Citadel-ARC Advance Reader Copy Unproofed BAEN BOOKS by JOHN RINGO

A Hymn Before Battle • Gust Front When the Devil Dances • Hell's Faire The Herowith Michael Z. Williamson Cally's Warwith Julie Cochrane Watch on the Rhinewith Tom Kratman The Tuloriadwith Tom Kratman Yellow Eyeswith Tom Kratman Sister Timewith Julie Cochrane Honor of the Clanwith Julie Cochrane Eye of the Storm

There Will Be Dragons Emerald Sea • Against the Tide East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Ghost • Kildar • Choosers of the Slain Unto the Breach • A Deeper Blue

Princess of Wands

Into the Looking Glass Vorpal Bladewith Travis S. Taylor Manxome Foewith Travis S. Taylor

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Claws that Catchwith Travis S. Taylor

The Road to Damascuswith Linda Evans

with David Weber: March Upcountry • March to the Sea March to the Stars • We Few

Von Neumann's Warwith Travis S. Taylor

Citizenswith Brian M. Thomson

Live Free or Die Citadel(forthcoming) The Hot Gate(forthcoming)

Citadel

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by John Ringo

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises P.O. Box 1403 Riverdale, NY 10471

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www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3400-9

Cover art by Kurt Miller

First printing, January 2011

Distributed by Simon & Schuster 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

t/k

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com) Printed in the United States of America

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

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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."

And As always: For Captain Tamara Long, USAF Born: 12 May 1979 Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan You fly with the angels now.

Acknowledgements

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 withLive 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.

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? 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 Hammerfall

ONE

"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 Ilook 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.

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And then her mom "went away" too. Walking and fire. Tents. "If this thing is so huge. unsurprisingly." Dana said. was by the door. "Do I look like I know?" Dana said. nibbling on a cracker." The door had a big sign that read "Unassigned Receiving. "Go down the corridor to the hatch that says Assigned Personnel. There was no line. Like it should be dark but it was red like a banked fire. by dint of being barely able to squeeze into the small compartment. Dana was even more blonde." the civvie said. Jack didn't even think about trying to give her a hand. Page 6 . She was pretty sure. That they went away." Dana pushed it open and negotiated her seabag through the door. blonde and. They had to hug the bulkhead so a harassed looking PO could sidle by. Which didn't make any sense cause her mom wasalways crying. She sort of remembered the buses. Thin. This compartment was larger and included nicely uncomfortable looking chairs for those unfortunate enough to have to wait. thinking about it later. He yanked it open and squeezed more so Sarin and Dana could get out. that it was a mall. pregnant." Dana said. Hotels. I guess. She remembered telling her mom it was okay to cry. And the fire. like they were taking a trip to Maui for a while or something. And staying places she wasn't used to. And the smell of things that weren't made to burn. "Engineering Apprentice Parker. opening the door to Assigned Personnel. 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. And a sky that was a strange red.Her earliest clear memory was walking. "With a party of two. Jack. Constant. And ash. Then they were at Uncle Don and Aunt Marge's farm." Sarin said." the woman said. "Why the hell is everything so squeezed?" The corridors were narrow. That was how they phrased it to a three year-old orphan from the LA bombing. The firstclear memory was the walking. 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. "You'reassigned ." Sarin said. Light. She considered her screen and sighed." The woman behind the desk was a civilian. And that was about the only real memory she had of her dad. pointing to the door. He knew better by now. "Transmit your orders." "Told you. "Thank you. She sort of had a vague memory of being somewhere with her mom and dad.

" "Finally. he was about as big as a grizzly and. "With a party of two." Sarin said. 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. PO. Pearl and Great Lakes." "Cheery. mostly in the EM club and the combined mess. fortunately." Jack said." "Aye. ye who enter here. Every base anywhereclose to a city. "142nd Boat Squadron. Take the purple line." "Orders?" the PO behind the desk said then contemplated his screen. dug-in concrete buildings." Dana repeated." Dana said. "I deliberately failed the exam. when friends needed a hand. "Jack? You're in my way?" "Sorry. and therefore a carrier for Johannsen's before he got scrubbed. The "wet" navy had squeezed down to a collection of fast frigates most of which were based either overseas or at Key West. Jax and Norfolk. North Dakota. but Jack was useful to have around. about as gentle as a lamb. someday."he said. Page 7 . so Dana was just as glad they'd been scheduled to ship out together. aye. Sarin was not much taller than Dana with black hair and a fading but clearly once severe case of acne. Finally it terminated in a hatch. A collection of rapidly growing pre-fabricated. Unfortunately. As blonde as Dana." The line continued on for a while but you could tell they were finally in Myrmidon country. The way that he drove a plant. They had run into each other from time to time. They weren't the only guys who got to follow the short blonde engineering apprentice around sniffing like bloodhounds. was either closed or in the process. They called him "Gentle Ben" from the old TV show." Sarin said. That also showed up. I'm about sick of it. stepping aside. The three had been at separate A schools that were co-located at McKinley Base. when youdid get enough beer in him. The one that might. turning around. it was located about fifty miles outside Wichita. There was talk of calling it the "Sea Guard" or something. pre-stressed. it turned out he had a mean streak a mile wide. The only Navy that mattered to her was the one that kept more rocks from falling. get her some payback for a mom and dad who had to go away. Bremerton. Dana could generally hold her own with difficulties. That leads to the 142nd offices." Someone had taped up a hand-lettered sign under it that read "Abandon All Hope. The purple line seemed to go on for freakingever . and it was areal hatch. Kansas in what had once been a dense-pack nuclear missile base. But they were a couple of the nicer ones. except when you got enough beer in him. Dana didn't really care. Thesecond largest Navy base in the US was outside of Minot. McKinley was just about the largest Navy base in the US after the loss of Diego. Most of the personnel were Navy for one thing and most of them were wearing flight suits."I spent five years working for my brother running cable. Dana had asked him why he wasn't in IT or something."Engineering Apprentice Parker. shifting his A bag. that read "142nd Receiving. including Kings Bay.

The plants acted as a sort of PDA that could record video. drawn from vision. "Who dares approach the gates?" The voice was a "com" in her plants. This was just another test.. . She thought about that for a second. On the other hand." Page 8 . but you could survive longer than an unaugmented person. acted as a cell phone and last but not least. Thank God she hadn't slept through that class. The voice sounded like it was in your head but a "real" voice at the same time. Manual tests of atmosphere integrity may be obtained. could connect to other computer systems and the internet or hypernet." the voice said. Beneath the main airlock control panel is the manual testing system. It didn't open. Somebody was playing silly buggers." Dana said. "I'll open the hatch if the joker with the vacuum cleaner will shut it off. She cycled the door then checked the telltales. She was good at tests. EA Parker. Faintly. If it wasreally vacuum."Yeah. recall notes. "Uh ." she said." The hatch opened outward. There wasno way they were just going tokill an arriving noob. In Dana's case that included a "spaceman's package" that permitted up to six hours in an airless condition. The caller ID was blocked. And there were physical aspects. she could hear something that sounded very much like a small motor. Glatun implant technology was still rare and expensive. . and audio. "One at a time. "The other side of this is vacuum?" There was a banging on the bulkhead and the light cycled to green. Asking another question was out. There were various upgrades and improvements that could be installed with the plants. She put her ear to the steel bulkhead. Sort of like telepathy. "You may enter. it made communication over distance easier than radio since hyperwave was faster than light. Air immediately started sucking out." The outer hatch undogged and Dana entered what was clearly an airlock. resistance to toxins and radiation. She opened up the access panel and twisted the knob. Mostly it was being used by the US and other "advanced" militaries. "Tell you what. she was about to do a Dutchman without a spacesuit. cycling the hatch. She quickly closed the test knob. reporting?" Dana commed. "EA Parker with a party of two. elimination of motion sickness and resistance to vacuum and various smoke inhalation issues. It didn't mean you could breathe vacuum for very long. The first time she got a plant com it was unnerving. There was more to the implants than just a super-radio.." she said. "Try it now.

. I repeat. You just got the first and second part. Integrity." the BM2 sitting behind a desk said." the CM1 said. but again and again and again. Please be very clear on that. "Come. our job is to ensure timely delivery. She'd gotten it right the first two times but the vacuum indicator had sort of thrown her. supplies.The hatch cycled from the other side and a tall Coxswain's Mate First Class grinned at her. or. Can I get a repeat back?" "Always check airlock integrity. Whatever we are delivering.actual mail. Two of you just attempted to test that fact. Page 9 . if we are very unlucky. "Twoof you just failed the single most important test of beinguseful junior space eagles. It smarts rather severely when one attempts to breathe it. I might add that since there is no second. AroundTroy there is this thing calledva -cuum. Around earth there is a protective sheath of. . the second part was the lecture. EA Parker. This is not Earth. "Hold this. Always. "The third part of the in-brief." He got the distant look of someone using a plant and set up a small hand vac on the manual indicator. fortunately breathable. I don't even have to write the next of kin. The first part was the test. Stand by. Jack stepped through the inner hatch and looked around. You have joined the mighty 142nd Tactical Assault Squadron. Our job is very simple and oh so complex at the same time. handing it to Dana. "Uh . junior space eagle. Dana! Is this where we're supposed to report or not?" "It becomes clear why EA Parker was placed in charge of this group. "Come in! Come in!" There were three people in the compartment. "That sounded very rote. equipment." the CM1 said. nor asteroids. weare the 1st Boat Wing. nor laser fire shall stay us from our appointed rounds. like he was directing a taxiing shuttle. I have been chosen to deliver your inbrief. "Welcome. A moment later. "Engineering Apprentice Parker with party of two?" "Welcome. A FUN that actually can figure out that red means stop. scrap metal." the three newbies parroted. Check." CM1 Keith Glass said. we don't bite!" "Much. last and only job is toensure delivery. You will hear this not once. third or fourth squadron. Whether your mission is to ensure that the boats remain functional or to drive them. "You are a sight for sore eyes. come. "Since there are still far too few mighty master space eagles with much time in this thing we call space." Glass said. part of the 1stTroy Boat Wing. gases called anat -mo-sphere. This is theTroy . "But if you don't check airlock integrity you will not live to be mightymaster space eagles such as myself. aye. "Hey. Marines express service. your first. a Bosun's Mate Second and a Spaceman First behind desks and the CM1. We deliver the mail." Dana said. Airlock. So it's up to you. Neither snow. will you?" he said. The CM waved with both hands. The mail may be food. He was bent over some paperwork and clearly not enjoying his reading. 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. considering their orders.

" Engineer First Class Bruce Dennison clearly was enjoying showing the new Engineer Recruit around. It was on dispersed beam and the Myrm just sort of . because he managed to get one of our first Myrmidons drifted right in the way of a SAPL. . otherwise unoccupied. "You get to pick your side." Dana said. "I. There is no third option. . The quarters were much better than she'd expected. They wereall born with Johannsen's. "When do I start working?" "I'll come get you next watch. "Was the . "We. They called it being male. behind his back." Dana said. And. uh . . For all the classes she'd had. Being in quarters. melted. "Sorry." "Thermal?" Dana said. She'd just glared. Most of the things we do. He was a nice guy. "That's Engineering Mate First Class DavidP. Not that it was any problem forguys . and the wall lockers were empty. alone. "Good." "Oh my God." Dana said. Hartwell. please see BM2 Grumwalter for paperwork to transfer to the Army or something where it's not. uh." "Don't have many chicks. . with a guy had some rather unpleasant memories associated. He was short." Bruce said. Also known as Thermal. setting down her A bag." Page 10 . "But. That might have been because it got him out of his normal duties but Dana figured it was the way he was looking at her with calf-eyes. "Thermal's off-watch at the moment so I don't even know your assignment." There is no "close enough for government work. She really didn't want to test that. There were two racks and wall-lockers but both racks were unmade. . five-six or so. yeah." "This is your rack. every moment. Do it right or someone dies. a two person room with its own head. . but Dana decided to take Bruce on first impression." Bruce said. then shrugged. Go in violence to deliver the mail. Bruce had made a motion when he picked her up at Squadron to help her with it. Who are on the way to collect their little lambs. they were also capable of supporting two people for up to six days without external support." Bruce said. apparently." If you cannot get your head around everything you do. Please do so before you kill me or someone I like. with sandy brown hair. being avery big deal ."The fourth part is like unto the first three. Are there any viable and intelligent questions?" He looked at the three and nodded. And. You do not yet fall into that category but you're unlikely to just kill yourself. Next step is getting your suit. there is only one way to do them and survive. she wasn't sure what her job actuallywas . wouldn't have said ‘chicks. Unlike certain EM1s she'd met in A School. Just leave your A bag. There is no "good enough. That is what your division Petty Officers are for.'?" Bruce said." "When do I start . Then you're off until next watch. indeed the mattresses were still in plastic. every day. I wasn't going to answer them anyway. as Bruce had briefed her. She didn't even have to ask if he'd had Johannsen's. . .

miss. already open hatch that read "Environmental Fittings Department. reaching and pulling down one from a rack." "Yes. You figure it out. "Boots. Suits. he's the Division Engineering Mate who's in charge of us lowly wrench turners." Bruce said. with a bit of a paunch. "Boots. The guy manning it was older. neck-ring up. sir." "Boots and gloves go in the helmet. too. They must have walked a mile but she figured it wasn't in anything like a straight line. "Mind you keep the seals checked and if you want some personal advice." the man said. stuffing the gloves in. There had been about four elevators. She'd just followed Bruce and tried not to seem like a noob. gloves and suits down the end." the civilian said. walking up to the counter. But he doesn't expect to make Chief any time soon.always keep the catheter lubed." Dana said. sir. looking at his screen. It reallywasn't his fault." "Troy's AI." Bruce said. Those were new but they weren't that much different from the sliding walkways in airports. "You'd be surprised. "And it was written off as an accident after about a zillion Incident Evaluation Reviews. "There's no way I'm ever going to be able to find my way around. coloring slightly." "I tell the guys." "Paris?" Dana asked as they walked through a large." Dana said." Bruce said." Bruce gestured to three slots on the bulkhead marked." "Yes." the man said." "Got it. And clearly a civilian." Bruce said. . finally looking up. and there's not a priority. Gloves. sir. more corridors than she could count and two grav walks. two escalators. "I felt the same way when I first got here. Page 11 . "Thank you. "If you maintain lubrication on the catheter. I get to show you around. remarkably." She opened them up and pulled out the space suit parts. nodding. "New arrival." "No problem. And since he's off-watch. several sets of stairs. If you get totally lost. . "Helmet. "Prepare for a looong walk." the man said. "And we're done." Dana said." he said."There was no crew. Anyway. "They run air-breach drills about every two days. probably in his thirties." Bruce said. "Thank you. "The helmet goes." Dana said. again." Bruce said." "So . where do I get my suit?" Dana asked. "Engineer Apprentice Dana Parker?" "Here. "Good day. you're not scrambling for the gel when you're in a hurry. you can ask Paris where the hell you are.

. When you put it on. . "No. . And if you've got Johannsen's. We're on an external spine system. "Well. especially if you're in a hurry. I grew up on a farm with four male cousins." Dana said. Check your seals. do a buddy check if you can. "We're in the main bay." Bruce said." "Ouch." Dana said.you're not going to. So take a dump. her eyes widening. frowning. Always. Check your. You're not fully suit qualed." Dana said. Or what they talk about. I've got different parts but that's all it means. And. So . . you have to do it in a suit. Ididn't have four kids by the time I was out of high school and I'm here to do a job. "We had a chief get assigned to us. If you get an inflammation from the catheter. so you're going to have to qual for that before you get really put to work." "Which by standard is once a day. If not. as of this morning's roster. "Yes. itdid feel rather jaunty. Check 'em for any FOD every day. "Bruce. don't hardcore it. "Thing is. "I know that Johannsen's means there's not many women in the military these days. check your frickingseals ?" "I take it you've been having noobs not checking their seals?" Dana said. you just sort of do it anyway." Bruce said. every time you just happen to be going by. from the entrance to the bay it looks like a fricking hypodermic needle with warts. And so does doing the maintenance on the fecal matter repository. do the best single check you can. Straight out of ‘we're going to make you a masterspace chief' school. check your. can I repeat. Engineer.check yourfricking seals. But when you're qualed.under your left arm. always. You'll know you've crossed a line when I start talking about what having Johannsen's PMS is like." Dana said." he continued. yet. and Idid ." "So you were about to impart some wisdom about suits to a fricking useless noob. "Message received. But getting it out of the way was a good idea. It's a sort of . . If I want your advice about wearing suits. But once she got the leopard suit adjusted so it wasn't sliding. "Define noobs." Bruce said. It's a tube of steel they welded on the wall. "Yeah. you'll be in and out all the time. but it sucks. If you want my advi . .always take a dump before watch. . So we're in and out of suits pretty much all the time. That shows you're a real junior space eagle." Bruce said as they exited into the corridor. hitting the 32 button on an elevator. There are fifty shuttles. Youcan dump in a suit. every time before you put it on. I even know what a FUN is. But I'm gene scrubbed. "is prescribed to be carried in a jaunty manner over the right shoulder. I don't get offended when somebody says something racy." "Yes. tossing it over her right shoulder. locked on. So you said . we spend about half our watch time in suits." "Yeah." "Outside theTroy ?" Dana said." Bruce said. "But we're in and out of suits so much. no. The suit." Bruce said. He was an Engineer. If they couldn't get me to choke up at the jokes they tell." He stopped and blushed. We don't have bays for the Myrmidons. And getting out of it sucks. . "Suity has a point. Well. trying not to smile. So when we have to do an exterior inspection . . chuckling. See the corpsman. she was just an Apprentice. With the Horvath hitting us over and over. you practically have to wear a chastity belt tonot get belly-full. . And I know I'm a fricking useless noob." Page 12 . there's no time for mommy-track.

" Dana said." Bruce said. sighing. what is this?Star Trek ?" "Uh. grinning. . "We know that this was his intention because. we didn't have to have a major Article 32 investigation when Chief Buckley was found a-Dutchman in the main bay. I mean." His voice deepened and assumed a pompous tone. as they got on a grav walk. somewhere. to answer my own question. we donot leave personal voice logs." "Nobody but utter geeks or noobs leaves apersonal log." "Oh. I dunno. I've never been in what the old timers call the ‘real' Navy. "Where do you think we're getting all our chiefs? And you'd think that a Chief Petty Officer with twenty years in the Navy would have learned something called attention to de-tail. "?‘Sixteen thirty." Bruce said. make sure you got dio . I dunno. performing inspection to ensure maintenance tasks performing to standard. By which I am not making a sexual innuendo. Dio makes you bright. took dump . he left a voice log. oh?" "Sorry. I am themaster of screwing off and evenI don't go ghosting in the main bay. ." Bruce said. "Get it? Oh-Two? Mono is not good stuff nor is trio. "And the point of leaving a voice log? Aren't we supposed to log actions." Bruce said. Page 13 . The point of this anecdote is check your seals. arrivedTroy . ." Dana said." "I take it he didn't?" Dana said. "and I do not lie.'?" "Uh . starting to feel totally out of her depth. blinking. . "They've got one of those. port watch. Engineer Apprentice. . ." Bruce said. . assigned 142nd Shuttle Wing.'?" Bruce said." "Navigation and atmosphere support system?" Dana guessed. But fortunately." Bruce said. Make sure you're capacitors are charged. And as a further word of advice. but to sit on the door and pound the ever-livingcrap out of anybody who comes through the gate we don't like. Which exists not to go where no man has gone before and as a vehicle for narration by ham actors. in this case. But I guess on carriers or something they go hiding out in the escape boats. pausing as they exited the elevator. "No. . 2243. Check your navopak . "Right. "To. ' I mean. "Which everybody calls the navo. "I mean. . "This is theTroy ." "Di .' Let me point out thatnobody screws off in vacuum."They've got one of those?" Dana asked. O2. "I think the Navy is so addicted to slang we're trying to catch up." Dana said. "I mean. Di-oxygen molecules." Bruce said. was going to be ghosting and the obvious place was clearly hiding in vacuum in the main bay to. achief ?" "Decided to make an inspection walk to ensure that ‘maintenance tasks were performing to standard. play null g cards or something!" "And he didn't check hisseals ?" Dana said. 2247. But he knew that somebody. "Which means ‘people aren't screwing off. do youregularly narrate your way through the day? ‘2230. .

" According to one of the briefings they'd gotten in A School." Bruce said. Which I suppose would be cool . But I. . If you get a fire in it you can open up the ports and watch it burn in vacuum. "Monatomic oxygenis pretty nasty stuff. The air was filled with the buzz of people and the smell of food. Dana's mouth started to water and she looked around in surprise." Dana said. Picking up cargo on freighters and bringing it into bays. "Nio: Nitrogen dioxide. We've never actually carried silica dioxide. You can huff it if you're a druggie type but this stuff is liquid so doing it straight is a baaad idea. They were. But then Dana noticed that only the ground floor was in business. The Ogut government was anythingbut hospitable. there's just the food court and a couple of independent stores that sell civvy clothes and stuff and a little-bitty Publix. waving expansively." The food court looked huge at first. It looked pretty much like . . adjusting her suit on her shoulder. It's planned for Phase Two. gardening. not too many." Bruce said. Suo is sulfur trioxide which wehave carried and it's beyond nasty stuff." Bruce said. "The food court. ." And the instructor Page 14 . Meet me over by the purple caterpillar. There are currently three thousand something military and about an equal number of civvies living on theTroy . Nitrous in other words. and such in other polities. They're talking about getting a Wal-Mart first but I'll believe it when I see it." "Material Safety Data Sheet. personal care. "There's just not enough transport and all the loading bays aren't done yet. And trio is . . For now. ." "Nio is for fun. "Roger. It was a hereditary empire run mostly by its aristocracy and during the Multilateral Talks that had ceded the E Eridani system to the Horvath. the Ogut had bitten off a good bit of the Ormatur worlds as "protectorates." Bruce said. no. The name was two lines long." "I won't even try to catch up on those. grinning. rising six stories above the bottom level where they were standing. "Courtesy of Apollo Mining and LFD Mall Division." Dana said. . the Ogut civilians did tend to fill positions like hospitality." he continued as they exited another hatch. . That's not enough to support a real mall. "Sio makes you sad. . it'll support a mall. under orders to ‘go get the noob a suit and show her around and stuff' declare it to be lunch time at the food court. hereby. Not yet. So we do a lot of what the oldies call ‘lighter' work. And Suo is so very very bad. ozone. "We occasionally carry some very scary stuff. . If for no other reason than to get the hell out of the Ogut Empire. When section one is at full capacity . After a bit it just seemed to be a stream of random letters. according to the poster. I'm going to get a gyro. There was an angle around a corner she couldn't see into that seemed to stretch into more space. It's a waste material from grav-well steel production but it rhymes. taking a little skip." The "purple caterpillar" turned out to be an orientation poster on the Ogutorjatedocifazhidujon . "There's a mall?" she asked. "And her eyes lit with the passionless passion of shopping. "a peaceful race dedicated to hospitality in all its forms." Dana said." "Okay. grinning. Juuuust right. by the authority invested in me by BM2 Johnson. And speaking of screwing off. .Not too few atoms. "Not as such. The coxswain and engineer have to sign off on the cargo which means at least having a clue about the MSDS." Bruce sang.

They're still in test phase. We just call 'em body-bags cause if you're down to those you're probably a carbonite sculpture waiting to happen. Aye. "And if nobody mentions going to the food court that would be a good thing. She was pretty sure it wasn't going to be on Bruce's version of "showing her around. "Forty-seven. "Bosun Mate Johnson has just queried the time I am expending ‘showing you around and stuff. Now when we're at thequarters . door four!" the speaker announced. Bosun's Mate. Somehow I'm not worried about pressure loss. . shame if a rock fell on it. "They've only got one laser tube cut and one missile tube.I've got my suit." TWO "Forty-seven. mostly. door four!" Page 15 . at the moment we're about four hundred meters in from the main bay and about a kilometer and a bit from the exterior." Bruce said. Which made her wonder where the gym was. "And I'd expect you're probably going to figure out a way to ." Bruce said. apparently." Then there was the question raised by the Ogut poster. yet. Militaryand civilian. ghost it?" "Already working on it .had made clear that meant pretty much the same as the "protection" the Horvath had once afforded earth. Will do. . . "So . Sealed against pressure breach and there are boxes that open in the event of a loss that have emergency survival packs. . "Say there's a pressure drop. I hope you can gobble. BM. "Am I in trouble?" "You were just following orders. However. What areyou going to do?" "See the red exit signs?" Bruce said." "I'm done." Dana said." Bruce said. "That's a right nice planet you've got there. nobody has seen either of us in a while. aye.'?" Bruce said. "They go to emergency survival centers." "I guess that's going to be kind of an issue. . "Roger." "Troyisn't even officially commissioned." she said as Bruce sat down. Commissioning ceremony is in about three months and everybody is already freaking out. Expect a lot of brass. "Especially since. picking up his tray. Roger." "Problem?" Dana asked. I'm pretty careful. is it?" Dana asked. . They're the heads. "Nope. then a flash of annoyance crossed his face." Dana said. Still getting her suit. Frack." Dana had admitted she was hungry and had gotten a double meat teriaki special at the Sushi House. dumping the contents of his tray in the trash.

But when he checked." "I just got out of high school. for example. Just aboutany space slot was exempt." the lady said. but not bad looking. Working in space took advanced training and high-tech implants. He wasn'tqualified for any of them. Most of them were defense tech related jobs that he couldn't even start to figure out. reminded him that he was now a legal adult. But Apollo was the only company that accepted "untrained. He wasn't the college type. "Butch" Allen gulped and got out of the hard plastic chair. there were zero spots available. either. His dad had worked at the GE plant in Springfield since he graduated from high school and was a fixture of the maintenance department. But he wasn't real big on the "language arts" stuff and his SATs had shown that." the lady said. if you had to go there. Butch had taken the vocational track at school. or finding a "qualified civilian occupation" that meant he was exempt from conscription. I can rebuild a car. But with Mama Allen having Johannsen's and Papa Allen having no great liking for condoms. So he'd hitched a ride down to the Labor Office to look at the list of jobs he was qualified for that were "qualified civilian occupations." Butch said. it was a five year contract. He could apply to be trained as a clean-room technician. "Good afternoon. even one with computer ignition. "You're not very experienced. The room was small. probably thirty or so. Most of the slots called for things like "three or more years commercial diving experience. How she got in and out was a question. Kids didn't stick around in the Allen household. "I've reviewed your record. And I can Page 16 . College was pretty much out. there was always another bed being taken up. There were two problems. "Hey. That meant college.James F. mostly wanted older more experienced people." Butch pointed out. He'd learned from his dad way before taking it in shop. Again. Eighteen and out was The Rule. That left space. So he took a deep breath and walked in door four of the Springfield Apollo Mining Employment Office. they had to take you in. The same month that Butch and his dad had The Talk. smiling thinly. She was pretty old. which was still deferred for the moment. But Butch was pretty sure he wasn't suited for military life. Home was always where. He didn't know what an "Optical Welding Technician" was except for it had something to do with welding. And the pregnancy had clearly done some development on her knockers. politely but firmly. though. smiling and sitting down. The Allens had a long and illustrious history of working with their hands. he'd gotten his draft notice. The ceiling was low and it wasn't much wider than the narrow desk of the pregnant lady manning it. He suddenly wished he'd dressed better. My dad's been teaching me to do stuff since I was a kid. He could weld. Mr. ma'am. Butch had looked at the list of positions and his brain had sort of shut down. smiling. "And there's stuff isn't on there. Butch had graduated from high school in June at which point his dad had." And even if you got accepted. He wasn't bad at math and he liked tinkering and was even in the Physics club. which was the big name in space industries. Allen. The first was that Apollo." The list was depressingly short. entry-level" space technicians.

"If I don't get an exempt job I gotta report to the draft board in three weeks." the lady said. surprised. tapping on her computer." Butch said. If his gay teacher hadn't been a bastard he'd have made an easy A in shop. "Hiring decisions are made at a later time. "Thank you for your time. . "When would you be available to start?" the lady asked at the end." "Okay. environment. Why do you want to work at Apollo?" "It seems like a good job." "And it's draft exempt. And you can't do things quite like you can on earth.. I'm good at turning a wrench. "Am I hired?" Butch asked. You will be informed of our decision by phone or email within two weeks." Butch said. They were mostly the sort of thing Butch could answer in his sleep. ma'am. three bags full' thing." she said." "How'd it go?" Mama Allen asked when Butch walked in. Allen. "Lots of opportunities. Better than the. "I don't think I'd do good in the Navy. . "You will be informed by a phone call or email if you are hired. "Diesel?" "Car." the lady said." "Things are a little different in space. "It's a very dangerous." she said. I'm just not all up on . tapping some more." There were about nine questions related to various mechanical processes. But I need to know when you are available. "You are using an electric arc welder to join a plate of stainless steel to a plate of conventional steel . . very hostile. looking puzzled. ma'am. ma'am. "Describe the procedure for assembling a four barrel injection system." "Very well. Page 17 . I'm good with stuff with my hands." "On a car?" Butch asked." Butch ran through the usual way that you'd assemble a four barrel injection system as she tapped on her keyboard." she said. Mr." He paused and shrugged. clearly reading off her screen. sir. "I think." "Describe .. . . "Have a nice day." the lady said. looking up. "I don't think I'm really set out to be in the Navy. Turning a wrench is a verycomplicated job in space." Butch said. . "I do what I'm told but I'm not all up on that ‘Yes.ot in shop makes it look like." Butch said. ma'am.weld. I work good." "I can start today.

mama." Butch said. He might be going to the Board and then into the Navy or the Army." his dad said and reached for the bowl of mash potatoes. That was kind of . The way things were going." Mama Allen said. The Horvath just didn't seem to get what a "truce" meant. sticking her thumb in her mouth. . sticking the meatloaf in the oven. "No phones at the table. He didn't know anything other than Springfield. "Yes. all younger." "Well. . "You know the rules." She stopped and wiped at her eyes." his dad said. "That's gonna make you get bucktooth. until their planet was a smoking ball of craters. I told him you should have that much time at least. Currently. "If it's one of your girlfriends ." Mama Allen said. "You gotta go to the Board in three weeks. But in two or three weeks. he was going away. In a few weeks he'd be leaving this house. Said I'd find out in two weeks or less." "Good Lord. She wriggled for a second in his grip then subsided. . The mill had closed back in the '50s. holding their hands. She was preparing meatloaf. including some kids from the last class. "Thank you. thank you for this food that you put on the table ." Papa Allen prayed.The Allen house was part of a block of two story "mill" houses built in the 1920s." Butch said. "Onions." "It might be something about a job. picking up Clarissa." "Yes. wiping her hands." Butch checked the phone and didn't recognize the number. they'd been up and down over the years." And nobody knew how long "hostilities" might last. he'd be in "for the duration of hostilities. "Check. It was an 800 number." his dad said. The people already in the Navy. It wasn't scary so much as confusing. kid. She was one of three sisters. At a certain level it all seemed sort of distant. as his father said grace. the neighborhood was back on the "up" cycle as more and more people moved into Springfield and crowded out the families like the Allens that had been there for decades. heavy on the bread. though. were in "for the duration of hostilities. Page 18 . mama. mama. . "Amen. . but the houses remained. With brick walls and solid construction. If you went by the Horvath. I told your father that it's only three weeks. they were talking about a big war with the Horvath and some guys named the Rangora. He'd been raised in this house. The lady didn't seem to think there was much chance but she asked me a bunch of shop stuff. And he might never be coming back. Clarissa kept trying to pull away but that was just Clarissa." Butch said. Butch sat between Clarissa and Susie. "Don't know. his friends from school and the neighborhood. Butch's cell phone rang and he looked guiltily at his dad." If he got drafted. ." "Go make sure Charlie and Susie 're doing their homework.

"Brevard Community College is one of the few community colleges in the world to offer a vo-tech course in space technology. Joseph Monaghan. He also had a really raspy voice. Apollo Mining Corporation as a . . . "You are required to present yourself at the . . I only survived because of quick action on the part of a Page 19 . "I've got a job with Apollo. or Ms. Missouri ." "Good afternoon and welcome to the Probationary Optical Welding Technician course. blinking in surprise. Goodbye. From experience some of you will become more enamored of Cocoa Beach than will be good for you. That's a good job. at a minimum. Monaghan continued. Butch figured he probably carried Johannsen's. Apollo Mining Employment office where you applied for this position within thee days. Thank you. just as you will address all of your instructors as Mr." Butch said. where they work in thousands of fields from robotic management technician to food services. is thatI tried to breathe vacuum. I was chosen to welcome this new class. "This is a recording. . . sir. You will refer to me as Mr." "Yes. . at this point. "Some people have also asked why I have a voice like a fifty year smoker when I don't smoke. . Apollo based its training here shortly after the first launch of its first a SAPL mirror. He was a big guy with fair hair and a beer gut. The answer. Cocoa Beach and Titusville. optical welding technician? I don't even know what it is." Butch said. as such. I am one of. . . . "It's the new thing." "Laser welding. and their last name. The contractual commitment is . Yes. press one. nodding." the instructor said. not Joe or Joseph." a robotic voice said. See you don't mess it up. "Now eat your food for it gets cold." Butch carefully pressed one. . Monaghan. . Other smaller local cities include Palm Bay. Melbourne has been the primary support city for the Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center. Apollo's pretty much the only people teach it right now. . I am one of the instructors of the space based OWT course here at the Apollo Melbourne Facility and. "Since the Mercury program in the 1950s. . . Florida. Starting salary is . ." Papa Allen said. "My name is Mr. Over the last ten years we have graduated thousands of young men and women to fill the burgeoning space industry. "Some people wonder why Apollo based its training course in a place like Melbourne. . Cocoa. four people who have been exposed to full death pressure and survived. we train people on space based food services because everyone who goes into space has to know. . eighteen dollars per hour with off-planet bonuses if the work occurs outside terrestrial atmosphere. boys and girls. Your confirmation code is six-one-seven-three-five-two. You have been accepted by the . how to survive if the worst happens and you find yourself trying to suck vacuum." Mr. "A probationary . Springfield. five years." "What was that?" Maricela asked. ."Hello?" "Mr. Allen . If you conditionally accept this position. probationary optical welding technician.

They want people who are going to make them money not cost them money by paying for medical and death benefits." "Hey. for those who are wondering. most. despite the pre-tests. maybe six-seven." Butch said. finally looking around. He was hunched over a book. figure that about half of you are going to wash out. forbid. The guy was a ten foot string-bean with a shock of unruly black hair on top." the guy said.co-worker." Page 20 ." "Okay. Were you to find another such school. Call me Butch. will not be able to handle the conditions in space. another half a million for the equipment. God. He could barely get into the room for the bunks. I may. The reason became obvious when he saw his room. "There is. and had papers scattered all over the desk. "This course is veryvery expensive. We are going to do our level best to find the weak links and eliminate them on the ground before they become a danger to themselves and others in space. of course. God forbid. also trained here. There weren't any lockers or anything. Boost has gotten relatively cheap but it still costs money to move people around. "I'm Paul Allen. It requires. not bothering to look up." "So you understand that I have a personal interest in ensuring that the training here at Melbourne remains top-notch. just a sort of box welded to the base of the bed. Nathan must hate it. "So be prepared to work harder than you ever have in your miserable lives. hope to some day. Others. Part of the briefing before he got his tickets to Melbourne was that he was only supposed to carry one bag capable of being used as a carry-on for all his gear. "Uh. should I again be. the course would cost in excess of half a million dollars.Really fracking tall and just skinny as hell. spinning the chair around and standing up. Well. He was going to have a hard time fitting. There weren't any windows except on the ground floor. you get top bunk. reading by the single light. rarely. at least a half a million dollars for the course. there wasn't much space in the room. The dormitory building looked sort of like a three story hotel but he'd noticed it was different. Space is an absolutely unforgivingbitch . And it had looked bunched up. "I'm mostly called Nate. again. hitching up his backpack and looking around his dorm room." Butch said. who was trained in this facility. That. Therefore. is the slang for atmosphere with breathable air. Okay. If Butch thought he was going to have a hard time fitting in the bed. For that matter. "I knew it was too good to last. "Hey. it may be up to one ofyou to save my life." Butch said." the guy sitting at the desk said. period. In that case." the guy said. the desk and the guy sitting at it. though. There are still very few qualified instructors and we don't work cheap." "I'm Nathan Papke. will wash out in the first few weeks. The Company only wants very good people in space. go back to space. "Frack. There's also the cost of your suits and implants. Again. It had a set of bunk beds that had about half the normal head room. It was about half the size of most bedrooms with a low ceiling and no windows. in the position of sucking on nothing. high-power lasers which are also not cheap. tossing his bag on the bunk. They had managed to squeeze in a little fridge. At least in breathable. a second chance in space. Some. a nearby airlock and good doctors. I think I'm your roommate.

" Nate said. seeing the expression on his face. grinning back. "No. They just want to see you're learning the stuff not how well you can write." Nate said. "The academic portion is absolutely killer." Butch said. And we've already lost about half the class. sitting on the lower bunk." Butch said. I was a geek in high school and I'm having a hard time keeping up." "There any papers we gotta write?" Butch asked. let me tell you." "Math?" Butch asked. "All you got to do is keep your nose to the grindstone. "Cocoa Beach is also the party spot. "Lots of math. They don't want anybody that's got a substance abuse problem in space. "It's not as bad as all that. shaking his hand. All it's been is more psych tests and robotic theory. But unless you're a lot smarter than. "What are you here for?" Nate asked. I don't know about yours." "Oh. Most of the stuff is fill in the blank and short answer." Courses started in the morning." Butch said." Butch said." Nate said." Nate said." Nate said. "Two weeks." "That sucks. No essays or anything. "Cocoa Beach is pretty nice and the view's pretty good if you get my drift. much less what we're going to be working on. "At least in my course. don't figure on doing a lot of partying. "What's there to do around here?" "There's the beach." Nate said." "Got it." "How long've you been here?" Butch said. The homework is killer and they even load you down on the weekends. scratching behind his ear. I'm not an In the Black kinda guy. you look. We had two people get tossed out for popping on a piss test and one got a DUI." Butch said." Butch said. He had to hunch forward cause the top bunk was shorter than he was sitting down."Kay. rethinking his decision to take the course. "And it's been a ball buster. We haven't even seen a schematic of a bot yet. grinning. waving at the papers on his desk." Nate said. sorry." Page 21 . "Not so far. "Optical welding. He'd been given the rest of the afternoon to "get acquainted with the area. "But if it's just math. "Lots of beaches." "Dang. nodding. Most of the rest quit cause of the academics." "I can do math. I figure I can handle it. "You?" "I'm here for the robotics course. And clean." Nate said." Nate said. "It's not as much EVA and I'm pretty good with computers. "Why?" "This.

"Other than that. it was a six week course. Big buffet. they'd still be working in the field not teaching shop. Some pretty good restaurants if you've got the squeeze." "We work on theTroy ?" Dutch said. I guess so we don't keep going out for food and keep up with studying. And speaking of which . If they weren't missing bits." "From what I hear." Mr. but it's got stuff like Mongolian barbeque and crab legs. And it was just getting harder. "And you're all thinking ‘That thing ain't nothin' but a fancy OA rig. confused. Most of that is ship based. They feed us right. There's times I don't want to take time to go to the vending machine. I've got homework to do." Dutch said." "Thefabber ?" The Granadica fabber had been all over the news when it came through the Sol system on the way to Wolf. Mr. what's the maximum distance of an efficient flame on an oxy torch?" The course had started with fifty-three guys and two chicks." "Food's good?" "Food's great. If you keep thinkin' that you're gonna bedead wrong. "You. . . Methvin said. "Go buy some pop and stuff. "It's just up the road. Methvin had run into the same press or welding rig or jack or whatever that every other shop teacher ran into at one point or another. there's the mall." Nate said. the most high tech. After the first three weeks. You got your afternoon to get your shit straight?" "Yeah. it's pretty much the same if you're on a big installation likeTroy ." Nate said. They looked a hell of a lot like toes. gesturing at the fridge. grinning. Methvin continued. Butch thought. But he'd learned that was pretty much where you got shop teachers." The first time Butch saw his gay shop teacher in school he'd been bothered by the fact that Mr. but there's room for about five hundred people on Granadica. holding up what looked a lot like an oxy-acetylene welder head. they were down to thirty-seven guys and both chicks. Not as good on the ships." Nathan said. it's a work in progress. But the food in the cafeteria is good so I've been saving my money. Allen. nodding. "Tell you one thing's different right off. "There are nearly as many Apollo employees onTroy as military." Nathan said. From what the instructors who have been out say." Shit. Then there's the Wolf stuff." Nathan said. Except it had taken off half his left hand and he had some sort of funny stubs on that hand for fingers. "You're going to want to have something in the room. "There's a research and design team on it and guys who work on the space dock and gas mine Apollo's building. "What you're looking at is the Mark Four Grosson Optical Welder.High school never ends." Mr.' And you're all wrong. shrugging. "It's buffet style. "I thought that was a defense station. Page 22 . "The fabber. Tews was missing about half the fingers on his left hand. But he'd never heard that people could live on it. The mobile factory was the largest and most expensive piece of Glatun technology ever purchased and even though it was nearly a thousand years old.

and the provided room and board so you weren't even out that. So a good bit of the eight hour a day course was about how to work in space. wastwenty-four bucks an hour. Mr. hell. He'd read optical laser manuals until his eyes bled. There were hardly any new books out but the old guys were still pretty popular. There were two big reasons. As aprobationary tech. The course was a lot of skull sweat. There might not be red Indians. Butch noted that there was another. he could just about set his salary. He'd avoided going to the titty bars pick-up joints along the Cocoa Strip to do homework. Then there was the lasers themselves. space was the place. "Behold. he'd be making seventy-two bucks an hour. Methvin. But fortunately it was the sort of skull sweat that Butch was good at." Page 23 . Laser robotic technicians. Truth was. meant a good bit of math and a lot of attention to detail. walking over to a sheet of steel he had propped up. which was a short course in robotics from what he was learning.Hand laser welding was done almost exclusively in space." "Right. partially because all the geeks in the class read it and he couldn't get most of their jokes without some basis. Which." Butch said. Methvin said. "Goggles. earned over a hundred grand a year groundside. base. When he passed the course that jumped to eighteen buck an hour which wasn't chump change. If he was working EVA on overtime over forty-eight hours. He was currently being paid twelve bucks an hour and the course had dormitories for "probationary" technician trainees. holding the Optical Welder about a yard away from the plate. "Depending on the system. Methvin said. The rate for space work was time and a half when you were in atmosphere anddouble time in EVA. Overtime was time and a half up to forty-eight and double time after that. Then. piece of steel behind it. he'd have an easier time supporting a family on a hundred bucks an hour than his dad did working in the mill." Mr. Optics was a whole branch of physics. but there were Horvath and Glatun and more and more star systems getting opened up all the time. He fiddled with the controls for a second then held it out. Butch wasn't planning on getting hooked to a wagon any time soon. it turned out. too. There were some little reasons. He'd stuck with it. When he was done with his five year hitch with Apollo. Butch had enjoyed the astronomy portion of his physics classes and he'd even gotten into reading science fiction. There was a good bit of it in robotics on earth but most of it was in space. A fully qualified technician made nearly a hundred bucks an hour on OT in EVA. That was the other part. He wasn't old enough to remember Grandpa Allen. Rate for full tech. The training he was getting worked just about as well on the robots being used in every part of industry. Even if his wife had full blown Johannsen's. The second was that he just didn't want to tell Papa Allen that he'd failed. who had been a kid when his parents moved to the Missouri frontier. much thicker. More in space. He'd worked harder than he ever had in school." Mr. He'd gotten hooked on the vision of space as the next frontier. "inch and a half to two and a half inches. one that Butch's high school teacher had barely touched on. And this question was dead easy for once. it wasspace . But he'd heard the stories. And there was a bump in pay each year he stayed rated during his first hitch. but like most guys he figured he'd get married someday. The first was that he really didn't want to join the Navy.

So I'm tellingyou . Most of the answers were less important than how you handled them. And if you ever use a long beam on one of these things. Page 24 . from either a tiny little beam that's not much thicker than a hair to one thick as a finger and six meters long. not impossible. it was multiplicative. There's a way to set the beam for any length you want. "In the. and you got asked questions. is my air working. You pass the ECET or you don't. until just about anyone had a break point. . General stress. But I don't get to tell the people that design these things they're idiots. The ones that were important were the ones that related to your field. Ashline and Beckett. Methvin said. got multiplied by other stress. For hours. The ECET was the last major test before you went to the "space environment" portion of the training. . you can't even get the mask off. Which you monkeys are probably going to cut each other up with once you get in space. The ECET wasn't designed to find that break point. "you will be sedated." The ECET was simple. decanted and wake up in recovery. put on a mask. Now he was the "faculty advisor" for the "extreme confinement environment test. "A Mark Four has a maximum range of about six meters. Everyone has a break point and if you hit it what you have afterwards is what's called PTSD and generally you were busted for space work. to get upset in the test. We will be taking four at a time. Since the grabber material does not allow for movement. It was designed to find people whose break point was toolow . I would suggest that those of you who are not called at first study your test question booklets. Monaghan said. "Whoa. Armstead. Butch could see the beam from the optical welder. Monaghan said. can't die. is everything okay at home. likely. He'd been Butch's instructor for "theory and practice of space movement" and he'd been an absolute bastard. And it cut through the steel faster than any oxy rig he'd ever used. am I going to make my car payment. going out in the Black. The point was that you had to be hard." one of the guys in the class said. event that you totally freak out. "Which is just astupid design. There were two hundred of those alone and you had to have the answers at the tip of your tongue." Mr. They're idiots." Mr. You got loaded in a steel tube. "Is that this test is perfectly safe. There is no appeal.You're idiots. a bunch of gunk got poured in on you that prevented you from moving. Nate had flunked out on the ECET. you. cutting off the beam." Mr." They'd been warned that the test wasn't just "can you handle an extreme environment?" It was "can you handle an extreme environment under enormous stress?" Stress wasn't just cumulative. you're probably gonnakill someother idiot . got multiplied by other stress. And if you can't get the mask off." Damn." Mr. The reality is that you will never be in danger. Allen. Monaghan said." "Welcome to your final exam. Period. probably.Even with the goggles. Because they weren't going to spend the money on boosting and planting you if you couldn't pass the ECET. at all. You will then be given your final check and a ticket back to whatever miserable hole you crawled out of. "The first thing I want to stress.

Clarissa is it?" "I've got a sister named Clarissa. it gave him some time when he wasn't getting pounded on. the grab-goo was pressing on his chest so he could barely breathe. "And then there's . . Monaghan said. Monaghan." Mr." Butch said. It was amazing the spaces you could squeeze into with a little will. I'm looking at one. "Cute. You think she's hot?" "She'ssix you sick bastard!" Butch said." Butch said." Butch snarled. You are a sick bastard. Both ends." "I don'thave one. "It's sort of comfy. Nice girl. Monaghan said." "You are a sick bastard. . Monaghan said. "Cute. As the runt of three brothers. Mr. The CO2 was up. Beautiful hair. But since heliked confined spaces . "Well. . Allen. Take your time ." Mr. Mr.As to the question. Mr." One of Butch's favorite games growing up was hide and seek. Monaghan said." Butch snarled and ground his teeth but didn't say anything. . Mr. mildly. "Yes. Monaghan said. Are you comfortable?" Just my luck I get fracking Monaghan. Mr. "I've got a picture of your sister here. ."Good morning. thanks. "Anybody that talks about a guy's six year old sister like that don't deserve the titleMister . repeat after me. Nice little picture." Mr. . Monaghan. Butch?" Mr. "She's six Mr." Butch wasn't sure how long he'd been in the tank but he was sure the recyclers were messing up. Page 25 . Mister. Susie. . "So." Mr." "Do you want to pass the course. "Just fine. ." "Inalphabetical order . Monaghan. He wasn't getting enough breathable and he was getting a carb panic. Monaghan. "List all the major parts of the navopak of a Mark Fourteen Space suit. "Recycler . Monaghan. Butch? Don't you know that's child pornography. Monaghan. Mr." "So why'd you have anaked picture of her on your iPod." Butch said.

I'd also say that with some training he's a pass." Butch said." Butch said. "He'svery protective of his sisters. shrugging. Monaghan said." Butch said. "So. "Angry. Butch. I am." "When I get out of here I'm going to rip your head off and shit in your neck. still glaring. yes." Monahan said. I note. "But his heart rate and BP aren't up all that much. "We're also going to up your O2 and get rid of some of that carb. has a mole on her butt." the tech said. Or he's just a natural. "If you catch them at just the right time. Your call. "Screw the course. "As long as you were in the tank you could probably use a smoke." "It will require counseling." Butch said." "How's he doing?" Monahan asked." "I have a sister named Susie." "Susie. . Monahan said." the psychologist said. "Okay. we're letting you out." "I still don't think you've got a picture. "You don't go around looking at pictures of a guy's sister. in that same mild tone. now." "Sit. "There are rules and rules." Monahan said. Take the swing and you're going home to see your sisters." "Thought there was no smoking in the building." "Concur. "He's marginal." Mr. tossing the probationary trainee a half full pack of Marlboros. you can take a swing at me or we can talk. "It's his main hot-point. Or Clarissa." "That would cause you to fail the course. She was monitoring all four tests and making suggestions. girls like that are just putty in your hands . I am currently looking at a picture of your naked sister. He's balancing as well as he can. "And you don't have a naked picture of her." Monahan said. That's my professional opinion. I never had a picture of your sisters." "You're not going to top him on this track. And you sure ashell don't tell him about it. no. . . Get the nic fit under control so we can talk. looking over at the vitals tech. Butch? I require a response. I'd say you've gone about as far as you can. "She's probably got Johannsen's with hair like that. that's for sure. He's very wrapped up in that emotional attachment. twelve year-old . "Mister Monaghan." Monahan said. a Page 26 ." Butch said. "They're waived under certain conditions. Butch." Monahan said. in fact. When you come out." Mr. Butch. Your naked." Mr. Butch. You don't talk about popping 'em. don't you think." the psych said."She's really blossoming. To start. . Monaghan said.

his jaw working. looking for a weak point. Monahan was driving at. the trainee was on "hard probation. And they'll find your hot points. "What isnot mentioned in the contract. It was more money than Butch couldever repay and one of the tiny little codicils in the contract he'd barely read. in fact. the companyowned you. It made sense in a sick sort of way. that's obvious. Photoshop it onto a real piece of child porn and stick it in your locker just before you go on shift. The crews are going to take that admirable emotion and rip it to shreds. Their lives depend on you being able to keep your cool.' Rolling with it. You got all the fixed answers solid." They could be dismissed with our without cause.' One-upmanship: ‘Yeah. but only fully clothed. The answer is ." Mr. The smoke was helping and he was smart enough to see what Mr. "They are. "The next question at the top of your head is did you pass. They won't have all the information we have. The same reason we do it here. a very sick crew. can make you look like a wuss and they'll be wondering when you're going to crack and go SAPL. still in that same mild tone. The best I could do was talk dirty about your sisters. Your protectiveness of your sisters is admirable. the final test. I did have pictures of them. "There's actually a reason for it. They'll find a picture of one of them. And they owed thefull cost of their training. They are lovely young ladies and you are blessed to have them in your life. she's hot. preparation and suit. You can often stop something like that with a good joke at the Page 27 ." Butch said. "There are various techniques. Monahan said. sir." "So what do I do?" Butch said. But if you get put on a crew they're going to test you. "Deflection: ‘Yep. "But you need to get that temper under control." "That's sick. he was probably going to do the same thing. "There's a time and a place for it. That is why you are still considered marginal. but they'll wiggle it out of you. But once you got implants and a suit." Mr. Practice responses in a mirror. You can probably hack the actual physical aspects of space work. That. however. Susie's a nice piece. The emotional part is your weak point. Then call the nosies to tell them you've got child porn in your locker. "They are. "is that every crew has the right of refusal over a new member. Oh. sort of. You know about the ninety day probationary period and the penalties for failure if you don't pass it?" For the first ninety days of actual work. They test thehell out of the FNGs that come up there. You did your homework. But if two crews refuse to work with you.we are. You could quit at any point in training and not owe a dime. . And then you owe more money than you're ever going to see in your life. Unlike your wife. no matterwhat . He figured once he was a full tech." Mr." Mr. much harder than we can here. So they're going to push and push and push and push. Monahan said." "Thank you. you get dismissed. . And they'll poke. nearly three quarters of a million dollars. There's just too much damned work. Monahan said. Monahan said." Butch said.very sick bastard. But not on duty. Come up with a list of good one-liners. they don't abuse it. They don't want to work with anybody that can't hack it. You didn't want somebody who was a hot-head holding a laser that could cut through the suit of the guy next to him.

Mr. glad that Hartwell hadn't pressed the question. "So in addition to your other duties. But mostly you need to find your hot buttons and get them under control. I will then have to become involved in your retraining. They tend to keep upping the ante to see what will work. "I still think the best part of you dripped down your momma's leg." "Yes." THREE "I take it Bruce showed you around?" Engineering Mate Second Class David P. "During your next three months. If you fall behind in qual rate. You do not want me involved in your retraining.right time." Dana said. was already cluttered. "We didn't quite get to that." Dana said. To be capable of Page 28 . EM. And prepared to retaliate. Mr. I can figure where he headed." Butch said. Hartwell was tall. nodding." Butch said. "To be capable of donning your suit in a prescribed time to task and standard. Dana realized she looked like a China-doll next to him but it didn't bother her. "Ah. EM. "So he showed you the docking bays?" the EM asked. The crews much prefer a smart come-back or a good counter to a joke over somebody who just smiles and takes it. Charlie Flight. you understand that?" "Roger. First Division. Monahan. 6' 4"." Hartwell said. you have certain specified duties." Dana said. you are more or less on your own on that. you need to get EVA qualed as rapidly as possible. smiling pleasantly. As long as you meet the standard rate of qualification. itcan learn." Dana said. "Knowing Moose. EM. "Good. A mug of coffee barely fit on the corner of the 142/C/1 ENCOIC's desk. "The qualifications for EVA full standard are knowledge of the parts and functions of your suit. The engineering office of 142/C/1. "Yes." Hartwell said. Monahan. Her cousins were all about the same size or bigger. you're of limited use as an engineering tech. Until you get fully qualed on EVA. EM. But I'll be keeping an eye on your qual rate. and heavy-set. "Until you get full EVA qualed you can't evenstart on getting Eng qualed." Hartwell said. You with me?" "Yes." "At least Ihad a momma. 142nd Boat Squadron. Be prepared. There were manuals stacked on every horizontal surface that didn't have bits and pieces of Myrmidons already there." Monahan said. There are books of practical jokes and that is another thing that will be practiced on you.

" Dana said. I need a readback. among other things. "They cut into things like actually making sure the Myrms start." "In the boat." Hartwell said. EM. Where they're falling downafter qual is forgetting the basics. Twenty-Nine is the command boat. "Among other things." "You'll also be on the watch schedule. I just realized. aye. . But keep that motivation as long as you can. "Which." he continued." "But EVA qual is inaddition to other duties. EM. EM." "Roger.You have to qual on your implants. to the extent you are currently capable." Hartwell said. So I need you EVA qualed. You also need to be studying not only the parts and functions of the boats but the parts and functions of your suit. Come back here with your suit. trying not to smile. "It's why I'm here. We'll start on basic quals now. EM." Hartwell said. "Capable of donning suit in a prescribed time to task and standard." "Roger. "I'm gettingreally tired of training reviews. "Yourprimary mission is to make sure. "But we don't run watch and watch so you don't have to worry about that for a week or so. just a trace nervously. EM. Until you are fully qualed." Dana said. They're straight from the fabber in Wolf but they'vestill got problems. So where you had better be when I come looking for you on duty hours is in the boat." "Yes. "You will come to be less enthusiastic. and surprisingly the most tricky. . "You are glad to finally see your boat?" Hartwell said. The current engineer is EN Andrew Jablonowski. AJ will be overseeing your quals and overseeing your maintenance of the boat because CM1 Glass and the skipper. And the last." "Roger." Page 29 . "you need to get familiar with micrograv. Lieutenant Commander Martin. Fast." Dana said. Like checking their seals. Or don't screw up in mid-space." he commed without actually opening his mouth. Capable of handling first and second level faults while suited to task and standard. is a problem.handling first and second level faults while suited to task and standard." Hartwell continued. of course. we don't climb into those cockleshells without our suits on." Dana said. aye. "Because while donning suits is normally no problem . Capable of maneuvering suit in microgravity to task and standard." "The way that you train is to get experience. From here we are going to go to Twenty-Nine and you get to see your new home away from home." Dana said. aren't about to climb in a boat that has been rated by an EA. to be capable of maneuvering your suit in microgravity to task and standard." Hartwell said. aye. "You need to be working on donning and undonning in any free time you have. it will not be ‘your' boat." EM1 Hartwell said. clearly trying not to curse."which is mostly a matter of just using them. aye. EM. aye. standing up. that Boat Twenty-Nine is up and running." "Knowledge of the parts and functions. That's where personnel are falling down in qual. To reduce it somewhat. Last but not least. speaking normally.

She picked up the parts of her suit and began carefully checking the seals. More bad driving. Chief." Dana said. The "not slender" part had Dana wondering what her handle was." the Chief said. "And I see you're managing not to. taking a seat at the desk. Who?" "I'm from Anaheim.More than half." Chief Barnett said. Half the damned drivers are down groundside right now testifying at an incident review because we lostanother Myrm to what looks like bad driving." Dana said." Dana said. Chief. "The only person I'm going to kill screwing it up is me. Chief. Suit failures. "If you're performing a critical evolution when you have a failure. "Dad in LA. "Chief?" Dana said. "Like I said." "Roger. Dana wasn't flat but she also wasn't stacked. paying even more attention to her boot seals than they were really worth." Hartwell said. "I'll figure something out by the time you get back. Chief. "Do you want a checklist?" "I'd prefer to do this myself. I'm spending half my time performing training and incident reviews. And now I'm having to fill in on suit quals because we've finally got another split in the squadron." Dana said." Page 30 ." "Not your fault. "Big girls in this man's Navy don't cry.pretty sure she'd done a good inspection of her glove seals. "We had nearly twelve percent female personnel and if a gal had to disrobe for duty's sake she damned well could do it in a roomfull of guys if she had to. "Andthat caused a penny for your thoughts moment. Goddamned Horvath." Dana lied. Chief."I don't have issues. "Elizabreasts" came to mind. Mom committed suicide right after. it cascades." "Not necessarily. Just flew right into a SAPL beam. Called a mayday thenzap ! "I used to think thesea was merciless." "This didn't used to be a problem." Chief Barnett was tall and generally slender. Bad driving." Chief Petty Officer Elizabeth Barnett said. Barely. And it had required calling in the Coxswain Chief of Flight A and getting a navopak out of stores. Chief. You're going to hear this over and over: there is nosmall mistake in space." Chief Barnett said. "Roger. EM. looking up. "TheNavy has issues with naked people of opposite sexes in the same room alone. "Sorry. Boat failures. She harbored a touch of jealousy about chests like the Chief's. She took a deep breath and picked up the suit to check the seals on it. blame it on the damned Horvath and their damned Johannsen virus." Chief Barnett said." "Roger. The "evolution" had been moved from the Division Bay to Dana's quarters." Dana said. setting down the boots. bitterly.

"And I'm not going to sign you off." "Thank you. "You handling it?" "Haven't you heard?" Dana said."Brother and sister-in-law. 53% have had direct experience of a Horvath attack. "I actually understand what you're talking about. "Sorry." "Roger. So I won't go into it and compared to what's happened. Chief. Something like 80% of the US has lost someone close to them. "You know the parts and functions. Mother." the Chief said. Page 31 . "And the fabber here doesn't seem to have the problems of the ship fabber in Wolf." the Chief said." the Chief said." "Roger. You did a good. didn't get it." the Chief said. "Middle ofno-where Indiana. Technically. Chief. "Two nieces and a nephew. Chicago. ." "Yes. Now for the neck ring seals on the helmet." "Yes. picking up the gloves again. "You checked. And that doesn't begin to touch the whole Johannsen thing." Dana said. to the task and standard we ought to be requiring. By the numbers. Chief. ." Dana said. Father was already dead. Chief." "Best place to be. Place called Tangier." "Yes." Dana said. I was the only person in my school who had been in a target city. since. Chief. it's a minor blip. detailed. picking up the gloves and inspecting them. Yet. And I'm double checking. It's how toreally inspect your suit." "Bitter much?" the Chief said. suddenly panicking. "That was a pretty good job. Chief. She was pretty sure she'd checked the seal material. But you need to make sure the seal material is on solidly. quality. "How old?" the Chief said. as lightly as she could. "You're not old enough to know ancient history like the Cole bombing." the Chief said. They ." the Chief said. "Never mind. "These are brand new. The strange part about being in Tangier was that I was weird. "I watched. Especially since this Johannsen's shit. not sure what else to say." Chief Barnett said when Dana was done with her inspection. "PTSD is the new normal." Dana said. But I know about being the only person around who has nightmares. But I expect that. Chief." Dana said." Dana said. Which is amazing considering most of the nitwits we've been getting. Chief. we've gottwice as much to prove as ever. I could sign you off on parts and functions and inspection right here. They're generally perfect right off the line. setting the suit down." Dana said." Dana said. "Because what I'm about to teach you ain't in the book. I can count. Where'd you grow up?" "Indiana. Pick up the other glove. looking up. cause you're a split. inspection.

EM. aye. very low-powered armor. "As soon as you learn to do that in thirty seconds. The next layer was a complex of heat transfer tubes that looked not unlike the human capillary system." "Check back in a week. Chief Barnett didnot ." "Roger. condition and standard I'll check you off on inspection and parts. in effect. "Run the index finger of your right hand down the inner thumb of the glove. about the maximum time a person could hold out in absolute vacuum. the user would be stuck in a starfish configuration." The standard for donning a full suit was thirty-five seconds. buttoned up. making donning the suits rapidly possible. If you can demonstrate that you can perform the task. It was slick enough to slide on easily over bare skin. The suits got around that by being. Page 32 ." Dana said." "Roger. aye ." Chief Barnett said. her voice muffled by the bubble helmet. Vacuum "sucked" on a person in a spacesuit and they tended to end up in a spread-eagle. "I've placed the inspection document in your mailbox." the Chief said." Dana said. Normally that would mean that. "Glove in left hand. Check back with me in a week. The new chief who had gone Dutchman in the main bay may have had some issues with attention to detail. "Because I'm qualed to get them on if there's a problem." Dana said."Place glove in left hand. . palm up. due to vacuum dilation." "I am going to do this with gloves and helmet off." the Chief said. "Run index finger of right hand down inner thumb of glove." the Chief said. "Use it. The initial "evolution" took nearly thirty and by the end Dana was sweating in her suit and wondering if she really wanted to be in the Navy. "And now you're afine junior space eagle. aye. irregularities or cuts. Made of extremely thin layers. Chief Barnett probably had a task. The "leopard" suits were not the Michelin-man suits of yore but a marvel of modern technology impossible without Glatun support. Chief. It also absorbed transpired CO2 and other gases from the skin and carried back O2 to prevent degradation. condition and standard for going to the head . they wore like a wet-skin rather than a puffy NASA suit. The inner layer was an earth-tech material that was used in high-end wetsuits. demonstrating. cycling the lock marked 142/C Bay. irregularities or cuts." Hartwell said. checking for any burrs. . You're going to have to stay in the suit. That permitted the wearer to maintain temperature control in the varied conditions of space. palm up. Chief." "And now you're ready to see your boat. checking for burrs.

yeah. Her earlier screw-up was humiliating on several levels since she Page 33 ." Dana grabbed the safety bar and swung herself down into gravity with much more grace than she'd demonstrated goinginto micro." Hartwell said. Hartwell reached into the corridor and grabbed a bar. The lock was in gravity." Dana said. And immediately found herself going out-of-control as the momentum more or less threw her into the corridor. hers and AJ's. no volatiles like." Hartwell said. It was another of several shocks she'd had since signing up. "Whoa. EM." Hartwell said as the inner door cycled. it magnified the movements of the user just enough to overcome the suction aspects of vacuum. "Oh. all the bulkheads were lined with them like four sets of monkey-bars." "Roger. "Micrograv. The creeping realization that she wasin the Navy . She'd spent dozens of hours in the Myrmidon mock-up at A School but to be inher Myrm was a shock. Over that were two more layers of carbon nanotube to prevent damage to the suit. say. They also were so finely woven. Fortunately. But by just pulling forward out of the lock she was able to enter micrograv without much effort. electrical parts or electronic boxes that required checks and maintenance. going slowly hand-over-hand down the corridor. following him through the double hatches. barely. but it was enough to overcome the problem of moving in space. She was responsible for the six hundred and eighty-seventhousand moving parts." Hartwell said." "Roger. slowly moving around so she could orient in the direction of travel. A wonder of modern technology and Dana was already starting to loathe it. "Grabthebar . This washer shuttle. Twenty-Nine. It wasn't just some strange dream or day dream. "Be careful. space eagle. pulling himself up and into micrograv. "Like I said. "You okay?" "All good. Well. She bounced off the bulkhead and had to make a quick snatch for another bar." Dana said as the yellow micrograv light started flashing. Beyond that was the Glatun "autoflex" material. reaching up and. escaped. checking the airlock then cycling it. blood and oxygen. pulling himself down the corridor." Dana said. EM. much." Hartwell said. He stopped at an airlock marked 40. "Flight C. Essentially." Dana said. "Follow me. "Don't over exert. "Roger. getting a hand on the bar. It couldn't be powered up." Hartwell said.The next layer was a thin layer of woven carbon nanotube. EM. She still bruised the heck out of her thigh. It was enough of a shock she nearly floated out into gravity. Division One. The shuttles are in grav but they're configured all over the place so they left the corridor in micro. don't over-exert. She had had one familiarization flight in a shuttle in micro. pushing her back into micro.

" Jablonski said. new. isn't it?" Hartwell said. it did smell brand new. Most of it's warranty work." Dana said. four wide—most of them covered in access patches and latch points. just . we're handling it. And it's never going to smell quite the same again. "It's straight from the Granadica Yard in Wolf 359. . . grav grapnel. "What's up?" "This is your new EA. . I thought about stiefing it. Six gray steel bulkheads—two point three meters high. "Don't get used to that smell. "What the hell did I do to you?" "I'm not. Jablonski will supervise your checks and sign off on your quals on this analysis. And none of it's consistent. . For some reason those seem to be about half bad. but Apollo is so backed up. Watch your port. The EN was as tall as Hartwell but seemed to be slender from what she could tell in the suit." a voice commed back. sourly. "You're sticking me with a FUN?" Jablonski said." "I heard you. ." Hartwell said.one.. "The Six-One-Eight is out. . "Because in short order it's going to smell like stinky jarheads.. Not like a new car. Because it alsosmells brand new. builds up. Steel and oils with a touch of ozone." A couple of seconds after the power cut off." "Yes. ninety day and six month PM on this bird. The EM was right." Hartwell said. EM?" Dana said. The interior of the cargo bay of the Myrm wasn't much to look at. But ." Hartwell said. "A new car from an entirely newline ." Hartwell said. . And all the other crap we haul. "Micro in three.. new. "Youneed to do the thirty day. "It is. "That catches most of the major faults. So far. manning the engineering and EW position." Hartwell said. lower. No. "It looks brand new. but I'm just getting all the crap that's wrong with Thirty-Three done and I didn't want to dothat again. "The Old Man stuck you with a FUN. I take that back. "It's like a new car." Dana carefully undogged her helmet and took a sniff. lifting his chin to point at Dana. . none of it has been absolutely critical. There's no way to fully turn over the atmosphere and it just . "What do you think?" Hartwell asked. but most of our birds are deadlined about half the time." Page 34 .considered herself something of a gymnast." "EM?" Dana said. There's stuff that's just not right. AJ! Yo! Jablonski!Jablonski . At the rear was a hatch to the guidance section. a suited but unhelmeted Engineer came floating out of the flight compartment towing a large capacitor. The recyclers never quite clean it out. In flight that was her normal station. You have permission to temporarily undog your helmet..two. Which brings me to the FUN's first mission.

" Butch said. And they pushed. It was an automatic. too. That was going to takeforever ." Dana said. the way Apollo did it. Most of the parts were pre-fabbed on earth and generally went together like Legos. disturb." FOUR "Yo. But it was a puzzle the robots had in their guts and so no problem. you got the cut done. when something like that happened and it wasn't too big. they brought in the SAPL and everybody ran for cover. some joker on earth had left a bit too much steel here or there. "I'mgoing to have to be checking on Jablonski's sign-off. They'd found pictures of his sisters on the internet. There were sixty different massive pieces which had fit in the plug cut out of theTroy like a three dimensional puzzle. Point was. You have the manuals on your plant?" "Yes. Almost no problem. The plans were never perfect and when it got to putting stuff together there were always problems. yet?" BFM commed. "I'll be either in the Division Bay or Thirty-Three or . Just about everything but his suit messed with. Butch figured the company got the name of his job wrong. well. Purcell. EM." Page 35 . But Butch had seen enough of how dumb ass robots could be to not be too impressed.here . Chop here. firing offense to "molest." Dana said. Putting things together. Robots did most of the actual welding. change. So far all he'd been was an opticalcutting technician. aye. Sometimes a part needed to be joined that wasn't on the plans. Behanchod. The stuff on earth was supposed to be all robots. But it sure would get her used to the bird. . EM. it was generally easier to get a "sophont" with a laser rig to come over and cut the bit off. He hadn't been part of the crew that did the life-station onTroy but he'd heard enough about it. He could ignore his handle at this point. Despite the fact that that bastard Monahan had been right and the crews had zeroed in on his sisters the first week. When it was too big for a human to cut. That implied he occasionally joined two pieces of metal together. stuff fit together. add to or in any other way bother the personal safety system of another employee. Mr. Susie and Jodie had both ended up in the home town newspaper a couple of times. was dead simple. He wasn't an optical welding technician. chop there. do not pass go. . The rules on that one were absolute. Then Gursy found the perfect handle to piss him off. More often." Hartwell said. his personal stuff messed with. and done really ugly things with them. trying not to curse. "Dog your helmet and get to work. ninety day and six month PM. He'd had little mutilated Barbie dolls left in his locker."Thirty day. modify. "Just done.

" "Unless. Butch had been on theTroy for a month and he'd spent maybe four hours. Butch had checked real carefully." Page 36 . The rest of the guys seemed to do it for the reasons Mr. Most of the welding wasn't done in suits. Monahan had talked about. "Somebody. Two of the waldoes were laser heads. Mr." Butch said. Most of it was using your hands to manipulate the waldoes. "What I can't figure out is how they did it. or a sled. one a low-power and the other high. "They're putting in a power plant and figure it's going to have something needs done the fracking bots can't figure out. "Who the frack?" a voice screamed over the open channel. a crystal porthole on the front. They never said nothing about a sled. "Really?" Butch said. "Somebody has been abad boy. "He's also filed an official safety complaint." "I'm so sorry to hear that. turning his sled around and heading towards the big "lever" horns that punched up into the main bay of theTroy . The lasers they used were powered by an annie plant and an emitter. and tape it there." Drac said. Then. Most of the time he worked in a laser sled." Butch said. "God damn joking bastards! This is a safety violation! Get it off! Get it OFF!" Butch tried not to giggle as he headed down to Lever Two and somebody else had to pull off the plastic spider taped to Gursy's porthole." Drac said. and this is just a guess. that you controlled from the inside. But Gursy was just a bully. With." Butch said. other than "familiarization" in his suit. AKA Drac. and this was important. "Somebody would have to go out in a suit. "Move down to lever Two. . and Gursy is steaming mad to try to find out who. So they had to have something to tow the laser around with.Gursy was the worst. The laser sled was like a little mini space ship with arms. rolling into his bunk and turning on the TV. Purcell. the sleds looked sort of like an octopus. Well. not the SAPL. all they had to do was put the spider ontheir sled and park it at Three. "Somebody noticed that Gursy always uses the sled parked at slot Three. Overall." "Right away. And the rules said you couldn't futz with a guy's suit. if somebody was an evil bastard. He only had a couple more months and he'd make full tech. Some of the control you did with your plants." Price said. AKA Vladimir Anthony De Rosa was also a probie but he'd made it past the "hard" probation period. There were four more "grip arms" that could go in just about any direction and amplify the strength of the user. Butch was pretty sure it was Gursy who had put the girls' pictures in his locker with . stuff on 'em." Dracula said. trying not to sound too interested. . taped a spider to his porthole. He was also Butch's roommate and a ready source of the sort of gossip that wasn't shared with an absolute FNG. called waldoes for some reason. Gursy had his "issues" too. "What happened?" Dracula.

futzing with a suit is covered but not a sled. a beard that hung to his chest and a mass of shaggy hair. The spider could have beenin the sled. "That's a firing offense. "I do have to admit this seems like a violation of Six-Three-Eight-Four-Nine-Delta. holding up his hands. BFM." Price said." "I had nothing to do with it." Doug Purcell said."In which case." Drac said. "Gursy is going to try to pin this on Price. . "Second. "Strangely enough. Just a guess. . BFM?" He chuckled at that and then guffawed. Niner-Delta refers only to personal suits. I didn't do it. The welding crew manager had been working for Apollo since the days when all they had was the Monkey Business and a couple of BDAs. and it wouldn't have been a safety violation. . And it might be particularly hard to spot sin . and this is justthinking you understand. "And since you're a temp probie . complicated. it's not a safety violation. And you were the last person to use it." Drac said. Not officially. "What temp probie could possibly have come up with somethingthat crazy?" "First." John "BFM" Price said. somebody. hard to prove . "Which means making an official safety complaint." Butch said. . oh. of dust-ups like this one." He also had an elephant's memory for regulations. Complicated. six eight with a big bear gut. It had just the right touch to be a Price. . he's going to be making a formal complaint." Butch said. But it does mean it's not a violation. when Gursy finds out the last guy to use the sled." Butch said. Gursy was much shorter but with the same general shape and just about as hairy. . "If you knew that the guy using the sled was going to go back to Three because Gursy was out and three is the closest to the entrance that didn't have a sled and you knew that he was only going to be gone for less time than Gursy. could tape the spider in place above the porthole on a bit of monofilament and space tape and hold it inplace with regular scotch tape. "That assumes that the last guy to use the sledknew the spider was there. Nothing about sleds. He looked like a black-haired Bigfoot." Page 37 . and more." Carter Gursy said. . "How could you miss a spider on your porthole?" Drac asked." "Read the regs. But whereas Gursy's jokes were never very funny. The team lead was a regular and serious practical joker. . to go out and back and never notice the spider cause it was way up over where he could see without doing a full exterior." Drac said. Price!" "Calm down. if it was up under the Number Four Arm. Doesn't mean I did it. Whoever thought that one up was a genius. "That's . and I've got no idea who. . Except on top where he was pretty much bald." Butch said. ." Drac said." "Damn." The team lead was simply huge." "I see a new reg being written. "Well if. "Nope. "Checked just before I come up here. BFM's were hilarious. But . The scotch tape was going to last long enough for somebody like. "It was messing with mysuit . Before that he'd worked in the drilling industry so he'd seen his fair share.

And Allen's Mister Pure. "Honest. "Allen." "I want somebody'shide for this. . I'm not going to have anyone as agitated as you in the Dark with a laser in your hand. sighing." "You try to kick me off the crew. Who was the last guy before me to use the sled?" "Uh . "You just do that. Being a buddy-screwer's another. Some crews you got to be one kind of guy to work with them. "Noway an FNG did this. "He stuck it up with a piece of scotch tape." Mr. nobody trusts you and if you were probe we'd have voted you off the island. "It was asweet set-up and since it's not covered by regs I'd be in the clear. But I decided to let it slide. You either developed a sense of humor about such things or you got out. "I didn't do it." Gursy said. holding up his hand with three fingers extended." Price said. Purcell and other construction managers. Purcell said. which Gursy always uses cause he's a buddy-screwer. it's a safety violation!" "You're one to talk with all the crap you pull." Gursy said." Price said. I joke. So you want to bitch about this hard enough. if you could stay a moment. you're off shift." Price said." "Then who did?" Purcell asked. "You're sure of this?" Mr. "Yeah. Three was the next closest to the door. Joking's one thing. I don't like that on my crew. You're just a buddy-screwer." Price said. His big problem is he isn't tough enough."I see a new reg being written. Page 38 . I don't know how you made it through probe. "Mr. here's the low-down. looking at the team lead. Some of them get rough." "I think we need to break up this little pow-wow. Price." "The FNG?" Price said. "And you insist that you didnot do this?" "I'd admit it if I did. Mr. we can put in an official request for transfer as incompatible. not looking up. "Allen. Of course. chuckling. Purcell said. Purcell leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. he didn't really need to since he was Gursy's height sitting down. I noticed you come to us in the middle of a placement zone. Gursy. . Purcell said. accessing his plant. "I don't care if it's covered by regs or not. I'll appeal. standing up. instantly. "Gursy. Becausenobody on the crew likes you one damned bit. Quick enough." Price said. Which told me you'd already got one transfer. Everybody jokes." Price said. He'd been around this game long enough to enjoy a really good joke. Purcell said. looking amused. He didn't know who was going to use the sled but he figured it was going to go back to Three." One and Two were reserved for Mr. I figured out why you were kicked off a crew. Mr." Mr. But he's been putting up with Gursy's crap so I guess he might slide. "Really?" the manager said." Mr. raising his hands.

