Manxome foe votsb 3, p.6

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 6

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  “Two secure points to prevent them swinging, Gunny,” Berg said, frowning. “There are only three of us. There are three levels.”

  “You’ve put your finger on the problem,” Gunny Juda said, still grinning. “Here’s the answer,” he continued, pointing to a series of davits on the bulkhead. “One guy on each level. Run one line through the aft davit, one line through the forward, then bring the standing end together through the central davit. That centers it if you belay properly. Use the leather gloves to belay it and don’t wrap the lines around your body. I’d much rather lose a Wyvern than a Marine. Stop it at each level and put in the control lines. Sergeant Priester.”

  “Present, Gunnery Sergeant.”

  “When it reaches the load level, your team will then hook the Wyvern into its carrier,” the gunny continued, pointing to the thing that looked vaguely like an exoskeleton on wheels. “Hook it up from the front, which may mean swinging it around, crank it back and roll it to the secure point. There you leave the carrier, pick up the next one and return to the load point. Are you clear on that?”

  “Clear, Gunnery Sergeant.”

  “Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe,” the gunny said, looking at the assistant platoon leader. “Your team will start on securing the Wyverns. Each has to be loaded into their racks, locked down and secured. By the time you’re done with that, you’re going to be getting the next one if everyone’s working their ass off. The Wyvern has to be jacked up in its carrier and slid back in. It should be possible to hold it in place with one Marine. The other two then attach it. There are no idlers in this process. NCOs are going to be doing as much work as their troops. Is that clear to everyone?”

  “Clear, Gunnery Sergeant,” Staff Sergeant Brian Hinchcliffe said. The brown-haired NCO had a round moon face and a chunky body but he came across looking more like a boulder than a marshmallow.

  “Nobody on the teams has ever done any of this,” the gunny admitted. “Including me. And Wyverns are big pieces of metal that have a habit of getting away from you if you’re not careful as hell. So we’re going to do it slow at first and very much by the book. Let’s get started. Two-Gun, get in commo with Bosun Charles and ask for the first Wyvern.”

  “Aye, aye, Gunny,” Berg said, touching his earbud. “Bosun Charles, this is Sergeant Bergstresser. We’re ready for the first Wyvern.”

  “Glad to hear it,” the bosun replied. “I’ll get to you as soon as I have the last of the ardune torps loaded.”

  “Uh, roger,” Berg said, looking over at the Gunny. “Gunny, Bosun Charles says he’s working on the ardune torps.”

  “They were supposed to be already loaded!” Juda snarled. “We were after the missiles! Sailors! Everybody just cool your heels while I figure out what’s going on! Might as well be working with a grapping dock-worker’s union!”

  “Commander Weaver,” the XO said, walking past Bill’s station with an armload of documents. “Get out on the hull and sort out the loading of the Wyverns. There’s some foul-up with timing. But the priority is the load-list, keep that in mind.”

  “Yes, sir,” Bill said, nodding. “Will do.”

  Up on the deck it was even more chaotic than in the ship. Exiting from the rear of the sail, he could see the argument in progress between a Marine gunnery sergeant and one of the base support bosuns. Both men were red in the face and activity had stopped around them.

  “Gunnery Sergeant… Juda,” Bill said, looking at the Gunny’s nametag. “Bosun Charles. What’s the problem?”

  “We got a late delivery on the ardune torps, sir,” the bosun said, obviously relieved to dump the problem on someone else. “They were supposed to load ahead of the SM-9s but they weren’t here so I went ahead with loading the SM-9s. The torps are here, now. So I need to load them. That’s the priority list. The Wyverns were supposed to follow the SM-9s but they’re just going to have to wait.”

  “My team’s in place, now, sir,” the gunnery sergeant responded. “Our schedule calls for a max of twelve hours of loading. Then they have a four hour rest period. Then we’ve got more loading to do. I can’t have them sitting around with their thumbs up their butts for four hours while the bosun loads torps. This is our load slot.”

