Opsfleet Chapter Nine

“Zhirnyy Point,” Weir said as he gazed longingly out the window of the OFS Yutomaky’s bridge. Not really a window, but he imagined it as one. It still ruined his coined movie phrase, but he’d say it anyway. “… you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Oh wait, no, except for the OFS Edison…”

Weir took the moment to say this while McArthur was away from the bridge. He started hearing laughter and chuckles as he coined an old 20th Century Movie so famous that people still knew it in the present day; Weir didn’t know if it was because he was doing it badly, or if it was because everyone agreed that the Edison’s crew brought much more anxiety than that of the Yutomaky’s approach to the worst starbase at the ass end of space. Weir didn’t want to know.

“I once, as a young, Human flight officer, was told to take over Help on their ship despite not being rated for the position. Then the Admiral — I forgot his name, jumped on the view screen and saw that my flight suit didn’t have the proper tags… Instead of Captain Canniff sticking up for me and fessing to the fact that he told me to take the console, he reprimanded me and gave me a temporary flight restriction. Security escorted me off the bridge before I could say a word.” Weir chuckled.

“Yeah but at Zhirnyy Point, you can shoot people that piss you off,” the Helm officer, David McAvoy said.

“Ah shit,” Weir reached down and patted his hip. “My gun… I forgot it.”

In the background, Jane whispered a low what the fuck?, to the tactical officer. Max shrugged his shoulder and shook his head. It was plain as day; Weir was indeed strapped with a rail-pistol with five spare printer-mag’s for ammo. Weir walked to the empty Captains chair and peered around it to see if he left it next to the M1 Garand.

“You don’t mean the pistol on your hip?” Jane finally asked.

“Nah… “ Weir said. “I must have left it in my quarters. Damn it…” Weir tapped the transmitter section on the overlaid data-sheet that was snapped to McArthur’s console.

“Commander Weir to MCPO Reece.”

 

Beyond the bulkhead, on the outer hull, and roughly two hundred yards aft of the whole ship, Sean was sitting with his back next to the large vertical stabilizer on the outer hull, working with a large warhead the size of the balls needed to work in zero gravity while trying to blink sweat out of his eyes under a sheet of hardened vacuum proof transparent aluminum for a faceplate, attached to a heated EVA suit that encased his body against the harsh infinite death around him.

“Yes, sir?” Sean said.

“You aren’t busy are you?” Weir asked.

Jennifer Hanks couldn’t hear Sean, or who he was talking to as she carefully clamped the mid-section of a torpedo to a magnetic grip that kept it a quarter way out of the VLS tube so that Sean’s warhead could be replaced with the warhead that came out of it; she could see Sean’s bright teeth through the reflection of his visor as he grinned from ear to ear.

“Sean! Stop talking while handling fusion-nuclear warheads!” She yelled that on localVOX which came through on a second speaker. Sean twitched at the sound of Jenn’s yell.

“It’s the Commander,” Sean yelled.
“Is that Jenn?” Weir asked over the comm.
“Yes,” Sean said.
“YES WHAT?!” Jenn asked, because she couldn’t hear Weir’s side of the convo.
“Turn that off,” Sean said. “I’ll be right back!” Sean switched localVox off and sighed. “Yes,” He stated to Weir. “I’m not in a position to do any favors at the moment, but what’s up?”

“Could you check my quarters and see if I left a self-sustaining portable RPG launcher under my bed?”

Sean raised his eyebrow at that while he refocused his attention on adjusting the yield of the warhead that Jenn needed to attach to the torpedo.

“Sean?”

Sean switched the communications off and swapped back to localVOX and was instantly bombarded by Jenn’s understandably concerned complaint.

“…ed to do that goddamn phone call while handling a fucking bomb with a triggering width so small it’s the size of my ex-boyfriends –”
“I’m back, Marine…” Sean said.

“Nice of you to join us again… Chair Force…”

“Tell me again why I’m out here doing your job?” Sean asked merrily.

Jenn let out a growling sigh.  “Because none of us are trained in modifying nuclear or antimatter warheads.”