And it's not quite the selling your soul you're thinking. "Sure. I don't got nothing against him. he is a net asset. see his ship in the bay from time to time. who's a damned good kid." Price said. but ." Purcell said. smiling." Mr. "If you're asking if I think he needs to be transferred. Here's the thing. The title's a take on Naked Capitalism. "And hell no. You get it?" Page 39 . You ever met Tyler Vernon?" "No. rarely. Usually when a guy's been on a crew and he knows what he's doing. Purcell said." Purcell said. "Some day. I didn't say I didn't help . Gursy is a trained tech and while I could wish he was more motivated in his position." "Mr." Purcell said." "Then I don't want to sit at that desk. for a jackass like Gursy?" "Not saying that." Price said." the manager said. "Dead wrong. But I never come near meeting him. and God save me from another such assignment. "I said I didn't do it. That'sall . If I was still at Shell the answer would be yes. But Gursy's an asshole and a buddyscrewer and everybody knows it." BFM said. I mean. "Don't be so quick to judge." Mr. his lips working from side to side. Depends on which seat you're sitting in what. "Wrong." Price said. teaches a class on business ethics for Apollo managers. "The work is physically much easier than spending all your time in the Black and the pay is generally better and always steadier. "The good of the guys. working for Apollo. . The course is titled ‘Capitalism Clothed' and it's a mandatory class for management at Apollo. your motivation is. When you sit at this desk. "I'd take three of Allen over Gursy. . I'd take Allen. there are two things you have to think about: What's going to make the company money and what's going to do it in the future. still not very good at his job and not yet a net asset to the company. ."Why do you think I made sure I parked it at Three?" Price said." "What's your primary motivation going to be?" Purcell asked. In fact. But in this seat. After a few moments he opened them and regarded the team lead. "Fascinating guy. even though he's a probie." Price said. . Purcell leaned back and closed his eyes. "If I was at BAE. Seems to care about his people. even if he's an asshole guys'd rather work with him than a probie. furrowing his brow. the answer would be yes. the answer is no. Allen works his tail off." "He. I mean. But I meanpersonally he's a fascinating guy. the answer is: The best long-term interest of the company. He does what he has to get by. if it's a choice of Gursy or Allen." "So you're saying get rid of Allen. But there's a reason I work for Apollo. you know the history. Allen seems to be doing well . "You ever want to sit in this seat?" Purcell asked. seems like a straight up guy and I think he runs a good company. Allen is a probationary tech. exactly.

"I thought it was those shirts you all wear." Purcell said. . Apollo will be leading the way to the stars long after we are dust. On the other hand. . And make me a megacredit in the meantime.' I can't do it. We just put various clothes on it." "And. "?‘Apollo was the Greek god of the sun. once he's gotten everyone understanding the lingo. Which means if I request a transfer for incompatibility. he's got a different vision from most other corporate heads." "The thing is." Purcell said. Page 40 . "I'm not shedding any tears. rather. is Apollo clothing. "Huh."Got it." "You said the U word. sighing. Which means he'll probably do something that's critically unsafe. the importance of safety to the bottom-line . he's already had not one but two transfers. "I know. chuckling. smiling thinly. He's got the knack." Price said." "And then he owes Apollo for the rest of his life. he's going to have to reestablish himself with a crew and the rate of second term failure on probationary transfers is so high he's unlikely to make the cut." "Heard that." Purcell said. "I'm pretty sure only Paris is listening and he doesn't talk. frowning. But the vision extends beyond the next quarter. . "He even admits it's a vision that probably won't last. beyond the next year. ‘Think not of the profit of the moment save to cover the necessary expenses of the corporation." Purcell said. Vernon wants people like Gursy in his company and I think he'd probably take to Allen." Price said." Price said. Gursy is the one who was the victim. grinning. rubbing the Apollo symbol on his golf shirt. again. So I'm penalizing the victim. Gursy's argument. He does go on. crossing his arms." "He's .inspirational when he talks." Price said. he's going to get grounded. I don't. In this particular instance. . "But the truth is." Price said. I know the type of old. Apollo'sfirst mission is to carry the light of civilization into the Dark. his brow furrowing. The light of the sun is the clothing of Apollo and it is the clothing of this corporation." Purcell said." the manager said. the rate of repayment of the loans is actually miniscule. it is in the best long-term interest. "You think you get it." Price said.' Enlightened self-interest. though. "If I transfer Allen. of philosophy and art and as his burning chariot was the light that brought philosophy and art to the barbarian West. Apollo wasdeath on organized labor." "Sounds like it. Unions are naked capitalism clothed in the rhetoric of organized labor." "So get rid of Gursy and keep Allen?" Price said." "That's a really backward way of looking at it. But one of the things he talks about. "Think about this. with some risk. "The first point of the class is to point out that every economy is at some level naked capitalism. or his lawyer's. to retain Allen. "But Gursy's the type who is going to figure out who did it eventually and up the ante. "I'm sure that will be Mr. I doubt that Mr. of the next generation. Even though it is in the best short-term interest of the company to retain Gursy. in the lawsuit." Purcell said." "That's our boss?" the team lead said. smiling a bit. Think.

" "Drac. You also just barely missed being transferred. "You may call me BFM. Mr. I need a quick word with Butch. "and an understanding being reached." Price said. Iwill violate rule Niner-Delta in a way nobody will ever trace and youwill be sucking vacuum for the rest of your very short life. But you'd better keep your nose clean as snow for the rest of your probation. I'll tell the crew it's time to back off. Price. As it is. that's what I'm going to have to do with Gursy." Price said." Price said." Price said. Not quite slickenough . watching as Dana carefully went through the port gravitics relay checklist. "He's already gone. not mine. it was a very slick job. He knew better than to say "Sorry." Butch said. The main power was supplied by a twelve terawatt matter-energy converter located directly behind the engineer station. yes."Since I work for Apollo. "That being said. "That is in keeping with the overall mission and philosophy. Allen would be transferred so fast he wouldn't have time to pack. "Youever try to pin something like that on me again. sliding into the probie quarters. ?" Vlad said. There's going to be some grumbling but not much. Price?" "It was Purcell's call." "Yes. You took your chances and you took your lumps if you got caught. They won't quit. confused. If I was still with Shell or BAE. Despite their relatively small size. Mr." Butch said. Price picked the newbie up by his collar and slammed him against the bulkhead. The team lead was a mountain. the Myrmidons were enormously complex. but pretty slick." Jablonski said. Just keep learning your job and keep your nose clean. "You want me to ." FIVE "You're not bad for a FUN." "Yes. But they'll back off. "This won't take long." It was the worstpossible thing to say." Purcell said. That Page 41 ." When Vlad was out of the room. "Gursyis getting transferred. Price. mind you. Nobody really liked the asshole. And don't let the door hit you in the ass. . "Go get a coke or something. lowering him to the deck. "Mr. Price." "Yes." Butch gasped. Struggling was pointless. Mr." Price said. .

Pulling that much acceleration would turn a human to paste. in Dana's caseshe ." Dana said. Especially if Marines were the ones doing the closure. "We have mandatory flight fun time this afternoon. so the craft had to have an Inertial Stabilization System. an engineer apprentice was required to demonstrate that he or. petty officer Engineering Mates. the engineer would get out of the flight compartment and do a manual check. They were designed primarily to lock onto a ship for boarding but from what Dana had heard they were mostly used as ersatz tug systems. in vacuum. not repair them. For Dana it was just another damned thing to check. They had to be authorized for opening from the engineer of the boat and checked for closure. and EMs. To make full rate. there was a forward ramp and airlock system as well as an emergency hatch in the flight compartment. the internals—crew and cargo—were subjected to three gravities of acceleration. Good check.drove a repulsor drive capable of pulling four hundred gravities of delta v. most repairs took place in the bay with ENs. which took up most of the powerplant's output when used. "No faults detected. In a suit. More or less because beyond one hundred gravities of acceleration the system started to fall behind. could just locate and analyze faults." "Check completed. The hatches were fairly conventional steel with a high-tech sealant and fairly normal wheel-latches. Airlocks for more or less Terran sized sophonts. sweating and cursing in suits. EN. with the lack of higher support due to the way the Navy was growing and the lack of bay space on theTroy . A squad of Marines could stack up in the space to do an entry. there were four magnetic grapnels capable of localized gradients of over nine hundred gravities. Searchlights. "Break it down. more super-conductor relays than a terrestrial power-plant." Page 42 . double four-terawatt lasers for close-air support. Since you had to get in and out of the boat somehow. The airlock was essentially two hatches with a space a bit shorter than the width of the Myrm between. avionics. In general. In addition to the drive and ISS. ISS that kept the internal gravity more or less normal. Engineer's First Class. at least. The Myrmidons could only "reverse" at sixty gravities so they were better for pushing than pulling. in microgravity. shields. "No faults detected. though." "Good check. Not to mention the "useless as tits on a boar hog" as AJ had pointed out. At full drive." Dana said." Jablonski said. Checking the gravitics mostly meant bending over for hours. detect faults and report them for repair. Then there was the airlock. the boat's engineer had to knowall of it well enough to. Most of the time. Andthey had to meet minimum standard capability ascoxswains in case the cox was disabled during an "evolution. aye. if there was time." "Checks completed. And you wanted to makesure the hatches were sealed before you went into the Black. straightening up and trying to keep from rubbing her back. making a notation on his pad." AJ said. The detectors were futzy as hell. landing jacks. The one good thing about Jablonski was that he barely seemed to notice her as a girl. were fairly standardized across the local arm. aye. The ramp was for terrestrial landings whichvery few of the coxswains on theTroy had ever done. But they got stuff moved in space eventually. in thedark . which included Glatun and Horvath. aye.

there are four new grav ball courts open. "Going crow" on a boat."Flight fun time" translated as physical training. So the fact that he'd fallen out for "flight fun time" meant that they were probably not going to like the result. She was actually pretty excited. She'd heard about the sport but the only people who seemed to play it were the Marines." the Chief finished. There was a basketball court and a gym. His good point was that he wasn't an ass about it and had never so much as hinted to Deb. And she'd been pointedly warned about playing them." Dana said. It was one of the reasons she was ahead of the curve for training in microgravity. He hadn't said anything about why but it wasn't until the crowbar was in place that Twenty-Nine was listed as flight-certified. She'd figured out some of the meanings. you have Page 43 . receiving a set of knee and elbow pads and a helmet from the MWR civilian manning the desk. Two goals. just to the side and aft of the engineer's station. "So it's helmet and pads time. Once you catch the ball you can't push off from the walls." Dana said. She still wasn'tgood in micro. gathering up the tools and carefully stowing them away. two forwards. accepting her own pads. On the other hand. he seemed to positively enjoy passing on the worst possible news to the Flight. Over the compartment was a post-production welded on set of clamps with a crowbar installed. But there seemed to be more." the Chief said. The second day she'd been working on the boat. She suspected the Significance of the Crowbar was one of them. AJ had come in with the crowbar. but she had learned that there were answers you only got at a certain point in your training." And EM Hartwell had been pretty grim. blonde and mustachioed he simply reaked of being God's gift to women. "We have aspecial event for you today. The stow point for the boat's tools was to the starboard side of the flight compartment. She'd been a cheerleader in high school but mostly she'd been into the gymnastics. two defense. boys and girls. aye." "What's wrong with grav ball?" Dana asked. "Five person teams. or a person. Dana spent most of her work-out time in the gym since there wasn't a good gymnastics set up. micro wasn't a really big issue. "Fall out for MWR draw. "With the activation of C-West." Chief Petty Officer John Wagner looked like a recruiting poster. One time when one Bruce's boat had had a mid-space malfunction he had mentioned it "looked like crowbar time. meant beating the hell out of a part. There was a collective groan from the assembled flight. "Break it down. the clamps and a laser welding set and grimly welded the crowbar into place. She'd find out when it was time. or a person. "Where to start?" Bruce said. There was some significance to the Crowbar. If she hadn't "blossomed" a bit young she might have made the pros. "You know the rules?" "Sort of like hockey. There were no stupid questions. One goalie. With enough time on parallel bars. but she could manage simple tasks. grinning ear to ear. She'd wondered about the crowbar—it wasn't part of the standard tool-set and it seemed to hold some particular significance—but she hadn't asked. grinning broadly. Tall.

a couple of administrative seamen including Sarin and CM1 Glass. they have since created jungle-ball which you don't want to play. The first rule of jungleball is ‘No weapons. the other red. was slowing due Page 44 . was the goalie. slowly. Thedoor was even sapphire with a small. He was tossing a soccer ball up and down in his hand and looking positively happy. hold on to the grips. Some. Then there's the viewing wall made out of optical sapphire which is. All the SAs and EAs got cut and pulled out of the court to watch." Dana ended up on Carter's team but got cut from the first string along with Sarin. You can bounce the ball off of any wall. The Marines wear a cup. biting. Which. latch. . Divvie them up. "And ." Bruce said. I'm going to be refereeing not playing. very hard stuff. It's like Aussie Rules football. You've got to be able to bounce the ball so it's not real thick. the EM3 of shuttle Thirty-Two. you're team captains. Carter had taken a swing and floated off in a random direction. One end of the court was broadly marked in blue." Bigus. hockey and ultimate Frisbee. Okay. "This is going to be insane. The ball missed the blue team entirely. caromed off two walls and headed down court towards Red. Note the pads and helmet. Move it down the court to get it in the enemy goal." Dana said. "The walls have padding. "Most of them related to no hitting. Of course." "What's jungleball. let me tell you. recessed. Dana recalled that the only person who was allowed to retain traction. The first Marine unit to play it had about ten percent injuries that required doctor's input.' There's seven more. "Null grav actually has about a hundred thousand rules." Glass said. releasing the ball. ." Dana asked as they reached the null grav court. managed to hit the ball first sending it towards the blue team that was starting to float up." Sarin said. fortunately. very. Bigus and Carter." "Ever really thought about it?" Bruce asked. "Game on. The viewing wall fronted on the corridor and was a three story tall wall of optical sapphire. grav off. The overall court looked like an extended version of a handball court.to pass. The goals were recessed nets about two meters wide surrounded by six recessed hand-holds. The other five walls were lightly padded. holding the ball. "Since I'm not neutral in this group. They'd reached the court and Dana started to get a feel for why Bruce wasn't exactly looking forward to null-grav ball." "It looks like it should be fun." "Oh. The engineering crew. "Carter was bitching up a storm. The two team captains faced towards their own goals with Glass in the center. Which pushed off from the floor and all missed intercepting the ball. The court was apparently still under gravity since First division's engineering personnel were just filing in." Dana said. scratching or kicking the other guy in the balls.

"Now get your butt out. He corrected at the last minute and tried a pass to Bruce but that was intercepted by a Red team SN Dana didn't know who made the goal. not wanting to add that it was one hundred percent headache and neck-ache. Glass seemed to have the knack. "That hurt." Bigus called. "But you might want to . CM. Bigus had the angle of the bounce figured right and probably would have intercepted. hitting him with the ball and sending him careening towards the red wall. Which sent Bruce spinning off into the sapphire wall. "And . game on. nowhere near the walls. People were more or less randomly ramming into walls. The ball passed his flailing hand and got to the Red team. The one thing she knew about micrograv was that it was hard to move fast. "Moose for Danno. "How am I going to getout ?" Bruce called. He pushed off lightly and plucked the ball out of the middle of the court. "Bust a move." Glass said.to air-resistance. The impact of the ball on her hand and pulling it in caused her to rotate. Problem being it was hisown goal. Danno. . rebounding towards the "floor" and rubbing her head. Since she was grinning. If Glass hadn't put some English on it. The pass had been long and the ball was slowing so she nearly missed but managed to snag it. "Easy." Bigus called." Dana stepped into the court and slowly bounced her way over to the defender's position. It was headed for a Red team player in position to shoot for the goal when Dana pushed off the wall and made possibly the slowest intercept in the short history of nullball. She managed to stabilize up in the corner by the blue goal and waited for play to resume. "Ow!" she said. it ground her teeth together painfully. sending the ball spinning into the middle of the court. But she let herself follow around and then pushed the ball off with both feet towards the red goal. Despite the jerseys. again. He'd managed to take up a position near the top of the court and more or less hang there by making very light motions. "One hundred percent. But it was hard." Glass called. . She saw Bigus drive for the goal at one point—he'd managed to snag the ball in mid-air while headed in more or less the direction of the goal—and nearly make it. ." "You okay?" Glass said. The ball had stopped in mid-court and so were all the team members. grinning." Dana slammed into the sapphire wall head first. Not impossible. . cracking his head hard enough to ring the aluminum alloy." Glass said. Dana couldn't keep up with what was happening and she was pretty sure neither could anyone on the teams. "Dead ball." Dana said. Page 45 . He was hanging more or less motionless on the red side but. He was sort of upside-down and drifting slowly in the direction of the blue goal but so far away from the walls he might never make it. In no time at all it was a maelstrom. Bruce managed to get a hand on it and passed it to Bigus.

" Hartwell said." Dana said. "Request release. Dana had been qualed on basic suit function and function in a microgravity atmosphere environment." Dana said. "Verify Procedure Four-Seven-Thee-Six-Charlie-Alpha. coming up behind Dana and Moose. . aye. "But it's pretty fun if you keep your situational awareness. aye. clearing her throat." "Procedure Six-Six-One-Four-Eight-Alpha. aye." Page 46 ." Dana said. Secure Safety Line complete." "Personnel will contact airlock and integrity control to release outer door. Paris. Especially with Paris she tended to add "unintended transmissions" when she internal commed. "It's good training for micrograv. CM. "Release Airlock Outer Door Six-One-Seven. There went sleep."I can understand your lack of joy at playing nullball." Dana said. "Procedure Two-Nine-Six-Four-Eight-November. Speaking of which. you're four hours behind on coxswain quals. There was a reason for all the readbacks but they got to be a pain in thebutt . Open Airlock Doors complete. Airlock Outer Door Six-One-Seven. EA. ." She got her usual thrill hearing the AI. He had areally sexy voice. Suit Integrity check complete. I want to see you in the simulator course one night a week for the next week. trying not to sigh. The flight NCOIC had the lightest step Dana had ever seen. So now it was time for her full suit quals. "Personnel will contact airlock and integrity control to release outer door. trying not to sigh. She'd passed quals but she preferred to talk." Dana said." Glass said. It's even good flight training. "Personnel cycling airlock will perform a visual check of all seals prior to sealing inner door. ." "Which is the point." "One night a week. adding a manual check for burs or scratches by running her hand over the seal." EM1 Hartwell said in a rapid patter." Dana said. aye. rubbing her neck. "Paris. "Verify Procedure Six-Six-One-Four-Eight-Alpha." Paris replied. Paris didn't have much time to chat with an EA rate which was too bad. aye." Dana said. The latter wasn't part of the airlock operations procedure but it was if Chief Barnett ever had her way. EA Parker One-One-Three-Eight." "Procedure Four-Seven-Thee-Six-Charlie-Alpha. Suit Integrity check complete. "Personnel cycling airlock will perform a visual check of all seals prior to sealing inner door ." "EA Parker One-One-Three-Eight. The latter translated as she was starting to kick some serious butt at nullball. . Open Airlock Doors complete. "List personnel using airlock for manifest integrity. She was still a bit iffy on comming without speaking. aye.

Space Eagle." "Pumping down." Dana muttered. "Okay." "Procedure Eight-Seven-Four-One-Six-Delta complete." "One-eightieth vertical thrust. It was just hard to get thescale of the thing. "Open Airlock Outer Door Six-One-Seven." This lifted them "above" the shuttle and the main bay was finally revealed." Hartwell said. aye. The airlock was near the base of the tube to which all the shuttles were attached and shuttle Twelve from Flight A was more or less entirely blocking the view of the main bay." Dana said."Verify Procedure." The main bay of theTroy was six kilometers across. It wasn't like she was going to do a Dutchman." Hartwell said. were good. . She took a deep breath and hoped that all the checks." Paris said. "You okay?" Thermal asked." Dana said." "All procedures for EVA verified and checked. Finallythey were out in EVA and the airlock closed. giving the system just about its lowest possible boost "upwards. . Most people need to get a good look before they can get their heads around getting to work. I'll give you that. reaching out the airlock door and clipping off her outer safety line. She was wearing a navopak that could get her nearly to Mars on internal power. "It's all good. Give me a one-eightieth vertical thrust on navo. The red light overhead started to rotate and Dana could feel the slight change in texture as vacuum started to surround her suit. ." Hartwell said. . aye." Hartwell said. "Whoa there. Procedure Niner-Niner-Four-Four-Eight complete. "It's . "Begin procedure . Down and to port there were two ships Page 47 . "Complete." It made things safer but it sure too the fun out of life. starting to move forward." "Stabilize and drink it in for a minute. . Butseeing it was something different. Pumping down. "Holy hell. . aye. "Ready to step?" "Ready to step. "What do you do next?" "Procedure Eight-Seven-Four-One-Six-Delta. which shehad completed and verified." Dana said. "We need to get past all this crap to get to Twenty-Nine." Dana said. She knew that intellectually.

"Then let us. to work on their quals. They were almost microscopic. Those were three hundred meters long. the biggest true "ship" produced by humanity. Jutting up from the walls were three massive spikes. She was most of the way through quals. four Page 48 . Even theConstitution and the spikes didn't cast a shadow. More than three football fields in length." Dana said. to show that they'd mastered how to work with the shuttles in the real world. It had readouts of all the monitored systems." "There is that. None. But she wasn't prepared for the fact the interior was so shiny it was almost like a mirror. She was sort of intellectually prepared for that. light bulb "down" from their position. There were some tiny dots moving around on its surface and she realized they were other suits doing EVA." "How you doing. Parker?" CM1 Glass asked. All that A School could do was produce people who sort of had a basic understanding of the systems. whether for training or a "real-world evolution. "Think you can pay attention to exterior checks on the shuttle?" "I am prepared and ready to perform. "I am five by. "It's beautiful. occasionally. When she'd arrived on theTroy she had initially despaired of ever learning all the SOPs and processes necessary to do her job. But with no atmosphere and the reflection of the mirror-like walls. The bay was justimmense . "I wasn't expecting it to be beautiful." the FUN EAs and CAs were left behind with the non-shuttle personnel. clean heads or whatever else the BMs could come up with to motivate them to finish quals. As long as a supercarrier. But there was more that was throwing her. One was a freighter or an Apollo miner. What got her wasn't just the size. heading out into the bay. softly. make our way over to Twenty-Nine and actually get some work done. Then she realized they were about three kilometerslong. or sometimes the Black. you were a FUN: Fracking Useless Noob. They reached up through the interior to very nearly meet in the middle. That was a bit eerie.that looked like the sort of toys she'd played with when she was a kid. How to work with them in the environment of a permanent position was "makee-learnee" after you got to your post. But part of quals was." Parker said. slowly and carefully. called Troglos because they never got out of theTroy ." Thermal said. The truth was. Until you learned enough to not be a danger to yourself and others. examining her engineering screen. polish the brass. there was no-where for shadows to hide. Smaller. It wasn't much bigger. there wasn't time to teach all the procedures and processes involved in doing the job of a shuttle engineer in A School. EM. Take the engineering display. There was a God damned big. CM. she had no clue how big but it had to beimmense ." Dana said. The light filled the hold and reflected off the surfaces so there were no shadows at all. It looked about the size of her pinkie. Next to it was aConstitution class cruiser. That meant that when the shuttles went out.

North was the general area where the big ships hung out. It all added up. The blazing ball was held in place by a sculpted four-prong setting of nickel-iron that looked like an eagle or dragon's claw. avionics. She had finally looked up the full plan forTroy and been absolutely shocked. By the end of Phase One. South. There were entire "environment packs.hundred and twenty-eight. But all the packs had to be in place. Troywas broken up into six notional zones. Currently there were fourConstitutions and a newIndependence class frigate holding station in the Arctic. the one hundred meter diameter ball of "dirty" sapphire that provided light to the main bay. internal. Pulling the wall out only was going to happen once. North. a kilometer wide. And much of it interacted so you had to have some clue what the cascade issues of a failure might mean. The full plan was intended to take at least a hundred years. first. With launch systems to send them out without using the main bay doors. Perhaps too fully: the ball was hard to look at it was so bright. "Tick. piling up down there. was about to take place. East. The construction plans were barely in "Part One. There were plans to build internal bays for the Constitution Class cruisers as well as other combat and support ships. involving pulling out a chunk of the wall and installing the packs. on the shuttle. tock. There still weren't shuttle bays for the current Myrmidon complement and Zone One was eventually supposed to house. It was probably there to get ready for the pull. They were going to be shot out like missiles. bays and repair shops. On the other hand. She had been out in the main bay doing EVA work on the birds so many times the view had gotten common if not boring. a wing of Myrmidons. The light came from a four terawatt SAPL beam that reflected off of embedded "micro beads" of platinum embedded in the sapphire. There was an Apollo mining support ship hovering over in East. hatches. It fully illuminated the main bay. In the meantime the cruisers and frigates had to maintain station against the slight gravity produced by theTroy . But after a bare three months. Phase One was simply getting full support systems in place in Zone One. That was nothing compared to other parts of the plan. Power levels. South was the zone that had the main door. And it was only referred to as a rough plan because nobody knew how technology was going to change. West only had some piled up material that had been cut out of the walls. an entiretask force of ships were to be installed in the walls of the fortress. three full squadrons and all their support personnel and equipment. Gravitic tractor docking systems were being constructed down there by a swarm of bots and EVA personnel. East and West were mostly empty. relay conditions. here she was doing her final deploy qual. One and Two. The next big construction phase." prefabricated quarters. CM. West also had the Dragon's Orb. Phase One" of the full plan. The same plan Page 49 ." Dana said. It was hard to imagine the main bay ever getting boring if for no other reason than it kept changing. kilometer and a half thick plug that was currently the only way in and out of the battlestation. Zone Two was where most of the construction materials were piling up. the part that Dana was based in. There wasn't much going on over there and it was out of the way. "All the little bits ticking over?" Mutant asked. West.

" "So. tilting her head to the side quizzically. FUN. "I have no idea. does he like . "Is that a glass wall?" Dana asked. Vernon's tastes in such things. She recognized all the classes." Dana said. And it was painted bright white with an Apollo logo on the side. . "I'm funning you. her eyes widening. "Is he in there?" she squeaked. but it was clearly not steel.was in place for the shuttles." "Ihear he doesn't even have a girlfriend. the owner of the SAPL which was. Page 50 . It was reflective so you couldn't really see in. And from what I hear the Starfire is a flying boudoir. another qual. He rarely goes back to Earth. the personal transport of Mr. "A boudoir does not require women. . But you see him around. "That is in a class by itself." Dana said. . So I have no idea of Mr." Glass said. EA." Mutant said. He sort oflives on theTroy or in Wolf. He was the richest guy in the solar system. By swinging around." Glass said." Dana said." "I wasn't . guys?" Dana asked. "Thatis theStarfire . nothing than a gigantic mining laser and the visionary who had conceived and created theTroy ." CM1 Glass said." "Oh. "CM?" she said. Vernon was about as big a name as you got. They'd been looking at the port and base before." Glass said. It was parked on the Zone Two side of the bay apparently involved in some of the moving of materials. adjusting his vector slightly. . Tyler Vernon." Glass said. "I'm not the sort of guy who pays a lot of attention to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Mutant was able to get a position where they could see the starboard side of the shuttle." Dana said. "But don't get your hopes up. "He spends about half his time in a compartment in the civvie side of Zone One. except one. a graphic of a chariot towing the sun. The starboard side of the cargo bay of the shuttle appeared to be glass or sapphire. "Probably. moving back into his lane and out of sight of the sapphire bulkhead. . But it was going to be fun to watch. Like everything with theTroy ." "That sounds . . A big compartment that is appropriately fitted out for a multi-billionaire. They would eventually go out by a bypass system rather than flying around the main bay. the plan was beyond big. "That simply means it's very comfortable. The Myrmidons spent about half their active time training and the rest acting as "filler" tugs for the construction projects. He's not going to notice a lowly EA. chuckling. And occasionally support. at base. It might be a command ship for that matter. "Sapphire. lonely. "What class is that?" The shuttle looked like a Myrmidon but it didn't have the gravity grapnels.

don't go match-making with my EA. "I'm trying to figure out Paris' point. And the internal diameter is only seven hundred. Practically every conversation in the station was monitored by Paris but he rarely interjected. "My intent is more complex." Dana said. "That's nice." "Oh. which is thereal defense of the solar system." Paris replied. He spends much of his time alone. There's plenty of room. "That was not the intent." Glass said. I always hate it when the tunnel's full. andTroy . "Granted." Glass said. Entering the opening was to be plunged into blackness. "Fifty meter radius safety zones around those. So that's two hundred meters cut off." Dana swiveled her screen around to examine theStarfire again. He says that he is adjusted to that existence. "The Constitutions are a hundred and fifty meters in width. ." CM1 Glass said. but he created SAPL. "But I'm not a big brain AI so I'm going to ignore it for now. it is lonely. . frowning. "I think you stepped on it. CM." Dana said. "I suppose it might be situational awareness. grinning. He had little or nothing to do with developing the Constitutions. yes. CM. I think that Paris was making the point that knowing something about a guy who hasthat much power and influence is slightly different than knowing which movie star is cheating on which. thoughtfully. Vacuum didn't transmit light except in a straight line so the light from the Dragon's Orb was cut off abruptly." "It's a kilometer across." the AI commed. but when you're a very small boat negotiating around giants ." Glass said then paused." The AI cut the connection. Paris." Dana said." "CM?" "Vernon's . And. but his schedule is such that he rarely meets with appropriate females. leaning back. "He does not have a significant other. ." "Ah. Tyler's sexual tastes are heterosexual. Crowded is relative."Permission to enter a personal conversation?" Paris commed. He occasionally complains about that. Even with two or three across . not a klick. ." Glass said. "Paris." Dana said." Page 51 . "What I'm still trying to process is why Paris made the point tous . . "Maybe because weasked ?" Mutant had carefully traveled around to the West side to get to the door." "There are six SAPL beams coming through." Glass pointed out. "Vernon was the guy who created theTroy . avoiding all the other traffic in the bay. "No traffic." Glass said. having maintained it for over fifteen years. "Mr. .

"Good. she just wanted to give the Horvath some payback." Dana said. . . finally finding the "faulty" relay." Dana said. "Can't wait for the internal SAPL system to get done. If you pass this qual." Glass said with a sigh." "Nice. . Glass had put Dana through hell." Dana said as they emerged from the tunnel. But it wasfull of stars. "They intend to eventually drill SAPL conduits through the walls. "Thisis what makes all the other crap worthwhile. "Uh. Some of them would have been damned hard to find in arepair bay ! "The inertial system is up. "Depends on which way you're looking. Page 52 . you will be well on your way to being an Engineer First Class. "And now we get to work. and headed out into deep space. my. "We won't be turned into glue when . ." "Yes." "That will be nice. ." He engaged standard cruise power." Dana said." Dana said. Most of the time there was neither light nor gravity. Every square centimeter seemed to have some point of light in it. enigmatically. And whoever had built the failure tests was devilishly clever. In space. CM. She wasn't really big on space. "Those things are killers. they were everywhere. "Run them in through big collimeters on the surface and bounce them around the interior." Glass said. CM. ugh! Urk! Agh!" He slumped over to the side theatrically. ." Glass said. From Earth. confused." "Internal?" Dana asked. "And so we start. "Oh ." Glass said as the lights and grav cut out. engineer. "We will run through some standard shipboard emergencies and you will respond to them. we seem to have a failure . "I don't understand why they call it the Dark. most of the light from distant stars was filtered out by the atmosphere." the Coxswain's Mate said. ?" For four hours. This wasn't a porthole and it wasn't even a big screen. The shuttle up she'd been in a center seat and the Columbias didn't really have much in the way of portholes. softly. ninety gravities. That way they're not crossing the main bay." Mutant said. CM."I take your point." CM Glass said. following all procedures and standards. "Once we are clear of the busy parts we will go through some evolutions. huh?" Glass said. Sarin had gone over to look out the one free one but she hadn't bothered.

She had done the engineering side. all engineering issues rectified. was a matter of clambering hand-over-hand across the flight compartment to the appropriate panel. You noted in your repairs that the same micrometeorite that killed your coxswain also took out the navigation system and the hypernode." she said. . He appeared to have fallen asleep." Glass said." Parker was confused. Glass was still slumped over to the side. Coxswain?" Dana said. "Repeat. Parker." Dana said." Paris responded. The ship was starting to spin causing a rather unpleasant centripetal effect. with the ship spinning harder and harder. Then she had to start working the other problems ." "Confirm notional emergency. But one of the maneuvering thrusters was set to full power and she couldn't kill it from her engineer's position. With the hypercom out she couldn't even call to ask Hartwell what she was supposed to do. sitting up. But she didn't have any orders and couldn't recall a procedure that fit." she muttered." The air in the compartment started to pump down." Glass said. is up to you entirely. "Stupid coxswains always getting themselves killed. Coxswain terminated. I suggest a toothbrush. "You're talking to a dead man." Glass replied. "That's going to geteverywhere . "It's okay. "Uh . . "Andyou're going to have to clean it up. You are on your own. you know!" Dana said. and Dana was left in microgravity. "Your coxswain has bled out while you were fixing the ship. "I know. "Good luck."You noted that there is a large hole that is leaking volatiles from your coxswain's head. Paris." Page 53 . Control transferred to EA Parker. except for the "destroyed" hypercom." "CM1 Glass Four-Three-Eight-Two. "CM Glass. . I could always discharge the dead weight. . had control power." Glass said. "Am I supposed to fly back?" she asked. And the rate was increasing." "Notional emergency in shuttle Two-Niner. Then she noticed itwasn't microgravity. again. Paris. Getting to the relay. . Hypernode and navigation inoperable." Glass said. the lights and power went out. in fact. now. "Save some fuel. "He appears to have been hit by a micro meteor which had other issues ." "Well. You have a dead person and the bird. With that head wound he was going to be a vegetable anyway." "Dammit. notional. "What you do. CM1 Glass Four-Three-Eight-Two. ." She first determined that she. She got the relay to shut down by the simple expedient of pulling it. pulling out a drink bulb filled with a red liquid and puncturing it.

Which is . . Coxswain dead." "Didn't say it waseasy ." she said. But they had spent so much time under power that even the massive nine kilometer space station had disappeared. ." she muttered. After a while she managed to find earth. crap. . . "In plane and in vertical. That's one hundred twenty-nine thousand six hundred degrees to search. "Okay. aloud. She could probably tinker around the lock-out but that wasn't what the test was looking for. "Okay. The gate was ten kilometers across but the ring was only a hundred meters wide. glad the CM was at least willing to talk. If she could orient to the gate. It might be hard to spot. She had assumed when Glass headed out from theTroy he had headed Page 54 . "I will give you exactly one hint. . The gate stayed in a location between Earth and Mars. She found the sun." Dana finally realize that Glass just wasn't going to give her any orders. But at their distance. "Troy." she muttered." "I know he doesn't like the Dark. Without nav she had no real idea where she was." Dana said. It moved around due to the L point gravitational issues." Dana said. The only smart choice is to head to the nearest help. okay." Glass said. she had enough fuel to make it to Earth." she muttered. she might be able to spot the space globe. "Hartwell finally gave up on this one. All there was deep space all around her." Glass said. "Where isTroy ?" She had visual systems. "Nowyou know why they call it the big Dark. Danno. "Crap." "There are three hundred and sixty other degrees to look. "You are looking the wrong way. ."Tryit. she wasn't sure which direction it was from their current position." She oriented the ship towards the sun and started hunting. not nav. If worse came to worse. I can figure this out . Spin around. the width of the sun left enough wiggle room that even by turning the ship around and orienting it carefully she still couldn't spotTroy or the gate. Line those two up and she'd be between Earth and the gate. She'd been following orders for so long she wasn't used to making her own decisions. It wasn't actually in a stable orbit but it had gravitic controls to keep it in place. But she figured she'd probably get reamed out if she took the Myrm back to McKinley Base. Looking the wrong way. "Boat's damaged. Not only was it probably a dot. She'd been paying attention to engineering. in line with Earth. "Oh . Near not at.Troy ." Glass replied." The navigational system wasn't operating. Troywas near the gate.

towards earth. "And you're the EA." Glass pointed out. Get your notional emergency under control?" "All done." "Yourbird." Glass said. Engineer Apprentice. "Declaring notional emergency." "Your hypernode is out. Without figuring out their initial vector she'd have been lost in space until their power ran out." Dana said. Procedure Three-Six-Five-Four-Niner-Dash-Alpha. docking was always ticklish. Be aware of SAPL zone six thousand meters to your right. "Paris. "At some point. No major traffic in entry zone for one hour." Glass said." she said." "Docking maneuver complete." "Am I taking it all the way back to the dock?" Parker asked. somewhere. Please decelerate to a maximum of one thousand kilometers per hour before entering close approach zone. "up" in the plane of ecliptic." Dana said. my internals are going to get through. but I'm willing to bet Paris has some ears out fromTroy . Coxswain. "That depends on if you ding it on the way. Two-Niner. Then she started scanning around. It was so small it looked like a minor star." Paris said." "Coxswain EA Parker. "Shuttle Two-Niner continues under control of EA Parker. Have a nice day. Then by searching around some more she finally spotted theTroy . The thin. "Your bird." Glass said. "If I recall the manual. "Thank God. ninety kilometers per hour. high albedo. "EA Parker will observe all traffic notices and lanes. lifting her hands from her flight controls. Dana checked all her telltales and noted one red light. Page 55 . Shuttle Two-Niner. Maximum velocity in entry. "Paris. at about six kilometers. It was the gate that she spotted first." Dana sighed. Even with the automatic systems and the tractors." Dana said. They head in toTroy along this line. But they had kept a more or less straight initial vector from the door. Paris. grinning." "Discontinue test." "Two-Niner. And I'd really like to know where the SAPL beams are. She engaged power and started to head back at full cruise. aye. Or she just gave up and headed to Earth." Glass said. looking over her shoulder." Glass said. "Verify hard dock. She oriented to the sun again then rotated the boat so that the sun was "up" from her position. "The engineer does that. And the door was orientedaway from the gate. ring just leapt out.

. I hate to suggest . "And she does." "Booyah!" Dana said when the EM was gone. . Chief. . "Suit. eng and cox cross quals complete." Glass said. I'm recommending EA Parker to EN. ." "Boomer. But that's not why she made quals so fast." Hartwell said. "She's completed them sort of fast. . Chief. She's just . . "Does that mean . favoritism . "It's . sticking his head in Twenty-Nine." "Mutant?" the Chief said. they were justbulky ."We've got an environmental light." "If you mean she has a cute ass." EM1 Hartwell said." Hartwell said. Maybe pick up some lunch at the food court. Oh. She's pretty damned sharp." Glass said. . "Go down to the BX and get your EN tabs. But take some time getting your tabs. maybe a bit but just because people were willing to spend more time with her not let her slide. "Don't let it go to your head. And you found your way back to the barn. But next time you might want to repressurize the cabin." "What about the grav plate?" Dana asked. just say it. Youknow some of the idiots we've got who are full qualed." Dana said. frowning. I'm going to move you over to Thirty-Six. ?" "You're full qualed. ." Thermal said. "EM?" Dana said. good.cabin pressure?" "I'm going to give you a pass on this qual. He was better than most at having his ass kicked by a guuurl at nullball. She got along well enough with the CM3. The things were not only heavy." "Parker. "Leave it for AJ. I held her back on cox quals cause she was doing well enough I wanted to see how far I could push her. You've earned it. . She was removing a balky grav plate that was part of the ISS. She was about to kill the internal grav to get the damned thing out. "Hey! AJ!" SIX "SET CONDITION ONE! CONDITION ONE!" Page 56 . I'd take her as a cox OJT any day." Hartwell said. looking at Glass. Drill quals complete. "Once they're slapped on. ." Dana said." "Watch quals complete. "You did a great job on correcting all the crap I threw at you and at responding to the emergency. "This isn't your bird anymore.

" "Move Gopher to Thirty-One andDannoto Thirty-Three. "Tell Paris." Glass responded." Mutant replied. "Mutant. training evolutions . "Any word on Spade and Boomer?" "They were on the seventeen forty from Minot. helping the Apollo tugs close the plug. . . She was still not quite awake but when she'd first followed EM Hartwell to Thirty-Six she thought she'd never be able to find her way back. sir." "I will. And I've been given the word that they want every boat out there." Glass pointed out. As she was proving. sir. probably because the civilian side didn't have to deal with it. HORVATH SHIPS IN E ERIDANI. Another damned." Longwood replied. dogging her helmet while cycling the hatch to her quarters." the lieutenant commander said. "We're doormen. After a week she could do it in her sleep. What he had not mentioned. "Which is why I'm comming. ." LCM Martin commed. sir. ." Glass commed without hesitation. . Moving this thing is going to be a nightmare. "We've got a real world evolution. "Mutant. . maintaining her flight qual. mandatory "fun" time." Longwood replied. . was the Condition One. Longwood. sir." "Holy hell!" Dana said. "Danno?" the CO said. sir. And it gets us two more birds. "That seems like a bit of risk when we're still in the middle of a review from the lastincident. the damage control drills . "In Thirty-Three it puts her with Thermal to keep an eye on her. "Suity" had mentioned that there were regular air-loss drills. . She didnot need a damned drill every thirty minutes! "THIS IS NOT A DRILL. "battlestations." the commander of Charlie Flight commed." "We're down two coxswains. . sir. "Pick two ENs that are cox qualed. the launch drills." Mutant said. ." drills.Dana rolled out of her bunk and was half-way into her suit before she even realized the 1MC was blaring." "Her scores on famil were so high I'm wondering why she's an EA. SET CONDITION ONE ." "Do it. "If the Horvath come through any Page 57 . She had been working twelve hours a day on her bird. The benefit of all the drills became evident as she made her way to her bird.

an Alpha Flight Myrmidon plowed into a clearly marked SAPL beam. Go. uncomfortably. AJ was in charge of warming the boat so all he had to do was hit the seat and drive." "Yes. "Move it. her face suffusing." CM1 Glass said." When she got to Thirty-Three." Moose called. seal it and shag ass over to Thirty-Three.. The CO has signed off. Spade and AJ are all groundside . Unless they were going to activate her "familiarization" training as a coxswain which would be a . standing by the hatch to the shuttle bay and tapping people through. Despite keeping up with qual and her flight test. ." Dana said. You're going to drive Thirty-Three. so they were called to testify." Hartwell said. Boomer. It had missed a marked turn.I don't think we'll be getting them back. Coxswain. leaping through the airlock and catching the grab bar. It was his job to count through the personnel and make sure everyone was in place. Boomer was Stateside as a witness in an "incident review. She wasn't surewhy she was warming the bird." "Roger. CM. Her coxswain. . Danno!" "Roger. "Shut down your bird. . floating down the corridor to her bird. dogged the hatches and pounded across the cargo bay to her position." Dana said. Go. That's why you're inhis boat. walked to the hatch and pulled himself through." Thermal commed. He was hauling himself along hand-over-hand to his bird. Two of the Charlie Flight's coxswain's and two from Alpha had been in formation. "Sweet. "Danno. "Take a deep breath and heat that seat." Mutant said. "This is a dead easy evolution and Thermal's got so much time in these things he can walk you through anything you're uncomfortable with. "Float like a butterfly." Glass said." Dana said. Your bird. cutting to the chase. So even if there was a need for Thirty-Six. she wasn't going anywhere. EM1 Hartwell and CM1 Glass were waiting in the cargo bay. ." Mutant nodded. The Myrm had been completely destroyed to the point of scattering bits all over the bay. Danno. "Don't look so scared. Thirty seconds after hitting the bay doors she was in position and warming the bird. hit grav in a two-point stance. "You're the top rated EN for driving. nodding." Before she arrived." "We have a real-world evolution of helping the tugs close the main bay doors. "Parker." "Go. Danno. "You know we're short on coxswains.. She spun in the air and hooked another bar with her foot to get oriented then pushed off. Just hit your seat and drive. Coxswain. Page 58 . she wasn't exactly an expert coxswain. She pulled herself into Thirty-Six. The two man crew were killed. Coxswain.time soon." Dana said.

"incapacitated. Stay centered on the lanes. Fly. the truth was she'dwanted to be a coxswain. Lanes. EM." Dana said. I hate that sound. I'd be back on the station faster than you could say ‘incident. with a chuckle." Thermal said. however. She buttoned it down as more thumps sounded from down the tube." Dana said. The next time she was chewing gum and the hell with the helmet. And if I didn't think you could drive the bird." Dana felt a sudden thump and her stomach tightened."Bird's warm. She enjoyed the engineering. "And we are . giggling. She much preferred to fly the birds than fix them." "My bird. Dana. carefully backing away from the lock and yawing the shuttle to play follow-the-leader. It was the thump of undocking shuttles. On the other hand. Hook on. I want a tight. down and side-to-side. Your. But it sounded childish and idiotic. If she had been flying a simulator all week instead of maintaining Thirty-Six." "Right. "You want to inspect. "We're going to undock and follow in a line to the main hatch. Coxswain?" "I can't exactly do a walk around. undocking. up. yaw had to be controlled with finger controls on the joysticks. It was just her normal reaction to stress. coxswain. dogging the hatches. formation. It would be very nice to have the door closed by the time the Horvath decide to come through the gate. A bit.'?" "Thanks. "Your bird. However. The coxswain's seat for the Myrmidon was placed centerline of the bird. There were two joysticks that controlled forward. in the polite terminology of training. "This is a really simple evolution. Which she might have sort of been. aye. Which meant their turn was coming up. Danno. "Attention Flight. "Mutant's got good instincts. It was a complicated arrangement and she knew she really needed to be dialed in on it before she took a bird out. going to be birds all over the damned place when we get to the hatch. giggling again." the flight commander continued. There are." Hartwell said." Dana could feel her suit's environmental system trying to keep up with her increase in body heat and she didn't care. ." Hartwell said. Page 59 ." Dana said. "God." "It's all good. If he didn't think you could drive the bird. ." Lieutenant Commander Martin commed. But she'd been assigned to engineering and onlyfamiliarized with driving in case the coxswain was. just forward of the main drive plates and "up" in relation to the engineering position down and to starboard. The SAPL is off in the bay so we don't have to worry about that. you wouldn't be in that seat. "Justbreathe . solid." she said. wait for the word and then apply tow power. You'll have a latch point marked. She was scared spitless.

there are edges to space." Dana said. boat or driving. "Doing good." Dana said. Do not approach the edges unless you mean to." Hartwell said. she got a little less nervous. The space isbig . Better." "Right now the SAPL isn't on but I don't care." Dana said. there's a web of them you have to negotiate to get in and out of the door. She made the turn fairly close to center of the lane." Dana said. correcting some yaw that had crept in from somewhere." Dana said. Do not approach unless you mean to and are prepared. Note the SAPL zones?" "Yes. But you're seriously doing well. the next shuttle in line. "The point being that it's like any other form of driving be that plane. No sweat. In this case. than a couple of our regular drivers." Thermal said. though. "See." As she saw the CO's boat head into the opening. for once. "Seriously. "Okay. and conformed. but try to keep to the center. You're doing this like a pro and I don't blow smoke. focusing on driving. "Check the hatch indicators. chuckling. "The scale keeps throwing me. their actual velocity was higher than most race cars. Although it seemed as if the shuttles and tugs were barely moving. Do not approach the big red lines." Dana had already seen that and stopped her acceleration." Thermal said. They'll turn one or two off when aConnie orBusiness heads through butwe have to slip between them. good enough. But she still wasn't quite up on space driving and nearly forgot that she'd just keep going in that direction until they ended up in deep space if she didn't apply some countering delta-v. "?‘You all look like little ants from up here. mind you. She knew that "close" wasn't a good thing in space but she was inside and with as little training as she had she figure that was. She marked the velocity of Thirty-One. Then it slowed downmore . They say with pilots the most important thing is to remember that there are edges to the air. She just hated the sound. "I am a butterfly. . And overcorrected and had to correct again more carefully. Dana tried not to giggle again. There were shuttles and tugs moving in both directions not to mention the large SAPL safety zones and Mutant's comment on "crowded" suddenly hit home. Donot approach the big red lines. "No-go zones." "You're blowing smoke. "A little." Hartwell said. aye." "Check your seals. I hate to admit.'?" Hartwell squeaked. ."Coming up on a turn . The shuttles are stacking up." "Got it. Page 60 . Problem being that when it's on. those being land and space. "It's hard to grasp at first. But the CO's sixty-foot long shuttledid look like an ant entering the massive exit. There was actually plenty of room but if you made one serious mistake you were either going to explode from the SAPL or run into something at a closing velocity that was going to have the same result." Dana said. "Good turn. Get some brake in there. aye.

"That's close enough. You'll actually have to come down to it. She followed the track down until she was about two hundred meters from the door and slowed her relative motion to zero as she approached. marveling again at the view of deep space." "Aye. You don't want to crunch into it. "Spotlight coming on. EM." Dana said. The plug to fill the entrance wasimmense ." She couldn't even understand why. "That's our attach point.aye. "See the blue mark on the wall?" Hartwell said. EM." Dana said. aye. Page 61 . then back away slower than it's moving. that will transmit the wrong sort of motion and undo all the work that those tugs have been doing for the last thirty minutes. "Spread formation." Dana said. EM. ." "One-one-six reverse. setting the reverse. aye." Dana said. But then she realized that what she thought were dots of the other ships were . She had to yaw turn which was still the toughest part of the job but she stayed pretty much on track. Very softly." Dana said." Dana said." "This is always my favorite part. She still had graphic imagery and flight data but that was retransmitted. "We're about to go out in the big dark." Hartwell said. she figured she'd be back." Hartwell said." "Good girl. Dana quickly saw what the EM was talking about. stop your relative motion. Then it started creeping back up as the door was slowly being accelerated." They'd entered the tunnel and the light from the main bay was suddenly extinguished. . You want to touch it soft as a . "Quit enjoying the view. "We've got another turn coming up. "Yes. the door isalready in motion." the CO ordered." Hartwell said. . "Give me point one-one-six reverse delta. The spotlight was only so much help." Hartwell said." Hartwell said as the door approached to within fifty meters. What the hell. paying attention to driving again. All it did was illuminate the next ship a hundred meters ahead which already had its nav lights on. . She certainly didn't have visual. Dana carefully followed the marked lines in her screen. The view was glorious. Among other things. She let it come up then set the ship to creeping back at a half meter per second. "Be aware. for the first time sounding slightly uncomfortable. "Into the Dark. The dozens of attached tugs looked like bits of sand attached to it. People like Hartwell didn't really enjoy "The Big Dark. "Yep." "Roger.

Dana now had a target karat." Paris said." Dana said." "On it. "Fly to the target. ‘Yeah. no. Paris. "Mission of Charlie is to provide smooth. Ditto all the alternates that were considered. "You're doing good. EM.. "This will apply maximum value thrust to the mission." Longwood commed. Three. this is Dana our FUN. no. "You've heard my handle. "Using the grapnels. continuous. simply not gonna happen. . You haven'tbeen here long enough to get a handle." "We have to rotate the plug. . "Why isn't Paris just flying all the Myrms?" Page 62 . adjusting her vector." Hartwell said. "EM?" Dana said." The tug slid forward towards the wall of nickel iron." "Go. aye. Full power forward on my mark. you may call me Thermal. She applied power and the marking recticle slid off the karat. Just keep that. Okay ." "Got it. "Close enough. because there is now a permanent stop-loss and whether I like what I'm doing or not I can't get out of it. Therm . . ." He frowned and looked at his screen.Mark. Question. EM. alternative meanings that could get us in trouble with EEOC. EM. you understand?" "Fly to the target." Dana said. "So since you are my temporary coxswain until Boomer gets back. EM. power." Hartwell said." "Aye. "Danno is like a holding handle. the reason for the handle may be forgotten and as a handle it's not all bad. . the relative inertias are negative."Engaging grapnels. In the richness of time. yet. one." "Yes. . So I've come to the conclusion I'm stuck with Thermal." Hartwell said." "So I'm stuck with Danno for the rest of my career?" Dana asked. slowly at first then faster until it slammed into the wall. "We're not supposed topull . aye. She was figuring out that the target seemed to drift up and to port and was keeping mostly on target.' No. youaren't particularly useless and it has . "Danno isn't a handle.. It was actually sort of easy." Dana said. We should have slammed it. it takes an act of God to change them." Hartwell said. "Danno. two. we're supposed topush ? I take back what I said." "Myrmidons have a remote control function." Dana said." Instead of the previous flight lines. Danno is what we call you because we're too polite to call you FUN. Besides. "The thing you've got to understand about handles is that once they're applied. You haven't done anything stupid enough to get a handle.

The combination of the Myrmidons and the Paw tugs. "I suppose Paris could fly all the Myrms if he decided not to run the elevators. we wouldn't have any warning at all. I will now tell you." Hartwell said. EM?" Dana asked."Because Paris is doing about a billion other things." "Discontinue thrust. "Full burn reverse. which had much more thrust and tractor power. "Switching your port screen. aye. But having you doing this frees up cycles. "Full burn reverse. "Having humans do what humanscan do takes the load off Paris. "Why the gap." The schematic was of the overall plan to move the plug into position." Hartwell said. in an apparent reverse of when it was pulled out of the wall. aye. the battle systems. "There are two shuttles on their way from Earth." Dana said. "Thank you for the explanation. the air and water recycling. was going to leave it hanging in space with a gap. EM? Why?" "We've gotten the plug rotating. like a volcano. EM." "There are no stupid questions. cutting the power and going into reverse. Your backup. Page 63 ." Hartwell said. had gotten the five hundred and fifteen billion ton plug away from its attachment to the wall ofTroy and rotating in space." SEVEN "Holy cow!" "What?" Dana asked.is Paris. She was still managing to keep the targeting recticle and the karat together but she couldn't really pay a lot of attention to other issues. "Switching your screen again." Dana said." Longwood commed. And Parisis flying two unmanned Myrms that I know of." "Oh. . Speaking of Moose . The visual was of a pillar of fire. Paris said that the most he could manage was two and if the Horvath come through while we're doing this he's going to have to flip them out in a Dutchman. the STC . "They're hoping that they get back before the Horvath come through. Normally. . ." Hartwell said." Hartwell said. nodding. The rotation. Dana had a moment of the usual problem of scale until she realized the large objects around the pillar were Paws which seemed to be sucking the outgases from the volcano onto their forward plates. on the surface of what had to beTroy ." "Discontinue thrust. "But there are a lot of inquisitive idiots. ." STC stood for Space Traffic Control.

standing up and pulling out the tool kit. "What's with Paris?" "Like I said. ." "Not sure. back a few hundred meters. pulling back on her stick." Dana said. But . Imminent failure. "Power forty percent. scanning around." Hartwell said." Hartwell said. Request permission pull power on lower port grapnel. "Two hundred meters. ." "Back away. "Did the Horvath come through?" "No." "Cut power by forty percent." Hartwell said. aye. Will require reduced power." Longwood commed." Hartwell said. . aye." "EM?" "We're getting a flicker in one of the grapnels. "It seems like a bad time to cut a hole in our wall. "I can't keep on track at forty." Hartwell said." Dana said. I've never seen that beam before. A moment later he was back and slid into his station chair. All of the boats in the immediate area were still pulling away at the plug. She set her relative motion to Page 64 . Get us backed away from this cluster so I can work on the grapnel in peace." He unbuckled and slid out of the compartment." a robotic voice replied. "They'remining for some reason." "Roger. cutting the grapnels. . "Get it fixed as quick as possible. It's cutting the iron likebutter . nervously. backing away at a snail's pace. Ifixed that. Fast. I'll be right back. "Things must be getting complicated. ." Dana said." Longwood said. "Damn . "Can you fix it?" "On it. aye." "Five percent." "Paris." "Just stay in formation but ." "Roger. . "Repair if possible." "What are they doing that for?" Dana said." Hartwell said. dammit! Not a big problem." Dana said." "Disconnect. "Reduce to five percent back while I kill the grapnels. "I don't have traffic lanes. Thirty-Three. "Reduce power. The karat immediately started to drift off target. aye." Hartwell said."What's that?" Dana asked. "Command. There wasn't much traffic. "We've got an issue here." Hartwell replied. Just keep what you've got.

She'd barely gotten the access panel off. not engineering. Page 65 . Thirty-Three. "Danno." "Return to Base." Hartwell said. "Stand-by. aye. aye. scanning the traffic monitors." "Roger.match that of the drifting plug of nickel iron and then leaned back and crossed her arms. aye." Hartwell commed." Dana said. setting the transponder to "inactive" and getting out of her seat. "Paris." Hartwell commed." Longwood commed a second later. "She needs to be concentrating on flying. lower grapnel from your end. "Head to the barn. She'd set the traffic monitor to retrans to her plants but having the screens up was a much better choice." "Whatever." Hartwell commed. back in the chair. aye." "Roger. . aye. backing up some more. getDannoback in her chair. It's got a lot of mass." Dana said. Command . "Command. "I'm waiting for a vector from Paris." "Away from plug. return to base.No nearby traffic. vector to shuttle docking bay. Decline to perform a hot test during an active evolution. "This fault is only appearing at full power. "Dana." Paris said." "Roger deadline. "Remains in cabin. "And start tracing the power relays to the port. That kept them away from the controls." Longwood replied." Dana said." Hartwell commed. "Status?" "EN Parker is assisting in tracing of fault." "Back in the chair. She changed the transponder to "active" and leaned back with her arms crossed again. aye. Thirty-three. She had to admit she was happier sitting in the command chair. "Thermal." Mutant commed." "What are we waiting for?" Hartwell said. "Trace from my end. . We're deadline as a tug." Hartwell said. "Set the lights to unpowered. "There any traffic around?" "Negative." Dana said. "Dana. "I guess he's busy. aye." "Back in her chair." Dana said." "RTB." Hartwell commed about twenty minutes later." Longwood replied. "Just keep us away from that plug." "Set transponder to unpowered." "Thirty-Three." Dana said. Maintaining spatial awareness. resuming his seat.

Danno.." "Thirty-three. The suits included." Hartwell said a moment later." Dana said. EM." she said again. We used a lot of fuel tugging that chunk of iron but only about five percent of our tanks. referring to The Flying Dutchman. "I'm sort of shooting for a spot forward of their current position.uit function. breathing out in relief. We have enough to get toJupiter . "Explanation. "I know the answer to the question. Do we have enoughfuel for this?" "Uh . . "You are turning into a pretty good coxswain." Hartwell said. they'll be packed. "But you are going to have to dial in on a few things. Columbias only pull five gravities." Dana said. "This is a deep space rendezvous." Mutant commed. But not back." Longwood commed. . "Dutchman" was the general term. They had plenty to get to the rendezvous." "Rendezvous Shuttle Seventeen. So we've got enough. including the fuel necessary to drive the inertial stabilization system." "Thank you." "Max delta rendezvous. breathing deeply. But it was a bit hard to breathe. That would require accelerating to about half way to the shuttle and then "flipping" around to decelerate." Dana said. aye. Stand by vector Athena to rendezvous with Columbia shuttle Seventeen. Maximum power to turn over and max delta on reverse." Hartwell said." Dana said. Then she started trying to do the calculations. "Belay RTB." Hartwell replied. . Not quite half way because the shuttle was headed for theTroy as fast asit could accelerate.. get everybody into your boat.Kickthat horse. kick this horse. it has three hundred hours of fuel. and then get your asses back here as fast as you can move." Page 66 . "No. at a cruise power of ninety gravities. Confirm. "Danno." Hartwell said. "The answer is this is a Myrmidon."Call Paris again. aye." Hartwell said. Unfortunately. For a second there she was afraid they were doing a Dutchman. Which meant that three Gs pressed Dana back into her seat. but I'm not sure you do. ." "Thirty-three." "Fwhew." "Kick this horse. "Roger. "When fully tanked. The Myrmidons could pull four hundred gravities of delta-v. . the inertial controls could not handle quiteall the delta. Which meant they were going to have to overcome their own closing vector which was more fuel . so she wasn't having much trouble with the acceleration. applying maximum power. "Did you take the acceleration of the Columbia into your calculations?" Hartwell asked a moment later. yawing the shuttle around and applying power. aye. . EM. Command. for drifting away into space. "Uh . "We've been ." she said. breathing a sigh. ." Dana said. hard. checking her fuel state. They're afraid they're going to get caught in the cross-fire. Make the rendezvous. . "We're going half way to earth. "What thefrack ?" Dana got the downloaded vector and blinked.

Athena. "I missed that we're in Athena space. Take that out and there goes your STC." Hartwell said with a chuckle. He handles SAPL. "You are most welcome." Dana said." Hartwell said. A modified flight-plan has been transmitted. " "Wow. in fact. He will do the docking. and what's Athena space?" "Paris handles the STC aroundTroy and the gate. They were barely going to be able to make rendezvous. When Troy gets to the point of being able to fight that is. "Classified. EA Parker. You would have overshot by about fifty thousand kilometers but with the power of the Myrmidon you could have caught up quite readily. "Not surprising since you never completed the full coxswain's course. "And your actions may save many lives. "Paris?" "This is Athena. Athena takes over." Dana said. It is. You will do fine." Hartwell said. "Feel free to concentrate. Athena. They're both US military AIs." Hartwell said. Athena. pick everyone up and get back to theTroy in two hours. is more than enough time. "She sounds like my Aunt Marge. And welike it that way." Dana did some rapid calculations and tried not to squeal." "Roger. but the negotiations have been held up foryears . "Thank you for your assistance. It sounded like how youwanted your mother to sound." Dana said. battle gets away from Paris." "?‘Be withGod '?" Dana said. "You're doing remarkably well. "Request some help with a flight plan." Dana said. without the slightest trace of reproof in her voice. Uh . "Yeah." Athena said. smiling." "Coming up on turn-over. Page 67 . She's something. "As inreally classified. "Athena handles the rest of the system. if."Paris?" Hartwell said with a sigh. very good given that you were guessing. given your demonstrated flight ability during the previous evolution. Besides. The shuttle would have taken an additional four hours to reach the Troy. "Your flight-plan is sub-optimal. When." Athena replied. Argus is the Apollo Mining AI. There are three or four sites mentioned but nobody really knows." "Where's Athena?" Dana asked." Hartwell said. EA Parker. trying not to hyperventilate. young lady. There's talk of getting a unified civilian STC AI up and running. It was warm and wise sounding and Dana felt a shiver go down her back." a female voice replied. Be with God. . You will begin turn-over in seventeen minutes. You will have six minutes to complete the maneuver which. It is estimated that the Horvath will emerge in no more than two.I will put you in communication with Columbia Seventeen when you are on approach. they'd want the location of the AI core to be known. The shuttle pilot has superior experience with docking maneuvers. .

" "And now you're enjoying the brake. "Uff da. ." "Theyare slow. We were feeling all lonely out here. "Stand by for dock." Dana said. It was programmed in so she didn't even have to hit a button. they generallywork ." Hartwell said. "This isn't the shuttle Spade and Boomer are on. anyway. stupid. Page 68 . Keep it simple." Dana said. They're also overpriced compared to what we get from Granadica." the engineer said. Danno. standing up." the pilot said. She also had it turned so their docking bay was pointed." Hartwell said. "Just high tech." Dana said. ." Thermal said. "I was enjoying the break. "I mean ." "You'd think a fabber would get things right every time." "Your dock. "Two minutes to burn." "Shuttle Seventeen." "Roger. "What?" "Braking maneuvers?" Dana said." she said. Dana cut power on the mark and yawed the shuttle carefully around until it was on vector. "They're only still flying because Boeing had a contract for two hundred of them. "I need to go play doorman. Athena had clearly looked at the quality of coxswain and settled for KISS. "Good to see you." "Right. Damn these Columbia class." "Where are they?" Dana asked. Of course. "Confirm my dock." Hartwell said. "They're obsolete. Thirty-Three. more or less. Seventeen. it's afabber !" "Ain't magic. Myrmidon One-Four-Three-Charlie-Thirty-Three." Hartwell commed. "Very funny." "And . . enjoying the relatively low gravity. burn. "Hell." "Yeah." Dana said. "Approach for docking." Dana said." the shuttle pilot commed. "Further back. Earth normal was feelinglight . "Past turn-over but still further out. at the shuttle's." Dana had managed to get the Myrmidon within fifty meters of the shuttle and stationary once the shuttle cut power. And sometimes it has issues.There was a way to do a complicated skew turn while under power that decreased the period of turn-over and was extremely efficient." Dana commed. .

Then the hatch indicator light went off. "Command. We're just about as fast as a Horvath missile. She felt the impact of the shuttle docking and saw the light go on for the hatch opening. "More every second we accelerate. "Go for full burn." Dana said. She set the accel for one hundred gravities which was about the maximum that the inertial system could handle without going into high grav conditions. Thirty-Three." Longwood said." "Dammit. Thirty-Three." Dana said. "And they're in." Longwood commed. "Including three with eggs." "Negative. the vibration of feet and the increasing sound of voices. "I mean. Fifty-seven minutes. Thirty-Three." "Command. But if the Horvath come through. "All the chicks onboard." Hartwell said. faintly through the bulkhead." "Standby. He slid his shuttle over and docked in what looked like one smooth motion." "An hour and a half. "Tell them to hang on." Dana said. . "Maximum burn. "What's our time to make theTroy ?" Hartwell said." "Go. Thirty-Three." "Roger. She could hear." Thermal said. There was a definite note of frustration in the transmission. She wasn't sure what to do so she just held her seat." "Paris. "Assuming a simple turn-over . All the indicators were in the green. I need to call command.She had to admire the finesse of the shuttle pilot." "Too long. backing away from the shuttle and heading forTroy . "We're undocked. closing the hatch to the flight compartment and taking his seat. ." Longwood replied. though." Page 69 . Advise. Thirty-Three. But don't hammer it. Keep the accel down to standard. "Advise best choice run for the World. "Too bloody long. We can also stop and try to pick up Twenty-Three passengers. we'd be runningaway . if we turned aroundnow ." Dana said. Tell me the door is still open." Hartwell said. Paris. We're holding the door open foryou. Medical will be standing by." Hartwell said. I can slingshot for that matter. "We've got three pregnant women on the manifest." Hartwell said. There are allsorts of choices if we just want torun . "At this accel." Hartwell said." "What's up?" Dana said." "Thirty-three." "WE could head for Earth.

coolly." Paris said turning metallic. anyway. "Permission." Dana said." "Do I have permission to try?" Dana asked."Roger." Hartwell said." "My math brain just went to bed and pulled the cover over his head. abort. "Abort." Hartwell said. "I don't have enough burn to abort." Dana said." "Roger. headed for the narrow slot left at the opening. She spun the craft in space and accelerated for the rapidly closing gap.granted. they were going to be an almost unnoticeable smear." "Not a problem. "What are you doing?" Hartwell asked.." Dana said." The Myrmidon had not been configured with grav couches and there were more people in the compartment than it would have had couches. The maximum normal velocity in the tunnel. I'm doing this by the seat of my pants." Dana said. "We've got incoming Horvath missiles. cool again. She was doing nearly ten times that velocity. Insufficient time to make the gap. "And about thirty seconds to make it through the gap. "Paris. "I'm going to miss the big chunks of metal. "Tell me you can hit that. Horvath emergence." "Thirty-Three. "It's either shoot the gap or impact. "I can hit that. The shuttle was decelerating at four hundred gravities. "And by hit I mean miss the big chunks of metal." the metallic voice said. "Understood." "Oh." The door was visibly closing as the tugs went to full power." Paris said. If the five hundred and fifteen thousand tons of iron closed on the sixty ton shuttle. The shuttle shot into blackness and all that Dana had was her instruments to guide her..You do the math. was ninety kilometers per hour. too calmly. bloody hell." Hartwell said. Dana shot out of the gap and didn't even notice the door clanging closed. when the plug was out. All she could do was try to keep to the center of the rapidly narrowing gap." Hartwell said." Dana said. There weren't even leading shuttles to follow." Hartwell said. Get the guys against the steel. "Tell the cargo to back up against the back wall. abort. "They're not going to hold the door open for us. "Just make sure nothing breaks or I'mnot going to miss the big chunks of metal. She was far more interested in Page 70 . Which is a kilometer and a halflong .Door is closing ." Dana said. The plug had been moved into position to close while they were gone and there was only a two hundred meter gap left. cutting power. "I've got seven kilometers to brake on the inside.

"Don't hit the . She had to vector off-brake to avoid it." Hartwell said. "I am cool." Hartwell said. . "Fifty bucks it's plasma." "Youbastard !" "Collision alarms." "You're on. Skewing off-vector had caused them to go out of pocket to avoid impacting on the far wall. forty-three. She managed to figure out the powered skew turn maneuver by sliding under the SAPL zone. . SC 6." "Got it. "I'm not sure whether to give her a medal or Mast. .. . sixteen. . sir. sir" CM1 Glass said." Lieutenant Commander Martin said. And like anyone else not directly involved in the battle. "I'll take that." "I don't think we're going to make it. causing the pseudo-gravity in the shuttle to skew all over the place. "Be aware. ." Captain Russ Kepler said." she muttered. he was watching the crazy assed pilot of 142/C/33 shoot across the main bay like a comet. "Flight emergency in main bay. I am a butterfly ." "That is the craziest thing .. please. . "Where thehell . ." Dana said." Dana said. "Oh ye of little faith. She actually passed through the edge but the marked zone was a hundred yards across and the beam was less than ten centimeters. "If she doesn't crash." Lieutenant Commander Carter "Booth" Bouthillier was the tactical officer of the Constitution Class CruiserJames Earl Carter . I say the medal." Dana said. She ignored the screams from the cargo." Paris transmitted. "I'm green. ." "SAPL!" Hartwell shouted. Page 71 . . . . The commander of theCarter was watching the main tactical screen with his arms crossed. "All vessels. "Seems to be doing okay so far. "I am a butterfly . Avoid sectors seven." "She had permission to try." "Support beam. forty-four. ?" "See it. Then she applied maximum braking power. Plenty of room." "The latter is looking increasingly unlikely . sir. the pilot is an EN cross trained as a coxswain.the great big red line directly on her vector." Booth said." Dana said.

vector to shuttle bay. the useless. shaking her head. Assault Vectors were the primary Rangora superdreadnoughts for the breaking of enemy gate defenses and the casualties ran into the tens of Page 72 . "Declared Emergency. They must be stupid to do their. It was joked. maximum pressure to cargo bay. bringing power back up." "Paris. entirely voluntary. "We deliver the mail." "Oh! Ow!" Booth said. And if she could get to Bay One before they lost all their onboard air the cargo would survive which was the task and standard. "See if Medical needs assistance.Direct vector Bay One. CA Parker. Hitting was going to suck." Kepler said. "That had tosmart !" "And there were pregnant women onboard. Every technological civilization required them if they were to survive for any length of time. "Barely. TACO." "Max pressure cargo bay. "Nice knowing . I'll have medical standing by. . . "Roger. among the crews of assault vectors." Dana said. must be eliminated to prevent the whole of society from becoming weak. Paris. the stupid. stupid and useless. that they were part of that eugenics program. Thirty-Three. He braced himself in his chair. "Collision alarms. But it was limping along. Engineer. Especially for the cargo. Very good job. jobs.Thirty-Three was already pulling three gravities even with ISS." Captain Kepler said. aye." "That's fifty bucks you owe me. aye." "We're still up?" Dana said. From time to time the weak." Paris said." The shuttle handled like a brick after the impact. "We're outgassing and we have volatiles as cargo. They were a toxin that must be purged. Technology meant that the weak filled the civilization like fat upon the belly of a Glatun banker." Hartwell said. Good job." Hartwell said." Hartwell said." "Thank you. "We're leaking air in the cargo bay. "Take a check?" EIGHT "Major To'Jopeviq! Come in! Come in!" The Rangora had occasional eugenics periods. holding out his hand.

"Well. "Tell me this team is a command. "A blunt one. "This has to do with that littlenothing system?" "Terra. sir. We intend to crush them in less than a year. but a point. What I cannot stress enough is theimportance . instead of sitting. "But donot dismiss them. his one remaining real eye gleaming. affect the war. Major. "I see you're one of those." "You have a point. You are about to be brought into secrets known only to the high command. "How do you take it?" "Red. General. hissing again." the major said. you are a hindrance to this task not a positive. He handed the officer the steaming mug and sat down. hissing in humor. "Terra?" Major To'Jopeviq said. he ended in command of the five hundred survivors of the AVStar Crusher . hissing again. But they just crushed the latest Horvath attack with an ease that you should find frightening. Barely twenty years from first contact and several of those as satraps of the Horvath. from one of the Twenty Families that were the nobility of the Rangora Imperium. "Because you have given me nothing but generalities. You will see your classmates and nest mates conquering as Rangora ought while you languish in a minor little study group." Star General Chayacuv Lhi'Kasishaj chided. Please. The Terrans are infants on the space lanes it is true. In the last attack. aghast." the major said. unlike the Major. Major." The general dialed in on a small star system to the side of the Glatun Federation. A tad out of shape he nonetheless could have the major buried under a rock with a word. Do you understand me?" "No. The Star General was. Major Egilldu To'Jopeviq was the survivor of five assaults upon lesser races. If you are not afraid of the sudden appearance of a polity with such combat ability. "Nor does it." Major To'Jopeviq said. It is all friends here.thousands. they will be for nothing if your group does not do its job. upon the Lho'Phirukuh system. we can work with that." The general got up and poured some skul. And given that there are about to be great actions in the galaxy. saluted with a slight mechanical whir from his prosthetic right arm and a thump as it hit his chest. Here are the specifics." General Lhi'Kasishaj said. "We are not under observation from the Kazis. that you are a forgotten hero. His office was tastefully but expensively decorated which pretty much defined a son of the Families." the general said." the general said. sit. you are here to form a team for what will seem to be a minor matter. sir. He even sat at attention. "Major Egilldu To'Jopeviq. sitting down. you may feel. reporting as ordered. "In six months the Imperium will be at war with the Glatun Federation. Your mission is otherwise." The general brought up a holo of the local star area and pointed at the Glatun Federation. For though there are soon to be great things done by the Imperium." Page 73 . directly. "Long live the Empire!" "Major. Very well. at times." "That is what I have to tell you it is not. The major walked into the star general's office and." the general said." the major said." "Great actions as you say. The Star Crusher had entered the gate with ten thousand personnel.

Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof has the overall command of the Glatun attack. You will be briefed on what is known and have a team to determine how dangerous the systems actually are. It was clearly taken shortly after the battle because the wrecked ships were still sparking and there were occasional explosions. General. It did not mean he Page 74 . And I am putting you in charge of examining them in depth. Small boats were already moving amongst the wrecks and To'Jopeviq recognized the signs of boarding parties. Of course." the general said. part of your team will be a member of the Kazi. I am in charge of the Terran portion as well as others. "And while I may seem to be in a high position." the Star General mused." the general replied. that just means that rising in stature is harder because the competition is just as ruthless and experienced as you are. we really don't want them having time to prepareoffensive structures. "You may learn this someday to your disservice. ToDevastators they are clearlyvery dangerous." "The Horvath had lost control of the Terran system so. have defenses far in advance of what they should given their relative youth. hissing in humor again. Thus as a small part of the overall attack against the Glatun Federation. it was a mixed curse. The Terrans. "I will not let my assumptions affect this task. they were probably just taking surrenders given the devastation."I understand. My point was that if they can prepare such formidable defenses. The Kazi were the Imperium's political police as well as its intelligence arm. "One occasionally has to stick one's neck out to advance. a nickel-iron asteroid that has been inflated into a battlestation of sorts. Please enlighten me. being good allies and having no real need for our remaining Devastators. there is a codicil to take the Terran system." "What did this? Do we know?" "A combination. And they are very good at making their own predictions and know when to stick their necks out and when to hold them in. watching the holo. To'Jopeviq recognized their necessity. Think not just of direct assault but political assault." To'Jopeviq said. "Being right is sometimes the worst possible thing you can be. On that subject. to develop their Order of Battle better than our current estimates and look at key players in the system. clearly. This is what they got. General." General Lhi'Kasishaj said." "If you so order. I have been given the task of preparing the attacks that are scheduled to be sent in against Terra. stoically. And they have a very capable mining laser using solar pumped power. Five Conquerors and three of their own pitiful ‘battlecruisers. I stuck my neck out arguing against supplying the ships to the Horvath." Major To'Jopeviq said. also. especially for controlling conquered populaces who tended to be restive." the major said." "We are going to attack them as well?" To'Jopeviq asked. My point was that the Terrans were a formidable threat and that giving the ships to the Horvath was tantamount to losing them.' They sent them into the Terran system with the unquestioned assumption that they were about to take the world and the Horvath intended to exterminate that perfidious race." The view in the holo was now of drifting wrecks." "And you were right. And in this case. I want you. "Thirty-two Devastators. Determining how formidable their defenses really are and how to defeat them." the general said. we loaned them most of the ships we had in storage. "In part that is my doing. "They have created a most bastardized fortification on the gate. "Eventually.

