Manxome foe votsb 3, p.8

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 8

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  But by parking, momentarily, over Antarctica, the Blade could stop to make sure that it wasn’t leaking air. Given that they were planning on being in space for thirty days, straight, they were going to need all the consumables they could carry.

  “Overpressure holding in all three compartments,” the XO said after ten minutes. “Loss is… nominal.”

  “Nominal may not cut it this time,” the CO said. “I hope you and Commander Weaver worked out a superior method of air recharge this time. I don’t want to be talking like Donald Duck.”

  The last time the Blade ran low on air the answer had been to drop into the atmosphere of a Jovian planet and separate oxygen from its atmosphere. Jovians had been found in virtually every system they visited so it was a natural stop. However, various problems had intended upon it, not least of which was that the ship flooded with helium and hydrogen. There was still plenty of oxygen to breathe but the extra gasses caused everyone to speak in a squeak.

  “Part of the upgrade was installing a heat bypass system to melt ice, sir,” Bill pointed out. “We can stop and gather water, then separate the O2 from that. The engineers also improved on the blaged-up system for extraction from a gas giant. So we can do that if we have to, sir. Without either the evacuation that we experienced or nearly as much penetration by low-density molecules.”

  “So I won’t be sounding like Donald Duck?” the CO asked suspiciously.

  “You will not be sounding like Donald Duck, sir,” Bill replied, trying not to grin.

  “We have an SOP on both, sir,” the XO added. “The big question is capturing the comet.”

  “I suggest capturing a small one, sir,” Bill said dryly. “And with the new extraction systems that got installed, I’m not sure that pumping from a gas giant isn’t the better route. We should be able to do it fast enough and clean enough that we won’t have the hydrogen overpressure problem.”

  “Duly noted, Astro,” the CO said. “Comet it is. XO, pressure still good?”

  “Nominal loss,” the XO replied. “We should be good for at least twenty days with this loss level.”

  “No more than fifteen days out we have to stop for ice,” the CO said. “That one I’m never going to get used to saying. Very well. Astro, course?”

  “Anti-spinward at one-one-eight mark dot two, sir,” Weaver replied, pointing. “First star to the right…”

  “And straight on to morning. XO, make it so. Warp Four and don’t spare the horses. We got a colony to check out.”

  “So what now, Two-Gun?” Sergeant Champion asked over the comm. The team leader of Charlie Second was halfway down the compartment so Berg got it over his implant.

  “Technically we’re on stand-down until we clear the grav barrier on the system,” Berg said. “Which Top figures means we’re all sleeping or gaming. But I’m guessing that Top’s gonna have one of his drills before that happens. Which, if we don’t work on corridor protocol, is going to be a cluster-grapp. I know I’m not senior here…”

  “Two-Gun, Sergeant Norman, mind if I listen in?” Albert Norman had Bravo team of Second Platoon.

  “Booster, gimme all the team leaders and senior team members in the compartment,” Berg said, watching lights go green on his video screen. “Champ just asked what I thought was next. We’re supposed to be bunked down until we clear the system. But Top tends to throw drills at us continuously during the early part of a cruise. What grapps us at first is corridor protocol. When the alarm goes off, everybody can’t be dumping out of their bunks. If you want a suggestion, we should get ahead of him as much as we can. Unass the bunks in the prescribed order, form up as if we’re moving out, then do it over and over again until Top calls an actual drill. Or we can just flake out and follow Top’s lead.”

  “I’m for getting ahead of Top if we can,” Sergeant Charles Gardner from Bravo Third said.

  “We’re in,” Corwin said. “I remember the first time Top called a drill. Cluster-grapp doesn’t begin to cover it.”

  “Any objections?” Berg asked. “Right. We’ll start with boarders. First out of the compartment are the Wyvern teams. You’re in skinsuits. The rest don the vacuum rig. We’ll do it slow at first. Get your teams ready.” He switched frequencies to his own team net. “Smitty, Himes, we’re going to start doing drills. I’ll call the teams. If you’re Wyvern, get into your skins and form up to exit the compartment. If you want a hint, might as well put on skins all the time. They fit under the suits and Top won’t gig you for being in skins under your uniform. Casual SOP on the last cruise was ‘just wear the grapping skins, even if they stink.’ ”

  “Got it, Sergeant,” Himes replied. “Should we just change into them, now?”

