Manxome foe votsb 3, p.11

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 11

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  “How’s your sister?” Berg asked.

  “Marry,” Portana said. “Good guy. Singapore guy. She sing in ban’. Wan’ to be a star bu’ she don’ play t’e game. Jus’ like brot’er. T’ink she star’ have babies soon. Always be a star to me.”

  “Me too, man,” Berg said, shaking his head.

  “Wha’ you think abou’ her music?” Portana asked.

  “I’ve grown accustomed to it,” Berg said. “But…”


  “I think I’ll stick with Goth and metal, if it’s all the same to you.”

  “T’at stuff rot your brain.”


  It was times like this that Spectre had to admit being the CO of a spaceship was just cool. The ship was in deep transit, the massive screens set to forward view, he had a cup of coffee in one hand, the other wrapped around the back of his head, his feet propped up on the edge of the tactical station and was just watching the stars. The warp system, product of some ancient and powerful civilization that man wot not of or whatever, cycled the ship in and out of warp at a very high frequency. The frequency was adjusted so that the only things that could get in or out were certain wavelengths of visible light. None of them could be used for high energy weapons, so it was a sort of screen against attack. But it did let in all that glorious starlight. And the ship moved so fast that the stars, almost imperceptibly, moved across the view. He could sit for hours and watch as the stars slowly slid across…

  “Whatcha doin’?” Miss Moon said from over his shoulder.

  His ears had caught the subtle clack, clack from high heels so he didn’t quite jump out of his skin, much less spill his coffee. But he did get a shot of adrenaline to the heart.

  “Jesus,” he barked. “Where’d you come from?”

  “Just walking,” Miriam said. “Pretty. Whatcha doin’?”

  “Expectantly awaiting any emergency that may occur on my watch, Miss Moon,” Spectre said, wincing internally at the pompous answer.

  “I’m bored,” Miriam replied. “I’ve been all over the ship. I talked to the Marines but they just wanted to talk about guns and I talked to some guys working on a pump but they wouldn’t let me help. Then I talked to a guy in the missile room. He was the nicest. He never left until the end of his watch.”

  “If it was the missile watch, he couldn’t,” the CO said, wincing again at the image. Camp Watch, located in the much reduced Sherwood Forest, was required to stay in place and watch the missile board. In the event of an emergency, he was the closest missile tech to the weapons and the first responder. It was possibly the most boring of many many boring jobs on the ship, nothing but sitting or standing in front of a bunch of lights, hoping that none of them went yellow or red.

  While Miss Moon must have felt like a visitor from heaven at first, someone to talk to…

  “How long were you there?” the CO asked.

  “Oh, pretty much the whole watch,” Miriam replied.

  Twelve hours. Miss Moon, when she got in one of these moods, talked so fast you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He’d better find out if last shift’s camp watch needed to be tranked.

  “I’m afraid to ask, but what did you… ?”

  “Pretty much my whole life story,” Miriam replied. “I was born in Waycross, Georgia, which is right down by the Florida border—”

  “Before you repeat yourself,” Spectre said quickly, holding up his hand. “I have a really great idea. You wanted to help the machinist mates with a pump? You like mechanisms?”

  “I love taking things apart!” Miriam said, smiling.

  “Can you put them back together?” Spectre asked.

  “Usually,” Miriam said. “Sometimes I have some parts left over but—”

  “Great,” the CO interjected. “That’s normal in the Navy. COB!”

  “Sir?” the chief of boat replied.

  “You are now officially in charge of Keeping Miss Moon Occupied,” the CO said. “Make it so.”

  “Yes, sir,” the COB said, trying not to sigh. “I knew you were going to say that.”

  “We shall start with a tour of the ship,” the COB said as they made their way forward. “Absent areas for which you do not have security access.”

  “If you mean the engine room,” Miriam said brightly, “seen it. I go down there sometimes to play chess with Tchar.”

