Authors: John Ringo
Dedicated to E.E. “Doc” Smith and (cue music) The Solar Beam!
And as always:
For Captain Tamara Long, USAF
Born: 12 May 1979
Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan
You fly with the angels now.
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“So . . . what's with the different uniform?” Josh asked. “The Marines got a special one for making the worst mistake of your life?”
Second Lieutenant Eric Bergstresser fiddled with his tight collar and looked in the mirror over his shoulder at his brother.
“I'm an officer, now, you moron. Officers don't wear enlisted uniforms.”
“Shiny,” Josh said, tugging at the unaccustomed tuxedo jacket. “But you get to, like, rent them, right? Because, don't get me wrong, they look expensive.”
Eric had once upon a time been promoted directly from private first class to sergeant. Winning the Navy Cross might have had something to do with it. Assuming that his next promotion, to staff sergeant, would be a long time coming, he'd invested in a set of the Marine Dress Uniform, just about the prettiest uniform the U.S. military services had to offer. And assuredly the most expensive that were made for junior enlisted.
He'd subsequently been promoted to staff sergeant rather quicker than he'd expected and then more or less ordered, by the President no less, to attend Officer's Candidate School. So the Enlisted Dress Uniform now resided in his closet until he could figure out what to do with it and he was fiddling with the “field scarf” of his new officer's dress blues while trying to ignore the fact that he was about to get married.
“No, you don't rent them,” Eric replied. “And, yes, they're expensive. But with the visitors that we've got, I couldn't just turn up in greens.”
Eric winced when he reminded himself of the guest list. Brooke's dad, thank God, was prior service. So when a few people made it known that they'd like to attend, and he'd seen who they were, he'd made it plain to Brooke's mom that, no, they could not be turned away.
Eric had been up to his hips in alligators when the additional guests were invited and hadn't found out for a couple of weeks. In a way he was glad. And even more glad that his tactical officer hadn't found out.
OCS had been a pain in the ass. It wasn't the chickenshit that had gotten him. He understood that. Marines were expected to maintain a high state of readiness at all times. Inspections were a part of daily life. Attention to detail was important in combat and to an extent even more so in space. Whether the Marine Officer Candidates knew it or not, and while it was still Top Secret, the rumors were starting to go around, the Navy, and thus the Marine Corps, was about to transition from a “wet” service to a “space” service. Learning to fold your socks perfectly, first time, every time, was a way to develop the habit of doing the job right, first time, every time. Whether your socks were folded, in the end, really didn't matter. Whether you'd sealed your space suit did.
So Eric could handle the chickenshit and had. He'd been neat as a kid; Marine Corps boot camp had just put polish on. He knew the drills, which was why he rapidly made platoon guide. He could fire his weapon already, so he acted as a mentor to some of the candidates who, alas, could not hit the broad side of a Dreen dreadnought. He didn't even find the coursework hard. Most of the candidates were college graduates whereas he only had a high school education. But sometimes it seemed like college had made them stupider or something. And the new stuff, on particles and planetary environments, well, that was meat and drink to the job he'd been doing for two years.
What had been a pain in the ass was the instructors. He'd entered OCS with the absolute personal commitment to stand out as little as possible, glide through as easily as he could, get his bar and get back to work. The OCS instructors, however, had of course read his file. And while it didn't say where he got the Navy Cross, they weren't handed out in boxes of Cracker Jacks. And his file did note that he had two years in Force Recon.
The instructors did have a certain gate-keeper duty. Their job was to ensure that everyone passing through their course graduated as the finest example of Marine Officer possible. So whether it was that sense of duty, a dislike of “mustangs,” officers who had come up from the enlisted ranks, or just bloody-mindedness, the instructors seemed to pick him out from day one as one of the candidates they were going to make quit.
So it had been a pain. Not as much of a pain as Force Recon qual or Operator Combat Training, but a pain nonetheless. And in his opinion, an unnecessary one. He'd proven from day one that he was as good as any of the other candidates, better really. But nothing he did seemed to be good enough.
On the other hand, maybe it was time to quit mentally bitching. He'd been Distinguished Honor Grad so maybe the riding had a purpose.
But to suddenly get a message from home, right after the Crucible, that several guests had been added to what he'd hoped was going to be a very small and unnoticed wedding . . .
“Okay, try to explain this to me in terms I can understand,” Josh said. “Who are these guys?”
Eric winced internally, again, and shrugged, again.
“Who's the biggest bigshot you can think of short of the President or Marilyn Manson?”
“I dunno,” Josh said.
“That's who these people are,” Eric replied. “One of the lower ranking ones is one of the very few guys alive to have gotten the Medal of Honor. Then there's the rest . . .”
“Okay, that one I get,” Josh said, his eyes widening. “So why's he coming to your wedding?”
“Because God hates me,” Eric replied.
God hates me, Captain William Weaver thought. I should go back to being an astrogator. Hell, I should go back to being a scientist.
Once upon a time, that is exactly what William Weaver, Ph.D., had been. With doctorates in everything from engineering to astronomy, he'd been one of the corps of specialists, often referred to as Beltway Bandits, who solved problems for the military and other branches of the U.S. government, generally having acronyms that had an “A” on the end. NSA, CIA, DIA . . .
Which was why he'd been shanghaied one Saturday afternoon to explain physics to the National Security Council when an experiment in same had gone wrong.
