sang under his breath, scrubbing a wire brush into the shoulder joint of his armor.

  “Not for a while, Two-Gun,” the first sergeant said. “And not at all if you don’t maintain situational awareness.”

  “Sorry, Top,” Berg said, bearing down on the brush. He’d gotten a glimpse of some grit back up in the joint and it bothered him. Two reasons. Make that three. One, it was dirt on his equipment. He was a Marine. It bothered him. Two, if it stayed there it could wear at the joint and, potentially, cause a failure. Failure in space would be a very bad thing. The term was “corpsicle.” Three, if he didn’t get it out that bastard Portana was bound to notice it sooner or later and turn his suit back for more cleaning. He’d already done that on an absolutely perfect machine gun. The little Filipino runt just had it in for him because—

  “You, Two-Gun, are woolgathering,” Powell said, squatting down. “Actually, if I didn’t know you better I’d use the term ‘brooding.’ ”

  “I haven’t actually been in your unit all that long, Top,” Berg pointed out.

  “So you’re saying you are brooding?” the first sergeant replied. “Would a Filipino armorer have anything to do with it? Or is it the new girlfriend?”

  “How did you know…” Berg started to say, then set the brush down. “Uh, that would be A, Top. I’ve tried to be civil, he just pushes. I’ve tried to be hard, he just pulls rank. It’s like he gets off on pissing people off. I can take regular joking. I know that people push all the time. There are ways to push back, let stuff slide, give as good as you get. He doesn’t play that game. He just tries to piss people off. Sorry, Top, that’s how I see it.”

  “Okay, look at it from my side,” the first sergeant said. “Say that you’re looking at this from the outside in. What would you do?”

  “Give him a class in basic barracks courtesy comes to mind,” Berg said. “Other than that… I haven’t really thought about it.”

  “I have,” Powell said. “But I want you to.”

  “Blanket party?” Berg asked, chuckling. “Sorry, just wishing.”

  “You’re also not thinking,” the first sergeant said sternly. “I gave you a task. Complete it. You have two NCOs that are not getting along. One of them, frankly, is not getting along with any of the other members of the company but he’s particularly not getting along with one. If you get those two integrated, you are fairly assured that you can integrate the problem NCO into the company. How do you integrate those NCOs?”

  “God, Top,” Berg said, setting down his brush. “You want me to get to be friends with that little Fl…”

  “Let’s lose the racial slurs, Sergeant Bergstresser,” Powell growled.

  “Okay, but I still can’t believe you’re serious, First Sergeant Powell,” Eric replied. “Portana is the most annoying human being I’ve ever met!”

  “Know anything about him?” the first sergeant asked. “I mean, he’s in the bunk above yours.”

  “I can’t talk to him over that damned salsa,” Berg said. “The answer, to be clear First Sergeant, is no, I do not know anything about Sergeant Portana except that he is annoying.”

  “Hmmm…” Powell said, nodding. “Sergeant Bergstresser, I’m assigning you an additional duty. I’m aware that you’ve had the basic armorer’s initialization during Qual Course. Sergeant Portana, despite what I have truly determined to be significant and efficient actions on his part, is falling behind in suit fitting and maintenance. In part because we’re changing over to the Mark Six line and most of them weren’t fitted prior to scramble. You are hereby assigned as assistant armorer for the time being. Report to Sergeant Portana as soon as you rerack your suit.”

  “You hate me, don’t you?” Eric said.

  “No, actually,” Powell said, straightening up. “I see a lot of promise in you, Two-Gun. You’ve got the makings of a damned fine NCO. Hell, you’ve got the makings of a damned fine officer. But one thing you haven’t learned, in part because you haven’t been in the Corps for any time at all, is that you have to learn to work with people you despise. And that’s just one of the many things that make being in the Corps such a daily joy. This is your period of training on that subject. Get to it.”

  “Hey, Two-Gun,” Miriam said happily.

  “Hello, Miss Moon,” Eric replied, far less happily.

  “Whatcha doin’?”

  “Headed to the armory,” Eric replied.

  “You don’t look happy,” Miriam said, frowning. “What’s wrong with the armor… Oh, I heard you and the armorer don’t get al…” She stopped and looked around. “Did you just say something?”

  “I said I was going to the armory,” Eric replied cautiously.

  “Nothing about t-junctions or something?” Miriam asked.

  “Nooo,” Berg said. “What’s a t-junct… ? Wait, that’s a particle junction in the—”

  “Whatever,” Miriam said. “You have to go to the armory. And I need… I think I need to go lie down.”

  “Okay,” Eric said as the linguist walked away rapidly. “You going to be okay?”

  “Fine,” Miriam said, stepping over a threshold and closing the hatch. “Fin…”

  “Whew,” the linguist said, leaning against the bulkhead. “That was close.”

  “…seven point two times ten to the minus twenty-one seconds and three zero nine six point nine million electron volts per square of field velocity constant. The second-smallest stationary energy state of the charm and anti-charm flavor particle to interact at the t-junction annihilation/creation region will…” the voice whispered.

