Saturday, August 27, 2011

Slow Boat to China (Chapter 2 -- Part III)

Warning: Violent situations.

Recap: In Chapter 2, Part 2, Kimble’s has landed at the main base and is introduced to Cayce Colvin, the planet’s new Marine staff sergeant. He also impresses the base’s executive officer, but the feeling doesn’t seem to be mutual with the operations officer.

Slow Boat to China

By Gregory Marshall Smith

Chapter 2: Tedesco (Part III)

“What is it this time, Golis?” Glenn asked as he stepped inside the main foyer. “Did they forget your favorite cigars again?”

Banefield looked up and sneered. He obviously hated that joke. He’d gotten used to Cuban cigars but the long distances from Earth made it impossible for them to make it past all the outposts in between without being totally scarfed up by others. He’d given up smoking rather than try one of the foul-tasting local brands.

“You got your new guy,” Glenn said as he made his way into a large office occupied by a real oaken desk. “Name of Kimble. He might be worth something, if you don’t micromanage him to death.”

“I don’t micromanage,” Banefield retorted as he leaned against the doorjamb of Glenn’s office. “I just like to look at things up close and personal.”

“Speaking of up close and personal, what’s up with that farm collective by grid J-four?” Glenn queried. “Seems like maybe the farmers are playing fast and loose with the rule about reporting smuggling and missing items.”

“Heh, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the smugglers,” Banefield remarked. “Why don’t you make a surprise raid? How can we do our jobs if we have to keep notifying the provost marshal? For all we know, one of those auxiliary guardsmen or sheriff’s deputies is probably tipping them off.”

“Now, now, we have to maintain the harmony around here, Golis,” Glenn countered. “And going behind Carmen’s back would say we don’t trust her.”

“But, we don’t trust her,” Banefield said, testily.

“Or, at least, we don’t trust a lot of her people. Would serve her right if we did make a surprise raid and caught her people in it up to their necks. Then, it’d be her neck, too.”

“And who would replace her?” Glenn asked. “She’s the most honest of the bunch. Anyway, we’ve got that Marine detachment we asked for and I need for you and your people to incorporate them into the patrol schedule. And Kimble, that new storekeeper. They say he’s really got his stuff together, so I want SK1 Jack to get with him and go over all the manifests by the end of the month. Maybe we can see where our stuff keeps disappearing to.”

A third-class storekeeper named Mia Tran led Kimble and Colvin to the berthing quarters for the storekeepers and Kimble had to admit he was impressed. The barracks for the enlisted were constructed dormitory style. Each sailor had his or her own place, though there was only one shower for each two rooms. Still, he’d have some privacy. He tested the walls, pounding on one which separated him from an apartment he knew was occupied. No answering thump came back.

“Soundproof or just really thick?” he asked.

“A little of both,” Tran answered, her eyes roving over Kimble’s body. “Means you can bring someone back to your place and not disturb your neighbors.”

He turned to her and saw her eyeing him like candy. Farrier wasn’t kidding, he told himself. I might as well be raw meat in a uniform down here. He ignored the leer and moved around his room, throwing his bag on a desk while Colvin dumped the larger bag on his bed. He peeked out of the apartment’s only window but frowned when he saw nothing but tall trees beyond the fence line. At least his view of the stars wasn’t blocked.

“It’d also make it difficult for anyone to hear you if you keel over with a heart attack,” Colvin commented, wryly.

“We’re sailors, Staff Sergeant,” Tran quipped. “We’re the best the Federation has to offer. Heart attacks are for old people.”

 “Or ‘roid freaks,” Colvin added.

“What the hell are ‘roid freaks?” Kimble asked.

“Gravity on Tedesco is almost that of Earth,” Tran answered. “But, the ground is much firmer. Pulling up roots and plants can be like pulling teeth and many of the transiters find that they’re not strong enough. So, some of them opt for super synthetic steroid shots to boost their strength. I hear it makes them better lovers, too.”

“And amps up their metabolism so much they can have a heart attack before they’re 40,” Colvin muttered. “Stay away from them. They’ll be so upped on ‘roids that they’ll keep going with sex even after you’ve screamed ‘no mas, no mas.’  I’ve seen some of their playmates in intensive care.”

