Manxome foe votsb 3, p.7

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 7

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;

  So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,

  Our God is marching on.

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

  Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

  “Companeee… Halt!” Top bellowed. “Right… Face. Fall into the barracks for shit, shower and shave. You have forty minutes. And every last Marine had better swab at least his filthy armpits and crotch and put on a fresh uniform! There’ll be enough Joe Funk after a week on deployment without starting with it. Platoon sergeants, my office. Fall out!”

  Was that the answer, Berg wondered as he pounded up the steps to the barracks. Was it simple unthinking faith in something greater? Was it just that Top truly believed that God was unstoppably marching on?

  Somehow that didn’t give him the warm fuzzies he’d hoped. God seemed a long way away when you were between the stars.

  There was no ceremony for their departure, this time. The company marched back to the ship, this time led by Gunnery Sergeant Juda who sang “normal” cadences to keep them in step, then filed into the ship to find their bunks.

  Berg had grabbed a top bunk when they were loading, based on seniority. While on land a bottom bunk was preferable, at sea or in space, top was the place to be. Among other things, it was the place to avoid the worst of spew if people got seasick.

  But when he forced his way through the throng in the berthing compartment, there was someone else occupying the top bunk.

  “Excuse, me,” Berg said to the short, black-haired sergeant. “I sort of grabbed that one earlier.”

  “An I got seniority,” the man said in a thick vaguely Hispanic accent. He looked more like an Indonesian and Berg didn’t even have to read his nametag to guess who he was.

  “Got it, Sergeant,” Berg said, checking the personal effects compartment on the second bunk down. Sure enough, his stuff was in there, neatly put away. He wasn’t sure if he should be offended that the sergeant had moved his stuff. You weren’t supposed to go into other people’s drawers, but on the other hand Berg hadn’t had to move it. But Himes’… or maybe Smith’s stuff had been in here…

  “Hey, what’s Himes’ stuff doing in my drawer?” Probably Smith said, looking in his effects compartment.

  “Everybody’s shifting down one tier,” Berg said, climbing the ladder and rolling into his bunk. “You’ve got bottom.”

  The compartment had a companionway barely one Marine wide down the center and four tiers of bunks on either side. The bunks weren’t just steel racks, though. Each was a self-contained survival compartment that could be sealed off from the outside via a memory plastic door. Called a “Personal Environmental Unit,” the acronym had more than one meaning in Berg’s opinion. Given water rationing on the ship and the frequent strenuous activity the Marines engaged in, the bunks could get pretty rank by the end of a deployment. On the up side, they had interior water and air supplies, communications, gaming and entertainment systems. Frequently on the last trip the Marines had been sealed in when the ship encountered “disturbances” ranging from gravitational waves to complete depressurization.

  This time, thankfully, they had spacesuits. The last mission the only thing the Marines had been issued that could be used in death pressure were their Wyverns, which were impossible to move around the ship. So the only choice they had was to sit out depressurization in their bunks. The suits they’d been issued were similar to the skinsuits the crew were issued, the big difference being that they were digi-cam colored, had been “hardened” in likely wear spots — elbows and knees primarily with “crawl pads” — and the material they were constructed of was woven with carbon-nannite armor fabric, making them resistant to fragmentation. They also had a layer of automatic sealant in the event of small punctures. But if they got into a battle in vacuum, one solid hit anywhere on the body was pretty much a death sentence.

  The obvious place to store the suits had been in the bunks, so a compartment along the inboard bulkhead of the bunks had been added, narrowing the already less-than-generous width of the bunks considerably. Getting into the one-piece suits in the bunk was going to be an interesting exercise in gymnastics. The environmental packs for the suits, about the size of a pair of double SCUBA tanks, had to be racked at the foot of the bunks on the outside, crowding the already narrow passageway to the point of insanity. The worst part, though, was that the compartment for the helmet, which was on the inboard again down by the foot of the bunk, took up a sizeable bit of cubage. Berg figured he was going to be stubbing his toes on it on a regular basis.