“And why are you responsible for Battery One again?”

“Because we’re even less qualified to mess with particle projectors and railguns.  Look, we’re supposed to just ram these big missiles in and shoot them. All of my marines are perfectly qualified to ram big, long hard objects into tight holes.”  Jenn grumbled again. “Are you done yet?”

“Yup.”  Sean gave the warhead two pats.

Jenn released the magnetic clamp and moved to the cargo jack, which was a thruster pack the size of one of their EVA suits.  It had its own magnetic clamps as well, and a pair of armatures, allowing it to attach to almost any type of cargo pod and move it in zero gravity.  Jenn lightly and exactly tapped the thruster joysticks, pushing the huge missile slowly back into its launch tube. She released the jack’s clamps and backed off to watch the missile retract, disappear, and then anyone near the missile battery inside the ship heard a loud thud as the missile hit the bottom of the tube, followed by loud clicking as locking pins and electronic connections snapped into place.  Jenn tapped on the jack’s console to access the Yutomaky’s fire control system.

“Everything’s green,” she said after a moment.  She hit the command to close the cell door, and opened the next one.  Then she triggered the compressed air pre-fire, which nudged the next missile out at a frustratingly slow speed.  “Loud, where is my next fucking warhead?”

“Coming over the top now,” he said.

Loud was on a second jack.  He waited while Jenn clamped down the missile and attached the jack to the original warhead, and Sean removed the bolts holding it on.  Jenn then backed it off, and Loud parked the new shield-breaker matter/anti-matter warhead in place. Loud and Jenn swapped cargo jacks and Loud took the gas sample collector (a utility ‘warhead’ for gathering samples from gas giants, nebulas, and planetary atmospheres) back to the cargo bay.  Jenn lined up the shield-breaker warhead and kept it in place while Sean put the bolts back in.

“See, we know what we’re fucking doing,” Jenn said.  “We’re just not allowed to program and arm the big boom booms.”

“Yeah I get it, advanced math is beyond the capabilities of the quintessential jarhead,” Sean said with a playful smile.

“Shut it, chair force,” Jenn said.

“The chair force gets your drop-out butt to the next bar fight.”

“Hey, Sean, I got something I need to share with you,” Jenn said.  “It’s very important.”

“What?”

“Fuck you.”

Sean laughed.  “Fuck you.”

“No!  Fuck! You.”

“Fuuuuuck yooooouuu.”

Sean finished bolting on the warhead and plugged in his diagnostic computer to its data port to start programming.

“This mission is so fucking stupid,” Jenn said in sudden seriousness.  “Why don’t they just tow the cruisers to the local star and skim for anti-matter?”

“Well, first of all it’s an emergency deployment, so waiting two weeks for the ships to be towed to the star and another three days for them to siphon anti-matter is not the option they want.  Second, the local star is a carbon star so it’s not putting out any anti-matter anyway. And last but most importantly, those cruisers have no fuel collectors.”

“They don’t?  All ships have scoops.”  Jenn gave a glare to Sean that she was on to his bullshit.  “How do you know?”

“The collectors used on front-line warships are the cheapest available,” Sean said.  “They use the cheap ultra-crap ones because they’re always the first thing shot out in combat.  They expect to have to replace them every month during war time, and they want them to be cheap garbage so they’re not spending a fortune on collectors.  The downside of the garbage ones is they burn out after six months anyway.

“On top of that if they left fuel scoops on a warship sitting in mothballs, all any pirate or mercenary would have to do is tow it to the local star, refuel it, and they have themselves a battleship.  So the first thing the fleet does to decommissioned ships is remove the fuel collectors and empty the fuel tanks. After we top them off with gas first thing they’re doing is taking them to a starbase to get crew and install new collectors.”

Sean unplugged his computer and tapped the warhead twice.

“You sure know a lot of useless fucking shit,” Jenn said before pushing the missile back into the tube.

Sean laughed.  “That’s why I’m chair force and not a jarhead.”

“Fuck you,” Jenn said apathetically.

“No.  I insist.  Fuck you.”