  It wasn’t a stored mem. Those descended like icy cold data you already “knew.” This was something different. The only thing she could figure was it was her implant on the fritz. But going to Dr. Chet with that might actually mean that maniac would crack her cranial cavity. And she’d much rather be in a ground-side hospital for that. Preferably with someone less… inquisitive than Dr. Chet doing the cracking.

  “Okay,” she said, just as a crewman rounded the corner. “No more talking about the voices.”

  “Ma’am?” the seaman replied. “Are you okay?”

  “I’m fine,” Miriam said sunnily. “How are you today?”

  “Just fine, ma’am,” the crewman said, opening the hatch.

  “Have a nice day,” Miriam said, smiling at him until the hatch closed. “And especially no more talking about it in the corridors. Shut up! I don’t know what any of that is!”


  “You godda be pocking kidding me.”

  Berg had reported to the armorer, as ordered. He was a Marine. You got an order and you said “Aye, aye” and carried it out to the best of your ability.

  Portana, for his part, had apparently been briefed. And, for once, he’d acted like a Marine. He’d set Berg to work refitting the gun mounts. Part of what had held Portana up was that the
Mark Six suit had a different traverse/aim system than the Mark Five. Besides having to be refitted, all of the guns for the suits had to have a new mount installed. It was easy if tedious work and Berg had to admit that it was about his level of knowledge. If he’d had to fit one of the suits by himself he’d have been at it all day and probably gotten it wrong.

  But it didn’t mean they were getting buddy-buddy. Portana had given him the task and left him to it. Berg, for his part, became inured to hours of mindless refitting and zero conversation. He also was getting inured to Filipino salsa. Portana, as was his right, played it constantly in the armory. The same ten songs, over and over. If Berg ever met the whiny bitch who was singing he was going to give her a piece of his mind.

  Berg didn’t even look up at the curse from the armorer. He just continued unscrewing the mount from Corwin’s gun; the new mount ready to be installed sat on the floor by his side.

  “Modderpocker,” the armorer continued. “T’ere is no pocking way I can get t’at done!”

  “What’s up?” Berg asked. Other than a ritual “good morning” and “good afternoon” it was the first time he’d addressed Portana in three days.

  “Neber min’,” Portana said nervously.

  “That sounds ominous.” Berg looked over at him. The armorer was chewing his lip.

  “Pock,” Portana said, shaking his head. “I pock up. Pig time.”

  “How?” Berg asked, seriously.

  “I been habing problem wit’ t’e suits,” Portana said. “Feedback circuit goin’ ape-maulk.”

  “I’ve heard the scuttlebutt,” Berg said. “The guys are saying they can’t hit chither with them.”

  “T’ere’s a software upgra’,” Portana said, shaking his head. “I missed it. Was in a main’nance message. We so busy I jus’ pocking miss it! Now ebery pocking suit habe to be updated an’ t’en it habe to be recalibrated!”

  “Maulk,” Berg said, grinding his teeth. “Calibration” was the longest part of fitting. Essentially, Portana was going to have to start over. Worse, he was going to have to tell Top why he had to start over.

  “You sure you have to recalibrate?” Berg said.

  “Don’ see a way around it,” Portana replied.

  “You’ve got the previous calibration results for all the suits, right?” Berg said.


  “No way to use those as a base?” Berg asked.

  “You gonna write the algorit’m?” Portana asked. “I know code, sure, bu’ no t’at good.”

  “Hmmm…” Berg said. “Permission to take a little walk, Sergeant?”

  “Why?” Portana asked.

  “Gonna take a little trip to the science side…”

  “Hmmm…” Miriam said, looking at the updated code. “This is a little rough. Are you sure this is the right update?”

  “How is it rough?” Portana asked, looking over her shoulder. He could barely read the lines and lines of machine code. He’d had coding as part of his training and knew it well enough. But the linguist was scrolling down faster than he could read normal text much less keep up with the code.

  “It could be a lot tighter,” Miriam replied, opening up another screen and dumping a copy of the code into it. “The logic is too complicated. There are shortcuts.”

  “We just need to see if we can use the prior results to get a close approximate of proper feedback loops, Miss Moon,” Berg said.

  “Oh, that’s easy,” Miriam replied. “But let me work on this a bit. I’ll give you something in a couple of hours.”

  “Portana!” The first sergeant bellowed.

  “Yes, Firs’ Sergean’!” The armorer jumped to his feet. He’d been installing the new code for the last two days and had barely gotten to calibration. He only had three suits done so far and he knew Top was going to be riding his butt soon enough. The “re-refitting” wasn’t making anyone happy.

  “Gunny Neely was just checking out his suit,” Top said. “He says whatever you did was great. It’s tracking like a panther. Good work.”

  “T’ank you, Firs’ Sergean’,” Portana replied.

  “What’s the schedule look like?”

  “T’e patch is speeding up t’e fittings,” Portana said. “I catch up to schedule in a day or so. No more.”

  “Glad to hear it,” Top said. “Two-Gun, how’s it hanging?”