  “And areas involving explosive systems,” the COB added, rolling his eyes. He was going to have to convince Tchar that there was a point to security. Somehow.

  “I like explosions,” Miriam replied, pouting.

  “So do I, Miss Moon,” the COB said. “But outside the ship. And we need to get you some better shoes,” the COB added, looking at the five-inch stilettos she was wearing. “We may have some steel-toed boots in your size.”



  “I can’t walk in flats,” Miriam said. “But I’ve got some steel-toed boots with three inch heels. Will those do?”

  “Needs must,” the COB replied. “I would suggest you change into something you don’t mind getting dirty.”

  “And the laundry…”

  They’d been at it for most of the watch. The COB had started off annoyed at the job. He was not into idle chatter and Miriam was, to put it kindly, a chatterbox. But he’d ended up impressed.

  He’d started off with an inspection of the hydraulic system that raised and lowered the landing pods. The bastard thing was an add-on and the hydraulics were forever going out, spewing the area with hydraulic fluid. But when he’d asked her to crawl in there and look for signs of wear, she’d gone at it enthusiastically and with a degree of knowledge he’d found surprising. She’d come out with the opinion that the system could use some redesign and offered to do up CAD drawings. Several of the lines crossed hard points when lowering, something that had been obvious to her when she looked at the system but had apparently escaped its engineers. Rerouting the lines, according to the multidegreed linguist, would probably increase its reliability a hundred percent.

  By the time they got to the laundry, he’d taken her through only about thirty percent of the ship because she ended up doing something in each area and usually coming up with tweaks to it that certainly sounded plausible. COB had come up through supply, not engineering, so he had to admit he wasn’t sure if she was right on some of it. But he had learned, unquestionably, that she was brilliant. And pretty. That didn’t hurt.

  “Everybody has to get their clothes cleaned,” he said, gesturing around the facility. It was going full bore as it did twenty-four hours a day. “This is where it goes on.”

  “I only send down my issue stuff,” Miriam admitted, gesturing to the grease and hydraulic-fluid stained coverall she was wearing. “They really messed up my bras so I do those myself.”

  “The washers are water recycling,” the COB continued, trying to indirectly point out that washing her clothes by hand was a major water drain, “the dryers are high efficiency to cut down on heat generation.”

  As they walked down the rows he noted that one of the “water recycling washers” was marked as down. That was a problem. They only had a few washers and a lot of dirty clothes. One down meant that… yep, a huge pile of dirty laundry was building up.

  “PO,” he said to the lead petty officer of the section. “How long has that been down?”

  “Four days, COB,” the PO said with a note of exasperation. “It started spewing water all over the compartment. I’ve had a report into the machinists ever since that shift. They say it’s a low priority.”

  “And there’s plenty of high priority stuff,” COB said, nodding. The ship required constant maintenance, which was why they had so many machinist mates onboard. But there were never enough. In a way, could never be enough. Each machinist mate required logistical support, which would require maintenance… The only way to keep everything going all the time was to entirely stock the ship with machinists, which would have sort of defeated the purpos
e. It was one of the reasons that ships had to have a regular down cycle in port. And theirs had been cut short.

  Even with a full maintenance cycle, quite often boats came back from deployment looking like an ad for duct tape and baling wire.

  “Miss Moon?” the COB asked dubiously. “Would you like to take a look at it? And promise to get it put back together properly?”

  “Do I get tools?” Miriam asked excitedly.

  “That would seem to be necessary, yes,” the COB said.

  “If I’ve got a repair manual I can do it for sure,” Miriam said. “If I don’t, I’ll promise to do my best. At the very least, it won’t be more broke than when I started. In fact, I can probably get it so it cleans clothes in a quarter of the time!”

  “Will they be intact?” the COB asked.


  “Let’s just get it working to specs, then,” the COB said. “Time to go find some tools.”

  “Here,” Miriam said, reaching back over her shoulder with a pump in her hand.