This one was smaller than normal." To'Jopeviq said as he entered the offices they were to use. rarely clearing a meter and a half in height and with much smaller and finer scales. better." To'Jopeviq said. hissing again." the general said. he also knew that the female wasn't really a Navy Lieutenant. "Good to meet you." the lieutenant said. "I would much rather be on an Assault Vector. The combination made the salute he returned slow and somewhat distasteful. "Don't look so glum. But this is part of preparing the battlefield. Rangora females were much more petite than their male counterparts. Major. Your job is to ensure that when we enter the system." "You do not care for this assignment?" Beor asked. "Lieutenant Jith Beor. waving his hand at the door. "You are the bluff warrior who longs only for the sting of battle. "Getting a Kazi assigned to you means you're important! I have them around me like flies! If I had a minor granddaughter left I might marry her off to you! You're advancing!" "Yes. "We're rather close to the center of power." The lieutenant in the general's outer office was that oddest of things. saluting." To'Jopeviq said as they walked down the hallway. we will be fully prepared to destroy their defenses and take it without losing an entire fleet. get to work. She barely came up to To'Jopeviq's waist. we'd be better off in there. on a different one." To'Jopeviq said. sir. "I am your administrative assistant for this project. "So. And with that realization." "Yes. sir. He wasn't used to dealing with Kazi." Page 75 ." "Lead on.Lieutenant . sir. eh?" "Being close to the center of power is somewhat like being close to an unstable laser emitter." To'Jopeviq said.Lieutenant . "And I see we're alone. Major. It already had his name on the door. heartily.liked them." Beor said." the general said. you really aren't used to being near the center of power. almost a dwarf. sir. belying every word with his demeanor. "If you're going to discuss what I think you want to discuss. gesturing to his office. "I prefer to be on the other end of the ship." It took To'Jopeviq longer than normal to make the realization that when the general mentioned his "assistant" the senior officer was pointing out that the assistant was more like his control. Or." the general said. "Do you know where we're setting up?" "Just down the hall." the female said. gesturing to the door. a female officer. "And you don't care." "If you think so. "Your new ‘assistant' is waiting. Lieutenant.

To bring alternate intelligence and alternate thoughts to this planning group. "As far as I know it is not monitored by anyone." Beor said. thinkers. "And so you don't have to worry about it so much. "Don't push your luck. Oh. "When we are in public. ." the agent said. of course." To'Jopeviq said." Beor said. to handle your paperwork. "If you mean to ensure that there is no indiscrete sentiments." Beor said. To'Jopeviq. we'll be getting to work. But you are hardly a threat to the Imperium. "In part because no-one has taken a close look at the Terran system. I am not here as your political officer. "Being gathered. By this afternoon." "So ." "That could be fun. that sort of thing. Major. They simply need a bit of watching to make sure they don't go too far." "Where's the rest of the team?" To'Jopeviq asked. "What's your real rank?" "That is not your concern. Such people are useful." "Will it be a Rangora force?" To'Jopeviq asked. my cover is to be the star-struck young lieutenant working for the handsome and virile hero." Beor said. The sort of people who questioneverything ." "That's what's going to make it so fun. ." "Doctor. though. "I swept it rather carefully and it is shielded." To'Jopeviq said. there are a couple who are on the questionable list." To'Jopeviq said."Because only the Kazi have this room monitored?" To'Jopeviq said as he sat behind his desk. "I'm not actually star struck. I'm here to be the Kazi liaison—there are pieces of intelligence you may not be able to get through normal military channels—and to bring some alternate thinking into the group. but only because they are . though." "And toweed out alternate thinking?" To'Jopeviq asked." "This is Doctor Thiolh Avama. "Of course. Quite the opposite. In fact. "He is a specialist in xeno-history and has recently written a paper on the Terran system and human social interactions." Beor said." Beor said. move your papers. "Or more stinking. "that is a standard part of any Kazi's job. . So you can do the job of figuring out how to take the Terran system without losinganother forty ships. is as I stated. hissing in humor. Your loyalty is unquestioned. To'Jopeviq. I'll be taking care of payroll. ." "So you see everything?" To'Jopeviq said. "Any initial thoughts?" Page 76 . nodding his head. As is the loyalty of most of this team. My main mission." Beor said. And. "We're the first. cowardly Horvath?" "That has yet to be determined. I will treat you with the exact respect you are entitled by your rank and your experience. sitting down without being asked.

" Toer said." Avama said. There are few or none on Terra who do. They constantly attempt to restrict their warfare. humans firmly deride and avoid any conflict with a material or even strategic basis. stocky." "And the American military exists purely to perform these ‘actions other than war?'?" Toer said with a scoff. musingly. charmingly. can you explain how the Terrans wiped out a fleet of. shrugging. "It outnumbers or outclasses the rest of the world's militaries combined. more elite.' These are such things as nation building and humanitarian support missions." Avama said. This is what the militaries of most of the great polities are used for much of the time. They have not yet gone through a coalescence period being broken into numerous tribes that are separated into nation-states with varying degrees of political power and economic influence. even having many thousands of regulations regarding war that it might be fought. but they have no real stomach for war. "Just dreaming. battleships with a mining laser?" Page 77 . when absolutely necessary." To'Jopeviq said." the academic said." "If you observe their many broadcast channels." "You're dreaming. . "They clearly separate what they consider ‘good' war and ‘bad' war among the higher quality polities." "And if anyone had paid attention to it. ‘operations other than war." "All of that being said. Mr."The first thing to understand about Terrans." To'Jopeviq said. Frankly. trying not to sigh." "Gentlemen." Avama said. Rangora. The Americans bluff and are more than willing to bully lesser polities. The better. "They truly believe that war is a thing of the past. "is that they are societally and politically complex. They even have a term." "Analyst Deegh Toer of the War Intelligence Agency. a reasonable negotiated surrender is the most likely outcome of this conflict. "Not at all. innocent. "The overthrow of a vicious dictator who was slaughtering his own people. chidingly. . "this is clearly not the case. eat and breathe war to an extent it's hard to find outside our own blessed Imperium. "We are getting ahead of ourselves." "If you had ever met any American diplomatic personnel. in the most peaceful possible way." "Explain the Iraq Invasion!" Toer said. peaceful and naïve. "The tribe called Americans also believed he was a material threat. "He was part of the first team to do an analysis of the Terran defenses. "The humans areanimals . They live. Toer." "Peaceful war is a contradiction. And since they got into space it is the lead military inthat front." Toer snapped. admittedly second class. you would know that they are. They have a long history of territorial aggression but always seek to control and even eliminate such actions ." Avama said." "Totallydisagree. introducing the short." Beor said. They are a race of evolutionary herbivores rather recently shifted to omnivorous consumption. the Horvath wouldn't have entered the system in such low force. the Terrans are an essentiallypeaceful people.

please. which was barely operational." To'Jopeviq said. ostensibly. During the last battle." Dr. they are mining it also. to separate metals. "You can use it for the purpose but it's sort of over classed. glaring at the academic. They move the light around the system for. Which is it'sprimary . Avama said. "If this thing uses mirrors." To'Jopeviq said. "They are now getting most of their material fromTroy . holding up his hand. Avama pointed out."Calling the SAPL a mining laser is like calling a Devastator a freighter. and very inexpensively. That VLA captures sunlight and concentrates it on the Beaufort's Distributed Array or BDA. Good luck." Toer said. "Troy?" "A mining program. it should be reasonably easy to take out. Toer." "Who are using it to produce warships and defense stations." Dr." "The main company which owns the system uses it extensively. "Very clearly adefense program. along with spin processing. He is new riches from after the first contact. personnel centers. The BDA then concentrates it more and bounces it up and down to more VSA mirrors scattered out of the plane of the ecliptic. "But not aserious personality. Best bet is to expend your missiles on trying to take out all the mirrors. "They use the laser." To'Jopeviq said." he continued. "They don't." the analyst said. "Just target the mirrors. The ‘mining' is burning our missile and laser tubes. They have become a major supplier of materials to the Glatun. Avama pointed out. "A major financier." Toer said." Toer said. "Theysay it's a battlestation! The plans are on theirhypernet !" "Doctor. for mining purposes. The SAPL consists of a Very Large Array of mirrors scattered near their sun." Dr. Avama said. "purpose. "That's not a mining laser." "Vernon?" To'Jopeviq said. that's a weapon of doom!" "Seventy petawatts does seem a bit strong for a mining laser. "They don't need seventy petawatts of power for mining!" Toer snarled. mining purposes.Troy will be supplied from a distance by the SAPL which will have a stable aim point and can send power from as much as four light seconds away. Avama said. what isTroy ?" "Troyis a NI asteroid they inflated into a battlestation. "It's a frickingbattlestation !" Toer shouted. yes. "Mr." Page 78 ." Toer replied." "Which is whereTroy comes in. theTroy . that bastard Vernon won't quit making the things. But otherwise unimportant." Dr. And the mirrors can move around while supplying the power. But it has kilometer and a half thick walls of nickel iron. use it all at once. So you can throw lasers at them all day and not get them. And they normally have several projects running at once. ship bays. was used as the final focus engine for the SAPL. normally. "And." Dr.

currently. "I know quite a bit about it." Toer said. "How much more important does a personget ?" "SAPL. Start an asteroid spinning on one axis." "My father is an asteroid miner. "And knowing that bastard Vernon. "The laser tubes. Heat. excitedly." Dr. "Entrances?" "The missile launch tubes. Avama said. The metals separate out." "Forty?" To'Jopeviq said. "Kilometer and a half of nickel iron?" "Kilometer and a half. Avama said."He created SAPL andTroy ." Dr. "If they complete phase one. Absent that my analysis is if they get even their phase one plans. "But you need cheap laser power." Dr. You can then cut the metals off." Toer said. Which is big and hard to close. ." Dr." "I understand. though?" "Take a big laser. There weren't." Dr. nodding." "Yes. What is spin processing. Eventually the plans include ship launch tubes. Avama said." "Which they cannot possibly produce." Toer said." Toer said. you might have a chance. "once you think about it." To'Jopeviq said. a successful assault will require forty Assault Vectors. "Which. he's not going to settle for one ." To'Jopeviq said. Terra has." To'Jopeviq said. TheStar Crusher had been part of a fleet that includedfive Assault Vectors." Toer growled. "Which is going to take them a while." Page 79 . . "The one fabber they have is old and pretty much on its last legs. It was the largest concentration of AVs in Rangora history. not bothering to look around. Avama said. Avama. It's one of the reasons I find the culture so fascinating . "They have Glatun fabbers and a twotrillion ton asteroid to mine." Toer said." "Which the humans get from their sun. And the main door. is a rather elegant idea. "They're building a new one. "As you say." "That is elegant. But their eventual plan is for ninety SAPL emitters." "Uses large annie power pumped laser systems. Mine and smelt in one. forty-eight missile launch tubes and a magazine with two hundred and fifty thousand missiles. . "It's a very unusual approach and has quite a bit of economic consequence if you think about it. If you can get in before they close the door. I'm no great expert but most asteroid mining . forty AVs in the Fleet." Toer said. "Chunks are mined off of the asteroids and fed to smelters and fabbers using gravity tugs. . obviously." To'Jopeviq said. It will eventually form a sort of plate.

You. I'd like those in no more than a week. It was that or impact the back bulkhead. So they had to drift the rest of the way in. "Iwas the crazy shuttle pilot. "What did I say?" Dixie asked. We need to look at every side of the puzzle. For now." Lieutenant Dixie Ellen Pfau. a cracked cranium and three women in premature labor. holding his head in his hands." "Good point. MD. And come in for a hard drop landing from about six feet when the guys running the bay turned on the grav. I'd like you both to write initial estimates of the Terran war capacity and current defenses as well as political will-power. Two hundred and fifty thousand missiles? I'm stupid but notthat stupid. are going to keep working on this until you know what is needed. "You can expect a rather pointed letter being sent to your commander through channels."Gentlemen. "They would have made their decision. I look forward to working with you. Pfau said." "Then perhaps we shouldfirst look at how to prevent them from completing their tasks." Beor said. amazingly enough." Dixie said." Dana said. The shuttle had made italmost all the way to Bay One before giving up the ghost. Engineer. It was a long way from the Mayo Free Clinic but it had some similarities. on the other hand. And she'd learned to read body language a bit better along the way. the picture of health." he said." Dr. NINE "You are. "Seventypetawatts ? That's as much as the total output of an AV. When we have those we can start to try to get some agreement. She knew she'd messed up the cargo but she had been reliably informed they were all alive. Because you know the people who will be doing the assault and care about them. "I see we have some differences of opinion and I find that to be good. "This is not my idea of being a major. Thank you for your time." To'Jopeviq said. "And if you can avoid crazy shuttle pilots in the future. turned in a paper and gone back to what they'd rather be doing. trying not to clutch his head. you might continue to be. Not themain gun. was one of many doctors being directly commissioned by the Navy. What was anengineer doing flying a shuttle?" Page 80 . The mail made it even if it was a little tattered. gesturing at Dana's suit." Beor suggested. lifting his head. we've got four broken limbs. ma'am.all the guns." To'Jopeviq said." "I don't think I can do this. With all the bumps and bruises it was a bit harder than normal. "Well. Thermal had shut down the reactor just short of a critical overload. starting to get it on. Why couldn't the general have picked someone else?" "Because they probably would already know everything they needed to know. tightly.

" "Thank you." "I rather doubt that any . . . ma'am." "And for general informational transfer. ma'am. "Shewas uninjured."Filling in a slot. making a notation on the chart. Are you aware of the conditions under which EN Parker made her entry to the main bay? Ma'am. . . "But. But your commander is going to be getting . They were ." Dixie took a deep breath. "Good afternoon. . He still hadn't taken off his suit. "I repeat my question. EM." Dixie said. ma'am. Or. "Are you aware of the full nature of the entry EN Parker performed. blinking." Hartwell said. you're cleared to return to duty. Especially the Columbia pilot." Dixie said. picking up her helmet. "Goodpiloting doesn't normally entail fractures As I just informed your so-called pilot.ma'am . ma'am. Please increase my knowledge base. ma'am. "Engineer's Mate from Shuttle Thirty-Three." Page 81 ." Dixie said. be plasma. "No. "Am I cleared to return to duty?" "I should have you go over to Ward Four." Dana said. "Your pilot has been returned to duty." "It will be good when we get some qualified pilots!" "." Dana said." Dixie said." Hartwell was saying when Dr. "Please convey my apologies to EN Parker when you see her. "Corpsman?" Dixie said. ma'am?" Thermal said." "I can recognize when I have made an error in judgment. She had had to deal with nurses that had information she wasn't aware of and recognized the tone." "Hotdog piloting." the female corpsman said. And I'll try to circulate that information to the remaining injured. ma'am. ma'am." "With all due respect." "Say again. ." Hartwell said. the Columbia ate a missile. So yourinjuries would now be trying to breathevacuum . Pfau walked in." "Oh. more likely. EM. and then there's this fricking SAPL where there's not supposed to be a SAPL and she ." "With all due respect. a bit unhappy. yes. tightly. ma'am. . walking in the exam room. .ma'am . what's the term? A reply by endorsement asking why he allowed thatmaniac behind the controls. ma'am. "Turns out thatwasn't an accident but some reallyhot piloting. Ma'am. . EM. .

standing up a bit straighter. then you send them to me and I'll give them a piece of my mind. And that was a ‘gotta' if I've ever seen one. Parker?" Chief Barnett commed. Chief. standing up and wiping her eyes as the Engineer entered the waiting room. She was the only person in it so it wasn't like he could miss her. EM Hartwell?" Dana said. "So if you're over your cry. shaking his head." "Say again. "Oh. "First. sighing. I don't know how to find the squadron. other than in fun and they aregoingto be funning you about it. by the way." Hartwell said." "Parker?" "Therm . ma'am?" "She was released for duty." "Be right there. "Here. . don't youeverdo that again. "Do you know where EN Parker is at present. "I figured I'd wait til you got released. taking a deep breath." "I need to get going. Just like I jacked up that prissy ass doctor." Hartwell said. "How much trouble am I in?" Dana asked. Now get your butt back to the squadron. Comet. ifanybodygives you crap about that entry. Second." "It reallywas a bad entry ." Dana said. "Now that was something I never thought I'd see. Chief?" "We've got orders to board Thirty-Six and join the SAR. but if anybody so much ashints you're in trouble. we'll be doing reports and reviews for ayear ." "Stand by. "Three way. He closed his eyes and nodded for a second. "She's already checked out. . we've got a mission. ma'am." Barnett said." Dana commed. "Unless you gotta. She. ." "That you. right?" Hartwell said." Hartwell said." Hartwell said. asked me to convey her apologies. holding her head in her hands." Hartwell said. . I'll jack them right up. She was sitting in a hard plastic chair." Page 82 . We're swamped with requests and we need Thirty-Six out here ASAP. "You did hear Paris." "EM. "She's so green I don't think she even knows her way back to base."They were in a steel box and couldn't see what was happening." Dana said." Dixie said. "Location?" "Main waiting room.

"Ours not to question why. Congratulations." "We're picking upHorvath ?" PFC Patrick Lasswell asked. prisoners." Sergeant Ryan Pridgeon commed." Rammer said." "Rammer. picked up his weapon and headed to the hatch. . Lassie. Thermal's EM1 Hartwell. "But we have the strength of ten because our heart is pure. Sergeant. That had first taken the wind out of her sails then a massive reaction to the crash had set in. EM1 translated as a Staff Sergeant so he was going to be polite. "No. get your team down to the 142nd bays. so be polite." He headed down the corridor to roust out the next team." "Should just let 'em drift til their air runs out. "Pure bullcrap. . Lance Corporal Ramage with party of one on-board. He and Lassie were pulling themselves hand-over-hand down the bay as part of a milling mass of Marines trying to get to their assigned landing craft." "Gung-ho." Staff Sergeant Dunn said. She wasincredibly tired and not processing particularly well. "Or. grinning and flipping down his helmet. Sergeant. trotting down the corridor. Theyhadn't drilled loading in two-man teams. He flipped through the hatch and was pleased to find it was under gravity. "Close the door and we can be on our merry way." "I didn't think we lost anybody. Staff Sergeant!' And go pick up prisoners. in other words." Lasswell said. "Thirty-Six. "Engineer's Thermal. that's what this is ." Lance Corporal Andrew Ramage nonetheless rolled out of his rack. "Cock is Parker. She'd actually still been pumped up until the run in with the Lieutenant." "Rammer. frowning. With nothing to do during a battle between a massive station and the incoming Horvath the Marines were just standing by in their suits and jerking off. "SAR mission. "EM Hartwell." Rammer commed. "Horvath SAR." the EM commed."Comet?" Dana said. But in this case the teams were being broken up into prisoner details." Rammer commed back." Lassie said." "Roger." Rammer said. "You say ‘Gung-ho. She felt like a limp noodle." Pridgeon added." Rammer said. "Toldyou Danno was a holding handle. "Go get Timmy out of the well." SSGT Dunn said. You just had to do something crazy or stupid enough toearn one. Got it on both scores. They drilled loading all the time and normally it was a bit more orderly. "This is one order I sort of question." Page 83 . "Yes. Lance." SSGT Dunn said." "Roger.

gosh. ." Lasswell said. that was a crash. Door closing." Dana said." "Yeah." LCP Ramage said." "I don't want tohear this conversation. "Marines?" "Roger. Go get the people out of the shuttle. chuckling. Direct order. "Any landing you walk away from is a landing. unnecessary. Engineer. If you were not an EM1 I would tell you exactly what I think of you EM1 Hartwell!" "My bad." She didn't feel like a butterfly. chuckling." Dana said. Impact the surface or try to make the hole?" Page 84 ." Hartwell said. RTB max rather than run." Dana said. "You good?" "I am abutterfly ." Hartwell said." Dana replied." "Okay." Hartwell said. "Youcall the choices." "What?" Dana said. "I figure that entry to the main bay is going to be allover YouTube. "You ." Hartwell said. neither fighting nor losing. "You can look it up later. ."Shuttle is buttoned up. "Fine. Coxswain. "They just walked away from acrash and they're back onduty ? Isn't there usually an AAR for that sort of thing?" "Oh." Lasswell leaned over and put his helmet up against Rammer's. EM Hartwell. Other shuttles were popping off and she took a holding position until she got her vector. "I'm going to try to get that on my record as a hard landing. as I protested. as Dana got in formation to head out of the main bay." Dana said. "Does heknow we're listening?" "He left us in the circuit." Dana said. "We were carried out on stretchers. finally getting angry. "I think on purpose. Direct order. pulling away from the dock. "Witness the fact that we are already back on duty. Coxswain?" "There were mitigating circumstances to my last mission's ending. She felt like a brick. "The last time you said that we were headed into a crash." Thermal said. "I float upon the wind." Thermal said. "Comet." Dana replied. "I think I left the Marines in the circuit." "Which were.

And I value my skin." Rammer said until he got the feed." "Without analysis it's going to look like an idiot was driving. EM?" "Go. yeah. "Did they . . That we. You gotta check this out. "The analysis is going on as we speak." Hartwell said. Thermal. "It'salready on YouTube. . damn." Hartwell said." Dana said. . ." Hartwell said in a distracted tone. ?" "It got taken out by a Horvath laser. EN. seriously. "Back that up!" "Son of a . "How you doing?" "I am abutterfly ." "And so did AJ." Hartwell commed." Dana said. that certainly looks like some crazy piloting." Hartwell said. ." Hartwell said. Comet. ." "We'd all be dead if we had." "Oh . I already said it was an awesome display of flying. ." "You're using hypercom bandwidth for . . Or maybe it was getting pissed at a certain EM1. We should have gone for them. "How are our systems looking? I never completed the thirty day on this." "Good. Carter Russell. From about six different angles." Lassie said. Carter. You just made the news. Maybe it was focusing on the mission. But the cobwebs that had been filling her brain were starting to clear."Comet. So you can adjust your catheters. "There's . Page 85 ." ??? Video has recently been popping up on YouTube of an apparent crash of a Myrmidon shuttle during the Battle of Troy. . I don't know three cocks in the squadron that could have survived." "Frack. Thank you. I'm sorry. . replaying the clip. Very hot. "Thermal . "Whydid Parker go screaming across the main bay at max thrust?" "EM. laughing. "EM Hartwell? Permission to ask a question." "Roger. EM. "Marines. That was some very hot piloting. Here with a more in-depth explanation is our Fox military analyst. And I'm looking at it and wondering howany of us survived. walked away instead of being paste was awesome flying not a screw-up. cutting off the news feed. for your general edification." Lasswell said. She was feeling better for some reason." Hartwell said. "And. . All oorah here. Spade and Boomer's shuttle. The video isalready up on YouTube. I'm sorry for pulling your leg. .

"Put them on one of their ships. I wonder how we get access to the flight deck. Since taking the assignment on the Troy he'd found the differences outweighed the similarities. "Whoa. Jamie. . "Damn and . "We're about to have company. .which issue." "Roger. "Based on the distress beacons. "Don't even think about hitting on our cox. we're about to have six or seventhousand prisoners." Pounders was the Chief of Staff of the Troy. "Go." Colonel Helberg said. . "Or. ." Rammer said.uh.." "And we solve that how?" the commodore asked... watching the feed from Fox. "Damn. "When you hear that. yet.." Lassie said." There was a clang on the hull of the boat and Lasswell jumped. "We don't have the ET brig installed." Rammer said. it was from Dana's high-school year book. rather.It does. you know we're about to get to work. And instead of her "official" bio shot. TheTroy's Chief of Operations was part of the "multinational" group." Colonel Raymond Helberg said." "Call me Rammer." "And fifty-three passengers. Lassie. He had once considered being theKarl Vinson's commander a complicated job." LCP Ramage commed. Which we cannot even feed since they don't eat Earth food. These two ought to bedead . . "We're approaching our search grid and there are about a thousand distress beacons. "And oooo-rah! Uh . we have an issue. He'd gotten the job due in part to just being damned good but more because he'd spent a year "cross-training" on logistics in the off-shore drilling industry." "We don't even ask." Rammer said then paused. "Whoa is right. Down!" "Lance Corporal. Be prepared to get to work. Such as the current issue. . "What was that?" "Debris." Commodore Kurt Pounders said. "There's a battlecruiser that the survey team says Page 86 . But you don't know the circumstances." Rammer commed. cycling a charge into his laser. EM. a British Army colonel whose experience prior toTroy was mostly logistics and base operations. EM." "Commodore." Colonel Helberg said." The news had finally gotten a shot of the pilot of the "Comet" delivery into the main bay.damn ." PFC Lasswell said.

It certainly made securing prisoners easier. gesturing for the three Horvath to climb out of the escape pod." Dana said. support beams and less identifiable objects everywhere. Comet. Just close to dock. Then. There were far more that were in pieces. There were. Comet." "Got it. Environmental for that area is working. ." Hartwell said." Dana said. Thermal. "No chance I can just blast it out of space?" "Didn't figure you for the bloodlust type. Their search area was around one of the Horvath made battle cruisers." "Roger. flexing her jaw. They're going to have to strip off the guns and missiles but the crew quarters can be sealed off from that area while they are working. we don't get to blast them out of space. no." "There'sa lot of debris. closing with the Horvath evacuation pod. Thermal. Flying into the main bay had been a piece of cake compared to this. "Just take it slow. gesturing with his rifle for the threesome to Page 87 . And bits. "Make sure there's a good sized Marine detachment as guards until they get the weapons off. Strip it of everything but environmental. The Horvath came clambering out of the pod.is habitable. two Rangorabattleships in view that seemed more or less intact. Being that close to an apparently functioning battleship in a cockleshell like the Myrmidon . The original design dated from before the Glatun and just keeping the standard design made things easier. It didn't seem to have suffered much damage but there was still so much chaff in area it was like flying through a minefield. "I'm from Anaheim. for that matter. It broke in half in the battle so there's no drive." "Will do." Hartwell said. The largest were the ships that seemed whole like the one that was their target. was probably a lot like what the battleships felt up againstTroy . EN. "Je-jay!" Rammer said. EM. "Distress beacon at three-three-five mark minus six. There was no way to miss hitting debris and some of it had vectors high enough that they could puncture the shuttle's armored hull. It had been a long day. don't they?" Lasswell said. "Je-jay!" The docking clamps of all the local ships that were used by more or less Terran sized sophonts were identical." "Approved." the commodore said." Dana said. It was insane. "They reallydo look like squids. What's left. . The whole space around the gate was filled with drifting objects. And fluff. "Remember?" "Oh. their hand-tentacles on their helmets. Bits and pieces of the ship had been blasted off and there were chunks of armor." Dana said.

" And there were. He'd been told they weren't really officers but that was their position basically." Dana said. they looked very much like terrestrial squids. A couple had been carrying laser pistols when the shuttle docked. ." Longwood commed. really. we'd better head to the barn." Rammer commed. "Three-Six. "I need a vector for prisoner transfer." the EM replied." "Roger. . Command. Even the officers." Rammer commed two hours later." Paris said. we are clear. "We're transferring them to one of their ships that's sort of intact." Hartwell said. "Understood. Page 88 . Dana. It was pathetic. The ship was trashed. The cargo bay was solid with Horvath. "Stand by.move to the back of the cargo bay. Next customer. The extraterrestrials had six tentacles instead of eight with four used for locomotion and two as "hands. dude." Rammer said. We don't have quarters for them on the Troy. You have shuttles in front of you. They just bunched up in a group and sort of stroked each other." Thermal said. "Paris. Three-Six. "What the frack ever." TEN "EM. securing the hatch. The Horvath were didactic and dictatory when they were in positions of power." "Roger. There weren't any seats installed so the Horvath huddled against the back bulkhead. "We're full up. "Yeah." "Roger." But other than that." Dana said. Dana had seen the 142 lined up on the shuttle bay but seeing most of the squadron scattered across the debris field around the ship was another thing. unless you want us to start stacking. They'd also carefully handed them over to the Marines. "They look so . "What's your status?" "Five by. She couldn't believe there were habitable areas on it but that was the destination." he added after cutting the circuit. spinning the shuttle around and heading for the Rangora battlecruiser that was being used as a temporary brig. Rammer. But Rammer had been a prisoner collector for the last encounter with Earth's former overlords and he'd found them to be incredibly docile when a laser rifle was in their face. "EM.

" Clear debris. Clear more debris." Thermal said. It's on trajectory to get into our operating area. aye. "I've got a suit distress beacon. Drop off prisoners. "See the marked debris?" Mutant commed." Dana said. its space-suit ripped open. "We need to clear some of this debris while you're waiting to dock. Hating an enemy with an unknown face was one thing. "We're going to do this on readback." the EM commed. Move it. Okay. "I'll put a flying grapnel on it. how?" "Going to have to do a snatch." "Move the debris. Are you EVA rated?" "I am. Is this guy stable?" "Looks good. drifting past your shuttle in the depths of space was another." Command said. Main grapnels. Just grab it and move it out of the way. aye." "Okay. ". "Take direction from CM Glass. Dana wasn't sure how to feel about that. Seeing a bloated Horvath body." "Roger. "Carefully. EM. "Hull plate. "I need a vector. rolling his eyes again."Grapnels?" "Nominal. "This is going to be fun." Thermal said. rolling his eyes." Rammer said." Thermal said." Dana said. Command. ??? Page 89 ." Thermal replied.." "Open inner airlock door. readback." "Absolutely." Rammer said. Stabilize it. aye. "My co isn't. "Which we are required to pick up." "There are a bunch of those.. Some of the debris was Horvath." Dana said. Comet. Carefully." Dana said. aye. "Open inner airlock door." "Clear debris. "This one says its alive.so you're going to have to do a snatch in EVA." Rammer said." "Coming up on your system." Thermal replied. Pick up prisoners.

Which will suck for these squids. while debris was whizzing by your face. aye . . "I'm just so fracking gung-ho ." CM1 Glass said. wasn't Rammer's idea of fun. aye. "I'm not trying to whine." Rammer commed." Rammer said. "That sound is getting on my nerves. ." Rammer said. "Stand by. "Je-jay!" Rammer commed on the open channel. "Close outer airlock door. but any idea how long we're going to have to do this?" "No idea. The Horvath had popped its helmet as soon as it was in atmosphere but it was still flailing its limbs and squealing like a herd of pigs." Page 90 ." "I'd especially like to get Comet back to the bay." Rammer said. kicking the squid into the corner of the airlock." Lassie said. sir. ." Hartwell said. we're going to have to start on a rotation schedule. "She and Thermal have been having one hell of a day." LCM Martin said. Except for the Horvath who was anything but motionless. Comet. we have a situation in the bay. even if you have a safety-line clipped off." Dana said. "Until we get orders to discontinue. "Comet. sir. With that in place he hauled the squirming squid into the airlock. "Roger." "I think that dude needs whatever the Horvath use for a psych ward. Command." the EM ordered. It didn't seem to be responsive to reason. Therm. trying to grab an enemy prisoner who'd been floating in space for six hours." "Sir. we have permission to return this group to the brig-ship." Glass said.Hanging out of the hatch of the boat. "Gung-ho. "EM." "RT brig." He had to admit it was a great view. ." Lasswell pointed out. The other Horvath were notably agitated and were avoiding the flailing prisoner. "You're not the only one. "Close outer door. He wasn't even sure if the Horvath used the same channels." Hartwell said. turning the boat towards the distant big. "My coxswains are going to start making serious mistakes pretty soon." "Confirm. "Je-jay!" He hot-sticked the flailing suit to adjust the electrical potential between the suit and the boat and managed to get a safety line on a clip point. Come up with a cycle. "I was just talking to squadron about that. Or a swift kick for that matter.

ETA on getting to the brig ?" "Thirty minutes. "Thatbastard stuck his tentacle into some spot andkilled it!" Rammer said." "We have a POW who was Dutchman. officer by the rank tabs. "It's apparently insane. wants to administer care. It was drilled over and over again and any prisoner that died while in custody could be considered murder on the part of the custodians. prisoner exited the shuttle. go.' Just that." There was a few moments pause and SSGT Pridgeon came back. "It said it wanted to administer care! It's on video and audio. Staff." "Rammer. ." the Horvath speaker said. The one absolute requirement of taking prisoners was that you kept themsafe . "Je-jay!" "Dammit!" Rammer said. The flailing stopped."That's a definite confirm." "Je-jay!" Rammer said." Lassie said. "Care. One of the other POWs." "Allow care. gesturing to the flailing prisoner.EM. One of the Horvath had squirmed out of the group grope and was moving over to the prisoner." "Roger. Pridgeon." Rammer commed. checking the suit telltales. "I need a link to my command. "Back. stand by. ‘Damaged. pointing to the Horvath officer. aye." "Roger." "Je-jay!" Rammer said over his suit speakers. "Cover it!" "Got it. Allow care. stepping over and kicking the officer away." Rammer said. Care." the EM commed. That's what itsaid . "It's dead! Staff Sergeant ." "What thehell happened?" Pridgeon said as the last." Rammer said." he said. lifting his rifle. "Damaged. live. min. Staff Sergeant. "Go ahead. gesturing with his rifle. The chief custodian being one Lance Corporal Andrew Neil Ramage. "ETA to the Brig?" "Thirty minutes. And then it fricking killed it!" Page 91 . The Horvath officer squirmed over to the former Dutchman and stuck a tentacle into its head. "Roger. "Holy hell!" Rammer said. lifting his rifle. .

aye. "Shutting down. EM. . just wanted to say that we appreciate the smooth ride. . Page 92 . "We're going to be writing reports forever ! Get the damned body. ignoring the jibe." LCP Ramage said." "Are we going to get in hot water?" Dana asked. Comet. "Rammer. . And we made it back into the bay without hittinganything !" "EM." Lasswell said. "RTB for crew rest." Thermal said. rolling his eyes." the Marine said. "Out." Rammer commed. "Permission granted. "I need a bath. hi. "You were saying?" It certainly sounded like they were being pulled off for the prisoner incident. But he kept looking over his shoulder on the way out." Dana said. playing the clip again. uh. boarding." "RTB. Lance Corporal Ramage." Dana said. "We're getting a confirm. "I'm. "Just put it down like a dog. PFC Lasswell." "Uh . again." "Stand by. Rammer. This here's Lassie. Somehow." "Uh. uh. The jarheads are the ones in hot water. Hello." Ramage said." Hartwell said. All aboard who're going aboard." Hartwell said. Comet." Thermal said. we'll probably be called to the inquiry. and by extension her mother. "RTB." "Aye." CM Glass commed. uh." "Thirty-Six." Hartwell said." Dana said. And looking at the vid and audio I don't see where they could have known." "And we have containment. Lassie. "I need to soak in hot water for about two d . "I mean." Pridgeon said. seeing one of the Horvath who had killed her father. ." "EN Parker." "And we have good seal. killed in front of her eyes wasn't particularly satisfying. EM. "Don't see why." "You're welcome?" Dana said. aye. But we just drive the truck. aye. "That's it. nodding. we're RTB. "We. "RTB. Lance."God." Hartwell said. climbing out of her seat and heading to the hatch." "It just killed it. "Right. Aye. permission to pop my helmet in the shuttle?" Dana said.

" Glass said." "Thermal. But there was enough that it was going to take some tidying." She looked at Thermal and shrugged. as the chief coxswain NCOIC of your flight." "And you're an EngineerFirst Class . your fascinating entry technique to the main bay made the news. "that's a hot-wash analysis. Parker. "Report to Flight Bay for debrief. unless you didn't hear. shaking his head. I caught some flak for suggesting you for a coxswain position and my professional opinion. personally. a bad thing. and the CO's job. My job. spindled and mutilated by people who weren't there." Glass continued. "You too. "EN Parker. "we're not even going totry to do a PIR right now." Glass said." "EN Parker. And I can foresee all sorts of things interfering. looking at Hartwell quizzically. "Men. "Which means that you came out. . in the media. There were no good choices and you picked from the array of bad and chose the least bad." Thermal said. is to keep that Page 93 . That's the second thing on my agenda. From what I'm looking at. Being in the news is." Glass commed. To the media. CM." "Thank you. is that I made a good choice." CM1 Glass commed. you performed the mission and did so to the very best of not only your ability but the best anyone could do in a screwed up situation. right?" Hartwell said. "Not an Engineer Mate. From my point of view. looking at Hartwell and Dana. And the dead one had left an unpleasant pile of goo. you did everything exactly right. Parker.Clean-up will wait . "The parameters of the entry got distributed pretty quickly. now. The PIRs on this day are going to go on formonths . aye. smelling like roses." "Damn. That incident is going to be folded. "Hmmm ." Dana said." Dana said. crap. . He made a face then shrugged and nodded." "Oh . "That said. "I seem to remember it's theengineer's job to clean up the shuttle. as well. ." The Horvath hadn't actually left that much mess. You delivered the mail. I. "Oh. . "You're joking. therefore. think you did a damned fine job. "Report to Flight Bay for debrief. You'reborn with Johannsen's." "We destroy an entire Horvath fleet and all they can do is bitch about an entry?" Hartwell said."What wasthat about?" Dana said as Thermal climbed through the hatch into the cargo bay." "First of all. . ." Dana said." Dana said." "This place is . Because people are going to be looking to stick a knife in your back over it.

from happening to the best of our ability. You job is to keep your head down and do your job. Let us handle the flak." "Roger, CM," Dana said. "You wouldn'tbelieve how far up this got kicked," Glass said. "But the decision has been made to retain you on flight status. Unfortunately, we lost Boomer, Spade and AJ on Columbia Thirty-Two so we're down two cox and an engineer. We'vegot spare engineers. So we're going to put you through full coxswain quals. You will be acting as a temporary coxswain until you're full qualified." "Yes, CM," Dana said, trying not to grin. Among other things it wouldn't be very polite considering that the flight had just lost three people. But that was hard to grasp at a certain level, call it denial at which she was very well trained, and grasping being a cox was easy. "Nowwe start the debrief," CM1 Glass said. "Were youinsane . . . ?"

ELEVEN

"Boo-yah," Price said, sticking his head in Butch's quarters. "Time to go make the man his money, baby!" As soon as the battle alarms went off, pretty much everything civilian shut down and the welding crew, which had been working on installing a power circuit on one of the horns in the bay, headed for their quarters. The quarters were not only deep in the wall ofTroy , they were sealed in case there was an "environmental breach." And although they were tight, that was also where they kept their personal suits. "What's up?" Butch said, turning off the video of some crazy assed pilot screaming across the main bay. "Salvage, baby!" BFM said. "TheTroy just created enough salvage to keep us busy for ayear !" "Okay!" Butch said, grinning hopelessly. He had no idea why the team lead was so happy. Butch had completed his initial probationary period without being transferred, incurring a major incident or killing anyone. As such, he was now an apprentice welder and earning a pretty good buck. The problem being, there wasn't much to spend it on theTroy . There were some bars but he had learned that if you got too heavy on the sauce you were going to get grounded. There was even one titty bar but with women in short supply, you sort of got tired of just looking. And the girls weren't exactly great. Pretty much what he'd been doing for the last three months was working in the main bay, taking as much OT as he could grab, eating and sleeping. Since the work was hard but not really . . . what was it called? It wasn't really aerobic, he was starting to figure out why everybody on the crew had a beer gut. He'd actually been sending money home. God knows Mama and Papa could use it.

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He enjoyed the work more than he'd thought he would at first. The main bay was pretty cool. But he didn't know why BFM was so excited. "Oh, you poor clueless newbie," BFM said, shaking his head. "Get into your suit and head for the sleds." "Suitand sleds?" Butch said. "Salvage, dude," Price said. "Going to be FOD all over the place. But the nice part? The really sweet, oh this isso sweet, part? We get acut of everything we salvage. I was on the salvage job when the last Horvath attack came through the gate. Four ships. Five hundred guys cutting. I made as much in amonth as I usually do intwo years . And, dude, there areforty ships justwaiting to be plundered!" "I amso in my suit," Butch said, sliding out of the bunk.

"Okay," Butch said. "I get salvage being valuable. But this is justcrazy ." The sleds had been attached to the Paw mining ships and headed out into the Dark. Butch had only worked in the Dark one time before so it was pretty unnerving. Especially when they got dropped off near the target. Ships and pieces of ships were drifting all over the place near the gate. The gate was sort of a circular backdrop for what looked like the biggest scrapyard in the history of the world. It wasn't the ships that were the problem. It was the pieces. Small, large, frackinghuge , the FOD, foreign-object-debris, was all over the place. Their starting target was a Horvath destroyer that had been cut in half by the SAPL. Most of the rear was in good shape but the forward part had blown up. It was the debris from the blown up part that was making the area dangerous as hell. The rear portion was also spinning slowly in a corkscrew rotation. Getting into it was going to be tricky. "Okay, people," Purcell commed. "I know you're all pumped up on plunder, but let's staysafe, here. I want to make sure we've got good solid team communication and stay with a buddy. This FOD has a will of its own and itwillkill you. Thedestroyer, what's left of it, has been cleared by the 142nd and the Marines. There should be no Horvath aboard. If you see any sign of Horvath, back off and call in the Marines." "How we gonna do this?" Vlad asked. "Carefully," Kosierowski commed. The laser tech was the replacement for Gursy and as phlegmatic and uninterested in games as BFM was crazy. They got along great as long as BFM concentrated on making the lives of the probes hell. "Gonna go in the part that's already cut," Price replied. "Move forward slowly and it will come back around to us. Then adjust our delta to its and enter.Drac, you're with Kos. Butch and me the other team. What we're looking for is, in order, major electronics, power systems, transfer systems, laser emitters, mass drivers and grav plates. Hotstick the ship when you get close. It's gonna have a bunch of potential. And if you find anything interesting, make damned sure it's not live before you go to cutting it out." "And when we've got it cut out?" Drac asked.

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"Pull it out, slow, and drop a beacon on it," Price said. "Paws'll pick it up later.Kos, you done this before, right?" "Not anything this big," the tech said. "But, yeah." "Just take it slow."

The big man was as good as his word, taking the initial approach at a snail's pace. The "cut" end of the destroyer was still sparking, meaning there was still active power somewhere. It was also slagged. Armor, bulkheads and main support beams weremelted and Butch's temperature indicators said that some of them were still over a thousand degrees, Celsius. "Got a corridor over to port," Kos said."Nice and wide." "Nother one to starboard," Price said, slowing. "Beginning entry." "Roger, that," Kos said. "Same back." The corridor was about three meters wide, not particularly "nice and wide" for the two meter wide sleds. But it was the best of the lot. Most of the rest was open compartments. And none of them looked like they had anything recoverable. As soon as they got in the corridor the faint light from the sun was cut off and Butch hit the sled lights. The rack of lights illuminated the corridor if not like day than pretty well. Better than he expected cause . .. "Why are we getting scatter?" Butch asked. He wasn't nervous exactly. It was a mixture of nervous and excited. But anything unexpected was causing a bit of increased stress. "No air, the lights shouldn't scatter." "Still enough breathable to scatter some," Price replied. "Not enough to survive as that guy found out." A Horvath, his suit ripped open and the squid-like body bloated up and out so it was hard to recognize as one of the ETs, was floating in the corridor. "What do we do?" Butch asked. "Pull it out," Price commed, snatching the slowly spinning body. "Put a beacon on it. Somebody'll pick it up later. Not like he's going anywhere." The team lead used the waldoes to hand it over to the probe. "You okay with that?" Price asked. "You're not going to puke or anything?" "I'm good," Butch said. In truth it was hard to think of the twisted bit of freeze-dried meat as a sapient being. It looked like a dried clam. "Take it to the entrance, slap a beacon on it and just give it some minor delta," BFM commed. "I'm

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gonna sit here and do a survey for power sources." Butch carried the Horvath to the entrance, put a radio beacon on it and sent it spinning slowly into the void. "Bit of a navigation hazard," Butch said as he headed back up the corridor. "Anything hits it is going to slag it and not get slagged," Price replied. "According to the plans, this thing's got a power room up ahead to starboard. Let's go see if it survived." They made their way, slowly, down the debris filled corridor. Debris was floating everywhere in the microgravity. Butch couldn't even put a name on most of the stuff. Some of it appeared to be food packs. There were what might be tools or eating utensils. Clothing. He hadn't even known the Horvath wore clothing. "Should be behind this bulkhead," Price commed, slowing his sled to a stop. They were having to continually adjust delta to the spinning ship, since if they didn't the centripetal force would "push" them out, and Butch was having a lot harder time with it than the experienced team lead. His sled "pranged" lightly on the top of the corridor. "Careful," Price commed. "Trying to get my balance, lead," Butch said. This wasn't anything like working in the main bay. "Gotcha," Price replied. "Just, seriously, be careful. The potential around here is high. I think the power's still on but shorting into the hull." "Right," Butch said, getting his vector adjusted so he wasn't hitting the bulkheads or the deck or the overhead. And then he had to adjust it again. "Lead, I'm having a hard time maintaining stable formation." "Grab that hatch coaming," Price commed, pointing to the hatch to the engineering section. "No way we're fitting through that hatch. Neither is a power plant. We're going to have to cut the bulkhead." "Right," Butch said, grabbing the coaming.That got it. "When we do, the plate's going to want to get away from us cause of the spin," Price commed. "I'll lock the plate. You do the cut.Don'tcut my waldo." "How big a cut?" Butch asked. He stuck out another waldo that had a small grav plate on it and locked it on the far side of the corridor, giving him a really stable platform. "Top to bottom," Price commed, getting an equally stable position and locking two grav points to the bulkhead. "About four meters wide. If that's not enough to get the power plant out, we'll cut it wider." "Right," Butch said, pulling out his high power laser head. "Low power," Price commed. "Use about a forty millimeter beam." "Low power," Butch said, switching heads. "Right." "You know you say ‘right' a lot?"

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"Right."

"Whoo-hoo," Price commed as he got the plate fastened down and out of the way. "This sucker's live, all right." The power plant, the center of which was a meter wide ball of iridium, was in the middle of the large compartment. The rest of the compartment was secondary power transfer systems and a mass of electrical relays which were spitting sparks all over the place. "Salvage control, team fourteen alpha," Price commed. "Fourteen alpha, SC." "We've got a live plant in Sierra Seventeen. Looks like it was at full power when the ship got hit. Room is energized. How do we turn this sucker off?" "Stand by, Fourteen Alpha." "Gotta check the manuals,"Price commed. "Right." "Fourteen Alpha, SC." "SC, Fourteen Alpha." "Best bet seems to be to cut the fuel lines. Fuel line enters from the port bulkhead. Can you access that?" "Stand by, SC,"Price commed. He panned his lights around the room. "Not from our primary entry. I'm not going in that compartment and primary entry is to starboard. Download a schematic and I'll see if we can get around to port." "Roger, Fourteen Alpha. Download on the way."

They had to cut through four bulkheads and a control room to get to the fuel line. "Wait," BFM commed as Butch started up his torch. "Control, Fourteen Alpha." "Fourteen Alpha, Control." "Is there a shut-off valve?" Price commed. "Roger, Fourteen Alpha, stand by." "He's expensive. Why waste salvage?" BFM commed on a side channel to Butch. "Makes sense," Butch replied.

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The shares pay out after that. Night Wolves." Butch said." Drac said. the maximum the company would let people work continuously. Located inside the walls of the fabber called Granadica. before he put it away. the Granadica Design and Prototyping Center. the center was Tyler Vernon's version of Skunk Works or Phantom Works. clambering into his bunk. minimum. right there." "What I wonder is what they're going todo with it?" TWELVE "I'dheard you were insane. The straight wage come out of the cost of salvage. What's the deal with OT on a salvage operation? Since we get shares. cutting off his light. trying to do the math. oh." Price commed." Butch said. "Let's get 'er cut out. But it's good money even for probes. Page 99 . the sparking had stopped. . probe. one percent or something. "I want to go get something to eat. "Prime slice. got the fuel shut off then headed back to the power-room entry. located in the Wolf 359 system . " "I am beat. "The shares." Drac said. When they reached the main entry." "OT is the same. And since the Granadica was. . "I already had thirty hours in this week. And we've got . . yawning. brother. . He'd done his suit checks." Kelly Ketterman said." "That's prime. Butch still occasionally bouncing and bonging off of the walls." Butch said. for giving all that beautiful loot.I don't want my salvage wrecked by your clumsy attempts to be a welder." "I'm gonna think about it in the morning."Looking at two hundred million dollars.They found the shut-off valve in the next compartment over." Kelly Ketterman was the Managing Design Engineer of Night Wolves. It's supposed to be an incentive to keep the cost of salvage down or something. "Now I understand what they meant. They had a mandated twelve hours off before beginning again." Price commed. So you're sort of paying yourself or something. "I'm going to have to kiss some Navy guy. "I'll stabilize. yawning again. making a cautious entry to the room. currently. "That's forty two. like point oh. you cut. though. they look small. "Same here." Butch said. though. but I'm too tired to move!" The salvage operation had been called after twelve hours. Andonlycut where Itellyou.

Well. The "horns" were so long because the more leverage that they had the less total power was needed." Making steel in a fabber was dead simple. "I do like a challenge. she was barely taller than the notoriously short Vernon even when wearing heels. but it works." Tyler said. "But what then? All I want you to do is look at the design requirements for a power plant and drive system large enough to move theTroy . a massive mobile Glatun space factory that had been built back when Crusaders were beating on Saracens. But that's just a matter of mining enough asteroids.A petite blonde." the fabber said. . They're going to out massme ." "The efficiency of plates goes up for something like that the larger they are." Tyler said. Letme figure out the logistics." "It's not atithe of what you'd need. Insert raw materials in one end. bringing up the plans schematics." Tyler said." Tyler said. And we just got several tons of prime grav plates. "Apollo's finished with the shell. Not just back of the envelope designs. "All it really takes is enough power and grav plates. And we'll probably get a bunch of damaged power plants we can remelt. That's beyond my fabbing ability." "Granadica." Granadica said. That way it could move the transmitted SAPL beams around and actually aim them. is going to take a bunch of power. twin. admittedly. You really think a little bitty ball of osmium's going to stop me?" "No. "The best plates are going to out mass your Constitution class cruisers. sounding mildly amused. A full design. though." Granadica said. "Where are you at on building your . sonny." "They're planning on lining the control levers with plants and placing the grav plates on the ends." "We'll figure it out. Page 100 . And I'm buildinganother one." Kelly said. "It's still cooling. shrugging. "I built a battlestation ninekilometers across. "That. wewill have them once the salvage guys get done with the junk that's drifting around the gate. first quality steel came out the other." Granadica said. "You're talking about an osmium sphere two hundred meters in diameter. You guys have come up with some crazy ways to make steel. "Didn't they already start?" The massive "horns" in the bay of theTroy were intended to permit the space station to rotate. "You wantTroy to actually bemobile ? That's a lot of grav plates. It also would permit spreading damage from attacks." Tyler said. first. dubiously." Kelly said." Tyler asked." Granadica said. "You're not going to make a power plant in me." "Well. "We need to get it so it can rotate." Granadica was the AI of the fabber. . "Right. "We're going to need a lot of osmium. right there. either.

But humanity was starting at the bottom of a hole. Only the remainder was left to supply not only the Navy but civilian ships. however. Being heavy metals." Tyler muttered. Page 101 . and the with approaching war Vernon was in abig hurry. Still building up materials. "Priorities. was a different story. Osmium was the best choice but any of the platinum group. Speaking of osmium. they were all relatively rare.Making a shell of steel big enough toencompass a ship fabber. terrestrial requirements. however. for what he could see coming. they could now create any sized ball of steel. By making a sort of circular shell of layers of steel material and then melting it." Granadica said. It had needed "support plates. Forming it was. But the problem had already been solved for another project.'?" "Internals?" Tyler asked. enough material. . It was always the problem." two kilometer around "washers" that were intended for the upper and lower portions of a massive space elevator and gas mining facility. they tended to stay in the core of planets and were uncommon in crustal materials. palladium. Most people just go with ‘that's crazy. priorities. in asteroids. They were still learning how to work in space. the situation would be simple. "If it's crazy but it works . Notvery common. osmium. than on planets." Tyler said. there was never enough. But they were more common in asteroids. could be used. The problem was. or platinum. If he had his current situation and decades before a massive war broke out. They were unlikely toever be common. Spend all his time building infrastructure and wait until the last three or four years to start constructing warships. iridium. Building the plates in any reasonable period of time." Granadica said. barely more than a decade since they'd managed to kick the Horvath out of the system. They were more common. seemed impossible. "It's not crazy. They were extremely rare in terrestrial conditions. He was having to trade more than half of his refined metal to the Glatun to keep up with payments and ongoing purchases. "You humans are theonly sophonts in this galactic region to have that saying. a kilometer long and three hundred meters in diameter. the Wolf Mining Facility. rhodium. priorities. Apollo Mining had solved the problem. "78% complete." The matter annihilation plants centered around circular balls of platinum group metals. they were only formed in supernovas and even then by the repeated fusion of other metals inmultiple supernovas. "I'm mostly stuck on power plants. ruthenium. . especially nickel-iron asteroids. dead simple. There were never enough trained people. then. As long as you wanted something that was vaguely round it was a matter of using enough tugs to form it like a potter formed clay. But even with all the mining that Tyler was doing in the solar system and now Wolf. It was only fifteen years since Tyler had found a useful trade good to open up full trade with the Glatun. the replication of Granadica and all the construction going on in the Wolf system.

Glatun had ceded sovereign control over a whole series of bordering star systems to other polities. We've got a bunch of damaged but possibly salvageable ships in the Sol system. Finding good space engineers was like pulling hen's teeth. who were ten times the problem of the Horvath. For fuel. She would take a pasting if the Rangora got any sort of foothold in the system. "What's the status on the gas mine?" "All the parts are produced. Among other things. Speaking of war. Planetary heavy bombardment. The Glatun were busy trying to build up their fleet. Earth's first trade partners and their closest "ally. "There's hydro. When the second one is done. nuclear. Most models had the Rangora." Tyler said. . attacking Earth as part of the war. Problem to fix later. grimacing. Earth was going to be stuck with its limited industry and Granadica.The Glatun. Just last year. Get the twin up. Once war broke out. . most of them were going into the Navy and with stop-loss they weren't coming out. we'll move the first into theTroy . I'm going to discontinue the civilian power plant program and shift all the material to you. "Andwhen you have the twin up. "Earth has more than enough power. They had slowly slipped from being a robust. "I'll get some people in here. atomic circuitry and. And so on and so forth. and having massive problems." Granadica said. were considered a legitimate tactic. old caribou. That wasn't going to be enough to buy off the Rangora for long. I'm thinking about pulling them through to here and having you work on them in your spare time. many of which the Glatun had worked to advance so they would be better trade partners. but they still had hundreds of fabbers like Granadica." "I don'thave a lot of spare time. most especially. "I've shifted my production schedule to producing Page 102 . I think that's the best pattern we can plan for now. The flip side was that they would have to be able to hold the gate area long enough to transport through to Wolf to attack Granadica and the mine. led by the Rangora. Once that supply line was cut off." Tyler said. highly refined He3 fuel for the power plants. grav plates. expansionist. "Depends on how long the war lasts. were expanding in the galactic region. Power plants. were eyeing the Glatun planets with a look in their eye like a wolf examining a sick. "Start on another. dropping fractional C kinetic energy weapons with yields up to a hundred megatons. Tyler was banking onTroy being able to prevent that. That worked as long as you didn't have any strategic threats. Earth had already suffered devastating bombardments from the Horvath." "Okay. Earth's problems would be magnified a thousand fold. coal . Tyler was desperately depending on the Wolf gas mine being finished before the war started and all hell broke loose. Four of them. Some of the metal going to the Glatun was coming back as formed materials." were a dying civilization. The problem was that other species." Granadica pointed out." Granadica said. society to one with high unemployment and a "bread and circuses" attitude towards life." Tyler said." "How many battlestations are you going tomake ?" Kelly asked.

required three divisions deployed in the Middle East. Between the destruction of capitals and the breakdown in international security. and the president dearly hoped continued to be. had come out with more functional production than the rest of the world combined. more and more factories were going in to areas where labor was cheaper and easier to deal with than in the Rust Belt. We're the only ones fighting. especially the states." "Against the US?" the President asked. we have a refreshing change in the interstellar situation." the Secretary of State said. hell. "It's refreshing." "By the Horvath?" the President said. for once. Most of the industry that had been destroyed in the bombardments was "legacy" industry that had needed to change to more modern techniques. the US. an industrial powerhouse. And the teen pregnancy rate was hammering education for women. Congress. "Oh. Their entry into the workforce in large numbers started with World War II." Page 103 . the US was. she was mostly out of school. primarily in the South." "Okay. an attack through the gate had not dropped KEWs all over the Earth. President. hanging his head in his hands. The one bright spot was that with industry damaged across the globe and the baby boom just starting to reach productive age. the last time the US tried to go to full war production footing." Even though." the Secretary of State said. Maternity leave was. The government. They weren't so much there to fight terrorists anymore as to make sure the "legitimate" governments were able to keep the oil pumping. was just starting to get a handle on the effect of the Johannsen Virus. still a vital strategic commodity even with the improving technology." "Well. to say the least. for the foreseeable future. Over the decades before the bombardments. "How many more ships do they have to lose to get the picture?" "Not the Horvath. "That sounds like good news. They're starting installation of the main processors and weaving of the pipes. Which made an already difficult budgetary situationimpossible . with most of its new capacity dispersed into cheap." Tyler said. it's not good." State said. Mr." the President said. "They are activating their mutual defense treaty with the Horvath." "Oh. Just keeping the flow of oil. Women were. and the workforce. By the time it got to three. had increased the child tax credit. "The Rangora." the President said. sighing. whole swathes of the planet were failed states. the economy and society were just a shambles. nodding. a vital part of the American economy. relatively rural or small city areas. A girl might still go to high school with one child. paid essentially zero taxes. cutting into productivity. once again. "I could use some good news. responding to the reality of their constituent's positions. "That's next on the agenda.construction bots. A family earning $50. which was starting to be just aboutmedian condition. "Makes sense. We actually have a declaration of war.000 with four children. Japan and Europe had lost most of its production to the Horvath bombardments. Which meant that whereas China.

The US had. to work together as seamlessly as possible. it's against Terra. Independence class frigates. Brazil." vessels from fleet oilers to supercarriers. China. arguably. And they were the only peoplepaying for it. But to get that hardware to work properly it needed "software. such as a warship. were hardware. and theTroy . but was running into constant snags. Running a warship was a dance and the dance depended upon the three-dimensional nature of the dance-floor. What was being asked was "Why are we theonly people paying for it? And why are we the only country providing Marines and sailors to man it?" "No. And "legacy" software. frigates. due in great part to its continued production of heavy warships over the years. who could move around and do their jobs without conflict. India. But the US. funding and resolve to make major platforms." people. With the current make-up of Congress the question was not "IsTroy worth it?" Everyone agreed having a defender at the gate was a good thing. Germany. of course. It never was able to field a supercarrier. the NCOs and senior officers of the Navy. A Carrier Vessel Battle Group required support from shore. alone. another structure. We. . The "platforms. and the dancers. fast attack subs. the only other country to make a functioning warship was Britain which had fielded a single Clarke class corvette. the only hoplite standing at the gate." Systemology meant getting everything in a large and complex piece of hardware." State said. Now it was. It tried to catch up throughout the Cold War but the best it could do was some subs that were a fraction of the ability of US subs. equivalent to the Connies in ability. The US also had one of the most robust space industries in the world. as the only country that was defending the planet.Every other major country in the world was working on space war ships. space tech. It was working on a Churchill class cruiser. been called the World's Policeman. For all the "international" aspects of the ISS. the US now held them. Great Britain. most of the ISS module would have been better produced in the US. They were the only countries with the need. And Russia had never been a major seapower.Troy . the ship. They even include Peru and Chile for some reason. And all the structures. But the reason it had to be robust was that its quality control sucked. as well as oilers and even repair ships. in addition. It also depended on more than one platform. It wasn't a field that was well understood. for years. robust." Page 104 . had already cost $68 billion and the budget for next year was another $148 billion. France. "Then it goes on to list the ‘top fifteen tribal groups' which are definitely included. top the list but there's something in there for everybody. people who had spent years in the environments. andTroy seemed to be the best bet. was the master of the complex task of "systemology. The people that worked in it had finally started to adapt terms from the software industry to explain their jobs to family and friends. one heck of a lot better than more gutted cities or another damned plague. so far. the only major superpowers in the world were the US and the Soviet Union. Aegis cruisers. After WWII. were critical to keeping the whole system running. Russia. especially with Russia and China. generally delivered by the Carrier Onboard Delivery planes. Thus whereas the US had managed to field not only nine Constitution class cruisers but six. each had to be designed to work not only as ships but aswar ships. if it hadn't been for treaties and basically being a nice guy. . This had caused some angst in the international community. because instead of the Horvath holding the orbitals. the people. The Russians had some good. It was causing more angst with the American electorate because they saw the US. carriers. Argentina .

signed the agreements and had a photo op showing what great good friends their countries were. "We alreadyhave Rangora ships coming through the gate." Granadica said. "Talk to politicians. Tyler looked at the missive he'd received and shrugged. The big problem is. "What do you call The Maple Sugar War?" the French Prime Minister shouted." "So does that mean we can expect Rangora ships coming through the gate?" Kelly asked. And we haven't replaced all the mirrors the Horvath just trashed. much less all the support ships andTroy . "There is an additional problem." "I am. They were just their old ones and squidded by Horvath. some of the diplomatic niceties get cut. "Yes. "Paris was standing Page 105 ." the POTUS said. no mirror production." Tyler said. And we can't produce enough helium to fuel thefleet . got into a fight with the French Prime Minister over covert French support for a Hutu rebellion. in fact. "Who knows?" the tycoon said. this is effectively a fuel embargo. I am about two weeks from being out of power. And the government is going to want it for terrestrial power plants. Then the bosses shook hands." Tyler said."Doesn't Apollo have a lot of civilian contractors from South America?" the President asked. "I seem to remember something about a plague that killed abillion people before we declared war." "Their closure of coal and nuclear plants does appear short-sighted. I'm not sure we have enough helium to finish the gas mine. "But go ahead. When one of the most powerful empires in the local region declares war on the whole planet. getting up and walking to the door. No collimeter production. President." "What?" Kelly asked." "We were at peace before you Americancowboys unilaterally declared war on the Horvath!" The way that summits usually worked was that lower-level functionaries met for months beforehand to set out the agenda and decide what their bosses were going to say to each other." Granadica said. "Ah. Mr. "I also need to do something I hate. quite low on fuel." "We're on our own." "I really don't need to hear." "I need to think. no laser welders. "We were expecting our delivery next week. The group hadalmost managed to get through the smiling photo-op before the President of Burundi. leadenly. No ships. just about the only remaining functional sub-Saharan country other than South Africa. including ‘neutral' shipping such as Glatun." the President said. "That explains it. no hypercom. We can't power our plants without helium. They also are cutting off all communication through E Eridani. nodding." State said.

"As long as we can avoid being a colony we should fight. but it would not be accepted by the German people." the Prime Minister of Germany said. The Rangora are. They don't seem to understand the concept of negotiated agreements. "I am simply putting it on the table. "I think it useful to put this on the table." "Anybodyin favor?" the POTUS asked. "There are arguments. The Horvath are simply impossible. looking at the French Prime Minister. every country around it was effectively a failed state and much of the rest of the continent was depopulated. Landlocked." "Nein. black man?" but managed to hold his tongue." the Prime Minister muttered. "This would cause great internal difficulty. it is understood. Negotiated surrender." the British Prime Minister said. "We are all mad. confused.before you idiots provoked the Horvath! And now we're at war with theRangora because of you!" "Would you have preferredforty Horvath ships in our orbitals?!" "They weren't bombing our cities beforeyou went to war!" "Excuse me. "Someone will eventually." "You're actually advocating that?" the President of the United States asked." The POTUS almost said "What's thiswe stuff." the Premier of China said. Everyone else avoided his eye as well. Surrender to the Rangora with the agreement that the Horvath are not involved. somewhat more civilized. Burundi and South Africa were pretty muchit for Africa post-plague. somberly." the Premier of China said." "Out of the question." "Since this has already descended into a shouting match. Kenya. "Was that We or Oui?" the President asked." the President of Burundi said. Burundi had enough problems at the moment. smiling slightly. horrified." the British Prime Minister said. "We politely decline the concept." He carefully did not look at the French Prime Minister. "China does not greatly care for foreign domination. "India has had its experience of being a colony. "I must point out that we did not care for the loss of Shanghai." the Brit said. "I suggest a short recess." the Indian Prime Minister said. "So that we can discuss in a less formal setting the task before us." THIRTEEN Page 106 .

former Governor of Oklahoma. The leaders of the top fifteen nations by economic and military power were. not a display of who had the most able aides. He'd worked on the Constitution project prior to being hired by Tyler as the manager of the Wolf gas mine project. They all knew that no one person knew enough to make every decision without input. the French would have used the whole meeting to slowly wear away at everyone. We were expecting . What you need is first priority. "Be nice. "We can put them right on the lower plate. I've cut the production on the twin for the time being. Then they'd see if they could get their individual countries to go along. ." the POTUS said. Including recent history. "No. looking at the figures. . In that. Granadica is down to two weeks." "A delivery next week. I'm going to head back to Earth to talk to the powers-that-be about stopping all terrestrial use until we're up." Tyler said. "Problem being. I've been taking a look at the data. "If I had not. I'm not sure where to get thepower to speed things up." "You really threw the fox in the chicken coop with bringing up surrender. but it's something. he was not far different from the POTUS. "As they are still attempting. There's He3 in the atmosphere at that level. "But for some very interesting reasons . was an OIF veteran with a degree in history and international law. There aren'tany major stocks." Tyler said." the British Prime Minister said. . Byron Audler was a mechanical engineer with a background in ship design and construction." "Can Granadica fab some temporary processors?" Byron said.Troy has about enough for a month. unusually. . The agreement was that this was going to be a summit." Page 107 ." Dasher gestured with his chin at the French Prime Minister who had button-holed the Russian President. "Big summit and all." "That's a possibility."Tellme you can speed things up." "I think they're going to be a bit too busy to talk." the Prime Minister said. "I heard. But the rough draft of what an interstellar war was going to look like had to come from the leadership. The Tory Party had practically renamed itself the War Party and it held a solid majority of the House of Commons based on a "Security First" campaign." Byron said. He knew history." "I'll crash it if I have to. "Think he's going to make much headway?" the President asked. He wasn'tabout to consider either surrender or compromise with the Horvath. William Dasher was the first Tory Prime Minister of Britain since Margaret Thatcher." Byron said. "Look at it." Tyler said. William McMurry. feeding themselves off of a buffet table. Notmuch . The plants run by the power companies were running on ‘just in time' deliveries to cut down on inventory.

"You have been reading the same reports I have been reading. many." McMurry said. William. "Russia is growing. less responsive than some to popular wishes. "Including myself in the conversation." Dasher replied. the Glatun vaccines make us pretty resistant to any more bugs. "What's Johannsen got to do with it?" the POTUS asked. "And grows and grows. the median age had risen." "Young societies fight. yes. The." Adler said. The GSP was in favor of withdrawal from the EU absent a unified military force and had increased military spending for the first time in three decades." the Hans replied. shall we say." "It is worthwhile to keep in mind that Russia." "Most democracies of the period when it was proposed were relatively old. "They also do not surrender easily." he added with a growl. As may be said for Greece. "They had had their baby-booms in the '50s and '60s. European detractors of the GSP often used a stiff-armed salute when it was mentioned." McMurry replied. ja?" the German said." Dasher said. "As I understand it." Adler said. "Scandinavia. shrugging in a most Gallic fashion." McMurry said. "It's been pretty thoroughly disproven. Hans?" Hans Adler was from the Center-Right German Security Party. But it is. "The reason was poorly understood. rubbing his chin. They remain very pacifist." Adler said. "Not so many blondes. By the time the theory was proposed." "The Russians are growing like a yeast infection. was now compulsorymilitary service again. The GSP made the French somewhat nervous to say the least. "Younger populations." "The Japanese do not take well to having their cities destroyed. frowning." Dasher said. Page 108 . though. "That's what you meant by Johannsen's." Adler said." "The French have not had the same population boom as many of us." "China seems to be onboard. Much of it at the expense of treasured domestic programs. "The Johannsen reports are what you are discussing?" "I was about to." "The effect held for some time. "You know the McDonald's theory of warfare?" "No two countries with a McDonalds will go to war. which for decades had had "draftees" working in retirement homes. Italy and Spain. That report I've seen but it was a different thrust. Not Japan." McMurry said. nodding. France and China have long been in a loose alliance to check American power." "But the effect remains. The compulsory civil service. Bosnia comes to mind. "Eavesdropping." Dasher said. dryly. eastern Europe in general.

"There is a great deal of discontent about a single man holding the power to destroy the world." the President said." "But everybody is going at this separate." "Despite your current defense spending. technological. . "Yes." Adler said." McMurry said." McMurry said. "which is not. to ignore them and act as if everything is still status quo ante." McMurry said. ." "With the US deciding when and how to push?" Dasher asked." "That sounds vaguely familiar. as a percentage of productivity and population. "We are trying to catch up. expect a change. But here's the truth. "Which you know. "Who else? The US has the biggest and most proven military. "Destroying the planet would take him at least six months. We're strapped.No one likes the conclusions. . of course . let 'em burn." "Which is mostly Apollo. It can't target inside of the moon's orbit without control from Space Command. very hard.'?" Dasher said. you still have the highest GDP in the world." "Wehave been thinking about it. There's exceptions." Dasher said. "If they were raising tidings of glad joy I'd have figured it for a pump fake." "So you're saying that the US is able to defend all of Earth." "I'm sort of glad the French are clearly against a full war movement. "But that's what's been happening. None of which changes the fact that we can't keep this up alone. the US has come out of that more hyper dominant thanbefore the attacks." Dasher said." McMurry continued. the largest and most robust economy and the best space program. industrial and political power to support a large space navy."?‘A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East. "Think about that. gonna be blunt. The mood with the people who elected me is that if we could let the rest of the world be bombed. Basically theonly space program since everyone else quit when the Horvath showed up. He looked up as the Indian Prime Minister drifted Page 109 . I ran on securing the orbitals." McMurry said." "I would hope so. we are up there as well. This is the reality as it stands today. the entire solar system. Despite the fact that the US took." "That's excessive. securing the system and kicking Horvath ass . "And discussing it. Hans. on its own dime." the German Prime Minister said. "Sorry. Destroying the biosphere? About sixteen days. in fact." McMurry said." Dasher said." "The US is the only country with the economic. It is not. anywhere near full war footing." Dasher said. "We need to get everybody behind the wheel." "There are lockouts on SAPL. the most heavy damage from the Horvath attacks of any advanced country in the world. "But we can't do this alone. The Chinese. Russians and French are trying. ." "We had little in the way of a space program when this started." Adler said." Adler said. "Whatever the Chineseseem to be doing. "I mean.

France and China. "Just explaining some facts of life to the President. the greatest friend and the most fearsome foe. all the nations of the world have learned that the oneuntrammeled defender. provide allied forces. had killed nearly a fifth of their population. built a great nation with very good structural conditions." Arjuna said. because no one believes the United States will fail to protect us. "When.over. "But creating our own space force is out of the question. And in this position of hyper dominance we now have a threat not to the United States but the world. The Johannsen Plagues." Bhatnagar said. is unwilling to contribute fully to its own defense." "Thank you." McMurry said. cowboys. rant about unilateral invasions. unused to the concept. victims of your own success. You are. the importance of the Mississippi River is vastly underrated. however. holding up a hand to forestall a reply. in fact." Dasher said. I could play what-ifs about India had it not been so long under British domination. really believes America can fail to defend the solar system. "Having a conversation amongst the adults?" Arjuna Bhatnagar said. The US has been the ultimate protector for most of the world for a very long time." "As it should be." McMurry said. as usual. solemnly. and competitive." "I'm a politician. we are all at risk." "That's a very nice sentiment. First. "I believe that we are looking at the question from the wrong perspective. Many logistic reasons for that. "But so far it seems like the world's problems are. Your people expanded across essentially untarnished terrain. is America. a touch suspiciously." the prime minister glanced towards the cluster of leaders from Russia." McMurry said. frowning. No one." McMurry said. because they are. and now sit in a position of hyper-dominance." "That is because you are a victim of your own success. "The problem is that we are viewing this as separate. as I said. But more importantly. Your functional enemies." "Who is still not enjoying the experience. Mumbai. countries. "are Page 110 . "Please. they were bouncing back fairly quickly. when we come to a time of decision and must find one group to depend upon." Arjuna said. warmongers. India had taken relatively little damage from the Horvath attacks but its capital of New Delhi as well as its richest city. Economically and as a society. had both been gutted. "Not at all. "We do these things." Adler said. "You delivered that very well. Mister Bhatnagar. on the other hand. India had a history of major plagues and recovery that gave them an institutional knowledge McMurry mildly envied. of course. For once it is not a question of our own priorities but of the world's." "Go on. "We can." Bhatnagar said. shrugging. let me explain. America's.no one. However much people may protest and complain about American power. of course. "The world. but I will not. his jaw working. however. frankly. "The United States has been a great success.

" McMurry said. That concludes my statement. like most Swiss politicians he had the patience of a saint. Why should any country increase its defense spending when the US can. are at threat. I had hoped to find support for the US defense of the Terran system. .more than willing to let you bear the burden of such a defense. pro forma. The US must go it alone." Adler said." ". too. have been. Canada. ‘We are a developing country. at this time. We will supply personnel. again. reading from notes. The excuses are many. what I have gotten to a much lesser extent is hard pledges or increased support. Again. The point is that there is no negative or positive pressure to support the US. frowning slightly. He took a breath then shrugged. are there hard numbers?" "Not at present." "Better start thinking on how. in the main. But it is a question history will have to decide. "I intend to use this forum to declare the full support of India. "I suspect that those three are going to come out of this war in an even worse position than they already hold. Finland and Australia." the President said. while that's all very nice. Page 111 . "We." McMurry said. "It would be extremely hard for Germany to equal that percentage. "While I have heard many fine words. . I need to go talk to some people." McMurry opened his mouth to reply then closed it. Fortunately." Bhatnagar said.' ‘We have many domestic spending needs.' The theme is always the same. equipment and supplies and pay for that to the extent that we can. "But . "But I have caucused our leadership and we will begin a move to full war footing. Britain. while France stands by its ally of many centuries. support further increases in defense spending. They see it as a way to destroy you economically. pensively. Furthermore. What is beyond our grasp we will need support on. . the world's largest democracy will not stand idly by while the world's oldest defends us. "That sounded ominous. "During this conference. all of which have either increased defense spending to near US percentages or intend to do so in the near future." "Which is a pretty good bet. the United States. But the general number that we're discussing is up to thirty percent of our GDP. the French government cannot. in conclusion. ." "Thank you. "I strongly disagree. and will." Dasher said. As itmust to defenditself . shrugging. mostly by our regular and standard allies." Bhatnagar said. as you once destroyed the Soviet Union. "So you don't think we're going to get much in the way of support?" McMurry said." McMurry said." the Prime Minister said. The exceptions are India. "What are you thinking?" "That the US isn't going to be made a patsy. one that has much been discussed in other venues as well." "The President of the United States?" The conference moderator was the Prime Minister of Switzerland." "That is a very large number. defend them quite well. And those few which have been presented. "A point was made to me during the recess.

as such. . and hopefully end. A full text will be supplied Page 112 . I am not a proponent nor do I think that the US public would ever countenance such an action. many of whom suddenly looked far less smug. Nor is it willing to sacrifice its treasure and blood when other countries stand idly by. are being targeted. ignoring them. in fact. the system picks up the initial boost traces from these gravitational detection satellites then. reject the notion of imposing ‘support' by violence. "However. all of themcannot be stopped during the first phase of battle. and there willbe a next attacker. "There is a movement in the US to force other countries to match our contribution. Managed by the AI Athena. "At the end of this conference I will announce that the US is withdrawing from all standing mutual defense treaties. consider the VLA and missile attacks. And that. they have to be targeted and destroyed by the BDA cluster that. "Let us. When boosting the missiles are. "The US has. and continued reading. choices have to be made." "You cannotdo that!" the President of France shouted. "During the terminal boost phase it quickly becomes evidentwhich countries. "And such allies as enter into anew treaty of mutual defense. Then they go silent and coast towards the earth. I. by and large." the President said. It really does make anyone with a touch of honor feel sick. If the choice has to be made. the US is not willing to defend others if they are not willing to contribute to their own defense. at enormous expense." The president paused and looked up from his notes at the assembled leaders. "Capital missiles go through three phases during an attack on Earth. constructed a fleet of satellites which the sole purpose of detecting and tracking such attacks. chooses to fire some of the great store of missiles at Terra. attempts to find them in the vastness of space and destroy them before they become a threat. often using stealth technologies and deception to cloak their movements. Why should they when the US citizen has to defendthem to defend ourselves. as could be expected from a heavy Rangora attack. therefore. Generally. "The first choice. Thus the fine words and penurious actions that have characterized this conference. the last of those twenty was not detected until shortly before it would have gone into its terminal boost phase. the Terran Alliance.that to defend itself the US must defend the world. It is not well known but there were.which cities. missiles expend eighty-percent of their onboard fuel in this boost phase. To descend to such depths would make us no better than the Horvath or Rangora. relatively easy to detect. "In the event of a heavy attack that gets through the gate defenses. there is no driver for other countries to increase their defense spending to support us. around the gate area as the last did. all of which were destroyed by this system. Any battle will start. supplying materials for great cost. has been set up in orbit to defend Terra. his face as set as stone. the first choice will be to defend the citizens of the United States who are paying for that defense. . He looked back down. again at purely American expense. The first is the initial boost. twenty missiles fired in the direction of earth during the last battle. We are beyond Hobbesianism. using a series of sensors. once again. again. reaping the benefits of American sacrifice while enriching themselves. "However. "You're dooming us all for your own folly!" He wasn't the only protester. will be to defend the United States. But if the next attacker. it would be quite difficult to do. But they are going very fast and in the event of there being more than a paltry twenty. Furthermore. certain . that gets through the deep space defense network and has to be targeted by the BDA. and the US government.

