Manxome foe votsb 3, p.17

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 17

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “You sure about this?” Himes asked.

  “Nope,” Berg admitted, getting down on his elbow and knee wheels, then flattening onto his belly wheels. “But it’s the best idea I’ve got.”

  He shimmied into the opening, half using his elbow wheels but mostly his belly, then started to slide down the rubble.

  The tunnel opened out beyond the initial rubble wall, but not enough for a nine-foot-tall suit to stand up or turn around. He could, however, continue to slide.

  “How’s it going?” Himes asked.

  “So far, so good,” Berg replied. “I’m coming up to a bend. I’ll lose commo there. If I need to be pulled out I’ll give three tugs. If I need to be pulled out fast, they’ll be fast.”

  “Got it,” Himes replied.

  As soon as he turned the corner he could see the survivor. Maybe survivor. A small nest had been created at the point where the tunnel was choked by a fall. Plastic had been set up to seal in a small area and there was a pile of ruined sleeping bags, a couple of ration cases, some water bottles and, yes, two large air canisters. Fortunately, the latter were on the far wall.

  Berg used his wheels to slide to a stop before he hit the plastic and peered through it. He wasn’t sure how to determine if the survivor was alive. All he could see was a face mask and he couldn’t tell if he or she was breathing. But then he nearly kicked himself and switched to thermal. As soon as he did he could see that the person was still warm. He also could now tell sex: Female.

  He slid forward a bit farther and got a look at the readouts on the air tanks. Both of the main tanks were expended. He couldn’t see what hers looked like; it was covered by the ripped sleeping bags. Mostly ripped. He could see where some stitching had been done. Actually, he realized that he could probably just pull her out in the bag.

  He breached the plastic, got a grip on the repaired sleeping bag, and pulled. The woman slid out of her cocoon without anything coming apart. He could tell, now, that she was still breathing but he still couldn’t see the canister attached to her breath mask.

  He pulled three times on the mono molecular rope and felt himself starting to slide back up the tunnel. The woman in the bag wriggled and moaned but otherwise didn’t react.

  “Himes,” he said as soon as he passed the bend. “Get on the horn. I need a corpsman, right damned now. I got a survivor but she’s unconscious and just about out of air. And I think she’s hypothermic.”

  “Get her up here,” Dr. Chet said, pulling out a pair of bandage scissors and gesturing to the surgery table. “Status?”

  He was in a full quarantine suit. The secure surgery was in the isolation wing of the “research and survival pack” attached to the top of the ship. SOP was that anyone exposed to a potentially dangerous environment remained in the isolation wing for at least thirty days. The survivor was still stuffed in a quarantine stretcher, a closed system with waldoes and glove holes for any aid that needed to be given. Most of the systems, including IV inserters and defibrillator, were handled by a robotic autodoc.

  “BP eighty over twenty,” the corpsman replied, sliding the survivor out of the stretcher and onto the table expertly. “Respiration twenty. Temperature ninety-two. Heartbeat one forty and thready. Pupils have light response.”

  “Hypothermic,” the massive doctor said musingly. “Not too low. Get me a warming bag. I don’t understand the unconsciousness.”

  He used the scissors to remove the woman’s filthy clothing and paused as her arm was exposed. It was covered by injection tracks.

  “Smart lady,” he muttered. “But getting you off that is not going to be pleasant.”

  “Sir?” the corpsman asked, pulling out a large paper-cloth bag. The survivor would be popped into the bag and then the bag filled with hot air from a simple blower. It was a quick and safe way to raise body temperature.

  “She was injecting herself with morphine at a guess,” Dr. Chet replied. “It kept her resource use minimal and if her air gave out while she was drugged, well, she would never know. But she’s going to be severely addicted. With the minimal facilities I have here, it’s going to be unpleasant coming off of it. Get her in the bag and warmed up…”

  “How long will she be out?” the CO asked.

  Dr. Chet didn’t fit any better in the wardroom than he did in his surgery. But he didn’t fit any worse.