  He got situated in the bunk and started arranging the interior. The one thing he made sure of was getting everything locked down. The captain… had some idiosyncrasies about how he headed for space.

  Suddenly the compartment filled with the worst caterwauling he’d ever heard in his life. It sounded like someone was torturing a Hispanic cat. And it was coming from the bunk overhead.

  “Hey, Sergeant Portana!” Berg said, sticking his head out of the bunk. “There are earbuds for music!”

  “Wha’?”

  “EARBUDS!” Berg shouted over the music. He figured it must be something Filipino but he didn’t really care as long as the sergeant turned it down.

  “Don’ like ’em!” Portana shouted back. “Better to listen to it this way!”

  “What the hell is that racket?” Gunny Robert Mitchell shouted from the hatch of the berthing compartment.

  “Portana!” someone shouted. It was impossible to tell who in the crowd of Marines had answered.

  “Sergeant Portana! Use your earbuds or turn it down and close your berth!” the gunny shouted. “Why the fuck is this compartment such a rat-house? Get in your bunks, Marines, and get situated. We’re pulling out.”

  “Gunny,” Corwin yelled from down the compartment. “A moment of your time?”

  The gunnery sergeant made his way down the compartment to Corwin’s bunk and leaned over for a quiet word with the corporal.

  “You sure?” Berg heard him say.

  “Ask Two-Gun,” Corwin said clearly through a lull in the noise.

  “Sergeant Bergstresser?” the gunny said. “Do you have anything to input on the subject of the CO’s take-off procedures?”

  “Just that I’d rather be strapped to the underbelly of an F-16 during air combat maneuvers, Gunny,” Berg answered, latching down his valuables drawer. “The CO seems to think it’s a good idea to find out if anything isn’t secured on launch. By plowing it through the bulkheads.”

  “Damn,” the gunny said. “You heard Two-Gun. Get your shit secured, Marines. I gotta head back to quarters…”

  As soon as the hatch closed the music overhead cranked back up. Berg let out a sigh and slid in his earbuds. If he turned the music up high enough it drowned out the noise overhead…

  “Clearing two hundred fathom line,” the pilot said.

  “Board?” the CO asked.

  “Board is straight,” the chief of boat replied. It was one of the responsibilities of the senior NCO of the sub to ensure all the markers showed hatches closed.

  “Dive the boat,” the CO responded. “Make your depth one hundred meters.”

  “One hundred meters, aye,” the XO replied. “Twenty percent blow, ten degrees down on planes. Dive the boat.”

  “All Hands!” the chief of the boat said over the 1-MC. “Dive, Dive, Dive.”

  “Tactical,” the CO said over the comm to Tactical. “What’s the read on our trailers?”

  “Full spread,” Tactical replied. “SOSUS and the attack boats out front have a count of six Akulas. And one diesel boat, tentatively identified as Chinese of all things. They don’t come into the Pond on a regular basis. Long cruise in a diesel boat.”

  “We’re getting most popular,” the CO muttered. “Astro, course?”

  “One Two Seven, sir,” Weaver replied. “The last report had a ga
p in the Akula line about there. I’d suggest we go through relatively slowly. There are going to be enough boats out there, we’re risking a collision if we do our usual approach.”

  “They can hear us coming,” the CO said. “But we’ll keep the speed down until we’re past the Akula line. Tactical, where they at?”

  “A north-south line right on the outside of the Economic Exclusion Zone, Conn.”

  “We’ll crank it up to seventy knots as soon as we get to depth. Then slow down and get a read as we approach. As soon as we’re past, we’ll go to full speed.”

  “Aye, aye, sir,” the XO said. “Approaching one hundred meters. Level out.”

  “And switch drives,” the CO said. “As soon as we’re down. I’m tired of playing sardines and whales with these guys.”

  “Sergeant Bergstresser?” Himes asked over the comm as the sub started to shake. “What’s happening?”

  The call came in clearly by being boosted over the sound of the music. Which meant it just about blew out Berg’s eardrums.