  “One lower than the other, Top,” Berg said. He was “refitting” Seeley. With the wearer’s previous biometric data and Miriam’s patch all that was required was updating the software then testing for fine motor items. They could even use the biometric data from their Mark Fives, cutting the refit time down to a couple of hours rather than the damned near a shift it had been taking. He was pretty sure they’d be ahead of schedule in two days much less back to it. Then he could get back to the mounts. He wasn’t looking forward to that.

  “You listen to Portana,” the first sergeant said. “He’s a wonder.”

  “T’ank you,” Portana said as the first sergeant left.

  “You’re welcome,” Berg replied.

  “You going to tell him t’e patch was suppose’ to be pre-install?”

  “Nope,” Berg said. “Besides, the patch we had was crap. When we get back, you can submit the one Miriam wrote along with the biometric replacement method. You should get a nice pat on the back out of that one. Hell, the whole Corps has been wrestling with these things.”

  “Ain’ my pocking patch,” Portana pointed out.

  “Miriam’s not going to take the credit,” Berg said. “She hates anybody knowing she’s smart. And all I did was get her. I’d suggest you admit you had others on the crew help you with the code, but otherwise take the credit and run.”

  “Why you being nice to me?” Portana asked.

  “Dude, we’re on the same team,” Berg replied tiredly. “I cover your back, you cover mine. That’s what being on a team is about. I guess they don’t cover that in armorer’s school.”

  “I was infantry,” Portana said a few moments later.

  “Really?” Berg replied, looking up. “Why’d you switch?”

  “Din’t get along,” Portana said, going to the next suit. “Infantry all about getting along. Band o’ Brot’ers and pocking maulk. Armorer, you know your maulk nobody pock wit’ you. And I know my maulk. T’is refi’ maulk… I pock up. Firs’ sergean’ no need tell me. I tell me. I pock up. I neber pock up like t’at. Pocking piss me off. I neber pock up like t’at! Bu’ infantry. Eben if you good, don’ matter. You ge’ along or you no good. Ge’ along wit’ team. Ge’ along wit’ sergeant. Ge’ along wit’ first sergeant. All abou’ ge’ along. T’at why t’is piss me off. Wha’ pocking good am I? I can’ refi’ t’e pocking suits? Can’ ge’ along. Can’ refi’ suits. Pocking piss me off.”

  Berg wasn’t too sure what to say. He’d never had to counsel a depressed Filipino armorer.

  “You’re good at what you do,” he replied finally. “I got fitted by Lurch the first time around. I thought he was good. You’re better.”

  “I know I better,” Portana said. “I pocking train him. I trained Qual Armorers. I bery pocking good. T’at why I’m piss off.”

  “As to getting along,” Berg said. “You could turn your music down.”

  The armorer didn’t reply as he moved on to the next suit. Then he paused.

  “Iss my sis’er.”

  “What?” Berg asked, not sure he’d heard correctly.

  “It is my sis-ter,” Portana said, slowly and distinctly, making sure he got all the consonants in. “T’e singer. Iss my sis’er.”

  “Oh,” Berg said, looking around Seeley’s suit. “She’s… got a great voice.”

  “I wan’ everybody like her,” Portana said, uploading to the last suit, then straightening up. He looked over at Berg and shrugged. “I wan’ everybody hear my sis’er. She in a ban’. T’ey good. I wan’ everybody like. Iss hard her ge’ in a ban’. We… well… Iss hard.”

  Over the next few hour
s, in bits and snatches when the “fittees” were canned and their external mikes turned off, Berg learned more about the armorer than he’d ever thought possible.

  Portana had been born in one of the worst slums in the Philippines, a massive shanty town backed on Manila’s garbage dump. He’d never known his father. His mother had died when he was seven, leaving him in charge of a six-year-old sister.

  How he’d survived was glossed over. Except on the one point that his “sis’er” had never been pimped out. He was proud of the fact that she’d managed to avoid the most common method of survival for orphans, girls and boys, of the bario. Given that force was generally involved in the early stages, how he’d prevented it was also glossed over.

  A few of his anecdotes, though, had given a clue — stories of gang fights with bodies strewn in the refuge-filled alleyways, bodies considered by the police to be less than the garbage they had survived, gave a hint. Thievery. Drug-dealing. But he was proud that he’d managed to keep his sister somewhat fed and more or less virgin. Nobody paid for it, anyway. And nobody took it, either.

  The Navy still had a quiet recruiting program in the Philippines. Join the Navy for five years and earn a permanent residency in the U.S. Most Filipinos went Navy supply. For some odd reason, the tough little Filip had joined the Marines. And gone Infantry, then into Force Recon.

  But the life on the teams didn’t suit him. He didn’t “fi’ in.” A retraining program had been arranged. For a guy who had made his first zip gun when he was barely eight and stolen his first car by bypassing the computerized ignition controls when he was nine, armorer was a piece of cake. And it didn’t matter if you “go along.” All you had to be was very good. And Portana was very good.

  “I’m surprised you could get a TS clearance,” was all Berg said as the armorer wound down.

  “I neber lie abou’ it,” Portana replied. “I tell recrui’er. I tell agen’s. T’ey no like t’ey can’ check my backgroun’ too much. Mos’ people I know dead or gone. An’ t’ey no like go in t’e bario,” he added with a grin.

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