Authors: John Ringo
For Jane Mary Morris Ringo
Born: December 15, 1920 Brooklyn, NY
Died: December 13, 2009 Sautee-Nacoochee, GA
World traveler, writer, bon vivant and mother extraordinaire.
Under a wide and starry sky
Dig a grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and more gladly die
And I laid me down with a will.
Here be the verse you grave for me:
"Here she lies where she longed to be.
Home is the sailor, home from the sea.
And the hunter, home from the hill."
For Captain Tamara Long, USAF
Born: 12 May 1979
Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan
You fly with the angels now.
I am NOT a physicist. Nor an astronomer nor a mathematician nor, indeed, much of a biologist. Assuredly not a rocket scientist. I'm one of those people that uses the word “integral” only and always to mean “central to some subject.” You can get me to cringe by saying the word polynomial.
I took physics, I took calculus, I took astronomy. (And, yes, passed all three.) That's not the same thing. Like Barack Obama on the subject of economics (which I can talk about much better than physics) the information was stored just long enough to pass the course and then forgotten.
Obviously, this has been something of a trial while writing this series. In the Vorpal Blade series I have the luxury of simply tossing that on my coauthor, Dr. Travis Taylor. Alas, Travis got a real job and he's been busy. So I had to find other people to help.
As with Live Free or Die, I'd like to thank Bullet and Belinda (Gibby) Gibson for their assistance not only with the math but also with general proofreading. However, the task being somewhat more complex this time, others got involved. I'd like to thank Stephanie Osborn, who is an astronomer, as well as “The Croatian Mafia,” Ivan Knezevic and Robert Bosnjak. Between the three of them they've gotten me back to the point I could get C- in college-level Newtonian physics.
In addition, when it got really complicated, I'd like to thank Doctor Les Johnson, Deputy Manager NASA Advanced Concepts Office, Dr. Larry Kos, also of NASA, and Dr. Charles L. John, ditto. I often poke fun at NASA but the reality is that the recent decisions of the Administration in that area have me fuming.
Thank you all for your help and support.
My eyes are closed I feel you're faraway
Far beyond that shining star
I know you'll find what you've been fighting for
Far beyond that shining star
Glory to the Brave
“ARRIVING ASSIGNED PERSONNEL FOLLOW THE YELLOW LINE!” the M1C blared. “UNASSIGNED PERSONNEL FOLLOW THE GREEN LINE TO ASSIGNMENT. PERMANENT PARTY FOLLOW THE BLUE LINE! ARRIVING ASSIGNED PERSONNEL FOLLOW THE YELLOW LINE!”
“Are we assigned or unassigned?” Spaceman Apprentice Jack Yin said, looking around the echoing shuttle bay. The Columbia II shuttles held sixty people, mixed about equally between military and civilian. But if any of them were willing to give directions to some newbie recruits it wasn't evident and none of the threesome was about to ask.
“Do I look like I know?” SA Sarin Chap said, shrugging his A bag up on his shoulder.
“The lowest of the low have to be unassigned,” Engineering Apprentice Dana Parker said. “And since we are the lowest of the low, we will go to unassigned.”
“And if we're wrong?” Sarin said, gulping.
“Then we will get chewed out,” Dana said. “And told where to go.”
“Heh,” Jack said, grinning. “You know, there's more than one way to . . .”
“Just walk, Jack,” Dana said.
Her earliest clear memory was walking. Walking and fire.
She sort of had a vague memory of being somewhere with her mom and dad. She was pretty sure, thinking about it later, that it was a mall. And that was about the only real memory she had of her dad. The first clear memory was the walking. And the fire. And the smell of things that weren't made to burn. And a sky that was a strange red. Like it should be dark but it was red like a banked fire. And ash. Thin. Light. Constant.
She sort of remembered the buses. And staying places she wasn't used to. Hotels. Tents. She remembered telling her mom it was okay to cry. Which didn't make any sense cause her mom was always crying.
Then they were at Uncle Don and Aunt Marge's farm.