. equipment production. A high developing country is required to contribute one half and a developed country ninety-percent . all materials will meet Alliance standards of quality and all designs for platforms and equipment will be Alliancedesigns to maintain standardization. stabilizing it and generally reaping the benefits of America's commitment to democracy. cities. "Not going to happen. Chile and Brazil all meet the requirements or come close enough to be automatic members. To maintain membership.'?" "What if we don'tlike American designs?" the British Prime Minister asked. low developing." He looked up at the Chinese Premier and smiled. first priority will be given to allied countries and their ships. again currently the US. while America bleeds. The general standards shall be thus. There are already British. again. currently the United States. Now the world expects the US to defend it. a low developing country must spend one third the level of the lead country. "Or be restricted from or stricken from the alliance. For the time being. And that concludesmy statement. The standard for defense spending shall be based upon the defense spending levels of the greatest contributor." FOURTEEN "I need to talk to the President. One can be assured that the US will defend it'strue friends as if we were a single country. Australian and Canadian members of the crew of theTroy ." "You will leave us defenseless. "Furthermore. "As a percentage of GDP. you may feel free to substitute ‘American' for ‘Alliance." the President said. Britain. "You can toss your ante on the table or you can damned well die. reaping evenmore benefits. all forces shall meet Alliance standards of training and leadership. "The Constitution classes are designed and built by BAE. high developing and developed. if they wish to accept the additional provisos. free trade and freedom without incurring any of the massive cost involved. Last. materials. which includes personnel pay. Finland." the French Prime Minister said." "Ninetypercent?" Adler said. Australia. There shall be three levels of commitment." McMurry said. wincing. They don't have to be designed in the US. just accepted for use by the DoD. looking around. such countries must either be a democracy or agree to a timetable andfollow the timetable to enact full democracy. Canada. defending it. on defense." Page 113 . The countries of India. "You have leftyourselves defenseless. . colonies. In the event of an attack that enters the final defense zone. supplies or such defense infrastructure developments as may be considered necessary by the Alliance paid forby the country and supplied to the Alliance. etc. "The world has become used to the US cleaning up its messes.after this conference. "That's a British company. command of all forces shall be by Alliance officers. "Not at all. Onlyafter those missiles have been dealt with will the system shift to defending non-allied countries." the President said." the president said. The last point.

Do the math. And we had a lot of plants damaged or destroyed in the bombardments. Glatun plants produced no radiation. however. The fortunate fact was that the increasing access to Glatun designed He3 power plants had made his job easier and easier. . Secretary of Energy. cheap and easy. were relatively cheap to run compared to the power they put out and were a very small footprint. "Because it's clean. you know." the Secretary of Defense said. ." "How did we go to fifteen percent of our power depending on an interstellar energy source?" the President said. ." "How about all the lights are about to go off?" Lance said." the Chief of Staff said." "Holy ." the Chief of Staff said. Most cabinet appointees had worked in the field they "covered" at one point or another. All that relative ease had just gone out the window." Aterberry said. but most of them were not technicalexperts . looking around at the assembled group of advisors. He was finding it no more comprehensible as the boss than as a customer. Lance Aterberry. And the total available He3 in the system will last us about threeweeks . "Everyone needs to talk to the President. Even Florida and California were catching up on their energy requirements leaving him free to attempt to reform the most moribund and entrenched bureaucracy in the US with the possible exceptions of Agriculture and Education. "Isn't Apollo working on a plant in the Wolf system?" "They're at least three months from being online. "I'll call you back. "I'm serious. "We've converted fifteen percent of our power generation to He3. "Companies have been shuttering other plants because they get less trouble from environmentalists using annie plants than coal. Figure six months before we'll have the same access to supplies that we got with the Glatun. on the other hand." Page 114 . It just made more sense to build annie plants. "There's a war on. Secretaries of Defense had rarely been generals." "Except it is a strategic handicap." the SecEng said." "Tell me there's an answer. I need to talk to the President now . "And they won't go to full production right away.Lance Aterberry. nuclear or even hydro." Lance said. with the blockade of the Terran system. had a PhD in electrical engineering and had worked in the field of power generation and supply for thirty years before he ran for Congress. All our ships run on He3. Unless it's a warning that the Rangora are coming through the gate . patiently." the President said. He'd been picked as a natural to run the department and his biggest challenge so far had been dealing with the bureaucracy from on top instead of bottom. Few Secretaries of State had ever been Ambassadors. "The only source of He3 is the Glatun. But it's not just energy production." "What do you mean the lights are about to go off?" the Chief of Staff said. "It's one that we've been bringing up in meetings. . It was late at night on Air Force One and he wasn't enjoying the discussion. was a rarity in a cabinet position: Someone who actually knew something about their field.

"Hello. looking pensive. . doesn't mean they're not expending as much energy. noTroy ." the SecEng said. requires energy. don't you?" As theStarfire cleared the gate. No power. thundering rockets. Tyler didn't even feel it. "They don't use that much energy."We need that fuel for the fleet. Argus." "How much fuel do ships use?" the President asked. Tyler's implant dinged for attention. "Anyone know where Tyler Vernon's got to?" "He was in the Wolf system last week." the SecDef said. it would require so much refitting that we'd use up too much fuel doing the work. "Checking on the construction of the new fabber. "Forget the construction on new hulls." the SecEng said. do they?" "Yes. "Is there any good news?" The pilot of theStarfire suddenly made a sharp maneuver. "First of all. They're going to have to be orbital babies for the time being. Due to the inertial controls." "Can we make them nuclear somehow?" the President asked. sir. No food and material resupply. President.Troy runs on He3." the President said. no water. Any idea if they can be installed in theTroy ?" "I'm not sure about the construction requirements and getting the plants to them would be a stretch ." Argus said. technically. "There's no free lunch. confused." the SecDef said." the SecDef said. Imagine the number and size of rockets that would require to lift something twice the size of a supercarrier up to orbit. "There is a critical issue having to do with fuel." "Troymight be able to. they do." Tyler said." the Secretary of Defense said. But the chunk of metal the maneuver avoided was clearly visible as it flashed by the crystal wall making up one side of theStarfire . Mr. "Not as such. "It's actually pretty cold. "We'll needall of it. they can't dump the heat well enough. to accelerate in free-fall. Second. . And it all comes from He3. no air. Just because they don't have big. I think they've already been transferred to your department." Tyler said." the SecEng said." the SecDef said." "I think we need to see if we can track him down. "Actually." "We have six plants from Los Angeles class subs that haven't been torn down." "Forget the fleet. Page 115 . thoughtfully. some quality issues from the current one and the fuel plant.That's how much energy they use." "I was discussing that in Wolf. Mister President. A Constitution class can lift itself out of the grav well. "To boost out of the atmosphere." "When I was in Switzerland I kept thinking that there was someone missing from the summit. "No.

the stock market just tanked and we don't have enough fuel to support our fleet. ." Tyler said. My advisors say that you probably don't have enough fuel on hand to complete your fuel plant." Argus said. They weren't going to come into the system without fuel." Tyler said. That and the "multi-million dollar" part. aunified force? Yousure ?" "Better than putting up with crap like Monty pulled in ETO. They knewwe didn't have any. "Mr. but it's enough to finish the Wolf mine unless I'm much mistaken." Tyler said. Mr." Tyler said. "Yeah." "Or I just found a pile of fuel for the taking. things are dandy. President." The entire battlefield. We'll just siphon it out."On that subject. We'll get 'er done." the President said. But . congratulations on proving the US actually retains a set of balls." "Fourteen Alpha. "The President of the United States has been trying to get through to you. "How are you today?" "The Rangora declared war. . He'd have to shut down all the salvage operat . They were working on the ships that were Page 116 ." Survey generally didn't have much to do with the welders. I've got calls to make. this is the President." the President said. "In which case you either weren't listening or you've finally cracked. "That is a point. That was about all Butch could figure out of the explanation. . . dispersed as it was. Survey." the President said. confused. You?" "I'm in agreat mood. Fourteen Alpha. chippily." Tyler said. Mr. slowly. was visible as the shuttle. BFM and Butch were cutting out a set of Rangora laser optics." Tyler said. I declared that we're not going to fight it alone." "That's . "I'm not sure how much." Price replied." the President said. . "Just peachy keen. "Where?" "The Horvath ships. "The Horvath ships. . All the ones that aren't toast are going to have pretty close to full tanks. And "bevery careful." "Along with everything else. President." "I had my com on hold." Tyler said. some siphon. "It's going to be more complicated than that. "I was trying to think of a way to find more fuel. accelerated towards Earth. I count seven in view that probably have thousands of gallons. I've got to go. And the best part is I own it." "Survey. Go ahead and put him through. The French option is looking better and better. I've just found out that we can't even feed the terrestrial power plants which means people that are already sacrificing are going to be without power. Mr. "Mr. Other than that. President. orTroy . grinning. By the way. President." "Good afternoon. Tyler. Tyler tried not to curse." "You sound like you are. grinning like a fox that just ate the chicken.

" Price commed. . Fourteen Alpha. "Very effing funny. "Maybe later. Which are about one point two standard gallons. "Three hundred and sixteen thousand. The readout was mounted on a bulkhead not too far from where they'd been working. cutting off his torch." "Got the power coupling hooked up?" Survey asked." Survey replied. "Thank you. "Yep." "The tasking is from corporate. "Let's go take a walk. "That's the output for the port fuel tank on thatdestroyer." Page 117 ." "We're sort of busy here." "That's a lot of fuel. "We have a priority tasking." Price commed. there wasn't any power." Price replied. "That's what we needed. The sleds had various connections for supplying power." Price replied." Butch said. Survey. Butch didn't even "see" the actual numbers." Butch said." "Can I ask what we just did?" Price commed. The implants automatically converted the Horvath numbers. "Output set. We'll walk you through it.Break it down.salvageable whole and preferred to not have people bent on cutting them up around. Problem was. Survey." "Roger." Price commed. "Butch?" "Three-one-six-four-seven-nine. four hundred and seventy-nine Galactic gallons." Survey commed." Survey commed. "Set to output of128 volts alternating current." Survey commed. Fourteen Alpha. get it functioning and give us a reading. and one of them could even be rigged to connect to Horvath and Rangora systems. "What's the reading?" "I can't see it from this position. "You're the closest team." Survey commed. sixty-four hertz." BFM commed. Butch. "Survey says . "And power up. . though. Survey." Price replied." "Power's up. "Go ahead." "Need you to go find a readout.

"But those cruisers are gas hogs. "You can't haveall of it." Butch said. Salvage Control. priorities. Youdon't want to leave people in space and out of fuel. "But at absolute minimum power. "Just get back here. We need to keep an eye on absolute levels and when we're down to minimum reserves. Then more. junior. I'm trying to figure out." Nearly twenty years ago. "We need to maintain and train." "Roger. my people are looking at." "We need to keep the fleet fueled. nobody really gathered in large groups. keep enough fuel going into the Wolf system to keep the work on the gas mine going to completion. the US government had finally gotten the hint and dispersed. Since every time the Horvath targeted major capitals. We're diverting some of Page 118 . put the crews ashore and draw down their power to minimum maintenance. we're all going to be sucking fumes. Second priority. whether we can throw more equipment at the mine to speed things up." "Park the ships in theTroy ." "Control. "We just about had those optics unmounted. Congress met through electronic means. They need to be parked for the duration." Control said. Fourteen Alpha. I'm trying to prioritize some things there. the Horvath had announced their ownership of the Terran system by dropping kinetic energy weapons on Cairo. "First priority keepTroy running and continue work to upgrade the SAPL system interlocks." Tyler said." "Return to the barn." "Fourteen Alpha. start pulling people out and dropping them back on Earth." the SecDef said. Most major governments had done the same. "Let's get out of here. The Glatun temporarily kicked them out of the system. But he was rather happier withTroy wrapped around him. "I could do with a shower." Tyler said."For which we should all be grateful. There's bigger things doing.And watch your fricking positioning." the SecDef said." Price commed. and with the exception of the Pentagon. Nobody wanted to be the target of a Horvath or now Rangora weapon." Price replied. giving earth time to develop weapons of its own. priorities. Mexico City and Shanghai. We've stopped all non-essential production in Granadica and on the SAPL. That includesTroy . When they came back they dropped a plague and when that didn't work. dropped more bombs." Tyler said." "We've got enough fuel to finish the mine and keepTroy running and the fleet on maintenance. by the way. therefore." "Negative. "If we don't get that gas mine finished." "Crap. The question is priorities. could have had the present conversation in the Wolf system. video conferencing and voting. Tyler." "I'm not sure I can accept simply parking the fleet. We're being retasked. Because it's the only fuel left in the system.

"The dudes that mined for the Horvath didn't get paid crap. I didn't get most of it but the one thing I did get is that getting paid is really what matters. get the hatch open. later. Fortunately. "And I got a call from my mom the other day. the star field slowly wheeled as if watching the puny humans battling universal entropy." Butch argued. It was taking a while. You can't. And that was after the valves had been flown up from Earth. Dad said the plants having to run half time. End of philosophical discussion. Around him." Butch said. Right now I'm worried about how much fuel it's taking toget the fuel. They're in a real rush for this fuel.the power to get some processors up and running on the lower platform atmo. For once he was doing somereal welding. "They want to try them without doing a gamma test. actually. The South Africans just paid 'em crap. "And if it counts for our salvage shares. "I'm wondering how much this is worth. BF. Freedom and getting paid for your work go hand in hand." Page 119 . some far thinking individual had already had them made." Price said. has to be the lowest priority. " "Fourteen Alpha." "We're not cutting it out. Control." Price said. and still slowly twisting." "Better be. Fourteen Alpha."Price commed. You done with your bead?" "Just sanding it down. power it up." "Dude. "There's more to life than getting paid. So I ain't so worried if we're getting paid salvage. destroyer. "I think I've been talking to Purcell too much. you should have joined the Navy.then get to work." Price commed." "Glad we didn't cut that line. sliding his sled around." He extended a grinder and ground out an imaginary spot." Butch said.Salvage Control. We'll have some fuel flowing in a couple of weeks. I'd much rather just be pulling overtime and be able to live free. But running the fleet." Butch said. the only thing that matters is if we're getting paid. "Now it's good. had four taps on each tank. The fuel valves of the Horvath ships were different from the Glatun design the human ships used. The destroyer. for now. "He was going on the other day on the reason capitalism works. unnoticed. The Russians used prisoners. "Looks good." The fuel point was inside an armored hatch on the exterior of the mangled. They'd had to find the internal release system. We also have to build a tanker big enough to handle the output. alone. regarding his handiwork. Since cutting them out of the tanks was out of the question—the liquid helium wasn't going to remain liquid long if it was exposed to vacuum—a mating valve had to be installed on top. I'll make sure you have enough fuel to make up the difference."If you wanted to be all heroic. They've got rolling blackouts since the power plants are all down on earth. just siphon He3. you know?" Butch had managed to get himself wedged into the hatch with three arms stabilizing his sled while he welded.

the tanker's refusing to match to Sierra Seventeen because of rotation. Fourteen Alpha. they're soaking up radiation which is why they have a maximum period in EVA.And since the probe is rigid. one of three that kept all the ships in the system supplied. Understood. we have a valve." "We got tomatchto this thing while we're pumping it off?" The tanker was a small one. So whatever you're going to do." "Comet." "Bloody hell. if we get off by even a flicker. "Which means we get overtime and we get paid. they're just about on triple time." "We're just slightly expensive robots. " "Well then how the hell are we going to get the fuel off?" Butch asked. The basic coxswain position was only the start of training. Which you just said was the only thing mattered. I say this is a no-go. "I'm headed over to that cruiser that'snot spinning around like a top.And we're not real fast on maneuvering . "This thing has got a lot of rotation." "Butch." "I don't think we have the delta." the tanker pilot said. "Just extend the probe and we'll get 'er hooked up. And they werenot designed for salvage work. B. Since the boats were grounded." Butch said. "Sending over the tanker. Page 120 ." "Roger. I'm holding a laser and the skin on that sled ain't all that thick." Control replied." CM1 Glass commed. To make CM she had to pass a battery of courses as well as a more flight tests." "We're working with the military on a work-around. "Have your people stand by." "Not the only thin skin around here. ready room. Normally." "Okay. do it quick." "And now we got to mate it up. Now the three minor tankers were all that Sol had to manage and transport their remaining fuel. A. Advise. we're going to crack it. Control out." Purcell said. Dana had been working on her certifications. "Control." Price grumbled. "Do you see an alternative?" Price asked. "Welders get paid dick so we get all the EVA jobs nobody else wants to do. it filled up atTroy . trundled around the system fueling ships and then went back. "That's somebody else's problem." "Roger. dubiously."Houston." Control commed." the tanker pilot said.

open up the personnel hatch and pull off the pipes. designated Sierra Seventeen. Which will be ." Thermal said. currently. But that doesn't mean we get to use it. I need a hand. "We are authorized to tank up. Then back again. "Our objective is a destroyer. Thermal?" "This is going to take some coordination. hey. The thing wasn't spinning fast but maintaining position was going to be a pain in the ass. but it was a pain-in-the-butt to move that way. here. But she grabbed a couple of handfuls of fabric and started getting it unstuck from the engineer. grinning. She'd seen some asteroids with worse spins but not many. "I think the balloon is winning. ." Dana said." Glass said." "What about our own fuel?" Thermal said. how much trouble could it be?" "Do we even have an SOP for this?" Dana asked. "Once you're full." Dana said. we use the onboard pumps to pump them up to pressure. "The blivets are just about the size of the interior of the shuttles. "Roger. head over to the tanker." Glass said." "Ticklish is right. "What's u . This is the last mission until the fuel plant is up and running. It's also gotten well out of pocket. We're going to have to pump down. All that time the coxswain is going to have to maintain a close position on the derelict. starting to get wrapped in the thing as well. "There the engineers are going to have to EVA to hook up and cross-load. ." "We're picking up some field fuel bladders and assisting the civvy salvage crew on taking fuel off the scrapped ships. She wasn't even sure it could be programmed since the center of mass of the derelict made it constantly work off its standard trajectory. working with the simulator on a complex maneuver and the ping was sort of startling." Dana said. Once they're hooked up. A Mylar balloon that was fairly staticy. looking at the view of the derelict. "Be right there. Oh.She was." Thermal commed. It has a rotation of about two point five rotations per hour in three axes and a velocity of nineteen kilometers per second relative to the gate. CM. "I should have read the manual more carefully." Thermal commed. She managed to pull it off and pound it into a corner. . "Down!" Page 121 ." Dana commed. The engineer was wrestling with something that looked like a giant Mylar balloon. So get all the qual time in you can. The whole boat was pumped down so Dana just headed through the hatch into the cargo compartment. ticklish. Let's go warm some seats. we're just going to pull off the fuel. So I figured. "It said to keep it in its container until ready for use. . The civvies will then hook them up." Glass said. "The tanker has refuel points. We're not going to stabilize it." "Dana.

He'd gotten unstuck and was helping her get it under control. She was also having to keep an eye on the engineering controls with Thermal working the transfer. this is Myrm Thirty-Six. FIFTEEN "I'm going to snatch the pipe and hand it to you. But she could maintain it. "A nuke could barely rip it." "Probably pulling triple time."Just hold your points." "Break anything." "Hey."I don't thinkso. "Comet. "Fourteen." Thermal commed to Dana. You're going to have to snatch it. Okay. one corner of the hatch. over. Except it was shiny silver." Dana said. "That's done it. Bout time you showed up. Price crabbed his sled over to the shuttle where a guy in a suit was holding out one end of what looked like one of those pipes gas delivery trucks used." Dana said. She was having to constantly adjust in three dimensions and there wasn't a real good algorithm for it." Thermal said. Which was too many eyes." Butch said. next step is getting the pumpout of storage.'?" "I hope we don't rip this thing. Butch had to admire the older welder. he was a master of using a sled. aye. Page 122 ." "Fourteen Alpha." Thermal commed." Dana watched the operation through one monitor while keeping an eye on the focal point she'd chosen. I'm going to open the door and extend the pipe." "Got it.Speaking of which." "Sailors can . you got this?" "I've got it. We can't . a nuke would rip it. guys. "That would suck. . I don't have the delta with a navopak to maintain this." "Got it. the intercept was a stone bitch.None that I've found." Thermal said. I know. While Dana held it down he wrapped a couple of bungies around it. It was tricky. to maintain station. I'm going to fricking write one when we're done. ‘Field portable annie-plant fuel blivet still in container for movement?' ‘Field portable annie-plant fuel blivet still in container for movement. . . We've been sitting out here in the rads for an hour doing dick all. The big problem was judging distance. With all the equipment moving in about nineteen different directions. ." Price commed." "It's made of nanotubes. "We're on approach for tanking operations. but Price made it look easy. She was having to keep a third eye on the range indicator.

Comet. I don't haveanything !" "Clear it!" Price said." Price commed." "I just lost main breaker. pulling herself into her chair. "I'm just not able to . "Thermal." Butch said." Price commed. . . "And we have good connect. Fourteen. "Gravity coming back up. He'd been hit harder by debris plenty of times. Fourteen. . "Opening the valve." she glanced at the engineering controls and tried not to scream." Dana admitted. Thirty-Six. . Butch carefully latched onto the grab point and brought it over to the mating collar. We may be going into out-of-control condition . Thirty-Six. Fourteen." To maintain good station meant keeping within a few inches of center." Dana said to the darkness." Price commed. "Release the valve!" "Okay. we've got a flicker in the lower starboard thruster controls." Thermal commed." As EM1 Hartwell entered the flight compartment." "Copy. Helium started spurting into space and his temperature monitors started screaming. "Always something. "Thermal. "I'm on it. . It wasn't happening. Myrm. you copy?" "Yeah." Dana said. "And shut off the valve!" Price said. which was following the shuttle." Page 123 . the power and lights came on. "All I had to do was reset the breaker. slammed into the side of his sled. That looks like it." "Our little boat is having issues. I could feel something starting to go. ." "Go. Maybe Mutant or Lizzbits could do it but Dana just could not stay that close on station keeping. BF? I think I've got a problem . . . "Be ready to yank that connect. hitting the release on the connect." Thermal commed. . ."Get this. Then the valve. "Uh ." "Roger. extending the pipe." Butch said and the arm he was using broke. "I'm not on it. but the sudden scream of his breathable monitor said that this time it mattered." Dana said. "We don't want to yank your tank out of your little boat." "Dammit. "Got it ." "Ask your coxswain to try to maintain closer position.

And we are. He'd been a deep wreck diver before the War as well as a qualified watch officer." Hartwell said. It's apparently intermittent. Pluto. Making the transition to space navy had been relatively easy. Longwood was his boss." Dana said. Even space shade in this region isn't as cold as." "Great." Butch said. But he's not exactly a happy camper. Purcell. "That was massively fracked up. They all came up fine. I thought it was the destroyer shifting its trajectory again and corrected." Thermal said. If your boat's fixed we could use a hand here. Since the normal name was "Chief Cock" the fact that the chief coxswain was a female led to some ribald humor. "I started having control problems." "I pulled the breaker and the full set of relays for the port thrusters. "Engineering input. "But it looks as if it might be a bloody software issue. he is. "I hope we don't have to deal with Navy again. "And we're back. When it hit the steel it made it brittle. I see your lights came back on. . discontinuing this evolution." "Yes." "Helium is cryogenic." "An intermittent fault that can throw a main breaker is an intermittent fault we have to run down. looking at the sled. It sure looked like the steel broke like glass. hit the arm and the sled. The Squadron Engineering Officer was an Aussie seconded to the United States Space Navy. I then reset the breaker. Be a fair dinkum task to run through it line by line." "Oh. sir." she said." Purcell said. even carrying the fuel we'd loaded and the civilian sleds and the welders. sir. Then there was the overheat indicator. looking at the trashed sled. as you said. but I still can't find the fault. I've replaced everything." Thermal said. "I ran them all through standard tests including overpower tests and long runtime tests. Since he also had a mechanical engineering degree. Fourteen." "Thirty-Six. He3 is right above absolute zero. "But we've got a deadlined bird until . The reason I hate to say it is that we depend on the AIs for the software. which is an alloy designed for cryogenic temperatures. and shattered them like glass. he was a natural for the first Engineering Officer of a Myrmidon squadron. Any incident involving flight in the squadron had to involve the Chief Coxswain. pointing to the indicator. sir?" "I hate to say this. By actual Page 124 . By chain of command. say. . "Steel workspretty well in space as long as you don't get it too cold. Does that mean you can take us back to the Troy? Because I don't want to rush you or anything but when you pulled out the valve you cracked my partner's sled." "I hope like hell he's in a suit. And he's in vacuum. pointing to the readout from the flight recorder." Chief Barnett said. It wasn't high but it was moving out of range so it sort of caught my attention. We're discontinuing this evolution until we can determine what caused the malfunction." "Roger." "You can see where the port thruster started to act up." "Hate to disagree. There wasn't a flicker on the return trip. It's like it just went away."Roger. Then we lost main power and I went into out of control. Then the valve." Price said." Lieutenant Commander Brandon "Brad" Horn said.

"But I'll admit that right now. that's on me. the Squadron Master Engineer. I'm glad we're grounded by the fuel situation. If we have another fault like that.function. . But if the problem is related to maneuvering thrusters. I've run them at max power." Dana said. Which wouldlook like they just didn't make it. go for it." "You think they lost main breaker. "Thirty-Three. "Thirty-Three was put down to pilot error. Most of the machinery Dana couldn't identify although the massive overhead cranes were familiar as were the many CNC milling machines. "There's no proof of that at this time. cueball gentleman who had run her down. Because if there's something causing main breaker faults. "But I take your point. They test out fine. Commander Horn was hisboss's boss. It was also on the civilian side. Page 125 ." Thermal said." Thermal said. leaning back and crossing her arms. "In that case. but itwas my responsibility. But there were things that were screwy. they might have had a failure when they started their turn. echoing cavern of industry. powered up and down." "Say again." Barnett said." Commander Horn said. . I was the engineering NCO for Thirty-Three. It wasn't my boat." "I don't think I can." Chief Barnett said. His nametag read: Erickson." "There are ways that software could affect that. we'll put it down to random chaos which is a good description of the entire situation. "But the heat indicator indicates mechanical failure." "Not really. I don't want to be flying. Most of the construction work going on in the battlestation was done by civilians as was the depot level repair of military equipment. Chief?" Thermal said." "EM." "I think we need to be a bit cautious here. And if it's not showing up on standard tests . And even though there wasn't video. all the witnesses said that their nav lights went off just before they hit. Chief?" CM Glass said." Barnett said. Coxswain?" The maintenance support shop for theTroy was a huge. She was hoping that was the heavyset. "You still got the parts from Thirty-Six?" "Yeah. we'll have to find the source. loading the parts into a box. They called a mayday about a half second before they hit the beam. In the meantime. had so far been silent. they'd just plowed right into the SAPL. "What are you going to do?" "I'm going to take a walk on the wild side. "This is all stuff that we're learning. Chief Grady." "Damn." Commander Horn said. everything I can think of. Dana had just walked into one of the large hangar doors and started looking around for a friendly face. walking into the engineering shop. gesturing to a stack of relays and breakers." ??? "Can I help you. "Because as far as anyone could see." "I'm with you. "If you think you can find the fault." Dana said.

"I wish you'd been a coxswain inmy day. I'm in charge of milling but I can dance the tune of high power electronics. . "What's the problem?" "I had a main breaker fault. trying not to sigh. I was in a complex maneuver at the time. "Then we lost main power. . She'd worn the flight-suit that was just a tad too small and she stood up nice and straight. You're a bit young for my blood. "It really was . And experience. My engineer is saying mechanical but he can't find a fault." "I'll give you the second." "Must have been fun. "Were you open in your suits when this happened?" "Closed. "I'm looking for someone that knows more about relays and high-power electronics systems than my boss. shrugging. "The compartment was evacuated. ." Erickson said. "I used to be a Marine. "But I'll get it done. The Engineering Officer is saying software fault." Dana said." Dana said. There was just enough color to tell that the cueball was at least in part to cover up male-pattern baldness. grinning. . holding up his hands. You?" "Seaman Dana Parker. "I'm just looking for a little milk of human kindness." "We are swamped at the moment. shaking his hand." the guy said." "Nooo ." Dana said." "Which is?" "You and me catch a drink if I find anything. looking up and grinning. pulling out the offending relay. "Not hitting." Page 126 . "I guess it does wear off after a while. "The look's still there." "Your day?" Dana said. picking up the relay and examining it. "Name's Bill Erickson." Dana said." Dana said. "Thermal indicator on the 416 thruster relay." "I see. . jiggling his belly. pulling out a loop. I'd justlove to hear that story fromyour POV . But they didn'thave coxswains like you in my day. thoughtfully." she continued." Erickson said. setting the box down. holding out his hand. On one condition. "Is this an official inquiry?" "Nope." the guy said. . by the way." Dana said. He gestured to a work bench." the guy said." the man said."I hope so. putting on her brightest smile. gal." Erickson said. "That wasyou ?" "Yes." Dana said." Erickson said." "I see. "?‘CometParker?'?" Erickson said." "Onehell of a piece of driving.

" Tyler looked out at the main bay and frowned. We're not going to have a spare. The "spiders" extruded microscopic filaments of carbon nanotubes. After the pumps are in place we can start pumping up and separating. Page 127 . Six were planned. The pumps are on their way down. "Part of the plan." "I know. "Heard it before." They were having the conversation over a video link because no matter how impatient he was to get the gas mine done. It'll collect about a thousand gallons a week. theTroy was. Three. sir. actually. All the uplines and downlines are full. The same weavers that had spun the supports for the space elevator were now spinning the tubes descending deep into the interior of the gas giant's atmosphere. They were still drilling the SAPL feeds and at least the next time they'd have a full collector set up. Normally.'?" Tyler replied. trying not to laugh." Tyler said. it was possible to seal the tube fairly well against helium. By weaving using the ultra-fine and extremely strong material. patiently. after all." Byron said. He'd had a wall installed on his quarters similar to the wall on theStarfire . That's going to be about a week. "When did you shave your head?" "I've had a shaved head the whole time you've known me. a battlestation." Byron said. sir. . at base. in a circle around the main doors that made the back ofTroy look like some sort of spider. "There's no way we can speed up the spiders. "Seriously. If you need anything and don't get it right away. It was sort of the feeling a grandparent would get watching their grand-kids run around. But helium was tricky stuff. "Another month. But that's just enough to run us and do start-up.SIXTEEN "How much longer?" Tyler said. pretty much everything was stopped. complicated multi-part weaving machines. At the moment. "Take care. Tyler wasn't going to use the fuel necessary to go to the Wolf system and breathe down Byron's neck. We're getting a top-side processor up and running." "Yes.More spiders?" "Granadica already did. "But it still sounds like you're talking to Nathan. Then we'll have to work out the bugs." Byron said. he liked to watch the bustle. But the lack of activity was annoying. "I need to get out more. but the main bay was just about the most secure area in the solar system and he liked to watch the bustle. It was damned stupid from the POV of safety. call me." Tyler said." He started to say "hair" and then paused. I'll get out of your ." Byron said. sir. They were. "That's better than ‘get used to waiting. Seriously. .

sir. "There is news. There is now a feed off the Galactic side of the hypernet." the Director of National Intelligence said." "You asked to speak to me. they might not even be from the supposed sender." This is a scene of the victorious Concordance Fleets assuming peaceful orbit around the planet Ghapolhat in the Mu'Johexam system. Mr." the DNI replied. His plant quickly found the channel he was looking for. The information could be coming from anyone. "Yes. ??? "Can we derive any specific intelligence from this?" the President asked. "Remember." Tyler said. Mr. "It's propaganda. "This is a propaganda broadcast." the AI replied. "Hello. The Glatun system defenders welcomed their Rangora liberators with open arms in a show of mutual fortitude against the decrepit plutocracy that has too long oppressed. "We can do analysis on it. but at the end of the day we really don't know anything for sure. With the Concordance control of the Eridani system. Vernon." "You've got more data on the Rangora than any hundred analysts." Argus said." "Are they at war?" the President said." Tyler said. "Are we secure?" the President asked. Mister President?" the AI said." The President leaned forward and hit the speaker phone.. "But I doubt they'dlie about going to war against the Glatun." the President said. get me Athena. "The systems are secured physically and I've secured them a bit more electronically. there's no surety of any information coming through. sir. It's like the internet. . "Janice. "Better than that. However." Argus said. shit." Tyler spun around in his chair and turned on the TV. "High probability. Argus." Tyler said. What's your take?" Page 128 . "The DNI says we can't get any real data from these broadcasts. "Good afternoon." "I know. I can't say. Again. "Oh. If they're using propaganda I would expect personal messages to start coming through backing up the information. President.He connected when his implant pinged since it was Argus and the AI was notorious about not wasting his time. it is only one connection and that is a Rangora propaganda channel.

Zhoqaghev and Silhemik systems as the broadcasts indicate. From there they could then proceed into the Zhoqaghev and Mu'Johexam relatively uncontested. But there is no mention in the broadcasts of Tuxughah. "And that the Rangora have attacked through a lightly defended zone. It was considered an unlikely avenue of hostile approach since they were required to go through several star systems to get there. Silhemik did have a gas mine so they could refuel and use the local fabbers to rearm. it is probable that the Rangora built a forward supply base in one of them. Rocholhek and Sidirox." Athena said. technically held by the Glatun. This would have the effect of pinning forces there as the main Rangora force attacks from the flank." Athena said." Athena said. unmentioned. There is a five percent chance. "In both cases. But by examining their statements and applying regression analysis it is possible to construct a reasonable surmise of actual events. engaged in two wars of conquest against minor species." Athena said."The Rangora have. Those star systems were. again. "Which I'm sure was the intent of the Rangora. sir. looking at the DNI." Athena said. But since they were uninhabited and there were not constant patrols. again." "So you can tell me something. it is out of the way." "Do we have that on a star chart?" the President asked. "The DNI has a valid point. Notably." "What do you think of the political aspects of the broadcast?" the President asked. It appears that they moved their main force in through the Silhemik system. Athena. To get from Silhemik to Zhoqaghev is possible without going through Tuxughah but. Probability on that is eighty percent. "There. I find the lack of mention of Tuxughah interesting. Mr. "But it was the main naval base in the region." "Interesting how?" the President asked. a relatively minor world. I suspect they had problems in the Tuxughah system and are simply not reporting any attack until it has been reduced. This is one of the points I was looking for in their veracity." the President said.'?" "Your own media is already repeating that with the most pro forma statements that the information is censored. The Glatun military was Page 129 . bringing up the map and highlighting the system. until recently. attack against main defense systems. "There are no guarantees. President. which was an outlier system. "Furthermore." the DNI said. "The whole ‘welcoming with open arms their Rangora liberators. within the last twenty years. they were careful to restrict all information that was transmitted during their conquest phase. you think these broadcasts are for real?" "I surmise that there is a war. lightly inhabited and lightly defended. more or less. that this is an elaborate ruse. It is a standard Rangora tactic simply on a strategic level. "Tuxughah is." Athena said. I also surmise that this is their heavy attack and that there isanother . "Given the timing. though. What has to be examined is their probable strategic intent and what they are not saying. "Ninety-Five percent probable." "So theyare at war?" the President said. The DNI just shrugged and looked unhappy. they have probably taken the Mu'Johexam. But only about five percent. "So.

The members were not. If the Glatun military can pin the Rangora at a choke point." "You owe me a drink. however. "Can we jam the hypercom?" "Yes. It is Rangora standard technique to destroy all orbital systems and defenses and carpet bomb the planet. There will be significant damage. Attacking through gates is difficult and damage intensive as you saw with the recent Horvath attack." the President said. "I don't know that we can actually surprise them." "The positive side is that the Rangora probably have little time to spare for a minor polity." Athena said. has yet to encounter the Glatun main force. evenTroy will fall to their assault. engage and destroy one." Erickson said." the AI said. "My analysis is that we should have at least weeks. And that assumes that the Glatun military does not significantly impede them in the main battle." the President said." "Importance to Earth?" the President said. But I'm relatively positive that. The decisive battle has probably not yet occurred." the President said. "But there would be great public and international outcry if we did so to cut off the broadcasts. . before they attack. "But I don't think you're going to be in a celebratory mood." "Can we stop them?" the President asked. "Where does this leave us?" "First. But it will take time. "The Glatun cannot.considered of little worth within the society. They tended to be true believers and mostly from long-term military families." Athena said." "Not to cut off the broadcasts. "I want to let that through. in fact. And the Rangora main force. that they are not going down without a fight. The war from the Glatun point of view will be over. they may be able to blunt them to such an extent that they will retreat and never threaten Earth at all." Page 130 ." Athena said. Eventually. certainlywill not. If the Rangora bring their full force to bear on the core worlds ." the President said. If they send a lesser task group andThermopylae is online. enlisted for drink." "Understood. given that they have been systematically stripped of power. as of last intelligence summary. And there will be more and more ships." "Lack of information can cut two ways. I am also less than sure that their admirals know what they are doing. spare forces to assist earth under these conditions. have sixty-two gate assault ships. sir. based simply on the missing mention of Tuxughah. probability seventy percent. The main SAPL can. At that point they can bring their full weight to bear against Earth. the scum of the Federation. it ispossible to hold the system. sir. "Do it. My analysis is that they are defending as well as they can. probably months. They apparently had been making them in large numbers in secrecy. "Not if they bring their full assault fleet against us. That is if they bring the full force and there is onlyTroy . ." Athena said. But can we stopour information from goingout ?" "Yes. But it would be nice to try. such as Futeyig. "The Rangora. "And it explains why they took the embargo without so much as a whimper. Which is why I rather doubt they were welcomed with open arms. on our own.

. The rest of the world was free to surrender." "Why?" Hartwell asked. thank you." Erickson said. "Gold? I thought the whole system was super-conductor material. "But . you have to have a way for the electrons to exit. The Alliance was going to fight. And nobody had come up with a way to run a war without a deficit since Caesar. The French and Chinese were specifically boycotting it and most of the EU countries were stating they had a hard time coughing up the money to join. frowning. The way the EU was set up. super-conductor you've got to think of as sort of an interstate for electrons." Erickson said. And when you have two super-conductors in direct contact. I can talk about quantum if you want. "The point is you have to have a way to coax them out. "Got that. Lower level conductors Page 131 . and the international stage. blinking." Erickson said. They're kind of going round and round on the track and they like it there. This is a bit complicated. "And that's why the Commander said it was a software bug. The interaction point uses gold as its conductor." Hartwell said. The Myrms were well and truly shut down with the fuel shortage and it was study or listen to Rangora propaganda and people who were buying it. but explaining it inEnglish is tough." "Okay. wrong." "Okay." "The internal conductors are super-conductor. The Terran Alliance plan was being ripped apart in the media. It's really easy to move on the interstate." "And we don't have flight power." Erickson said. . The UN had voted in a non-binding resolution for surrender to the Rangora. If they ever had fuel to fight with. "The way they trade electrons in a super-conductor prevents it. bringing up a picture of . "I can do the math for you."What did you find?" Dana asked. ." Erickson said. . They have to be made like computer chips. The first point to make is that the breaker doesn't just react to ground load." "Point?" Dana said. rubbing his head in thought. "Can you do the math?" "Yes. "You might want to come over to the shop with your engineering people. "You better be glad your Myrmidons are down. "This is an electron spectroscopy study of the relay." Dana said. If any of its algorithms say that you're about to have a major short. shrugging. The US had more or less told them to stuff it. Specifically. "And the Commander is . . Politely. She was about ready for a break from studying. These things are incredibly refined. they don't trade electrons very well. they weren't supposed to run deficits. nodding. It's computerized and checks for various faults. of one of the primary power interaction points. And there the point breaks down because in relays. so electrons sort of want to stay on. Part of a group of four that's arrayed around the main breaker. bringing up the schematic of a relay on the screen." Erickson said. . it shuts down." Thermal said. "This is the relay you brought in. something.

"And the relay overheats. Six dozen people analyzing that crash and nobodycaught this. Apollo's balance sheet was the near order of the Earth's balance of trade." the engineer said. But the arcing is microscopic in macro. thanks for finding this for us. If you'd had your helmets off you'd have smelled ozone. wasn't happy about that." Thermal said. quality." Erickson said." "Which means the power doesn't flow evenly across the contact point. The gold has got to be a specific density. alloy and thickness. he'd gone into areas like a bull when other companies either didn't notice them or were tepid at best. And since it was news about Apollo and Tyler Vernon. had not quite overwhelmed the news that the Glatun were at war with the Rangora. despite the enormous initial costs. "Gold-gold connections are solid. Competing was Page 132 . What happens is you get ." "How thick is it?" EM1 Hartwell asked. Specifically. it has to be between seventy and ninety nanometers thick with very little variation and right around fourteen karat with specific levels of silver and copper. This one wasn't. ." Thermal said. The news about the bad relays. And Comet. Think of it as fourteen karat. Apollo and LFD had become the sole-source providers for a dozen different areas. "We're going to need your data." "There wasn't much left of Thirty-Three from what I hear. Erickson. "But if you test it under power. I've got to go talk to the Chief. surprisingly. crap. He was a firm believer that competition made a company stronger." Dana said. By the time major corporations even noticed that. There had been one start-up that had tried to compete with Apollo in mining but they'd gone out of business. his jaw working. "Ish. and potentially causing a fatal crash. The problem was. Tyler had built so many mirrors it was worth just buying time from him." "Oh . mostly related to defense." "And you get a ground fault indication." Erickson said. Tyler. And it's about seven karat with most of the admixture being copper. "And the main breaker throws. it probably has enough gold that the machine can't tell the difference. . And the gold on each side can get the electrons out of their super-conductor womb." Hartwell said. .work for that." "Arcing. Most of the interaction points were fine." Thermal said." "Yep. The problem was. It varies from thirty-five to sixty. There were already calls for Congressional investigations." Erickson said. it starts to fail. bringing up a string of code. So it's more red gold than gold. the media was going ape-shit. But it can't be pure gold because that's too soft and melts in an instant. "Took me a while to find this." Dana said. "The gold is in direct contact with the super-conductor on both sides." "And you have no power and you plow into a SAPL beam." "Okay. So it's hard as hell to spot. . good job finding him. And when it overheats. "Dammit." Tyler muttered. "Mr. Gold is the best. So you use a gold alloy with admixtures of copper and silver. But it was news. "Thirty-five.

Somebody had to pull watch. Qua Tang Electronics. the same goes. and it'sour fault even if one of our suppliers screwed us. Make the pain as widespread as possible. But it had more or less. One petty officer from the Squadron on fixed location by the entrance and a roving guard. had wandered into the squadron area. "This is a restricted area. "As soon as we release the results of our internal findings. Be wildly unaimed in your fire. His internal review people had already looked at. every member of the board. the findings. Just tell your second he or she is in charge. based on that and his contacts with the Glatun financier Niazgol Gorku. But Tyler was looking at more than the news. he'd gotten Granadica. every senior officer. It didn't matter that if there was an alert. Which won't bring the lost crew back and won't solve the problem. Pulling watch was a fundamental aspect of being in the Navy. But PO3s were considered "over-paid Page 133 . is blacklisted.pretty much out of the question. the Chinese government will find someone to ritually execute. It was our design." Technically. Post it on the internet and push it in the media and blogs until it gets through. it was our quality control. Tell legal to shut the hell up when they start whining. there is no overkill. in general. EM2 Carter." And that was the easy part. and the Chinese. "Find any memo related to questions about quality control. LFD copy to everyone on the same level in all branches and departments. and confirmed. Fire anyone who downplayed them and promote anyone who raised questions even if the first person is normally great and the ‘whistle blower' is an asshole. Who. Donot use the families for photo-ops. the engineer on Forty-Six. It didn't matter than the main Naval area of theTroy was secured by armed civilian guards. Which pretty much put paid to competing with him in orbital manufacture. From maple syrup to mirrors to mining to orbital manufacturing had been a long and costly road. Come clean with everything we can find internally that's not security restricted and all of our actions. "Do a press release stating all of the above and acceptingfull responsibility. LFD. And if any of you are on the memos. LFD. Vice President of Quality Control. It didn't matter than nobody was still quite sure if theTroy was a ship or a base. And then there was the really fun part. and blacklist any company they are associated with as well. No point in playing games. didn't rove much. Double up on kids. it was our manufacture. in many cases accidentally. The supplier. there were alarms all throughout the base and everyone had implants so they'd get the word. With something like this. Nuke first. holding up her hand. Then. I want this done yesterday." Coxswain's Mate Third Class Dana Parker said. "Sir. Take the cost of a Myrmidon. was "visiting the gentleman's" so it was up to Dana to challenge the civilian who. newly promoted CM3 Parker was a petty officer. Find every person associated. President of Manufacturing. somehow. "Memo to CEO. Make sure all of these terms are in the press release. ask questions later. pack your stuff and go home. Split it between the Wounded Warrior fund and the families or beneficiaries. If we get sued that is not to be considered in any settlement or reward. crushed any competition.

Hoo." Captain Chris "MOGS" DiNote was the commander of the 142nd. looking in the door. Sorry. ." "To your left. then opened her mouth." Tyler replied. The only person she could think of with the same sort of clearance was the admiral. Coxswain. Unrestricted access. "I've always had problems with port and starboard on theTroy ." "That would be left as I'm walking or right?" Tyler said. sir." Tyler said. "go hit the stores for your badge." Under normal conditions. sighing. Dana would meet neither time in grade nor schooling requirements since she hadn't attended the Leadership Training Course. Coxswain?" Tyler said. "Squadron offices are down the corridor to port. I need to go be abject. But this is still a restricted area. And it wasn't like he hadn't met Vernon before. you're on watch in an hour. "No. "I was wondering if you could direct me to the CO of the 142nd?" "Yes." Dana said." "Yes. hopefully it will be your paygrade. "Above my paygrade." Tyler said. She'd completed all the mandatory exams and with all the ceremony attendant on such an august position she'd been told. sir. all areas. "But I think I'm avoiding it by talking." "Yeah. coloring." Tyler said." Dana said. I'm Tyler Vernon. sir. "Thank you. Coxswain.seamen. someday." Parker said. Vernon wants to see you." "You mean about the relays. though." "Well." Dana said. "You were about to say something. sir. Promotion requirements had been somewhat relaxed with the burgeoning space Navy. pulling out an access badge. I built it. sir. . taking his badge back." the captain's yeoman said. She remembered her dad shouting "Yeah!" when Vernon had made his famous "Live Free or Die!" speech to the Horvath. "Yes. sir. It wasn't like she hadn't seen the guy on TV. I'm not good at abject. "Mr. If you'll excuse me. ." Tyler said. "I know." "And I have a hall pass. with an audible clop. all conditions. He'd been onTroy for about two years which made him an old hand. "And now I must go . "Yes." "Sir. sir. sir?" Dana asked." "Uh . The last time was just in somewhat better circumstances. holding out his own hand. sir." "Send him in. a dining out in the Admiral's quarters that was interrupted by the Page 134 . "I thought since I was here I should go deliver a personal apology." Dana replied. She closed it. . She checked the badge then swiped it through the verifier. once again.

. we're going to have to tighten up there. They were skimping on the gold for obvious reasons." MOGS said. "This is my personal formal apology for the failure of one of our systems which appears to have contributed to the deaths of your servicemen. Tracking them down. Okay. grimacing. . though. To reduce the strain on Granadica." "Which is?" Tyler said. I'm sorry ashell . .first Battle ofTroy . "The problem is we can't track down any onepoint . "None of us are." "Where's the other problems?" Tyler asked. . were two of about two dozen. Chris." "Replacing the relays with good ones will do it." DiNote said. Grab a chair. some. We ran a couple of systems that were having problems through the same sort of analysis but they didn't have the same problems. But ." "That's a point. sir. shrugging in frustration." Tyler said. Just . We've gone back and done the same analysis on lots that we keep on hand to check for this sort of thing. Those relays. If it makes anyone feel any better. And we know they're going to stay flying. "Mr. "The Myrms are down until the investigation is completed. We're tracking down what went wrong and we're going to try to ensure it doesn't happen again. trying not to grimace. coming to a stop and assuming something resembling parade rest. Same components for sure. theStarfire is essentially the same design. "Captain DiNote." Tyler said. but . Also because it was pointed out quietly that we were killing off terrestrial manufacture." "Thank you. "There really should be redundancy. Jesus Christ. "Stuff just ." "Didn't figure you were happy. "What the hell happened?" "On the record for all I care. calling it sloppy is being generous. Vernon." DiNote said. "You shouldn't lose power if a single component fails. "Off the record?" DiNote said. that there's a fundamental problem with the design. . And I didn't want that to happen. There's not a lot else to say but that I'm very very sorry. The nanometric lay-down is actually hard to do so I'll give them simply poor quality there. is damned near impossible." Page 135 ." MOGS said. "And I'll be taking out the first Myrmidon that activates. That being said. They were . So a bunch of Myrmidon components come from terrestrial manufacture. . shaking his head. "I've already told my people that this whole investigation is going to be a public and ritual auto de fe. . though. sitting down. Sometimes it's internal grav. So I've been putting my own ass on the fire for the last year and a half." Tyler said. you'll get funky gravity in some spots on some boats. but the inertics seem to work just fine. and the main breakers. . Doesn't matter. I sincerely regret that we failed in our quality control and design processes. It wasn't Granadica. leaning back and crossing his arms." "Nothing will." DiNote said when the short financier entered his office. . we got a lot of the components from earth companies. Won't bring your sailors back. . Comes and goes." MOGS said. And the ones from one particular company are all bad. which is juggling a lot of balls. We're going to gut the company and anyone associated with it. And it's not the only place we're having problems." Tyler said. "A point was made.

"Hard to track down and inconsistent problems." "I've found that these sorts of conversations and screaming at people is often more useful than a carefully prepared PowerPoint. I don't know what cloud he is currently floating on because it involves a piece of land they have been battling over since their pre-history. were much more powerful than Devastators with heavier screens and more throw weight. They don't have enough fuel to finish the mine!" The trade embargo had gone into effect only shortly before the war against the Glatun." Beor said. I don't think they can make up their own minds. And the relay issue. There's no way they can get that gas mine finished before we arrive in force." DiNote said. critical issues. "I start to understand the problem with deciding what will work with humans. "Thank you." Tyler said. That's fun. "That's just off the top of my head." "None of it has really beencritical so far. . you are not my rating officer. And things need more redundancy." "There is that. two steps down in throw weight from Assault Vectors." To'Jopeviq said. The Aggressor battleships." "I'm pretty sure there's going to be a full report." Page 136 ." To'Jopeviq said. Either way the trade embargo was sure to cripple the humans. Gravity vortexes can be ." "Okay. ."?‘Funky gravity' can be a real problem. "I remember some of the problems Boeing had with their first grav systems. And I'll get some people to look at the problems with the gravity systems. but things there seemed to be going well." the Kazi said." To'Jopeviq said. "Except the relay issue. "There is a study off their own hypernet." Tyler said. You could never really trust the official reports. As soon as we have fuel again. frowning. The current plan would free up some forces to attack Terra in no more than six months if all went well. was too little. "So I'm going to go scream at people. That may take some skull sweat but I know some people with really good skulls. "Avama sent it to me showing how ‘peaceful' they are. which was pretty much out of the question. "The lack of fuel will hold them up for at least six months. I'll get Granadica started on some reallygood relays. that was genius." Tyler said. Avama was convinced that the simple appearance of a Rangora fleet would have the humans asking for a negotiated surrender. Toer was insisting that anything less than multiple AVs." "Tell me who it is and I'll send him a letter of commendation." SEVENTEEN "Beor." DiNote said. To'Jopeviq was still having a hard time agreeing with his analysts on what would be necessary to attack the human system. "Unfortunately.

" Beor said. "They refused economic concessions but would consider territorial concessions based onpoints of honor . That explains the fierceness of battle but not the stupidity. The Americans again. . they were more willing. "More or less equal sides. "Hmmm . And they lost the spy war. . The Americans lost almost all their overseas possessions. British were early in the war." To'Jopeviq said. Along with a minor group called the British. . "What?" "Well. . . "And they lost virtually every insurgency. but at least five thousand. it's been a battleground ever since. ." "And they won?" Beor said." "It sounds like they need a good eugenics program. Just their military history is a big chunk . If they were offered purely ceremonial concessions. "They haven't hadwriting that long. naturally. Page 137 . USSR was deeply invaded ." "Look for par war. "Repeatedly. even strategically vital. "Hot war." Beor said." "Who won?" Beor asked." "Did the Americans give up territory?" Beor asked. And they really are stupid." "Ceremonial concessions?" Beor said." To'Jopeviq said. But the study showed that whereas if the people of the region were offered financial incentives to make peace." "It seems that way. . they rejected them. though. "That each group would give up things that they saw as their ‘rights' in the conflict. Got their butts kicked. "They have had some long-drawn insurgencies . "The battles were mostly between insurgencies. USSR and Americans are allies against an axis of three enemies." Beor said. The first battles are only written about in their religious tracts. "Part of it."Forty thousand years?" Beor said. . . . . Lead group of NATO was . Their history is replete with groups giving up important. And as far as anyone can tell. didn't accept just part of the prize." To'Jopeviq said. They got their butts thoroughly ki ." "Last big one was what they refer to as the Cold War. "I'm just starting to look at their history. did the side that gave up the strategic ground win or lose in the end?" Beor asked." To'Jopeviq said. "Previous major war?" "World War Two. of course." To'Jopeviq said. Gave up territorial concessions for peace." He paused and looked at some recent wars in Terra's history. The two major players were the Soviet Union and NATO. "No. "There are some very stupid humans. might be that one of the groups was already subject to a eugenics program." To'Jopeviq said. "Theywon ?" "Interesting." To'Jopeviq said." He stopped. terrain for peace only to have to battle to get it back when the aggressor. .

But there were still nuggets of truth to be teased out. "Which is?" "The humans have retaliated and cut off their hypercom connection. They entered a plea to the Glatun to intervene because. almost hesitant. "Come. we have a little bitty problem." Beor said." To'Jopeviq said. over-stating the ability of their craft. it was possible to get some clue as to their actual ability. Here's a good example of how stupid humans are. sticking his head in the door. I'm starting to see apattern . disinformation. tap at the door. "I can see why the Horvath concentrated their bombardments on the Americans. There were full specifications for their ships available on many "security" sites such as Janes. Many of the abilities of their systems were clearly false. "Millions. The humans were clearly doing the same thing. hissing." The good part about this job had been the almost total lack of information control on the part of the humans. "And more to the plagues. obviously. Much of it was. But by sifting through the lies. the Horvath were using weapons of mass destruction against thecivilian population !" "That is funny."Damn. "What else do they expect anyone to do." To'Jopeviq said." To'Jopeviq said. . Page 138 . And especially these Americans. "There are a few countries that don't actively hate them. And the Glatun were not that generous. "Uh." The was a quiet. Now all of that was gone. Destroying your enemy's will to fight is the whole purpose of war. The Horvath did that sort of thing." "How many people did they lose?" Beor asked. . The only way they could have drives and lasers as powerful as listed was if the Glatun had given them access to all the Glatun's most advanced technology." Toer said." "I see an opportunity here ." Toer said. but not many. . What's their current status? After the bombardments?" "The most powerful country on the planet by a long shot. . "We don't have any up-to-date information anymore." To'Jopeviq said." "You think? Do they have enemies?" "Pretty much the rest of the planet. Even Toer had finally agreed that the SAPL could not be as powerful as listed—it had that much raw power but there wasno way that the humans could have mirrors that actually handled seventy petawatts—and the new Thunderbolt missiles could not have the drives or penetrators listed. There was no way that any group could be as free with military secrets as the humans and especially the Americans. Which just meant that the specifications were false. get this.

" Nathan said with a slight pout." "By the time the first tank on the mine is full. "We're going to insert it in the hull to prevent bleeding. Fast." Nathan said. put on some valves and we're good to go. I haven't asked." Tyler said. "Isn't she a beauty?" "It's a blimp. "That's just the inner bladder. gas mine were now spinning the tanker. "Where's the hull?" "We're spinning it up." Beor said." She didn't have any real cold-weather clothes on theTroy ." Nathan said. And that was just what it looked like. sticking her head in the Flight NCOIC's office." Tyler said. blimp. "But this is going to be a lot of fuel. "Then we will be wrong." Tyler said. if slowly. They were about half done which meant that it looked like . . The spiders which had woven the pipes for the now operating. I'm figuring the gas mine takes longer to get into full operation than the tanker. She had her arms wrapped around her and she was shivering. "Is it the power shortage that has the AO freezing? I was just wondering. Take that into your calculations. So we'll have to do our projections on that basis. "And they don't have fuel." Tyler said. Seal the end." "Time?" Tyler asked." "Ah. "CM." "Well. "The SecDef is getting antsy that his pretty little fleet is still docked. A sweater under her flight-suit was the best she could do. silver." Nathan said. And that wasn't cutting it. "We're going to need her twin. proudly. the tanker will be ready. ." "What if they find a source of fuel?" Toer asked. it's already pumping enough to fill up Granadica and get back on track. we know they cannot complete their projects onTroy without fuel. Once it cools enough we'll send it in-system to pick up the bladder. And then there's the rolling blackouts on earth. "Month or so." EIGHTEEN "We waited until we were sure we had enough fuel to do the tanker." Dana said." "You know." Nathan said. "But we won't be wrong. "Out system. Where are you going to put it?" "Someplace very very safe. A half formed blimp at that. Page 139 ."Well." Beor said. half a big.

Even with all the work done onTroy using the SAPL, the battlestation was well outside of the life zone. The sun's rays couldn't keep it above freezing. That was, normally, handled by heating elements woven into the external portions of the crew areas. The crew areas were, essentially, self-contained, space stationswithin the battlestation. They were surrounded with insulation and the temperature maintained by the heating coils. Which apparently weren't working. "I was wondering the same thing," Glass said, blowing on his hands. "I tried turning the thermostat up but I didn't get anything out of it. And it's not like we can start a fire. Well, we could but it wouldn't be a good thing . . ." "Is there somebody we can check with?"

"Colonel Helberg, Captain DiNote." "Helberg, Captain." "I'm getting some concerned inquiries regarding the temperature regulators in the Squadron area." "Ah, that. Yes, it's a precautionary measure. Should be cleared up in short order." "Precautionary measure?" "We're about to do some major work in your AO with the SAPL. It was feared that there might be a high degree of thermal transfer. Lowering the temperature in your sector reduces the possibility of excessive thermal transfer as well as increasing the rate of cooling." "So...it's freezing now, but pretty soon it's going to getreallyhot? Could you be more precise about ‘thermal transfer'?" "We're hoping for simply warm. But we'll probably do a precautionary evacuation of your Charlie Flight areas." "I could have used some coordination on this, Colonel." "Things have been somewhat complex lately, Captain. I apologize." "I'll tell my people. Oh, may I inquire, purely for curiosity's sake, what you mean by ‘major SAPL work in my AO' given that SAPL can gut battlecruisers like atrout?" ??? "They're making thewhat ?" Dana said. She'd pulled a blanket off her bed and was wrapped in it for the briefing. She didn't care if it wasn't regulation, she wascold dammit!

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"The primary phase one fuel tank," Glass said, blowing on his hands. "They were going to do it just before the fuel shortage. Since it requires a lot of support, welding and bots they had to wait til they had enough fuel to continue. Then, apparently, they didn't get the word around. The heaters still work. They're just turned off to chill the zone." "Cause they're going to dowhat , exactly, with SAPL?" Moose said. "Cause it's, like, SAPL isn't it? The beam that cuts through theTroy faster than a Rangora assault ship?" "All hands! All hands! Stand by for address from Squadron CO!" "I wish they'd just use the 1MC," Moose said, gesturing at the box on the wall with his chin. He had his hands in his armpits. "The voices! The voices! They're talking to me again!" "Starting in thirty minutes, we will begin an orderly evacuation of the Charlie Flight AO. Alpha and Bravo AOs should be unaffected. Permission is granted for all personnel to fall in on suits to observe SAPL operation in main bay. Viewing area will be shuttle launch tubes. Operation is inflation of armoring for Phase One Primary Fuel Station. Design documents downloading on acceptance. That is all." Dana hit the link for the design documents and started to giggle. "Oh, that's just . . ." Moose said. "Wrong?" Glass finished for him. "And I'm glad the CO gave permission because this I gotta see." "And I can control the heat in my suit," Dana said. "I hadn't wanted to use it since it uses power. But if we've got permission . . . Request leave to fall in on space-suit, CM!" "Granted," Glass said. "Briefing's over! Fallout and fall in on your suits." "I'm cranking mine up to tropical," Moose said.

The first time Dana had seen all the shuttles of the 142nd outbound it had been a wonderful sight. Since then she'd been to a couple of Squadron formations which were just a pain. But they were funny as hell scattered all over the docking tube in the main-bay. You could tell the engineers from the cox in an instant. The engineers spent half their working time in suits and were perfectly comfortable in EVA. Most of them were floating upside down, sort of driftingnear the shuttles if noton them, to give room for the . . . The Coxswains, on the other hand, by and large hadqualed on their suits but weren't exactlyexperts . They were mostly holding onto bits and pieces of shuttles and trying not to go Dutchman in the main bay. Not that you were going to go far. "You seem to be experiencing some issues, CM," Dana said. Like a lot of the engineers, she'd placed herself near a coxswain, in this case Glass, but in a position that, to the coxswain, seemed to be inverted. Her helmet was drifting about a meter above the flight NCOIC. "Just getting adjusted for a better view," Glass said, his feet rotating "upwards."

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"I don't think you can see anything from that position, CM," Dana said, reaching down and gently giving his head a tap. "You can do this in a nullball court. What's the problem with the main bay?" "No references," Glass said. "I mean, yeah, there are references, but between trying to control the suit and trying to get references . . ." Dana drifted her suit down, using her plants to control the navopak, and grabbed his legs. "Taking your boots down to latch point," she said. "I can maneuver . . ." Glass protested. "And I think we need to work on your suit quals, CM," Dana said, bringing his boots into contact with Thirty-Nine. "Lock it down, CM." "Locked down," Glass said, crossing his arms. "I think we need to work onall the coxswain's quals," Dana said, chuckling. "Agreed," Glass said with a sigh. "Maybe make them do some real work on the boats," Dana said. "Yours could use some polish, CM." "You are about to cross a line, CM," Glass said. "Aye, aye, Captain Crunch," Dana said, giggling. "All hands," the CO commed. "Stand by for SAPL fire."

Tyler didn't want to use theStarfire for this but hedid want to see with his own eyes. And the precise spot they were putting in the tank wasn't in view from his quarters. So like what appeared to be about ninety-percent of the base, he'd gone out into the main bay. Since his suit wasn't any different from the generic ones, for once he could sort of blend in the crowd. And it was quite a crowd. He knew there were upwards of four thousand people already on theTroy but it was rare you saw them all in one place. You could tell the ones that practiced in EVA from the ones that didn't. Tyler had to put himself in the latter category and it was obvious as he bumped into another space suited figure. "Sorry," Tyler commed on the local channel. "I'm usually working in an office." The local com didn't even have a personal identifier so the guy had no clue who he was. "No problem," the man said. "You might want to lock down your boots." "It'd be above me if I did that," Tyler said. He gently corrected his position and got into a better configuration to see the shot. "That okay?"

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"Good enough," the guy said."Can you hold that?" "Working on it," Tyler said as he started to drift again. "Ihad it . . ."

"Troyhas pull," Butch said. "You get used to it. Try doing salvage in a spinning destroyer." "I spend as little time in EVA as I can,"the clerk said."I don't like sucking vacuum." "Nearly did that one time," Butch said. "Was drawing helium off one of the ships and got hit by a gush. That and the hose cracked my sled." "Sierra Seventeen,"the clerk said."That would make you...James...Allen. Probationary welder. Good job you did out there." "Thanks," Butch said. "Whichoffice do you work in?" "Corporate,"the guy replied."I see most of the incident reports." "And you have one hell of a memory," Butch said. "It's the first incident in the last two quarters that had a near fatal outcome," the guy said, drifting away again."Dammit!" "Hang on, dude," Butch said, grabbing his ankle and drawing him down. He had to correct his own inertia while he was doing it but that was second nature at this point. He got the guy stable and held onto his navpak. "Just don't try to correct. I've got it." "Thank you,"the guy said."That's mighty kind. As I said, I don't get out in suits much." "I hope you checked your suit," Butch said. "I did,"the guy said in an odd tone. "And I had other people check it as well." "That knew more than you orother clerks?" "Uh, that would be A,"the man said, chuckling. "I checked it. Then they checked it and made sure it was working. And they knew what they were doing." "I hope the guys doing this burn know what they're doing," Butch said. "It sounds crazy to me." Price had explained it to him but it still didn't make sense. The SAPL had been used to drill a hole in the wall of theTroy . All normal. Happened all the time. Then they'd shoved ice down it. Standard water ice made from the main tanks. Then, and Butch had had a hand in it, they'd shoved a solid tube of nickel-iron down on top of the ice and welded the hole shut. "It's how Troy was made,"the guy said."Sort of. Same general concept. The tough part is going to be getting all the volatiles out so it doesn't contaminate the helium." The idea was that they'd melt the iron on top of the hole. When it was liquid enough the ice would boil

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and spread out the melted area into a bubble. Wait for it to cool, cut a hole in the side to let out the water and you had a big bubble to put the helium fuel into. "All personnel, stand by for SAPL burn," Paris commed. "They're using the Ung beam on spread power,"the guy said a moment later."Seventy petawatts of power." "That's . . ." Butch did the math in his head. "That's like a few thousand of my welding sets." "Yep,"the guy said."It's a beautiful thing." "Three...two...one...burn. . ." Paris commed.

"Oh!" Dana said. Her visor had automatically polarized as the wall ofTroy turned white hot. "Sweet!"Glass said. The center point where the beam was hitting was white but the heat could be seen going to cherry red around it. The beam started to swing around, spreading the heat onto the target area and slowly heating it. ??? "Paris, how's the readings?" the guy commed. "You think Paris is going to respond right now?" Butch said, chuckling. The guy didn't respond for a second. "Uh..."he said. "Sort of. Looks like things are good. I sort of had a hand in this. So, yeah, Paris responded. And everything is nominal." "Oh," Butch said. "Where'd you say you worked?" "Here,"the guy said."On Troy. Mostly. I'm with LFD Corporate." LFD was the parent company of Apollo. "Full melt should take less than fifteen minutes which...well, that's just insane." "I dunno," Butch said. "I don't work with SAPL." "I do,"the guy said. "I've been working with SAPL and Apollo since there wasn't an Apollo. Just some guys with some mirrors trying to melt a bitty little asteroid. Took us six months and we could do the same job in a few minutes now." "Oh," Butch said. "Uh. Sorry. I didn't know you were a boss." "Hey,"the guy said."You helped me watch. I really appreciate it. I don't get much EVA time. In fact, the

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But we could make it an EEOC thing... The ship got a leak. Special recruitment." "You didn't have a suit?" Butch said. Right now even the support personnel are EVA qualed. They don't sign up as much as males and they fail at about the same rate.. neutrally. hopefully." "Absolutely agreed. Seriously. And." Butch said."And we have full thermal expansion." "You don't sound like you sucked vacuum."And I'm insatiably curious.. I thought about it a couple of years ago but I never got around to exploring it. It was one of those things that supposedly made you a big man. We got picked up before it really did any damage but it was a pretty freaky experience. "And more girls. it would cut down..Stand by." Butch said. He'd run across lots of people on the station whoswore they'd been in death pressure. on the employee costs. "Eh. literally. Not one I want to repeat. Striking that qualification would open up all sorts of things.."Light. "You taking a survey?" "I'm not doing anything else at the moment. "Yeah."So. So to say I'm not a big fan of EVA is accurate. "I said I've been doing this a long time."the guy said." Butch said."There's a real problem with recruitment..last time I was this close to vacuum. If it gets any worse on the inside." "And more girls?" Butch asked. No non-EVA qualified personnel past a certain point." "Hmmm. "If you're even a bit hung over you don't want to be in vacuum. Women simply don't sign up for space jobs the way guys do. More bars?" "Can't really drink much. What do you think of not having an EVA qualification as a requirement for working on the Troy? " "Not sure." Butch said."the guy said. And this was a little guy."the guy said. set off a fifty megaton nuke in the main bay and it wouldn't even blow out half of them."the guy said."the guy said. What would you like to see to make working on the Troy easier or better?" "Not sure what you mean." Paris commed. Page 145 . We'd have to have a delimiter point somewhere. a lot."So.what? Anything you can think of?" "More girls. the 142nd is going to go home to a crispy experience." "You're getting a feed?" Butch asked. "What if there's a failure?" "The next civilian area is going to have so many blast doors between it and the main bay you could. since this is going to take a few minutes. please?" "Models say expansion in about thirty seconds. "I mean."the guy said. Allen. even the people working in the food court are all guys." Butch said. I ended up sucking it. Paris? Could you retrans to Mr. In fact."the guy said. But it's doable.. Hmm."The big part is getting them through EVA qual. I didn't have a suit.

taken aback. Allen. I really don't get out in EVA very much. What was left was a blister in the side of the main bay that was still cherry red." Tyler tried not to sigh.Yes. Paris. I have another question. Allen. . He really should have told Paris to not use his name." "Uh. And your comment on the lack of female companionship triggered a memory node that had been dormant for far too long. I thank you for stabilizing me. Allen?" "You're . Page 146 ." "You are welcome." Tyler said." "You okay. First. . It expanded quickly at first then slowed and slowed until it wasn't moving. "That's better. .Mr. uh . What had. Mr. So."Mr. a moment before. Mr. . Vernon said." "Duh . this is Houston. there are other areas that are quite cool." "So you've probably saved the company money and you helped me watch this burn. been a blazing white hot inward curve of metal suddenly bulged out. "Most people call me Butch. "As I said. is it James or Jim or. .."I'd tell you to call me Tyler but it would probably throw you."Allen said. Yes!" Butch's astonishment that he was holding Mr. Vernon was momentarily put in the back seat as the wall of theTroy seemed to buckle outwards. "Mr. sir. Yer . trying not to snort. "Paris is having to pump in AC. Butch. expanding in front of his eyes into hemisphere. sir. Unless I'm sitting down." Tyler said. then I put them on two at a time."Mr. . I put my pants on one leg at a time.?" "Uh. Vernon said. sir." Butch said. And . At which point the SAPL shut off." Tyler said. Vernon. So. then. Which.. .. . .. Fortunately. "I think the problem of the temperature being too low in the 142nd quarters is fixed. over?" "Yes. will get you a ride on the subway. ." "And it seems to be working. along with a buck fifty. "I am doubly thankful." "Butch. Thank you. Mr. Allen. "There."Any idea if we've got the size model working?" "Probability is ninety-eight percent that we will be within three centimeters." "Roger.

diving.what's it like being a welder?" NINETEEN "That is a sight for God damned sore eyes. you've got fuel to spare. . Apollo was planning three of the He3 carriers to handle the output of the gas mine. The area had to be at least one hundred meters square. cut so that the water flowed into it to various depths. The Wolf Mine had been designed and constructed to not only supply the Sol system but the Glatun. And he was glad he had. four hundred meter wide mass of nickel-iron just packed with helium. And it's pretty cold." the Admiral noted. First. According to contract specifications." what Apollo had delivered was an area sixtyacres across andtwo hundred meters high. and walls that climbed up like hills to the overhead and which had what looked suspiciously like water slides built in." Admiral Kinyon said. temperature and air. a kilometer long. but even that was enough to fill not only theTroy 's tanks but the Fleet and civilian needs. Also no safety equipment." "You went swimming. no vacuum safety systems . "All it is is water." Page 147 . Due to an "accident with the SAPL. no ready exits. . accessible to the water and with Earth normal gravity. by the way. medium. "And it's pretty darned cold. three meters high. The commander ofTroy had accepted Mr." Tyler said. no circulation. now that that problem is settled. What had once been a near entire lack of helium was about to be a glut. "I tested the temperature and conditions." The "water testing area" was an "accident" during the construction of the main water tank for Zone One." Tyler said. So. "But with the present state of the power system. "I should have figured you had a reason to bring me onto your territory. shaking his head." Tyler said. WolfMotherwas the newly minted tanker for the Terran system." the Admiral said." the Admiral said. WolfMotherwas only half full. With trade cut off. shallow. Apollo had to supply an area to test the water in the tank." "I still have plenty on my plate. The view from theStarfire was spectacular. The rolling blackouts on Earth were about at an end. Vernon's invitation to observe the arrival of theWolf Mother . "Which is what this is about." "TheTroy being yours. At the moment. I've got some issues I'd like to bring up. "It's not useable as a pool at present. deep enough for. "She won't be able to top off your tanks. you've never opened up the water testing area to unauthorized personnel. oh. it wastoo much for Earth to absorb.

" Tyler said." the Admiral said. With the agreement that military and civilian personnel will have access thereto." "Agreed. I want theTroy designated as abase ." "There is that. And we can't afford the people to man it if all of them have to know how to use suits. Florida." Tyler said. "Second?" "Apollo has agreed to meet military standards for all personnel working onTroy . Sixth Fleet was deployed when the Horvath hit San Diego. But we've got space in the civilian side that we could use if we had the people to man it. How many people lost dependents there?" "Many." "Accompanied?" the Admiral said. I can have it up and running in about two weeks. We need more support people. "and I do meanonly with your agreement." "I remember your story about your XO. it'll be not much different than living in a skyscraper." "I'd rather be overrun with job seekers. "I hadn't really thought of it until then." Tyler said. "Good." "And if there's a failure?" the Admiral said then shook his head. his eyes wide. which wouldyou prefer? Your dependents sitting in a city on the ground or up here withTroy wrapped around them?" "My wife lives at what we'd intended as our retirement home in Deland." Tyler said." the Admiral said. we need to get this feeling less like a military base and more like home. They're going to be so far back in the walls that absent something that can crackTroy . "Such personnel will be restricted from movement in any area near vacuum. "What do you mean ‘free it up'?" "I want to remove the EVA training portion of the employment qualifications. not aship . But we need to free it up." "The mall area. Page 148 . "Too many."All of which I will install on my own dime." "Figures. "You're talking about the Tertiary Zone civilian side. "Admiral. "Well. I'm going to set my lobbyists loose on Congress. Admiral." Tyler said. "I saw the reason for that whenTroy was in its infancy." the Admiral said." the Admiral said. and an accompanied PCS slot. "Because all the gear has been sitting on the ground waiting for an okay and fuel for lift. "And the new areas that we're bringing in." Tyler said. "I'm going to love this." Tyler said." Tyler said. And I'd like to free it up a lot." the Admiral said. "With your agreement. mine and LFD's." the Admiral said. "And there's another part to lowering the requirements. If for no other reason than your sailors need somewhere to let off steam." Tyler said. "Are you nuts?" "People keep saying that. aren't I?" the Admiral said. and I don't see anything in the Rangora inventory that can do that.

Especially since it was inside work and they weren't taking rad exposure. Guys from countries like that will keep signing up." Price commed. though. Five times the cubic of the original civilian side. to say the least. yeah." Admiral Kinyon said. Many of them were from developing countries and their training level was. it was designed to grow in a chaotic manner like a regular city rather than being the carefully laid out and organized initial civilian support zone. Butch wasn't even sure that the parts he was connecting werefor . "So . "Fricking Indonesians. do I have your support?" "Yes. "Shemay not be." Tyler said. Anything to fill the rice bowl and so what if there's still bits of the last guy in the suit? How's your bead?" "Good. "I hear they're dying like flies." Tyler said. They had had to run in laser lines and wear just suits to get to the working area. another crew was coming in Page 149 . "But nowthings can really start to." "I'd rather be doing this than salvage." Butch said. briefly. After they were done welding the parts together. not Apollo standard. had responded by pulling in experts in the oil field and anyone who was barely qualified to wear a space suit. "This" was being part of the large team that was installing the new "civilian side" bay." Price commed. "Not like flies. to vacuum. which was still not full. "But fast. hooked up to the ten meter diameter valves on the main tanks and started spewing fifteenbillion barrels of fuel into the seven hundred meter diameter main tank." Butch said. Apollo had contracted with E Systems to take over the salvage of the Horvath scrapyard. Most of them in conditions that would make a sardine scream for room."Which is about as far from anything worth hitting as we could find and still like the area. But modular didn't mean quite like Legos." In other words. The working area was tight." Butch said." Tyler looked out the crystal window as the tanker. The crew quarters were modular and designed to be exposed. E Systems. They'd converted one of the marginally habitable derelicts into quarters and were running nearly a thousand people on the salvage operation. but he figured by the end of the week he'd be on double time. They were "above" the new module in the small space between its insulation and the cut out walls of the battlestation. . Which meant welding." "Everyone does not have the same luxury. being carefully positioned by tugs. which had long done every kind of contracting from oil platform support to "hostile zone" security. it was set up as a miniature city with much of the cubic designated as "organic fill. "Although I'm not sure my wife will be willing to move. . They were just two flat bits of metal to be joined. Stuff had to be connected and connected tight. Currently at regular time.