Subsequent to the explosion in Orlando that had created the Chen Anomaly, he'd been blown up, shot, travelled to other planets, gotten stuck between universes and ended up saving the world. The Chen Anomaly, a black sphere that sat precisely where the University of Central Florida High-Energy Physics lab used to reside, had spawned a host of magical particles. The particles, at first referred to, incorrectly, as Higgs bosons, had the ability to link two particles and create a gate, one that looked very much like a mirror, between any two points. Some TV reporter had called them Looking Glasses and the name stuck. Since there were inactive bosons, apparently left over from some predecessor race, on other planets, the vast horde of particles spun out by the Chen Anomaly had created multiple gates to other worlds.
Some of those worlds were inhabited. Notably, some of them were inhabited by a species humans called the Dreen. The Dreen used biological forms for most of the processes humans used machines for and were apparently ravenously consuming Earth's corner of the galaxy. They'd linked to some of Earth's bosons and were intent on conquering the planet.
One of the bosons, however, had linked to a more friendly race called the Adar. About a hundred years ahead of humans in most sciences, the Adar had a weapon that could close the gates. The only problem being, it had to be shoved through one and if it went off on the wrong side it was going to destroy the sending planet. Though they had had a run-in with the Dreen as well, they'd chosen to go for stopgap measures rather than risk losing their planet.
Humans, with multiple attacks coming through and the Dreen seemingly unstoppable, had taken the chance. Weaver, with the help of a SEAL team and nearly a division of troops, had managed to get the device through the Looking Glass and saved the world.
The Adar also had a strange little device they'd picked up on one of the previously inhabited planets. The most they'd gotten it to do was explode on a very large scale. Weaver had figured out that rather than the suicide box it appeared to be, it was probably a drive system of some sort. After seven years, the humans and Adar had managed to create a warp ship with the little black box at the heart of it.
Along the way, Weaver quit being a Beltway Bandit and joined the side of light, taking a direct commission and, after lots of schools and several normal cruises, became the astrogator of that warp ship. Just before its first mission the Adar, who while technically and even philosophically advanced over humans still didn't quite get marketing, had named it the Alliance Space Ship Vorpal Blade.
Weaver had spent two tours as the Vorpal Blade's astrogator and while both had been hair-raising and life threatening, he'd enjoyed the challenge. And, of course, he got to run around in space and see and do some really neat stuff.
But after the second cruise, when they'd finally located the Dreen, found another even more advanced race that was fleeing from them and generally gotten the chither shot out of themselves by a Dreen task force, he'd been offered a promotion to executive officer of the Vorpal Blade II. The latter had been entirely built by the new race, the Hexosehr, and was superior in every way to the original. So how bad could it be? Especially since the Navy threw in a wholly unlooked for promotion to captain. Hell, he could be looking at commanding the Vorpal Blade if he did a good enough job in the XO's slot.
But at the moment, that didn't look likely. If he couldn't get a few hundred rolls of . . .
“We're leaving in a week,” Weaver said, as patiently as he could, to the woman on the other side of the counter. “If we don't have these supplies, experience tells me that our mission is going to go from possible to difficult if not impossible.”
“Well, you're not getting them,” the distribution clerk said, clicking her tongue. “For one thing, you're over budget on this class of item. For another, you're asking for our entire stock. I need to ensure that there's some for others, you know.”
If she clicked her tongue one more time, Weaver was going to go all postal on her fat ass. She used that annoying tongue click as a grammatical mark. At the end of each sentence, “click,” each comma point, “click.” He'd been dealing with her for the last two months and he was going to strangle her if she didn't stop . . .
"This material is very expensive you know (click). And the last two times that your boat went out (click) you used up nearly your entire stock (click). You need to learn some supply discipline, Captain (click).
Weaver tried to stop, but he was beginning to flinch in anticipation of her finishing a sentence. He felt like a hound dog that had been beat too much, no good for sniffin' nor treein'.
“And that is your final answer?” Bill asked, flinching at the fact that he'd actually asked for a reply. He'd encouraged her to . . .
“That is my final answer (click!). Unless you get a budget variance and authorization to entirely deplete the stock (click) the amount you've already drawn is the maximum you will be allowed (Click!).”
Bill felt beaten. It wasn't that he couldn't find a way to get the variances and even the authorizations. The missions of the Blade were almost always of such high priority that variances were more or less automatic. But even if he got them, he'd have to deal with the click. That bloody, revolting, monstrous, infernal click! The horrid, wretched, ghastly, hideous, disgusting, VILE CLICK! THAT BLASPHEMOUS MONSTROSITY THAT ROSE FROM THE NETHER DEPTHS OF . . .
“Thank you very much,” Bill said, nodding to her politely. “Have a nice day.”
“I will (click).”
“You don't look so good, XO,” Captain Prael said.
Captain Charles Prael was a submariner, and a good one. The previous skipper of the Vorpal Blade had been an aviator, a compromise reached among the admirals when it became obvious the navy was going to space. While the Blade I was built around a submarine, the former USS Nebraska, SSBN 739, there were aspects of both underwater and aerial maneuver to its actions. At least, that was the argument the carrier admirals had used. The argument had carried weight for several reasons, among which were that the carrier admirals were all former fighter jocks whereas the sub admirals were bubblehead geeks. In a way, it was right back to high school.
But Spectre had turned out to be a great CO for the mission. Each of the branches had their own priorities, cultural issues that seemed built right into the steel of their ships. And whereas with submariners, the boat always came first, fighter jocks were always willing to go to the mat. It was vastly unlikely that any submariner would have kept fighting the Blade after the pounding she took at the planet designated HD 37355. Their tendency would have been to back off and get fixed. Submariner tradition, due to the conditions under which they fought and especially since the days of Rickover, was that the boat came first.