  “Unknown,” he replied, trying to get his legs into a reasonable position under the low table. “I don’t know what dosage she used on herself last. No more than an hour, though. Her temperature is coming up nicely. Malnourished, dehydrated, filthy, but she’s going to survive.”

  “The best guess is that she’s Ms. Debra Cutler,” the XO added. “A doctoral candidate. She was mentioned in the logs. No ID on her but she matches the picture we have from the personnel list.”

  “Have Weaver send the information to Earth,” the CO said. “Tentative ID, more when she wakes up.”

  “She’s liable to be extremely disoriented,” Dr. Chet pointed out. “And all my personnel are male. I’m going to ask Miss Moon to sit in on this one.”

  “Agreed,” the CO said, frowning. “I guess there’s no way to pretend she’s not in a spaceship.”

  “No,” Dr. Chet said, shaking his head. “Not unless Earth will open the gate and allow us to shove her through before she wakes. She really should be in a proper hospital.”

  “Unlikely,” the CO said. “Not with a potential Dreen presence on this side. And on that note, Tactical?”

  “Not a peep, sir,” the TACO replied. “No indications of anything unusual in the system. And we’re keeping a very close eye on the instruments.”

  “So the Dreen came in here, dropped a rock on the facility, picked up one survivor then came back a couple of hours later and snatched most of the rest,” the CO said, his brow furrowing. “And then they just left? To where? Why? With an open gate to Earth, why just leave?”

  “Bigger fish to fry?” the XO asked. “A higher priority mission? For all we know, that war that was such a big thing to us might not have meant much to them. We might not even be on their radar. There could be a massive battle going on in the next system and we wouldn’t even know it…”

  “Here they come again,” Senior Tactical Specialist Favarduro shouted. “Forty Blin Kar fighters at one-one-seven mark sixteen.”

  “The Klingoddar has stopped responding to hails,” Commo Specialist Faul interjected. “Its emergency beacon has stopped broadcasting.”

  “Uanarmm bless and keep them,” Ship Master Kond replied softly. “Chaos ball generator?”

  “At least another forty kleg,” Engineering Specialist Rorot replied.

  “Engage with masers,” Kond said calmly, shifting his weight slightly in his combat couch. The air around him was a rich tapestry of information, sonar pulses filling the air with data from all the ship’s sensors. The fleet was once again escaping the hated Blin, but at great cost. The Caurorgorngoth was the last of the Chaos Ships. If they were destroyed, the Blin dreadnought would be able to gather up the fleet like so many vaila. “Keep them off of us until the chaos generator is back on line. Patch me through to Fleet Master Lurca.”

  “Lurca.”

  “Higher One, we are under attack from Kar fighters. There will be a dreadnought somewhere out there. Be careful.”

  “We are reaching jump point now,” the fleet master replied. “Hurry to follow us. How are your supplies?”

  “We managed to fully fuel before the last battle,” Kond replied. “We are good for two jumps. We got ninety percent of our magazine load from the factory ship. That was all they’d produced. We also need some parts, but we’ll need more after this so we might as well wait.”

  “Meet us at the rendezvous,” the fleet master said. “Lurca, out.”

  “And again we are on our own,” Favarduro quipped. “No freighters or fuelers or cruisers to slow us down. What luxury. What grandeur.”

  “What doog,” Engineer Rorot said unhappily.
Without a chaos generator. With fusion bottles down. With our reality shifter becoming unreal.”

  “Nobody ever said it would be easy,” Favarduro said, pinging a burst of laughter around the compartment. “Oh, and here come Kar fighters to make our day oh so much better. Recommend evasion pattern Mindrg in three kleg.”

  “Very well,” Kond said, pinging the information to the battlecomp. “Let us take some of these foul beasts with us if we are to fall.”

  “Some more, Ship Master,” Favarduro said, pinging laughter again. “Some more.”

  “Group of experts,” Miller muttered. “So with a group of world-class experts we’re sitting out here freezing our butts off to send Morse and a bunch of nobodies back on Earth—”

  “Oh, shut up,” Weaver whispered back. “It took them four hours.”

  “And the survivor is…” Admiral Townsend asked over the video link. The image suddenly distorted as did the voice but it was still as clear as a low bandwidth streaming video.

