Disclaimer: All characters and names that are recognizable are the property of their creators. No money is being made and no offense is meant. Please don't sue.
Author's Note: Hey all. This story was actually written by my dad. He would love some feed back and I will be sure to send reviews on to him. Thank you for reading!
No Honor in Death
The young Petty Officer stepped off personnel carrier and onto his new ship. The HMS Wanderlust was a newly refitted battle cruiser just out from the yards. She'd made a short shake out cruise around the system manned only by her officer cadre and a minimal crew of veterans before calling at the main transshipment station to pick up her regular contingent of non-coms and ratings.
The interior smelled of oil and disinfectant, too sterile for a fully contained environment for 637 officers and people. The omnipresent whisper of fans in ductwork spoke into a profound silence among the nervous crew members arriving in her number three boat bay. Most Navy veterans long ago had learned to ignore the fans, and even lowly Petty Officers shouldn't have noticed, but the lack of chatter among the crew was unprecedented in his short year of experience. Put any unacquainted group of humans together and just like their ape cousins, there was bound to be a lot of noise as the social networks that would govern their interactions off duty were quickly established.
But this boatload of newcomers were silent as a tomb. The news they had received on the short drift from the station to the ship had them all worried. The CO was famous, the most decorated naval officer in Manticore's long proud history of naval belligerence with her neighbors. Why they had to have the "honor" of serving her on this ship was the lid pressing down on their moods. The future didn't look bleak, it simply wasn't even there to look at.
"Always wanted to die a hero" muttered someone to his left and behind him as they moved toward their quarters. The words echoed in the quiet that pervaded the corridor. Nervous glances quelled the speaker and they moved to their assigned bunks in silence.
Petty Officer Stephan Schwartzpunct pulled out his journal and flipped through the pages. He enjoyed using pencil on paper rather than the neural interface that let people directly record their thoughts to words on a screen without the bother of coordinating their forearms and fingers to actually write. He had to special order the material from a archeological reproductions store in a famous museum, but the focus it brought to his thoughts was worth the expense. It also kept his thoughts private since virtually nobody could read ancient cursive anymore.
'Today we boarded our new ship, and I know I am going to die.'
He looked at the words that had seemingly flowed out of his pencil of their own accord. Everyone knew the famous record of their hero Commanding Officer. She had, against great odds, repeatedly pulled victory from the jaws of defeat, defended the Queen's Honor and saved the Kingdom (why isn't it a "Queendom" he wondered) from peril in desperate fights in the vacuum of space. Of course in the process she had a habit of losing the majority of her assigned ships, and an average of over 68% casualties, but she won! She'd lost several significant portions of her anatomy to various wounds, in space and planetside, had the pleasure of striking (and humiliating) an effete aristocrat, threatening the most wealthy man in the system, killing an aristocrat sent to kill her in "honorable" combat, shattering the religious beliefs and defying the social customs of an entire star system, and in general breaking rule after rule to get the job done. She was the acknowledged hero of many far away places with strange sounding names and had even been made a member of the aristocracy on one of them. But as far as her new crew was concerned she had a habit of all too frequently "going in harms way" and getting her command shot to hell.
The good news was that the Wanderlust was to be her flagship. The one she physically occupied while directing her fleet. To Stephan's understanding, she had never been picked up in a lifeboat after the total destruction of her own ship, so that statistically he had about a 1 in 3 chance of avoiding death or dismemberment over the period of his tour of duty. That wasn't encouraging. Just how had a fifth year Archeology PhD candidate ended up in this predicament?
Planetary junkyard Chi-Alpha XIII was a total desert. Some wag had nick-named it "Arrakis" but the joke was a reach, since this particular dust ball was entirely devoid of life forms and despite its nearly breathable atmosphere. Stellar history had been cruel to "Arrakis", since according the planetologists, there had been abundant life here until the system happened to pass through a Gamma Geyser erupting from a distant (but no distant enough) rapidly forming black hole. The intense bombardment of cosmic rays had effectively sterilized the place, leaving the atmosphere mostly intact and the surface a barren wasteland. And in the view of Systems Survey Service, that made it an ideal dump. That had been several centuries ago. Now it was a wonderful archeological site for identifying the minute details of life in the late Diaspora and early settlement period of this portion of the galaxy. Dumps have always been archeological goldmines, and this was planet sized! Several decades of "discoveries" had launched and sustained the academic careers of some of Manticore's most prominent archeologists. Literally thousands of graduate students had provided free labor in order to obtain enough data to write their theses. When Graduate Assistant Schwartzpunct had arrived at CA13, he was put in charge of 10 masters candidates among the 50 or so people currently scraping and digging and cataloguing there.