And then her mom “went away” too. That was how they phrased it to a three year-old orphan from the LA bombing. That they went away, like they were taking a trip to Maui for a while or something. They had three nearly grown kids of their own and a sister that had carefully hung herself where only her sister would find her and a new three year-old to raise and they just said “Your mom had to go away. You're going to be staying with us for a while.”
The door had a big sign that read “Unassigned Receiving.” Dana pushed it open and negotiated her seabag through the door. Jack didn't even think about trying to give her a hand. He knew better by now.
“Engineering Apprentice Parker,” Dana said. “With a party of two, I guess.”
The woman behind the desk was a civilian, blonde and, unsurprisingly, pregnant. Dana was even more blonde, had had full-blown Johannsen's until she got gene-scrubbed by the Navy doctors and managed to keep from getting belly-full in high school by determination and a lot of cold showers.
“Transmit your orders,” the civvie said, nibbling on a cracker. She considered her screen and sighed. “You're assigned.”
“Told you,” Sarin said.
“Go down the corridor to the hatch that says Assigned Personnel,” the woman said, pointing to the door.
“Thank you,” Dana said.
Jack, by dint of being barely able to squeeze into the small compartment, was by the door. He yanked it open and squeezed more so Sarin and Dana could get out.
“If this thing is so huge,” Sarin said. “Why the hell is everything so squeezed?”
The corridors were narrow. They had to hug the bulkhead so a harassed looking PO could sidle by.
“Do I look like I know?” Dana said, opening the door to Assigned Personnel.
This compartment was larger and included nicely uncomfortable looking chairs for those unfortunate enough to have to wait.
There was no line.
“Engineering Apprentice Parker,” Dana repeated. “With a party of two.”
“Orders?” the PO behind the desk said then contemplated his screen. “142nd Boat Squadron. Take the purple line. That leads to the 142nd offices.”
“Aye, aye, PO,” Dana said, turning around. “Jack? You're in my way?”
“Sorry,” Jack said, stepping aside.
They called him “Gentle Ben” from the old TV show. As blonde as Dana, and therefore a carrier for Johannsen's before he got scrubbed, he was about as big as a grizzly and, except when you got enough beer in him, about as gentle as a lamb. Unfortunately, when you did get enough beer in him, it turned out he had a mean streak a mile wide. That also showed up, fortunately, when friends needed a hand. Dana could generally hold her own with difficulties, but Jack was useful to have around.
The three had been at separate A schools that were co-located at McKinley Base. They had run into each other from time to time, mostly in the EM club and the combined mess. They weren't the only guys who got to follow the short blonde engineering apprentice around sniffing like bloodhounds. But they were a couple of the nicer ones, so Dana was just as glad they'd been scheduled to ship out together.
McKinley was just about the largest Navy base in the US after the loss of Diego, Jax and Norfolk. A collection of rapidly growing pre-fabricated, pre-stressed, dug-in concrete buildings, it was located about fifty miles outside Wichita, Kansas in what had once been a dense-pack nuclear missile base. The second largest Navy base in the US was outside of Minot, North Dakota. Every base anywhere close to a city, including Kings Bay, Bremerton, Pearl and Great Lakes, was either closed or in the process. The “wet” navy had squeezed down to a collection of fast frigates most of which were based either overseas or at Key West. There was talk of calling it the “Sea Guard” or something.
Dana didn't really care. The only Navy that mattered to her was the one that kept more rocks from falling. The one that might, someday, get her some payback for a mom and dad who had to go away.
The purple line seemed to go on for freaking ever. She didn't have trouble with carrying her A bag—it wasn't much heavier than a bale of hay—but it seemed like a mile of up and down and sideways until they finally got to a corridor with a big sign over the hatch reading “Welcome to Myrmidon Country.”
“Finally,” Sarin said, shifting his A bag.
Sarin was not much taller than Dana with black hair and a fading but clearly once severe case of acne. The way that he drove a plant, Dana had asked him why he wasn't in IT or something.
“I deliberately failed the exam,” he said. “I spent five years working for my brother running cable. I'm about sick of it.”
The line continued on for a while but you could tell they were finally in Myrmidon country. Most of the personnel were Navy for one thing and most of them were wearing flight suits.
