Manxome foe votsb 3, p.14

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 14

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  If not…

  “Secured to the winch up here, Chief,” Berg said. “I guess the only thing left is the flex hose.”

  “Got it,” Lurch said pulling the oversized zip-tie cinched tight around where the hose fit over the output end of the chipper. Then he cut the zip-tie that was holding the hose compressed.

  “No wait!” Two-Gun yelled.

  It was too late.

  The flex hose expanded out under the ship like a bullet, flailing like a snake with its head cut off and kicking up more ice particulates, thus making the fog even worse. But the hose quickly damped itself out to minor oscillations and lay limp floating a meter or so above the surface of the comet.

  “Huh? It just stopped,” Himes said. “Why the hell did it do that? I figured it would go on forever!”

  “Conservation of angular momentum,” Berg said musingly. “Should’ve thought of that. You knew that, didn’t you, Lurch?”

  “I read about this experiment once called the Inflatable Antenna Experiment,” Sergeant Lyle said. “You let loose floppy things in space and one side flops one way so the other flops the other way to conserve angular momentum. Eventually, it stops flopping. No harm, no foul.”

  “You’re trying to out Alpha Geek me, aren’t you?” Berg said, grinning inside his Wyvern.

  “Not a chance, Brain,” Lurch said. “You can keep particles all to yourself. But, I mean, don’t all Marines read Space Daily?”

  “This maulk hurts my head,” Himes said.

  “Welcome to the Space Marines,” Lurch and Eric chorused.

  “Commander Weaver, we are ready to commence chipping down here.” Weaver scanned as best he could in the fog at the surface, the winch cables, and the Marines. “Everybody clear out and man the flex hose. I’ve got the chipper.” The chief put his large burly space-suited hands around the ice chipper handlebars and depressed the start safety switch. The switch was a built-in safety disengage like a bicycle brake lever or, well, like the safety disengage on a garden tiller, and if it were let go, the chipper blades would stop turning. Miller stepped up on the operator’s platform, which was nothing more than two metal plates for him to stand on. As the safety lever closed, the electric engine whirred to life, spinning up the chipper blades.

  The oversized and demented looking garden tiller started jumping and bouncing and would have thrown itself along with the chief off the surface of the comet and out into space were it not for the winches on either side of the device connected to polymer cables, which were, in turn, harpooned into the surface of the comet.

  “Yeehaw!” Miller shouted sarcastically as the chipper bit into the icy surface of the comet and dug deeper into it, chewing up the comet debris and spitting it out through the flex hose. The chipper dug down a meter until the blades were completely under the ice. Then it started heading forward, continuing for twenty meters in less than fifty seconds.

  The hose whipped taut and filled as the ice chips were forced through it. Like a rocket engine out of the other end of the hose a spray of ice flung the flex hose hither and yon. It was all that Lurch, Two-Gun, and Himes could do to hold on to it even though their feet were tied down to harpoons on the surface. The ice spray splattered across the opening of the elevator and only about two-thirds of it actually made it in.

  “Hold up, Chief!” Two-Gun cried. The chipper stopped bucking once Miller let off the safety lever. It slowly flopped back and forward but was otherwise limp.

  “Maulk, Two-Gun can’t you keep it up longer than that!” Himes laughed, but he couldn’t have held on any longer either.

  “Shit, that was a ride,” Miller said. “I can’t fight this thing and hold down that damned safety lever at the same grapping time. Who designed this grapping thing anyway?” The chief was a big man, but in a matter of less than a minute the machine had caused him to sweat profusely and his hand and forearm muscles burned. Somehow, he just knew the Blade’s redneck astrogator had something to do with the design of the thing. “Ain’t like tilling garden soil, that’s for sure.”

  “What’s wrong, Chief?” Spectre asked. The entire operation was considerably entertaining to the former fighter pilot. And for now it appeared to be safer than letting hydrogen gas seep into every nook and cranny of the ship.

  “Uh, well sir, I’m not sure yet but I think I’m gonna need a foot long zip-tie, and some other stuff.” Miller looked back over his shoulder. “What’d you need, Two-Gun?”