Unfortunately, the Navy had decided that the (now officially named) "Arrakis System" needed a Navy base and Chi-Alpha XIII was the perfect place for planetside system headquarters; and the archeological dig was in the way. The Department of Antiquities and the Society for Appreciation and Preservation of the Past protested vigorously. The planet was an invaluable record of the technological and economic history of Manticore. The Navy just had to hold its guns until they at least cleared out a big enough area for them to blade and grade their proposed 5000 hectare building site and prep the adjacent spaceport landing zone. The Navy was less than thrilled with the prospect of waiting another ten years for the academics to "clean up" their site, the rather random pattern of previous digs had not created very much contiguous cleared space. According the politicians they would just have to wait.
This was all well and good until piracy became an issue in a nearby system, and Arrakis was deemed the only staging ground fit to support the anti-piracy efforts. The Star Kingdom of Manticore's economy was based on her strategic position at the junction of several wormholes that allowed her merchant fleet quick and relatively cheap access to many other star systems. In short, Manticore was a trading empire built around her Merchant Marine; and anything that threatened the merchants threatened the economy and everyone in the Star Kingdom. Pirates changed priorities, and the importance of history was duly shifted down a few notches.
The Parliament duly took up the question of the archeological site on CA13, and began studied and serious debate. This was not quite quick enough for Her Majesties Navy, who wanted that forward base NOW. The university types who occupied the site refused to see reason and the Naval Bureau of Materials and Resources Acquisition was not amused. They invoked a little known portion of the Emergency Personnel Act and drafted the entire crew, students and professors alike. Over 120 Professors, Grad Assistants, students and support staff were summarily rounded up, mustered into the Navy and entered into the Bureau of Personnel's database. The personnel computers spat out the professors as too old (or well-connected) and the undergrads as too young. But graduate students with no powerful relatives were retained (with initial ratings in keeping with their educational achievements of course). The computers happily assessed their skills and background, and assigned them to appropriate training cycles designed to best take advantage of their skills.
So after 6 months of hurried training, Junior Petty Officer Schwartzpunct found himself in charge of maintaining the algae that refreshed their breathing air in Environmental Maintenance Command. From digging trash out of sand and dust to babysitting seaweed in half a year. And no dissertation!
Stephan had spent the next 7 or 8 months (he was loosing track) aboard a myriad of ship types assigned to local system duties, to familiarize him with as wide a range of Environmental Maintenance systems as possible. The worst had been the "honeypot" barge that emptied refuse from the gleaming starships and transported it to the recycling station to be transformed into plant food for his precious algae. He'd almost enjoyed the interesting problems associated with marine landing equipment (they needed portable air scrubbers for engagements longer that a few days and he found the miniaturized algae farms sort of "Cute") and the Marines knew they needed him to keep breathing, so they showed him a little more tolerance (respect would have been too strong a term) than the typical Navy types. You could almost say the marines were more "down to earth," except that would be a terrible pun.
Because of his demonstrated intellect, Stephan was quickly put in a position of nominal leadership and responsibility. Because of that same demonstrated intellect he was not expected to become a combat officer, nor a "leader of men" like the top non-coms. In fact, despite itself, the Navy had correctly tagged him to run, troubleshoot and maintain a small but vital system with the fewest direct reports under him possible. The algae tanks were perfect! His ability to nurture and maintain the perfect environment for the microscopic plants soon earned him the nickname "Slimemaster Steve." He managed this unofficial personal nomenclature into the more subtle variant "Slim." He counted himself fortunate that he had not pulled the duty to support the digestive tanks that handled the bio-refuse for the ship. Having dealt with collegial bureaucracies for as long as he had, it was not a big leap to recognizing and keeping away from the worst assignments in the Navy. He was adaptable sort and accepted the impromptu militarization of his life stoically. In fact there were a few bonuses, his student loans had been automatically cancelled when he graduated "Basic" and became an official member of Her Majesty's Navy. Wait a few years, slide out of the service, and finish his PhD without the major part of the debt load he had expected.
Now he wasn't so sure he would last that long.
"Slimemaster!" a loud baritone voice buffeted his ears and a calloused hand that looked more like a paw from and Old Earth Kodiak Bear smacked his shoulder, nearly knocking him over." How the hell are you?"