  “Well, I’ve already got mine on,” Berg admitted, grinning at the overhead.

  The first attempt was a cluster-grapp. One problem was putting the skinsuits on in the bunks was nearly impossible.

  “We need to figure out a better way to don these things,” Berg said, huddling with the other team leaders in the corridor. “I tried getting into one in the bunk and it was grapping impossible.”

  “Fall out of the bunks by odd teams?” Corporal Loverin asked. The Team Leader of Charlie Third was pretty junior for the slot in Berg’s opinion. But on reflection Berg realized Loverin had more time in the Corps than he did. “Don them with your buddy’s help?”

  “Matching team leaders pair up,” Priester expanded. “So I’d pair with Champs or Lover depending on who was going into skins.”

  “Can the teams keep that straight?” Berg asked. “The alarms are going to be going off, Top’s going to be shouting…”

  “That’s what drills are for,” Loverin pointed out, grinning. “Let’s try it out.”

  “Okay, but we go slow,” Berg said. “Have the skin teams fall out of the compartment, first, then we go to donning suits. We’re going to need to be able to do it fast, though. And eventually we’re going to have to figure out how to do it in the bunks. If we depressurize I don’t want to be trying to get my suit on in vacuum.”

  After four tries, they worked out a good method to get the suits on, just in time to hear:

  “All hands, stand by for system exit!”

  “Okay, that cans it,” Berg said. “Everybody in the bunks.”

  “We just got our suits on,” Loverin protested.

  “We can lie in the bunks in the suits,” Berg pointed out. “It should be a smooth exit, but, personally, I don’t mind having my suit on for it.”

  “What’s this?” the first sergeant said from the forward hatch. “Plotting to take over the ship by EVA, Two-Gun?”

  “Just… drilling in suit donning, First Sergeant,” Berg replied after a moment.

  “And let me guess whose idea that was,” Top said, looking around the compartment balefully. “How fast are you?”

  “Slow, Top,” Berg admitted.

  “Not as slow as I’d expected,” the first sergeant admitted. “But climb in your bunks and seal up. Berg, did you cover system exit?”

  “Not in any detail, Top,” Berg admitted. “But it was covered in training.”

  “And for those of you who don’t recall that five minutes of training,” the first sergeant said, raising his voice. “We’re about to exit the Sol system. There’s a gravitational distortion wave surrounding the system. Why it’s there was covered in training and I won’t cover it again. But it’s like going through a bumpy ride at sea. This one we’ve pretty much got worked out so it should be smooth. If anything untoward happens, however, you just seal your bunks and hunker down. It hasn’t killed us, yet. That’s all.”

  “Methinks Top was a bit put out,” Corwin said, grinning.

  “Oh, he’ll get us back,” Berg said. “But in the meantime, let’s bunk up.”

  “Approaching system disturbance zone,” the pilot reported.

  “Slow to normal space drive,” the CO said. “Astro?”

  “Getting my readings on the waves, sir,” Bill replied, look
ing at the newly installed gravitometer. They were really in the outer fringes and he could feel the waves, like strange ripples of power, coursing through his body. Fortunately, they hadn’t stopped farther in. “Entry point should work in one hundred seven seconds, Warp Two Dot Three.”

  The Blade had previously discovered that gravity between stars acted in a different way than within the star’s gravity well. At the edge, the two different gravitational forms clashed, creating standing gravitational waves that stretched for millions of kilometers. By timing the waves, it was possible to, in effect, “surf” them. But like any surfing, it took reading the waves just right. Fortunately, because they could be analyzed and were fairly steady state, it was science rather than art.

  “Start the countdown,” the CO ordered as a clock on the forward viewscreen came on. “Any worse than usual?”

  “Not apparently, sir,” Bill replied, watching the display show the rise and fall of the standing gravity waves. “We’ll have to do the usual jump in warp about halfway through, but it should be a smooth exit. Well, as smooth as it ever is.”