  “No problem that more Marines couldn’t solve. Even with Wyverns, keeping this hose under control is nearly impossible.”

  “Did you get any ice, Chief?” Weaver asked.

  “I don’t know. Hold one.” Miller turned slowly, releasing his carabineer from the cables harpooned into the ice. He was careful not to launch himself in the microgravity and inched his way back the couple of meters to where the Marines were strapped down.

  “Any ice in the elevator, Marines?” He shined his suit floods at the elevator opening and saw a mountain of ice before them. He had to get within a half a meter to see it with all the fog. “What the grapp?”

  “Will you look at that?” Himes leaned forward to inch closer to the elevator door.

  “Uh, yes sir,” Miller said. “The elevator is completely full. And then some.”

  “Good work, Chief! We’ll extract it and empty it for another round,” Spectre said, jovially. “EVA, retrieve the elevator.”

  Weaver hit the elevator controls and was unsurprised when a red icon appeared on his screen.

  “I was afraid of that.”

  “What?” Spectre asked, leaning over the console. “Mr. Miller, did you break my elevator?”

  “Wait, one, sir,” Miller replied. “Oh… grapp. Sir, forget the extra zip-tie for the safety lever and I doubt we’ll need those Marines. Uh, sir, is there a way you could send down some picks or some antifreeze or something?” Miller looking up over the elevator that the semi-frozen ice spray had filled and buried and almost immediately refroze to the comet. That elevator was going nowhere soon.

  “Well, the problem, sir,” Weaver said calmly, “is that the chipper was designed by guys who had been thinking of building a mass-driver propulsion system to steer comets off of collision courses. In essence, it’s a rocket engine and spits out a hell of a lot more ice spray than I’d ever thought it would’ve. We just modified the idea for our use.”

  The computer had to be given complete control of the navigation in order to exactly, or as close to exactly as possible, match the comet’s rotations. Otherwise, the momentum of the small city-sized comet would rip the elevator right out of the belly of the Blade. And, Weaver could tell by the look on Spectre’s face, that he didn’t like that not one grapping bit.

  “Didn’t you do some calculations on this to figure it out, Astro?” the CO said, just as calmly. But it was clearly the calm before the storm.

  “Uh, no sir, the comet water extraction didn’t fall under astrogation or propulsion or fighting the Dreen so I, uh, delegated it, sir,” Weaver said sheepishly.

  “Understood. To whom was it delegated?”

  “Tchar.”

  “Tchar,” the CO said, nodding. Calmly. “Tchar. Right. We’ll discuss that decision of yours later, Astro. Right now, do you have any suggestions for getting my elevator unstuck?”

  “I’m thinking on it, sir. Maybe Tchar has something in his junk pile. I’d better get down there sir.”

  “Sir,” the COB said, sticking his head in the wardroom. “This reminds me of a boat I was on a few years ago—”

  “COB, much as I enjoy your reminiscences—” the CO said tightly.

  “Yes, sir,” the COB interrupted. “I know you enjoy them all, sir. But there’s a point to this one, sir. Are you willing to gain the benefit of my nearly thirty years in this country’s Navy, sir? Or are you going to tell your senior enlisted man to mind his own business, sir?”

  Spectre opened his mouth, then shut it.

  “Go ahead, COB.”

&nb
sp; “The point, sir, is that we were in the arctic,” the COB continued. “Machinist Mate Gants happened to be on the same cruise. He wasn’t a mate back then and I wasn’t COB but we were on the same boat, Lord help me. Anyway, he used a welder to melt a statue of a naked woman out of some glacier ice. See, we did a crack through on the ice and…”

  “Weaver?”

  “Great idea, COB,” Weaver said. He hit the com keys on his console. “Eng? I need Machinist Mate Gants on the double.”