  “Still out, sir,” the CO responded. “Given her condition, Dr. Chet is unwilling to bring her out of the drugs rapidly. There are ways to do that but—”

  “It’s the doctor’s call,” the admiral said with a sigh. “She probably won’t have much more information than we already have. The experts in such things are unwilling to open the gate, even for long enough to shove her through.”

  “Did they say why, sir?” Bill asked neutrally.

  “Just that we don’t know the true abilities of the Dreen,” the admiral said with a shrug. “They’re really exercised about them possibly breaking through. They also wanted to ensure that she’s in isolation and that she gets a very full physical.”

  “She was brought in in a quarantine stretcher,” the CO replied. “And has been in the isolation area ever since. That’s SOP under the circumstances. I’ll ask Dr. Chet about giving her a full pre-mission phys. But given the way her body’s scrambled up, I’m not sure he’s going to want to add the chemicals he needs to her system. Not any time soon, anyway.”

  “I’ll pass that on,” the admiral said. “Make sure that she’s not removed from isolation until you return to Earth. That’s not negotiable.”

  “Understood, sir,” the CO said. “So what now? Do we head home?”

  “Negative,” Townsend replied. “We need to find out what’s happening out there. Probe for the Dreen. Carefully. Try to find out where they’re at, what they’re up to out there, what their order of battle looks like. Hell, what their ships look like. It’s an old-fashioned intel gathering mission. You’re the boat snuggling up to the Soviet backyard to get intel. Go get it.”

  “Yes, sir,” Spectre said thoughtfully.

  “Leave this lash up in place,” Townsend added. “But camouflage it if you can. If you need to talk or seriously need support, we can use the gate. Same orders as before, use your discretion but don’t get into any furballs if you can avoid it. However, if you get an opportunity to jump a lone Dreen ship and determine that it’s possible to win, do so. Capture it if possible. The idea is to get a look at what their hyper tech and weapons tech consists of. We need a system we can use other than the Blade’s. Anything you need that we can shove through the gate quickly?”

  “XO?” the CO asked.

  “I doubt we can get the critical spares we need to the base quickly, sir,” the XO said, looking at a pad. “But if we come back this way, it might make sense to have some stockpiled by then. I have a list. Other than that, fresh food.”

  “I’ll get with the liaison at the base,” the admiral said, nodding. “Send the list over and we’ll get them down there if it’s feasible. Anything else?”

  “Permission to send and receive Family Message Forms, sir,” the CO replied.

  The FMF was a method that sub crews had of keeping in contact with their families. It was highly limited and highly censored, being only a ten-word message either way. Families were not permitted to send negative news; putting more stress on guys stuck in a tin can under water was never a good idea. “I hate you and want a divorce” was not a message the Navy was going to send to a guy who could fire a nuclear missile or cause a melt-down of the nuclear core. Sub crews, being smart, had of course set up a code system so that they could get more than “I love you. Everything’s fine” messages through. More than one submariner had gotten word that his wife was having an affair despite being at six-hundred-feet depth, several thousand miles away and through a system specifically designed to prevent such news. So far, none of them had tried to fire off a missile although a few had tried to open up a hatch and walk home. For those few, there was a very pleasant tranquilizer and an “I-Love-Me” jacket until they could be evacced.

  “Authorized,” the admiral said, wincing. He knew the weaknesses of the FMF from long experience. “Anything else?”

  “I think we’re done, sir,” the CO said, looking around the group.

  “Get back into space, find the Dreen, find out what they’re up to, try to get any tech you can acquire and report back,” the admiral said. “And do all that carefully. You’re still the only ship we have.”

  “Yes, sir,” Spectre said. “Can do.”

  “Weaver,” the CO said as everyone was filing out of the wardroom.

  “Sir?”

  “Stay.”

  When everyone was gone, the CO looked at the astrogator thoughtfully.

  “What do you think the chances are you can find some trace of the Dreen ship in space?”

  Weaver thought about the question for a few seconds, then blanched.

  “Effectively zero, sir,” Bill replied. “Do you want to know why?”