Finally it terminated in a hatch, and it was a real hatch, that read “142nd Receiving.” Someone had taped up a hand-lettered sign under it that read “Abandon All Hope, ye who enter here.”
“Cheery,” Sarin said.
“Yeah,” Dana said, cycling the hatch. It didn't open.
“Who dares approach the gates?” The voice was a “com” in her plants. The caller ID was blocked.
The first time she got a plant com it was unnerving. The voice sounded like it was in your head but a “real” voice at the same time. Sort of like telepathy. On the other hand, it made communication over distance easier than radio since hyperwave was faster than light.
Glatun implant technology was still rare and expensive. Mostly it was being used by the US and other “advanced” militaries. There was more to the implants than just a super-radio. The plants acted as a sort of PDA that could record video, drawn from vision, and audio, recall notes, acted as a cell phone and last but not least, could connect to other computer systems and the internet or hypernet. And there were physical aspects. There were various upgrades and improvements that could be installed with the plants. In Dana's case that included a “spaceman's package” that permitted up to six hours in an airless condition, resistance to toxins and radiation, elimination of motion sickness and resistance to vacuum and various smoke inhalation issues. It didn't mean you could breathe vacuum for very long, but you could survive longer than an unaugmented person.
“EA Parker with a party of two, reporting?” Dana commed.
“You may enter, EA Parker,” the voice said. “One at a time.”
The outer hatch undogged and Dana entered what was clearly an airlock. She cycled the door then checked the telltales.
“Uh . . .” she said. “The other side of this is vacuum?”
There was a banging on the bulkhead and the light cycled to green.
“Try it now.”
The hatch opened outward. If it was really vacuum, she was about to do a Dutchman without a spacesuit.
She thought about that for a second. This was just another test. She was good at tests.
Beneath the main airlock control panel is the manual testing system. Manual tests of atmosphere integrity may be obtained
Thank God she hadn't slept through that class. She opened up the access panel and twisted the knob. Air immediately started sucking out. She quickly closed the test knob.
Asking another question was out. There was no way they were just going to kill an arriving noob. Somebody was playing silly buggers.
She put her ear to the steel bulkhead. Faintly, she could hear something that sounded very much like a small motor.
“Tell you what,” she said. “I'll open the hatch if the joker with the vacuum cleaner will shut it off.”
The hatch cycled from the other side and a tall Coxswain's Mate First Class grinned at her.
“Welcome, junior space eagle,” the CM1 said. “Come in! Come in!”
There were three people in the compartment, a Bosun's Mate Second and a Spaceman First behind desks and the CM1. The CM waved with both hands, like he was directing a taxiing shuttle.
“Come, come, we don't bite!”
“Much,” the BM2 sitting behind a desk said. He was bent over some paperwork and clearly not enjoying his reading.
“Uh . . .” Dana said. She'd gotten it right the first two times but the vacuum indicator had sort of thrown her. “Engineering Apprentice Parker with party of two?”
“Welcome, EA Parker,” the CM1 said. “You are a sight for sore eyes. A FUN that actually can figure out that red means stop. Stand by.” He got the distant look of someone using a plant and set up a small hand vac on the manual indicator. “Hold this, will you?” he said, handing it to Dana.
A moment later, Jack stepped through the inner hatch and looked around.
“Hey, Dana! Is this where we're supposed to report or not?”
“It becomes clear why EA Parker was placed in charge of this group,” CM1 Keith Glass said, considering their orders. "Two of you just failed the single most important test of being useful junior space eagles. You will hear this not once, but again and again and again. This is not Earth. This is the Troy. Around earth there is a protective sheath of, fortunately breathable, gases called an at-mo-sphere. Around Troy there is this thing called va-cuum. It smarts rather severely when one attempts to breathe it. Two of you just attempted to test that fact. Had you done so in other than controlled conditions you would now be swelling up like freeze-drying grapes and I'd probably have to do the body recovery.
“Since there are still far too few mighty master space eagles with much time in this thing we call space, I have been chosen to deliver your inbrief. You just got the first and second part. The first part was the test, the second part was the lecture. I repeat. Always. Check. Airlock. Integrity. Can I get a repeat back?”
“Always check airlock integrity, aye,” the three newbies parroted.