  “Ow!” Berg said, turning down the music. “The CO’s engaged the space drive. We’re probably doing a speed run past the Akulas that keep trying to get a look at us.”

  “Isn’t that sort of dangerous?” Himes asked nervously.

  “Yes,” Berg replied as music started to boom through the submarine. “So the CO gives them fair warning to get out of the way!”

  “Jesus, I thought it would be quiet on a submarine!” Smith shouted. “What the grapp?”

  Berg keyed the comm to go to everyone in the berthing compartment, automatically shutting down various games and music.

  “This is Sergeant Bergstresser,” he said tiredly. “Listen up. The CO has engaged the space drive. Which means we’re speeding up. The sub is going to shake like a mothergrapper. It’s going to sound like it’s coming apart. It would come apart if it wasn’t for that big spike sticking out the front. That creates what’s called a supercavitation bubble around the ship. That keeps us from crushing like a tin can. We’re going to probably do a speed run to outrun the Akulas, but since we’re underwater we can’t see them. And going this fast we can’t hear them on sonar. So the CO plays music to warn them to get the grapp out of the way. The problem only comes when we leave the water. When you feel us start going up, hold the grapp on. Close your bunks, put your straps on and grab your barf bags. You’re going to need them. That is all.”

  “You shut down my music,” Sergeant Portana said over the comm as soon as he’d hung up.

  “It was an all-compartment,” Berg replied.

  “Don’ shut down my music again,” Portana replied. “You don’ ever turn off my music.”

  “Got you,” Berg said. “Anything else?”

  There wasn’t any reply.

  “God, I miss having Lurch as our armorer,” he said as the music overhead cranked back up.

  “Nearing the reported Akula line,” Tactical said.

  “Roger,” the CO replied. “Slow to ten knots.”

  “Ten knots, aye,” the XO replied. “Slow to ten knots.”

  “Tactical,” the CO asked as soon as the flow noise reduced. “Got anything?”

  “Still waiting for the readings, sir,” the tactical officer replied, looking over the shoulder of the petty officer manning the sonar console. The TACO was a submariner but he’d been put through an advanced course in aerial combat direction. There still wasn’t a class on space combat but the way the Blade was set up, it was remarkably close to a combination. The tactics room of the Blade looked more like the CIC of an Aegis, with multiple screens capable of showing a variety of targets. At the moment, there wasn’t anything on any of them.

  “Bingo,” the sonar operator whispered, pointing to the display. “Akula engine signatures. Designate Sierra One. Fourteen thousand meters. Making turns for… about eight knots. Turning towards us, I think. It’s got us for sure.”

  The Blade was a converted Ohio, which meant that no submarine in the world should have been able to detect her at fourteen thousand meters, nearly seven miles. However, various compromises had been necessary to convert her into a spaceship. Among other things, she had been stripped of her covering of anacoustic tile. That, right there, meant she radiated sound like a rock concert. Not to mention the fact that the CO had a rock band cranked up to maximum volume.

  “Anything closer?” the TACO asked.

  “Not that I can get over this damned music, sir,” the petty officer said bitterly.

  “Conn, permission to cut the music. It’s interfering with our acoustics.”

  “Done,” the CO said as the music cut off. “Anything between us and freedom?”

  “We’ve got an Akula at fourteen thousand meters, Conn,” Tactical replied. “One eight seven degrees, designated Sierra One.”

  “They just kicked up,” the petty officer said as one of the boards automatically updated. The Russian sub was now shown doing turns for thirty knots towards their position. “There’s another, designate Sierra Two. North of us, right at the edge of detection. I don’t really have more than that. And there’s… there’s something else out there but I can’t quite get it. It’s quiet whatever it is. Don’t even have a vector.”

  “Probably that Chinese diesel-electric,” the TACO said. “They’re quiet as a thief. Is it in front of us?”

  “Can’t tell,” the PO admitted.

  “Conn, Tactical. Sierra One making turns for thirty knots towards our position. Sierra Two is an Akula to the north, out of position. Potential Sierra Three, probable Chinese diesel, location unknown but within ten thousand meters.”