Kimble grimaced. Nice world. Maybe he should have stayed aboard the dreadnought. It might have been more competitive, but at least the sailors on the ship wouldn’t cripple him or worse.

“Whoops,” Colvin blurted out. “Kimble, we’ve got to go. Let’s get you checked in with Banefield, okay?”

Kimble started to say something but caught the hint just in time. New people didn’t usually meet the ops officer on their first day and some didn’t meet the man until the end of their first week. More than likely, Colvin wanted to break protocol, get Kimble in to see Banefield and, thus, make herself look a little better in the eyes of the base’s leadership.

“Well, I’ll be around when you finish,” Tran called out after the pair left the room. “I’ll put your stuff up.”

Colvin and Kimble made their way to the nearest staircase and descended one flight to the ground. From there, they made their way past the other dormitories to a row of single-level buildings. They were nondescript and Kimble had to look real close to see the emblem of the Space Marine Corps on the wall of the closest building.

“Better check your stuff when you get back, Kimble,” Colvin warned. “Don’t be surprised if she hides all your skivvies. So she won’t have any obstacles.”

They walked in and saw the Marines from the pinnaces taking their gear into their separate dorm rooms. The only difference was that Marines shared their spaces with two others. The Marines loved to do things in three’s – three fire squads to a platoon, three platoons to a company, three companies to a battalion, three battalions to a regiment, three regiments to a brigade and three brigades to an expeditionary force. Kimble had never questioned the logic of that since it had worked for the Marines for more than 600 years.

A slew of Marines that had already been stationed on Tedesco meandered about, either cleaning weapons or reading up on the latest battle tactics. A few spotted Colvin and came to meet her with handshakes and claps on the shoulders. Marines being a close-knit service, Kimble wasn’t surprised that they recognized a staff sergeant making just her second trip to the planet.

“Hey, didn’t know they’d be dumb enough to send you here?” one Marine said, with a snort.

“Gunny’s still waiting for you to make rank so he can get out of here,” another said. “Gonna’ try your luck at Chief Hasselbeck’s card games?”

“Maybe later,” Colvin remarked, with a laugh. “You’re not getting my money that easily. Say, where’s Gunny?”

“Last building, way at the end,” someone replied. “They built three more additions, as well as a separate duplex. One for the lieutenant and one for the gunny. Since, we don’t rate a lieutenant in this backwater, one is for the gunny and I guess the other is for you.”

“Finally, they recognize a woman of my talent,” Colvin quipped.

“More likely they needed more room for your ego,” a Marine remarked, which got a big laugh out of the other Marines.

Colvin went back outside and marched down the length of the buildings. Kimble spotted a duplex at the end. The door to the apartment on the left was open and he could see what looked like an office just beyond the foyer. A young man was sitting at a desk and he turned as if to say something to someone out of sight.

“Staff Sergeant Colvin, good to see you,” Lance Corporal Mick Knightley greeted when Colvin and Kimble stepped into the foyer.

Kimble saw that the front of the apartment had been converted into an office area, replete with four other desks, all of which were unoccupied, though each had computers and piles of paperwork. Kimble noted stairs heading up to a landing that overlooked the area down below. The landing led to an open doorway and Kimble guessed that Hofstra’s personal quarters, bathroom and kitchen area were back there, a private retreat after a long day’s work.

“Hey, this is SK2 Pegram Kimble,” Colvin introduced. “Kimble, this is Lance Corporal Mick Knightley.”

“Mr. Kimble’s the new hotshot storekeeper they’ve been asking for,” Colvin said, as the two men shook hands.

“Hotshot, eh?”
“Well, he managed to get our entire request order, as well as enough supplies to outfit my detachment for six months,” Colvin added.

“Well, well, let’s see if we can do some business with the gentleman,” Knightley remarked. “Maybe I should bring you with me to Chief Hasselbeck’s next card game. Maybe you can figure out how he’s cheating us so badly.”

“Hey, that’s not a nice way to talk about a noncom,” Colvin warned an embarrassed lance corporal. “Even if it’s wholly true. Come on, Pegram. Let me introduce you to Gunny.”