  “Yes,” the CO said. “Because I don’t think you’ve thought it through. We make waves as we pass through space. You’ve talked about it. Disturbed solar wind, ionization from destroyed particles, even bits of our forward armor that get flaked off. Surely the Dreen have got to leave some traces.”

  “I’m sure they do, sir,” Bill said. “And if the track was fresher, I might be able to sort out which ions are from a passing Dreen ship and which are just from solar wind. If I could do a survey of the local area for about a month and figure out what the solar winds look like. But a Dreen… wake, if you will, is going to look like a ship’s wake. Sure, you can detect one of those for the first few hours. But after that, waves, current, wind, they all tend to erase it. There’s a bit more thermal image for a tad longer time, but even that eventually goes away. The Dreen were here thirty days ago, sir. Any trace is long gone. Even the holes we found were filling in from dust. And those are much more permanent than anything you’d find in the solar wind.”

  “So how do we find them?”

  “If it’s only one or two ships and they’re in EMCON, it’s going to be tough, sir,” Bill said, referring to shutting down transmissions so as to remain less noticeable. “I don’t know what sort of traces they leave behind until we find one. And finding a ship in space, well, space is a very big place and ships are very small. I think we’re just going to have to hope that they’re broadcasting or otherwise being noticeable.”

  “You know,” Favarduro said as the Caurorgorngoth’s lasers eliminated three of the Blin fighters, “in between five and twenty kleng this is going to be noticeable to anyone inhabiting the nearer stars.”

  “In between five and twenty kleng, anyone inhabiting the nearer stars is going to be Dreen food,” Ship Master Kond replied. “Shields are at less than forty percent. Concentrate on the central fighter pack. Stop some of these Manaeg-spawned plasma bolts.”

  As plasma fire slammed into the ship, being disbursed by the ion shields, he whistled for a control to shift some power to long-range scanning but the Blin dreadnought was still impossible to detect. At least fifteen kleg until the ball generator was online. And more than four hundred until they reached the unreality node. The fleet had escaped, through, leaving them to limp outward on their own, with not so much as a shield ship by their side.

  As the migh
ty Chaos Ship rocked under the hammer of the missiles, he hoped that there were no races within five and twenty kleng. Unless, of course, they were powerful enough to save his ship.

  “Home again,” Berg said, collapsing into his bunk. For a wonder, there wasn’t a caterwauling of Asian tortured cats from overhead. He had made his peace with Portana and could even handle the armorer’s sister’s singing. Didn’t mean he enjoyed it.

  “God, I’m glad to get out of armor,” Himes replied. “How’s the chick we picked up?”

  “How the hell would I know?” Berg asked. “Last I saw of her was last you saw of her, being carted back to the ship.”

  “Mail call,” the first sergeant said from the front of the compartment. “We’re in commo with Earth through the gate. Nobody’s going home, though; they’re not opening up the other side. But you’ve got Family Message Forms on your systems. If you want to respond, you have about thirty minutes. Then we’re out of this system.”

  “What’s the mission, Top?” Corwin called. “We’re done here, right? We going home?”

  “Negative,” the first sergeant replied. “We’re going to go Dreen hunting. Now read your mail.”

  Berg wasn’t really expecting any. His parents weren’t in the loop of Navy communications. They could get an emergency message through to him, but by their very natures emergency messages were rarely put into FMFs. “Dad died” was right up there with “I want a divorce.”

  So he was surprised to see the message light blinking on his system when the first sergeant left. He hit the “Receive” icon and a short message popped up.

  “Love you Miss you Be Homeward Bound in Time Brooke”

  FMFs were limited to ten words but the short message pretty much covered the subject. Except for the last bit, which was puzzling.

  He opened up a search function and typed in the last, puzzling, phrase. The search function was actually built by GooCharn, the Adari-human corporation that had absorbed Google and a similar corporation on Adar. The Adar servers on-board the Blade only stored about thirty percent of the combined human-Adar hypernet. But that was a lot of data. Much of it was useless, but occasionally somebody needed a scrap of really esoteric information that was stored away on it somewhere.

 
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