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Paddington Diaspar, known only to his closest friends as Paddy (everyone else just used "Sir") had developed a fondness for Stephan despite the difference in their physical stature and general attitudes. Apparently "Slim" reminded the heavily muscled Marine of his kid sister, who was currently finishing up her Masters at the University of Sphinx. Their relationship had been cemented when the Algae tender had taken no offense at being compared to a girl, but immediately inquired about her academic future and offered to refer her to several influential department heads he knew. Paddy found it refreshing to find a Navy type who accepted he wasn't a Marine and didn't mind the difference.
"How did a green thumb like you get lucky enough to be assigned to HER Flagship?" The marine continued with obvious enthusiasm for his new posting. "With her record, even a skinny legged PO might end up a decorated hero."
The term "end UP" was unfortunately in tune with the general trend of Stephan's gloomy thoughts. But there was no reason to rain on his large friend's buoyant mood, so he reverted to technical issues.
"How are the microscrubbers on this ship, Paddy? I haven't had a chance to check them out yet, but I'll bet you already have." Marines had relatively few shipboard duties besides maintaining equipment and manning laser mounts in the ship's back-up Point Defense System. They were the "back-up" since their job was to manually aim the things if the triple redundant computer controlled firing systems somehow went down. So it was probable that the "Gunny" had already been into storage to inspect the critical Enviro systems that would sustain his Marines in an extended dirtside action.
The massive Gunnery Sergeant rose to the offered subject change Like a Barracuda after an escaping sardine. "You're Gonna like 'em Kid. They are the new Mark 23.6 Units. The ones with that new Hybrid slime you were going on about on our last assignment"
The unlikely duo started toward the storage lockers talking quietly. Several heads turned as they went down the corridor. A marine, familiarizing himself with the new ship's layout smiled indulgently, only to be elbowed by a nearby damage control tech.
"What's with those two? Talk about your odd couple!" the tech almost sniggered.
Klaus Verstrappen controlled his immediate (and potentially injurious) physical reflex response to the nudge and merely turned slowly to this annoying navy type who had just invaded his private space. "Why, jealous?" He put a companionable arm around tech's the narrow shoulders, and smiled at him beatifically, "Lonely?"
Casey Warthburn was immediately both frightened and embarrassed. He tried to wriggle out of the big marine's hold but found he couldn't. A wolfish smile gleamed down at him from a face at least 8 centimeters above his own. My God, what have I gotten myself into?
Klaus had to keep himself from laughing in this twerp's face, but he felt he might as well straighten him out now, or spend the rest of his time dealing with the little twit's friends. He released his hold on the tech's shoulders and changed his grip to a friendly hand on the near one, "gently" massaging while the navy type manfully tried not to wince too noticeably.
"Just because the Gunny doesn't find all you pencil necked navy types annoying doesn't mean he's looking for a date, unless your offering, of course." Verstrappen's casual baritone rattled into Warthburn's ear as well as through the bones of his skull.
"I was just, that is, I didn't mean to..." Warthburn babbled, stopping himself when he realized he wasn't going to get anything coherent out.
Klaus decided to let up on the shoulder and simply placed his hand on the panicky tech's back. He figured he better lighten up, or the kid was going to piss himself, not a good thing in an enclosed space, no matter how effective the ventilation system.
"Listen kid, because I'm only going to explain this once. The Gunny has found something in that walking scarecrow he thinks is valuable. The Slimemaster's a good egg, considering he's was a perpetual student before he was drafted. Getting yanked out of academia and into the navy without warning or any choice could have left him stuck up and pissy, like a lot of you navy brats. But Slimemaster's OK. Master Gunnery Sergeant Diaspar (these last four words practically came out of his mouth in underlined bold characters) has found something there worthwhile, and I'm smart enough to NEVER challenge the Gunny's judgment of people or situations. We've served together before, and Slim gets along with us just fine. Without his little green friends turning our CO2 into O2, we wouldn't last long here, or out there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder indicating the vast empty darkness outside the ships hull. "You damage control types may get the privilege of cleaning up the blood and guts after a fight, but he's the guy that's got to figure out how to keep us breathing. I suggest you watch and learn, before you further exercise such obviously poor character evaluation skills"
Klaus patted Casey on the back, without knocking him over, smiled and walked away down the corridor to check out the mess hall. Casey just stood there rubbing his "massaged" shoulder and staring after the big Marine. Who'd've thought those guys would like someone like that weird Enviro PO? I guess it doesn't hurt to have large friends, even in low places like Enviro.