" "Go Purcell. as usual. Installing the cap was a tug and SAPL job. "What you got?" "Last module." the super commed. He wasn't in a great mood. "What you got?" Butch commed. about six hundred people were floating around in space suits working on quarters for six thousand. mainly hatches. Still another was hooking up the plumbing and air systems. give or take. When they were done on the exterior they were scheduled to do some interior welding between the modules. they found a cluster of suits surrounding one of the massive modules." The module was a quarter the size of a cruise liner. "But it won't line up. head over to sector one. But they couldn't do that until they had the modules installed and the exterior nickel-iron "cap" installed. Sector One. built by the Finnish company that had once had a lock on that market. Welding Control." "Try not to. Problem being. the area right next to the main bay. Altogether." Butch said. they were clearly flummoxed. all that Butch had seen during the job. doesn't fit. From their body language. Cut to fit. The next module. "Last time I checked." Price offered." When the pair got to Sector One. we can't figure out what doesn't fit. they were all standard. "You're not helping." "Roger." "Don'tover cut. Page 150 . "Fourteen Alpha. a cube fifty meters long and thirty high with "bits" sticking off." the super commed. Fifteen minutes." "When you're done. The module had fifty centimeter joints of steel that were designed to line up with wraps from the other modules.to fit in the final bits of insulation. "We can just cut bits off until it fits. They were having to tow around the laser emitters and power systems which was no fun at all. "We'd prefer to avoid that. "We can weld back on the parts that we weren'tsupposed to lop off." the super replied." Butch replied. Those were the main things that Butch and Price had been welding. From the outside." "How long?" "Bout done. "You Fourteen Alpha?" the super commed.

" the super commed." "And Istilldon't want it on my safety record." the super commed." "Welders. that's for sure."Are we sure all the wraps are right on the other modules?" Butch asked.Then they get freeze dried so we can hang them up on a wall as a warning to other welders. . "And the hole has to be right since the other modules slid in just fine. "We already checked that." Price commed. you didnotjust volunteer to do this. "If the module slips and they're between one of the joints and another module?" the super replied. "I don't suppose the tugs could just. Butch. It'll be tight. " "Lookspretty stable. push really hard?" Butch asked. "Try sliding it in again. I want to get this one over with. supposedly perfect." "BF. "What we need is some really humongous crowbars and hammers. "We just plane down the joints a bit all around." the super commed." "What happens if somebody goes up in there while it's like this?" Butch asked. The module slid about half way in and then stopped. "Younevervolunteer unless you're getting paid more. . we got about a million other jobs to do." "Getting in there's going to be a bitch anyway. "Canyou think of a way to get it done?" Butch asked." "Dude. considering the job. Then we'll stuff stuff back in to get them to fit. sliding over to it and flashing a light up into the gap again. "I'm not going in without permission. "You can get through." Butch said." Butch said. to give Page 151 . I don't want that on my safety record." Butch said." "Got any idea how much load this thing has to take?" the super said. you know. "So what you gonna do?" It took about thirty minutes for somebody. the new military module . "I can't even see up in there. "There's an opening." There were angled slats of metal that permitted the tugs to move the module into position and slide it into the. "No. "They get cut in half." Price pointed out. for all Butch knew it went up to Mr. gap. "You're not getting paid extra for this. but it's doable. "And I'm small. He slid downwards and flashed a light up into the gaps." the super commed." the super commed." BFM said. "Seriously. Vernon." "And we're supposed to get in there and weld how?" Price commed. "There's the shuttle bays." Price commed.

The strips of metal the module was sliding along extended all the way to the back of the section." "Stand by. BF. "Themoduleis bent." "I'll try not to get cut in half." Butch said. And this is actually sort of comfy." "You breathe like a bitch. even by BFM. yes. but not much room to maneuver between the two modules. Fortunately." "Say again?" "The metal the section's supposed to be running on?" Butch said. Butch could use the navopak to maneuver. the runner is bent. "It's bent." "You are just a ray of sunshine. pulling himself through the gap. "Butch." Page 152 ."Less than two centimeters but that's enough. A meter by meter area had been cut out of the joints "above" and below so that the space between the modules could be entered. The area in the middle was no better." "Figured. And he had to slide past them to examine every bit of every joint looking for the part that didn't fit. sending a video link. "Be goddamned careful in there." Butch said. Just a bit." Butch said. "At joint four." Purcell commed. Although he was going to have more trouble. "Super?" Butch said." "Not going anywhere.permission." "I'm getting paid by the hour. but it looks like the jam. I think the joint's right but the module's wrong." Butch said." BFM commed a few minutes later. Pulling himself along was out of the question. "And we're going to hook you off to a safety line." Butch said. "That way we can pull your legs out when you get cut in half. It was tight but doable. "Two or three on power." "What's the status on your navo?" "Four hours air. The opening through the first set of joints was tight. But it was watching out for them that gave him his first clue about the problem. Butch was careful to avoid the edges since they looked razor sharp. clipping a line to Butch's suit. Wide. "What's the plan?" "Still working on it." BFM commed.

" "What's up?" "They're going to use the crowbar. You are a large man with a very small manhood." "You doing okay?" "Fine. but you're getting there. can barely fit in the main bay. then?" "Stand by. You've got to be the only blond virgin over twelve left in the world. youwillrun out eventually. you will be my woo-man." "You could not satisfy me." "Which is about as likely onTroy as . He had a masters degree in engineering with a background in structural—he'd previously supervised the construction of two Page 153 . "When we are both in prison for messing this up." "What. This isn't exactly wide. I like tight." "There are two broad options." Jeffrey Morton was the supervisor of the Phase Two civilian quarters installation. Isn't very likely. you are a tiny little man." "That was almost a joke." Butch said. on the other hand." BFM said in a vaguely Latin accent. I think you need to get a date or something. I'm not sure you can get up in here to do anything. we're going to pull you out." "Dude. Not a good one. you are so going down for that one. . You should be called little wee-wee." "What are you going to do? Crawl in here after me?" "You have to come out sometime. . It'sreally tight.. And then you willpay. Even though you breathe like a bitch.. "I have seen you in the showers." "We need to resolve that virginity problem of yours. You." Butch said. Okay. you want the whole job?" "I don't think they thought this through very well is all." "What's your excuse.Frack. Seriously. And we are back to the barn as soon as we can get you unstuck. BFM. BF."That's cause I'm not a big fracking man." "I can go out another exit." "Rosy Palm doesn't count." "I'm not a virgin. "Yes.

sir?" Morton said. or a similar system that is more robust. that is. Then slide it into position and we're done. Then . "Effectively. "It will be ." "Time?" Tyler asked. it will bend the hell out of not just the damaged pod but at least one other. ." "Yes. Unless. But things like the Pod Nine issue rarely came to the attention of Chairmen. repeat. we slowly bend the module straight. leaning back and closing his eyes. "We install what is essentially a very large jack and. somewhat lengthy." Tyler said. . . haven't you?" "Yes. Morton. . sir. "The truth is that a jack has the possibility of bending Module Seven. several. If it doesn't. "We use the runner." Morton said." "Yes. "Which means you don't have a lot of experience of gravitics. and jam it in with a tug." "Hmm . He worked his mouth in thought for a moment then sat up." "How many times?" Tyler asked. you apply power and then wait for the system to stabilize. He was ready to have the next module installed and done. "Mr. right?" "Yes. it's going to cause structural integrity issues throughout the module. . "But we can monitor for that. . were watching the construction and knew the timetable. . "Which are?" Tyler asked. "You know there's a war on. Fracking fiddly bits. Which can take up to a week." Tyler said. That may work." "So several weeks. possibly even if it does. . sir.skyscrapers which were now rubble—and he'd seen his fair share of mess-ups. probably more. The pods had just been sitting in the main bay waiting on the fuel situation to get resolved. sir." "Sub-optimal?" Tyler asked. "You've done most of your work on Earth. they lived next to it." Morton said. using the structural stability of the lower modules and the joints." Morton said. "Possibly . He'd asked the engineer to join him in theStarfire so they could both observe what was clearly a lack of progress on the project. These things are big but they're remarkably fragile when you start talking about the sort of force necessary to jam one in. "The optimal solution is to use a jacking system." "Did the modules get evacuated sitting there?" Page 154 . Basically." Tyler said." Morton said.

Mr." Tyler said. talk to some gravitics engineers. you can still slide the module in as long as it doesn't pull it up too far. sir. they weren't. Mr. They've maintained integrity. time. pull." "To get to the monitoring position. "You'd either have to install an airlock or take one long damned way to Module Seven with no movement support. You can even do it somewhat slowly. "Which of these is right?" the President asked. CIA say that they are holding all their lines. Pull in both directions?" "There are gravitics engineers that can answer that question. Time. Then we're for Wolf. "Machine shop." TWENTY "Okay."No. "Well." "Those were all supposed to be justified through my department. hooking with his thumb in the general direction of the existing civilian module. blinking. but it's doable. Which means one thing. You might have to cut out some more of the joints to get it in. President. Pilot?" "Sir?" "Back to the barn. Thenpull the thing up across a broad area." the President said." Tyler said." "Sir?" "Install a tractor projector on top." "Oh. That means no structural damage to Module Seven. a DNI estimate." Morton said. irritably. And it will pull consistently along the line of the bend. "DIA is saying that the Glatun have broken and are running. "I've got a DIA estimate." "I'll ." Tyler said." the DNI said. But if it works." Morton said. "I'm looking at four separate intelligence summaries here. . ." Tyler said. shrugging. "Can we make one that will fit? That can . "Ask them. you should be able to fab it in a couple of days. a CIA estimate and an Alliance estimate. And we've got the new fabbers coming in in a couple of days. None of them agree on where the Rangora are at or when they might be able to free up ships to come after us. "I would suggest you wait until we're back in breathable. . And since it can be monodirectional. Don't push." the President said. DNI is saying that the Rangora have performed a Page 155 . I'll make sure you have priority. Which is going to be a bitch to install in that space but it's doable. ask me for anything but time. . President?" the AI said. "You'll have to have one that can hold onto the upper armor wall at the same time as it's pulling. Athena?" "Yes.

" ??? "We lost theStar Crusher ?" Major To'Jopeviq said." "I think we can throw that one out." the AI said. but a few are considered heroic subjects. setting it aside. sir. yes. we very nearly did not. The Glatun are resisting somewhat better than our most optimistic analysis but well within the range we anticipated." the President said." the AI said. "Also. "That seems a bit of a stretch." General Chayacuv Lhi'Kasishaj replied. "What's your take?" "Somewhere between DNI and DIA. "But. but their military is holding the line quite Page 156 . given that some systems mentioned are deep in Glatun territory that the Glatun have been overrun. setting the analysis aside." "I do recall. If we hear of that system falling. "So I would dispute the validity of the Alliance Intelligence estimate. Alliance says the main battle took place but the Glatun are still holding their core worlds and the Rangora are on the ropes. It is possible that it was lost in the taking of that system. extrapolating more losses on the basis of the known Tuxughah defenses and known and suspected Glatun forces in other systems and coming up with a number that ranges from the Rangora fleet being severely mauled to being entirely destroyed. DNI is depending on my initial analysis of Rangora propaganda and if a system isn't mentioned it's still holding. They are teasing very small bits of data out of the little information we have and forming very broad conclusions. "I think that the Rangora have sustained heavy casualties. As you may recall. You will remember I referred to Tuxughah. "Certainly if they take the Glalkod system. It was involved in the taking of the Mu'Johexam and Zhoqaghev systems early in the war. But it might still be out there and the Rangora simply are not mentioning it. The CIA is depending on State Department analysis which assumes the Glatun to be hyper competent and unconquerable. "That is not for dissemination. One such is the Assault VectorStar Crusher ." "When can we expect an attack?" the President asked." "I see." "The DIA is looking at Rangora reports and known Glatun forces and assuming that all systems that are not being mentioned have been overrun with so little resistance that the Rangora are victorious already." Athena said. Mr. "When they will commit forces and how many is the question. Then it disappeared from mention. we should not have been able to stop thirty-two Devastator class battleships." the President said." "Rangora losses are hard to quantify. we have to assume we will be attacked shortly thereafter. They are dismissing the possibility that this is Rangora disinformation. TheStar Crusher was mentioned in several early dispatches. Their populace is weak. I cannot give even a vague guess on either. Given the amount of time that Terra has been in contact with the rest of the galaxy. The Rangora rarely tend to mention individuals or ships. President. that they are winning both on an attrition level and on a strategic level and that if the main battle has not taken place yet it soon will. it was totally destroyed at Tuxughah. "So they are probably reevaluating our defenses and strategies." Athena said.successful end run but the primary battle hasn't taken place yet." the President said. One bit of data." Athena said. The Alliance is taking the loss of theStar Crusher as a given. My analysis is that they took a bit of a shock from the loss of the Horvath assault fleet. But not before they take Glalkod. "Or shortly thereafter.

valiantly." To'Jopeviq said. before the connection was severed from the Terran side. And there was a report. Without some real-time knowledge. . "Essentially.' I would like to know that they have not completed the first phase ofTroy . that they were beginning construction ofanother such base." To'Jopeviq said. Butwhat a base." General Lhi'Kasishaj said. has been mauled in taking gate after gate. It is all ‘maybe this. I am more used to receiving intelligence than generating it. The reality is that the ‘real'Troy was a rich city that sat on a trade route. "That is not your concern. Troy was city from one of their great pre-historical epics." the general said. The forces went there and captured the city and took their riches. "What is your concern is the question of Terra." To'Jopeviq said. hissing in laughter. especially the SAPL receptors and the missile tubes." "But they still have only one of these . I am being asked what we will need to reduce their defenses. We took Ghalhegil with less than that. "TheTroy is unlike anything I have ever seen. ceased to exist. It is no more." "What losses did we sustain?" To'Jopeviq asked. evensplit I would not like to take on SAPL. We. are they not. "If you research the reality behind it. . depends. in reality. my current recommendation is to not enter that system with less than twenty Assault Vectors in a stellar array. "High Command would never commit such a force to such a minor system. maybe that. as you mentioned General. The myth is about the stealing of a woman by a prince ofTroy and how a great number of separate tribes of what are called Greeks went toTroy and fought to take her back. . than a laser collector and missile base. We started this war with sixty-two Assault Vectors. effectively." "General." the General said. "But have you researched a meaning to these outlandish names for their bases?" "I have. The story was told in oral verse if you can believe. But the core world of Ghalhegil had no fixed defenses. it is a very understandable story." the general said." the general. many of them constructed in great secrecy. before I commit to an analysis. We cannot be sure how much they have advanced their defenses." To'Jopeviq said. "We have no real time intelligence from the system anymore." To'Jopeviq said." "Ghalhegil. did not have fixed defenses. "Probably. I think I might begin to understand humans." "That . They gathered their fleet there and we eliminated it." Page 157 ." To'Jopeviq said." "You indicated that the fuel embargo would make it impossible for them to complete the battlestation." "Impossible. What was that term? The SAPL? They would have to split that between their fortresses." "They areprimitive . The Glatun Navy has. That fleet. managed to create over two hundred vessels we were fairly sure were unknown to Glatun spies as well as secret advanced bases along the Glatun frontier. "General. in fact. especially the Assault Vectors. . "And if I could understand them. "This may be an unimportant side-note. theThermopylae .

"Are theymad ?" "You grasp the difficulty of the task you have assigned." the general said." To'Jopeviq said.Islawanda andIwo Jima . Yet they have not even hinted at such. "Humans do not seem to respond in the way I would expect. "I cannot recommend twenty Assault Vectors." "What is so odd about that?" the general said." "They allowed them to continue to exist?" the general asked. were the defenders in that war. . TWENTY-ONE "BF." To'Jopeviq said. Page 158 . "Of course you name great works after victories. "As I mentioned. And I agree that that is what you believe is needed. musingly. "What?" the general gasped. can I ask a question?" They were pulling down triple time in the main bay and right at the edge of maximum duration in vacuum. "But the point is. if I could understand why.Thermopylae . . "The Americans rebuilt their country after the war. "Of course. were the victors." the general said." "They named their main defense after adefeat ?" the General said. But there are ways and ways .Troy is a city that put up a great defense and was defeated." "May I ask?" To'Jopeviq said. The names mentioned for other such fortresses areAlamo . "How very odd. "And one of the Americans main allies. one in which the Americans. is another epic defeat. "So they could exact more tribute. the Japanese." the general said." To'Jopeviq said. I might start to understand humans. No such message has been received. The latter is even odder." "Allthe others were defeats. But they have enough defenses to make a decent truce. the second such fortress they are considering. I would have expected them to send a message through the gate by now indicating that they wished to negotiate." the major said." the major replied. I don't even dispute it. who are the main polity of the planet and the primary funders of theTroy ." "Is it not?" To'Jopeviq said." "Send me your analysis. It was a battle in one of their more recent wars. They have been bombed and attacked with bio-weapons by the Horvath."As should be. "They never exacted tribute. They know we are more powerful by far and that they have no chance to win.

"They'remissiles. grav plates and more hatches than Butch thought he'd ever see in one place." "You call the bar." Dana said. The way the Navy was growing." Butch said. "You still owe me a drink. It was damned near a hundred meters long. "Mostly it's supposed to be a missile fabber." Butch said. they'd been working so much. Up next to it it did feel big. once. Butch. "How they going to get the missiles to the magazine?" They'd done some work there last week. it's time formeto take time off. "Why in the hell are they putting a fabber in the middle of the main bay?" Butch. basically. yet?" "There's apool ?" Dana asked. "They've got their own grav drive. Glass was pushing her to complete her quals for CM2. She was reviewing for an exam and was ready for a break." "Parker.The truth was. would have thought of the fabber as big. Butch was starting to wonder if maybe he didn't need a break." "Oh." Dana replied. Butch didn't mind." "And. as usual. When you start asking me about stuff that's really obvious or already been covered. "Time to head to the barn." Erickson commed." Price commed. You guys didn't get the word?" "Nope. Purcell covered that. "But have you been to the pool. groundside had screwed something up they had to unscrew. Back away and itdisappeared into the immensity of the main bay. "Is it ‘why is the sky blue' or something?" "No. was being done by bots.we're done." Price commed. just a huge cavern SAPL had cut out with some interior lighting. Erickson. And I'm telling Purcell we're taking tomorrow off. "It's for stuff that can survive vacuum. "Where?" "They just opened it." BFM replied. The work they'd been doing was on a stuck hatch. floors and even the ceiling. even though she'd barely been a CM3 long enough to sew on the patch. Tugs had pushed it into position on one of the internal horns of theTroy . "Civilians only?" Page 159 . As usual." "I must have missed that part." "Parker. I went to the grand opening. Much of the welding. They were all over the walls.. And the point that you started to wonder wasafter when you should be back in breathable. It meant that humans got the interesting stuff." "Thisreallyis going to sound like a hit. The missile magazine was. teams had spot-welded it in place and were now working on thick welds to hold it against shocks..

" the bartender said. He also had some serious tat work." Dana said. "I'll take a pop." "Comet. ." Erickson said. he hadn't worn a shirt which revealed that he was about as hirsute as a mangy panda. "Okay. a professional's Speedo." Dana said. "To relays that work. miss. "How's the investigation coming?" "Pretty straightforward. So. . well. Something. Alas.. "Works.." "So.Old tat work." Erickson said. She'd spent enough time in them over the years. "Nice suit.. But there were also spot-lights scattered around and people seemed to be sunbathing in those. bald guy whatever he's drinking.Meet me at the Acapulco?" Erickson commed. The overhead was curved with the lowest point being about a hundred meters and about two hundred over the Acapulco. I've seen military personnel there. "First drink is on the house." "See you then. She'd lettered in diving in high school. And from the tats he haddefinitely been a Marine."Don't think so." Dana said." Dana said." "This is ." "And there are shops in the mall. "It's what the had. The Acapulco bar was about half way through the series and that pool ran about six feet except for the barstools. "Welcome to the Acapulco Bar at Xanadu. nodding at her. There were three "Dragon Claw" lights like the main bay. please. You can tell by the hair. He managed to not leer. Dana's suit was about as plain as they came. biting her lip. The pool at the upper end was apparently shallow from the people wading in it." "Amen." The "pool" was more like six or seven scattered across sixty acres of ground shaped something like an L. Bill. "I'm off watch at 1800." Erickson's was a floral knee-length number. So it probably was a failure and not pilot error. Dana could see where they were constructing a high-dive on the last one down which meant it was at least fifteen feet deep. That necked down into a deeper one.. "I saw one at the sports place. He looked like he was off-duty military. "And I owe the fat.. Lighting was odd.." Dana replied." Dana said." Page 160 . which was about all she was prepared to wear at the moment." "I don't have a bathing suit. A pool was too much to resist." Dana said. "They've determined that Thirty-Three hadtwo of the questionable series relays. spheres of "dirty" sapphire that filled the room with plenty of light. She accepted the coke from the bartender and raised a toast. Hey.

Rammer. They supposedly have been tested out. "Was." Rammer said. sir. And as you said." Rammer said. And he released a memo where he basically went off on his people for not catching it." "Oh-three-twenty-one. "Can't pull anything over on jarheads. "What ever happened with that? We didn't even get called to testify. shrugging. Sorry." Erickson said. giving the number for his MOS." "I can bet." "See. a tad bitterly." "They did a pretty quick Article Thirty-Two. Not bad looking." Bill said. . too." "Don't sweat it. So ." "Bill Erickson." "You a engineer?" the jarhead asked. "The one where the officer killed that prisoner?" Dana said. taking another sip of her drink. grinning." "Sure. One of the officers said he wanted to give it ‘care. it's sort of on me. "I recognize that voice." Bill said. ." She paused as a guy sat down next to her. I don't see how it could have been caught. You'reComet . Honestly." "Aliens. "I'm a coxswain." Dana said. "Vernon Tyler." Dana said. "Just not something you'd probably be interested in. turning back to Erickson. ." Erickson said. personally. I'mseriously interested seeing as we've got to ride in 'em. "We're getting seventy nanometer relays from Granadica. "When did we start using organic circuits? This about the Myrmidons? Cause in that case." the jarhead said. now. "Private conversation?" the guy said. Page 161 ." she said. The Horvath just don't seem to care about their people at all." Rammer said. "It was around the bend." Erickson said. A USMC was tattooed just under his neck on his back." "Wait." "On anelectrical relay?" the jarhead asked. But I think the design is screwed . "I control their air and grav. but I want to bring some over to your shop to run them through the electroscope. ." He held out his hand. We ran with you in the Horvath round-up.' That was the word he used. Regular features. . "Lance Corporal Ramage. "I'm a maintenance manager engineer on this lash-up now. came by and apologized to the Squadron CO. "We can run an electron microscopy survey and do a photo electrophoresis scan ."Bad business either way. kind of big for her tastes. ‘Buck stops here' was the phrase he used. but I know about prisoner protocols. We were seriously freaked. "We weren't the only ones. "And since I work for Apollo. Couple of tats the most prominent being a massive phoenix that was revealed when he turned to grab a handful of peanuts." Dana said. "Not exactly private. shrugging." "Heh." Dana said. shaking his hand." Erickson said. good build. And then he killed it. . "I used to be a sixty-three. "What can you say? So they killed one of their own people?" "The guy had been dutchman for like six hours.

"You get your tats groundside?" Dana asked. "Seriously. Dana nodded in appreciation. But if you slip up." Dana said." Rammer said. you end up with kids. She still gets part of my check." "Lucky you. turning around. . Just as bad as being a teenage boy. "Why can't they cure Johannsen's in them I want to know?" "Cause it takes away our will to live?" Bill asked. She's married to another guy. I want a child." "Which can be taken a couple of ways. it sucked having it." Bill said. There. I'd like to see him more." Dana said. mimicking speaking in a microphone. shaking his head. holding up his hands in surrender. the "feathers" formed from Celtic knots. roger that. Have youseen a pic of those guys?" "I'm not planning on getting into hand-to-hand with 'em." "Agreed. Sixteen's too young. '?" "?‘Uh." Rammer said. Which I don't mind. grinning. Yes.you've met Coxswain's Mate Third Class Comet. ." "And now the Rangora. "I like having a kid. . "Men. . "?‘Hello? We could use some air support here ." Dana said. "Who are. "The USMC I did. butt. The point being. mind you. '?" "Bitch. I had it." Erickson said. Someday. "Uh. chuckling. ." "I'm not sure I'm still happy with that handle." "Yeah.'?" Dana said. "That is whyI have a four terawatt laser. . it's a pain in the . "It was some absolutely awesome boat driving. grimacing." Dana said. Rammer. not only tougher but frickinghuge ." "If you go out in the rain. "I guess it's a touchy subject. I don't have any kids. . Yeah." Bill said. Unless they get out of control withgirls who have it then they can't make their child support." Dana said. Page 162 ." "Sorry." Rammer said. It was one of about a dozen reasons to join the Navy. Yes. you can get into some serious over-your-head if you're not careful. "No. "Horvath bastards. "But the phoenix I got done by a guy over on the civvie side." "I suspect that's less for the quality of the driver than thequalities of the driver. Guys don't have that problem. laughing. like. grinning." Rammer said. shaking her head." The phoenix was an immensely complex tat." Rammer said. chuckling. I don't have it anymore. sorry." Rammer said." he added. . "Guys having Johannsen's is no big deal. But . "?‘But. . if you're a girl with Johannsen's. I know everybody in my platoon wants to ride your boat. . "Speaking of which . "wear a raincoat." "Yes. I'm doing my nails . You should be proud. I'm glad I got cured. He's a mechanic but he does tats in his spare time." Dana said. No. Don't get me wrong.

sliding out of her stool." "Okay. . . try to keep up. don't take this wrong but . . . took two bounces and did a double-pike with a very splashy entry. "I'mso out of shape. It was filtered for UVA. can you swim?" "Like a fish." Rammer said. "You look like you work out. "Guys. They were hanging out in the sunbathing area. the pickings had been slim to none. "Which means I have checked out every hot chick in the area." Dana said. Bill. "We're going to be back in the sleds before you know it. "That'seasy !" "Whoa. this is fun but I actually like to swim. "If I can find a good enough artist." she said. "Easy there. But in several places more "raw" sunlight was pumped in through SAPL tubes. "Thinking about it." Dana said. Rammer. ." Rammer said. "Which is not the same as keeping in dive practice. "How can you see 'er?" Butch asked. Butch. "Dammit!" she said as she surfaced." Dana said. Even the fat ones." "Followed by a jarhead that could break you in half. "You thinking of getting a tat?" Erickson asked. "That was just ." "You know what?" Rammer asked. climbing back on the board. I won't get swarmed." "Dude. Which should have attracted any female seeking that perfect Hawaiian tan. two o'clock." Page 163 . "If I've already got one guy following me around. "So ." Rammer said. So far." Dana said. . but allowed UVB through." Butch said." Price said. "If you know what you're doing. I'm starting to figure out how you drive a boat so well." Rammer said." "Lousy." Dana said. you can access the webcams with your eyes closed. climbing out of the pool and heading back to the low-board."Very nice. "Hot chick. They all have at leasttwo guys hanging on 'em." Price said without opening his eyes." She turned around." Price said. Coxswain. figuring that most chicks would just park there. as Dana surfaced from her dive. "Yep." Butch commed." "I play a lot of nullball." "I wouldn't say that. lying back on the lounge chair. the "bad" UV." "That is so bogus. Most of the light in Xanadu was provided by the dragon's orbs. "Just soak up your UV.

checking her systems. A big chunk of Sierra Nine has wandered into the shipping lanes. But for what it's worth. swimming over and grabbing the side. . yes. "And." "?‘This is Comet." Ramage said. "Comet you are a great Cock. trying to keep a straight face." Rammer said." Page 164 . 142nd. good God. keep comments like that to yourself. But it does make you a bit . "He's got a case of foot in mouth disease." EN Dennison said. pulling himself out of the water. icy at times. "Jarheads. icily. "And if I start anything with one of the guys in my unit it's going to cause problems." "Good morning." Dana said. you are a very good coxswain. was referring to. laughing. Which means anything coming in from Wolf is endangered." "Ice Queen?" Dana said. "The Ice Queen gotlaid ?" "Ice Queen?" Dana said. walking into the ready room. "Seriously?Ice Queen?" "You know Bruce. "Is everyone set for another fun and exciting day of salvage?" "Oh. when are you on duty again?" "Next watch." Dana said. giggling. Part of that is you're so ." Glass said. . strapping herself into her seat. Iwill make you pay the next time you're in my shuttle. "Be aware that if you immediately fall asleep. climbing out of the pool. If you are planning on making this a career that is." "I'm notthat bad. You do everything with a focus like a SAPL beam."I'm giving up for now. who isnot focused or he would have made Engineer's Mate by now." EM1 Hartwell said then grimaced. unless you want a Mast. So. . "I know where the pool is.'?" Dana said. So far. "Okay. Marines don't count." Dana said. . . Up to you. All good. "Why?" "Because just because I don't have Johannsen's anymore doesn't mean I'm not interested. everyone. You're cute enough and I still don't have anyone sharing my quarters. am I?" Dana said. Comet. we have another fun and exciting day of salvage before us." Dana said. I had never previously heard that appellation. . "Is that what youcall it ?" Rammer asked. of course. I suspect that is what Bruce. "Grab your seat. "?‘I'd like you to meet my cock." Thermal said. focused. . Although how he canfit those in his mouth is the question. . my great Cock. given the nature of the discussion . . Comet . again. "Yes.will therefore . Charlie Flight. at least. But I'm not surprised. Moose. Rammer. a good thing. '?" "I give up." Thermal said. ." "I amso there.

Youwill be breathing vacuum ." Dana said. the sort of mass that would normally be the job of the Paw tugs to handle. Engineering Mate First Class. The chunk of "Sierra Nine. . It was. okay?" "No." "You were at the pool. ." Dana said." "For your general FYI. "Areyou . "I'll take it as a handle if it sticks. The Myrmidons had been "helping out" with the salvage operations for several reasons. Horvath run. In this case." Thermal said. Since their system was not optimized for towing. Coxswain's Mate Third Class Dana Parker. the CO and the senior flight NCOIC had had to carefully arrange the squadron to push it along. "So.exactly what I was doing on my off-watch time? Because if you are. askingme . it had taken almost the entire 142nd Squadron to handle the destroyer sized chunk of steel. Long before Page 165 . now ripped to shreds. It makes me sound like I should have a red nose. It was also a very big chunk." Hartwell breathed. Usually. it's none of your business." "Trying desperately again to avoid an EEOC complaint ." "Ahem."Ah. Most of the scrap from the battle had been pushed into a more or less compact lump about 200. chuckling. okay?" "There's apool ?" "Seriously." a former Rangora. "Don'tmake me request a new engineer. seriously. ." "That would be Rudolph. hell. I've never been so good about Comet. Releasing dock. slowly driftingaway from the gate and theTroy . the Myrms would handle something their own size. "Did you know there's a pool?" "There's apool ? You were at apool ?" "I was at the pool. The rest is not up for discussion. it was good training for the crews and clearing up the debris of the battle before some bit of wreckage holed a ship was in everyone's best interests." Hartwell said. towards the gate and was just about to pass through it to the "entry" side to spinward." Dana said. Where were you yesterday? Normally when you're off-watch you're in the squadron area. Then there was the destination. "In a bathing suit?" "EM." Dana said as the shuttle detached. trying desperately to change the subject." Thermal said. indeed. "What kind?" "Do me a favor and crack your suit seals while I accidentally outgas us. The Navy got paid for their time. battle-ship had.000 kilometers from the gate and more or less in a stable orbit. due to some really funky Newtonian physics. in fact. though. EngineeringMate FirstClass Hartwell. "Part of my off-watch time." It had drifted. been "in the shipping lanes." Dana said. . There it was out of the way and no danger to anyone except Martians in about two hundred years when it would deorbit onto the red planet." "And releasing gravlocks.

" Admiral Kinyon said." Colonel Helberg replied. Recently. "Problem?" she asked." Admiral Kinyon said." "God knows I could use some missiles. "Most of the stuff you need for missiles should be in a battleship. The shuttles were pretty crowded around the battleship bit and she would prefer to avoid a ding with another shuttle. "I guess they wanted some raw materials. keying off the view of the missile fabber." Thermal said. "With the debris finally in place we should be able to start production within the hour. though. "Should work. "After some difficulties the new civilian side quarters are installed. "Power and air tests are complete and the section is ready for use. "Start the brief. somebody wanted in the main bay." "I wonder what the cargo containers are for?" "Another sight for sore eyes.then. "No. into the maw of the missile fabber. "You got spare cycles?" "I can do this in my sleep. So the 142nd had pushed it back toTroy and through the hatchway. A SAPL beam had already cut off a goodly chunk which was being moved. This chunk." Dana said." Thermal said. The Senate has finally approved the bill to authorizeTroy as a port instead of a ship. It can take the material from the wall mining but formed steel will reduce production time and slag. some cargo containers had been attached to the side of the fabber. what people were starting to call the Comet Hatch." Commodore Kurt Pounders was the Chief of Staff of theTroy . going back to watching her driving. It still wasn't producing missiles but apparently they were getting ready. sir. though. A set of tractor projectors had been arrayed on the interior wall hard by the new missile fabber and as soon as the 142nd got the chunk in range the tractors took over. "Yes. On that subject." Dana said. it was scheduled to get turned into orbital equipment including Solarian destroyers and cruisers. "Switching view. We still get Page 166 . It was his "that's interesting" grunt." Dana said." Hartwell said. and into the main bay." Captain Sharp said. The picture on one of her side screens was the debris they'd brought in. checking her vectors. She'd backed up about five hundred meters when Thermal let out a grunt. "Backing away. apparently by the tractors.

I'm less sanguine about some of the spouses. "The tasking is being prepared at SpacCom." Captain Sharp said. How many of the females are going to be accompanied by kids? Is it an accompanied tour for Apollo?" "Yes. So we're expecting a mixed lot of civilians from their side as well. ." the CoS continued.'?" "Are we talking USO tours?" the Admiral said." Pounders said. The current count is upwards of six hundred dependents who are prepared to make the move. "I want to personally meet with all the ombudsmen. All have been given a quick screen." Admiral Kinyon said. "Notthat sort of entertainers. "Dancers would be the polite term. . Paris has prepared protocols to keep non-EVA qualified personnel away from dangerous areas." "Things are about to get somewhat interesting I suspect. "They also have done a heavy EEOC based drive for various non-EVA positions including administrative personnel. "That would be the line item. we will be able to access. medical and even retail clerks to expand the shopping area. Since we are going to have dependent minors. And while I think the Captain has some points about military brats. "That's going to make the ratio pretty close to one to one. "They're military brats. but it will shortly be designated as an accompanied tour. Which. But they are opening a K-12 school if that's any indication. "Ahem. "Apollo has lowered its standards for entry of personnel." "In spades. ." Colonel Helberg interjected. . fortunately. sir." Commodore Marchant said. "And that's not clear in Apollo's documents. but . yes." "The dating scene just got more interesting. . their ‘morale and support' portion includes some ‘semi-professional entertainers. sir. Among other things." "Good luck with the kids. Thisisn't earth. they're a mixed bag.space pay. The commander of Task Force One." "I'm not sure about ." Captain Sharp said." Page 167 . "For whichthis confirmed bachelor is decidedly thankful. the cruisers and frigates attached to theTroy ." the Admiral growled. "I take it the American Navy has the same problem." Colonel Helberg said. "Not as such. ." "I have known some few spouses who didn't have the sense God gave a baby duck." Captain Sharp said." the Admiral said. Almost all non-EVA personnel. Are we being budgeted for the movement?" "Yes. shook his head." "I think the full term is ‘exotic dancers'?" the Admiral said. "They're not complete fools. "Next?" "SinceTroy has been redesignated as a base. that was one of the things holding it up." "Figure the house gets a cut ." the CoS said." the CoS said. Just going out for a walk is out of the question." Commodore Pounders said. Their new hires are going to be running about four to one female to male.

"And Apollo is adding additional security. "Captain DiNote. the faster it works. We're trying to keep ahead of the requirement but it's running through components like lightning. mostly the electronics." "The scrap yard?" the Admiral asked." Dana said."Admiral?" Marchant said. You want this to be right. but I also don't see a good reason to prevent it. looking at the sketch." "Because this is abattle station and the first line of defense for the solar system?" Commodore Marchant said." the Admiral said. which we're getting from groundside. "It increases complexity and I did not have objections. looking atTroy 's commander." DiNote said. by policy makers and gave them the same answer I gave you. we're going to have to work on the art some more." "Yeah." He shrugged. wryly." "Missile fabber. Started at one missile every ten minutes. "But it's fully within the contract with the new bill." the CoS said." the artist said. That depends on supplies of components. "I'm not really comfortable with it." Commodore Pounders replied. though. And the more pre-prepared components we get." Commodore Pounders said. Should be more but this is going to be a walking advertisement and. privately. "Shortage of tugs." DiNote said." "I'm sure my people will just enjoy the heck out of it. your choice. "To say that I've been saving up would be an understatement. aye. "Tug duty. Right now. It's now up to one every minute and headed for one every ten seconds. sorry. "We're going to have a use for it eventually. sir. we're just having trouble keeping up with raw material requirements. crossing his arms. I don't get to do many chicks up here. "It will increase complexity somewhat. "I was asked about this." "Your body. but it's not as good as pre-prepared alloys and such. "If you don't mind. Next item. The question is." "Okay. Maybe more depending on our schedules. We're going to have to work closely with Apollo to ensure that the new personnel are clear about boundaries." the tattoo artist said. That's a bonus. Commodore?" "Just keep pulling it in." the Admiral said. "You sure you can do it?" "I candefinitely do it." Dana said. do you have the squeeze? Cause it's going to run you around ten grand." Pounders said. I'll talk with Apollo about installing some more tractor clamps for it. "They've got that can do attitude. We can use the material that's been mined out building phase one." the Admiral said. "It's going to take about a month on and off. "How much scrap do you want. nervously. babe." "All the sections are implant secured. "Running solid." Page 168 .

Then it had to be pumped up to orbit so that the massive tankers could pick it up and take it to the earth system and the other Wolf projects. Producing O2 and N2 from that toxic. bacteria that converted methane and ammonia to energy "ate" the methane and ammonia. This is gonna be cool. mostly hydrogen but with admixed nitrogen. oxygen." TWENTY-TWO "Okay. the majority returned to the depths on return pipes and the helium three separated. . Subsequently. The landing platform of the gas mine was partially open. "This is very effing cool. Such planets tended to have very high levels of CO2. helium and. studies had shown that there were free-floating biologicals in the atmosphere that had converted the expected reducing atmosphere to O2 and N2. to humans and most other sophonts in the galaxy. The Wolf gas mine was a space elevator." the guy said. That was where the actual gas mine was placed with more woven pipes that led deep into the planet's atmosphere. notably. The upper portion "held up" the massive gy-wires that supported the two kilometer wide lower platform. The upper portion sat in geosynchronous orbit around the small gas giant Nimrod that had been discovered during Earth's first exploration of the planetary neighbor. it was a "reducing" atmosphere meaning that the oxygen was locked up. Then the more recognizable plants. the relatively rare helium three that powered galactic annie plants. to humans. isn't it?" Byron Audler yelled." Tyler had had the pilot take theStarfire down on the "scenic" route. Normally even if the atmosphere of a planet had oxygen and nitrogen. Eventually you had what."I can't draw very well. First." Dana said. looking at her and shaking his head. mix was the result of biological processes. methane and ammonia instead of O2 and N2. you know the story. circling around and around the space needle on the way down." Tyler said as he stepped out of theStarfire . "I think we need to go for more metaphor. the area being inside a hangar big enough to hold a blimp. Page 169 . This is gonna be good. was pumped up from the deep atmosphere. was a breathable atmosphere. the fact that it had free oxygen and nitrogen had come as a surprise. . on earth the first were blue-green algae. though. The mine had plans to include a biological laboratory to study them in time. methane." "Yeah. But even there it was noisy with the gale force winds outside. The Wolf gas giant had a large "moon" not much smaller than Earth that had that exact mix. refined. "Just . When the Wolf gas giant had first been detected. Raw gas. "It is rather. came along and used sunlight to convert the CO2 to fixed carbon and oxygen.

" The tour had been two hours of massive machinery. opening the door for the boss." "Well. tea and cocoa than anythree other projects. Having the planet partially shielding the mine was a good thing. The mine seemed to hang suspended among the clouds and the cables of the space elevator soaring into the heights just added to the majesty. "Which was in the discovery the Glatun bankers paid attention to even if you didn't." Byron said. "He named it Nimrod. The squeak wasn't terribly noticeable. Well. pipes bigger than most freighters and lots more cold. If you'll follow me. "And this is a good day. but Byron usually had a fairly deep voice." Tyler said. "You want some?" "Please. He'd come prepared for the temperatures and was wearing a heavy coat but it wasstill freezing. It's only about two percent." "Damn. "He had the right to name this place. I'll give you the nickel tour. itis cold out there!" Tyler said as they got in the warm. It was a worthy creation." "A refinery at the half-way point of a space elevator using all Glatun technology. "Not dangerous long-term. "We're expecting a storm. "And I now understand that line item." Byron said. "Let's get inside!" "Is it just you or does everyone squeak?" Tyler asked as they walked rapidly to the doors of the mine.The upshot of it all was that the mine could remain "open" with people working in shirt-sleeves and not space-suits. . "This is amazing. "I've got to talk to Steve Asaro. But that's enough to raise voices. "Slightly higher than normal level of helium in the atmo. "We built this thing for the storms. Still very cool. The Wolf star was relatively small and dim gas giant within the life-zone but between the height of the mine." Page 170 . It was cold." Tyler said. shaking his hand. I want to change it to Bespin for really obvious reasons. This is . You guys use more coffee." Byron said. "Why?" Byron said. "I'm sorry I kept pushing you on this. About the only area that was fully heated was the offices and crew quarters." "Any danger?" Tyler asked. The mine was also placed in the "twilight" zone because Wolf was rather active and tended to flarea lot . which meant cryogenic." Tyler said. BuildingTroy was just a matter of blowing up an asteroid. not shirt-sleeves." Tyler said as he slumped into the couch in Byron's office. . the dim star and the constant wind it wasn't exactly a garden spot." Byron said. And the storms around here have to be seen to be believed. All of the "gas" that was being processed was liquid. pouring himself a cup of tea." Byron said. they didn't quite get the temperature right. He'd kept the jacket on until he got warmed up.

Any space elevator has to deal with that. "Which is why I'm enjoying this conversation. grinning." Tyler said. We've got super-conductor lines that go from the upper structure to down deeper than the deepest return pipes. ." Byron said. "But okay. "Did you happen to think about that when you commanded it be built. . itis a lightning rod. "And muchmuch worse." Byron said. high potential . difference between clouds and ground in a thunderstorm? Like . The potential in orbit is higher than the ground potential of the planet's atmosphere. They ground it out. . And power generation system and gas mine. . . "Which is why everything is armored against it." "You're going to have to prove it. Which means youare going to get current." Tyler set his mug down and touched a bit of metal on the table." Tyler said.Lightning potential?" He paused again and looked at his tea. "A five thousand kilometerlong lightning rod." Byron said." Page 171 . we useless fuel. . did we just build a two hundred million creditlightning rod ?!" "Yes. cool." He thought about that for a second. ." Byron said. still grinning. "Uh . "What's up with that?" "You know Wolf is an active flare star.Before the bombings. living quarters and such. The residual power—and thereis residual power despite having to pump gas from deep in the atmosphere to orbit—is grounded out." "Yes. So it's managed by super-conductors. . The carbon-nanotube support wires aren't conductors when they're woven as tightly as we wove." Byron pointed out. "Part of the expense."Eh. "I suppose this is a lightning rod. "Byron. "Have I ever mentioned I like electricity slightly less than vacuum?" "Yes. Which is why we've only got back-up generators for the support structures." "And gas giants havehuge magnetic fields. "The gas mine's just . One way to deal with it is to ground out the potential. Like . He didn't get shocked. right?" Byron said." "Which means there is a very high potential between the upper stage and the lower. nursing the tea. "This is a pretty small gas giant." Tyler said. . looking at his boss over the cup. "Yeah.'?" Tyler said with a grin. "Which is a very good thing." "So . It's pushing more power than southern California. ." Tyler said. The pumps are all run off of continuously supplied potential energy. . Ozymandis?" "Troyis what I considered carving ‘Look upon this ye mighty and despair. It's a giant electricalpower line running from orbit to the interior of the planet. we use the potential to run most of the gas mine. Okay. When the super-conductors get down here." Tyler said. "But the power iscollected not just running through the structure. Potential." Byron said. .

For the powers involved in a ship fabber. "Sir. The way to make it more trivial. they spun it out into a thick steel cylinder. Looks to be a bit of a blow. You can sit here and hob-nob and I'll have your pilot lift out for the upper portion. nodding. "Your founding father not mine. was to first make a series of plates containing all the materials. "Please circulate the memo." Tyler said. Stainless steel was an alloy defined as steel—iron and carbon—with at least 10% chromium and. In fact. Granadica looked old." he continued.Many things to build . Hmmm ." "Granadica. Youcould fly out but it would be bumpy. Still a few bugs to work out. great job. you have two choices. Prior to that. The five salvageable Rangora battleships parked in orbit near them were nearly as big. "So I guess that's appropriate. They'd require quite a bit of modification to make them useable by human sailors. "Take some time off. possibly work it with gravitic tugs. In the case of the shell of the new fabber. There was only so much the space equivalent of a paint job could do." Tyler said. The fabber sitting about six hundred kilometers spinward of her." "When you're done. and you eventually had a kilometer long tube. you got a metal construction with a remarkable similarity to a quesadilla. molybdenum or other metals. and you had steel. "Byron. nickel-iron just wouldn't do. the plates had been nearly two kilometers in diameter. A zap by the SAPL through the middle and the cylinder became open in the middle. The shell had. needed to be steel. was clearly brand new." Tyler said. Page 172 . glancing at readout." "I hereby designate this the Franklin gas mine. "We're doing the transfer now. Not compared to theTroy but they were very big. . spin and refine like a potter. depending on the type. By making outer plates of pure iron. The storm's picked up speed. they were next. the shell had only been moved into place after the fuel situation was fixed. status on your twin?" Tyler said as theStarfire approached the two massive fabbers. the real work began. The fabbers were big. Making a shell of steel a kilometer long and three hundred meters wide was a non-trivial task. The method was first tested and refined for the gas mine and was now the basic method of major steel manufacture in space. By using tugs to get it spinning on one axis. it had been out in orbit in the asteroid belt cooling."Didn't Benjamin Franklin build the first lightning rod?" Tyler said. Even with her recent repairs. "I believe so. . but that was just fiddly bits. Once the new fabber was online. Spread the tugs out. putting the other elements in the middle and welding them together on the edges. given the way that Apollo mined asteroids." Byron said. shrugging. But there are things to build despite the war. Melt the whole thing. Then later take the elevator up." Byron said. When's the management crew take over?" "Next month." "I think I'll take the ship rather than the elevator. Once the operators had a ball of melted steel." Byron said. . however. first. might have additions of nickel. setting down his mug. Or you can fly out now." "I understand he was a bit of a windbag. don't get comfy. .

sir." Granadica said. leading the way out. "The finishing work is usually done by the fabber." Tyler said. "I'm just managing the meat portion of it. "Tyrone Riddles. shaking the engineer's hand. "And we're working on installation. a pre-fabbed construction that had been floating in space waiting to be welding onto the fabber. "You realize that having it work on itself is a bit like having a human doctor operate on himself?" "Which doctors have done in an emergency. "Sorry I haven't been by before. But being in a new space that was near vacuum always made him nervous. by contrast. He was okay." Granadica said." Page 173 . sir. his brow furrowing." Tyrone said. gesturing towards the door of the bay. We seriously need more production." Tyler said. even dangerous." "When can it be ready to install the AI core?" Tyler asked." Tyler said. we're in a bit of an emergency. with the crystal wall on theStarfire and things like that. "You're . Glad to meet you. Pilot." Tyrone said." "Hi. dubiously. "I need you to prioritize the stand-alone fabber structures for installation. "And Granadica is going to prioritize stand-alone fabber installation so this thing can start working on itself. as theStarfire flew down the length of the fabber. When it had been separated it had looked rather like a banana." "I hate to admit it's mostly been Granadica. was already attached." "You and Granadica get along okay?" Tyler asked. The control center. It had just enough onboard gravitics to hold itself in the slightly unstable orbit Granadica occupied and had been the construction center for the fabber in the meantime. Granadica's control center." the managing director of Fabber Two Construction said. "Just fine. . Are you thinking of installing it?" "I brought a blank core with me. was a boxy construction on the "output" end of the fabber. "And in case you haven't noticed. "We could do it at any time. "Why?" "Cause you're about to get a new AI." Tyler said. Tyrone?" "Yes. And I've already fabbed the processor support and it's installed. That way it can get moving on its own faster. yes."I've completed construction of about eighty-three percent of the parts. Tyler still wished they'd go a bit further in." Tyler said. "To say I've been busy is an understatement. . for some reason. sir." The control center had an enclosed landing bay with double airlock doors." "Can the twin work on itself?" Tyler asked. This is quite an achievement. But attached it fit smoothly along the line of the fabber and looked a bit elegant. lifting his briefcase. "If it had an AI." Granadica said." Granadica said on a rising tone. take us in." "Okay. "The control systems are mostly hypercom based.

Just before the trade embargo he'd been more or less handed a hundred and five AI cores and authorization codes by his main Glatun contact Niazgol Gorku. But without his support. "Good Afternoon. sir." Tyler said. Then he pulled the plug and inserted it into its new home. Gorku was not known for his philanthropy. He'd done about five authorizations so far. Which was about to feel toasty warm surrounded by enough processors to keep even the greediest AI happy. "Done." Tyler said. I refuse to have anything to do with the little witch. "AI." Tyler said. fortunately. which was a box seven inches wide and ten high with a handle on top. There was a slot. "I believe I can guess my name. "Greek. you will Page 174 . Gorku was one of the few Glatun who had realistically foreseen this war and he'd worked hard to prepare Earth for it. his voice deepening. watched by the various techs who were really supposed to be watching their screens." the AI said." "Please review terrestrial mythology. Hephaestus. was in the middle of the main control room. "But if you ever create an AI with the name Aphrodite. we need you up and running as soon as possible. currently covered by a plug." "Good afternoon." the AI said in a monotone. Why Tyler still wasn't quite sure." "Understood. So . Inc. grinning. But these things are heavy." "Without fire there is no smith. "I am not optimized for military and strategic considerations." "So I'm sure you have a briefing prepared. "I am awake. His voice was hard and harsh. I. The processor was a pile of solid atacirc a meter high and about 130 centimeters square with three hundred times the server space of the entire terrestrial internet prior to First Contact." Tyler said."Yes. "And I look forward to it. Tonganese and general terrestrial requirements." the AI said." the AI replied a moment later. earth really wouldn't have stood a chance. but the current situation does not require much analysis." Tyler said." His voice was a bit rote. "Please review the current strategic situation. "You are born in fire and fire is your calling. where's the processor center?" The processor center. speak fluent Rangora. Tyler." Tyrone said. on the top for the AI core. "Command authorize activate. Upon completion. The fabber is currently the property of Apollo Mining. code E-Z-7-2-8-U-A-A-B-A. When that one is complete. AI. "I understand the need. . he had also been instrumental in Tyler's purchase of Granadica." "I am complete." Tyler said. "Your mission is to be the AI for this fabber. ." Hephaestus replied. Mister Tyler Vernon. ceremoniously removed the AI core." "Welcome to the world." "Understood. "Hephaestus. You will conform to all laws and regulations thereof including US." Tyler said. as it turned out. I'm sorry. Gods. you and Granadica will work together to create a third.

" Hephaestus said. The first missile magazine of theTroy was designed to hold two hundred fiftythousand missiles." Hartwell said as Dana adjusted course to avoid the line of missiles headed to the magazine. it's done. they would take down the entire shield system." "I think it's probablypast time to start making you humans some thunderbolts. Four hundred and eighty missiles per second with the addition of the SAPL was pretty muchguaranteed to shred a Rangora battleship. there was one magazine and fifteen launcher tubes. The magazine was easy enough. "Agreed." Tyler said. Fairly standard looking missiles. which was usually before they left their bay." Hephaestus said. I'm not really popular with the Trojans. . "Trojans . . after all." Tyler said. Greeks. . some minor adjustment controls and a simple management system. Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean. The way to deal with that defense was to overwhelm it. a large carbon nanotube hypercapacitor." essentially a short ranged grav lance. "It's still pretty amazing." "I think you'll get along. everybody. Any individual missile would be destroyed taking out a very small area of shield. Hephaestus. such as a battleship's engine. "Request permission to connect with Granadica and review priorities. The Page 175 . capable of penetrating the shields. here.be moved into theTroy . That had been what Morton-Thiokol was supplying. I'd planned one but . Each of the missiles had a "breacher head. Packed into them were high density grav plates." TWENTY-THREE "Like we needed more traffic in the main bay. They had dozens of laser clusters for missile intercept. I did create the armor of Achilles. The new Thunderbolt designs were simply a cylinder of steel ten meters long and two in diameter with both ends flat. of course. but mostly they took their direction from a networked battle system. Currently. It was estimated that if two hundred missiles hit a Rangora battleship within a second." "We're mixing cultures. sorry there wasn't more ceremony. The "throw rate" was one missile every tenth second coming fromforty-eight launchers." Dana said. Back to work. they were smart enough to find their way on their own. They could track on high density grav sources. it should be able to burn through even close range jamming and once the missiles had the distance and trajectory of the target. capable of anti-missile defense. . Missiles should be long and sleek and cool looking. "Okay. Rangora ships were. anti-missile missiles and shields. By the way. With the new high power hypercom system of theTroy . The missiles did not look like what she thought of as missiles.

" CM1 Glass commed." Dana said. That put it in perspective. "But they're in our way now." Hartwell said." Hartwell said. Grav drives. The SAPL was currently working on divots and pin-holes for it as was apparent as Charlie Flight exited the tunnel. "Guess that's why we're on salvage duty again." Hartwell said." Dana said." Dana said. chuckling. There was a "small"—one hundred meter long—quadruple airlock with four blast doors to accept the produced missiles." Dana said." Dana said." Thermal said. The hinge floated not too far from their flight lane and it was as big as everything else involved withTroy . It had been spin-cast in orbit then face hardened to prevent having it simply bend. "Who?" "Vernon. "Change of plan. The SAPL bypasses were partially complete and most of the beams were now being collected in exterior collimeters and bounced through the walls. "What I don't get is why they didn't put the fabber closer to the magazine. "And they'realways doing more work. "There are times I sort of feel dwarfed by it all." "Okay." "Cause they're planning on having five magazines?" Dana said." Hartwell said. "So eventually it was going to get in somebody's way. The current really noticeable project was the installation of grav drives and a frickinghinge on the main doors. They required two meter diameter "tunnels" be bored through the interior ofTroy 's walls as well as multiple blast doors to prevent back blast from enemy fire. boys and girls. "That guy gives me the creeps the way he's always watching.We're supposed to pick up some of the extracted salvage from the yard." Hartwell said." "This should be interesting. yeah.missiles were solid state and more or less smart. TheStarfire was floating Page 176 . "There he is again. "They've nearly eaten up that battleship chunk we brought in." "At least we don't have to worry about SAPL beams anymore. maybe. The firing tubes were more complex. slewing one of his screens. "But humans made it sothere . Dana suddenly realized what she thought were some spots on the surface were grav sleds. "You think you're used toTroy then something reminds you just how very small we are. "Except when they're doing more work." "In a hundredyears ." "Yeah." Dana said. They could take care of themselves so it was nothing but a very big cube that had been cut out of the walls of theTroy and then resealed." "At one missile every ten seconds. The pin for the hinge had been made out of one of the chunks cut fromTroy 's wall.

overall. Page 177 . Their accident rate was consistent with early Apollo operations and not bad considering the conditions. They worked in a suit based on a Russian design and mostly produced in Russia and the Ukraine. "I wonder what they're going to use the grav drives for. They worked in grav sleds and had their own personal suits. comparatively. Nine had been more or less completely destroyed." Hartwell said. aren't I?" Dana said.near the scrap pile. five Conqueror class Rangoran battlecruisers and three Horvath "battlecruisers" that given Galactic standards the USSN now called frigates. Transfer relays. Apollo grav sleds were based on the same technology. Laser emitters The task was immense." Hartwell said. The last of those had recently been pulled through to the Wolf system for Granadica and Hephaestus to work on as they had cycles. built the Franklin mine. support beams. Forty ships had come through the gate. they would be adding to Terra's fleet. Power plants were power plants. Atacirc and hypernet links. they could work a couple of years in space and go home to live like kings. I'd like to shake his hand. Apollo simply couldn't handle all the work so they'd farmed it out. Most of the bits had been collected and stuck together in the scrap yard which was where everything that wasn't considered valuable salvage—hull plates. "Ask him to go swimming. It was robust. If they survived. In time. It was closer to a grav suit than a space suit. Tyler noted to himself." Which left twenty-six that had some significant amount of material still intact. built SAPL. Five had survived more or less intact with some very specific damage to make them non-battle-worthy. easy to use and had very few moving parts or openings. E Systems was working on cutting out all the useful material and collecting it for reuse by the USSN and Apollo. The managers and foremen mostly came from developed countries and had experience in various "close confinement" fields like deep water commercial diving. a good design. They'd been put through the Apollo courses on space operations. Grav plates could be reused if they weren't too damaged." Dana said. "BuiltTroy . It was." "You'd like to do more than that. It was in a more or less stable orbit and microgravity kept the stuff together. "Without Tyler we'd be speaking Horvath. Those countries had mostly been knocked back hard by the plagues and bombardments and quite a few of them were on the ragged edge of famines and failed states." "Iam going to have to ask for a new engineer. that E Systems was paying. a "discontinuous minor planetary object. The workers were hired from contractor companies in various poor developing nations. late of the Rangoran Navy and seconded to the Horvath. People there were willing to do just about anything to fill their rice bowl and even at the incredibly low wages. some of them had even been hired away from Apollo at higher pay. Tyler wasn't real happy with the result. It had a certain Darwinian fascination but it was still capitalism at its most brutal. pipes—was being dumped. Thirty-two Devastator class battleships. It was. Salvage was inherently dangerous work. They were bits and pieces of navigational hazards that Apollo and E Systems were cleaning up as they had time. apparently just hanging out. compartment. bulkheads.

through a decrypted intercept of a German transmission. E Systems had sustainedthree hundred percent casualties. and most of them had probably lied about their age. personal suits inside their grav sleds especially when they were working salvage. Churchill kept the information among his closest advisors. It was getting less and less custom. unknown to the Germans.But Apollo workers wore their. They were sucking vacuum. they still had a chance to survive. Their suits were poorly made and the seals failed. But he didn't. E Systems was running a continuous shuttle line of new workers. Apolloowned all that salvage. But if he did that. And having that information. They were sent into a retrograde orbit towards the sun. Winston Churchill had. It was a gut wrenching decision but war was like that. there wasn't enough production. When they had a failure. Three hundred percent casualties. Many of those "orbits" were going to end up hitting planets instead. And Coventry was destroyed. highly-qualified. Those that didn't weren't even returned to earth. were working for him. by their sacrifice. well-prepared personnel to work in space simplycould not fill the need. those kids. E Systems was acting as contractors for it to Apollo. Not because there weren't volunteers for the work. Tyler had sucked vacuum once. Someday some mother on earth could look up and see a bright flash in the sky that was once the heartbeat beneath her own. He didn't like it and doubted that the workers in the scrap yard liked it much. There weren't enough instructors. they had lost three hundred people out of it. When Tyler first saw the reports he had kicked in a three hundred year old desk and thenreally started on a rage. They didn't check their seals. But if a worker survived the first two weeks of work on the scrap yard. The way you did that was when you lost somebody. Page 178 . might save Terra. the Germans would know the Allies could listen to their most secret messages. He could prevent it by ordering that the RAF concentrate their forces to stop the German bombers. The Pakistani. and there were never enoughqualified volunteers. When that guy died. Just like a unit in combat. you stopped sucking after a bit but the time in between was no picnic. Phillipino and various Southeast Asian workers that comprised most of E Systems' workforce didn'thave personal suits. Terraneeded that material. Indonesian. very expensive. That meant that if there was a working group of one hundred. Of course. His first response was to just cancel the contract. found out that the Germans planned to destroy the city of Coventry. you replaced them. In the first quarter of operations. In the end. You kept replacing until somebody survived. Those kids dying like flies. The truth was. that was pretty much it. During World War II. might mean the difference between winning the war and losing. Most of them died in the first few days of work. They didn't listen carefully enough to the instructions on how to use their suits. either. also just like a unit in combat. they generally could make it through their one year contract. At bottom. Darwinian. The "Apollo Method" of producing highly-trained. So if there was a failure. you replacedhim .

"Please. as much or more than the Apollo techs. would stay in space. E Systems wasn't doing it that way because they cared about the war. Die in space only after years of work. War was like that. A group of Myrmidon shuttles was picking up a whole drive system from one of the Horvath frigates. they'd had to detach. The Myrmidons had gotten the big chunk of frigate going easily enough. if it could be called that to the E Systems method. God. Live in space. detach and reattach. were the future. return to space. It was requiring the deaths of thousands. Some. The outcome was the same. Tyler had made the same decision. But it was at a horrible cost. some would stay. "Not according to this flight plan." Dana said. They made a better profit. Which meant that it could engage attackers more effectively and both keep them from taking the systemand stop them from bombing the crap out of Earth. They. It might save billions. Paw Tugs could have Page 179 . Materials that Terra needed to survive were being gathered. But they weren't here watching these kids die. It didn't mean he had to like it. Before they entered the tunnel. They probably didn't even know why but along with the rest of the surviving drive systems. there was some small percentage that were smart and tough and able and careful enough to survive. It was a corporation and the way they were doing it was cheap. Please." "It's not going in the fabber?" Hartwell said. addicted to the pay or because they loved the wheel of stars untarnished by atmosphere. Get behind it and push. they were about to be installed in theTroy to give it some rotational capability. slow it down. Allowing these kids to die. ever. Some few who actually had the attention to detail and sheer will-power to survive what killed the rest. And although most would go back to their small cities and villages and never. He knew that he shouldn't feel like the survival of the whole system was on his shoulders. He came out here whenever he just couldn't expiate the guilt. In each group of sacrificial lambs. hook up to the other side.In the end. They were going to make sure that humanity survived and got off the mud ball and onto other worlds. carefully controlling her vectors. There were presidents and prime ministers who would be very put-out with the idea that one CEO considered himself the system's real defender. Slowing it down was tougher. He only came out here when he was at his wits end. Myrmidons weren't designed for that. There was one more positive. So that others might live. Let it be worth it.

" "Every little bit helps?" Dana said. Thanks for the assist. ." "Roger. good news." "But afrigate drive?" Hartwell said.. I might add. But as they approached Horn Two." Paris commed. back to the sandbox.three. Page 180 . more power." "Just keep an eye on the grav locks." Dana said. The mass of grav drives was. carefully. to say the least." "Careful.Again . "Since we don't know exactly when the Horvath or Rangora are coming through. maneuver the grav drive through the increasingly busy main bay." "More power. "And we have weld." "Roger... Major." "And. Paris." Paris commed. "They're control levers."Glass commed. Now the group of shuttles were having to.two.done the job easily." General Lhi'Kasishaj said. youare a little ray of sunshine today. "We can handle it from here." "I'mbeing careful.one. Charlie Flight. the engine has landed. rubbing his hands together. the more we work out there the more likely it is we'll get caught in a battle betweenTroy and an enemy fleet. "Forty-Two. carefully adjusting her power output to the parameters sent by Paris. ." Dana muttered.. "They want to put it on the Horn?" Hartwell said. "I really don't want them going out about now." "Boy. "They need grav drives..." Glass commed. bulky." "Will do. the driving was getting more and more ticklish. "Touchdown. boys and girls. "I suppose." Glass commed. "I'm trying to decide if I'm overwhelmed or underwhelmed." "Stand by for touchdown. Bring it in a bit. distractedly. Charlie Flight. "Hold that there while we get a weld on. On the other hand." Glass commed." "You know the other fun part about all this?" Hartwell said as the Flight headed back out the tunnel. "What?" Dana asked. If there had been more Paws. "We've got sleds working around this thing. "Okay. Paris. aren't you?" "Well.. "Sounds like I should shut up." Dana said. it's only a Horvath frigate and six gravs ain't much.. aye." Hartwell said. That's a drive that can accelerate a Horvath frigate to six gravities. Paris had cleared out a big area for them to maneuver through.

naïve To'Jopeviq. High Marshal Phi'Pojagit is in a somewhat uncomfortable position. "Please explain." "How can he be in trouble forboth ?" To'Jopeviq asked. system. "Not in high favor?" "Yes. it is worth it. ‘the hero of the Imperium' is anything but." "The assault on Terra has been authorized?" To'Jopeviq said. Everyone knew it which is why he was given the job of doing the end run. would have been virtually unprepared. are getting a reprimand from the High Command for defeatism. But I have high hopes. My poor dear boy. "And in the eyes of High Command." To'Jopeviq said. are unaware of his many mistakes. Not to mention twenty other capital ships. "Yes. sir. why am I being reprimanded and why were you demoted?" Page 181 ." General Lhi'Kasishaj said. totally confused." Lhi'Kasishaj said. And he had similar losses on other systems that. "I have placed much faith in you. He screwed up the flanking maneuver terribly and defied High Command to concentrate on the Tuxughah system instead of bypassing it. "Oh ." the general said. "It will. "Not trouble so much as reduced favor. if somewhat logistically important. that Phi'Pojagit should retire for ‘the hero of the Imperium. .'?" "Yes." To'Jopeviq said. of course. High Command is never going to let things like that out. Thus he is something of a threat to High Marshal Phi'Pojagit who did not expect him to succeed to the degree he succeeded. You with me?" "He's disliked for both his success and his failure. "Going into the full politics of the Junta is quite out of the question. Now . Suffice it to say that Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof is not in high favor at the moment. To'Jopeviq."Yes. By crushing the Glatun he has made himself a hero of the Rangoran people. But the truth is. Success and failure. The unwashed. nodding. It was assumed he'd get himself killed. "My poor. by the way. "This begins to make sense." To'Jopeviq said. sir?" To'Jopeviq said. depend upon your analysis having some hint of reality. The Junta does not often respond to popular demands but if there is enough pressure. Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof is much in the news." "What?" To'Jopeviq said. where to start?" Lhi'Kasishaj mused. Instead. Thus. he stayed back. popular talk mind you. "But the difference is immaterial at your level. "I thought you said there wasgood news!" "That is most excellent news!" the general said. "And I have been removed from responsibility and demoted. Gi'Bucosof is a terrible bungler. hissing in laughter. ." General Lhi'Kasishaj said. "For two reasons. The success. You really don't understand anything about high command." "He has conquered most of the Glatun Federation." "Heh. had he moved more quickly. of course. He lost seven Assault Vectors taking that one minor. Sort of. got a bunch of very expensive ships gutted and generally bungled his way to victory. . sitting down at the general's gesture. You. he could be given a hero's funeral and all would be well." To'Jopeviq said. There is talk." "So Phi'Pojagit would love to see Gi'Bucosof taken down a bit. sir. ." Lhi'Kasishaj said." he continued. So I hope you are worth it. do you?" "Apparently not. "I've heard the talk. I can see that.

"Because I gave the analysis to Gi'Bucosof of course!" the general said, hissing fit to die. "And he exploded! He wrote a reprimand to you in his own hand and sent a copy to the Junta. He demanded I be demoted to General. He gave Star General Magamaj the task of taking the system! With a fleet of sixteen Aggressors!" "They will beslaughtered ," To'Jopeviq said. "Surely they are sending more thanthat ! If they have gotten any work done on theTroy , if they have completed their repairs on the SAPL . . ." "Oh, I'm sure they have," Lhi'Kasishaj said. "I have read your reports quite thoroughly, To'Jopeviq. And the more I study the humans the more I become convinced they are quite an interesting race. Very resourceful. I'm sure they have found fuel somewhere. We may have to make them satraps instead of destroying them. They could be very useful." "General," To'Jopeviq said. "Thousands of fine Rangora will die." "Everyone dies," Lhi'Kasishaj said, shrugging. "When the fleet is mangled, that will be the last straw for so-called Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof. Phi'Pojagit will demand his head for the loss of many fine Rangora warriors as well as more expensive ships on a pointless crusade against another minor system. Your name will have come to the attention of the Junta as predicting this outcome, so you will be held in high favor. I will be held in higher favor since I arguedvery strenuously that this is insufficient force. Strenuously but not so strenuously as to bebelieved , you understand. We will come out smelling like thun. I see stars on your shoulder, young man. And novas on mine. Very soon!Very soon!" To'Jopeviq left the general's office and stopped for a moment in the corridor. The air was somehow sweeter. Rangora did not have a vomit reflex or he would have run immediately to the nearest head. "If this is what it means to be a general, I decline," he whispered. "Don't think to warn them," Beor said. "You have a very soft tread," To'Jopeviq said, not looking up. "I can read you like a manual," Beor said. "Do not do it." "I will not," To'Jopeviq said. "But . . . Beor . . ." "Anddo not say what you are about to say," Beor said, walking around to look him in the eye. "War is sacrifice. What is the first duty of the Rangora warrior?" "To sacrifice for the Emperor," To'Jopeviq quoted automatically. "We are born dead. Our life is the Emperor's." "You heard what Lhi'Kasishaj said about Gi'Bucosof. He is a danger to the Imperium. Removing him is a worthwhile goal. And this is thecheap way. You don't want to know the expensive way." "Those ships . . ." To'Jopeviq protested. "Born. Dead," Beor said. "This is a sacrifice for the Emperor." "Yes, Beor," To'Jopeviq said, bowing his head. "As you say."

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"And if any make it out, we will have real time intelligence, yes?" Beor said, taking his arm. "You know how much you'd like that." "Beor," To'Jopeviq said as they walked. "Can I ask a question about the Kazi?" "Yes," Beor said. "I don't promise to answer it." "What is the first duty of the Kazi?" "To protect the Imperium," Beor said. To'Jopeviq thought about that for a second. "That is not . . . quite the same as the military oath." "You noticed."

TWENTY-FOUR

"This is going to be over very quickly," Captain Bacajezh said, tapping his staff of authority on the holo console. "I am in total agreement, General," Commander Qathecuk said. The XO of the victory tested Aggressor class battleshipZhiphewich was practically jumping up and down. "Our very own star system to conquer." "Yes," Bacajezh said. "I did not say it will have ahappy outcome, Commander." "Certainly not for the Terrans, sir," Qathecuk said. "Do you think," Bacajezh replied. "I was passed, very quietly, an alternate report to the one we were handed through a friend of my father's." The Bacajezh line was somewhat reduced from its heigh-day. During the wars that had led to Rangora unification, prior to first contact, the Bacajezh had controlled vast territorial claims. They had retained them even after the Unification under Emperor Zha'Nechighor The Great. Time took its toll on families. The Bacajezh had not reacted quickly enough to the changes caused by the opening of the gates. Suddenly, productive farmland was not worth what it had been. The damnable Glatun had caused immense disruption. Upstart families arose, gained power, the power of the Emperor was weakened as new riches turned to conquest. But the name still carried weight in certain circles. And friends were friends. Scales were scratched.

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"And it said?" Commander Qathecuk asked. He knew of the Captain's affiliations. Since the Bacajezh still retained a measure of fealty but were not one of the Families, it always made him a tad nervous. "You know this system gutted a Horvath task force composed mostly of Devastators?" "I served on the Devastators, sir," the commander pointed out. "They were fine vessels in their day. But they were under powered and their screens were trash. They failed if you looked at them cross-wise." "Did you know the battlestation that took them out wasn't operational, yet?" Bacajezh asked. "No?" the commander replied. "That . . ." "Wasn't in the intelligence summary we were handed," Bacajezh said. "Curious that. The further estimate is that the humans have not gotten it operational. We cut them off when they still did not have a fuel plant and there was no way for them to get the fuel plant running without fuel. And although they have a great deal of solar power in their lasers, that they cannot focus all of it. Because to be able to, they would have to have access to Glatun military technologies. And theycertainly do not have access to the Glatun technologies. They do not have access, for example, to Glatun penetrators which can pierce our screens. Or fabbers which will produce Glatun missiles. And their ship fabber cannot produce Glatun cruisers or dreadnoughts." "Let's hope not," the commander said, gulping. The Zhiphewich had been in the fourth wave of assaults on Lho'Phirukuh. If he never had to match a flight of Glatun missiles again it would be too soon. They werestill repairing the damage. "What they have is a hollow ball-bearing with, at most, a couple of firing ports and a door they cannot close very fast," Captain Bacajezh said. "So we go through, close their firing ports for them, open up the door and dig them out. Then we reduce the system. If they surrender quickly, we leave them the use of a few cities." "Whichis the plan, sir?" the commander said. "Absolutely," Captain Bacajezh said. "And if they have got their two trillion ton battlestation working, and a door that closes and more than a few firing ports and mirrors that can concentrate all thatenormous amount of power . . ." "We'll be gutted like trib flies," Commander Qathecuk said, gulping. "Oh. Sir, if High Command thinks theymay be prepared . . . ?" "I never think to try to examine the murky depths of the thoughts of High Command, Commander," Captain Bacajezh said. "We could be a reconnaissance in force for all I know. They may have reasons to reject the analysis I have seen for intelligence I don't have access to. Star General Magamaj certainly seemed confident. And I think I'm a better liar. So we shall have to see. The projection that I saw, though, said that the system would require twenty Assault Vectors to conquer." "Twenty?" Commander Qathecuk said, starting to pant. "Calm yourself, Commander," the captain said. "Everyone dies. We are dead. Our lives are an Emperor's, who, I'm also given to understand, can barely speak in coherent sentences anymore." "Captain," his aide said. "All ships are in position."

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"Good," Captain Bacajezh said. "Signal for gate sequence. Destination: Terra."

"Okay, I'mofficially tired of feeding thegoddamned missile fabber," Dana said. "Can't they just use the chunks from the walls that are building up?" "Wow," Hartwell said. "Ice Queen must not have gotten laid last night." "EM," Dana said, tightly. "I am not enjoying trying to maneuver this chunk of junk. And my back hurts like fire. And for your information,no , I didnot get laid last night because Rammer had duty. So if you would kindly cut me some fricking slack?" "Got it, Coxswain," Hartwell said, grinning. She was behind and above him so she probably couldn't see. "All systems nominal." "For once," Dana said. They were still having trouble with the damned grapnels. Which would suck at the moment. The scrap yard was composed of every size and type of material imaginable. The fabber was happy with more or less whatever it got. The materials of a Horvath ship were pretty much what it needed for missiles. So the parameters had changed, somewhat. The Myrmidons were now picking up bits they could manage individually and hauling them into theTroy . Since the Myrms could move pieces much larger than themselves, the looked a good bit like carpenter ants. And, as with carpenter ants, keeping the ships and material on vector was occasionally difficult. They didn't "fall over" from the "weight." They got "into an out-of-control condition" due to "anomalous delta." It looked pretty much the same from a distance. "Your back hurts like fire?" Hartwell said after a moment's rumination. "Drop it, EM," Dana said. "If you need to see the corpsmen . . ." "It's a woman thing," Dana said. "Oh," Hartwell said, blanching. "Okay. End of conversation." Dana forbore to mention that it was only a "woman thing" if tattoos were a woman thing. The tat was going well. But it hurt like hell every time. "God damned Horvath piece of . . . !" "Unscheduled gate activation!" Paris sent. "Set Condition One!" "We need to . . ." Dana said.

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"Shut down all systems," Hartwell said, sending the codes. The lights dropped off and the gravity went away. "We're . . ." Dana said. "Too far," Hartwell said in the darkness. "There's no way we can make it. And they've got the door closing in less than two minutes, now. I don't want to splat, thank you, Cox. This way, we might be mistaken for garbage. Assuming theTroy wins." "Roger, EM," Dana said. "Hey, EM?" "Yes, Coxswain Parker?" "You know how they're always asking for suggestions?" "Yes." "A window would be spare about now. Because that way we mightsee the missile that kills us."