 

***

 

Weir stepped out of the elevator onto the science deck – the topmost crew accessible area of the ship, all the way in the back.  He walked the corridor to the main lab to see Lieutenant Doctor David Bowman. Or was it Doctor Lieutenant? Weir wasn’t sure how the titles worked out.  He only knew that Bowman held the ship’s record for most PhD’s.

David Bowman was the cliche nerd.  He was tall, thin as a rail, sometimes hyper, and always tinkering around.  Weir was getting a few things packed for the trip on the Barrow when Bowman called to reveal his tool for defeating the Morale Killer.  The first thing that caught Weir’s attention wasn’t Bowman or his solution but rather a bulky looking cannon set atop a tripod. It was the first time Weir had been to the labs and he wasn’t expecting to see weapons research in progress.

“What is that?” Weir asked curiously.

“That’s a… um… the captain requested it when my team came aboard.  It seems anachronistic to me. It fires bullets using explosive powder, and it’s cooled by water.”  Bowman patted the thick water cooling jacket on the barrel. “He handed me the blueprints for it, and told me to make improvements while keeping it low-tech.  We’ve made progress but I don’t understand the purpose of having this relic.”

“The captain is eccentric but he seems to have plans,” Weir said.

“It’s kept us busy.  Over here.” Bowman went over to a hard-case set on a shelf.  He popped the locks and flipped it open. There were a dozen baseball-sized objects packed in foam.  Bowman picked one up and started tossing it between hands. “Custom programmed smart grenades.”

“Aren’t those just as illegal as the Morale Killer?” Weir said with raised eyebrows.  “Because they’re really not that smart and tend to kill lots of innocent civilians?”

“Yes.  Exactly.  Those ones.  I spoke to the ship’s Lawyer-”

“We have a lawyer?”

“Lieutenant Ezekiel Goldstein, he’s 1st shift supervisor in the damage control team.”  Bowman leaned in and whispered. “He’s filthy rich. He was a senior lawyer for Eisen and Associates.  They represent StarMart, Cosmodine, Deep Rim Mining, and a lot of the other big filthy corporations. When he heard about this project he quit and literally bought his way on the ship.”

“Finn wasn’t the only one,” Weir said under his breath.

“Cap’n Finn?” David said louder.

Weir stared at David.  Apparently the 1st shift communications officer’s reputation had spread even this far back in the ship.

“Difference between Goldstein and Finn is Goldstein is actually a genius at dispatch,” David continued.  “Very strategic thinker. I watched a few of his sim exercises. Mind blowing.”

“Yes but, are your balls legal?” Weir asked, trying to steer David back on subject.

“My balls?”  David stared blankly at Weir.  Weir pointed at the big round ball in David’s hand.  “Oh these! He says there’s a loophole to all the weapons bans.  Something about an escalator clause. Basically if the other guy fights dirty, we can fight dirty too.  The targeting chip is reprogrammed to blow up anyone holding a Morale Killer.”

“We can detect one of those guns?” Weir said.

“Only when it’s powered up and ready to fire,” David said.  “I recommend that you and everyone on your team carry one of these on their belt.  The moment it detects the power signature, it’ll detach from its belt clip, fly at the gun, and explode with a directed fragmentation blast.  It’ll destroy the gun and turn the arm or hip or whatever part of whoever is holding the gun into a bloody stew.”

“What if I’m the one holding the Morale Killer?” Weir asked.

“Smart grenades are hard wired with a safety override that prevents them from detonating facing anyone with a standard issue Ops Fleet transponder.  That’s about the only smart part of the things. So if someone comes at you with a Morale Killer keep them at least about… mmm… half a meter away, so the grenade can zip between you and mess up the other guy.”

“What if one of the crew of the Barrow is in the line of the blast?” Weir asked.

“Sucks to be them,” David said with a shrug.  “Look, captain asked for a defense on short notice.  This is the best I can do in the time before you transfer.  The whole reason this gun was invented is there isn’t any defense except to kill whoever has one before they kill you.”