  “Yeah, I did this once for a Christmas Party a few years ago when we were poking up through the ice in the Arctic. We were camping up there for Christmas with these SEALS that were waiting on a damned Chinese polar orbiting satellite to crash… uh, forget I said that part… so I decided to lighten the mood.” Gants tossed several extra long welding rods, a roll of space tape, and a few tungsten rods into a cart alongside the portable welding generator and welder transformer. “We’d better hurry though.”

  “How we getting this down to them?” Miriam asked.

  “Somebody’s gotta carry it to ’em out the forward or top airlock or maybe out one of the torp tubes,” Gants said. “I saw Deep Impact and I have no desire to be walking on a damned comet in the middle of freakin’ space.”

  “Uh, yeah.” Miriam tried not to grin. The movie had been so incorrect in the nature of comets it was a catastrophe in and of itself. But she decided not to say anything. Besides, the voice in her head was telling her something interesting about “…the entropy due to quantum fluctuations around the event horizon being proportional to the surface area of the artificial singularity…” So she was only half listening to Gants. Being an interpreter for years had trained her to half listen to multiple conversations at once. Maybe that is why the voice likes me?

  » » »

  “Well, Chief, you really managed to grapp this one up, huh? No comments about whose idea this was.” Weaver was chagrined at himself, not the crew.

  “Not gonna say a word about it, sir,” Miller said with a snort.

  “Two-Gun, start setting this up. Get me the welding transformer plugged into the generator and get it right here by this elevator strut. The welder only has about eight feet of cable.”

  “Yes sir! Himes, Lurch give me a hand.” Two-Gun shot another harpoon into the comet just forward of the elevator and winched himself to the welder that the commander had brought them. Himes and Lurch followed suit.

  “Now I just stretch this tungsten rod between these two welder clips and that should do it. I see the other rods and space tape now.” He laid the other two welding rods across the back of the insulated parts of the welder clips and then space taped them to each clip so he could use the welding rods as a handle. Those damned machinists in engineering were nothing if not clever.

  “Ready over there Two-Gun?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Turn me on.”

  “On, sir.”

  “Wheeee!” Weaver could see the tungsten rod glowing red hot. He set to work on the first ice sculpture in space, on a comet, in orbit around a distant star. Say what you wanted to about the casualty rates, but sometimes Weaver felt he had the best job in the galaxy. He felt like the heroes in those science fiction books he grew up reading. The only things missing were scantily clad super vixen heroines.

  “So the t/psi interacts with the psi muon density modularity vector…” Miriam muttered. “I can see that…”

  “Try it now, Mike,” Weaver told Gants over the com.

  “Yes, sir,” Gants depressed the elevator controls and sluggishly the hydraulics pulled the box filled with about twenty-five tons of ice free from the comet.

  “Hot damn!”

  “The elevator is here, sir.” Gants replied. “It’ll, uh, take us a few minutes to unload it.”

  “Copy that.”

  Gants and several of the submarine’s tech crew set to work emplacing the smaller chipper and melter system in the elevator and connecting it to the flex hose that ran down the corridor around two corners and up one deck to the water reservoir inlet near what used to be ballast tanks. In space they were water reservoirs.

  The smaller chipper made quick work of the ice, and the fact that it was about sixty-eight degrees in the ship helped also. The ice melted as it was chipped and was sucked away through the flex hose.

  “How we doing, XO?” the CO asked.

  “Uhm… About that bet with Commander Weaver, sir?”

  “Tell me.”

  “It’s taking four minutes to unload the elevator and drop it back to the surface. It takes about two minutes to refill it and unstick it. Total time, six minutes.”

  “Not bad,” the CO said, nodding. “Not bad!”

  “Yes, sir,” the XO said. “The interior volume of the elevator is thirty-six cubic meters. We need twenty-six thousand cubic meters of water. Actually, that’s just to fill the reserve tanks. It doesn’t take into account the amount of O2 we need to crack out of it.”

  “Oh,” the CO said. “Timeframe?”

  “Seventy-two hours just to fill the reserve tanks,” the XO said. “Another thirty-four to create enough water to refill the O2 tanks. Actually, that’s not exactly right, since we’re using it even as we’re gathering it. Total estimated time? One hundred and twenty hours to have everything topped off.”