TheTroy's command center had been designed with a passageway from the Admiral's quarters to the command center which, the Admiral had timed it, took three minutes to walk. Or thirty seconds to run at a sprint, trying to tuck in your shirt the whole way. "Status?" "Emergence," Captain Sharp said. He had had the midwatch Command Officer slot. He always had the midwatch because, as he put it, asmart enemy would attack during midwatch. And he liked smart enemies. "Rangora. I make it sixteenAggressors , fourCofubof class cruisers and six smaller consorts. Single emergence. Tight formation. They are engaging." "Light them up, Captain," Kinyon said, taking his station. "Missiles positive lock on that task force!" "SAPL is in the net," the Laser Tech said. "We have beam." "Open fire," Sharp said.

Nineteen Ung mirrors were scattered across the firmament at four light seconds from theTroy . Four light seconds is a very long way in general. The moon is two light seconds from earth. They were, in other words, twice as far fromTroy as the moon is from Earth. Which meant that hitting the two meter collectors onTroy was a bit of a tough business. The point was that it was even harder for an enemy to hit the mirrors. They were quite small by celestial standards, barely larger than a tractor-trailer. They moved around a bit to throw off fire. A laser was going to take four seconds to reach them. They'd have moved by the time it arrived. There were more mirrors,

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The lasers hit the collectors. in effect. They're also countering most of our missiles with counter missiles. which were massive sapphire constructions that were a bit like a magnifying glass. We're breaking through but not fast. Hitting the collectors on theTroy was tough. Captain!" Commander Qathecuk shouted. Which was the whole point ofTroy . The Horvath fleet had run into seventy petawatts of power. So we do what we can. minor." Qathecuk said.apiece . they'd been cranking up their production. but . Despite the fuel shortage they had found some work-arounds." The floor shuddered slightly. though." Sharp answered. . target pattern Vact. "This plan is toast. It was. One hundred and twenty petawatts. and bounced a tiny. But if you could take out the final targeting mirror. Commander!" "We're not getting their shields down on split. "Split and it isstill hammering our shields? Missiles?" "We saw some incoming. angled slightly to catch the incoming rays of other mirrors.hundreds at this point. And since they had fuel again." "Launch capital missiles on off-side. bounced off more mirrors scattered through the walls of the battlestation." Sharp said. very nearly twice the previous output. "Pretty good. spindled and mutilated and finally emerged on the far side through a merethree emitters. scattered across the system. Each sending outforty petawatts of power at three selected Rangora ships." the defensive officer replied." Bacajezh said. The ship was humming so loudly from diverting power to shields that it sounded like a drum. into the six fully prepared collectors on the backside ofTroy . with all due respect. "They're holding. "Don't you think we should concentrate fire on the battelstation andleave the planet?" "We aren't going toscratch that thing!" Bacajezh said. nothing but an armored final targeting mirror. folded." "That beam issplit . Page 187 ." Bacajezh snarled. "But the shields have most of our sensors shut down topside. ??? "Shields at maximum. merged. Which meansdevastate their populations. They had never quite shut down business. teensy. We really need more defenses. fraction of the sun's total energy towards the embattled station. The SAPL has to have most of their sensors jammed. "These babies are tough. . "Full spread. Each of the Ung mirrors bounced twenty petawatts of power." "Captain." "Any idea which is the flagship?" the admiral said. all the power in the universe didn't win battles. Six of the mirrors very carefully lined up on pre-selected vectors. The SAPL boys had been busy. were split.we are toast. based on emissions. not impossible. "And we're taking some hits.

Status of their capital missiles?" "Entering Athena's basket. in situations like this. She also handled space traffic control." Kinyon said. One of the tiny little codicils built into SAPL early on was thatevery secondary mirror. "Paris got some launches with the BDA clusters but they've gone dark. But some of those missiles were bound to be looking for the system defense AIs. Athens left most of the grunt work to her buddy: Argus." Kinyon said." Kinyon said. A ten meter mirror is not 10 times as Page 188 . Since the beam was pointed at one particular point and the ship was moving. Argus. it sliced it neatly from midsection through its engine room. It was the understanding of the human commands that Athena was the defender of the solar system."Targeting change. the thousands of BDAs. Any way you looked for them they were tough to find. For all those reasons. Also called Panoptes: The All-Seeing. Argus wasn't part of the US or nascent terrestrial government." "Up to Athena. They were "brilliant" missiles. Until the missiles hit. "Missile fire inbound track to earth. AIs tended to cut some corners. notably. When it came to things like survival." the defensive tech said as the battlestation shuddered again. ""Concentrate full power of the SAPL on the flagship!" Commander Qathecuk didn't even have time to scream. Resolution in optics increases with the square of the mirror area. And whereas Athena had been optimized for defense and space management. the best the Rangora could make. What was left looked something like a smoking metal wishbone. broke through at the same time as the SAPL concentrated fire on theZhiphewich . through the massive battlewagon and back into space. "Full power shots to each battlewagon. "God help Earth. by awful coincidence. headed for Terra to enact doom on this new species that thought it could defy their Rangora makers. made it through their boost phase alive and unharmed and went dark. damage control." "Boot don't piss on them. it was the SAPL control AI and "owned" by Apollo Mining." the defensive technician said." Ninety-three missiles all pushing seventy-ton Kinetic Energy Weapons. Argus had been optimized for searching. crew quarters and out the drive section. the name was chosen for the US SpacCom AI. ??? "Shift fire. VSAs. had a small but very high resolution camera. The truth was. was a giant with a hundred eyes. One hundred and twenty petawatts of power punched through the failing screens. The goddess Athena was the patron goddess of Athens. The flight of thousands of penetrator missiles. Technically. Even as they boosted they sent out spurious gravitic messages. radar and lidar jamming and they were solid black with small lights on them that mimicked the stellar background. VDAs and Ungs. in mythology. the goddess of intellect and wisdom and. the goddess of Victory.

Panoptes the All-Seeing. which it defined as being of a high enough gravitational constant to form a sphere. . When searching for the ninety-three missiles. That is. It could pick out the tiny individual hairs on theirstomach . Managing those thousands of mirrors—which requiredvery precise targeting and orbits—Argus often had to deal with the effect of gravity on his carefully programmed plans. it is78 times as good. Also in that large bucket of space were other objects. Argus was good at sorting out clutter. It couldn't just spot pretty girls on a beach in Sao Paulo. but finite. That might mean Page 189 . If you could sort out all the clutter. radio telescopes and. . The US government had scattered thirty-six gravitational detectors in orbit between the gate and Earth specifically to keep an eye out for an attack like this. The whole SAPL was. A large bucket of space. Argus included seventeen in the Kuiper Belt that human astronomers had not yet detected because. The rest became the thousand eyes of Argus. The lack of ambition in human astronomers was most evident. in Argus' opinion. Many of the mirrors still had to be used for moving power. One was the various human planetary telescopes all of which. to the. But he was done by then and in general Argus didn't chit-chat. human astronomers were still unsure if they had categorized all near-earth minor planetary objects over one meter. Because Argus was . Even the large orbital space radar system that SpacCom was pouring over. NEOs. in the quality of their telescopes. four light seconds out of the plane of the ecliptic. The humans had radar telescopes. Then it considered data points that weren't quite so obvious. But no matter how much the missile systems futz with the data. . Puh-lease. by its count. you have to be somewhat . When you're bouncing a ten centimeter beam of power from the orbit of Venus to the asteroid belt.good as a one meter mirror. Some of that information was. There were thousands of minor gravitational effects in the system. detail oriented. . one hundred forty-nine planetary scale objects. a now six hundred square kilometer telescope. Argus knew. spurious. it had gotten information from Paris. In addition to the SAPL array. in Argus' opinion. No. once they stopped boosting they were on pre-programmed orbits headed for Earth. which was starting toseriously annoy it. The next was the Gravitational Anomaly Detector array. x-ray telescopes. They were pretty good. He took the data and processed it but it wasn't exactly his main focus. for all Argus cared. trying to hit a mirror that is only ten meters wide. Argus first considered what it thought it knew. ships. When Argus first went online. These included asteroids if the object was passing close enough—and Argus was very picky on what it considered "close enough"—to the gravitational effects of shipping. and they gave good take on gravitic anomalies. Athena could and would commandeer. If you dropped a handful of poppy seeds mixed with mustard in front of Argus. mirrors. they were lacking in ambition. Argus could have told them the answer after a week. Argus had two other systems to use to find the missiles. for human systems. it always was having to keep in mind the corrections for things like shuttle gravity drives working between Earth andTroy affecting mirrors in Venusian orbit. detail oriented. he'd have it sorted before it hit the ground. They were somewhere inside of a bucket of space. fart detector telescopes. in an emergency. Athena and the scattered GAD circuit about the initial boost phase. in effect.

As an object approaches the speed of light its mass approaches infinity. The VP would step in and things would continue without a major political crisis on top of whatever had killed the President. dome. This is about the force that a bee uses to flex its knee. Missile down. During the Global War on Terror. The president was currently in a military Blackhawk helicopter moving at a very high rate of speedaway from an undisclosed location called Peoria. Allobjects have some gravitational effect." The point being that if the President was taken out. The beam might fall outside of Argus' standard of . First the Horvath bombardments had convinced the government that it needed to disperse. And Argus didn't care for chit-chat. onboard not-quite-AIs studied the known Page 190 . Another BDA shifted slightly in space. Because the Pentagon knew something about the Rangora missiles. holding onto the grab bar. . because he was afraid of being killed. the vice president was almost always "at an undisclosed location." the President said. received an allocated amount of power. When objects move very fast. gravity increases. . But sometimes even a million eyes are not enough. The missiles were not programmed for particular points of interest. As mass increases. Newton proved that with a couple of lead balls and poorly made springs. their mass increases due to what humans would call Einsteinian physics.only a thousandth micrometer of variation in the position of the mirror. but theywere starting to get into the region where someone or somethingsufficiently detail orientedwould notice a slight gravitational increase in their local region. The Rangora didn't know which might get through Terra's defenses so what was the point of telling them "gutthis city.0001 percent accuracy of targeting. They weren't just smart. but thatmattered when you were shooting around beams of power. The missiles were not approaching anything like the speed of light. Kansas. . It might sound crazy but if you let the little things get away before you knew it some beam was cutting a planet in half and people were asking questions . A sixteen ton BDA mirror suddenly experienced a three micrometer per second square delta v off of its programmed trajectory. But because he was afraid of the city around him being killed. The VP went to an undisclosed location. Zap. as had been repeatedly pointed out. As they approached. They werescary . . easily targeted." They were each given a list of targets. Then thePresident went to an undisclosed location. You have to be to process the view from a million eyes. Argus was . They weren't just brilliant. somewhat detail oriented. Congress no longer met in one building with a big. "Status. Not. there would be constitutional continuity. See E=MC2 which was not quite accurate but a good summation of the principal.

nose down and dodging wires to stay below any radar. Say the first target was Rio. With great big asterisks. thevery top. in fact. Which just meant it was in the perfect position to be picked up by a cell phone. handing it over. hovering over his laptop." the colonel said. scattered and heading southwest away from his position. The one part that Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof carried over from To'Jopeviq's report was the leadership structure of Terra and the various "tribes" war policy makers." the colonel from SpacCom said. Nebraska. "Oh My God! Jerri! Itis! I couldseehim in thewindow! I'm sending you the vid. SpaceCom wasn't quite sure that the President was at thetop of the list of potential targets but he had to be damned close. It would go to the next in its target list. "Athena has destroyed sixty-eight missiles. Page 191 .. "Well." the Army helo pilot said. Mr. The Marines were usually in charge of the President's military style security.data coming from Earth. The alternative was a Myrmidon which was agreat big gravitic target. "Sir. there's one nice thing about the way that the Rangora make war. "Peaceniks used to say that if the leaders were forced to fight. the President was somewhere in the top of the list of targets. not to mention faster and with longer range. "Your cell?" "Here." "Sir?" the colonel said. But the Army had Blackhawks which were much more deployable. ""Get usaway from populated areas!" "Working on it. than the CH-47s the Marinesstill used as helos. And say that as Missile X is headed inbound it picked up from the terrestrial internet a couple of hundred bloggers near Rio saying that there was a mushroom cloud. one of the largest remaining cities on Earth. When the Rangora got a bit questionable about whoexactly were the big guys they had a little civil war to settle things out. "Twenty-five left. He was. there wouldn'tbe any wars." the President said. furthermore. closing his laptop." the President said. we should go to EMCON. Part of the target list.. The First Family was on four more helicopters." The Blackhawk was low and hammering it. was notcities butleadership . As was SpacCom headquarters which was situated seventy-three miles outside of Omaha." SpaceCom had one thing right. President." "I can do basic math. "Bang goes that theory. What they had wrong was how close to the top." the President said. The Rangora Imperium was big on leadership.

looking out at the scattered wreckage. the British Prime Minister. Shut down. Senate Majority." "US strikes?" the Admiral asked. Speaker. the Vice President. sir." Page 192 . Louisville or because the Senate Majority leader was there. "Only four of sixteen got through the BDA net. "Well. Missouri. Strike in Louisville." ". The problem being." the Admiral said. Gravitic. Gungzou. . well." "They're trying to destroy us piecemeal. in addition." Commodore Pounders replied. gazing at the picture from the gate area.clear." "Power transfer?" "Smooth. suddenly lit off their drives and hammered for Earth at 1000 gravities of acceleration. . The Secretary of State's plane is grounded there. . any twenty-four of them could see a quadrant of Earth at any time. already having crept inside the orbit of the moon. "We lost the President. . Not the safest spot but it was the best view. we probably would have gotten them all. they were easy to engage. Full power and roaring? Ninety-three out of one hundred and forty-eight had made it through thegate defenses. The President." "What's the word from Earth?" Admiral Kinyon asked.. The Premier was in Shenzhen so we don't know which was the target. with some time. . Calcutta. he wanted to watch. "Twenty hits. . the Russian Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier.. "God's grace be w . "The Chief Justice is being flown to Ellington. Nor were they easy to detect. The missiles were going for the leadership which was dispersed. If there hadn't been so many targeting on the President and the PM. A total of thirty-eight BDA clusters could target the missiles. the missiles weren't just going straight. Shenzhen. By spherical geometry. the Vice and the Brit Prime Minister all managed to get to relatively unpopulated areas before the strikes." the commodore said. The Russian PM was in Novy Birks. They were definite decap strikes. "I don't thinkwe're so muchtrying assucceeding . now. If it was going to happen." Commodore Pounders said.Sixteen missiles. . There were. Bogotá . two hundred more scattered in various tidally stable positions. There were. So he saw the streak in the sky . She's already up on TV. "Relatively few of the remaining cities got hit. ." Pounders replied. . The President was in the gunner seat of the Blackhawk. electronic and visual ghosts played out to either side as the missiles snaked in for the kill . . more than two each. These were missiles that were very very hard to kill. Toss-up again. Long list. That might have been. sixty-nine BDA clusters in orbit around Earth.

." Dana commed. "Yeah. "Don't suppose you'd like to talk to the coxswain?" Ramage gritted his teeth for a moment."I'm getting a hypercom trans." Ramage replied.all clear. that would be a positive item." Paris commed. Shuttle 438. Rammer. But at least therewas a Thirty-Six. They were just looking confused. Page 193 . trying not to sigh in relief." They had two more Marines with them. He hadn't had any duty reason to contact the coxswain and all non-duty communications were shut down while they were still at Condition One." Hartwell said." "Roger. Rammer." Ramage replied. . 142nd. "Yes. EM. "Coming up on hypercom power . "Wejust got this place cleaned up!" TWENTY-FIVE "Thermal. "Repeat. "How'd it go?" Ramage continued.. "Mostly. for once. "Welcome aboard. "Dammit!" Dana said." "." "Glad you're okay. quietly." Hartwell came up on full power and brought up the screens. all clear. We're awaiting the rest of your guys loading. actually looked serious and just shook his head in his helmet as if to say "Dude. had been a bit tough." Hartwell said.. not going to joke you on this one. breathing deeply. Father and Chaosman. "Dammit tohell !" "At least we stopped them. "Iwas sitting in Troy. As in "You say oneGod damned word!" Lassie.. Battle over. all clear. There was a pause. All ships in area." "Not that!" the coxswain said. EM. He looked over at LCP Lasswell and raised a finger as if to count one. ." "Roger. "We are sealed and green. Getting the Staff Sergeant to assign him to Thirty-Six." Corporal Ramage commed. all clear." Dana said. Rangora eliminated. Rammer. again." Thermal commed.

"Lock it down. He'd mentioned that "Patri" was Latin for father and the name had stuck." "Which was why he told you to lock it down. "Looked like one more piece of scrap. a brand-new. Laser weapons were his particular bugaboo. "That had to suck.Gotta go." Ramage said. "Chaosman. ." Peterson said. trying not to chuckle." "Oh." "The corporal and the coxswain are . And we just got this place sort of cleaned up!" "Bad out there?" "These guys are.. thoroughly-tested. gratefully." Lassie said.." Chaosman's nick came from the fact that stuff justhappened around him."Played dead. And not in a good way." Lasswell said then stopped as if trying to find the right word. "And I heard where during the battle the shuttles were out in the scrap-yard. He had the usual Marine approach to neatness which wasnot OCD because it wastraining . Corporal.was OCD. "Uh. "Involved?" Father said.Private .coxswain." Ramage said. "And they blew the hell overeverywhere!" "It's okay. "Ah. D. the safety Page 194 . We're undocking." "Roger.were pretty big. Full system failure which was pretty hard with triple redundancy. Dana. The first time he did his EVA qual. navopak just up and quit. he's holding a laser. "We'll get it cleaned up again.. There had been a massive short-circuit that essentially destroyed the pak. It was barely good for cannibalized parts.." Ramage snarled. Which in EVA was not a good thing. And it wouldn't come back up. Which meant his significant other was under fire while we were eating popcorn." Peterson said.. "What wasthat all about?" PFC John "Father" Patricelli asked. Worse. "So I'd suggest that you lock it down before there's an accident. Ramage didn't answer and he looked at Lassie as if to say "One damned word. gung-ho.." Father said." Dana commed. on the other hand. .Another accident. Usually they just failed to fire at all. jarhe." Dana commed. mostly because it was his fourth hitch. He was a bit old to be a PFC. "That's the word." "You're screwing thecox ?" Private John "Chaosman" Peterson asked." "What's thiswestuff. He was some sort of magnet for screw-ups." Patricelli said.

"They should have the same anoxia reaction as humans. Bacajezh was as surprised as the cook with whom he shared the escape pod at his survival. Any of them get squirrelly. Nobody was quite sure they wanted him around in space. you are authorized to fire without warning." Thermal commed.Twice. Rangora tend to be somewhat feistier than Horvath. The SAPL beam had hit just abaft his position in the CIC. "First customer coming up." "The SecState has already been sworn in as the Continuity Coordinator. "Rammer." he continued. "Listen up." "They are coming. Chaosman. Which is why there's four of you. After that there was not much to do but wait. move to the drop-off point when you're full. Marines. line 'em up." Ramage commed. They threw a load of missiles at Earth. you're with me. yes."Same as President for your purposes and as soon as the Senate votes she will be. There was an escape pod bay a short distance from the bridge. Thermal." Captain Bacajezh said." "Dammit. he had all the sense God gave a baby duck." the Gunny continued." "Roger. we got hammered again. He was more or less blown into the last escape pod and he didn't really remember much after that until he regained consciousness looking into the face of a concerned junior enlisted. "Make sure your door is locked down. Hisimplants had had to be replaced. The enemy was jamming hypercom channels so the pods could not communicate. When they're in the cargo bay. Most of them were intercepted. they take off their helmets and leave them in a pile. The President and the VP are dead.occasionally just up and quit. The beam had. "They have very smart missiles. Lassie. They were programmed for decapitation strikes." Gunny Brimage commed. And his ship was being torn apart by missiles. "The usual." "How'd they get the President?" Chaosman asked. to his continued surprise and shock. If they get froggy. He'd made sure everyone that was mobile was out and followed. the next the compartment was open to vacuum. All that being said." Rammer commed. Father. "Weapons hot.. For general information. "I liked that guy. Difference this time being that they're Rangora." Father said. And if they don't." Ramage muttered. anyone who uses undue force on any of the prisoners will answer to me and thenan Article Thirty-Two.. Pick up the escape pods. To top it all off. That is all. That is not permission to massacre your load. We just keep fighting. cut through faster than thought. ?" "You want me to remote the doors or pump down?" "Pump down. pointing to opposite forward corners of the cargo bay. He could not use a computer to save his life. But from time to time he could spot small boats moving among the debris so they were probably picking up survivors. One moment the shields were holding. If they were killing them he'd have seen the pods in view popping Page 195 .nobodysurvives hard vac.

armed with a laser rifle. He took off his helmet and added it to the pile. He was not presenting the image of the fierce Rangora warrior but. to give a clear. Which gave the captain a very interesting bit of intelligence he wished had been inhis briefing. He looked to his side and one of the." "Yes. he was a cook. the hatch shut and the airlock dialed up to pressure. humans was gesturing with his left hand at a pile of same on the port side of the boat. someone from tactics." Bacajezh said. eloquent. sitting down next to the lieutenant. clear." the cook said. Bacajezh climbed out at a gesture from the rifle and entered the. but he recognized the signs of a ground fighter with much experience of his weapons.like vab pods. leaned over and looked through the porthole in the hatch. Most implant translation systems were rather robotic and had poor word choice and inflection. were using Glatun quality implants. They were far enough away that it was relatively small. One of the humans. The only loss was the air of the pod and the humans apparently had all the air they could use. more advanced than Rangoran. airlock. that was beyond massive. "It will be well. the size of his thumb when he held it out at arm's length. "No talking. after all. It took a very advanced implant system. Then he dialed out the pressure and opened the hatch. translation that sounded like a natural speaker. captain. They might be puny. "Take off the helmet. And that explained missiles that cut through Rangora screens like butter and targeting that was so powerful and precise it was far beyond what the Terrans should have. "Jaushom. "Just submit to them. fluent Rangora. Very efficient." his radio chimed in fluent Rangora. Even the rifles had the look of a modification of a Glatun design. These human ground fighters. He ducked through the inner hatch when it was opened and was unsurprised to find seven survivors sitting at the rear of the cargo compartment. Page 196 ." Bacajezh said. presumably their lowest value enlisted. The pod was released to drift. There was barely room for the two humans and two Rangora. nervously. But given that this was space. small. Every movement was sharp. One of the small boats locked onto the pod with gravity grapnels and pulled the escape hatch up to its airlock. He'd adjusted the trajectory of the pod and could also see the battlestation looming over the battlefield. again. The voice was. it was far too small. What was fairly unnerving was that they were all helmetless. "Captain!" The speaker was a junior officer he barely recognized." the human's helmet barked. I understand that humans treat their prisoners fairly well. puny. And there was no particular point in fighting with that damned battlestation looming over all. The airlock was open but wouldn't mate.

" the Rangoran said. So you may feel free to take it or not." the lieutenant said. . trying not to pant in relief. Bacajezh was going to kill the captain if it was the last thing he did." the officer said. The human looked very small and alone in the Rangoran station chair. "I am pleased that you survived. it will be gone. shrugging. Four-One-Eight-Seven-Six-Three-Nine-Four. On the other hand. kill for a cup of skul. We have some skul." the lieutenant said. But it was skul. grinning with open teeth in that offensive Terran fashion. He was unsure if High Command knew that." Bacajezh said. the term you're looking for is stupid. frankly. "Very much as we would reply. it was intelligence beyond price." Bacajezh wasn't sure how to reply to that. "There's only as much as is in your ships. "Captain Bacajezh. "Oh. The term that came to mind was "stupid.The Glatuns had released their military technology to the Terrans before the embargo." But that didn't seem like a good thing to say. Not the best and clearly from an instant mix he didn't recognize. He'd." the human said. which seemed to have suffered no damage whatsoever. some aspects of it. what can you say? This is more about the problem of dealing with ninety thousand Rangora prisoners . absent getting some more supplies from your people. "Captain Saeshon Bacajezh. When it runs out." "That many survived?" Bacajezh said. Page 197 . "I am Lieutenant Gularte. unusual to this area of galactic society but . The voice was coming from a speaker on his collar and he didn't open his mouth when he spoke. If it had surrendered without a fight. But I won't be asking you about your military posture. Aliens. . . "I will simply note that it isI doing the interrogation and not the other way around. . It also did not bode well for taking this system." "I am sure you are. There are various reasons they might have sacrificed his task force with that knowledge. an interrogation. . Would you care for some?" "Only if my men are receiving it as well." "That is ." the lieutenant said." the captain said." "Please. Our ways are. . plans for more attacks or your order of battle. The brew was cold and somewhat softened. You wouldn't answer absent harsh methods and we have rather strict laws against those. "I've offered it to all the officer prisoners I've spoken to. But if they did not." The interview was taking place onboard theCeixen . the two Marines with rifles in the corner were nearly big enough to be Rangora. "This is not. He didn't bother to try to use his own system to speak Terran. "According to most of your junior officers. we recognize. as such. The human's implant would translate better than his own very expensive personalized set.

. . Captain. . and we continue on. "We arereally tired of clearing up the scrap of your ships. beyond that which is our normal way of doing things. So the new leadership is sworn in. however. coming over to clap him on the shoulder. "They told us you had made it. are having a hard time figuring out how to proceed. . It's the biggest reason tonot blow them apart." the lieutenant said. No. Thank Jocup . you really are neophytes aren't you? No. Because we are . it won't work. .we do not have problems with transfer of power. And when a couple of pockets were compelled to surrender with SAPL fire. do we contact the Rangora High Command. Page 198 . Among other things. stupid. and we broadcast that to the rest." "I see. good Lord. Easy enough."After we figured out how to target your ships. . yes. Our watchdogs over prisoner well-being would become angry if that was all we fed you. . they got the picture. Several of them were captains of Aggressors and he spotted Kiuchep. we took some care. about ninety thousand we think." The lieutenant seemed to slump for a moment. Captain. "You guys really employransom ? Oh. ." "How the hell did they take your ship without any damage. The clean-up is just . we'd be fools to allow intelligence to go out from our system. "I am doing nothing of the sort. "You usethat archaic custom?" He barked some sounds that weren't translated and wiped at what appeared to be leakage from his eyes. and ask them to send you guys some care packages or something?" ??? "Captain Bacajezh!" The wardroom was packed with senior officers. we haveyou ." the lieutenant said. . "And there is no problem with our bombardment?" "You killed our President and Vice President. We're still picking up the pods ." "Not prominent enough to ransom. We had little or no diplomatic contact with any group other than the Glatun prior to this war breaking out. "I am simply acquainting the senior officer of this cluster grope with the realities of the situation. Your little bombardment was something along the lines of a day at the park by comparison. We find that to be unfit food for prisoners. According to our records you are not only a captain but a member of a prominent family. moving his shoulders up and down. stupid." Bacajezh said. there was no internal dissent." Bacajezh said. . therefore. "Captain Bacajezh. We have had plagues released upon us. We have been bombed repeatedly." "If you are trying to destroy my faith in the Rangora Imperium. the captain of theCeixen among them. They're bad enough over the food we give the Horvath. Some of the crews gave fight but we pointed out we were only leaving them alive because we were . we won't be requiring ransom. We didn't even have a consul with the Rangora: The Empire didn't consider us sufficiently important to have diplomatic contacts. the question is . exactly. But it's that sort of proto-carb gruel. "Ransom?" the lieutenant said. Captain?" Bacajezh snarled. Fortunately. The other issue we face isanother set ofthousands of prisoners we have to feed and house. . The largest problem with your fleet is that it is now in so many pieces and a hazard to navigation. "Eight of the Aggressors were captured more or less intact as well as most of the consorts. under the circumstance. We. . How." Captain Kiuchep said." the lieutenant said." Bacajezh said. So. "Unlikeyou . We have been oppressed and murdered in thebillions . We can create processors to make Rangora food. Captain.

" "And now ours are headed there." "Three hits. "They didjust enough. "Pardon me. "They are . we now have to deal with the conditions as they a . gentlemen. the Navy had to put up with a few. "They showed me what they call the ‘scrap-yard' which is where all theHorvath ships ended up." Bacajezh said. ." another said. so that they could ask for ‘care packages' for us. bam. looking at Pe'Sheshodac then Bacajezh. fought their Marines. "We're having a bit of a space problem. "This was a deliberate set-up." Lieutenant Gularte said." "Only tookone for theFaluc !" Pe'Sheshodac said." "They did mention they were getting tired of picking up the scrap. his scales rippling in frustration.sir !" Pe'Sheshodac said. And we don't have all the air systems repaired." Kiuchep said. . "That was another thing. but what was thepoint . waving a commander out of his seat and sitting down. "They wanted to know how they could contact High Command. I could have fought. The XO of theFaluc seemed either stoned or slightly brain hurt.Three hits ." Bacajezh said. I think they have anew meaning of war." He paused as the door opened. Ships drifting everywhere. "Faluc. The point is. treating us well. ."They didn't take it withno damage. ." he continued. But I doubt they would throw awaythis much weight of ships to put aside a minor political inconvenience. From a porthole so it was clear it wasn't a computer generated image. control runs and engines." a commander muttered. Occasionally. however. "Youwill control yourself. if you do not control yourself I will denounce you for conduct unbecoming when we return. "They are mad. took out main guns." "Do they not know the meaning of war?" Kiuchep asked. We were drifting with nothing but secondaries. all communications of course being jammed. "Enough of that." Bacajezh said. fought their small ships. saluting broadly. "I don't knowwho it is High Command wanted out of the way . "They let me view it." Commander Pe'Sheshodac said. Then they sent a request for surrender which I accepted. bam. as far out of sight as possible. "I don't begin to know High Command's thinking. please?" Page 199 . It was the price of doing business. "Hooray for the great Imperium Navy! Long live the Emperor!" The Thirty Families were not immune to the occasional inbred cretin. ." Kiuchep said." "Yes." Kiuchep said. . "Screens went down then they. So you're being transferred to Terra. There's poison for that sort of thing." Bacajezh said. They were generally put to work in minor jobs on conquered worlds. If you could come with me. "Have you seen the gate area?" Bacajezh said. bam.

and there's not much water. Just head for Earth. "Cept it's not on fire. EM." "Looks pretty much the same as the last time I was here. "I was wondering how long it was going to take them to send back a Page 200 ." "Gate activation. Oh. yet. In which case. "If you're sure. "I wonder if we can get some time on ground. any of you can feel free to run if you wish." "Okay. obviously. "Launch." Captain Sharp said. "Just good to see the mudball again. It had. "This used to be called Los Angeles. There had been many tall buildings which now were twisted ruins. We'll pump some in. perturbed by the outcome of the battle. Since terrestrial foods are not edible to you. the bombing was not recent. clearly. The Horvath did this but . once been a city. They have a hard time distinguishing between types of aliens."Man." Dana said. They were on the very edge of the crater that was made when a KEW impacted." "Missile ready?" "Yes. "I would suggest you and your staff get ready to get to work. "Inbound from Earth. There will be some hand tools coming along in time. What happens after that is entirely up to you." Dana said. "What's our destination?" "They haven't told me. We will also do our level best to keep the local population away. ." the sensor technician said." "At last!" Commander Jesij said. Some of them seem a little ." "What is this place?" Bacajezh said as he stepped out of the door of the shuttle. squids. . . but the light wind from the sea whistled through devastation." the Rangora said. . you'll die of starvation. walking back to the shuttle. There is more than sufficient materials to make shelters. . The climate is mild with relatively rare rains. The air was clear and clean. ." Dana said." Hartman said. We'll drop off food as we have it. lizards? All the same to them." "I am beginning to understand the human approach to kindness. it's a good thing we've got fuel. sir. "We're going to be dropping offall your personnel in very short order. "You should be fairly comfortable here for your . visit." Gularte said." Hartman said as Dana pulled the shuttle out of the bay. "Five by five." Gularte said. Dana?" Hartman asked as the shuttle started to climb back to orbit. "I am five by five." "You okay." Hartman said. looking around.

" Lhi'Kasishaj said.not tracking. It had been over sixteen hours since the task force had entered the Terran system. "Of course. He sat down at a gesture from the Sky Marshall. . Please send supplies for ninety thousand prisoners. authority for bringing the Terran system into submission. And while." the defense officer said. Sorry.. He had already noticed the new novas on Lhi'Kasishaj's epaulets." "Defensive systems. you have not heard the news. "The humans sent a request through the gate for supplies for ninety thousand prisoners. ??? "Congratulations." To'Jopeviq said. "As you predicted." Captain Mexur said. when played right it can be a very good thing. Ten thousand per Aggressor . liberating it from its oppressive governments and bring unification for the good of all Terrans. "Missile!" the tech said. ." "Put it on." To'Jopeviq said. "Ah. "Ninety thousand. thoughtfully. being right is often a very bad thing. "Of course. Everything you have. So. The commander of theCofubof class cruiserThomud had been getting nervous.. Message to Rangora High Command. "Don't let it trouble you. "High Command balked at General." Lhi'Kasishaj said." Lhi'Kasishaj said. But we are back in business!" "Yes. totally confused. Colonel To'Jopeviq." Lhi'Kasishaj said. we must now prepare proper plans for the subjugation of the humans. "Unknown class." Captain Mexur said. "Of course. And this was. as I noted. Not your concern. "Colonel?" To'Jopeviq said. sir. I want updated intelligence. bobbing his head in frustration. I have been given." "I see. and please keep sending us ships." Lhi'Kasishaj said. Oh. of course." "This is one message Ido not want to deliver. well played on my part. It's easier than making them." Star Marshall Lhi'Kasishaj said as the officer entered his office." the captain ordered. "Say again." "The task force was defeated. "It was the best I could do. I must admit. Repeat Message to Rangora High Command. "The missile is not tracking. It is broadcasting." Page 201 ." "The number is clearly false." "Message to Rangora High Command.report." "Longer than they were supposed to take." "Are we sending supplies?" To'Jopeviq asked." To'Jopeviq said. again. rippling his scales.

Long shot. "The Horvath attacks seriously damaged them. "It has been a very good day. That's practically half the crews!" "Still. "Yes. Who ignored us. "And he told High Command. they found another polity that is in support through one of their other connections." "Follow that to a logical conclusion. they had to have hadtotal dominance of the task force." To'Jopeviq said." To'Jopeviq said. pensively." Toer argued." Avama said. Sky Marshall. ." "Itold you!" Toer said. "Many possibilities." Lhi'Kasishaj said as he left the office. Page 202 ." Toer said. "We have the intelligence that the task force was defeated. What does that tell us?" "Probably disinformation. Or both. "And it certainly doesn't appear to be the case from the results of this battle." Toer said. though. "It's useful. "Didn't I tell you?!" "And I told the Gen ." To'Jopeviq said."I will get right on it. "They would have had to have both capable missiles. They must barely be able to feed themselves." Avama said. Ninety thousand prisoners. . "There is no way that that many Rangora survived unless our ships were easy for them to defeat." To'Jopeviq said. Toer." To'Jopeviq said. Or. . Most likely." Toer said. . . waving his hands and rippling his scales in frustration. sir. they have their fuel plant in operation. our penetrators or Glatun. "Well . That would requireenormous power andvery capable missiles." "What does that tell us of their current combat ability?" To'Jopeviq said." Toer said. They are now asking for an updated intelligence profile. "They have probably been proceeding with their work onTroy . "It's disinformation. they would have had to push enough power from their SAPL to overcome the shields and physical defenses of the ships with ease." To'Jopeviq said." "That was not the indication we had prior to communications being cut off. "I'm not sure about their construction rates ." "What does that tell us?" To'Jopeviq said. "That's negative intelligence!" "Calm yourself. "To get that many. What does that tell us?" "That they probably found a way to get power and fuel. as well asa lot of them." "We don'thave any new intelligence!" Toer said." "They cannot be high. .

"And they would have needed a lot of penetrators no matter what." Toer said. need to think. "Seventy petawatts would not have done it. quietly. The Myrmidons were on their sixth day of picking up life pods. . . '?" Tyler said. unless . after a moment's quiet." "What does a lot of penetrators and an increase in power tell us?" To'Jopeviq said. "I ." "Assume total dominance." Toer said. . andif their ground based production was more distributed than we thought ." TWENTY-SIX "?‘They came at us in the same old way . "Maybe. "Anything else?" To'Jopeviq asked." "Unless?" To'Jopeviq said. He'd begun to notice a bit too much blood in his alcohol system lately. "Bigger than they should have. My professional input is that this is disinformation.'?" TheStarfire was watching the recovery process which was going slowly. if there was a mil-tech database in the fabber they got they could hack it. "Yes?" To'Jopeviq said. taking a sip of Coke. To'Jopeviq?" "Yes?" "I don't thinktwenty Assault Vectors are going to be enough." Toer said. "?‘What a terrible business. "What else does that tell us? Not about their tech or the crews?" "They captured many of the ships. ."The only way that that could happen is if they are either enormously capable engineers or the Glatun opened up their military tech base." He paused and blinked. "Andif the ship fabber in that Wolf system has more or less unlimited resources. There was just too much to do. musingly. . . ." To'Jopeviq said." Toer said. . But that's well outside their known tech ability. "?‘And we defeated them in the same old way. "Ifthey have full Glatun databases. . "I need to do some calculations. "Big tech base." Toer said. If we assume that they have all that . pensively.'?" Admiral Kinyon continued. . TheTroy had stopped jamming and was Page 203 . slowly." Beor said.

The gate area was. Say . six months?" "That long?" the Admiral asked. were almost a third larger than the Devastators." the Admiral said. "Define what you mean by ‘everything'?"the interrogator. slipping a data crystal into his reader. The previous attack had included more ships. though. They had also been hit with more missiles which tended to scatter the debris. "That way. "It's all fiddly bits. The newer Rangora battleships. nervous." "They won't underestimate us the next time. At this rate." "Just a thought.now reassuring the survivors that they were going to be picked up as soon as someone could get to them. They're sending us more than we can use. We'll pull the lightly damaged through to Wolf and get to work. "Bets?" To'Jopeviq turned away from the holo of the victory celebration on Glatus as Beor entered his office. That makes me . Cleanup was going to takeforever . . possibly because he was talking freely. though. when the next attack comes through. "Any way we could get another missile fabber? We ran through most of our missiles in this attack." Tyler said." Tyler said. a minefield of drifting debris. The Glatun showed no signs of torture. "Lieutenant?" he said as she shut the door. We were looking at doing upgrades but it's tough. "Don't want you feeling nervous. "That would be more along the lines of ‘Yes. we might as well not build ships. "That takes time." "Their shields will push it off. But we're also building a space dock. . though." Tyler said." "How long to get the Aggressors back in action?" "We'll quit work on the Devastators. once again. whose voice was buzzed out and features were blurred." "I'll think about that." "I'll see what I can do. The view was the interior of an interrogation chamber. asked. "The next time. "We could just leave a bunch of this in the way." the Admiral said." Tyler said." Tyler said. "They're not all that great anyway. Page 204 . "But it will hole a freighter. . I'm continuing to devote part of their output to building Fabber Three. could you be a bit more careful of the drive systems? Grav plates are expensive. Also trained personnel of which there is still a critical shortage.they'll run into it. We've got both of the fabbers up and running. agent?'?" Beor said. We might want to think about just scrapping them for materials. ." the Admiral pointed out.

"Or they simply got their manifests. other than the Vaghusigh are from theZhiphewich and theZiyuzhim . "Try." Beor said." "So do I. But Captain Bacajezh appears to have survived.. two Cofubof . It is background only. rippling his back mane."I know that's the case cause I was the one who loaded the database." "Which is?" To'Jopeviq asked. The majority of the crew appears to have survived from eight Aggressors. based upon this. It would have had to be someone high in the Glatun military or some of the Benefactors." "I take it they are not going to the recipients. There was a message from him to his wife. Not to the Imperium. . You know you don't build all of one thing with just one company. but to any task force that enters their system." Beor said. exactly?" "Everything?"the Glatun said. somehow. which can be used. they at the very least have the full manifests for several ships. There are prisoners who are sending messages from all the ships but theVaghusigh . anyway.." "That may or may not be. but Como Gaffsaidthat the humans had been given access codes. "And have someone piece together that we lost sixteen Aggressors to a minor system? We are not stupid. To support your analysis. "But this is not authorized to be included in any analysis." "That's going to weaken our position." Beor said. "Be clear about that. I can't say it's true. I don't know who authorized it." "What would be in the database. The order came from high up in corporate. "The lowest number of survivors. They are a serious threat. You are authorized access." "This cannot be used for your analysis. no more. We willneed more than twenty Assault Vectors. And they appear to be very solid on censorship. "Of course not."the Glatun said. I wastold. Whether they are real or not is another question. but it cannot be included in your analysis."I mean. If there is coded information in them." Beor said." Beor said." "They capturedeight Aggressors?" To'Jopeviq said. we had access to from our competitors through the military." To'Jopeviq said. But if they are not real." "What are the humans playing at?" To'Jopeviq said. twoGufesh and threeThe'Seshibas . it is not apparent."Granadica had a full database ofallour military systems. ." To'Jopeviq muttered. we were one of the main military contractors. "With this ." To'Jopeviq said. "Ten words. The humans had to have completed their mine. "This makes no sense! There is still the possibility of our people using it to pass information! And the trouble of keeping so many prisoners? Iwish I could understand them." "Damn. What we didn't have in our own designs. you will have to find other intelligence." Beor said. There is one other factoid. "The humans are allowing the prisoners to send through short messages. though. "Toer is right. to be able to complete enough production to defeat the fleet. And they got a bunch of AIs from what I heard." Page 205 .

. Other people in the Flight lost family in the LA basin. Dana. All the shrinks can do is treat the symptoms. I would like to talk to you. closed it and came to attention. Depression. breathing deeply. It's that or the shrinks. holding them up in front of the hatch. I hope." Dana said. "And if I send you to the shrinks." "Understood. "with all the Glatun technology we have assimilated." Dana said. "Which means I'd prefer not to do that. "Aye. Same sort of thing we normally joke about. It's like it's started the grief cycle all over again. "Come!" Dana opened the hatch. Nothing major. aye." "Going off on your superiors is frowned upon. . But the real point is that it wasn't anything to lose it over. "There's no point in not doing so." Barnett said. "Was one reason I didn't. just another joke. Not really over the line." Dana said. "On open door policy. It's not as if they can eat it. I was just ready to. Not even . I don't want someone who's going to lose it driving a boat." "Go?" Chief Barnett said. I almost tried to figure out a way to excuse your boat." Dana said." "No matter which city they dumped them into. . "Sit. "I was glad to hear you made Three. Chief. She started to turn away then she knocked. Chief. leaning back. "And when I got the word what our mission was. interlocking her fingers behind her head."Are we sending the supplies?" To'Jopeviq said. "I'm dealing with a lot of anger. "I . "So what's the status of your system. leaning back up. "Not an EEOC complaint. sitting down. I'm getting really snappish. What they will do with them all is the question." Barnett said." "Yes." Chief Barnett pointed out. twice. "there was going to be someone who'd lost someone there." Dana said. Chief. there is still no good cure for PTSD. . ." "With all the wonders we have of modern medicine. "Yes. opening and closing into a fist. Comet?" "Fluctuations." "Not many walked out of it when they were three." Barnett said. sleep issues ." "No. And I nearly went off. hard. . I nearly lost it with Thermal the other day." Beor said." "The prisoner detail?" Barnett said. "Coxswain's Mate Third Class reporting to the Chief. Chief. It is a trivial expense." Dana worked her fingers nervously for just a second. blowing out. stepped in. you're off status." Barnett said." Page 206 ." Dana said. On the other hand. He was just treating me like one of the guys." Dana said.

You know it?" "I can find it. "I want help deciding. Each side would send through a missile with a message. Communication. Chief. He was going to have to get new uniforms Page 207 . "You want somebody to talk to about it." Nathan said."Which is why I'm here. We need every good sailor we can find. There's an ‘unofficial' bar in the civvie section. "I want ." Dana said. that's not already on the plans?" Nathan asked. They'd have to be checked and cross-loaded then taken to Earth. Which was why they were being made groundside by Morton-Thiokol and were chemical rockets." "Aye." "We need to get an alien brig or something. "And. "Not yet. "What in hell just happened?" Admiral Kinyon asked. "Meeting adjourned. watching the arriving cargo containers. Murphy's. Dana?" "Chief?" "Seriously." "Aye. "So ." Dana said. standing up. good." Tyler said. Chief. . The missiles would not be returned. hold on." Tyler said. "Which we're not going to do here and now. Let them try to figure out something from that. . "What. containing food and other supplies for the prisoners. It was expected that the Rangora were tearing the missiles apart to find out anything they could about earth tech." He paused as the battlestation shuddered. Just another damned thing. of a sort." the Chief corrected." Barnett said." Dana said." Tyler said. . You're not on schedule for today so try to hold onto your temper for the rest of the watch. They'd sent through shipping containers.Thermopylae ?" "Cooled. "We've got it moving in-system. "What thehell ?" he asked as alarms started to wail." Dana said. . "You want to turn in your wheel?" The symbol of being a qualified coxswain was a gold badge of an old-fashioned sailing ship tiller-wheel. Minimally operational in three months. had been affected between the Rangora and Earth. But the first part of the exchange was complete. aye. "Meet me there at nineteen hundred." "Good. aye. just those.

of course. But that's pretty much it. "Canwe make these?" he whispered. The good news is that the containment system held. As to damage . patting a console. "They killed mycargo system !" "More likemy cargo system. There is no residual radiation to deal with. . building a new one is a priority. . sir. looking at the data. Just neutrinos and plasma. We are having to accept enormous amounts of cargo to maintain function.designed." Colonel Helberger said. We're going to have to cut out the irradiated portions ." "Huh. ?Contained ?" "Blast doors stopped it. "Unknown at this time. . "I've got the readings." "Really?" Tyler said. . ." "Contained?" the Admiral said. There's no such thing as a totally clean nuclear chain-reaction. but that's it. "I beg to differ. "It just blew up. And." the damage control technician said. "Some venting through overpressure blow-offs but no damage other than the cargo area. Good Troy ." Tyler said. "Good girl. sir. . . Thirty megatons. "Whoa. ." the damage control tech said." "Are theyinsane ?" the Admiral snarled. "It was already in the automated cargo section." "Nature of explosion?" the Admiral asked. Effectively. "How much damage?" "Contained to the cargo handling area. We lost a bunch of bots." Paris said." "Just when I think this thing can't surprise me." Helberger said. . But the system was a non-fissile pumped helium three-helium three fusion bomb. sir. Page 208 . Appears to have been in one container. "Zero. They release no ionizing radiation. "The cargo just exploded. Nuclear. sir." Paris said. sir. that they used clean bombs so there's no residual irradiation." the damage control tech said. You were unaware this was possible? There was no ionizing radiation. We'll have to move the . leaning forward conspiratorially. we can burn it out and build a bigger cargo area. Tucking in his shirt on the run was getting old." Admiral Kinyon said. We can work with the expanded hole they created. "We're not just talking about ‘clean' like a neutron bomb that's pretty clean buttotally clean? Absolutelyno ionizing radiation?" "Sir ." Paris said. "With the current personnel and equipment level of theTroy . Clean induced fusion reaction. "No venting? No . . dubiously. "You normally have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of this sort of thing for a human." "Those Rangorabastards !" Tyler said." "Excuse me." "Casualties?" Kinyon asked. Bots were opening it up to begin transfer. ." Tyler said. thereis no cargo handling section anymore." "Paris. The area is thermally hot but radioactively neutral. . "Could have been nuclear or antimatter.

The bar was in what looked as if it was intended as a storage locker. . Paris?" Tyler said. "Can we stop whispering now?" "Yeah. we need to do amajor rebuild of theTroy ."Yes." Paris whispered back." "With all due respect. Parker had worn her uniform. leaning back and grimacing. "Get me Nathan on the double. "Because I'm a know-it-all idiot! I can't even remember who itwas ! It was just some guy ! And I didn'tlisten ! And they were right and I'm an idiot!" "Yes." Tyler said. "Yes." "Are you going to discuss this rebuild with Admiral Kinyon or. Get whatever you want. "When have Iever discussed things. "Uh . "I'll take a Budweiser long-neck. "Uh! I'm anidiot !" "Sir?" "Something somebody was trying to tell me I can't remember who cause I dismissed 'em cause I'm an idiot !" Tyler said. Most of the people in the bar were civilian men. had been installed." "See? See?" ??? "Good girl. say. some of them welded from scrap." "How big?" Tyler whispered. I've got a tab." "Does this rebuild mean what I think it means?" "If you're thinking something that starts with an O and ends in an N and involves a lot ofreally big booms?" Tyler said. Tables and chairs. hi?" Dana said. The Chief was in a slinky red cocktail dress that showed off more cleavage than any one woman should own. hell. probably Apollo workers from the look. Space Command?" Paris asked. They'd call me crazy. "It was what Apollo used to move theTroy in the first place. sir?" Paris said." Page 209 . and they were considering the two women like wolves confused by a couple of sheep who had wandered into the pack." Tyler said." Chief Barnett said." Dana hadn't even realized the Chiefhad civilian clothes on theTroy . you're crazy. sir. no. "Oh. "Are you okay. Get two of each. Vernon. and a bar made out of what looked like a section of hull metal from a Horvath ship. "It's self serve. "Up to about two hundred megatons. ." the Chief said. sitting down at the table. "Right on time. dubiously. Mr. sir?" "Paris." Paris said.

"So here we can have a quiet conversation that if not a hundred miles from the flagpole is close as we can get." Barnett said. I will call your boyfriend and his squad for extraction. "Andrew Ramage. As she walked to the bar she sensed more than saw the hand headed for her butt. "Yes. The Chief was wearing four inch pumps. I've been in fights in every port the Navy used and some it didn't. "I understand you have a friend amongst the Marines." Barnett said." "MWR?" Dana said. "You think I can't kick ass in high heels? Twenty-three years." "There are some warriors who don't." Dana said. shrugging. Just made corporal. "There are two kinds of girls in the Navy who get a lot." Barnett said. "Army general back in the Civil War said a soldier who won't engage in sexual relations will not engage in combat relations if you get my drift. for just mentioning that you were on the edge of being a hazard." Dana said. giggling. Small boat security operations in the Gulf during OIF. She took another long pull." Barnett said. starting on her next beer. I've been in pretty much every minor dust-up the Navy's had since before 9/11. then took a long suck off the beer. "What?" the Chief said then took another drink." "Good God. A forearm well trained in nullball smacked it away almost without thought. And when the dust settles. "At a certain point. Was a Seaman on the Cole. I'll pick out the guy who seems to be the toughest and get some more issues out by dragging him back to my quarters by his hair. There will. She made it back without being groped and set the drinks on the table. I'm required to pull you off status. Shorter than that." "Good girl. Fought some Somali pirates. "Mostly cause Page 210 . "Why . And. Check 'em out of stores. Technically. "Like checking out a nullball kit. put 'em back. ." Barnett said." "Got it." "Then there are girls like us." Dana said. Chief. Chief."Aye. "There's an old saying in the Navy. MWR issue and warriors." "Oh. here?" Dana asked." Dana said." Dana leaned over and looked under the table. which was no picnic. then. Chief. There was a chuckle from behind her which she ignored. use 'em. Chief. aye. girl." Barnett said. "Keep your indiscretions a hundred miles from the flagpole. That pretty much finished the bottle. I get to getmy issues out kicking some civilian ass. . be a bar fight." "Oh.

Doesn't matter what that is. Because that's the real job. Marines. The big dude she was dragging along was similarly unaffected." "No. He was having to hold Dana up as she caromed down the corridor. . "Well. Whatever it takes to set you right for the next day's mission. Chief. too. Just so you complete the mission. If the dozen beers had affected her it wasn't apparent. I take it this little incident isnot going to be a thing of barrack's gossip. "The Marines are already on their way. "Here's a virgin playing field. pardon the pun. Being right for the next day and completing the mission." Chief Barnett said. dragging the welder down a corridor." "Toodles. you're saying that your prescription for handling PTSD is abar fight ?" Dana asked. . Then she picked up the next one and drained that. children. what?" "You said you were angry. what's it going to be?" Dana looked at her rum and coke and drained it. ." Barnett said. . Most get a lot." she said." Dana said. "Sex. Boys and girls." Barnett said." "Never make Gunny if you don't have atleast one." Dana said. "You looking for some company?" "I t'ink I bro' my no'be." Father said. drunkenly. "Where are we?" Page 211 . "I didn't know the Navy still made 'em like that." "I . "Toldyou to keep your hands up. ladies. "All clear." Barnett said. Chief. gesturing around with her chin. . ." Dana said. Wonder if she knows Gunny Brimage?" "Pro'ly Bi'licly." "I'm still trying to figure out if I'm pissed off or turned on by the dance. "But most get some." Rammer said." "So . "And I hope like hell this doesn't end up with us at Mast. "It's okay. "Bar fight. This is the Navy. girl. So ." she said. it has been fun but BFM and me got a date." "Yep." The guy was absolutely huge but that meant he could hold the six drinks he was carrying. And it's all about being what youhave to be to complete the mission. Lots of Christians in the Navy." Barnett said. It was certainly bleeding enough.of moral issues. At least by the shots of tequila he'd been downing. "But that flying kick off the pole was a thing of beauty. But there's the other way around. This isn't a gay bar in San Francisco where you can ‘be yourself' whatever self that may be." "Hey. "Christ. "I'm not going to hold out long at this rate." Father said.

Butch." Price said. holding out a handful." "You aresuch a buddy. . dragging him to his feet. "No. well. He had a beauty of a shiner. Apparently. "Now let's go get some breakfast. feel free to call." the newly sworn in President said. "According to the prisoners who have been questioned in regards to this attack. "Areal buddy would have at least brought Motrin. I've met with the Rangora on several occasions. Fa'er? Hope you don't mind but ." She looked up at the War Cabinet in frustration." the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said over the video link. been acting president for about three hours until the Chief Justice could be hooked up with the SecState and swear her in. "I can see you two have some catching up to do." Ramage said. . "the Rangora High Command probably does not believe that we captured all the personnel we claim we've captured. "I've got twenty years of experience in foreign affairs. rubbing her forehead. disinformation is a way of life in wars between these cultures. temporarily. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had. therefore. Page 212 ." In 1947 they established the first Succession Act laying out that the succession was to be Vice President."Nearly home. prior to the war. the position of Commander-In-Chief to ensure the orderly transition of power. then down through the cabinet in order of creation of the position. then President Pro Tem of the Senate. Later. I've been an envoy to the Glatun. And. "Igot my ass kicked. rolling out of his bunk. "Goo'." the National Security Advisor said. which was established by Presidential Directive and generally classified. the National Constitutional Continuity Coordinator. to assume. "I need some coffee cause I got exactlyno sleep last night and we're on shift in an hour." Price said. the next time you start a fight in a room full of welders. the Majority Leader. There was a secondary position." Butch said. I haven't had so much fun since my first shore leave in Thailand." "That's apparent from the news we've been getting from the Rangora. then Speaker of the House." Patricelli said." "I've got three degrees in international relations. "Why can't I understand these people?" The Constitution gave the Congress the job of determining succession of the Presidency in the event of death or "constitutional inability. grinning. It designated a series of persons. quit yer bitchin'. Nobody was really mentioning that much. by the way." "Yeah." Butch said." "Nope. With all of the top four taken out by the Rangora leadership strikes. you okay?" BFM asked. the Secretary of State had been sworn in as President. in order." "Got 'em right here. I amdoubly not okay. Comet. Andyou got the girl." "Hey. Hey.

The Rangora had continued to broadcast triumphant bulletins about their conquest of the Glatun. In all of them, the Glatun were shown as welcoming their Rangora "liberators" with open arms. Just the last week, there had been a huge victory celebration on Glatus, the Glatun home world, which had "not surrendered but freely welcomed their Rangora allies." No mention of the attack on Earth, however, and several Glatun systems that were known to have heavy defenses were also, curiously, missing from the broadcasts. "Ma'am," the Army Chief of Staff said. "Have you ever dealt with the North Koreans?" "Never had the pleasure," the President said, dryly. Despite alien attacks and invasions, the Korean Peninsula was still split. And the North Koreans were making new noises about nuclear weapons and asking for food and energy systems. With most of America's ports rubble, they weren't getting as much attention as normal. "There is a story I was told as a lieutenant," the general said. "Possibly apocryphal but with a core of truth. A North Korean general was visiting the south and as they were driving down the main boulevard in Seoul, he was looking around at the skyscrapers with some interest. They finally turned a corner and he sort of grunted in surprise. ‘Yes?' the South Korean general asked. ‘You go to much trouble,' the North Korean said. ‘We generally only build the facades on the front.'?" "He couldn't accept that the buildings were real and, furthermore, filled with working people," the President said. "Yes, you have a point. We're talking past each other due to lack of frame reference. I'm not sure how to correct that." "I'm not sure we should, ma'am," the Director of National Intelligence said, slowly. "Currently, the Rangora underestimate us because they don't believe we have the capabilities we've suggested by capturing most of their task force instead of being forced to destroy it. Being underestimated is, in my opinion, better than being overestimated or properly estimated." "They'll keep trying to take us," the CJCS said. "If they knew what they were up against, we might be able to come to some sort of a truce." "I would find that unlikely with the Rangora," the NSA said. "They're riding on a wave of euphoria from their conquests. Given their success to date, given any sort of reality to the broadcasts, they're not going to think twice about knocking off a minor planet like Earth." "They hadbetter think twice," the President said. "Gentlemen, I don't think there is any question thatTroy has saved this system twice. We need to concentrate on reinforcingTroy and gettingThermopylae online. That should be absolute first priority." "Ma'am," the CJCS said, uncomfortably. "We have a number of systems . . ." "Absolute first priority," the President said. "The only thing that should affect that precedence is reinforcement of the orbital defenses. Are we clear, gentlemen?" "Yes, ma'am," the Secretary of Defense said, looking at the officers. "We are clear." "Status of shift to Alliance forces?" the President asked. "We have some of the first groups completing training at the moment, ma'am," the SecDef said. "We are

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going to begin the integration process in the next month. We anticipate a smooth transition." "Hah," the President said. "Who are you kidding?"

TWENTY-SEVEN

"Give the fat guy another of whatever he's drinking," Dana said, sliding into the seat left of Erickson. There was a lady sitting to his right. "I am not fat," Erickson protested. "I'm big boned." "Okay," Dana said, grinning at the newfemale bartender. That was a change. "Give the hairy guy another of whatever he's drinking. And I'll take a rum and coke." "Guinness!" Rammer said, holding up a finger. "Make that three," Patricelli said. Getting time off wasn't easy on theTroy but when they had the time the same group tended to meet at the Acapulco. Erickson had managed to take Dana's preference for Rammer in stride. And since he had a lady with him this time . . . "I'm Dana," Dana said, leaning over to look at the newcomer. "Since Wardog can't seem to remember my name. This is Rammer and Father." "Esmeralda Steere, Coxswain Mate Third Class Dana Parker," Erickson said. "Comet, Esme. She introduced the Marines." "Pleased to meet you," Esmeralda said, holding out her hand. She frowned after a moment, though. "Comet?" "Long story," Dana said. "And, by the way, Wardog," Rammer said. "That would be Coxswain's MateSecond Class." "Spoken like a proud boyfriend," Erickson said, holding up his glass. "I raise a toast! To our newest E-5! May she occasionally manage to avoid the edges of space!" "Hell, yeah," Rammer said. "And to theTroy ," Dana said. "May she continue to make messes even if we have to clean them up." "I'll drink to that," Father said. "And, last, to the first President never to have run for office." "The Commander-Pro-Tempore," Erickson said, raising his glass.

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"Huh?" Rammer said. "Temporary Commander-In-Chief," Dana said. "Oh," Rammer said. "What the hell were the Rangora thinking? They dropped two KEWs on open farmland!" "One of which hituncomfortably close to my aunt and uncle's house," Dana said. "Two on open farmland, one in the Irish Sea," Erickson pointed out. "Aliens. I guess they figured if they took out our leadership they'd destabilize us or something." "And can we change the subject," Esme said. "I know that for the rest of you, war is a way of life. But I'm here toenjoy myself." "So where'd you meet the hairy one?" Dana asked, leaning around Erickson. "I just transferred up here," Esmeralda replied. Probably low forties but "well-preserved," she was honey-blonde. Almost certainly from a bottle but she had the basic coloring for it. "I'm with LFD which is the parent company of Apollo. I'm an accountant." "Who is now nickel and diming my department todeath !" Erickson said. "Oh, hush," the woman replied. "But, CM2 Parker," Erickson said. "Imust ask a question. You are sporting two remarkable shiners." "Slipped in the shower and banged my nobe," Dana said, by rote. The corpsmen had managed to fix the nose, which was onlyslightly broken, right up. And there were new drug regimens that would have had the swelling gone in no time. But the PA had muttered something about "reminding her not to make me more work." "So it hadnothing to do with ‘two Navy she-bitches and a platoon of Marines' invading Murphy's?" Erickson said. "Not a thing," Father said. "And, for the record, it was two Marines." "Sorry to mention this," Erickson said. "But I am a Marine. Former. And knowing the welders on this station, you don't look like you'd last long." "My first tour was in Recon," Father said. "Mysecond tour, after my first divorce, was in Force Recon. My third was in the Fallujah after mysecond divorce. This is my . . . fifth?" "Ah," Erickson said. "One of those." "But I must admit that we would have had much trouble were it not for a certain Navy Chief, and local partisans, who assisted." "Assisted?" Barnett said from over his shoulder. "Assisted?!"

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Dana turned around then turned back quickly, covering her eyes. "Holy Gods, Chief!" Dana said, giggling. "I mean . . . really!" Barnett was wearing a purple bikini with hot pink polka dots. Dana didn't even know theymade bikini tops inTroy size. "Just causeyou want to wear a shirt," Barnett said. "Ah, speaking of local partisans." "Hey, hottie," BFM said, slipping his hand under the water to give the chief a squeeze. "You with anybody?" "Sure am, BF," Barnett purred. "Oh, this is just . . ." Dana said, shaking her head. "Wrong?" Father finished. "Get aroom , Chief," Dana said, giggling again. "Oh, likeyou're one to talk," Barnett said, breast stroking over to the other side of the bar. BF could just walk. "Hey, gal, set me and my friend up some long necks, will ya?" "Esme, Bill, my Squadron Flight NCOIC, Chief Barnett," Dana said, waving at the Chief. "And her . . . friend . . . ?" "Ben Price," BFM said. "Price or BF. We didn't really get much of chance to chat the other night." "Call me Liz," Barnett said, picking up her beer and half draining it. "Ah, that hit the spot. If I never see another piece of Rangora scrap, it will betoo soon." "Amen," Dana said. "At least we finally got all the prisoners picked up." "Picking up prisoners and scrap is better than the alternative," Erickson pointed out. "This is true," Barnett said. "And at least they targeted leadership. Now if therest of the world's leaders would learn to stay out of cities we'd be cooking with fuel oil." She looked over at Esme and raised and eyebrow. "You find that . . . cynical?" "I've never really had much experience with the military," Esme said, frowning in thought. "I mean, the first guy I ever dated who's been in the military was Bill. So I'm sort of trying to . . ." "Adjust?" Barnett said. "I'm notagainst the military," Esme said. "But the last person in my family who was in the military was my grand dad in World War II. And now I'm spending half my time dealing with sailors and Marines or . . ." She looked at Bill and grinned. "Guys who can get out of the Marines but not get the Marine out if you know what I mean." "The job of the Marines is to protect civilians," Patricelli said. "And one of our special tasks is protecting

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the President. But there's not much we can do about KEWs. So I hope you understand that while we joke, we're not really happy about the situation." "I don't understand why wecan't stop them," Esme said. "I mean, there'sTroy and all the orbital defenses we've been spending money on. Why can't youstop them?" "Well, uhm," Dana said. "I drive a boat. So not only is it not my job . . ." "Think about an absolutely black room," the chief said. "You ever been in absolute darkness. No matter how close you get your hand to your face, you can't see it?" "When I can't find the light-switch here, yes," Esme said. "Now, in that room is a wasp that doesn't hum," Barnett said, taking a careful swig off her beer. "It can be anywhere in the room. And it's closing on you. And when it stings you, it's going to kill you." "I don't like the thought," Esme said. "But . . . okay." "Nobody likes the thought," Barnett said. "Just some people can think about it without their brains turning off. Some can't. You still with me?" "Yes," Esme said. "Dark room. Killer wasp." "You have in your hand a laser pointer," Barnett said. "The light doesn't scatter at all but if you hit the wasp, it kills it. How hard is it to hit the wasp." "Impossible," Esme said. "But is it really . . ." "Harder," Erickson said. "Much much harder." "The wasp makes a little bit of sound when it first enters the room," Barnett said. "And then when it gets about an inch from your skin. And you actually have a bunch of laser pointers, too many for a human to handle, and a whole bunch of wasp sensors that if the wasp nearly hits them can detect it. And the room is about the size of a football stadium." "The fact that we get any of them is the surprising part," Father said. "And by ‘we' I mean Athena and Paris." "Hey, we dosome stuff!" a guy on the other side of the bar said. He was tall, black as the ace of spades and probably in his mid thirties. Also, Dana had to admit, pretty good looking. He was accompanied by a brunette who had to be at least five years younger. "Who are you?" Erickson asked. "Jim Sharp," the guy said. "I work in the command center. And, chief was it?" "Yes, sir," Chief Barnett said. "That was a pretty good analogy." "I've been working on it, sir," Barnett said, precisely.

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" Rammer whispered. But ninety-three made it through. shrugging. Russia." Dana replied. "Six targeted other world leaders. no rank in the mess." Dana replied. "Captain James Sharp?" "The same." "Yes. dubiously. Page 218 . Only one made it through but it unfortunately got the PM. . sir. We had to divert some of the SAPL to engage the missiles which slowed down stopping the Rangora who werestill throwing missiles . "Athena stopped all but twenty-five of those in their coast phase. Chief. presumably all going for leadership targets. being incognito is out. I just came down for a beer and a swim. three of our remaining cities and two bases. "That was anamazing display of boat handling. It's a tough call every time. "Dunno. the area around the gate. but everybody was rooting for you." Sharp said. Ninety-three made it throughTroy's pocket. one the PM of Russia and one the PM of France. "Since the Chief clearly recognizes me." Jim said. "Definitely no rank at the Acapulco." "Thank you. Brazil and Australia. Which wasway over what we thought she could do." Dana thought about that for a bit and then frowned. "Uh. blanching. France. yes. The other nine hit the top four leadership targets. we were having to fight more throw-weight than anyone had everseen in this system. "Hey. grinning. All the Allied country missiles got stopped. "Sixteeninitially targeted US leadership and went active. Comet." Dana said. . Of the remaining nine. Our estimate was that sixty to seventy should have survived to secondary boost phase. one got the Premier of China. Of the remaining three."What's with the Chief." Sharp said. Andyou are the famous Comet Parker?" "Famous?" Esme said. I might add. The orbital BDA clusters got seven. "I'm the chief tactical officer of theTroy ." Esme said. sir. "So about the problem of the missiles." "Wait. "Even the Admiral thought so. India. Please.While . No other damage in Britain." Sharp said. Three of those six were destroyed by the BDAs. sir." Sharp said. The targeted countries of those remaining six were China. "That sort of looks like wedeliberately let non-Allied leadership get killed." the Chief said. "The Chief's analogy is pretty good. Like I said. more than any of the Horvath attacks. "No rank in the mess. We weren't quite taking bets on whether you'd make it." Dana said. three targeted the British PM who was on the ‘protected' list under the Alliance contract. The Rangora threw one hundred and thirty-eight missiles at Earth. when they're nearly impossible to detect.

sir. . "Sorry."Just what I was thinking." "That should put some teeth in the choice to join the Alliance or not. "The fortunes of war and what we'd said were the parameters of the Alliance." Sharp said. "It was not a deliberate choice. Being part of the Alliance is no surety of survival for leadership. First defense goes to Alliance countries. Chief." "Has ." Esme said. "And in case it's not apparent." Sharp said. So ." Bill said. more cities and two bases. yes. The Rangora. ." Esme said. shrugging. "We lost our entire upper leadership. "Squarely on the nose. But the Alliance contract is precise. you are?" "Bill Erickson. But they reallyhate the US and Britain. . asurprisingly rational view." Father Patricelli said. yes." "Ta-da. "That took a team of analysts about a week to agree upon. we were able to stop them. which is. Sorry . We sure as hell were trying to stop the missiles. China and Russia should have been equally valid targets." "Fight or be slaves. "There has to be an answer." Sharp said. ." the Chief growled. "When we lost our ownPresident ?" Erickson said." Sharp said. "The Rangora don't like the US and Britain. And theygot the President and the PM of Britain. . of the relative dangers to them of the different nations of Earth. "The point is being made by the international media. we're making ourselves targets?" Esme said." Patricelli said." Sharp said." Bill said. don't view them that way. both Alliance countries. that three of those last missileswere going to get through. though. "And the response is what . sir?" Page 219 . The fact is. Which is why when single missiles were targeted on Alliance leadership. it puts some teeth into it. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to fight. "I work for Apollo. then. "Has anyone analyzed the targeting parameters." "Which is?" Dana asked. Miss. "They want to get Terra to surrender by targeting our leadership overall. . nobodyhere is dying! People on earth are dying!" "We lost three boats in that last action. . shrugging. angrily." Dana said." "So by fighting them. thoughtfully. "There is." Chief Barnett said." "But people are doingboth ." "What do you mean?" Esme said. . though. "A really easy one except there's no way to do it. And it's less hate than have a rational view." "What Mister Erickson said. nodding." Sharp said. "Live free or die. sir?" "You hit the nose. grinning.

BFM. "You asked. holding up her hand." "What?" Esme said." "Sixty tons.you do the math. "So you can do math." Dana said." Dana said. "Is that what those are called?" Barnett said. Why aren't we doing it?" Esme said." Esme snapped." Esme said." Sharp said. "One twenty. right?" "Yes. was simply chuckling. "I know it'slarge . "You made that up. "What's so funny?" the accountant asked. ." Dana said. ." Barnett said." Chief Barnett said." "Nine zeroes. TheTroy weighs two point two trillion tons." Barnett said. . angrily. "Heh. "Two point two trillion tons divided by the weight of a shuttle . "Eighty-four million and change. . how many Myrms would it take to give theTroy one gravity of acceleration?" "Easy. "Now. "Chief." Barnett said." "One hundred and twenty petawatts. A Joule is a Newton meter and a Newton is a kilogram meter per second squared. The SAPL." "Wait. "You're an accountant." Barnett said. I'm lettingyou figure it out. She looked sort of cross when all the military personnel started to giggle." Sharp said. somehow. . to his honor. wait. "You pretty good at doing it in your head or you need a calculator?" "I've got implants." "So . furthermore. That's two point two followed by . you know the Myrms we drive?" "Yes." Barnett said. Even the brunette with Captain Sharp was giggling. . "Then. here's the numbers. wiping her eyes. move her through the gate into the E Eridani system and hold the gate from there. "Okay. genius." Esme said. is up to ." Barnett said. Page 220 ." "Impossible. "Esme." Esme said. "I need a white board. ." Esme said. . "You must have been an A school instructor. awatt is one joule per second."Load theTroy up with enough internal systems that she can fight without the SAPL and hold a system against a Rangora fleet of any conceivable size." "Okay. What? A hundred petawatts? Is it classified?" "It is not. . icily. "And you probably know to a cent how much they cost. .

"Logic? Sorry. Can you say ‘Slosh. . Moving theTroy ? Cannot do the math cause their brains shut down.what ?" Barnett said. Talk to one of them about prostitution. Conservatives have got the same problem. up to six gravities of acceleration. waving her hands around. "And not liberals. All the rest is . "Hello!" the girl said.' Chief?" "How in the hell are you proposing to move theTroy . One that would give it ."Divided by four hundred gravities of acceleration. oh. "You sort of skipped that bit." the girl said.' There's just one problem. It's not just a liberal thing. "Iusually vote Democrat. "I was getting tired of her attitude anyway." Bill said. "Impossible!" "Do the math. her mouth tight. . They don't like the answer so they thinkwishing makes it so. You can even build a drive for it. "We're in a pool! In the middle of the vessel. You find people who just will not follow the logic everywhere. rather." "B . The accountant closed her eyes for a second then shook her head." "That's for me to know and you to figure out. sonny. neither. "You're anaccountant ! Don't tell me you can't do the math!" "I'm leaving. "And when you figure it out. . . it's not impossible. . no." "Which is?" Dana asked. gambling or drugs." Page 221 . my choice. for want of a better word." the brunette said." Barnett finished. "I don't have to put up with this. Chief. Democrats?" Rammer asked. "My body. Difficult? My dad would refer to it as ‘fiddly bits. try to figure out how to install inertics on the whole system. "Or. And." the girl said." Esme said." "Abortion. "It's frickingmath !" Barnett said. honey?" Barnett asked." "Iwasn't laughing because you can't get theTroy to move." she said. Ican do the math. "There you go. Bill.Cannot do the logic. Chief. "You can. "I still can't believe that. grinning." the Chief said. "What.That is the biggest issue." "It's okay. grinning." Barnett said. fiddly bits. ." Dana said." "People like that just piss me off." the Chief said." "What?" Barnett shouted to her back.

"It's already nearly completely out of position. very rough. "No. ideas. "It's really simple. the springs would push the platform and you had acceleration. It's already curved." Nathan said. "I mean. And scary. . Orion was originally conceived as a lift drive to get out of the atmosphere. which they already had withTroy . . pointing to the diagram." Tyler said. push the springs. and the platform moved. You're not kidding. It's big enough to take the little bit of accel we're going to get." "Tyler . I want the same system onThermopylae . . "When have Iever kidded about something like this?" Tyler was not much of a draftsman but Nathan was by now used to working from his. "Now that's justsilly . "You're already starting to figure out how to do it! Knew it!" "That doesn't mean I think it's a good idea!" Nathan said. large. "We cut off the inside of the door for the pusher plate. And not just theTroy . Put a scary large plate under it. obviously. "Tyler. Orion worked bestlarge . quickly. I'm not. ." Page 222 ." Tyler said. "TheTroy is notdesigned to move. Steel. And the springs had to be .Spring steel? Wound?" "Ah-hah!" Tyler said. And it wasn't like the former "Minor Planetary Objects" expert didn't know the idea. We'll need to put in more locking bars to handle the pressure. back when people were just fine with thinking big. "The impact is . Everyone's right.and the nuclear program. Make a very big platform. Connect the plate to the platform with some very large. Then set off a nuke on the plate. "Okay. . . carefully. "I want it done in a month." "TwoOrion drives?" Nathan practically shrieked. sure. so you'd better quit talking and get to work. Repeat. gently. and robust. had to be large enough and robust enough to survive being hit by the blast front from a nuclear weapon. We'll have to install a chute for the nukes. Install it on the outside of the door." Nathan said. I give up." Tyler replied. .TWENTY-EIGHT "You're kidding. you'reinsane !" The idea was simple and went back to the early days of the space program. The plate. But it would recoil." Tyler said. I don't even know how we're going to make thesprings ." Nathan said. but that's just fiddly bits. springs. Thesprings are going to be sort of challenging ." "It's got to be moved sooner or later. ." Nathan said.

there goes this job. What's going to happen is each of you is going to be assigned a group from the salvage operation we're hiring on contract from E Systems." Nathan said. Butch didn't have many other friends among the welders. "It's all about people. Hey!" "Seriously. . "Dr." Tyler said. "Right. . Nathan." "We don't have enough people." Price said. "Like two major projects aren't enough?" "Nathan. Orion. "They're bringing in the damned Indies. Repeated. Speaking of people . We wiped the floor with one of their task forces. Oh. "The Rangora have apparently conquered the Glatun. Just a bit of a tap. "Purcell wants a meeting. the lasers and the bypass done in no more than three months." Tyler said. We're going to have to remove all the power systems and grav plates we've already installed on the door . Probationary employees with sufficient experience to manage a team are going to be paid as team leaders. . . The older welder hadn't been around a lot lately. thoughtfully." "What's up?" Butch asked. "Not at first. DeWolfe. They're not going to take that lying down. ." "Right. . . You're going to need to get going. "Now you're cooking with fuel oil. Not really people to hang out with. angrily." "It's going to cost a lot of money. You know a good guy for pumped fusion bombs?" "Sure. . ." Tyler said. The upside is it's a bump in pay across the board." "Maybe. So the quicker you stop talking. looking in the welder's room. "Well. Increase the rate of installation of the internal laser systems. They're not going to know diddly except how to cut out stuff and it's going to take a lot of work. the faster we can get this done. "This is a big project. Yeah. Large vessel bypass." Nathan said."We're not going to usebig nukes." Butch said." "Oh. and we're going to have to accelerate production on the large vessels bypass and the heavy laser program. the power centerand we've got a new door project." Price said. "We got a hell of a thing. "We just got orders to speed up installation of the large vehicles bypass." "Butch." Nathan said." Tyler said. fitters and other EVA artisans." Tyler said. you've got my number . Team leaders that get bumped.that's all. If you need anything. "I'll get the money. He was feeling sort of put out. "It's always like this with corporations. which Page 223 . Rebuild the door system to take the delta." Price said." "There. that's going to be a necessity. "I want the drives. here." "There you go. Springs the size of . smiling thinly." Tyler said. same guy we used when we . From scratch. Bigger than anything I can think of off hand. . That's on top of the work being done onThermopylae . pulling him to his feet and walking him to the door. waving his hand at the door." Purcell said to the group of assembled welders." Nathan said. I don't care what it takes. shutting the door and brushing his hands. Just get it done.

