Saturday, August 20, 2011

Slow Boat to China (Chapter 2, Part 2)

Warning: Violent situations.

Recap: In Chapter 2, Part 1, Kimble’s trip planetside to Tedesco is changed to an armed landing. Farrier attempts to calm the new arrival.

Slow Boat to China
By Gregory Marshall Smith
Chapter 2: Tedesco (Part II)

“A lot of water predators, like ankh-sharks go into the fjords to escape the storms. Getting rescued from these places can be a real bear.”

“Stop, stop, please,” Kimble joked. “I might never want to leave Tedesco now. You know, they never mentioned any of that in the information bulletins.”

“Course not,” the technician interjected. “If they did, no one would go.”

“Say, Farrier, why the hell do sailors come here? I mean, the ones who have a choice.”

“Man, I been waiting for you to ask that for months,” Farrier answered, urging himself, Kimble and the air transport technician back toward the auxiliary bay. “We’ve been wondering why a bright guy like you was going there until the master chief mentioned that it was for the convenience of the Navy. Banefield’s – Commander Margolis Banefield, your operations officer – been yapping for months for some good personnel to whip his people into shape and I guess the brass got tired of hearing it. So, here you are. Tough cookies for you.”

“What was she getting before?”

“The dregs of the service, man,” Farrier explained. “No, not criminals and thugs – they get booted out -- but guys who felt they had nowhere else to go. Guys and gals wallowing in their own pity from some breakup or bad evaluation or something. Maybe they made a big mistake and their career path got derailed. They end up settling for much less than they dreamed.

“Then, lo and behold, they see assignments open for Vasco de Gama, a system where they won’t have to be so spit-and-polish and where they can build themselves a little something. A lot just like to go there for the sex. Life is so rough and tumble for the transiters and farmers and such that they have no qualms just picking up some guy in a bar and going at it. Then, they’ll meet someone and let nature take its course.”

“What are the officers like?” Kimble asked. “Anyone there who I can learn something from and I don’t mean how many notches I can put on my belt?”

“Hmm, it’s been a while since I’ve been to Tedesco, but I think SK1 Jack Jack is still there,” Farrier replied. “If he is, he’d been your lead petty officer.”

“Jack Jack?” Kimble asked, incredulous. “Is that a nickname?”

“Actually, that’s his real, God-given name,” Farrier said. “Jack Jack, with no middle name. He’s kinda’ sensitive about it. If you play your cards right, you won’t see him outside of work. He can be full of himself. Other than him, I think you might learn a thing or two from Martha Olowoyeye, master chief engineman for the escort ships. I swear she can sniff the air and sense a sunstorm coming. It’s uncanny.”

The trio arrived at the auxiliary bay and made their way to the only shuttle. Other technicians had the ship set to go. Kimble saw the entry hatch still open, meaning he and Farrier were holding things up.

“Also, it can’t hurt to get in good with one of the hospitalmen,” Farrier continued. “Lots of nasty bugs and stuff on Tedesco and the other planets you’ll go to. Chief Hasselbeck, head yeoman, he’ll make sure your pay makes it to you with no hiccups. Just avoid one of his poker games. I know he rigs them, I’d swear it. Finally, make a point to get to know two others. Jack Jackson – aka John Mark Jackson – is head of shore patrol and he can get you out of some jams. Carmen Carmichael is the Provost Marshal of the Tedesco auxiliary guard and she’s the sheriff. Good woman for what you’ll typically find on the planet.”

“And don’t forget the Marines,” the technician added. “Get on their good side and most people on Tedesco will leave you alone.”

“Thanks for the gouge,” Kimble said, impressed by information he knew he wouldn’t have gotten from official channels.

The technician helped both storekeepers into their seats, going so far as to properly lock down their weapons within easy reach. The man then completed the handshake with Kimble. He left and secured the hatch behind him.

In the bay, motorized venting units evacuated the oxygen supply. This made it easier to open the bay doors to the vacuum that existed between the hull and the defensive shields. The alarms and warning lights that activated during launch operations stopped.

The armed pinnaces launched first, passing through the shields and forming up on the other side. Then, came the transit shuttles and pinnaces, which joined the armed pinnaces for the descent to Tedesco. They had the more valuable human cargo and needed the most protection.