  Bill looked at the overhead and frowned. There were two cranes but the other one was detailed as well. He thought about its load list but there wasn’t any way to bump anything.

  “Load the torps,” he said after a moment’s thought.

  “Aye, aye, sir,” the bosun said, trying not to smile in triumph.

  “Sir…” the gunnery sergeant started to protest.

  “Gunny, that’s the load priority,” the commander replied. “Period. Torps go before Wyverns. I wish we had another way to load the Wyverns, but I don’t think you want to belay them down by hand. And it would be unsafe even if you did. So you’re going to have to wait until the torps are loaded. Period. Bosun, expedite that loading, but with all due care. If one of those goes up, there won’t be a Newport News anymore. Or Norfolk. Or, hell, half of Virginia. Gunny, if you can present me with any viable method of getting the Wyverns from the dock,” he continued, pointing to where the Wyverns were standing in racks on a container, “down that hole and into the ship, I’ll entertain it. But it had better be functional and safe. I’ll be in the conn.”

  “They’re loading the torps,” Gunny Juda said when he got down to where the loading team was waiting. “The astrogator made the call,” he added disgustedly.

  “Commander Weaver’s a good officer, Gunnery Sergeant Juda,” Eric said respectfully. “If he made that call he had a reason.”

  “Well, in my opinion he made it based on being Navy instead of Marines,” the Gunny said. “But that’s what we have to put up with. Get down to the magazines and assist with the ammo loading. But don’t get too involved. I’m going to bring this to Top and see if we can’t get our priority bumped up.”

  Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe watched the fuming gunnery sergeant stump off, then glanced at Berg.

  “What do you think Top will say?” the staff sergeant asked.

  “That if Commander Weaver made the call, that’s it,” Eric replied. “Staff Sergeant, in the absence of a higher authority, you obey the next orders you get. Could I ask for an order?”

  “Go,” Hinchcliffe said.

  “Could you order me to go investigate another method of getting the Wyverns into the ship?”

  “Ahem,” Hinchcliffe said thoughtfully. “Sergeant Bergstresser!”

  “Yes, Staff Sergeant?”

  “While the rest of us are working on loading ammo, I think your time would best be served trying to find an alternate method to load the Wyverns. You are so ordered.”

  “Thank you, Staff Sergeant.”

  Eric climbed up on the deck of the sub and looked around. The starboard crane, the one that would be loading the Wyverns, was slowly and gently lowering a torpedo into a forward hatch. It lowered the torp, lifted away and then paused over the next one, waiting.

  He hit the timer in his implant and waited. And waited. Finally the crane moved again, hooking up to a torpedo and lifting it into the air as the loading team reappeared.

  Eric frowned and looked down the hole, figuring out how long it would take to pick up one of the Wyverns and drop it into place. He estimated the time it would take to move the crane back and forth and then headed over to the crane.

  The bosun was controlling the movements of the crane from the dock and was standing with his arms folded, the latest torp having been dropped, when Berg walked up.

  “Bosun, permission to speak?” Berg asked, more or less to the bosun’s back.

  “Go, Marine,” Charles replied indifferently.

  “Bosun, I note that there is about a seven minute idle time as each torp is loaded. I’m wondering if it would be possible to use that idle time to load the Wyverns?”

  “I’m trying to figure out why I should do two loadings at once,” the bosun said, not looking around. “And I’m
not going to wear my operator out running the crane back and forth. So, no, it would not be possible.”

  “Thank you, Bosun,” Berg said. “Permission to withdraw?”

  “Get the hell out of my hair, Marine,” the Bosun said. “Okay! Get the next one ready!”

  “…If Commander Weaver says they have priority, they have priority,” First Sergeant Powell said mildly. “We’ll get the Wyverns loaded, Wieslaw. Just not right now.”

  “Just because some Navy commander says that they can’t load them—” Juda started to say.