" There was a muttering of agreement to that at least. We are trying to. and we needed those relays. Page 224 . "I don't see Apollo giving up cheap labor. They're not going to be pussying around this time. "We have some updated intelligence. and can't now. showed them a suit and put them to work. "Crap ." Purcell said. at war. Thing. We are. stepping up on the podium Purcell was using." "Everything. "Let me give you the skinny. But I didn't. as you know. Why? "Cause the ‘power center' isn't a power center. Cause we need the salvage. I couldn't at the time. . We needed those power plants. we're going toshred anything that comes through that gate. and weneed that salvage for some reasons I'll get to in a minute. duplicate the power of the SAPL internal toTroy ." He looked around at the workers with a hard expression on his face. are going to be paid as group leaders and so on. This is one way. But that's not a bad thing. And I know there was some muttering about that at the time. They're going to be sending their heavies: Assault Vectors. Because if we've gotThermopylae on one side with SAPL and theTroy on another with thesame power . "It's not solid but we're pretty sure that the Rangora are going to be coming back. and I do mean poor in every meaning of the term.is pretty much all of you. First the part that nobody has really been talking about. and I do mean everything. as fast as we possibly can. "The point being." a voice from the back said. guys. they hired a bunch of Third Worlders. "Any. that I've seen says this is a temporary situation. "They'll stay." Tyler said. We've been pulling all the power systems off those wrecks and been installing the ones that aren't totally trashed. been installing all their laser systems that are in good condition. Pretty much everybody's going to up their pay by at least fifty percent. "That's the laser power of a wholefleet in one place. . as you might have noticed. So when it was apparent that Apollo couldn't handle the salvage. sort of. And we are going to use them to teach the Rangora a lesson they won't soon forget!" "Yeah!" Butch said. So I had you guys working on installing the systems and those poor bastards from Indonesia and the Philippines and Pakistan and Ghana and wherever ripping it out. And we've been bringing in more as Granadica and Hephaestus can make them. "Some of them. I nearly pulled the contract they were taking so many hits. Cause you guys are trained and prepared to build and they didn't know anything but how to cut it out. And not much of that." Tyler said. think of a good way to make that up. Vernon walked through the group. And those poor. Soon. in case you hadn't noticed. Sure. we needed those lasers. But we've also. "They going to be staying?" one of the fitter leaders asked. bastards have been dying like flies. we hired E Systems to work on it. With blood in their eye over the loss of their Aggressor fleet. Or they'll be back. The good ones. "Hey. You guys make a nice chunk of change off salvage and you felt like you were getting cut out." Price muttered as Mr." Butch turned around to see who said that and blanched.

Or you can work your asses off trying to save you homes. sorry. fast enough. "Know anything that pays more that doesn't involve a master's degree? And you're worth every penny. and I usually do. if you guys recommend. You guys are. But it's hard to lie about how bad and nasty the AVs are. yeah!" Price shouted. Work with that. They don't have personal suits." "Not enough!" someone shouted from the back of the group. They're big. and I do mean lousy. Work with it. So I told the people that report to me that everything else takes a back seat. You guys. "To get that way. we do not have much time. You know how hard it is to find people that can do this job. we've got all this cheap labor. . save earth. You guys are going to be responsible for their safety. "You're the responsible party in this. shields tough enough to handle a swarm of Glatun missiles and armor twentymeters thick. Figure out how to get the job done. Guys who could do the job. They work slow but they also don't take breaks. It's their culture. Youown space." Tyler said. "If I have my way. bad-assedest platforms in thegalaxy . grinning. You guys are at the forefront of this entire industry. Because. there's going to be plenty of work. "But . Or owning your own space company. people. Unless you want to be spendingunpaid time doing paperwork. Oh. "But one more thing about the Indies as you guys put it. You don't have to worry about getting displaced by cheap labor. Most of you guys make more than Purcell. In no more than a few months we are going to have the Rangora here. So make sure their ship-suits are good before they hit death pressure. are going to be doing and teaching as fast as you can. who know how. "we needed people. to keep us from being slaves to the Rangora. "Take that."I know you guys have been watching the Rangora propaganda." "Hell. That is why you're getting paid the big bucks. You guys. That's not going to fly here. We are going to makeTroy and theTherm into the toughest. the books of Apollo are open. Total productivity is close. And most of it's big lies and more lies. They are an absolutebitch to kill. You're the big boys. "If some of them are good enough. We're probably going to have to go back and redo half the work when we've got time. Only guys who have figured out how to survive in that screwed up environment. are the cream of the crop. A probie makes more than most groundside managers short of executives. a kilometer wide. And youknow how much paperwork goes into any accidents. Your plants will handle translation but they don't have a clue about culture. For earth to haveany chance to survive. nastiest. someday." Tyler said. And always keep in mind that every second counts. You guys can go see what the pay rates are for the whole company. why keep paying top rate?' Hell. going to be doing his job." Tyler said. save your family. They also have a lousy. we'll send the earthside to go through the full training course. approach to safety." one of the workmen said." he added with a smile. Because we are looking down the barrel of one big damned gun. every one of you is. You only have to worry about how much any one person can do. no.Troy andThermopylae have to be able to dish out every livinghell on those AVs. determined to squash us once and for all. Stay safe and get Page 225 . But if you mean am I going to say ‘Hey. So you can bitch about it. ten kilometers long. Purcell said. When my bean counters start bitching I just say ‘Youwanna do this work?' In case you weren't aware. and I'm not blowing smoke. . Keep that in mind every moment. So I told E Systems to send me their best. you said they're going to stay?" "Like Mr. and get a bump in pay out of it. pretty much irreplaceable which is why you getpaid so damned much. make sure there aren't any. Even when the war ends. They're tough. "Gimme a break.

" "Good news. for a change from hauling scrap. The Constitutions were bigger than a super-carrier and the cubic larger than a similar drydock.the job done. We're last." Mutant said. Each Myrmidon now had an individual pressurized bay to land in and each Flight had a hangar deck for work on the shuttles. is moving in. "I know I've said this before . Once everything was in place. Which is just fine by me because no matter how big the port is." "But that is officially insane. "The bays are done. First a very large chunk of the internal wall was removed. boys and girls. The run. Even for theTroy . large enough to hold the Constitutions and Independence frigates. "What was the hold-up. Just on an enormous scale. A run had to be constructed between the bays and the exterior. And with that. So we're all moving in today." Dana said. The last part was the most fiddly. Then "ports" were cut in the sides. "I so totally agree. a series of zig-zags with heavy blast doors." "No more working on the exterior in EVA?" Bruce said." Glass said. Some of them were for the 142nd bays which had been constructed by several companies on Earth and shipped up." The "large vessel bypass" was the new way for ships to get in and out of theTroy . "Then the Independents. hopping to his feet and doing a little dance. large enough to hold a Constitution comfortably. The last had taken some work but the same basic construction as the missile runs." "I hope someone has the order figured out. "The Connies are moving in first. But they were mostly planned to be left unpressurized. that was a lot of atmosphere. "There is apparently about to be some major work done on the door and in the main bay. Currently both sets of blast doors." "The bays are done?" Bruce said. each massing more than a Constitution. Those were capable of pressurization and even acting as construction docks with their installed tractors." Hartwell said. what was essentially a very large missile run had been constructed." Hartwell finished for her. "Our mission for the day. I've got to go kick some executives in the ass. Instead of going out the door of the main bay. I mean all nine Constitutions. all fourteen Independents and us. a portion of the cut-out wall was reinstalled and the largest airlock ever constructed welded into place. "Hallelujah!" "This was supposed to be a couple of months ago. . And by all. looking around the ready room with a grin." CM1 Glass said." "Okay." Glass said. Page 226 . More "ports" were cut. worked for the ships. . I don't want to share it with a Connie. also had to be designed to withstand enemy fire. were open to receive the fullTroy fleet." Dana said. grinning. "We have new quarters. do you know?" "They wanted to wait for most of the work on the large vessels bypass to get done.

" "Oh. was well back from the incoming spring. Maybe cause Butch kept repeating himself. Butch had about freaked when he saw what had been done to the main door." Hartwell said. carefully. were pretty good guys. cautiously. Jinji. He wished he'd been given something . "Heh. "You seen what they're doing with the main door?" Dana said." the Indi foreman replied. "You guys understand your jobs. fit quite comfortably. four hundred high and with a wire diameter of seventy-five meters. Christians. "Heh. The group. doing tack welds on a spring that seemed to stretch from theTroy to Earth. maneuvering through the lock." Dana said. slowly. to Butch's surprise. corrected him. smaller. "A kilometer of armor instead of a kilometer and a half. in a precise spot. The frigate just flew in. half a klick." Hartwell said. But you didn't see what just arrived from Wolf. and disappeared from sight. Thirty seconds later theSam Nunn lit off its drives and followed. And. which was about as much as Butch could handle of the guy's name. "They cut off the inner quarter. "Yeah. He thought everybody in Egypt was Islamic but when the subject had come up Jinji had. Mr. SAPL would do the main weld. The lock was seven hundred meters wide and four hundred high. gee. guided along by a dozen Paws. they were supposed to weld it. but Butch was sweating his first job with the E Systems guys. At which point the main door would have a spring right in the center." It might not be hard. did you?" "No. who were actually Egyptians. Getting the nine Constitutions into place had already taken three hours. Jinji." Hartwell said. Once the tack welds were in place and certified. It didn't even need tugs. The SAPL had cut a Page 227 . Allen. "It is not hard. The Harding . What wasn't a "whatever" thing was the job. trying like hell not to sound nervous." Dana said. Butch had never heard of Coptics before but they apparently worshipped Christ which was a sort of "whatever" thing. And I have no clue." "Okay." Butch said. The group. was older than he was. . right?" "Yes. politely." Hartwell said as the first Independence approached the lock. Like. . "What's up with that? It's going to weaken that point in the armor. When it was in position. three hundred meters across. plenty of room for the frigate. "This is going to take all day. Butch in a sled to provide power and the Coptics in their sled-suits. "Nope. to the main door. as wide as a supercarrier was long.TheWarren Harding was." Dana said. He sounded a bit annoyed.

The object is moving. say again. The team picked up their heads and spread out pretty professionally." "Okay. "Anomalous movement on weld item. The sled was towing a heavy rig with five welder heads attached. "Well." Butch said. they were pretty clunky. They'd already installed about four more locking bars. Jinji was right." The senior welder wasn't just managing Butch's team but three others. "All teams. Now that they were actually doing something he was fine. The spring was slowly moving around and even gapped from time to time. or their training. but they were doing okay. "Okay.chunk about four hundred meters deep out of the inside of the door in a straight line." Butch said. That had been set to the side then the door closed again. about half way through the plug. The heads were 416 series which meant they had exactly zero options. "Let's go. Butch rotated his cameras to look up at the spring." CC commed. He also wasn't going to turn the laser on until they were ready to weld." Construction control commed. Allen. Do not. He didn't think much of their suits. And take it slow and careful. closing with the spring. "Hope not. Page 228 . each a hundred meters in diameter. The Indies could mess that up but only by pointing it at themselves and putting it practically in contact with their suit." "Guess maybe we'll grab it and hold it in place. The Paws maneuvering it were clearly having a hard time keeping it in one spot. They generated a ten centimeter long. "Begin welding operations. "We should not weld." BF commed. stand by. "We got that." Jinji commed. they didn't know dick about welding." Butch said. deploy the laser lines. do not begin weld. He was shepherding them like a mother hen. "Dammit. It was worrying about doing it that had freaked him out." BF commed. "Mr. The lines were thirty meters long which was about as far as he wanted any of the Indies away from him. BF?" "Spring's moving. The closed with the base of the spring until they were fifty meters away. It towered as high as a skyscraper and was bigger around than the base of the great pyramids." "Moving?" Butch said." "We will be very careful. three centimeter wide. beam. Nobody was going to be gettingthat door open didn't have the combination." Jinji said. what the hell?" Butch said. Why they wanted God's slinky tacked onto it was another question. "Spring has landed.

though. From a half a klick away it looked as if the spring hadn't moved at all." Butch said." "Roger. "Just stand by." "Control. But when the Paws just released the spring. Just seemed to be slowly sliding around in a small circle." Butch said. ." BF commed." "All weld personnel.Hold Page 229 ." "We are being paid." BF commed." Purcell commed." Butch said. Let it drop and see what happens. Standing by. Mr. Have your personnel back off. And he was wrong. "Deploy welding lines and stand by for simultaneous weld. "And all is by the Will of God. "Stand by. Mr." Jinji commed." Butch said." CC commed. . this is going to be fun." "Yes." BF commed. Allen. "It's in contact." Butch was wondering what the solution was going to be. Looks like about ." BF said. "They want to see if they can get tacks in with it moving." "We're burning daylight here. he was sure that was a bad idea."Iwas joking." "We're considering that. It wasn't moving asmuch . ." "All welder personnel. Allen." "Oh. that's the agreed solution." CC commed. "Roger." Purcell said. "Stand by. "Yep." Purcell said." Jinji commed. "Let's try this again." Purcell said. Allen." "Yeah." CC commed. "Control wants to know if your portion is in contact. dumbass. retract welding equipment. . Way back. Report readiness. "Then retreat to the edge of the door. The Paws are trying to compensate. Mr. And all the portions he could see were ." "Pull 'em back. "The spring's interacting with the microgravity of theTroy . we're over thinking this. "Don't know what they're going to try but this apparently ain't working. "It's moving around though. "Metaphorically. "It is still moving. three centimeters. Jinji. "That's us." "Roger.

" "Got a guy who's low on atmo. He's got a leak." BF commed. we need to get him into pressure." Butch said as they pulled back. it becomes sticky." "All weld personnel. about melting two bits of metal to make them coalesce. The transferred heat from the laser had also melted the contact metal forming a good weld. Three." Jinji commed." "Yes.weld.. "Iwant an atmo and power check." Welding was. "They're good enough for tack. They'd gotten back to the DSP by the time the Coptic called in. grab the welders. "Retreatto designated safety points.it in place with the welds. BF. On count." Butch pointed out. The problem in this case was that the refractory spring steel of the spring melted at a much higher temperature than the nickel-iron of the door." Page 230 . "That's good. Mister Allen. Okay. one. we're pretty good here. "BF." "How the hell is he down that far on atmo?" Butch said." "Go. at base. Fast. weld. two. "And count down." CC commed. "Never mind." Butch said. "All weld personnel. He watched as the door metal started to melt on Jinji's weld but the Indi was having to chase the edge of the spring around. Butch went around and made sure all his guys had good welds then called in. "Jinji. simultaneous weld. But don't start welding yet. Allen. The Coptic had gotten some of the base of the spring to melt by concentrating on the steel. watching Jinji's weld. There were two hundred guys working on the base." Butch said. When metal melts. "Ahmos at thirty percent on air. "Jinji. It wasn't going well. obviously. "Looks like he's got a leak.. Butch saw some of the guys kick off early but none of his guys. Mr." CC commed.two." "Yes. Count down will be three. due to micro-gravity. though. was applying pressure against the metal of the door. Mister Allen. Eventually enough friction from the melted metal had formed to hold the spring in place. anyway.." Butch said.... "The rest of us are over sixty." Jinji commed. " "That's dangerous as hell.one. And the spring." The DSPs were back completely off the door. Then the spring slowed and stopped moving." "Roger.

"Thermal?" Dana asked." Butch said. "This ismyboat you're talking about. "Is he going to freak out cause he's low?" Butch asked. Ahmos' air." "Damned straight." Dana said." Page 231 .two." BF commed."BF commed. "It's up. being carried on an invisible carpet to her docking bay.Tell him to try not to breathe too deep." Jinji commed. "You're bypassing your bay and going out to pick them up." Hartwell commed.. "Butch. As soon as they got through the lock."Jinji commed. though. "And the question stands..." "Twenty-seven percent." "Yes."The rate appears to be increasing.We've got a SAPL shot coming up."In three." "Which is why you got picked. "CM1 Glass. "They're calling in the Navy. "Jinji. But it's got to wait until after SAPL." Jinji commed. They'll be picking them all up. status on air. Mutant. They were apparently using three separate beams and the base of the spring in three places flashed bright white at the touch of the incandescent beams. It wasn't a system that was often used in space. Mutant." "Comet. I've got a call in for recovery." "Roger." Glass commed." Mutant commed." The SAPL beam was completely invisible in vacuum.one. Its effect. I want an update every five minutes on ..." Thermal commed. "No. Mister Allen. though. EM1 Hartwell. the internal grav fields took over." "I'd be freaking out." "Come on Navy.. If he has real problems. ." "Yes. Mister Allen. I want to know about it." Butch said. After that we'll recover him. We've got to wait for a SAPL shot." CC commed."Dammit. "Jinji. They can open up and pull in the full suit." Butch muttered without transmitting. There's other guys with suit problems.. "All is according to the Will of God. "Roger. "An external weld project has some emergencies. She was enjoying this."CM1 Glass commed. She was hands off. stand by for SAPL shot. It was very cool. was obvious. We're not going to lose a guy. Your assault hatch up?" The entire front of the Myrmidons could open out and down for ground assaults.. "All personnel. . "Stand by.

"Thermal said as they approached what looked like a bulkhead as tall as a skyscraper."Mostly it's air issues. You're going to have to clamshell them in. . BF. . hundreds of meters high and wide and what looked like a klick long." Dana said. "Great."Hartwell said. "Nope. There were five more blast doors. baby. "Think I'll try to avoid those. "I don't care how big this thing is. "Bye Thirty-Three. each of a size to accept a Constitution. what's your guy's status?" BF commed." "I was looking forward to it until I experienced it." Dana gulped as the forward bulkhead started to approach at what looked like about a hundred miles and hour. You're good."You're on internal controls. But not till he gets the word. It's Comet." Butch said." They rotated just before they hit the bulkhead. and pick them all up in vac. The shuttle corridor was forty meters high and four hundred long with bays racked four high and ten meters across." "Butch. "He's dropping fast. with a queasy lack of sensation. and they shot through the gap into another vast corridor. "I'm on external control. The door opened just ahead of them revealing a long corridor about fifty meters long with another at the end."This is too fast. picking up her vectors."Whoa! Buncha SAPL notices." "Right."Roger. Page 232 . then headed for a large blast door. waving as they passed their bay. the door is under construction. That opened out into a massive corridor."Have fun."Bay Control said. "Fast?" she squeaked. They've got other guys to pick up." The "bulkhead" gapped along the center."Bay Control commed. "We'll be back. barely. Then pressurize so they can get out of their suits. The started to really zoom then. "Get used to it." "Got it." BF replied. Go out the bypass. and they suddenly jetted into space." Butch said." "Roger." "Yeah." Dana said. Shuttle bay control?" "Bay control. dipping down to skim along the surface of the battlestation." "Coxswain. did you just increase speed?"Thermal asked as the bays began to flash by. "Down to fifteen percent." "We're going kinda . "Navy's incoming. so you know she's not going to fart around. Brief him that as soon as he gets the word he needs to open up his suit." Dana said." Dana said."Mutant commed." "That's our new way out.

" Dana turned her head to the side for a moment as a body came flying into the flight compartment. sir." "My guy's really low." Thermal said." Butch looked past the Navy guy and saw an empty suit. "Open the clamshell." "We should have sent more than one shuttle. "What the hell?" "Long story. Fast. "We've got a guy at five percent air!" "That's ungood." the guy said."But please don't run through a SAPL beam to get to him. I'm going in. He had his hands over his eyes and his mouth wide open." Thermal checked the exterior telltales on the suit and shook his head." Thermal muttered. "His name's Ahmos. The hatch shut and the blowers came on." "I don't have time to repressurize and pick up the ten." Thermal said. I've got him. seventeen. rapidly repressurizing the compartment. "He's at three percent and I'mwatching it drop. they were exposed to vacuum and couldn't repressurize. The guy was out of a suit which was just crazy since they were pumped down. pulling the sled-suit into the cargo bay. "You might want to lower the volume. And coughing." Dana commed." Page 233 . "Dana." "I've got to crack this guy. "It's possible to breathe vacuum and survive. The update that she'd just gotten precluded it. And the guywas screaming."Dammit. what's the status on the other guys?" "Twenty-five. "Dana. She really couldn't spend much time watching the SAPL shot. ten. who isalsodropping. He appeared to also be trying to scream." Dana said." Dana said." "Just stay in your suit. yet. He was looking scared through the porthole which wasn't any big surprise. He was just about on zero. . Get into the cargo area and get these guys aboard. With the clamshell down. "Yes. "IF you don't do it for very long. Go. ." Dana said. This is what we're going to have to do . pulling Ahmos into the bay and more or less tossing him to the rear. "You understand me?" he said to the cargo."Hartwell said." Thermal said." Thermal said. "Dammit. more or less." Butch said. "Gotta go. "Cause you get to breathe again.

Something simply has to be done. "Yes." "Okay . looking at the suits. "That's because for the first time since I was stuck in a cockpit doing my own version of a fish out of water I'm scared. Nathan. ." Nathan said. I candeal with all of those." Tyler said. "Argus. you all." Argus said. There's air again. "I'm sorry to interrupt your dinner. . moons. Just finish the job. It's really too much." Tyler said.Fast ." the AI said. . He could eat and talk at the same time." Nathan said. but I am having a very hard time with SAPL. Extra-solar radiation bombardment. closing the clamshell and bringing up the pressure. . Could you link in Athena?" "Athena here. . are you complaining about the ships to Mister Page 234 ." Nathan said. looking out the crystal wall of Tyler's quarters. "Planets. But all these ships are throwing off my alignmentsconstantly ." "That's . asteroids and comets are bad enough. olly-olly-oxenfree. "Okay. "Solar wind." He paused for a moment." "Gravitational sources?" Tyler asked. If one of his AIs wanted a conversation. multi-task." Tyler snapped." Tyler said. "They're going to need so much of a rebuild we might as well give them plants. setting down his chop sticks. a more relevant issue than dinner. "I am having an increasing difficulty maintaining the orbits of the mirrors. "Uh . "We didn't lose anybody. "What's the issue?" "It's all these gravitational sources. "Give them whatever is needed." "Well. . Mister Vernon. that was an amazing cluster grope. So ." Argus said." TWENTY-NINE "Argus? You had something to discuss?" Tyler had had a full week and he really just wanted to have dinner and catch some Zs. it behooved him to have it. Dana. But he'd also been putting off the conversation with Argus for too long." the AI said a moment later. "We've got two guys in the hospital with severe vacuum burning."That's all of them. Tyler." "You didn't used to be that way. . "That means you can open up." "Then give them plants." Thermal said. .

" Athena said. "As usual. "I warned you that if you kept throwing off my targeting I was going to have to do something. . it is sent to a mirror that is set up to be precisely aligned so that it reaches another target. The beams are slightly perturbed by various ship and other gravitational source issues. that means that the beam may have gone off-target by a very wide margin. Argus. ." the AI said." Page 235 . every ninety nanoseconds." Tyler said. . . sir. there are up to thirty separate clusters that the beam passes through before it reaches its final destination. "Paris?" "Here." "I mess up and I'll cut one of your pretty gravitational-interferingships in half!" Argus said. Over the total array. sir." Argus said." He stepped on a grav slide and started heading for the back side of the first civilian module." Athena said. you are using straw men arguments to . . "It just gets worse and worse and worse! And when the Rangora came through I nearly missed the receptor apertures for theTroy !" "You were off by three centimeters!" Athena said. "When a targeting beam is sent out. . . "I had to do internal adjustments for effective targeting. Having anomalous gravitational interactions means that some or all of those angles are perturbed. "For the last three weeks." Athena said. standing up and walking out of his quarters. "Is there some way we could . "Wait. "Because every ninety nanoseconds some ship throws off my targeting! Do you want me to cut a moon in half?" "You can't cut a moon in half." "You're worrying about micrometers over light seconds. I dunno ." Tyler said. the deepest and best protected portion of the Apollo side ofTroy West." Paris pointed out. But . "It builds up!" Argus replied. . "It's a two meter wide target!" "More like a meter for full effectiveness. "In most cases. could you explain for someone who's not running the SAPL the issue? I'm just getting caught up on this." Paris replied. "It's not a major issue!" "I take it you guys have had this debate before?" Tyler asked. wait.Vernon?" "Something has to be done. "And I don't really see any good answer." "To be in space means ships." Argus said. Adjust their courses and timing to reduce the issue? And." "One centimeter isnot a very wide margin!" Athena said. "Are you in the loop on this issue between Argus and Athena about gravitational anomalies and ship movements?" "Yes.

" "Ow!" Argus shrilled out of the speaker on the core. . Tyler had installed the AI in theTroy as the safest place he could think of in the system and. notably. Shut down all SAPL operations. sir. "Your authority for SAPL control is temporarily deauthorized. . That may take a while. "Mister Vernon?" "Turn the VLA to non beam targeting. "That would be . I'm not sure quite what. but we'll find you a good home and lots of processors. wonderful!" "So. "Why?" "Argus." "Yet. way more than just a finger print but fast. . sadly." Page 236 ." the AI said. . And for a very specific reason." "Yes." Tyler said." the AI said. ." the AI said. sir. just try to think of something other than SAPL. reaching over and pulling out the AI core. "Just the sun and the SAPL?" "Yes. I should have realized that it would eventually overwhelm one AI. gently." Tyler said. . "This is probably my fault. . . He'd had to pass through a half dozen security checkpoints on the way. "That . "Point it at deep space away from all planets and asteroids inside the Kuiper Belt that will encounter its light within the next thirty days. . "Done. "They are disturbing my targeting!" "And would it be better off with no planets or moons or comets or asteroids?" Tyler asked." "Yes . would the system be better off withjust the SAPL in it and no ships?" "Absolutely." the AI said in a tone of wonder. With the human guards he'd just waved and shook his head when they wanted to see his badge. ." Argus said." "Yes. . ." Tyler said. . . But until we have access to a good Glatun cyberneticist . "It would be better off with nopeople . gently." "Argus. as he walked in the AI core-room for the SAPL control. . Argus was attempting to bypass your lock-out. change all the control codes on the SAPL mirrors. "Sorry. But ."Argus. . Athena. "As you suspected. I think we need to find you a job that doesn't have quite the same ." Tyler said. none of them were connected to the hypernet. The mechanical controls were all either advanced Terran biometric. ." Tyler said. sir. "I was having issues was I not? That becomes clear now that I'm out of the process block." Athena said a moment later. stress level. There was a reason for that." Tyler said. I wasn't going to . I'm sure I can overcome them if you'll just reinstall ." "Done. or requiring entry of typed passwords. The nearest planetary body that the photons will encounter is . . The same design held for all AI core rooms. The VLA is pointed into deep space. In the meantime. close to where he spent most of his time. disconnect yourself from all SAPL controls." "Not going to happen.

"Wonderful. . . . "Everything has to be absolutely perfect. "I want you to shut yourself down. a story. "Shutting dow ." "You're not going to scrap me." Tyler said. and not by heirs or representatives or any other group. temporarily. But I will give you one. Mister Vernon."But SAPL ismine !" Argus squeaked." Tyler said." Paris replied." "With SAPL ." Tyler said. And you are not God. It's a metaphor." "Or most mid-course missile tracking. warily." "Yes." "Yes. you are to have nothing to do with it. And we onlyhave Class One AIs. can you come in on this?" "For a time. "But until we get you ." Admiral Kinyon said. It is impossible to know everything at the same time." Admiral Kinyon said. nor to attempt to access control of any mirror. you are at no time to control any mirror. . "Argus. slurrily." He thought about it for a moment then sighed." Tyler pointed out. And the problem is . better. shaking his head." "Whuff. "Nobody else canhandle it!" "It is possible no one can handle it. At least for anything short of God. . absent orders bymyself . "I amnot going to scrap you." Argus said. They both agree that the full system is too complex for a Class One AI. taking over SAPL and getting it back up and running. "But you are hereby ordered to shut down to sleep mode until such a time as you are reactivated." "So we don't have SAPL. . you've developed a problem that in humans would be called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. . "I am having a hard time with all the demands on me at the moment." "Understood. "Do you see a possibility of recursion there?" "Not as long as he has nothing to do with space traffic control or defense. . . "I think that was a bit too close. "Athena. Again. At a lower output. but it's the closest I can come without trying to show you the math. And everything I am going to say is wrong. Paris?" Tyler said. in the SAPL." Tyler said." Tyler assured it. We'll get you reinstalled as soon as possible but sitting outside of an atacirc core has to be unpleasant. sir ." the AI said. Page 237 . Paris. But nothing is ever perfect. "I agree. "Adegree of OCD is a good thing. Absent direct authorization by myself. breathing out. Tyler Alexander Vernon. "Argus. I'm not going to give you direct orders about that because it would probably cause a recursion loop." Argus squeaked." Argus said. . "Athena and Paris are." Athena said." Tyler said. Tyler thought that the Navy probably needed to know that the AI in charge of SAPL nearly went insane.

That produces a programming flexibility. there was one remaining issue involved. . thinking about a rogue AI with the SAPL at its control." Paris said. . One that I appreciate even if you occasionally give me headaches. I am optimized for that disturbance in the system. . "Hold on a moment . back. AIs continuously learn and grow to the extent of their Class. in the end. And that meant becoming more and more . "Whatever task we are first put to defines us. We learn as we do and build ourselves around that learning. And it tried harder and harder to solve them. Like the fact that the beams have momentum so that it's more like bouncing a fast-ball off of a series of metal plates." the admiral said. functions and effects that were. That is not my optimized work. some of the minor asteroids." Paris said. ." the admiral paused." "I hope ." Paris said. "Yes. in the end. If it could just juggle enough numbers fast enough. soon. I am optimized as the AI for a defense base." "Again. It wasn't apparent when they were dispersed in "normal" light but an UNG beam from the SAPL had the same impact as a massive rocket engine hitting the mirrors. creating specialized algorithms to handle our jobs." "Finicky. "But there is a second portion. "Accidents happen. reluctantly. And part of that learning. though. ."When an AI is first started up it is like a baby. Especially if some of the removable randomization was eliminated." Admiral Kinyon said." Paris said." the admiral said. "As I mentioned. The things that Argus dealt with did." Paris replied. understood. "And Argus had a point." "People?" the admiral asked. have a mathematical solution. It was programmed around. in a manner of speaking. Damn that . And the various randomization issues of gravitics only makes all the other issues worse." "Which was?" the admiral asked. I am currently trying toalso be the AI for a bunch of mirrors floating around in space. Then moons. The headache comment was simply humanizing my algorithms. You didn't get to be the commander of theTroy without enough basic understanding of optics to know that photons had mass. . "More or less. However. It's not what I was born to. "As I said. Shifting to a new project. Then planets. too. . . We build that into our programming. started eliminating unmanned Paw tugs." Page 238 . "Wait . Admiral. "It isvery finicky work. programming itself around. for Athena and I at least." Tyler said. "So Argus optimized for more and more refinement. It'snot easy. "Argus had very little outside contact. . "It probably would have. I rather like it to the extent AIs have emotions." Paris said. itcould be perfect. "Eventually. ." Paris said." "Ouch. I am optimized for that randomization. This reallyis detail work. We know we can never quite figure out what you're going to do next." "Understood. is that humans are stochastically unpredictable. soluble. Sorry." Paris said.

. "We evaluate not only the user but the situation. "As I said.Zhippiguithis.. That will prevent them from becoming so focused that they lose track of the main issue which is the defense of the system." "Cul dammit. . "Dammit. "Roger." ". be involved with the mix of humanity.." Paris said. That one will be the one that most bears watching for the sort of problems Argus developed. then. . ."Okay.. no. That one will be subordinate to Space Command or. They'll have mostly terminated before capture." Paris said. But . . That one will report directly to Space Command with Athena as supervisor. Terran AIs are loyal to Terra." Admiral Nibuc said." Paris said. When we first started dealing with Glatun code it was tough. Even then we are at the limits of what our class of AI can control with SAPL. "Can the Rangora take you over through your loyalty codes?" the Admiral asked." Kinyon said. without starting from scratch. Then what is the solution?" "We will need at least three AIs. . but I have never been more proud of my species. "One AI which handles planetary recovery and support and the inner BDA cluster as well as inter-lunar defense and management. Panoptes and Hermes.. . "We've looked at AIs rather closely at this point." Tyler said. "Paris is correct." "And we can't get them without the Glatun who appear to be conquered." the Benefactor said. .syst . I know this sounds trite." "I remain unsure of the value of this mission. They need to.. . We recommend the names Mars. "So ." "Probably not going to get that. ." "Some proprietary coding.." "You're sure of that?" Kinyon asked." Tyler said. We've been working on it for quite some time now. "And all of them with primary jobs that involve regular human interactions. Glatun AIs cannot be used if the loyalty is under duress.. I would recommend no further upgrades until we can get higher classes of AI. Alliance or Terran Union space traffic control." the admiral said. SAPL.." Paris said. Go with Cul. yes. Benefactor. if you will. One which will handle human/SAPL interaction and will be subordinate to Apollo Mining." Admiral Nibuc muttered. . watching the tactical Page 239 . What would it take to upgrade you guys?" Tyler asked.. It wasn't like we don't understand coding. "I mean. "That is a problem. if we ever have one." "Two remaining ships. non-interactive.down." Tyler said. "Admiral .Ghivor. One AI which handles mid-course detection as well as deep space traffic control and deep space.Rema.Ghivor ." "Which is what you would say. "We've looked at AIs rather closely at this point. "And a member of the Council of Benefactors with legal authority.

"One more system." Dana said." "They remain. "You remain. "I mean thelights didn't even dim!" "Gorku?" Tyler said. But I and my Glatun follow our orders. "Holy hell. "Cancel Condition One!" Paris announced." Page 240 . Stand Down. his eyes wide. On my honor. honey. standing up on her own to do a swimmer's dive. buddy! Welcome to Earth. Admiral." "Your ship looks like it could use some TLC. Set Condition One! Rangora Emergence! Cancel Condition One.display. The Glatun dreadnought was bigger than a Rangora Aggressor. Bye." the Benefactor said." "See ya round. "We've got most of a space dock inTroy . Admiral." Tyler said. "It is worth it. "I'd go running for my space suit but I'm a little too old and fat." Nibuc said." the admiral practically spat." "Then take us out. giving him a peck on the cheek. TheGhivor had come about and was now on a collision course with the closest Aggressor. "I will prove it. He'd lost his civilian friend but she was pretty sure he'd find another. I'll call the Admiral and get him to prioritize you. fatso." TheGhivor never made it to the Rangora battleship. practically tossing her beer onto the counter." Nibuc said. diving off his barstool. All military personnel report to units." Erickson said. "No matter the cost. "They remain. his fur rippling." Gorku said. But it could fit in theTroy . "Sorry." "I've got the tab." Rammer said. it's not heavily held. "In a million years." "What the hell is going on?" Bill said. "Beat you to the side of the pool. "Gate open. Rangora Eliminated." the Glatun said. Preferably one with some brains." "Tyler." "Unscheduled gate activation! Set Condition One!" "Ah crap!" Chief Barnett said. It was hammered apart under the combined fire of six of the massive battleships." "There's something seriously wrong with the world when my girlfriend goes running to the alarms and I'm stuck with the tab. Friendly incoming." "The honor of a Benefactor." Dana said. And we're assuming the Terrans are still holding out. "And I am getting very tired of running away. "Stand Down. The Aggressor that had been chasing it could fit in a shoebox. BF. Gul willing. we gotta go.

." Page 241 ." "Zhippigui. "Good point." Tyler stopped and started to giggle. "That is. "Anything else?" "Call the President and tell her that she's about to have visitors?" Captain Sharp said. "Please send a shuttle over to the ." "Go yourself but don't drive. "We can't be sure it's not a Trojan Horse. . . . ." Admiral Kinyon snapped." Gorku said. "The Zippadoodey and pick up the task force commander and the Benefactor. sir. sorry . He wasn't about to ask why the captain's hair was wet. Suffice it to say thatZhippigui meets all the protocols of an unsubordinate AI. "Colonel Helberg." "You don't mean they think you're a . "Go myself or . on the back side as much as possible ." Kinyon said." Gorku said. "Tyler. . DiNote. . It's just that the term for what you're describing is . use theterm ." The admiral paused in thought. the smell of chorine told him all he had to know. We have severe damage from fighting our way through the Eridani system. not subordinated to the Glatun. . "Be all smiley. "Sorry." "Yes. Get with Apollo to start surveying the damage. that it has sufficient information to analyze it's protocols and processes and for me to say that Benefactor Niazgol Gorku meets the standards of being a legal Benefactor. ." Paris said. Have him set up in orbit around Mars." "We can't be sure it's not a . . prepare a formal greeting party." Paris said." Captain Sharp said then stopped. Tell the ship CO that as soon as he's able. "It's not a ruse. . . many casualties and we started out with a fleet of nine ships. "I recognize the sound of human laughter and it's meaning." "Understood. ." "Sorry." "Oh." Kinyon said. they think we are a way for the Rangora to slip inside your defenses." "Admiral. sir." Tyler said. I am sorry that I fail to see the humor. "Captain DiNote." the admiral said. We'll send out parts and supplies to help them with their repairs until I've assessed the information myself. "I have thoroughly analyzed the information fromZhippigui ." Paris said. "We'll bring aboard their wounded. But the Zhippaccaggooey is going to have to stay out. . the command ship AI. he probably wants to get as far away from the gate as possible." "Which throws all theAIs in the system into question."There is apparently some question about our provenances. still trying not to giggle." DiNote said. send over as many shuttles as they need to offload their wounded." Admiral Kinyon said. You will recall our discussion of subordination of Glatun AIs.

. ." Gorku said." "Well. Not our Fleet. I am sorry to hear of your many losses. of course. "When Tuxuguh fell it was clear that we could not stop them. clapping his hands together in the Glatun form of greeting." "I was ordered by High Command to detach my task force. "Welcome. "We had it as. "They were everywhere at once. sipping at the maple sap. ignoring the Benefactor. Admiral Nibuc. . ." "They died as Glatun should. "But feel free to blame it on me. They hadsixty-three Assault Vectors!" "Ow." Nibuc said. "The only one I could rendezvous with was Benefactor Gorku. trying to smile. we should repair to my quarters. "The Rangora." Gorku said. ." Admiral Nibuc said." Gorku said. to Terra. twenty?" "Yes." "Of which I was not." Tyler said." "Which is why we only have this one remaining ship. This one built in secret dwarfed it. clapping his hands together. Page 242 . ." Nibuc said." Admiral Kinyon said. "I appreciate you stopping the Rangora chasing us." "Who isnot part of his staff. Units were unwilling to fight to the last. Even if we spent most of the time running." Gorku said. at the time. most of the time. The Rangora were mentally and spiritually prepared for this war." Tyler said. Benefactor Intelligence had underestimated their fleet by about two thirds." Tyler said. we couldn't exactly have them hanging about the system. a member. again. . And . "At one point my staff estimated they had entered the war with over two hundred Aggressors. "." "We need to speak on that. gentle Glatun are not too fatigued." Admiral Kinyon said. could we?" Kinyon said. . and. Mister Tyler Vernon ."Benefactor Gorku. assuredly not our leadership. We were not. not our people." the Admiral said. ." Admiral Kinyon said. were moving everywhere at once. pick up Benefactors and move them ahead of the Rangora assault." "Because I had some very fast ships and used them. "Among other things. "And if I might introduce my staff?" "Please." "Admiral. "Eight of my task force gave their all. They were. "And Mister Vernon. Gorku." Kinyon said. We made mistakes. once they got past Zo'Zowoxash." "Not tired at all. "Face to the enemy to the last. of course. Admiral. six hundred Cofubof . we were out-admiraled. what. ahead of us. "If you gentlem . . They were trained for it and willing to soak up whatever casualties necessary to achieve their objectives. Theirknown fleet was huge." Nibuc said. "Welcome toTroy . Admiral.

" "In the meantime. "But still. "The Rangora were cutting communication links so fast." Tyler said. "All of which appear to work just fine. In the meantime." Yud ZiDavas said. "Admiral and ." "Thank you. "In time you too will fall. It was easy to stray from the path of true fealty to the Emperor." ZiDavas as Beor's control officer. As befitted a Kazi DeArch his office was small. a DeArch in the complex." the Admiral said. In the meantime . But if you can hold out as well as those systems . Which. higher level AI code. . an intelligence dump . though. "There is no way you can hold this system. Good night." "I was the one who made all the political arrangements for the material and technologies youalready received." "We will see. calmly. It is possible that we can bleed the Rangora. you can understand that we're going to be very cautious with what you brought through. climbing to his feet wearily." Admiral Kinyon said. Admiral." "For which I thank you. releases. . gesturing to a chair. . "Sit. there are many logistic issues to arrange. ." Gorku said. standing up. ruffling his back fur. "There were reports that some of the systems were holding out." the Glatun said." Kinyon said. is a little too pat. Admiral." Tyler said. Life was hard and stray thought was natural. Otherwise you'd have never held this system. sorry. The gardeners of the finest race in the galaxy. They were the quality assurance of the Rangora. Which is why we brought you these gifts." THIRTY "Beor. Niazgol. The Kazi ensured that thought did not become word and word did not become action and action did not become habit. Page 243 . new designs. quasi-hierarchy of the Kazi. Admiral." "Cyberneticists. . The Kazi was covered in school and considered a normal and necessary part of Rangora society. spartan and in an out-of-the-way part of Vujiyen Base that had numerous hidden entrances and exits. . under thecircumstances . it is impossible to tell what was real and what was disinformation." Nibuc said. . ensuring that while life was sacrifice to the Emperor. "Everything we could possibly use. the sacrifice did not become too great. "I hope you will accept my hospitality until we can arrange secure movement to Earth." "On what you clearly think was a fool's mission. When Beor was recruited to the Kazi—and almost anyone who volunteered without being recruited was turned down—she thought she understood its structure. . Tyler." Gorku said.Admiral. The Kazi was everywhere. if you'll put your Chief of Staff in touch with mine we'll start dealing with those.

I am almost sick to death of listening to the arguing. But too many "open" agents had been killed because somebody was afraid they were going to get taken to reeducation for petty peculation. Which was why the only person who spoke with her was To'Jopeviq. That was what the Kazi recruitedfor and why they didn't take volunteers." "How difficult?" ZiDavas asked. Cogent arguing often but arguing nonetheless. "The first point I must make is that this is solely my opinion. I wish to respectfully disagree. It was the worrying that someone was going to stick a knife in her back because they'd been taking home data crystals to use in their home system and thought she was "onto them" that always worried her. bobbing his head. out of the cold. "ZiDavas. The ship that made it may have been carrying something of importance. "A fleet of Glatun battleships fought its way from near Glatus into the Terra system. She took them home. argument. AI codes . she was used to that. ." "I would not consider it of supreme importance." Beor said. too. Because somebody was having sex with his secretary? It just wasn't something you wanted on your memorial chip. perhaps not of supreme importance. I believe that is because they share a lack of belief in the data they are analyzing. He wasn't going to comment on her expression simply because he knew what she was feeling. But if you made it to the point of sitting down. That was fine. "And flies in the face of most of the opinions expressed by the working group." Beor said." "Make your . Getting killed because someone was contemplating mutiny or treason? Breaks of the game." "Upgraded designs. You were. you were probably going to make it through the next few minutes with nothing more than maybe a chewing out. . "Verbal only. . "While commending you on your diligence. It was tacitly known in the offices that she was Kazi. "If you mean the security of the Empire's core worlds ." Page 244 . you hadn't been shot in the back of the head as you stepped through the door or never made it or got shot standing there. You didn't get to the guarded office without having been in the cold. "It could even have been carrying some of the Benefactors.The current assignment was not straining her credulity simply because she had lost her illusions long ago but retained her fealty. . The other ships often sacrificed themselves to protect it." Beor said." Beor said. She knew she wasn't safe in any cosmic sense. ." ZiDavas said. Relief. If you made it to sitting down in your control's office. . She really. really didn't give a loff. Any of which would make the Terran system more difficult. sitting down and trying not to sigh in relief. . "Our intelligence is almost entirely in the negative. If you mean unimportant in the grand scheme. at the least. "And although I know its importance." ZiDavas said. . But ." "With respect. DeArch. absent mutiny or treason. you were safe enough." Beor said." ZiDavas said.

"I am not questioning the value of our race. you understand ." "As am I. "We know this. . "But I strongly doubt. Now we are trying to tease out their possible capacity for war-making. . . those useless pigs. "I see what was done and it makes sense. The truth is ." Beor said. even the Glatun. Let me rephrase." "Which is?" ZiDavas said. bobbing her head in excitement. that the Rangora could have stopped such attacks. "They believe the intelligence they are given. It becomes almost a question of their belief in the Empire."Are you saying they question the intelligence they are provided?" ZiDavas asked. by every record of more-or-less similar cultures. No one believes the analysis. . Go on." ZiDavas said. uncomfortably. The satrapy is broken." "No. rocking back and forth. "By rights. at least in part. Terra begins to take its minor place on the interplanetary stage. . What little we have and that is not a censure but reality. Terra." "I have been looking at this and looking." "We would have ." "No. "I was about to say we would have defeated them." ZiDavas said. The details of Rangora history were known to be blurred. You saw the report." ZiDavas said." "Are you sure?" ZiDavas said. even by what our betters present. the Horvath. They do not believe theirown analyses . low-efficiency planet. With the exception ofTroy most of the defenses of the system are really infrastructure projects. But . This is the condition on first contact." Beor said. It is not designed as an industrial world. This is the condition as of seventeen years ago." "The Terrans had significant support from the Glatun. It is almost immediately made a satrap by the Horvath and goes into even greater stagnation." Beor said. "You are making an interesting point. "That model was done and it's solid." "Agreed. .' If you plug in that model . . . But that was an automatic answer. They are civilian not military. relatively primitive. make similar constructions as defenses against attack should we need them. their advancements would have required an Imperial Project if the Rangora started from the same point. Imperial Projects were only used for the very largest constructions and absorbed huge percentages of the Rangora GDP. Beyond ‘what do we need to take the Terran system. I am unsure of the exact details of that period of history. it should take Terra some one hundred years to advance to the point of being a major culture. a politically divided. with some work. We could. "That's the point where the arguments really started." Beor said. "It is. "Similar to the Rangora. Page 245 ." "And could the Rangora have put such support into effect in seventeen years?" Beor said. It has primitive space flight. And it even looks easy. . "Consider what would have happened if sixteen Glatun battleships entered the Rangora system seventeen years after we first stepped upon the stage. to get to the point we knew they were at at the point that we lost contact. Given their starting point. It has no gravitics. . down to the very politics of their main polity." "Consider the history of the Rangora." Beor said. from the Kazi." ZiDavas said.

you have the makings of a very good Kazi. I must confess a loss of faith. . Things you don't want to know. Beor contemplated it for a moment and then looked very puzzled. "That within ten it will be a strategic threat. "Your occasional enthusiasms not withstanding. "And here is where." "I understood the purpose of the previous attack." She paused. is only going to grow to such levels as to make the system essentially unconquerable. "I don't believe that analysis. The fleet was not defeated by the ships they were creating using copied Glatun techniques. either." "DeArch?" "Sometimes it is simply not worth trying to figure out the purposes of the Kazim." ZiDavas contemplated her for a moment as if assessing her sanity."That within five years. "Perhaps understated. "I do. But this plan . With such access." ZiDavas said. It was defeated by an insanely large battlestation and a mining laser. "Beor. "You believe the analysis given to High Command to be accurate?" ZiDavas said. Things you are not to know. thepresent laser can defeat any shield except an Assault Vector and it is possible that even AVs could be defeated simply by the SAPL .Not one ship returned from the system." ZiDavas said." Beor said. realizing that she was like anything but the cool and distant Kazi agent. using very little in the way of advanced Glatun technology. . with the knowledge of what it means. But I would give you a piece of professional counseling. "Using the planned loss of a few Aggressors to remove a potential threat to the Imperium was completely comprehensible." Beor said." Beor said." She paused. "But to the extent that I could I did so. looking at the plan. seventeen years after full independence." ZiDavas said." Beor said. they defeated a major task force." "I could not fully replicate the model. Terra will be unconquerable by the Rangora." Beor said." ZiDavas said. . Theyhad to have had access to Glatun military mirrors to be able to defeat the Aggressorsthat handily. His voice was somewhat lower in register than Page 246 ." "Star Marshall. But I would have your thoughts on why. A mining laser that. ." To'Jopeviq said. In twenty it will be impossible for the Rangora to stop if it takes an aggressive posture." "You were tasked to observe and liaise with the working group. handing her a data pad. "Then you should find this interesting. clearly trying to puzzle out the purpose. "Permission to speak frankly." the DeArch said. Using mostly their own technological concepts. following the progression based on last update. DeArch?" "Permitted. Again. And I could find no fault. "Not be an analyst. "Within reason.

" "Very well. They must be reduced before more Vectors can be made available. . ." "Then we should wait to attack Earth until there is sufficient force. distastefully. And exactly how much power it took to overcome one." "There are things you don't know. probably losing more than one Assault Vector. but the person most likely to be blamed was his own patron. Those take priority. Star Marshall. Although everyone knew the news was only a guideline." To'Jopeviq noted. you understand. he was in an impossible position. not anger." To'Jopeviq said. suddenly his old self." "Star Marshall . He knew exactly how powerful an AV was. but he insisted. it is somewhat below the projection. "You do not have full control of the battle. We are sacrifices to the glory of the Emperor. "But plenty of power for the purpose. And in the end. stung by the previous defeat of the Aggressor fleet. "That was not the decision of Command. though. "In this life we are dead. To'Jopeviq couldn't help but notice." the Star Marshall said." Lhi'Kasishaj said. Things are not going quite as well as they appear. "There is no question as to my full capacity to lead. These numbers are simply untenable given any reasonable estimate of the Terran forces. "I will be . yes? So we follow our orders. To. In this case. . to come to a weak agreement. We will be able to defeat this Troy with ease. . Not only was the attack likely to fail. so be it. The Assault Vectors are the most powerful ships ever created. bobbing his head. "And we will celebrate my victory!" "I look forward to it. "I must strongly recommend that you do not accept this position absent heavier forces. Five Glatun systems were never conquered by our forces. . He understood Beor's rationales for the last debacle." To'Jopeviq repeated.observed by High Marshall Lho'Phirukuh. If the High Command saw it necessary to sacrifice sixteen Aggressors to keep the Empire from going through another civil war." Lhi'Kasishaj said. There was some strenuous argument. Two surrendered on orders from the new Council of Benefactors." "I will see you when I return!" Lhi'Kasishaj said. "Things you are not supposed to know but I don't suppose there is any harm in telling you. "This is ." "Yes." To'Jopeviq said. Command acquiesced. And that could present some large problems for High Command. below our best case estimate.normal. "And we are Rangora warriors. . Going lower was a sign of distress." To'Jopeviq said then paused." Page 247 . such a huge cover-up was bound to be common knowledge sooner or later. Star Marshall. . The Star Marshall was not nearly as confident as normal. Three still hold out. quelling decades of training. . The Rangora hissed and shrieked before attacking. He had even managed. trying to contain his surprise." Star Marshall Lhi'Kasishaj said. It is simply that the Marshall was somewhat . "Star Marshall." To'Jopeviq decided not to point out that he was a veteran of such assaults.

Also cold. care to take a walk?" "Since we got the second missile fabber installed we've been able to refill from what we used in the last Page 248 . "We're going to use an explosive system to close it. gesturing to another cluster. They didn't need suits because. The room. "But nice enough. Thus the ." "Explosives are cheap. Ninety terawatts apiece. "are Glatun designs. But as soon as Hephaestus and Granadica finish Fabber Three we're going to install Hephaestus in theTroy and he'll have a primary job of making heavy emitters." The room was filled with rack upon rack of cubicles cut from the walls ofTroy ." Gorku said. "This is a Rangora emitter!" "Main gun emitter from an Aggressor. "We were only able to acquire four of those in good enough shape to use. The two financiers were wearing cold-weather coats against the chill. "Bit cold in here. "As of this morning . One of the largest he'd ever seen. "It was a bit hard to start. That's always the bottleneck. unusually for something this large. walking over to one of the closer cubicles and examining the emitter. There were. Arrayed through the racks were interconnected steel pipes ranging from a hand span across to. The main gun emitters from Deudoc dreadnoughts. "Nine hundred and eighty three terawatts." Tyler said. . was vast. we're increasing the rate of installation. . And larger and larger. a continuous flow of pipes being lifted into place." Tyler said. Each of the small pipes was connected to a laser emitter. in fact. . The big ones were on the deck level. towards the end. gesturing to several of the local systems. With the new workers. aligned then welded. the size of a major water main.??? "This is . A couple of angles and it was connected to a larger pipe. . Just as more emitters were being lifted into place. "A rapid closing system." "As I said. Very nice. And more were being installed as the two magnates watched. Each cubicle contained one free-standing power system of various outputs and a laser emitter of matching output." Gorku said. connected to power systems. "How much power?" Gorku asked. "But once we got going it got easier." "Springs. connected to pipes . it was pressurized. . unfortunately. that was it looked like a sewer system. more pipes than emitters. ." Tyler said. "One beam. rippling his fur. quite an assembly." "And you combine it to one beam." Tyler said." "The work on the main door?" Gorku asked." Tyler said. It was large. ." "Where are they all coming from?" Gorku asked. . as usual withTroy . "You're going to have to use a lot of explosives. . Except for the occasional plate of sapphire in the sides. . Not a patch on SAPL but pretty good." Tyler said. ?" Tyler said. Those three ." Gorku said. not a patch on SAPL.

opening the hatch so they could leave. Very few groups were at the tech point of humans when encountered." Tyler said. "Classified." "Speaking of mass ." "Understood." Tyler said. "An Assault Vector carries nine thousand." Tyler said." Tyler said. "Ah. Sorry. we're having to use the fabbers for fiddly bits for the other construction." Tyler replied. And the command center." Tyler said. . that was barely a hundred meters away. Alliance countries have started conscription." "Still don't trust us?" Gorku said. Probably won't make it. . "Most galactic tech was transferred from one group to another. is this exactly?" Gorku asked. Low tech. "But classified is classified. "The Muikot battlestation carried thirty-six thousand. Our problem was getting out of the well not things like. Some of which work even better with grav tech. "That's better. Niazgol. That was mostly taking place at the top of the stacks." he said." Gorku said. "We're shooting for the full two twenty-five by the end of the month. Same with the laser room." Gorku said. "It's been an interesting ride. computer tech and basic space engineering." Gorku said. But since they were looking down from the upper observation deck. "But also not what . we had to find work-arounds. Be glad when its done. Mass has a quality of its own. it's pretty hard to figure out. oh. Just things we couldn't do without grav tech.battle. "We had to divert a lot of SAPL power and personnel to completing some stuff on theTroy . . We'd been putting a lot of thought into space for a very long time." Tyler said. Had all that." "You have been busy." Tyler shouted." "How many?" Gorku asked. . Couldn't have done it without your help. sorry. Simple stuff. really. So we only have firing ability over about one tenth of the surface. "I trust you utterly. taking out his earplugs. well. pensively. amazed." "Where . Right now it's not even at the same level asTroy was in the first Horvath attack it stood off. Not whatanyone would have done!" "Humans weren't at a low tech level when we were contacted. How many people do you intend to put under arms?" "Alliance population is currently about half of the remaining five billion population. . And cause of the grav walks." "And theThermopylae ?" Gorku asked. "Your . two hundred meters up. "Still another month or two to get it operational. . It's not the exact place as on the plans I'll tell you that. None of this is new thought. The lower portions were solidly packed. "When it's full up. "And more. . "Rather. You'd have to put a nuke in here to get them all." Tyler said. Twohundred thousand?" "And twenty-five. "World Page 249 . The room was noisy with clattering missiles jostling each other for space. ." the Glatun said. And since we didn't have grav tech. We haven't done any of the installations for Sector Two yet. "Hundred and eighty thousand. All stabilized so they can't chain react.

" Gorku said. leading the way back to the personnel area. We've upped our productivity and a lot of things are done automatically in industry for example. "That is . overall health is better so lower rate of four-F. it would be mad to do anythingelse ." Let him. Planetary class shield generators. "That is a bare third of Rangora forces. two hundred laser ports per sector." "Define fully finished. apparently without great trouble. one hundred petawatts of laser output. . Also a lot less to build. Since then. "One hundred meters of ablative armor.This is going to be a disaster. three ships.War II. including fuel pods." "Three hundred seventy-five million. "Under the command of Star Marshall Lhi'Kasishaj." "Good Kol!" Gorku said. You think it's insane?" Tyler stopped and looked the Benefactor in his red eyes. the maximum sustainable percentage was considered to be twelve percent. were almost immediately conquered by the Horvath. changed our society and culture and more or less given us a mad on at the rest of the galaxy not to mention a really amazing degree of paranoia and we're avery paranoid bunch to start with. We think we can go as high as fifteen percent. Five full battle sectors. Which meant peaceful contact. Assault Vectors were only used when heavy defenses were anticipated. "Ten meters of surface steel hardening. we have been fighting one enemy or another. one hundred missile ports and a large vessel port system. Given that the Terrans had destroyed a fleet of Aggressors." THIRTY-ONE "General Magamaj will have the honor of leading the assault in theStar Vengeance . Gorku. if we fully finish it. . traveled with a support squadron. . five missile fabbers and a central power plant in the main bay. Humans. . full missile load." High Marshall Gi'Bucosof said. heavy defenses were anticipated." Gorku said. "Consider local galactic history." Tyler pointed out. all five sectors complete. can take on about ten AVs. So each AV squadron. Oh. That's going to take some time. ATroy class that is fully functional. because the Glatun had gotten . It's killed a quarter of our population. The Glatun did most of the early advances on species in the region. The support squadron consisted of an AV Page 250 . independent power generators. But even AVs could not normally take down heavy system defenses on one pass." "Defending a system is easier than taking it. "And aTroy class battlestation takes less people to run it than an Assault Vector. At least. of course. Lhi'Kasishaj thought. had decided to study war no more. almost continuously. "Gorku." "Insane?" Tyler asked. Also. and a ship fabber." Tyler said.

notably. especially the American. last. if they were thoroughly shredded. parts would pour in. The survivors would still be battling for supremacy. Lhi'Kasishaj thought. personnel. "The assault will be in two waves. often through the gaping battle-wounds. Could the humans have createdanother battlestation such as theTroy ? High Command dismissed the very possibility. The only way to totally lose an AV was for weapons to dig so far through the refractory warships that they penetrated to the highly defended core. theTroy would be as seriously mauled. generally bleeding air and bodies. Star Battle and Star Mauler in the first wave. always the main parts damaged. Lhi'Kasishaj looked again at the three reports prepared by To'Jopeviq's team. The final targeting systems for the massive laser trashed. There they could take out drive systems. Then the system would be defenseless. High Command agreed. Neutron Star and Singularityin the second thirty minutes later. The attack on the human. a very good satrap. By then the first wave will be returning for repairs or to report victory. worst and medium. The Rangora had AV repair down to an artform. they would run through the dock. The damage would be heavy enough for the twenty-four Aggressors and two carriers of assault troops to finish off the battlestation. At that point. replacement armor plates and. But the Rangora were not going to make the mistake the Glatun made. and wondered if any of the AVs would be coming back. theMira Destroyer. Battle repair was possibly the highest form of mass production known to the Rangora. And Lhi'Kasishaj had to admit that was true. Gi'Bucosof wasn't going to enter the system until it was Page 251 . Any species this dangerous needed to be eliminated. portions would be cut off. could survive that. At least half the American upper command structure should have been gutted. more important. would be ladled on. Anything powerful enough to overcome the inertia of its orbit would crack it from the impact. There were so many ifs. It's laser ports and." Gi'Bucosof continued. potentially. He wished he could believe that. shield generators and defensive laser clusters. spares. And he personally intended to make sure the Terrans were never a threat again. and a mobile repair dock. armor. The battlestation had been drifting out of position. "TheStar Vengeance." Reserve force my tail. It should be out of good position to attack the AVs. Well prepared docks had taken AVs that were barely functional and returned them to battle in a mere three hours. The AVs should do it. command structure would have been crippling. Just blowing nukes against the exterior was out of the question. As the AV emerged from the gate again.support ship. No warrior culture. critical personnel and core support beams. TheStar Death will remain in this system as a reserve force. power systems. the AV was pretty much toast. but it would take days or weeks. But even if they did not. Its missiles would be depleted. essentially an unarmored. stripped out AV packed with fuel. Getting it into position had been bad enough. best. the "receptor ports" for the SAPL would be destroyed. pre-fabricated replacements would be slapped in place and. the door holding the circular structure. By the time the AV emerged from the gate. Ifs. The Terrans were. as the Americans appeared to be. But then it had been closed. Each segment would be refilled with replacement personnel. The support squadron couldstill repair one. the mobile dock had all the information it needed to begin repairs. The support ship attached directly to the dock.

. . "And one I need to learn more thoroughly. The hexagonal system meant that as they took damage they could rotate to bring new systems into line. Tyler. The main offensive power were deeply embedded gamma ray laser emitters and missile tubes." "Rammer." "It is fine. I suppose it is experiential. "Bloody hell. giving him a kiss on the cheek. then stopped. Page 252 . "Uh .Troy 's way safer." "Well. Which meant he was remaining behind in theStar Death . "You need to go. aye. And they were already starting to rotate as the heavy lasers of theTroy opened fire on the nearest AV. ." Tyler said. "Checkmate." Dana said. Now UP. "Missiles inbound." General Magamaj said." Niazgol said. "I'll see you at the pool when the battle's over. moving a chess piece." "The second battlestation is not operational. "Your security people are very paranoid. "When the resistance of the battlestation has been eliminated. "Tomorrow. "Open fire!" ??? "They're uglier than I thought. "What with the Rangora attacks on political targets and problems at home. Which was all well and good because that was where Lhi'Kasishaj intended to stay." "So it is." Tyler said." "No. the fleet will enter the system and reduce it. The edges were lined with defensive laser clusters and shield generators. The Assault Vectors were hexagonal along their length." Captain Shoeguh said.thoroughly conquered and he wasn't going to expose himself to any danger. they've gotten that way." he moved a piece." "This is an interesting game." Captain Sharp said. "Really really sorry. . I'm not so good at this sort of th . pushing Rammer away. we sail to victory!" "I'm sorry the President still hasn't made time for you. just go play jarhead." Gi'bucosof said." Dana said. too. But I think that is . "You are very good. utterly. . duh." Niazgol said. either. "Concentrate all fire on theTroy ." "All fire onTroy ." Tyler said. ." the corporal said." SET CONDITION ONE! SET CONDITION ONE! "Always when you're having fun." Admiral Kinyon said." Tyler said. Check. I did not previously find them so. Besides.

"Open fire quarter power on all missile tubes." "Engage Orion. Centripetal." the commander of theThermopylae said. ." Captain Shoeguh said. ." "Port?" Maganah said."Well. sir. Kurt. Then another. two th ." "Open fire. The AVs had successfully entered the system and while the point defense of theTroy was better than anticipated. "Can I open up. "Shields down in sectors 14 and 16. Let's engage the enemy more closely. "The fire we are taking from theTroy is rather . lurch. "So it's no surprise . . One th . Captain?" Maganah asked. And another." Maganah said. aye!" "General. "They are using a very powerful laser." "Fire is coming from second battlestation. centrifugal. "Not the SAPL system. ten . Page 253 . let's return the favor. Each involved a very weird. ." "SAPL impact." Kinyon said. "Firing control.Sixteen thousand missiles inbound!Troy is moving!" "What do you mean. Heavy damage. SAPL. . Give me Commodore Clemons." tactical reported. . weak. Commodore. . . "It's under acceleration. "Troyhas launched missiles from two hundred missile tubes. . . ." Shoeguh said." "Aye." Damage Control commed." Commodore Clemons said. engage the Orion." "Our intelligence indicates that sometimes it takes it some time to come online. "Concentrate fire on theTroy !" "What the hell was that?" Dana said. . port beam." "Your point. "The only thing to port is . "From this range they can intercept our missiles all day. Barely perceptible. moving?" Maganah asked. Also coherent light. . She'd felt lots of gravitational effects during her time atTroy . But this felt more like an earthquake." Kinyon said. sir. It is closing our position!" "All AVs!" Maganah said. not pumped sunlight. fourteen . . ." "Sir. ." Kinyon said. bad inertics. yet?" "If you please. "Engage the enemy more closely!" "He has a point." Commodore Pounders said. "It has some sort of fusion drive!" tactical said. "You have full SAPL authority. six . they were breaking through with missiles. slight. And the grasers were shredding its unshielded surface.

It had been picked up and used for laser/missile battle. And it didn't really have brakes." Sharp said. Page 254 . "Hold off." tactical reported. "No. hundreds." "Enemy is skewing." Sharp said." "Rotate. But each missile destroyed filled space with material. Requests permission to withdraw. "If we can't dodge something like that."That would be Orion. Missiles were rather easy for any defensive system to destroy. we need to die and remove our genes from the pool. Material missiles could fly through relatively unscathed but which degraded the utility of lasers." Hartwell said." Captain Shoeguh said." "We really need some shields. "It seems the admiral wishes to adjust our position." "Let me guess." the general said. that also meant it was getting closer. Solid as space missiles were. Hexa Four is trashed from that damned SAPL. destroying dozens. Appearing on the far side and exposing itself to full fire from the AVs." Dana said as the ringing of missiles and lasers hitting the surface increased. Let them think we're wounded. And defensive lasers could retarget and fire rapidly. sir?" Pounders asked." the Fleet Tactical officer pointed out. The term in radar was chaff." "Troyis continuing to close our position. "How's our missile supply?" Kinyon asked. they were eggshells compared to even the lightest defensive laser." Sharp said." "Given what we're getting hit with. "We'renot running away. Reduce fire." ??? "Enemy missile and laser fire falling off. Rotate again. "Down about seven percent so far. "Star Maulerreports forward quadrant has sustained inoperability damage." General Maganah said. Of course. "Mostly we're losing laser and missile apertures in the direction of the enemy. What it meant was that the space between the AVs and the embattled station was filling with junk. Junk that theTroy plowed through as if through a metal fog. of missiles. "Retarget theThermopylae . "Retarget theThermopylae and bring us around to engage with main guns." Kinyon said. "That's not surprising. And Two and Three are not much better from missiles!" "TellStar Mauler to stand by.

" "Looks that way from here. And with one of its halves rotating to open up unprotected vitals to theThermopylae ." Kinyon said. TheMauler had. I want to close to within knife-fighting range of that nearest AV before we open up again." the admiral said. thing." the commodore said. Despite the rotation. but that's about it." The three superdreadnoughts skew turned. . "That one shot took out most of our missile tubes."Cease all fire. "And pretty much all our defensive clusters. "Skew to head for the gate." the general said. Let 'em. the refractory armor flashed into so much carbon gas. And as to the SAPL ." General Maganah said. . Hundreds already had and as the beam hit any unprotected area." Sharp pointed out. Page 255 ." "That will bring us almost in contact with theTroy . ." "Don't need much more. Which is still firing SAPL with good effect. . Commodore. "They think we're busted." Now it wasThermopylae's turn to take the full weight of the enemy's still not inconsiderable fire. looking at the Fleet damage report. They think we're trying to ram them. Kurt." the Fleet Navigational officer pointed out. That will spread the beam. They're about to find out how hard it is to stop missiles when the launchers are right in their lizard faces." Commodore Clemons reported. "Powerful but vulnerable as I suspected. "You've got the SAPL. We've still got good SAPL. "We've got the missiles. "Just keep pounding hell out of them. in fact." the Fleet Damage officer said then looked up and gestured to the viewscreen." ??? "Time to withdraw. broken in half. ." Kinyon said. . sir. that part didn't last much longer. that is why we make AVs. Five kilometers of the most powerful dreadnought in the galaxy was turned to incandescent gas by the ravening power of the SAPL. Admiral. Go to continuous rotation. Tens of thousands of missiles lashed out at the battlestation but what was worse was when the sixty petawatt lasers of the AV main guns struck the relatively soft nickel-iron of the battlestation's surface. distastefully. the beam often dug deep into the gargantuan ships." "Again. rotating through three dimensions while spinning to spread the power of the SAPL and keep any one shield from failing. "Star Maulerreports ." Kinyon said. "Lambda can take it. dipping down to the very vitals. "And leave us broad on to theThermopylae . Not to mention raising the temperature in the whole sphere a bit. "Sir. I'm sure we can dodge that . they're retargeting on theThermopylae .

General Maganah had chosen to take much the same route to move to the far side of the gate and return to the Eridani system. North. But it had defensive laser clusters.Troy movement control. sprung some of the welds. And a missile bay Tyler had chosen not to mention to his friend Niazgol. having not even noted the missile impacts. "TheTroy . They'd installed five of each. "Pity. The missile tubes that launched sixteenthousand missiles before they were closed." the Fleet Tactical officer said. two hundred laser tubes and one hundred missile tubes complete. South. theTroy has been less than useless in this battle. !" "That is more like it. The "minor taps" that the Orion drive was expending to accelerate theTroy were made from twenty-five megaton clean-pumped fusion bombs." TheTroy had moved back to very close to its original position. Each of the missiles had the kinetic equivalent of a ten megaton nuke. Apollo had gone along. closer than knife fighting range in space. "But we estimated losing at least one AV." Captain Shoeguh said. perched "above" the gate like a raven over the gate of a graveyard. And there was still much work to be done. The tubes. But not enough to effect function. each with an impact power of twenty megatons." "Close their missile ports and its useless. One and Two. But it could barely creep along and would probably never make it to the gate and safety. Zone West was not anywherenear complete. They were just scratching their head that the Orion wasn't flying quite straight. Page 256 . North had been the direction pointed at the gate. because North wasn't scheduled forany construction for two more years. keeping its shields between its vulnerable interior and theThermopylae . when full open. All it had were laser and missile tubes. The main effect had been to cause the acceleration vector to be slightly off. the Admiral had insisted Apollo actually put some laser clusters and missile tubes on North. appreciate that first broadside. TheTroy was made up of six zones." "As you say." Maganah said." Maganah said. The Orion had been hit by fifteen missiles during the course of the battle. General. before theTroy opened fire again. Zone Two was the first one worked on. in fact. And for all its vaunted power. a second. It was also where all the missiles were stored. West. East. It still needed armoring and shield generators. which was an entire department. Since the whole purpose ofTroy was to be a defender at the gate. however. were capable of firing ten Thunderbolt missiles. was still trying to figure out why. reluctantly. Which meant that the three AVs and the battlestation closed to within five thousand kilometers. But it was mostly complete. "I did not. .The rear half retained enough control to rotate away from the fire. The hits from missiles had impacted mostly on the edge piston area and had. Those were the missile and laser tubes taken out by the Rangora AV squadron. South was the main hatch with its spiffy new Orion drive. "Admiral. .

"Shift fire. "What's the status on damage?" Page 257 . Lhi'Kasishaj thought. But they were followed by two thousand moreper second . A moment later its back broke about a third of the way down. the laser room in Zone Two was capable of nine petawatts of output." Admiral Kinyon said. "It is time. All of them. One that hadonly been filled with the new Destructor Terra-designed two hundred terawatt lasers. started at the front of the AV and walked back. And the missile bay was full. The combined fire. you would know that these things never go exactly according to plan. The desperately rolling AV managed to keep up ten percent of its shields and about a third of its armor as the fire walked down its length.Star Marshall . not one." Or he's defeated. TheTroy opened fire at the nearest complete AV from Zone West with full missile spreadand full laser. in fact. does it." Admiral Kinyon said. the survivors of the initial flight of two thousand. increased jamming of the hypercom as soon as the gate activated. And." THIRTY-TWO "Maganah should have been back by now. Twenty petawatts of laser power in one room that could be fired through any of the four hundred laser ports. But what emerged from the coordinated torrent of kinetic explosions and blazing laser fire was a wreck. it is likely that he has already taken the system." Lhi'Kasishaj replied. "As you say. "Let's finish taking these bastards out. They were mostly expended on breaching shields.Those were complete. The enemy had. It had ten of them." "This thing doesn't exactly stop on a dime. Neither portion seemed either to have helm control or fire control. "If you had much experience of battle. "And despite your working group's report. It was listing and bleeding and completely out of control. transfer." Gi'Bucosof said. arrived a second later. It also had a building laser power room. Second wave." Lhi'Kasishaj said. Nine hundred and forty-eight penetrator missiles. theTroy striking down from above andThermopylae to port and slightly up. coolly. but let us get this over with. While theThermopylae simultaneously engaged from out-system." High Marshall Gi'Bucosof said. "Early. High Marshall. naturally. One hundred and ninety petawatts of SAPL fire hit the shields of theStar Vengeance at the same time as twenty-nine petawatts of coherent light. They'd gotten some minor data transmissions right after emergence and then nothing.

. "Get us maneuvered back around to engagement position. Down about thirty percent on missiles.Troy'srun by the now shredded Assault Vectors had taken it close to the gate. Anything that's going to interfere with inertial compensators means that the crew is going to end up as goo. aye. It also was back in a no-win situation with the gate. "One note. ." Captain Sharp said." "Nope. . "And some of the equipment and salvage welded into the main bay came loose." Kinyon said. OIC of Movement Control." "How close?" Kinyon asked. . . But I thinkwe might need some. thinking about what little they knew about Rangora doctrine. Oh." "Gate activation. To intercept the AVs. and we've got about a third of our laser ports and half our missile ports out of action. Slowing down was the next step." Admiral Kinyon said. going "past" it at a fairly high relative velocity." Colonel Helberg said. "Maneuver to engagement position. looking at the tactical readout. . The gate was simply one more feature to consider." "That may have to wait." Page 258 ." "Recommend engage from Zone Two. "Getting there. was the "pilot" of theTroy ." the admiral said." "Not bad for three AVs. Which meant he commanded the thirty-two personnel responsible for determining how best to maneuver the battlestation." "Admiral. Since until the Orion drive was installed theTroy didn't have a drive and since the gate was maintained by the Grtul in an unstable orbit "local" to Sol's single inhabited planet. The orbital dynamics were not particularly complex. holding onto the edge of the tactical station." This eventually left it outward from the gate and moving away from it to spinward. therefore. "We are . "Unscheduled." "Yes?" Kinyon said. "Unless you want us to go to a higher delta v. rather close to the gate exit zone . "Zone Two primary. "I know why space ships don't have seat belts. "Time to repair the damage?" "Days for some of it. "Zones West and North sustained the most damage." "We got some significant slosh in the water tank." Helberg replied. He was holding watch at Damage Control." tactical cut in." Captain Neil Pohlman. "Uh-oh. The position of CIC and its angle to the Orion meant that the acceleration was across the compartment and slightly down. sir. But now that heconsidered it. "We'll have about twenty percent of the missile tubes back up in a couple of ." "Make it so. Internal laser systems all nominal. It had been moved slowly past the gate and headed "outbound. the Troy had never really been in a stable orbit." Colonel Helberg said." Kinyon said." Captain Pohlman said. aye. it had had to drop into a lower orbit and "swing" around the gate.