  “We don’t have five days, XO,” the CO said. “We’re on a rescue mission.”

  “Agreed, sir,” Coldsmith said. “Would you care to venture an estimate on how long it will take to refill at a Jovian with the new systems?”

  “Go.”

  “Twenty-six hours, topped off.”

  “Damn.”

  “Suspend operations,” Commander Coldsmith said.

  “Why?” Weaver replied.

  “Commander, I know you haven’t been an officer for as long as your rank might suggest, but in the Navy when you’re given an order…”

  “Sorry, XO,” Weaver said. “I meant to say ‘aye, aye, sir.’ ”

  “There’s good news, though,” the XO replied. “The CO owes you a dollar.”

  “Damn,” Spectre said, looking at the readings. Entry to the system and approach to the Jovian had taken less than an hour. Set up had taken less than fifteen minutes with the installed system. He’d gone off-watch, done some paperwork and come back to find the tanks almost filled, O2 and H2O.

  “Good job, Commander. You were r… You were ri… Damnit, here’s your dollar!”

  “I won’t say I told you so, sir,” Weaver replied, taking the dollar primly. “I’m too tired and much too big of a man to say anything like—”

  “Thin ice, Astro,” the CO said. “Thin ice.”

  “Yes, sir. And I’m sure no pun was intended.”

  12

  “Set Condition One! Prepare for HD 36951 system entry!”

  “Thank God,” First Sergeant Powell muttered. “Please let there be something to fight!”

  “Tactical, Conn,” Spectre said, watching the forward view. The approaching planet looked somewhat like Mars, one of the standard “looks” he’d seen at least a hundred times on the previous mission. But on this one there was a gate. And at least at one time there had been enemies. “Anything?”

  “Negative, Conn,” the TACO replied. “No emissions beyond what we’d expect from the sun and the gate.”

  “I’m getting the take, too,” Weaver said. “All normal. No electronics from the planet. If there are any survivors who avoided the blast, they’re keeping quiet.”

  “Okay, let’s take her down,” Spectre said. “Land a klick from the edge of the blast area and send in the Marines. Make it so, XO.”

  “Dust ball,” Berg said as the team deployed out of the aliglass elevator. “We’re going to have to go over the Wyverns when we get back and get every scrap of this dust out of the joints or it will wear like a bitch.”

  “Make you an armorer for a couple of days…” Himes said.

  “I’m more worried about what we’re going to find,”
Smith said as the elevator touched the red soil.

  The boat had landed on a broad plateau near the site of the gate. The blast effect area from the nuke was evident, a broad, shallow crater the size of a large factory. The Looking Glass was also visible, floating in the air above the center of the crater.

  The gate was located in a narrow valley between two plateaus, one the ship had landed on and the other occupied by ruins of the ancient civilization that had, presumably, emplaced the Looking Glass boson in the first place. The ruins were visible as well but they were so worn by time they looked barely different from their surroundings. The ruins had been surveyed, though, before the blast, and there were tunnels that could have sheltered survivors of the initial attack and the response. Checking them out was first priority.

  “The ship didn’t see anything on the pass,” Two-Gun replied, stepping out and moving forward as the elevator doors opened. “If there were major threats they’d have seen it. Just deploy and cover for the rest of the company. We’re not going to be getting busy till we get down into the valley.”

  As each team moved out of the elevator, Berg’s moved forward, keeping the bombing site and the distant ruins in view. It took a while. Only three Wyverns would fit in the elevator, a fact that had been a problem more than once on the previous mission. It was simply a pain exiting the ship. Retreating into it was damned well nightmarish.

  Finally both of the platoons that were going on the mission were down and deployed. Berg anticipated the ping from his platoon leader and started picking a path down the slope to the valley. Where the gate had been was a glassy crater, pointless to examine not to mention still rather radioactive. But there might be indicators to either side. His platoon was detailed to take the north side in a sweep across the valley while Third swept to the south.

 
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