  “Gunnery Sergeant Juda, be aware that that Navy commander dropped with us on Cheerick,” Top interrupted, somewhat less mildly. “And stood his ground in the Cavern when things you can’t imagine were trying to turn us into dinner. He was involved in ground combat with Chief Miller during the Dreen War. He’s not just some Navy wuss. With a little seasoning, I’d take him as a company commander any day. If he says they load the torps, they load the torps.”

  “Yes… Pardon me, Top,” Juda said, holding a hand up to his mastoid bone. “Go, Sergeant Bergstresser. Really? Wait one. First Sergeant,” Juda said, starting to grin. “Sergeant Bergstresser has a point to make about the loading. But the decision…”

  “Tell Berg to meet me in conn,” the first sergeant said with a sigh. “You stay here. I think this negotiation needs a little emotional detachment.”

  “Sir, permission to speak?” the first sergeant said standing by the astrogation center.

  “Being a little formal today, Top?” Weaver said, running his hands through his hair distractedly. “If this is about the Wyverns…”

  “Sir, I don’t think you’ve ever officially met Sergeant Bergstresser, have you?” the first sergeant said.

  “No, I haven’t,” Weaver said, looking up at the tall sergeant standing at attention. Berg was sucked into the bulkhead to keep out of the way of the stream of sailors hurrying through conn. “Pleased to finally officially meet you, Two-Gun, given that we’ve sweated blood together. Congratulations on the Navy Cross. It was well deserved.”

  “Thank you, sir!” Berg barked.

  “At ease for God’s sake. Top, we’ve only got two cranes…”

  “Sir, Sergeant Bergstresser has a point to make on that subject,” the first sergeant interrupted again. “Two-Gun?”

  Berg explained about the lag time on loading the torps, at which point Weaver’s left eyebrow raised.

  “Really,” he said. “Seven minutes, huh? Let’s go up top.”

  “Yeah, that’s a solid block of time,” Weaver said after watching the loading for a couple of torpedoes. “But I’m not sure it’s enough time for them to swing over and drop a Wyvern.”

  “Yes, sir,” Berg said. “But at the very most it will increase both load times, slightly, while reducing overall load time significantly. I’d first thought about hand-winching them up some sort of slope, but this makes a lot more sense.”

  “That is a very valid point,” Weaver admitted. “Let’s go talk to Bosun Charles.”

  “Sir, with all due respect, I would be disinclined to do a simultaneous load,” the bosun said when Weaver was done with his explanation.

  “Well, Bosun, absent a valid argument why, I would be inclined to override your disinclination,” Weaver replied, somewhat acerbically.

  “I think I have a better understanding of loading than some Marine, sir,” the bosun replied. “And I’d also be inclined to point out that my chain-of-command is through Base Operations, sir, not through your ship. Base ops said load the torps then the Wyverns, not both at the same time. If you would care to take it up with my boss, that would be Commander Gladner in Base Operations, sir!”

  “That Marine won the Navy Cross, Chief, and he’s the unit instructor on physics and particle detection,” Weaver pointed out dangerously. “Do you really want me to do this through the chain-of-command, Bosun? Seriously? Because it’s not all that hard for me to jump the chain rather radically. I’ve got Admiral Townsend on my speed-dial.”

  “Problems, Gunny, Astro?” Captain Blankemeier asked, walking past.

  “Sir!” First Sergeant Powell said, bracing. Berg had already spotted the CO approaching and had snapped to attention.

  “Just having a discussion with the bosun about loading, sir,” Weaver said calmly.

  “Going well?” the CO asked. “We’ve got a schedule to meet. Two-Gun! My man!” the CO added, raising his hand for a high-five.

  “Sir!” Berg snapped, breaking from attention to high-five the CO back, then went back to brace.

  “First Sergeant, I want you to make sure that Two-Gun here is detailed to conn security if we get boarded,” the CO said. “And Two-Gun, I’d like you to stop by while we’re on the cruise. There’s some stuff that Commander Weaver’s been trying to get me to understand about particle physics that’s just shooting right by me. I’m hoping you can explain it to a tired old fighter pilot. Afternoon, twoish, second Tuesday we’re out. Put it on your calendar. Bosun Charles? Everything going well?”