  “Roger, Tactical, good job,” the CO said.

  “The Chink’s just gonna have to take his chances,” Spectre continued. “Crank her up. One hundred knots for fifteen klicks then increase to two hundred to launch point.”

  “One hundred knots, aye,” the XO replied.

  “Cue the music.”

  “There it is again,” the Chinese sonar operator said. “They are between us and the coast. Speed increasing…”

  “Turn the boat,” the CO said. “Come to course one-eight-zero, maximum speed.”

  “Are you sure about this, Senior Captain?” the XO asked as soon as the boat was on course.

  “I read the intelligence report,” the CO replied. “A Russian Akula was nearly destroyed getting in the way of this Ami. I will not have the same thing happen to us. There, do you hear that?”

  “Music?” the XO asked.

  “The song “Final Countdown” by a group called Europe,” the Chinese skipper confirmed, nodding. “That is the music he plays every time he disappears. What is the Ami’s course?”

  “Thirty-seven degrees,” the sonar operator replied. “Closest point of approach should be two thousand meters at two hundred nine degrees.”

  “Turn to course thirty-seven degrees,” the CO said. “Continue max speed. Periscope depth.”

  “Yes, Senior Captain,” the XO said, converting the orders into individual commands.

  The Chinese skipper waited as the periscope was raised, then pointed it to the east. He keyed the video recorder and waited. The star-light periscope gave a grainy green picture but it would have to be enough.

  “Range to target?”

  “Nineteen thousand meters and increasing,” the sonar operator said. “Speed has increased to… to over two hundred knots. Russian Akula now detectable to the southeast. Also on a heading of thirty degrees. Speed seventy knots.”

  “The Ami is trying to run completely out of sight,” the CO muttered. “But is he patient enough?”

  The question was answered in a welter of foam on the horizon. For a brief moment there might have been something like a breaching whale on the scope. He would have to rerun the chip. But only in the privacy of his office. His superiors had been precise on that point.

  “I’ve lost the Ami,” the sonar operator said, swallowing nervously. “There was a rush of sound, like falling water, then he wa
s gone. I’m sorry, Senior Captain.”

  “It is not a problem,” the Chinese skipper said, patting the sonar operator on the back. “Slow to one third. Let us slip clear of these Akula then make rendezvous with our refueling ship. We have a long voyage home before us.”

  “Modderpocker!” Sergeant Portana screamed, his legs flailing in midair. He must have grabbed one of the zero-gee straps to keep from being flung from his bunk. “Modderpocker’s crazy!”

  “I told you to secure yourself and your gear, Sergeant,” Berg said over the implant circuit. He had braced himself against the bulkhead of his bunk and the memory-plastic door and was doing just fine with the takeoff.

  “Gimme a pocking hand!”

  “Sorry, Sergeant, I couldn’t hear you over your music!” Berg said. “What was that? You want applause?”

  The ship suddenly banked the other way, throwing the armorer back into his bunk and, from the sound of it, connecting his head with the bulkhead.

  “Ow! Modderpocking flypoy CO!”

  Berg opened his compartment long enough to hit the external controls on Portana’s bunk, closing the memory plastic door just in time for the armorer to bounce off of it instead of pitching back out into the compartment. Then the ship started pulling about a four G dive, resulting in a thump as the armorer hit the top of his PEU. While the bottom was padded, the top was not only solid, it had various protuberances for controls, video screens…

  Berg leaned back and grinned at the sounds of the new armorer being bounced around in his bunk like a tin can. Revenge was sweet.

  6

  “Low Earth orbit established,” the pilot said, sighing.

  The snaking course upwards was at least partially a necessity. There were thousands of radars across the Earth that could detect the Blade, from warships to airports. The basic course was right down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it was necessary to do various detours around radar emitters, including American ones. Even admirals commanding carrier battle groups weren’t supposed to know about the Blade. Their radar operators sure as heck weren’t supposed to.

 
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