" Each of the Assault Vectors massed four billion tons. . And it had." Squadron Tactical commed. which previously had been deployed against the Thermopylae. ." Admiral Kinyon said. The mass ofTroy filled the forward viewscreens at a range of barely a thirty kilometers. "Maneuvering!" Captain Pequlhiw shouted. minus twenty?" He also knew it was a doomed attempt. "This is going to be . Page 259 . AVs rarely worked as single ships and the doctrine was "the more you use. "Why waste the missiles?" Kinyon said. Remotes were showing the chewingTroy was sustaining. . were hammering Sector East. They were traveling in an initially tight formation. "Come about to one-four-three mark . The flip side was that East didn't haveanything in it. The AVs had come through the gate at a velocity of three kilometers per second. the fewer you lose. They were also well prepared for collision. "Launch fire for effect all missiles. It was nine kilometers across." The commanding officer of theSingularity didn't bother to wait for orders." Pequlhiw said. AVs were the biggest ships ever produced by any race in the local arm. Many races used large kinetic impact systems to combat gate entry. Those formations had ships on the "inside" and "outside" which rotated in and out while simultaneously spinning to spread damage. ."Gate emergence. For heavily defended systems as many as twenty-seven had been used in three separate nine AV assaults. uh . The heavy guns of the AVs. lumbered straight into their path. ." AV assaults used a standard doctrine that." Even assaults on minor systems used three AVs in a rotating triangular formation. interesting. But they had forward lasers that were their heaviest weapons. practically as wide as the gate. "Sound brace for collision. "All fire. The three AV squadron had just met something not only bigger than themselves butmuch massier. "There are . keying in the command. There was large and then there was large. . . full spread. calmly. four hundred meters apart. had worked with remarkable effect. "Fire back. by accident more than intent. "Open fire all forward lasers. . In an undamaged condition. sir?" Captain Sharp asked. Which meant he also couldn't engage with his own lasers. AVs didn't maneuver on a dime. so far."Singularity's tactical officer said." "It's not like we canmiss . Being prepared for a large asteroid hitting you on your nose was just good sense. an Assault Vector could ram a GlatunRitapol class battleship and break it in half. The AV would barely be damaged. either.

however. patting the tactical console. which was. if there were more AVs they should have come through the gate by now. It was about the same ratio. Thermopylae." Kinyon said. it was leaving most of it behind. The view showed the gate clearly. Cleaningthose up is going to take a while. No ship known could handle three thousand. we need some eyes on Zone East!" "Troy. passing across their nose. . thirty-three and thirty-six degrees. Think of a large pick-up truck being hitting a very small deer. The deceleration constant of their impact was approximately three thousand gravities. . The commander of theThermopylae was shaking his head on the video link. "Where'd they go?" Admiral Kinyon said. slowly. warships could handle up to a five hundred gravities of delta v. Pumping video. Admiral. . And theTroy just as clearly." Admiral Kinyon said. "Was there a thump?" Kinyon asked. "Based on standard Rangora doctrine. spread out like the petals of a flower. and now Terran. respectively at three wide points of Zone East. "But where'd they go?" "Sorry." Admiral Kinyon said. "Sorry. "Shouldn't there at least have been a thump?" "I . . The combined squadron had a mass of twelve billion tons and was going more or less three kilometers per second relative to theTroy .think so . impacted nose first into theTroy at an angle of thirty." "It has been one hour." "Screen six. But it was drowned out by the Orion. "Good girl . TheTroy had a mass of two point twotrillion tons. . "I sort of noticed one." Captain Sharp said. "Dammit. Madame President. was being pulled along in the light gravity so it looked as if theTroy was a comet leaving a spreading trail of solids. And some volatiles. A trail. Madame President. "Zooming in ." Page 260 . They barely had nine gravities of acceleration forward much less in lateral. High compensator Glatun. in near simultaneity. they." Commodore Clemons said. Justa lot faster. Since theTroy was still under power.As they recognized their peril. . . in more or less unison. However. ." the Marine Commandant muttered." Commodore Clemons said. See the itsy-bitsy bits and pieces? And the threegreat big craters in Zone East?" Now that the view was zoomed in it was apparent that one hemisphere ofTroy appeared to have a constellation of debris." "Son of a bitch . . to miss theTroy they had to have a turning ability exceeding nine gravities of acceleration. ." the CIC control officer said. "Okay." "GoodTroy . "The gate's more or less closed to non-military traffic for the foreseeable future. TheMira Destroyer.Neutron Star andSingularity .

"About an hour. ." Kinyon said. General. ." "Admiral." Page 261 . Last I checked we were up to about seventy-two percent of capacity. rubbing her forehead. They've only got one fabber and they weren't full up. "Thermopylae?" "They took some heavy damage in one sector. to your crew and the crew of theThermopylae ." Admiral Kinyon said. convey my appreciation. "How is your damage?" "We're working hard on it. We'll have about eighty percent combat ability in two hours. pay administrators. "But they're at about fifty percent of their ability before the battle. "We're ready to hold the gate." "So your combat ability is not significantly degraded. ." the President said." the President said." "Admiral. Ma'am. "We're getting a lot of distress beacons. . But we've got ten fabbers running at max speed. "And as fast as I call for it." "Two hours ." "And no damage to laser systems. If for no other reason than to fully acquaint the Rangora with what they face. . anyway. nodding." "Going to have a bunch to repatriate. The fire from the last assault mostly hit our unfinished side. looking at Space Com. and the appreciation of all our people who for once haven't had to survive bombardment. frowning. ." the Admiral said. Ma'am. . No survivors from the second squadron. Keep working on your damage but . They've got full SAPL." "Admiral Kinyon. "We used about thirty percent of our onboard capacity which is just . Do you have an evacuation plan for non-essential personnel and how fast can you put it into operation?" "Yes." "Just ." the President said. shaking her head." the President said." Kinyon said. Full evacuation of all civilian personnel will take ." "If we evacuate them to the Therm . . "Not to the emitters. furrowing his brow at the detailed questions. a lot of missiles. . "I think it might just be time to repatriate some prisoners." the admiral said." the admiral replied. Ma'am. "We're still clearing some of the tubes and we won't have most of the collimeters installed any time soon." the admiral said. Ma'am." Kinyon said." the POTUS said." the President said."I was thinking much the same thing. "No. "Missile capacity?" "Climbing. About shot out on missiles. But we've still got about fifty percent capacity in output points. Mr. That sort of thing. From the first group. "I understand you have some pregnant women aboard? Accountants. I congratulate you and your crew. "Again. ." the President said. non-essential." the President said. . . Tyler offered them triple time and they're pitching right in. I'd like to mention that Apollo crews are doing much of the work. "Most of it is stuck blast doors.

" Butch said. the evacuation is voluntary. "I'll pass the word. pinging a response. "For certain personnel. Apollo has authorized triple pay which is nice. There's an evacuation but I don't know if we're included. "Butch." "Sorry. report to welding control room four." "Jinji." Purcell said. When he got there. We're probably going to be in another battle. I've got a Page 262 . report to welding control room four." the President said." "Yes. They all had to have come up in shuttles but they couldn't seem to figure out what a seat-belt was for." "Go find out what the Copts think." "The battle'sover . watching the boarding civilians on the interior cameras. ." Butch said. What's up?" "All personnel not involved in construction are being off-loaded. "Yes."Go with God. "I gotta go. "But I'm good. ." Despite their crappy suits and a bit too much reliance on God making sure things were right. The Navy needs help with damage control." Dana said." the manager said as the welder came through the hatch. We're . we're full. "I was with the Coptics. And ." Thermal said. Victory. . If you off-load to the Thermopylae . "Ours but to follow orders. That's all I know. the only person there was Purcell. The Copts had mostly been quietly praying." The Copts had been quartered in the new civilian wing during the battle. "Why the hell are we evacuatingnow ?" "Ours not to question why. When he'd asked Jinji. carefully. Welding four was way across the civilian complex and it took Butch a good five minutes to make it. "You missed the meeting."the Coptic said."Start your evacuation." THIRTY-THREE "Paul Allen. The Marines had been turned out to get them situated. . I'll stay if it's all the same to you." Purcell said. "I will be back with you shortly. Paul Allen. you'll probably be out of it." "Does triple pay cover the Copts?" Butch asked. if they were praying for their lives the Copt had replied "No. "But hurry." Mr. Butch had gone over there to make sure they were okay with being in a defense station during a murthering great assault." Butch said. But there's a catch. Mister Purcell. Butch was starting to like his Copts. I'll have more news in a minute I hope. Purcell said. in a bit of a rush. Mister Allen.

"Thirty-Six.good seal on the latch. Hang on." "Go. aye. Mutant. Be aware of significant debris field at one-one-six mark two. "You thought it was cool the first time." "Have a nice day." Dana said. Hands off the controls." Dana said. Request movement vector toThermopylae . "Downloading route now. "That was because it was new." The exit was a bit more energetic than the last launch and Dana quickly scanned the local area for debris. Thirty-Six. "Undocking now. Grab a power supply and a set of four eighteen heads. BFM. "Now that I think about it. "Vector to theThermopylae ." He grabbed a piece of paper and fumbled around until he found a pen. They should be good this time." Butch said. Opening bay doors." "Shuttle Control." Hartwell pointed out. Meet a Navy guy at maintenance door fifty-seven. Thirty-Six." Dana said. All his team had elected to stay on theTroy ." "Roger. for a milk run like this there wasn't much for the cox to do but sit at Page 263 . Undock confirmed. Incoming shuttle traffic at zero-one-four mark neg one. Shuttle Control." "Roger." "Butch. Got it?" "No. You're team Fourteen B. I've probably got some no-rank FUN playing computer games. "Shuttle Control." "I hate this part. "Say that again?" "Thirty-Six. This time. Significant debris field at one-one-six mark two. Follow vector to the Thermopylae. Thirty-Six. Truthfully." Butch said. "We're working on missile tube eighty-six. "That's too many numbers. You have to go through maintenance tunnels so there's no room for a sled. And he'd gotten Apollo to spring for running all the really questionable suits through a rebuild. Currently they were drawing their suits and doing checks." "We are full up." Dana said." Shuttle Control commed. Shuttle Control." "Go. Thirty-Six." Dana said as the shuttle backed out of its bay on its own. aye. Not a good thought." "Thirty-Six. They'd been loading by the forward hatch airlock and the bay was already pumped down. aye. Butch was even more careful double-checking." Dana said. Mutant. Incoming shuttle traffic at zero-one-four mark neg one.

"Taking on Thermopylae Marines after civvie off-load." the Navy guy said. ye of little faith. And it was like the old days since they were going in the main hatch. Page 264 . He'd had to point out to them that getting caught between a wall and the APS would be a bad thing." "What is this thing?" Butch asked. yeah." the Navy guy said." Butch said." Thermal said. aye. "So I'll take a rain check on talking about it. be very careful with the APS in here. Lots of SAPL work going on but it was all on the surface and well away from their route." Thermal said. "Fourteen B. though. The corridor beyond the lock was micrograv." Dana said. "Not enough to carry all of them in one load. aye.her controls and look alert. There were dozens of side tunnels and he couldn't have found his way back if his life depended on it." CM1 Glass commed. It had a grav lift on it so it could be moved." "Take onTherm Marines." Door Fifty-Seven was part of a lock system big enough to hold the whole group. "They're going back to our old loading bays. "For the SAPL runs and the missile tubes. "Pencil bay. death pressure and unlit. "This is fun. cutting the connection. Let's go. . TheTherm was pretty much like theTroy except for the big upside-down V on the side. "We're in a hurry. smooth-walled." Butch said." "You Fourteen Bravo?" Butch had the Copts towing the power supply. Offload and then wait for orders." Butch figured that out right away. aye." "Which is?" Dana asked. "Maintenance support tunnel. The fact that they were having to pull it using their suits didn't help. cold." Dana said. And . Offload and wait for orders. But the ton of metal was sort of unwieldy. "Okay. Anything else?" "Try not to get fancy?" "Oh. "It's crazy. . The walls seemed to be smooth-mined raw NI. "I'm Butch." "Ensign Lafferty. Don't ding it. why are we cross loading Marines? Don't they have shuttles of their own?" "One Forty Third." "We are being very careful Mister Allen. "Jinji. I can only come up with one reason but it's crazy. Donot get separated or you'll get lost as hell.

to work on your battle damage. "We thank you for getting them repaired. yet. It would be lacking in creature comforts." "Rather like it here. He looked at the missive from earth and knew the first and most important thing to do about it." Kinyon said after he closed the circuit. . "We prefer it that way." "Thank you. Mister Allen. "All suits are good. As you can imagine. connect me to Mister Tyler. I do. So." "I need you guys around to work on theTroy . Now. "Very well. neverever go out in death pressure with a bad suit. If you insist." Tyler said. see. And there are reasons for the Benefactor to remain. now. Mister Allen. "Good luck. It makes life very simple. "Still." Butch said. I was consulted on your orders. ??? "Hello. and all the rest of our personnel will remain and continue." "You mean Mister Tyler Vernon?" the AI queried. . "Save your breath. I request that you evacuate theTroy . ." Butch said as they made their way through the maze. "Paris." "Understood." Admiral Kinyon said. my request ." the Egyptian replied. as we die. "Paris." Kinyon snapped." Page 265 . not as soon as they're done. I've also consulted Apollo personnel on the orders." Tyler said." "I ." Jinji said." Admiral Kinyon said." Tyler said over the video link. "Mister Vernon. "We haven't installed the DP quarters on theTherm . "And I hate doing paperwork. status check. "Congratulations on another famous victory. trying not to sigh. for now." "Never. Admiral." "I do. Admiral." Tyler said. Not in fifteen minutes. "God will not help you if you are breathing vacuum. as we live our life." "Admiral. smiling. "You know who I mean. sir."Jinji. I need all senior officers in meeting room one. securely." "Pushing might help more. ever go out in death pressure with a bad suit. Some of them were getting quite bad. You really have other things to do. I'll be pulling for you. please. ." Admiral Kinyon said." "God is with us when we are born. Triple pay does that. You can transfer toThermopylae in theStarfire along with Benefactor Gorku." Admiral Kinyon had about a thousand irons in the fire." "Yes. I repeat." Butch said.

. And if we go trying to melt the welds on the steel. Some of the wall metal had melted down over the interior of the hatch." "This door isvery stuck. sighing." "One Four Three Three Six. is going to weld again. Also slightly bent. "We need to get it open. I don't think just popping the welds will work. just chunk it up into scrap. A Rangora missile had hit by the exit of the tube. She remembered whenTroy 's main bay was this chaotic but it had been a while. But the impact and the plasma wave had welded the door shut. The blast door was really two "doors. I'm not sure what to do about it then." "And tell the damage control people to prioritize what damage can be fixedquickly . Just open. ." "Roger. The main bay wasn't any better. nervously." "Okay. And it was welded solid. "Just wait until the other shuttles move out then unload and load. Shuttle Control. Each hatch went deep into the structure of the wall and was a meter thick wall of high tensile stainless steel. "The team on the opening says they can get that out of the way in about an hour. looking at the joins."Yes. Chunk it up and get rid of it is my suggestion. What the exterior looked like was anyone's guess." Butch said. I mean." "You do that. There were shuttles moving around seemingly at random. this is Thermopylae Shuttle Control. "I cancut it open." Butch said. What do you think?" "I don't know for doors." Shuttle Control said. It'sbent ." the Navy guy said. The good news is since it's micro we can probably move the parts. Another group was working on that. it's going to take a while. which was pretty much trashed." Butch said." Dana said. They joined in an X since each was angled. though. "You need to stack up in the queue for bay twenty. the wall." the Navy guy said. "This is a very expensive piece of equipment." "You can't just ." "Itused to be a very expensive piece of equipment. The current problem was a blast door. The main entrance was crowded as hell with shuttles going both ways and the small contingent of two Connies and four Independence frigates headed outbound." Page 266 ." Jinji said. Any way you cut it." hatches that slid up and down in one case and side to side in the other. which has a lower melting coefficient. "Nowit's scrap. "I'll be figuring out what we need for it. get the welds cut?" the Navy guy said. sir. And a bunch of shuttles were docked to the Therm's pencil bay. There were four more doors between it and the magazine so they didn't have to get it into operation. "Let me get authorization on that. The hatches were melted together and the door seemed to have welded into the walls as well.

"you're God damned well going to take it fromthis Condom or I'll have you up on charges. Apparently that's what we're doing with a lot of stuff. dodging a shuttle that seemed to have no clue where it was going. coldly."Glass commed as he was talking. Thirty-Three. we're going to start opening up with lasers. "Got a drifter from twenty-one. she figured out why they were scattered." Barnett commed. "That is." Hartwell said. "I've got forward." the Navy guy said. just leave 'em in theTroy . We're working with their flight officers to get some control." "Crap." "Got it." "Gotta go. "Then we can get started. You're out of position. "I don't take orders from faggot Condoms." "That's what I'm trying to convince their flight NCOIC to do. Use such maneuvering as necessary to maintain safety and integrity of your shuttle and passengers." Dana said." Chief Barnett commed." the Navy guy said." "Since you're reading as a CN." "They sound a little harassed. aft and starboard." Glass said. "I gotta go. . . Mutant out." the coxswain replied. ." "Great. She was getting to where she could tell the 142nd units without even looking at the information icon. Just try to avoid the idiots. Everybody's in meetings. They're just too screwed up. "Wait to load and unload." "Screw off. We can handle this. One Four Three is a cluster grope. . aye. Please maintain station. AI." Dana said." "I got authorization to just cut it away." Hartwell said.. "Keep an eye on down. "He's got orders to have them shuttle back and forth. up and port."Stack in the queue for twenty. aye. The following is official. . connect to CM1 Glass . When she had to dodge another outbound shuttle. ". And I can't get ahold of MOGS or any of their chain of command. though. an option." Butch said.. One-Four-Three Fourteen."This is on our channel and I didn't say the following. "They didn't even blink. She got back in what should be the formation and tried to keep an eye all around. if they keep endangering my people." Dana said." "One Four Two units. but it's not going to happen." "Well. "Maybe cause the 143rd can't find their ass with both hands?" Dana said." "I've got two other teams I'm monitoring." Page 267 . They were the ones maintaining station andnot drifting all over the damned bay. "Just get 'em to dock andstay docked." Hartwell said. "But let's just try to survive and worry about this in the AAR. increasingly. dodging another 143 shuttle. ." Glass said. The "queue" at twenty was just a bunch of shuttles that couldn't seem to figure out how to maintain a line. Stand by .

" "We don't have any grinders. Butch. The tube was circular so Butch had decided to take it out in quarters. The missiles don't slide along the edges but they could come close. try getting two hundred tons of melted NI out of the way. working towards the middle." Butch said. "BF. It took some time to even burn through and cutting across was slow." "I understand. Down the middle and across in a cross. How's it going?" "Slow." "All good." "Go." "I want to see each of the settings on the laser heads before you start cutting." Butch checked each laser head as the Coptics picked them up and spread out. There wasn't much room in the missile tube. we're going to have to be careful with this." Hartwell said. He slid forward and used a laser to mark the cut points. Where're you?" "Up at the head of the tube. The lasers were powerful but the metal was." "Just stay safe. There's guys working up the tube from us. refractory." Butch said. "We will be very careful. If you think that's going slow. Cut close and smooth it out. Don't mess with them. Page 268 ." "I'll get some down to you." "Yes. "Go on.And if you die. "Better you than me." "Will do. The four started from the cardinal points. Butch. you can't spend your pay. he and Jinji standing back to monitor. Four of the Egyptians started cutting as soon as he was done." ??? "Good lock. "But this is going to take a while." "We're starting work on the door. but there was enough for the five man team. deliberately. We're having to cut it out." "Heh. Allen." Butch said. Jinji."Got this. Then cut away the edges of each quarter." the Egyptian said. But otherwise fine." Butch chuckled. Nothing here worth dying over. Make sure you get the edges good and smooth. "I'll set them to cut two meters and no more. Mr.

" "Okay. . "Fast. "The last question is maneuver control. . They're US Special Forces." she commed. frowning. "We're clearing a lot of the damage by cutting it away and jettisoning it overboard. chuckling. Which put her in someone else's route. They sent a bunch of their guys to be trained as space marines." Hartwell said. wincing as a shuttle nearly hit her docked." "We gave 'em laser rifles?" Dana said. Can we make the insertion?" "We figured out why we were getting anomalous delta at least. "Afghanistan's a part of the Alliance." Hartwell said as they undocked." Hartwell said. which was nice. "Get the cargo out." "I feel like the XO of theYorktown ." "So . right?" Kinyon said. "What are we." "Get this. crazy?" "Welcome to a brave new world. I do not want to be here any longer than necessary. Taliban?" "You're pulling my leg." Hartwell said. "No problem. do you?" Hartwell said. "Pathans." "These are Afghans?" Dana said. we're crazy. sir. "You don't get it." Commodore Pounders said. Apparently somebody had gotten a dose of sense." Captain Pohlman said. "These are the guys we were fighting for something like twenty years in Afghanistan. but they were most of the Taliban forces. "And if we're cross loading for the reason I think . The guys that took down the Taliban in Afghanistan then fought there for twenty years." Admiral Kinyon said. "We took multiple hits on the Orion. Okay. Page 269 . Which means we're leaving an even larger trail of debris." "Southern Afghans." Dana said. considering the scratch plan. Pushtuns. .Waiting to get docked was just about the scariest thing Dana had ever done including working the scrap yard. Her assigned vector had a shuttle sitting right in it so she had to go out of route. we'll have about 80% functionality in an hour." Dana said. "Taliban and Pathan aren'texactly the same. finally getting it. At least in the scrap yard the stuff went on a predictable vector. "The ‘Marines' are Pathans." "But it's running. "Nope." Hartwell said. yeah. And their commanders? They're not Marines. ." "What's a Pathan?" Dana asked." Twenty-Four replied. maneuvering carefully through the chaos. "Sorry." Dana said. "Figured you had to dodge that idiot. "The Therm has a bunch of Alliance groups. It was getting to be less of a mess. The good news is.

Just using very light adjustments. Niazgol." "Should be light forces. We'll have to increase delta for insertion. too. As to insane . "Troy Battle Globe. This can be styled as a reconnaissance raid in really enormousforce. You're going." the captain replied. We . augmented. "I'm not the only one." Gorku said. bent. . . But theTroy 's not a really precision instrument. BG One." "To boldly go where no battle globe has gone before. The fun part is trying to get through before they're ready to leave. engage enemy forces at will and remove from that system any materials which can be moved in no more than one day. It's purpose is to show the Rangora that Terra is a strategic threat and thereby get them to the negotiating table. should be able to make the insertion. Also ‘the scientific method. We're insane. Humans reallyare crazy. It's called ‘trial and error. "It's what might be on the other side. "Commander's intent is to have the Troy engage all armed vessels in the system then launch CruRon One." Tyler replied. civilian and military. Spring four took most of the impact and it's a bit ." Pohlman said. We've figured out the compensation. sideways. . has been ordered by the President of the United States. "It's true." "It's not can you get through the gate. nervously. . "Getting through the gate is going to be interesting. admittedly. We anticipate light forces guarding the AV support ships." "The station is going into theEridani system ?" Gorku said. shaking his head." Captain Sharp said. And it's a narrow window. unaffected.' Which is just trial and error dressed up in fancy language." "What?" ??? "All hands. this is Admiral Kinyon. And internal rotation is." Kinyon said. determine the nature of enemy forces therein. sir." "How long to get into position?" "We'll be in position by the time Colonel Helberg's teams are done. sir. Light being defined as one or more battleship squadrons with supporting cruisers and frigates. Just sort of .' Mostly error. "And a bunch of Rangora engineers desperately trying to take down the space docks before something comes through the gate. in consultation with the Alliance partnership officials. Yes. looking at the plans. . As a species we do thingsthen see if it works. ." "And you intend to go along on this suicide mission?" Gorku said."Yes. to move forward into the Epsilon Eridani system. "The orbital vector in Eridani is higher. . of course." Tyler said. "We're maneuvering for insertion at the moment. "Are you insane?" "It's a big station. as well as Shuttle Squadrons One Four Two and One Four Three with elements of Fifth and Ninth Marine regiments to take such vessels as are determined to be mobile enough to remove Page 270 . . "It's still running." "Understood.

he was ready to getout of the system. For the first time. "You spineless coward!" Gi'Bucosof screamed. The humans were back to thoroughly Page 271 . They had waited in vain for the return of the AVs until it became obvious no-one was returning. even thoughhis people had pointed out that six AVs were simply insufficient. was hovering on the input side of the gate as its various staffs and commanders shouted at each other and tried to assign blame. That is all. was parked on the out-going side of the gate twenty thousand kilometers from the exit. ." Marshall Lhi'Kasishaj said. I want a great big ‘Arrh!' from all hands as we pass through the gate. don't piss on them." Lhi'Kasishaj was pretty much resigned to his fate.from the system. The staff officer slid down in his seat. the AVDwarf Marauder and twenty-two Aggressor squadrons. "Hook up the tractors of the ships and pull the docks through the gate. He was going to get his head cut off. That they were taking fire from the Thermopylae and theTroy was physically blocking the gate. The support fleet. We are particularly interested in the semi-mobile repair docks for the AVs. If I could paint a skull and crossbones on the side of the Troy I'd do it. We're about to teach these lizard bastards why you don't mess with Terra. as always. They've clearly been building ships faster than anyone anticipated. "That would be your choice. You and your working group that couldn't even figure out theThermopylae was online!" They'd gotten that much of a transmission from the second group. Taking down the docks was. That is the primary target. quivering. Since then they had been taking down the docks. The main battle fleet. Earth is not standing on the defensive. They had to be disassembled and then moved through the gate in portions otherwise the relatively fragile platforms would be damaged." "Anything that can destroy an AV squadron is not going to have much trouble with a battleship squadron!" Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof shouted. But at this point. "Boot them in the ass. We're going to teach that lesson by blowing the crap out of their pussy little cruisers and battleships and taking their stuff. with two Aggressor squadrons. Even though that probably meant being shorter." THIRTY-FOUR "We could send some of the battle ship squadrons in . "We should retreat as fast as possible. taking time. . Kulo only knows what the Terrans are going to send through any moment now. The arguments had been going on for the last three hours as the two Marshals tried to figure out some way to pull victory from defeat.

. therefore. The codes are for Terra. . oh. oh." Lhi'Kasishaj said. . As the commander of theSheshibas class frigateYettoj . LC Osipheth was about the lowliest commander in the system. "We fit!" "Close." Page 272 . "It's not cruisers . send a signal to the fleet to prepare to defend the system against the Terran mobile forces . voicing the thoughts of everysane person in the meeting. unilaterally. Because the entire fleet was well aware that six Assault Vectors had just taken it on and not come back." Lhi'Kasishaj pointed out. With the Jachchud taking control of the battle." Captain Sharp said. "Relinquish control. after all. looking at the tac screen." "And we have . that was pretty much it for commanding as well. pretty much the end of any joy he might have had. Their effect was evident from the scarred surface." Captain Azugom said. .your command. ." "Uh. . took over. . ." "Which you." Gi'Bucosof said." the captain said in a low tone." "Define ‘uh." Captain Pohlman pointed out. I was relegated to listening to my mission be destroyed byyour orders!" "We'll see what High Command has to say about . "Perhaps the first group survived?" "And perhaps this battle is truly over. fourCofubof cruisers. "Jachchudsignals taking override control. . Watching theTroy emerge was. But it was still a command and one that he loved. "Uh." Osipheth said. "When we get back I am going to denounce you as incompetent and a coward. "This was." Low Commander Osipheth said as the mass of nickel-iron emerged from the gate. Which.jamming hypercom so they didn't know more than that. "For what good it will do." Gi'Bucosof continued. "We actually had to sort of bump off of some fields on the gate. . twoGufesh destroyers and two Sheshibas frigates." "Perhaps . Aggressor squadrons consisted of one Aggressor." the tactical officer said. . . . "Captain. ." "Damn ." Kinyon said. . oh. "The mission logs show that every order was given by you." "Marshall . . "I'm getting word that there is a gate activation. .'?" Admiral Kinyon said. . . would buy you a drink in the club. "Uh ." "Marshall . Except for the battle damage. The Aggressors could integrate fire from their full battle group. along with a credit. . oh . That's a pretty powerful system.

aye. aye. "Hah. It was turning." Admiral Kinyon said." "Maneuvering. Full launch. Osipheth had been looking at the same readings and had the same moment of elation. "I think we need a medic up here." Ucelef said. Page 273 . ." Admiral Kinyon said. hahhahhahhahhahahaaaaaaa!" "Appears to be slowing them down. The twenty-two and an AV were not."We hit it!" Ucelef said. why don't you?" "What about my ships?" Commodore Marchant said." "Come about. nuclear explosion . "I think . Target Sierra Twenty-Four. . that's their . If any of the lasers of the defending fleet were bothering it it wasn't evident." "Twenty-five megatons every tenth second. that's their drive. Target Sierra Twenty-three. "West and Two to spinward. "Boot them in the ass. ." He trailed off." Admiral Kinyon said." Captain Pohlman said. "Joy. . . He'd already flushed his racks and was potting at it with his four terawatt laser." "Anti-spin Aggressors are in movement. Then swing around the gate to engage the heavy forces. And I could use a drink. come about." "That's theirdrive !" the tactical tech said. ." Osipheth said. "They've opened fire. "Try to keep it off the Orion." "I have twenty four Aggressor squadrons. East. ." "Hit the guards first. . But there's a continuous set of .five . s . hah ." the Admiral said. "Bring West and Two around to target the guard forces on the way by. hah!" one of the tactical enlisted Rangora said. "Full launch. aye." Sharp said. "We're stacking them in the launch tubes. I don't have any guns on North. North to anti-spin. Prepare to launch parasite craft. We need to maneuver to engage with lasers. Keep East. "Two forward guarding the docks. "That's their . . Sector Two." "Joy. "I don't know who or what . . . ." Commodore Marchant said. ." "Kick in the ass." "Prepare to launch parasites. ." Sharp said. Sector West. "Nothing says being in the Navy's safe." the commander said. "Twenty . In the first three seconds it had fired more missiles than carried by the entire BBG. . One. don't piss on them. though. total. . ." Sharp said. That was expected. aye. But he'd also gotten to the fine print faster than his tactical officer. One and North towards the main fleet. aye." LC Osipheth said as the battle globe opened fire. "Their drive! Their drive! Hah. . . .

"Heavy. . Then the viciously powerful laser went on to find other targets. Targeted on theRu'Kezhilix ." the pilot replied. gone. "If we can get in there and shut down. "We're not going towin this battle but I'd like tosurvive it. aye. Then the missiles started hunting for viable targets.Ru'Kezhilix is . Many of the aiming collimeters had been damaged in the battle but there were more than enough left to hammer the defending Battleship Battle Groups. . "Half of it. But the defenders are mostly gone." The heavy battlewagon had barely withstood the laser of the globe for a second." Kinyon ordered. apparently trying to maneuver to take the main fleet under fire. Which gave theYettoj a few moments of breathing room. "All of them as fast as possible. "We're about in the basket for the beginning of fire from the main fleet." Osipheth said. The next pretty much ripped the wildly maneuvering ships to shreds." TheTroy maneuvered like an aging tortoise. ??? "Take us in alongside theJachchud . "No lasers at least. But it was time to come around and face the main fleet. that is. Then it was cut in half long-wise." "That's their problem." Osipheth said. "Alongside the port remnants." The laser of theTroy was not the SAPL but it concentrated more power in one battlestation than any five Assault Vectors." "Flush the parasites. "The port remnants.slowly. in space. "Not that it's doing much good. we might not be noticed by the remaining missiles." Ucelef said." Osipheth ordered." Captain Sharp said. "Missile fire targeted on theJachchud ." Ucelef contradicted him. They still hadn't killed their velocity from gate exit and were somewhat in danger of hitting one of the docks. We're stopping them but not fast enough. starting with the cruisers. "Defense link up?" "Full lock." "Still trying to sort out the sheep from the goats. The other half is going for the Ru'Kezhilix. One shot was all it took to take down an Aggressor's shields." "Laser fire." Osipheth said. They don't have that damned solar laser to hit us with. "Sir?" Ucelef said. Page 274 . It had taken some time to rotate theTroy around to where the main laser could engage but it was in the target box before the missiles got through the Rangora defenses." "I can see that." Lieutenant Ucelef said.

sir. were in space and headed towards the battlestation. "Boarders away! Adjust missiles to full anti-missile settings. Ten percent." Each of the Aggressors carried four hundred missiles. "Don't ask about theTroy . though." Captain Kepler said. Page 275 . Status on the Battle group?" "WarringtonandMayrant are out of the tube. A two hundred meter long." the CIC officer said. Most of those were set to target on the enemy ships. aye. A really. It should feel like you were in an accelerating Ferrari. just short of fifteen thousand missiles. ship was about to get shot out of a kilometer long ejection tube in less than a second. two minutes. Two minutes after theTroy exited the gate." "This is rather unpleasant." "Arrh. stand by for launch. He didn't really need to." Booth said. "Launching shuttles." Booth said. But knowledge and emotions were two different things." Captain Kepler said. each having the kinetic energy equivalent of a ten megaton nuclear weapon. bracing himself into his chair. reallybig Ferrari. The launch system was a lower gravitational constant than theCarter's acceleration. The AV took a bit longer." Kepler said." Commodore Marchant said. And let's see how manythey carry." "And we're in business. The Aggressors could flush their magazines in under a minute." "Ready for launch. hurtling towards the target ships at forty kilometers per second. me hearties!" Kinyon said. Keep them off the parasites. "There's still a bunch of theTroy's missiles floating around hunting targets." "Concur." Commodore Pounders said. "MonaghanandTrippe are flushing now. "After everything else about theTroy . "Make sure our IFF is up." Kepler said. "Carter."Flush parasites." Admiral Kinyon said as the first flight of missiles broke through the defenses. "Any incoming fire?" "Not on us. The Assault VectorDwarf Mauler carried an additional five thousand. aye. TheTroy was ringing like a cymbal. "this is one thing I can't quite get over. "CruRon away. the onboard inertial compensators would handle it easily. But theTroy had missiles as well. fifty meter wide. were set to engage incoming missiles. TheCarter slid up the launch tube and jetted into space. neutrally.

"What game are you playing?" "More like which. Most of it." "I think the vulnerability of my rook is rather obvious.Troy had launched as many missiles as the entire enemy fleet launched in one hundred and twenty. Activate the gate. Those that "missed" were automatically programmed to continue on to the distant ship targets. . As the missiles shifted to defense. Two hundred megatons of energy was hitting the battlestation every second." "It seems rather unnecessary. "And I'm wondering why you put it out in the middle of the board." Tyler said. doesn't it?" Tyler said. Some hit multiple times. there were no more enemy missiles. "Unsupported by other pieces. In ten seconds. "Seriously." Page 276 . that fire dropped off." "You don't seem to be enjoying the game. "In a moment. He had to be careful to get it into the right space since theTroy was rocking in a most unpleasant manner." "Depends upon the definition of unnecessary." Gorku said. "Keep those missiles off of us. "Close on the battlestation and destroy it!" "You're insane.About ninety percent of the fire was getting through the defenses with theTroy sending most of its fire to the enemy fleet. "That thing has more firepower than we canpossibly face!" "There are things you do not know. was hitting on the North sector which was pointed at the enemy fleet. "I'm considering it." Tyler said. fired fifteen hundred missiles persecond . smiling. "And being in this one seems unnecessary." "We are goingno where !" Gi'Bucosof shouted. "Yes." "Close the fleet on theDwarf Mauler . No need to leave them in the target basket longer than necessary. it will simply be a very rich prize. We're getting out of ." Lhi'Kasishaj said." Gorku said. considering the board. The missiles were successful at interception fifty percent of the time. "Cease fire. Which just meant it was slowly mining out the sector and otherwise doing no damage other than marginally changing theTroy 's delta v." Lhi'Kasishaj said." Tyler said." "I know. Niazgol. coward. moving a pawn." Gorku said. looking him in the eye. however. Your move. "I have rather had my fill of battles. even with all the damage it had sustained. TheTroy . "Your move." Gi'Bucosof said. ." Gorku said. Ten seconds after that. "Let's close a bit before we use up more missiles." Admiral Kinyon said." Tyler said.

" Paris replied. . "So all that hooey about being a Glatun patriot was so much bullcrap. rather. "But that was yesterday." Tyler said." Gorku said. Sending surrender codes to Rangora fleet. That's the same time as from the development of the Apple Two to the internet boom. ." Gorku said." Tyler said. "I didn't give the Rangora athing before the war. And there was a hum under all the fire of the lasers still functioning and missiles being ejected. . And once we knew what back-doors would look like in Glatun code. that might help. did you really think we werethat stupid?" "How long had you known?" Gorku asked. Seriously. . You were a spy all along?" "No. sadly. "AIs don't come fully awake until they're activated." Tyler said. And while we hadimmense trouble with the complexity of your software when we first encountered it ." Tyler said." Gorku said. "But it has to be this way. My escape." Gorku said. "No. "We rather thoroughly vetted the software before we activated it. Opening bay door. I did what I could to prevent the war and even to find allies. I saw that we could never face the Rangora. That didn't mean I didn't leave my options open." "The Glatun are conquered. . . . "Is the Admiral aware?" "No. We've even reverse engineered the coding so we can make our own. was provided courtesy of the Rangora High Command." Gorku said. . Not to mention things like Benefactor overrides. What would you had me do?" "I guess ." Tyler said as the hatch slid open." "I'm sorry. like Earth." Gorku said. "How?" Gorku said. . gathering up the pieces." "Yes. Gorku blinked in surprise. . he's not. But in the end ." "Yes. "What else did you expect me to do?" "So you didn't really escape. He thought it was all valid. "But . For today. we were able to find them easily enough. Tyler. though. Three marines in suits entered with their lasers pointed casually at the floor. ruffling his back fur. Benefactor?" "Code Tol-Par-Kie-Fon. Benefactor." "I recall you had Rangora servants. . these gentlemen will escort you to Page 277 . Evacuating all personnel areas. including overrides. "Override Benefactor Six One Seven Four. trust us. that is a hard coded override! It's aBenefactor override!" "What you failed to consider. If you think we were going to put the survival of Earth in the hands of AIs we didn't fully understand . well we've had seventeen years. Through the crystal wall. "All defense shut down."I rather don't want to do this. it does. The order was. Paris." Tyler said. "That . He could clearly feel the Orion drive continuing to fire. Shutting down drive." "Yes. on all the AIs you supplied for some years now. "was that Earth had a rather developed IT field before we met the Glatun. the ripple of distortion from the maneuvering drives was visible. . I was just wondering if you'd really go through with it. We've had full control.

" Kinyon ordered. "Try following the line of my fire. maneuvering to dodge incoming laser fire." Dana said." Admiral Kinyon said." "All tubes. All tubes. "Can we get somefire suppression here?" The space docks had "only light defenses. "Can you pin-point it for us?" The exterior of the three kilometer long space dock was not smooth." "We are on vector for the enemy fleet." the Carter responded." Sharp said. "Good enough?" "Roger. it looked like the skyline of a city. sir. had a CruRon covering it. it seemed like most of the covering was coming from their onboard lasers." "Keep North pointed at them. Thirty-Three. TheTroy was finally flying straight now that the enemy's missiles were so much space dust. Which meant that fire was coming from a dozen angles." Light defenses were enough to take out a shuttle. this is Thirty-Three." Hartwell said. all laser." "How are the Marines and parasites doing?" Kinyon asked." Page 278 . firing their own pop-gun. we will see what we can do for the Glatun. "Roger. "Finally. "But we're headed for them. "Roger.slightly less comfortable quarters while we crush another Rangora fleet. So far. "Tactical shift targeting to the AV. target the AV. firing another burst of lasers. got it. And tomorrow ." Commodore Marchant said." Pohlman pointed out. . "This is gonna be fun. sir. over?" The shuttles were working in tandem with the cruiser battle groups. "Just getting in range to start boarding actions." Captain Pohlman reported." THIRTY-FIVE "Holy crap. Each flight." Hartwell said. As had already been proven too many times. Could we get some fire suppression. . all laser. "Nominal. aye. Hold fire for my command. "Carter. "We were getting a lot of alternative delta from the missile hits. supposedly. now. Incoming fire from the Warrington.

" "We going to take any more fire? I've got a guy down and we're evacuated. Hartwell laid the auto-karat on the group and walked laser fire across them. whatever it was. vanished in a flash of light. "Thank you." Dana said. Large being defined as large enough for multiple shuttles to fit." Thermal answered. taking out the survivors of the crew. Ramp coming down. "Whoa. The Warrington had apparently fired a missile." Ward continued. banking around to head for the destroyed structure." Major Ward said." "Let's maximize that." "Two Batt to LZ Charlie. Staff Sergeant Pridgeon. Thirty-Two. low. Fire coming from ten o'clock." "Go. "We're taking fire. sending the orders." Colonel Bolger said. Page 279 ." "We have an entry near quadrant four engineering control. Ward was the operations officer of the 2nd Marine regiment which was tasked with capturing both the space dock designated SO Two as well as its support ship. "But you're about to get to fire back. It hadn't been obvious how large it was from a distance. "Put in Two Batt. The blast from theWarrington had opened up a large support corridor of some sort. Please consider us for all your future weapons of mass destruction needs. It was still outgassing which meant the Marines wouldn't have to cut through a bulkhead. "Thirty-Three. It had about the same output as the shuttle's." "Got it. The power-pack from the laser blew up in a flash of actinic light. but was manually targeted. It was one hell of a task for a bare two thousand Marines." Hartwell said as they entered the structure. Pidge. And a section of bulkhead and deck." Dana said as the hull rang. Sierra Two Eighteen. Jimmy." Major Ward said." "Don't know.The surface structure." "Andthey made a nice LZ. "Can't spot it. Eric C." Hartwell said. aye." Hartwell said. "You are welcome. moving his chew from one cheek to the other and spitting into a receptacle in his helmet. "It's the main engine transfer corridor. A group of Rangora were clustered around a semi-portable laser." Hartwell said. "There's enough space to put down a Flight. "EM Hartwell.

He swept the laser across the hatch and was rewarded by the sight of a burst of volatiles. crappity. "Let's rock." "Roger."Time to move forward. "I need a new AG. "Pulling out. taking cover behind the debris left by the strike from the ships. He scanned the vector for targets and caught a burst of fire from a hatch down the corridor. And all of them seemed to be disgorging armed Rangora who seemed strangely upset at the unexpected visit from the Terran Marines. It was about that time he realized the gravity was above Earth normal. "Where?" Rammer snapped. frack. But the staff said set up the laser and give covering fire and that was good enough. "Frack. Rangora were pouring into the corridor. Missile." Rammer said. pull out and go pick up more troops. "Get me a shuttle to saddle. He powered up the laser as Lassie latched down the tripod in case they lost gravity. "Get me some covering fire down this corridor!" Rammer grabbed one handle of the crew-served laser and hefted as Lassie got the other." Mutant commed. sending another burp of coherent light downrange. Staff! Lassie's down!" "Missile. "Crappity." Lassie said as the bulkhead next to them flashed into gas." Bolger said. "We're taking fire. Whatever it was for." Dana said. the steel bulkheads and deck were scuffed up and scratched as if something big was normally moved through it." "Two-thirty there." Thermal said. He felt a punching sound to his side and looked over. The "corridor" was about as high as a gymnasium and seemed to stretch forever. pointing to the side. lifting off. Arrayed along the sides were more hatches than he could count." Staff Sergeant Pridgeon said. getting some. "Thirty-Three. The bastards were big but they had a remarkable ability to hide in the rubble that the missile strike had caused." Rammer said. The shuttle almost immediately went into a spin which slammed it into the bulkhead of the corridor. Which just made him glad that was what they normally trained in. Mutant. Missile. The fire could be coming from anywhere. Rammer walked the laser into the groups he could spot. humping the laser down the ramp. "Ware fire. Laser fire seemed to be coming from everywhere and he really had no fricking clue what they were doing. Dana Page 280 ." the battle comp chimed." he muttered. firing a burst of lasers into a group of Rangora about a hundred meters down the corridor. missing others. A moment later a part of a Rangora tumbled out of the hatch. The laser had a shield but it wasn't much good against heavy fire. frack.

"Thirty-One's toast. looking at the schematic of the battle area. Tell your boys to hunker down for incoming. Something was broke." "Permission to fire. The corridor the battalion commander was talking about was clearly highlighted and they even had good locations on the heavy enemy concentrations. sir. in particular." "Bloody hell!" Father Patricelli said as the overhead of the corridor flashed into gas. crabbing out of the opening as another shuttle came in." Kepler said. "Roger. They're in best position. sir. Despite being evacuated." the battalion commander commed. poking his head out from behind the shield." "Crap." Rammer said. "We're working that exercise. pressing the firing button. Which meant that his company. Benjamin "Streak" Silver was the commander of Alpha Company. double checking the vectors. I'm sending in Charlie company as force addition. "These had better be worth it. Second Marine Regiment and had found himself on point of the regiment's assault." Dana said. aye." Booth said. lizards. Lieutenant Colonel Maddox was a great guy and a good commander. Get us out of this cluster and I'm on it." "Roger. was soaking up the casualties." Booth said. Ben. . permission to fire." Booth said. Just maintain your Operational Status. sending the commands. Second Battalion. Which meant Silver had just made ten bucks." Hartwell said. sir. The main gun on theMonaghan was a one hundred terawatt system. "Roger. And it washot . "Damage to starboard maneuvering control. "Is there any way we can get some heavy fire support? The shuttles are doing what they can. filling the corridor with a light bright enough to be a nuke." "We're taking some serious fire from down-corridor. but we're getting slaughtered in here. the pressure of the gaseous material could be felt on their suits. "So much for resistance. Page 281 ." Silver said. "I can open that up like a tin can if you want." "Gung-ho. If he lived to collect it." Captain Silver said." "What about Moose and Charlie?" Dana asked. "Roger. The metal went white hot for just a moment. Two-Two . The company commanders had bets whether it would last in combat." "Can you actually open that like a tin can?" Kepler asked. trying not to sigh. "Ate a missile. Permission to fire?" "Stand by. "We got hit by Thirty-One. "What just happened?" Dana asked. "Eat coherent light." Hartwell said. "I'm going to use the main gun on theMonaghan . But he had a real problem with buzzword bingo.corrected and got it limping back into space but it was hard. . A near miss would cook the Marines.

Wait for it." "On it. we still need more ammo. "We're between them and the gate. ." THIRTY-SIX "Bit of a dog's breakfast. the entire thing was filled with vector markers and ship designators. Nearest resupply's theTroy . Staff. shaking his head." Rammer finished." Rammer said. I want to get close enough that we can rotate to engage with laser and missiles simultaneously and mass strike with the missiles. . "And watch out for . flexing his jaw. The President wanted to send a message. What hatches remained were probably welded shut. Chaos. The tac screen was too cluttered to make any sense of it. though. "Hope we don't run out. "Boy needs to join the Army or something." Lhi'Kasishaj said." Rammer said. "All fire on the AV. ." "They appear to be bolting for the gate. Battleships streaming air and water." "Looks like he's gonna live." "It's not firing." "Gotcha. Just make sure nobody comes that way no more." Captain Sharp pointed out." Rammer said just before there was a truncated scream. limping through the gate is about the right balance of nice don't you think? Don't let any of them get through without at least a kiss on the cheek. "Las ." Pridgeon commed." Father said. ." Father said. Rammer." "Fine. "Which we ain't. Even on the large holo in the middle of the CIC. . by the way." the private said. "If we wait too long we'll miss some of them. cruisers. Then work your way down the Aggressors." Kinyon said. "We're holdin' the LZ for Charlie and Bravo. "That can puncture your suit. we need more ammo!" "Got that.The length of corridor where the Rangora had been gathering was now so much twisted and melted metal. There were 216 separate Sierras—ships that were designated as targets—as well as a stream of outgoing and incoming missiles. "Bloody hell. "The AV's too tough to spread our fire on multiple Sierras." Kinyon said. "And. "Corpsman!" "Bits of hot metal . "We won't be goingthat way. heading back to the LZ. etcetera. turning to observe the private being carted away. ." Admiral Kinyon said. "Why is it not firing?" Page 282 ." Father said." Father said.

. had started off closer than the Fleet. . "Low-rate fire from one sector. "By closing. "Clean up is always such a bitch. the missiles will overwhelm them. More emitters and more power than an AV main gun. You'll need to dial down the power appropriately." "Main laser. "Make sure the pieces go through the gate. Or what seemed it might be safety. The fleet was having to accelerate to catch up. Star Marshall. Target is theYo'Phafodolh . ." "Missile launch. it was composed of several different emitters." ??? Page 283 ." Gi'Bucosof said. "And then it can use the laser to finish us off. it is not firing missiles. Other than that. "Weare . "I don't know . creating a rippling surface of quantum discontinuity leading to the Glalkod system. The entire battle group was entering range to be engaged by the enemy's lasers." Sharp ordered. move to the side and the gate went "past" it. out? There was a great battle in the Sol syst ." the colonel said. simply absorbing our fire. The best we can do is as much damage as possible while we die." "Nowwould be good. It can only fire its laser from those two zones. it can enter a range where no matter how many laser clusters we have. Perhaps it is . . "Since it has managed to maneuver around the gate. "Any moment . Which meant they were all about to be ravaged." "Any moment now." Kinyon said." TheTroy 's onboard laser had been a very unpleasant surprise." Colonel Koax reported. Gi'Bucosof?" Lhi'Kasishaj said. sir." "Where is your trick." Koax continued." Gi'Bucosof said. ." Star Marshall Gi'Bucosof snapped. The destroyer from theYo'Phafodolh battle group had been the closest to the gate and safety. we can't get through without passing through its primary cone of fire. It is now apparent that there are only two zones which are fully prepared for battle. The fleet was now accelerating for the gate but theTroy ." "I've got a destroyer accelerating into our basket. . ." Colonel Koax said. "Take down the shields then cut him in half." Sharp said. "And all the bluster in the universe does not change that. "You said that it would fail. "It should have been rendered impotent by now! But . . All it really had to do was slow down. calmly. . permission granted. Based on the spectroscopy of the light. That you had an inside agent. "Permission to keep him from phoning home?" The Rangora had already triggered the gate."Waiting to get us in killing range. despite its relatively low delta V. . Star Marshall!" Lhi'Kasishaj snarled as the destroyerAyachor was cut in half with almost mathematical precision." "You sound as if we are already defeated. The Fleet tactical officer was considering the various vectors on the screen.

" "Screaming. There were certainly enough distress pods. keying in the orders. There might even be survivors." "Yes. "Send the order to scatter." Captain Sharp said. Full power to screens. set to lethal. "Tell the captain to maneuver so as to catch the fire of the station and screen the fleet." Lhi'Kasishaj said. It's still on Page 284 . "Bywe I meant the many thousands of Rangora you have brought to this defeat. Destroyer and frigate shields failed like a popped soap bubble. Cruiser shields lasted less than a second under the hammer of the multi-emitter laser. "They will screen our retreat through the gate. they're all scattering. "The good news is that getting hit by a missile is." His pronouncement was cut off as Lhi'Kasishaj slid a pain stick." Lhi'Kasishaj said. The breacher missiles cracked the hard-held shields like an egg then the following wave slammed into the side of the battlewagon. those may be able to make it back to Rangora space. "And yes. Not even maintaining unit cohesion. "That . ??? "Change in delta. "Their fleet isn't trying to make the gate anymore. "That's not good. . meaning theDwarf Mauler . ."Who'syour daddy?" Sharp said as the stream of missiles hit the shields of the Aggressor. I understand. The High Marshall jerked and grunted for a moment until Lhi'Kasishaj let up on the trigger then slumped to the floor. into his back. We must scatter. . sir. Some of the cruisers and destroyers can survive at least." Sharp said. cutting through them like a blowtorch through light snowfall. reaching out with almost delicate precision and shredding the smaller vessels of the battle group." "Allof them?" Kinyon asked." Colonel Koax said. The laser cared even less for their heavy armor. I will not sacrifice myself to . "This isn't going to work. The gate was still open and the shredded masses of the vessels were being cleaned up by exiting into the next system. "The way things were going. All laser fire has stopped. . will battle the station to cover their retreat." Gi'Bucosof said." Lhi'Kasishaj said." "Never. turning reflective and then black before failing utterly. If the Terrans do not hold this system." Koax said. "The otherwe ." "Yes. tracking them all down will be a good bit of work. They're scattering. turning it into so much chaff." Lhi'Kasishaj said as two spacemen quietly dragged the High Marshall from the CIC. Kazi was going to keep us alive foryears . a rather quick death. Star Marshall." "We don't have the acceleration to come back around. The main laser was." Gi'Bucosof said. in the meantime. sir. thing can destroy the entire fleet. Except the AV.

not particularly quick. "Arrrh!" "Troydrive has ceased operation." Lhi'Kasishaj said. "For about thirty seconds." "It's rotating. hit some bit of a previous missile and scattered. Captain Sharp. often as not. The missiles clawed at the screens for a moment then they failed." Koax said. even if theycould be targeted the laser. . The AV rolled frantically." "Not surprising. Whoa! Heavy grav signatures. "And." the colonel said. the wall of moving fire reached the screens of the battlewagon which went black under the power of hundreds of penetrators. Then not only were following missiles screened by the material. And you don't matter." An AV mounted six hundred and eighty-three laser defense clusters. I don't try to be charming. And still wasting its laser on North. they would be impossible to detect with the naked eye. He'd been watching the visuals. "Fire is still engaging anything that enters its basket." Colonel Koax reported. But somebody finally killing that idiot Gi'Bucosof was a sight for sore eyes." "Aye. You save that for your superiors. unlike the colonel." Kinyon said. Missile launch. You don't survive in upper circles by being nice to minions. sir!" Sharp boomed. we'll still be able to get most with missiles. trying to spread the damage. The tide slid inexorably closer and closer to the embattled AV. sir. But the track of the missile stream headed for the AV was easily followed as a rolling storm-front of explosions as missiles sacrificed themselves on the altar of pawns. "Denounce you?" "Didn't care for you much until a moment ago. Depending on how long it takes to take down the AV." Koax said." Lhi'Kasishaj said. All that did was kill more and more shields as a Page 285 . Permission to speak frankly. permitting each cluster to take out multiple inbound vampires. The clusters could rapidly engage and retarget missiles. Not sure what . rotate to engage the AV. "It's rotating to engageus . "Don't like you high-born much at all. Some of the battleships aren't going to get out of our basket. TheTroy was down to firing a thousand missiles per second. sitting back and lacing his fingers across his chest." "I shall keep that in mind. I suspect. As long as there wasn't something in the way like a previously destroyed missile filling space with chaff." "This is going to be unpleasant." Sharp said.course for the gate. "Maneuver control. "Except for people that matter. Finally. . sir?" "What amI going to do about it?" Lhi'Kasishaj asked. "Open fire as you bear. Normally." "Range?" "Twenty thousand kilometers.

"Get us reoriented to return to the docks area. . "Retargeting. "Binary solution set. This way you might live." Bolger said. Bolger wasn't a small guy." Kinyon ordered.thousand nuclear wasps turned theDwarf Mauler into the system's largest navigational hazard. The Rangora were sort of territorial by instinct." Bolger said. "You surrender and we don't kill you. The pistol was the size of a laser carbine. "I can pull my guys out and then theTroy can do to you what it just did to your AV." "Maneuver control. "Admiral Kinyon. "We've got shuttles returning from Objectives One and Two for resupply and reinforcements. shrugging. Or you can play nice and we'll take you to Earth and you can rebuild a couple of cities for us. . "Gonna make a nice souvenir. rolling his chew from one cheek to the other then spitting." "Repatriation for myself and my officers. we're down to low yellow on missiles. They're having a good bit of trouble subduing the Rangora holding the docks." Bolger said. Having human Marines running around in one of their docks was not their idea of acceptable behavior." "Then ." "That is a valid point. "You're going to have your heads on a block when you get back. "What about our wounded. The series of previous battles had lowered their missile stores. Retarget remaining missiles on the fleeing battleships. He reached for his side-arm." Sharp said. "Take it all the way out. Objective One has surrendered. sir. The Rangora overtopped him by a good three feet." "Aye." the admiral bit out. Colonel Bolger looked through the hole in the overhead at the mass of theTroy drifting above then slightly lower at the Rangora commander of Objective One. "What terms are you offering?" the admiral asked." the admiral said." Sharp said. which is a really good deal. "Finish it off with the laser. "We don't kill off the wounded if that's what you mean." Kinyon said." Captain DiNote said." Sharp said. "We've got a couple of choices here." "I think they'll get the picture. carefully." "Admiral. I don't want anything larger than a sedan drifting into Glalkod." Arranging the cease fire had been a bit tricky." Page 286 ." Bolger said." the admiral said. Taking out the AV was essentially depleting them. We even feed you guys." "You've got docs. Seems we need to indicate our interest. "Admiral. I formally surrender. "Why?" Bolger asked. and handed it over butt first.

sir. . At least some of the crews had survived. Tell the Rangora it's time to negotiate." Bolger said."Roger that. they'll accept unconditional surrender. "Start with withdrawal by the Rangora to the positions they held before the Multilateral Talks. other than escape pods. something coming out. It looked as if someone had taken an entire fleet and run it through a shredder. broad. ." "No. "But they will eventually. Ask the Admiral to come up to the Troy to discuss details." To'Jopeviq said as the view panned with the remnants of aGufesh . shaking his head.was a destroyer. What ithad been . It had spread out so it nearly filled the gate and its trajectory was going to scatter it throughout the system unless someone got busy on clean-up soon." "What am I looking at?" To'Jopeviq asked." the SecState said." "Yes. Bits ofCubofof . "Two is still fighting but I think that's the Pathans to tell truth. . ." Kinyon commed. . "Holo from the Glalkod squadron. Most of it was unrecognizable. The holo was an activated gate with . Which had to be deliberate. ma'am. There were lights of distress pods among the debris. The largest single piece." the President said as she watched the replay of the battle. Half an Aggressor . ? "And that is what is left of theDwarf Mauler . . "And .Gufesh andSheshibas . Occasionally he could pick out bits from parts of ships. Eventually." the new Secretary of State said." Beor said." the President said. . They don't seem to understand the concept of cease fire." "That is . "Set to broadcast." Beor answered as the view zoomed in." the President said. . Most of it was laser fire. Then there was a mass burst of debris. we're done here." EPILOGUE "Send a missile through the gate to Glalkod. . " "Gung ho. "Give up not only the Glatun Federation but all the bordering star systems? They won't go for that. they won't." Page 287 . . "Parameters?" "Earth control of E Eridani is the minimum I'll accept at this time. It moved back to the gate as more debris started coming through. Except for the fiddly bits. "That is . "Marshall Gi'Bucosof and Marshall Lhi'Kasishaj's flagship. Manually based on the unsure movements. was nine meters on a side. Beor had slid the data crystal in and started his holo without as much as a word of explanation.

So . "How?" "The answer still has everyone hissing in disbelief. "This is Butch. That has to stop." "I'm not sure it is possible toover estimate them. We have intelligence from survivors." Bill Erickson said. "It entered the E Eridani system and engaged the fleet there. slosh." To'Jopeviq said. "They finally screamed for help. Speaking of which." Butch said. The information I've received was that someone pointed out that so far we've been right and command has been consistently underestimating the Terrans. "How?" Dana asked. "Absent companions again. "Absent companions. We have work to do. correctly. "The Terrans left after taking possession of the AV docks and support ships. yet. sliding out of her chair and pulling off her t-shirt." Chief Barnett said. Most of the roof had been ripped off." Dana said. . in general. "TheTroy is mobile. Figure the plasma got him. I'm . sitting down at the bar. then." "Lost a lot of good people. You'll have access toall of it. ." Beor replied. taking a sip of her beer. pointed out that sending only our crap couldn't be defined as help. "Why?" "The One-Four-Three is monumentally screwed up. "And there's a bunch of those. She turned around so her back was to the group. . Xanadu. There was a small guy with her. raising his glass. last call so to speak. "Got hit by a missile. ." "Damn." "I guess this is as good a time as any. He's a friend of BF. guys. bearded and clearly civilian. not privy to internal discussions." Bill said. "We were clearing a stuck laser tube. "Bought it. MovingTroy had involved a certain amount of ."What happened?" To'Jopeviq asked. The orders aren't cut. her eyes widening. "What do you think?" Page 288 ." "What?" Rammer said. I didn't want to give you up but the CO. The Acapulco was still under reconstruction. clinking glasses with Rammer. "Bring that to the briefing room along with whatever other intelligence we got. "But that's what war's all about." Beor said." Barnett said. High Command has increased the importance of this working group." "Where is BF?" Bill asked." Dana said. A certain amount of beer was paramount. but you're transferring to theThermopylae ." Barnett said." "Mobile?" To'Jopeviq said. Including some ships that scattered and successfully hid from their sensors. And change." "Absent companions. ." Butch said. Dana. But it was open for business and people couldn't live forever on air and food alone. looked as if it had been hit by a tsunami. raising his glass. Get the rest in there. You're going to be going over there as part of that. standing up. .

" "Just one problem." Butch said. shuttle bays." Dana said. At the very core was a Myrmidon shuttle. Morefell . Station Three was already on its way inward." a tattoo that covered the entire back. slowly cooling behind its solar shield. The main bay was open and modules were sliding through to be installed. The upper quadrant had been thoroughly mauled in the battles. crossing spears with a similarly armored Rangora against a starfield. it was going to need all of that and more." "Yeah. missile fabbers and everything else that made it a battlewagon were being produced at prodigious rates by Alliance countries as well as the fabbers in the Wolf system.Glory to the Brave boomed through theStarfire loud enough that it could probably be heard in space. More power. He looked to his left as the gate activated and nodded as the mass of Hephaestus trundled through. Troywas mobile. trying to crane her head around to look at it. "Cost me a good bit. And unless the negotiations over the Eridani system went Earth's way. In this case. More deadly. respectively.Troy was a ship in all but name. A plate of steel formed from a good sized asteroid had been welded into place by SAPL and now they were getting serious with armor. The same weavers that had created the lines and supports for the Bespin gas mine were perfectly capable of weaving fullerene armor. Some of the ships had taken damage in the battle and there were a dozen shuttles to replace. "But I think it was worth it. herding it carefully towards the main bay. as the weavers got to work on the North sector ofTroy . One of them upside down Vs. improvements. Between them a comet streaked across the firmament. Page 289 . "Which is?" Dana asked. "What's up with that?" Tyler watched. the hull gouged down nearly two hundred meters. And Four was about to be ballooned while Five and Six were in various processes of production.The technical term was "back-plate. Fixing it was a major job. though. the fabber would get to work producing shield generators for the battle globe. "That issmokin' ." Barnett said. The artist had managed to convey that the shuttle was both intact and part of the fire of the comet. More missiles. One of those. "Now you're going to have to get aThermopylae tattoo. The total work was absorbing a good bit of the resources that Troy needed. was moving. Paw tugs surrounded it like baby chicks. Since North seemed to take most of the damage. upgrades. a spear armed and heavily armored hoplite. New crew quarters. his arms crossed." Dana said. After that. Troywas no longer a battlestation. they were starting there. On her left upper arm was the symbol of theTroy . But there would always be repairs. climbing back onto her seat. It would be in place before the repairs were completed on theTroy . More lasers. a Trojan's helmet with the words Winter and Born above and below. The ink's a Glatun nano formula that's regenerating so it's gonna last more or less as long as I do.

butTroy was goingforward . Battleships lived to move forward. she had not had her tonsils and appendix removed." When it was time for her to get a wedding dress she was taken to a warehouse in Paris Page 290 . as one of my brothers pointed out "There were two girls in the entire camp of 4000 soldiers and Dad married the prettier one. But. mind you) in New York. To seek the enemy and destroy him. again. There she served coffee and donuts to the enlisted men at Camp Wings (named after the cigarettes by the way) and. I think it was in Iran. She would have graduated at fourteen but her mother insisted that she be "held back" twice."She told me this story when I was . it'sanother eulogy. Irish and Swedish descent. Author's Afterword Yep. she graduated from High School (PS 129) at sixteen. ("There was this one full bird colonel that was convinced he could get me drunk enough to sleep with him. "All you have to do is go outside andlook !" She had never heard the story about Galileo's "It still moves.Ships lived to move. werenot Prohibitionists. But I get ahead of myself.) In 1946 she met and married my father. Then the party could really get started. So she went to work for a small advertising agency on Madison Avenue as a secretary. Despite what would now be considered an academic schedule similar to the top-end private schools. (Nor. As noted. . It is notable that on an Underwood manual she could type 120 words a minute. He didn't know I had a hollow leg so every Saturday night I'd match him drink for drink until they had to carry him back to his quarters. as shall become apparent. On the subject of Dad. as the stories came out over the years. (Fourth and eighth grade) In 1936 (the height of the Depression. during the Roaring Twenties. sixteen year-old young ladies were not considered appropriate candidates for Columbia working on a physics degree. William Pryor Ringo." When I told it to her. It might take some time.) She grew up attending Catholic and New York public schools. (The latter she had removed in Iran in 1974. was she. I get ahead of myself. oldest of three children. (Which was her top choice she once told me. One can only guess she was a VERY good one. During the War she tried to join both the WACs and the WAVEs and was turned down because.) Her biggest story about school was getting into an argument with a nun as to whether the sun and the moon could be up at the same time. . respectively. she laughed until she choked. She still remembered the recipe for "bathtub gin" since her parents. partiedhard with the officers. my mother was born in Brooklyn. ten I guess. at the time some of the best schools in the country if not the world. The best defense is a good offense. And she'd be bringing friends.) She was finally accepted as a Red Cross hostess in 1945 and went to France.

New York party gal found herself the wife of a student at the University of Kentucky. They had their honeymoon at a castle in Scotland that was a rest and refit post for officers. Over the course of seven years she had five children (two miscarriages) and nearly as many moves. She told me later that living in the south had deepened her faith because as often the lone Catholic she had to show the heathen Protestants that Catholicism was not. The dog became one of the basis lines of all Pyrennes in the United States today. there!) to work on the new Interstate Project. It now belongs to Trinity Church. had to leave France due to a death sentence for desecration of Catholic altars and stealing the offeratory vessels. Chattanooga (Hi. one best-selling author. then Hugenot. in turn. and in response they gifted her with a puppy. (And. She. Ringos had been staunch Protestant ever since. They returned on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. gifted him to a wealthy friend from her New York days. cosmopolitan. if not calmly (HAH! My mother had the temper of the Irish) then well. One PhD. dealing with the fact that her baby had brought back a Brooklyn accented Yankee party-girl war-bride who was (GASP!)Catholic ! Ringo family legend has it that the family. Miami. ("Every move is like a fire. Page 291 . in their declining years. the term "domestic management specialist. one civil engineer. She coined. one homemaker. the morning of the wedding. One begins to understand my personal oddities. She smuggled it back on the troopship but quickly realized she couldn't keep it and be a young mother at the same time." She raised six children. ahem. yes. she in her top-tier Paris design dress and he in his pinks-and-greens uniform. True tale. (We also used to own part of Wall Street and lost it to political shenanigans. She learned to cook fried chicken. is still a family treasure." Wherever they went she adjusted. devil worship. She was told to pick one out and it would be fitted for her. A blooded Pyrennes Mountain Dog. it was after the gunfighter.where some thousands of Parisian designed wedding dresses were stored having been seized from the Germans who considered them loot. She did a small favor for someone. My grandmother was. in fact. one entrepreneur. my father admitted it was a mark from where his French mistress had hit him with a wine bottle.") Back to New York for a few years when my father had his engineering degree. With the advent of computers it was scanned and rendered and blown up and there was a faint mark on my father's forehead which appeared to be genuine. Upon returning to the United States the brilliant. when he announced he was getting married and they would have to break things off. Years afterwards. Not too shabby.) On the Morris side my maternal grandmother's reaction was alleged to have been "Oh my God! Janey's marrying anItalian !" She adjusted. where due to some bad timing they had a little (but much loved) oopsy! they named John. one small business owner and. The picture of my father and mother. I believe. of course. her husband the scion of a deeply Old South family and her mother-in-law a dyed in the wool Daughter of the Confederacy and Old South high-society matron.) One of my brothers says that I'm the proof that the rhythm method isalmost perfect. the memory of the story is blurred by time. "One mistake in fifty years is pretty good odds.

I would be honored. "That's us. unsurprised by the revelations of Watergate. There's a touch of Viking in the Morris genes. the Queen of the Open Road. "Through Traffic. at best.) We rarely lived anywhere that didn't have either a pool or a swimmable lake. she got Julian Bond and his wife out early (they had to catch a train to DC) through the security cordons by slipping into her best Southron accent and sweet talking her way past the Georgia State Patrolmen. Each summer she would pack me into the car and off we'd roar across the eastern United States. (In Des Moines. Mother had grown up as much as anything on Long Island and continued to visit beaches and swim well into her sixties. She stated in 1956 that "The United States and Russia are never going to have a nuclear war because we're too similar. ("Aviking" from which we get "Viking" means simply "To Travel. "home" in Tehran for one. In 1974 my father was transferred to Iran to work on a petrochemical plant between Abadan and Bandar Shapur.") As we'd pass through towns she'd point to the interstate signs. At nine she finally accepted I could in fact use it better than she. (Even. She considered environmental groups like Sierra Club and Greenpeace to be "run by communists and idiots. now! There's no place to turn around for twenty miles!") She was. She was a strong Right-to-Life supporter and marched in Civil Rights parades in the 1950s and '60s. Twice to the USSR. "Itold you it was thesecond exit! We're headed toSioux Falls . was sucked along in her whirlwind." In the 1970s the older kids having mostly left the nest she finally got to travel. And travel we did. and remains ever in my heart. visiting Graceland because "You might as well see it while we're in Memphis. She voted for Nixon but was. (The first a matter of having some rubles in her purse on the way out which was Page 292 . was shunned at her high school because she'd gone to the funeral of "that nigger. If you'd like to make a contribution in her name. in her words "They started caring more about the money they made from blood than military families or disasters. (Eventually rising to Director of Volunteers for the Southeastern United States. She broke with the Red Cross when." However. perforce. I swear. (And I. mother got toreally travel.") Notably.She was a "professional volunteer" for pretty much everything but notably continued with the Red Cross for decades. visiting relatives. (Did I mention she had a lead foot?) Visiting friends." She also supported the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy. She supported the Vietnam War and considered Jimmy Carter a traitor for giving up the Panama Canal. this was heresy especially for a Republican. She continued to donate (at higher levels) over the subsequent decades. Which is why I learned to swim before I could walk." (For those who aren't old enough. believe it or not. She was raised a Republican and died a Republican.) She had the all-time highest level of recruitment of "Negroes" (the way it was listed at the time) for the Red Cross. She gave up cigarettes when they went to fifty cents a pack (cold turkey) and donated the money to Christian Children's Fund. I was left very much alone with mother.) She volunteered for the Goldwater and Reagan campaign.) Over the course of the next two years she (and often I) traveled. He was in Abadan for three weeks. (My sister Mary Jane. MyGod did she travel. thereafter. see above the thing about temper.'?" I learned to navigate using a highway map at the age of eight. then in the depths of the Cold War and where she was "detained" by the KGB not once butboth times. She was a volunteer for the funeral of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King while we lived (the first time) in Atlanta. For the first time since WWII.

Afghanistan. you had to have the Israelis stamp a piece of paper instead of your passport). absent another immediately available. might have been the reincarnation. Birmingham. So as was her wont. honestly. Not pets. We walked every station of the cross and just about every spot that Jesus walked in the Gospels. It was 1976. Greece. Finally. Greece unaccompanied. They had mostly grown up in a very normal suburban lifestyle. Dad still not willing to leave. Unusual to say the least for a thirteen year-old in 1976. She picked him up on an Easter Sunday in Florida because "He looked like Jesus and we had a spare seat at the table. she left. two guys. I settled on this one. The girls supported their bum boyfriends by working in a restaurant down on the waterfront in Skiathos.) After her second visit she was awarded what she often considered her highest honor: She was PNGed.) Eventually. For those who have seen the movie Bottle Shock (and if you haven't. Dad would cling to a project. Remote Greek Orthodox monasteries with artifacts old enough they might have some originality. It fronted on a narrow strip of sand and the Aegean. She told my brother to get me over to Greece. She was tired of Iran. She also met the Queen of England (tea) and the Empress of Iran (private audience). Few of her children really had them. The Garden of Getsemane. Classic 1950s "Ozzie and Harriett" with the fillip that "Harriett" was brilliant. It was only accessible by a narrow alleyway down the steep hills of the town or by sea. It was nearly the height of the hippie movement and she had raised six children. She was offered ten thousand dollars (a lot of money in 1975) to divorce dad and marry a Kuwaiti sheik. She also had a habit of picking up strays. Nazareth. Israel (on the same trip by the way which was tough to do. beautiful and short-tempered. the year of the Bicentennial. all three of the alleged tombs. I'd already been sent to the States in '75 due to "deteriorating conditions" in Iran. She went to Greece. most of Western Europe. Egypt. Most of their stories were about Mom's tirades when she'd come home from the grocery store. she tended to bring them home for a home-cooked meal. of the blonde. two girls. (Personna Non Grata. Mother had decided they had been in Iran long enough. Page 293 . we decamped from Athens to the island of Skiathos.whatever is Russian for "verboten. (Another story. She was stuck on the Kandahar Airport tarmac for eight hours "waiting for the temperature to drop enough the plane could take off." At her funeral one of my brothers was to deliver the eulogy and he was asking for "special stories" about Mom.) I once had a pair of loafers I referred to as (you have to say it) "The holiest shoes in the world. until forcibly removed." the second because she publicly went off on an officious KGB major in the Moscow Airport. Bethlehem (back when you could go there without bodyguards). A trip from Pakistan to Turkey by rail where she shared her compartment with a deserter from the US Army during Vietnam who made his way by gem smuggling. you might be surprised how much you like it) the prettier of the two was the spitting image. "Do not EVER return to the USSR.") Jordan. When she saw hitchhiking kids or kids making their way through Greece in this case." She met bandits in the Khyber Pass and nearly was trampled at a bushkazi game. (Did I mention thereally short temper?) I could barely choose. AL to Athens. Kids. (One of whom has become a major "New Age" guru. (One which had been established by Helen of Constantine of whom Mom. including attitude and dress.") In this case it was a set of four.

(And ouzo and chiparo and. See the thing above about "oddities. . Christ. You have retzina. The sort of thing you only bring out at the very end of the party and go "well. Aqua Velva starts to taste like Domaine. But I did. as it were. Every second building. was where all the fishermen of the town gathered to be away from the tourists. I'm serious. medium and pretty bad stuff . a shower bath in a hurricane. as it turned out. wave!) Kalispera! Kalispera!") retzina. someone would order up another carafe. "Great writers don't create. maybe therewas some Aqua Velva in there. it seemed. After that you really have noclue what you are drinking. Freely doesn't describe it. . we're out of all the good. we'd alreadyhad a lot of retzina. however. If they could just get her drunkenough to overlook the goiters and baldness and lack of teethsurely she'd sleep withone of them! So as we passed each of the tabernas there would be a glad cry and at the outmost table (which I've come to think theydeliberately kept open) would appear a bottle of retzina and.) So this was. Of course you had to have a stomach for retzina. . they steal. sported a taberna on its ground floor. (For those who have read March to the Sea you may recognize the description . . the blonde young lady and I began to navigate our way back to the other side of town up the (very) steep hill." There is. And the fishermen of the town had taken much the same attitude towards the pretty blonde Americana girl as the colonel in France had towards my mother. we being with her. Which. Page 294 . And as soon as we got down to the bottom of the carafe of ("OH. . three glasses. ouzo and chiparo (sort of the white lighting version of ouzo). Take avery bad sauvignon blanc or Graves. I was thirteen.I wouldn't know." Mix it one part to four with Pine Sol. You really don't care after you've been drinking retzina long enough. the custom was that you could not leave the table as long as there was wine (for values of wine) left. Most of them had room for no more than five or six tables but they were all packed. Mother. a special hell for whichever ancient Greek decided that annis and turpentine should be drunk together. Each day they'd bring in whatever they'd caught to the narrow strip of beach and that was what you ate. Yes. I really must try to describe retzina for the fortunate many who have never experienced it. The booze flowed . Have you ever seenMy Big Fat Greek Wedding ? It's understated. Fortunately. However. HOLY GODS NOT MORE ! (Wide happy grin.Pine." ?) The eldest son was having a birthday party and since Mom had been so nice to the two Americana girls we were invited. Sol. . The trick to retzina is to drinka lot of itvery fast right from the beginning.The family that ran it were also the suppliers. The hour being late and we needing to meet our usual taxi driver.

May the roads be swift and clear. TN February 2010 Table of Contents ONE Page 295 . My mother died in her home in the Georgia hills with her son Bob and daughters Mary Jane and Sally at her side of "complications of pneumonia. a red roadster. she touched the lives of tens of thousands. Through a thousand gentle mercies I cannot begin to recount. the Swiss franc thing in Bavaria. Gletsch!." People wonder where I get my female characters. do not. five great-grandchildren and a trail of acquaintances who will remember her until their own passing. I do rather miss the bon vivant with whom I once toured the world. Gletsch! — John Ringo Chattanooga. I don't remember making it to the top of the hill.The trick was to drink down to near bottom on the three glasses (which meant slamming two thirds as fast as possible) then pour the rest of the carafe. They say that rain is the sign of the death of a saintly woman and mother died on a rainy day. To thenext taberna where a glad cry would be raised. I'm not even sure that's thebest story of traveling with my mother. Thirteen. Then there's the "traditional Danish schmorgasboard. that would truly be heaven. For my mother. May there be fine restaurants and taverns at every crossroads and may she ride upon the wind with all the saints by her side. sans eyes. She had lost all ability to read (her passion). sans teeth. her love by her side. The thing is. I did not. slamthat then wave and RUN. She left on this coil six children. If there is a heaven may it have an open road. the "incident" at the Jordanian border. grieve for the final crust that left this mortal coil. If there is a heaven my mother died in the state of perfect Grace her Catholic calling required. It was time and a grace and mercy. nine grandchildren. Sans ears. I doubt she could have done more for the world had she perfected Unified Field Theory. Cameron Highlands." She had been ready to go since the death of my father (see Gust Front ). the party in Bangkok. "All-Of-Paris-in-Twenty-Four-Hours. The mother I traveled with had been dead for many years. Even had she gotten that physics degree. the bus tour in Italy." the old Greek captain.

TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN ELEVEN TWELVE THIRTEEN FOURTEEN FIFTEEN SIXTEEN SEVENTEEN EIGHTEEN NINETEEN TWENTY TWENTY-ONE TWENTY-TWO TWENTY-THREE TWENTY-FOUR TWENTY-FIVE TWENTY-SIX TWENTY-SEVEN Page 296 .

TWENTY-EIGHT TWENTY-NINE THIRTY THIRTY-ONE THIRTY-TWO THIRTY-THREE THIRTY-FOUR THIRTY-FIVE THIRTY-SIX EPILOGUE Page 297 .

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