  “Whoa,” Sergeant Norman said as the first real wave hit. The drive could be felt through the walls of the bunks and it was apparent it was straining. “What the hell was that?”

  “Standing gravitational wave,” Lance Corporal Seeley said. The effect was somewhat nauseating but if it was bothering Seeley it wasn’t apparent.

  Norman looked across the compartment towards Lyle’s bunk and was surprised to see the former armorer asleep.

  “This happens on every system?” Norman asked.

  “Yep,” Seeley said. “And they’re really bad on the bigger stars like A and B class.”

  There was a slight increase in the tenor of the drive as it kicked into a higher warp and a sharp feeling of movement where none existed.

  “What the pock is going on?” Sergeant Portana asked over the general platoon freq.

  “Grav waves,” Sergeant Bergstresser replied shortly. The Filipino armorer was still playing his salsa full blast.

  “What de pock is a grab wabe?”

  “It’s a made up word in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky,” Berg replied. “But if you’re attempting to pronounce ‘grav wave’… Look it up.”

  “They’re not getting along too well, are they?” Norman said over the internal team freq.

  “Portana had better watch out or Two-Gun’s gonna kick his ass,” Seeley agreed.

  “This grav thing,” Norman said. “How many times you go through it on the last mission?”

  “I think we surveyed something like thirty systems,” Seeley replied. “And that didn’t count some of the other weird shit. This time, at least, we only have to go through it a couple of times. And we shouldn’t be messing with binaries.”

  “Binaries are bad, I take it?” Norman asked, chuckling.

  “They mention anything about an astrophysics survey, get ready to lose your lunch.”

  “Clean system exit,” the XO announced as the waves fell off.

  “Course?” the CO said.

  “Heading Three-two-five, mark neg dot four,” Weaver said. “That heading has us well away from stars and other known anomalies. Maintain that heading for about two days, then we’ll adjust.”

  “Works for me,” the CO said, getting out of his chair. “XO, make it so, then regular movement watch. Secure from quarters.”

  “Aye, aye,” the XO said. “Going on a cruise.”

  “All Hands, All Hands. System exit complete. Secure from Emergency Quarters.”

  “Everybody out of your monkey suits,” Berg said, rolling out of his bunk and starting to strip off his skinsuit. “We’re up for Wyvern simulation in thirty minutes.”

  “Thirty grapping days,” Himes muttered. “What the hell are we going to do for thirty grapping days in space?”

  “You’ve seen the training schedule,” Berg replied, grinning. “Lots o’ training. Not to mention unscheduled drills, cleaning up the compartment, maintenance on the Wyverns…”

  “Don’t forget pre-mission physical,” Corwin added from down the compartment.

  “And we all have to go through pre-mission,” Berg added with an evil grin. “You’re not real Space Marines until you’ve gone through pre-mission physical.”

  “Are we there, yet?” Smith moaned.

  “You’ve been awfully quiet the last couple of days.”

  Brooke looked up as Ashley Anderson sat down across from her. The lunchroom was, as always, loud to the point of hearing loss. So the statement was spoken loudly enough for the other girls at the table to hear.

  “She has been, hasn’t she?” Clara Knott agreed. The skeletally thin brunette cheerleader had often been accused of being anorexic. Anyone looking at her heaping plate would have been disabused of the notion. Nor was she bulimic; she simply had a metabolism more commonly found in shrews. And somewhat the same personality. “And from the faraway look, there can only be one reason.”

  “Has the ice-maiden, like, thawed?” Ashley asked. Like Brooke, she was a long, leggy blonde. Unlike Brooke, she could barely complete a thought. “What are you wearing to Winter Formal?”

  “I’m more interested in who Broke is going to the formal with,” Clara said. “Come on, Brooke, give it up. We need a name.”

  “I’m not going,” Brooke said, picking at her food.

  “What do you mean?” Ashley squealed. “You have to go! You’re a cheerleader for God’s sake! Don’t tell me you don’t have a date!”

  “She’s not going because her date’s not around to go,” Craig Elwood said, setting down his tray across from Ashley. “Mind if I sit here?”