Kimble’s shuttle, the last vessel to leave the ship, shot out of the bay with a lot of shaking, thanks to the extra weight of the supplies aboard. Kimble had never liked flying on anything smaller than a corvette because of turbulence. The shuttle passed through the dreadnought’s shields and joined four other pinnaces and the three shuttles that carried the Marines designated for Tedesco.

Kimble loosened the straps of his harness and undid the fastener. Since the shuttle had passed through the shields, passengers could move around the compartment. Kimble looked around and saw that the other passengers were sailors and Marines. Because of their blasé nature, he deduced that all had made numerous supply runs like this before.

That wasn’t Pegram Kimble’s style. He loved looking at the stars and any chance to see another planet up close and from space was a chance not to be missed. He set himself down in an open seat near a porthole and gazed out.

Tedesco was a rather large world and, from space, it looked like a big green marble, with large splotches of blue and white evenly distributed. Kimble figured that the chemicals in the clouds on Tedesco made the colors below seem more brilliant from space. Even the brown splotches of muddy mires and bayous looked golden brown from high altitude. He remembered Earth’s oceans looking much bluer from space than from a thousand feet up.

The shuttle pilots announced atmospheric entry and Kimble had to return to his seat. The turbulence from the friction of entering the atmosphere was brief thanks to the inertial dampeners of the engines and ailerons, but it could be nauseating anyway to the inexperienced traveler. Within moments, the shuttle moved into the lower cloud layers and Kimble returned to his porthole to look at his new home.

Rich vibrant green marked the farm belt. Very few large structures broke up the landscape and he had trouble making out structures normal to most worlds – tall buildings, bridges, wide roads, dams, etc. Scanning the horizon, he spied the white snow-capped peaks of the Ice Belt. He strained to see where the mires and bayous might be but couldn’t. The shuttle had taken the most direct route to the base, instead of the scenic route.

Finally, some civilization came into sight. As the pinnace descended, Kimble glimpsed some two- and three-story concret buildings, as well as a plethora of wooden barns and single-level plazas akin to the old-style strip mall shopping plazas on Earth. One particularly large compound stood apart from the town and, in fact, was nearly as large. It had many two-level buildings and lots of single level ones as well. The center of the compound was marked by a landing pad and Kimble could already see two shuttles and three pinnaces occupying part of it.

“That’s the processing center,” Farrier called out to him. “So, you can deduce that the town is Mica. You’re going to be about a day’s walk from the town.”

“Why so far?” Kimble asked, looking over his shoulder at his fellow storekeeper.

“Safety reasons,” Farrier replied. “God forbid something blows up at the base. We wouldn’t want debris or other stuff hitting the town. Plus, the closest plateau is that far away. It commands a view of the entire area, so you know the Navy wasn’t going to pass it up to give us poor bluejackets an easier walk.”

Kimble looked out of the porthole again and saw that the land below had changed to one of dense vegetation and thick foliage, marred by a single two-lane road. He saw some awkward structures along the road and learned that they were automated surveillance towers to let the base know of anyone approaching from the ground or of any low-flying machines trying to come in under the radar. He shivered a little, thinking that such things might be necessary.

He looked to his right and finally saw the base and it was huge. Certainly, it seemed far larger than might be necessary for such a backwater world until he remembered that the planet had few serviceable roads. Lots of escort vessels and patrol vessels would be needed for such a place and the base had to be large enough to accommodate them and their crews. That meant his job as storekeeper would certainly not be boring.

The shuttle passed over a wide swath of green land that was low cut and Kimble guessed this was the landing path. Incoming or outgoing aircraft could use this so that, God forbid, they crashed, they would not damage anything besides themselves. A disconcerting thought, to say the least.

Kimble returned to his seat and hooked up his harness again. The shuttle shook slightly as the cruising engines slowed and the hover engines took over. A moment later, Kimble felt a slight bump as the skids touched down. The engine sound died away and the rest of the passengers began undoing their harnesses.

“Smooth as ever,” Farrier commented. “These shuttle pilots are the best. You’d better check in. There should be a new arrivals coordinator at the edge of the field.”

“What about you?”