The landing may have been nondescript, but the rooms at the end of the hallway were not. Colvin and Kimble walked into an office that looked more like a display from a send-away catalog. Lush potted ferns guarded each side of the door, while miniature palm trees barricaded each side of a massive oaken desk. Zulu war spears and shields decorated the walls, while dozens of exotic plants dotted the window sills, some on stands, others hanging.

“Come in, Keith,” a heavy booming voice said out of nowhere.

To say Gunnery Sergeant Dugan Hofstra was big would have been a grave understatement. The man had to be close to seven feet tall, making Kimble wonder how he could fit into the standard patrol vessel cockpit. Kimble noted that Hostra was a lighter shade of brown than he was. He also noted that Hofstra had a peculiar tick with his left eye.

“Oh, hey, Cayce,” Hofstra corrected himself when he came out of a back room and took a seat behind his desk. “About time you got here.”

The intercom on his desk buzzed.

“Gunny, Colvin just arrived,” Knightley’s voice alerted.

“You’re late, as usual,” the gunnery sergeant snorted, abruptly cutting off the box. “The storekeeper must be Kimble. Everyone’s been waiting for you. Don’t let the stardom go to your head.”

“Yep, this is him,” Colvin acknowledged. “We’ve already met Major Glenn and he liked him. Wanted me to have him meet you right off before getting with SK1 Jack and Chief Hasselbeck.”

“Well, that’s a right good thing, Cayce,” Hofstra commented, with a smile. “I’d advise keeping that armored vest on for a while. Hasselbeck will try to take your money and SK1 Jack’s liable to stab you in the back. Around here, he runs the storekeepers like they’re serfs or so I hear. A man like you, if you’re as organized and efficient as everyone says, could usurp him or, at least, make him actually do some work for a change.”

“Hmm, seems like I have a target on my back already,” Kimble noted. “Maybe I will need the machine gun I left downstairs.”

“Yeah, that,” Hofstra said, with some despair. “Pirates and smugglers have been getting a lot bolder lately. Stuff’s being taken right off of some of our transporters. We’ve got a small detachment of SeaBees. They cleared the tree line back a mile more, to give us more of a buffer zone. They’ll need a really large mortar to get close to the airfield this time.”


 Kimble could only wonder what he’d let himself in for. He’d wanted some action and it looked like there would be more than enough people – off-base and on – to give it to him.

“I know you and Major Glenn requested an extra detachment,” Colvin said. “Is it really that bad?”

“Look at my office downstairs,” Hofstra replied. “Should be four more people there, but I’ve got them out on extra patrols. Soon as you get your things settled, I need you to take over the night shift patrols. If we got even half the heat sensors we ordered, we’ll need them.”

“Kimble finagled our entire request, Gunny,” Colvin commented, making the gunnery sergeant sit up and take notice. “Plus enough for my detachment and then some.”

“Well, that puts a new light on things,” Hofstra said. “Let’s make sure they get into the right hands. Did they tell you about the outposts, Kimble?”

“Uh, no, not really,” Kimble replied, slightly confused.

“Figures,” Hofstra snorted. “They so rarely get any good sailors out here that they probably didn’t want to scare you off. We have various outposts all over this planet, including the bayous and the ice belt fjords. They haven’t been effective at stopping smugglers because they’ve never been properly supplied. If you can make sure they, at least, get the basics, like food, ammo and fuel, I’d greatly appreciate it. So would Major Glenn and that should keep Banefield off your back with stupid requests for meaningless crap.”

“I appreciate that, Gunny,” Kimble said, with a slight smile.

“Well, I don’t want to put you into too much hot water with Banefield and Jack on your first day,” Hofstra said. “Cayce, take him over to operations. And watch out, Kimble. There’s a reason for the ‘bane’ in Banefield.”
“What’d you think?” Colvin asked as she and Kimble made their way outside. “Gunny’s a good Marine. Always looks out for people, especially on a crap water planet like this. I trust my Marines, but I wouldn’t give you a sawbuck for most of these sailors. No offense.”

“Hey, from what I’ve heard, none taken,” Kimble replied. “Say, how bad is the pirate problem?”

Almost on cue, a massive explosion shook the base.

To see all of chapter 2 of this story and other works, please purchase the latest edition of Digital Digest, now on sale.

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.
To be continued Sept. 6, 2011.

Gregory Marshall Smith

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