  “Are you going to remember how to put this back together?” PO Johnson asked. The junior petty officer, laundry, had been assigned to “assist” the linguist in her quest for repair of Clothes Washing Device, Water, Recycling, Number Three.

  But Johnson had to admit that he wasn’t quite sure about it all. The “maintenance person” was, after all, on the books as a linguist. And while the view was… nice, he wasn’t sure that even one of the machinist mates would be able to figure out where everything went back if they were hanging upside down over the back of the washing machine with only their legs protruding on the top.

  “Oh, yeah,” Miriam replied, holding a hose over her shoulder. Actually, more like her butt. “The guy who designed this knew what he was doing. Very elegant flow. But it’s so compact that the only way to get to the problem is to take it pretty much entirely apart.”

  “What’s wrong with it?” Johnson asked. “All I know is all of a sudden the floor was covered in suds.”

  “The inlet to the recycler broke off,” Miriam replied, holding out another hose. “See that part on the end?”

  “Yeah,” Johnson said. There was a pressure coupling on one end of the hose with a piece of metal tubing, obviously cracked at the end, dangling from it.

  “That’s the inlet,” Miriam said. “I’ve still got to disconnect the outlet and the recycler. Then I’ll have to see if they’ve got a spare recycler. If not, I can weld it back on. It’s point fourteen steel, probably Ingraham’s. They have a real problem with too much mercury in their steel, so even though it tests as point fourteen, it’s really too brittle. I never let any of my clients spec Ingraham for high pressure points. Besides, fourteen is a specialty steel and twelve works better for stuff like this. I don’t know why people keep speccing it. Anyway, whenever that hose comes under pressure, it’s going to flex, you see?” There was a clatter and a grunt. “And when it flexes, it puts pressure on the inlet. Since Ingraham’s so brittle…” Another grunt. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull this out. It’s too heavy.”

  “Let me help,” Johnson said, scrambling up next to her. Sticking his head over the back of the washer, he could see what she was trying to pull out. It was a big thing that looked vaguely like a pump. He got ahold of it and pulled it out of the washer but couldn’t lift it with the angle he was at.

  “Can you hold onto that while I shift back?”


  “No, we don’t have any spare recyclers,” Machinist Mate Ian “Red” Morris said, sadly. “Sorry, ma’am. If you set it over on the bench, as soon as one of us can get to it we’ll weld it back on. Thanks for finding the problem, though.”

  Red was the only guy in the cramped facility. Somebody had to stay back and take problem calls and while it was usually the LPO, the latter was supervising work on a broken controller in engineering leaving Red to hold down the fort.

  He wasn’t idle, either. He was rebuilding a hydraulic motor that drove one of the torpedo loaders. Until it got rebuilt, Tube Four was down. The machinist mate was missing his right arm from the elbow down, a legacy of the previous mission’s sole space battle. However, he had several good prosthetics ranging from one that looked and felt very real to the one he was currently using, which had multiple tool attachments. At the moment, a small, electric Phillips screwdriver was removing all the screws from the casing of the motor. He called it his Number Two Arm.

  “I can weld it,” Miriam said. “It needs reinforcement, anyway. Mind if I look over your fittings?”

  “Uh…” Red said, trying to ignore the double entendre. Married, married, married… he thought. “Go ahead. If you need any help…”

  “I’ve got it,” Miriam replied. “Although if you could lift it onto the welding bench, I’d appreciate it.”

  “What in the gra… Who… ?”

  Lead Petty Officer Jonathan Macelhenie was tired, angry and sore. The controller for the secondary power system of the main engine was an experimental aero-mechanical system that was buggy as hell. Getting to the failed pump had eventually required three machinist mates and himself, all stuffed into cramped quarters and often with elbows in each other’s faces. They had a list of repairs a light-year long still to do and he’d resented that it took that much time and manpower.

  So getting back to the shop, where he intended to take a small break, thank you very much, to find that the ship’s linguist was bent over a laundry recycler, welding something onto it, was not what he’d had in mind. Especially since he’d already encountered one of her endless monologues.