“Naw, I have to guard the shuttles,” Farrier replied. “Don’t worry about me. I’m the most important person in my life. I’ll take care of myself. As always.”   

Kimble shrugged his shoulders, retrieved his machine gun and then went to get his duty bags. He found it difficult to take all three items until a muscular Marine ambled up and grabbed the largest one. Kimble thanked the woman man, who brushed it off and headed for the now open rear cargo hatch.

“Name’s Cayce Colvin,” the Marine staff sergeant introduced herself. “I saw you back on the ship and liked the way you got all of our stuff organized. I wanted to take you to meet Gunnery Sergeant Hofstra, head of the Marine detachment here. We’re sorely in need of someone who can have our stuff to us in a timely manner.”

“I’d be glad to help,” Kimble said, remembering the technician’s advice back aboard the ship. “Ever been to Tedesco before? I have no idea what’s up.”

“I’ve been here once on a short anti-smuggling assignment," Colvin answered as she carefully stepped from the ramp to the pavement. “Gunny’s been here about four years. He’s aching for me to make rank so I can replace him.”

They both walked past a slew of loader machines operated by sailors in light blue uniforms. The machines would unload the supplies. Kimble felt a little antsy at such lumbering equipment handling stuff he’d help load. However, he was the new guy and it would not look good for him to act as if he was better than his new mates.

Staff Sergeant stopped and immediately set Kimble’s bag down. Kimble saw the woman come to attention and he stopped as well. A tall, muscular man in Marine field uniform approached. Kimble immediately put down his bag and brought his gun up to salute position. Colvin, wearing a holster pistol, rendered a hand salute.

“Staff Sergeant Colvin reporting as ordered, sir,” Colvin said, crisply.

“At ease,” Marine Captain Bruce Glenn said. “Where not quite that formal around here, Staff Sergeant. What’s your name, sailor?”

“SK2 Pegram Kimble, sir,” Kimble said.

“Must be that above-average storekeeper we’ve been desperately looking for,” Glenn commented. “Don’t take that as a slight. We’ve been looking for some good people here, what with the pirates and smugglers trying to one-up us. I’m Major Glenn, your executive officer. Not the usual arrangement on a Navy base, but our missions out here overlap so much, it actually works out. You’d better check in with SK1 Jack and get settled. It’s going to be busy around here for the next month.”

“Excuse me, Captain,” Colvin interrupted. “The shuttle behind us has every single thing the Marine detachment ordered.”

“Everything?” Glenn asked, stunned. “How’d that happen? Oh, I take it Mr. Kimble had something to do with that, eh? Tell you what. Take him to meet Gunnery Sergeant Hofstra before he checks in.”

“A compliment from the old man on the first day,” Colvin commented after Glenn had moved on to the shuttle. “You might just make it off this world much better than you arrived, newbie.”

Glenn ducked into the shuttle Kimble and Colvin had just exited and checked the supply manifest. He pressed a button on the electronic clipboard and made an instant copy. He then used a microscanner built into his watch to scan the information to a chip that compared the manifest to the one he’d submitted six months’ earlier. He was surprised. Not only did the manifest have everything he’d asked for, but had enough spares to easily accommodate the extra detachment of Marines for half a year Earth time (because of the confusion of day length in each planetary system, the Federation used Earth-based calendars and 24-hour clocks).

Glenn exited the shuttle and let the loaders finish their work. Jogging across the tarmac, he flagged a passing patrol vehicle. Within minutes, he was at the main administration building. Inside, he found Commander Margolis Banefield scowling about something – as usual.

Banefield was the literal “bane” of the sailors and Marines on Tedesco. As operations officer, he was in charge of all of the day-to-day operations of the base, including patrols, staffing, emergencies and personnel. He set the watches as well.

In his mid-50’s, he was still strong and muscular, though his hair had begun to thin prematurely. As a career officer (one who signed up for service without finishing a 20-year stint in a non-military career), he’d hated being sent to a backwater assignment like Tedesco. However, he had little choice in the matter. He needed a tough assignment to improve his promotion chances. It didn’t mean he had to like it, though.

To be continued August 27, 2011.

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Copyright © 2010 Gregory Marshall Smith

All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
Gregory Marshall Smith

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