  “Yes,” Ashley replied, then paused. “Unless you really know something.” Craig was the school’s terminal geek. A member of the physics team and the math team, he was also irrepressible. Despite having spent most of his school years being hammered on by the “names” in the small school system.

  “Someone, not naming any names,” Craig said, drawing the words out, “was seen canoodling with a former star of the physics team on Sunday.”

  “I was not canoodling,” Brooke snapped. “Whatever that means. And it’s none of your business, Craig!”

  “You mean you were just sitting in his truck for three hours?” Craig asked, aghast.

  Brooke snarled. “What were you doing, following us?”

  “No, but when I went into the theater you were sitting in his truck,” Craig said. “And when I came out of the theater you were still sitting in his truck. If you weren’t canoodling, which is an archaic term for necking, what in the heck were you doing?”

  “Whose truck?” Clara asked, fascinated. Brooke almost never dated. She always had a date if she needed one, if there was a party or a dance. But she never dated. And she certainly had never, as far as Clara could figure out, necked with anybody. Well, she’d gotten caught kissing Jeffrey Brodie in the fifth grade. That seemed to have put her off the whole… canoodling thing.

  “Eric Bergstresser, okay?” Brooke said, still picking at her food. “And he was also captain of the track team, Craig. So he’s not exactly a geek. And he lettered in football.”

  “And he’s in the Marines,” Craig said. “And he got the Navy Cross. And he’s in some super-secret special operations group. And I hear he’s got the life expectancy of a mayfly.”

  “What does that mean?” Ashley asked, fascinated. “Wait, you mean The Berg? Tall, dark and dreamy Eric Bergstresser? Not that little twerp Josh, right? Brooke, you wouldn’t date Josh Bergstresser, would you? You wouldn’t, right?”

  “Go back to the mayfly thing,” Clara said. “What do you mean the… what you said…”

  “Eric’s unit has a high casualty rate,” Brooke said softly. “Very high. I don’t know what he does but they lost most of their Marines on the last mission. Eric was one of the few survivors.”

  “He’s probably in a Dreen clean-up unit, then,” Craig said knowingly. “There are outbreaks you never hear
about. Special operations black teams clean them up quietly so nobody finds out about it. I didn’t know it was that dangerous, though.”

  “And you went and fell for him,” Clara replied. “Well, I can kind of understand that. He sure is cute.”

  “Cute?” Ashley squealed, again. “Cute? He’s gorgeous. He’s got those great eyes and those awesome hands and legs that go right up to… Did I mention that really great ass? Where’d you meet him? I thought he’d gone off to… somewhere. College?”

  “He’s in the Marines,” Craig said, very slowly and carefully. “He’s in the Marines, Ashley. Do try to keep up.”

  “He was in church on Sunday,” Brooke said tightly. “Our families went to supper at Aubry’s. We went out to see a movie, after, and ended up talking instead.” She stood up and grabbed at her tray, half spilling it on the table. “He’s in the Marines and he’s probably not coming back and that’s ALL I WANT TO SAY ABOUT IT!” she ended on a scream, turning and stalking away.

  “What just happened?” Ashley asked plaintively. “And what are you wearing to formal, Clara?”

  Craig caught up to Brooke as she was trying to open her locker with shaking hands.

  “I’m sorry, Brooke,” he said, softly. “I didn’t mean to—”

  “You’re a total nerd, you know that,” she said bitterly. “You have no clue how to be a human being.”

  “I said I’m sorry,” Craig said. “I really, really am. I didn’t know he meant that much to you, okay? Look, I ran across a link a while back. I’m going to send it to you. I… I don’t know if it will help or not, but it’s all I can think of to say how sorry I am. It was from back during the War on Terror and it’s about… Well, I’ll send it to you, okay? And he’s going to be fine. He’ll be back before you know it.”

  “You think you’re so smart, Craig,” Brooke said, finally getting her locker open. “You think you know everything. Well, he’s not in one of the cleaner things. He does something off-world. I think he’s looking for the Dreen or maybe even fighting them in secret. And they lost almost all the Marines last time. So you don’t know what you’re talking about, okay? And just don’t talk to me about it.”

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