  “Excellent, sir,” the bosun said, smiling tightly. “Just discussing a way to get the Wyverns and the torps loaded simultaneously.”

  “Great idea, Chief,” the CO said enthusiastically. “I’ll point it out to Commander Gladner. Glad to see you’re being your usual efficient self! Carry on!”


  “Last one,” Himes panted, shoving the Wyvern into place with a gasp of effort.

  It was a real question which was the more exhausting, rolling the Wyverns to their slots or getting them into place. Lowering them was mentally taxing and involved some effort but moving them was way worse. Which was why the three teams had switched off.

  “Great,” Gunny Juda said, appearing around one of the missile tubes. “The company’s formed up. We loaded fast enough that we’ve got enough time to get back to the barracks, shit, shower, shave and march back.”

  “I think I’d rather just hit the damned rack for lift-off,” Lance Corporal Smith opined as the gunny stumped back out of the missile compartment.

  “No you don’t,” Berg said, ensuring that the latches that held the Wyvern in place were all secure. “This is the last chance you’re going to get for a real shower for a few months. I’d walk twenty miles to get that, much less two.”

  When the team got to the topside hatch, the company was already formed. Berg didn’t know how long they’d been waiting, so he double-timed down the gangway and chivvied his team into position.

  Top was, unusually, leading the company. Generally for a short movement like this one of the gunnys would take charge. But Berg also knew what it meant. Top seemed to only know one cadence.

  They filed out of the sub-pen in platoon ranks, then reformed on the move. As they hit their stride, the first sergeant started to sing. He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but everyone by then had learned the words.

  “There’s a sound it’s heard across the land

  It’s heard across the sea

  You’ll only hear it if you listen with your heart

  And one day hope to be free.”

  Units rarely did a “regular” march anymore. They either moved as individuals or, more frequently, did a movement at a “double-time,” running at whatever pace the leader set. Heck, most of the time for even a couple of mile movement there were trucks or busses. But Top Powell just flat-out liked to march; the company regularly performed fifty-mile road marches in formation but carrying full combat gear. And Top expected the sort of precision that you’d normally only find on a parade field.

  He also had some of the strangest marching cadences anyone had ever heard. Usually you marched to songs like “Yellow Ribbon” or “Early Morning Rain.” Or — if you were far enough away from base that nobody would hear — the officially verboten songs like “Up Jumped the Monkey” and “Popeye the Sailor Man” with their decidedly un-PC lyrics.

  “March of Cambreadth,” “Gates of Valhalla,” “Warriors of the World,” “Route March
ing,” “Men of Harlech,” and his absolute favorite “The Sound of Freedom.” He’d even throw in old favorites that nobody used anymore like “The Marseilles,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “John Brown’s Body,” and, naturally, the Marine Hymn. Berg had finally tracked them all down and it was an eclectic list, ranging from Kipling poems to heavy metal songs. There was a consistent theme, though, probably best summed up by the chorus they were currently singing:

  Where the eagles fly I will soon be there

  If you want to come along with me my friend

  Say the words and you’ll be free

  From the mountains to the sea

  We’ll fight for freedom again!

  Face it, Top was just an old-fashioned romantic in the truest sense. “Romance” stories used to mean what were now called “adventure tales.” The original stories that Don Quixote lampooned were “romances”: Arthurian Tales, Roland and Oliver and all the rest of the late medieval stories of battle and sacrifice.

  By that definition, Top was a romantic.

  Top had segued to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He was the only guy Berg had ever met who knew all six verses. The first sergeant had the memory of an elephant. It was scary.

  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

  He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

  He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;

  His truth is marching on.

  Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!

  Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

  Before joining Bravo Company, Berg had never even heard the sixth verse, but Top ground it out, in his horrible voice, just as the company reached the barracks.

  He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,

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