“Okay, if this is the best,” Weir said.  He took the grenade out of David’s hand, jammed it into the foam, and closed the case.  “I guess I’ll take it.”

Weir walked out of the labs with the case.  He had an urge to chuck it out the back of the flight bay and take his chances fending for himself.  But then again, the grenades would activate and attack the moment one of those super guns was charged to fire.  Even in his android body, Weir didn’t know if he’d even notice one of those guns nearby until it was too late.

 

 

*** MEANWHILE IN DEEP SPACE ***

 

Captain Julia “Bloody Marry” Bonneville put her feet up on the table and crossed them before taking a long drag of her cigar and a shot of fine vodka.

“This is the ship that pushed us off?” she said angrily with a mutt accent that was part Scottish and part Irish but not impossible to understand.  “It’s a fucking passenger liner.”

On a big screen in the bar was a still image of the Yutomaky taken by their LIDAR suite before they entered FTL.  It was blurry from the range, but clear enough to make out the markings.

“You Tom Acky?  Is that Japanese or summit?” Bonneville said before pouring a second shot.

The bar was hers.  The station was hers.  The planet, the whole solar system was hers.  Far out beyond all the fleet patrols. It was an abandoned refinery orbiting a depleted mining world.  When the company finished stripmining it, they up and left. Even a simple demolition cost money, money they could save and spend elsewhere.  Julia found it and moved in. The corporation hadn’t even turned the lights on.

But the bar was her command room.  When she was on to something, she cleared everyone out so it was just her and her information man, who was only known by the nickname Glasseye.  Glasseye was an intelligence operative during the war – for the side that lost. Julia liked high risk adventure, and that meant butting heads with the fleet.  Glasseye was still waging his private war against the fleet, so their partnership was mutually beneficial.

The bar itself was poorly lit bare metal everything.  The absolute cheapest stuff the previous owner could buy that would keep the workers happy and drunk.  Even the billiards table was bare metal all around, with painted metal balls. For that reason none of the miscreants living it there called it pool.  They stopped using the metal pool cues and called it Slapnuts.

“It’s a made up name,” the gray-haired old Glasseye said.  “None of our taps in the United Spaceforce know anything other than it’s classified as an auxiliary.”

“A transport?  For ferrying admirals?  I was kicked out by a fucking Admirals fancy yacht?”

“No.  They did tell me the captain is a full mental nutjob, Weston McArthur.  I found his name in a press bit about leading a new deep space exploration.”

“Any family we can kidnap and use?” she asked.

“No, total lone wolf and off the grid.  File is all black ink, some kind of skunk works goon.”  The old man crossed his arms. “This Yutomaky has to be a treasure trove.  Cutting edge sensor suites, advanced facilities, and the ability to operate without resupplying.  Billions on the black market.”

Julia took her second shot and sucked on her cigar.  “Or I can keep it for meself. Put this circus on the road.”

The old man smiled, knowing she’d want the ship after he baited with the idea of not needing a base to resupply.  “Right. I also checked the net, and that ship pinged. They’re going to Nikolai’s place, and will be shipping out in a convoy loaded with antimatter.”

Julia blew smoke rings from her cigar and poured another shot.  “Get the boys together, I want to hit it.”

“I don’t think I can get that many ships together in time to capture it.”

“Did I say we’re capturing it?”  Julia tipped her third shot. “You’re still a dumbass when it comes to the action, Glass.  I want to see its teeth. Look.” Julia pointed at the photo on the big screen. “I can see missiles and an energy weapon there, above the engines.  I need to know how big ‘er teeth are before I go in and see he’s got a bigger dick than me and he fucks me.”

Glasseye laughed.  “I’ll pick out some of our shithead captains that nobody will miss and tell them it’s a convoy snatch and grab.”

“That’s the spirit!  I want that bitch tong Henry Pask.  He pissed me off not paying me my dues on that run of his last month.”  Julia blew more smoke. “Boys gotta pay their dues or else others get ideas I’m soft.”

Glasseye smiled and left.  Julia picked up the remote and put on some loud electronica while she drank alone and glared at the picture of the Yutomaky.