  “Excuse me,” he finally managed to drag out. “Exactly what is Miss Moon… ?”

  “The COB put her to work on that broken washing machine,” Red said quickly. He could tell the LPO was about to explode. “The recycler’s inlet broke off. She’s welding it back on. Then she’s going to reinstall it. Somebody might need to help her carry it down, but she can do the rest.”

  “And get it into place,” Miriam said. “But I can put it back together. Do these things break a lot?”

  “All The Time,” Red, Sub Dude and the LPO all chorused.

  “Is there a way to tell somebody why?” Miriam asked, cutting off the arc welder and flipping up her face shield. “And how to fix it? This one won’t break again, by the way.”

  She picked up a hand-held grinder and started grinding down the weld in a shower of sparks.

  The LPO walked over and looked at the recycler. The inlets and outlets, especially the inlets, had a tendency to break off like nobody’s business. In the case of this inlet, the area around it had been routed out, a metal pipe installed and a circular metal reinforcing ring welded into place. Assuming the thing held water under pressure, it sure looked as if it wasn’t going to break any time soon. But thinking about the interior of the washer, which had about enough room for an ant to squeeze through… If it had been on a diet…

  “I’m not sure that’s going to—”

  “Fit?” Miriam asked, setting down the grinder. “Bet you a dollar.”

  “I’ll be damned,” Macelhenie said.

  “Told ya.”

  The problem was that the primary motor for the tub fit, he had thought, flush against the face of the recycler with just enough room for the inlet point. But there was more room than he thought. They’d gotten the recycler installed and hooked up but he was confident that the motor wasn’t going to fit. But it had. By a clearance probably measured in nanometers, but…

  “I’d figured out the same fix but I didn’t think it would work because of the clearance,” the LPO said. “In fact, I’d been told that somebody had tried it and it didn’t work because of the clearance.”

  “It wouldn’t if you used a number sixteen ring fitting,” Miriam said. “At least a standard one. I ground it down by one hundred and fiftieth of a millimeter. Just one turn on a lathe. That gave enough clearance and it’s structurally sound. Bring it down much more, you’re going to crack the en
tire face. I can show you the equations…”

  “No, ma’am,” the LPO said wonderingly. “If you say so, I’ll take your word for it. You know how to use a lathe?”

  “I took a class,” Miriam said. “And welding. And basket weaving. And painting. And… Well, I’ve taken lots of classes. My problem is I can never settle on just one thing. I like to learn.”

  “You want some help putting it back together?” Macelhenie asked, looking at the parts scattered around the room.

  “You’re probably busy,” Miriam said. “I’ll get Bobby to hand me the parts now that the heavy stuff is back in. Go on. I’ve got it.”

  The glory of space and an efficiently running ship, the stars sweeping past in all their maj—


  Spectre rolled his eyes but didn’t turn around.

  “Yes, Engineer? Everything running to spec? Pumps pumping, warp engine warping?”

  “Actually,” the Eng said, walking around so the CO wasn’t facing away. “Better. You know the secondary controller for the engines?”

  “The one that is the brainchild of someone who’s never been in a boat before?” the CO asked. “The one that looks like a crabpus mated with… something it shouldn’t mate with?”

  “That would be the one,” the engineer said. “Miss Moon and Machinist Mate Gants got in there and completely redesigned it. So it works. So far. And if it breaks down again, it’s going to be easier to repair.”

  “So setting her on your department is not going to raise an official complaint?” the CO asked. “If so, blame the COB.”

  “Actually, sir, can we keep her?”

  “Please,” Spectre replied, then paused. “Really?”

  “Oh, yeah,” the Eng replied, nearly moaning in happiness. “The girl’s a grapping genius, sir. She can’t lift some of the heavier manuals, much less some of the parts and tools, but she’s great. Even with assigning somebody to help her, stuff’s getting fixed I’d despaired about! I don’t know what we did without her!”

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