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Authors: Alan Black

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Metal Boxes - Trapped Outside

BOOK: Metal Boxes - Trapped Outside
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Metal Boxes - Trapped Outside

 

 

 

Alan Black

Names, characters, places
and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The Publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

 

Metal Boxes-Trapped Outside

Published by arrangement with the author

 

Printing History

© 2015 Copyright by Alan Black

 

Cover Art: Willard (Bill) Wright at

www.flickr.com/photos/billwrigt1

 

Cover Layout: The Cover Collection at

www.thecovercollection.com

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed, electronic or digital form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

ISBN 10 - 1514337517

ISBN 13 - 978-1514337516

LOC - 1-2465340791

Acknowledgments:

I would also like to thank my usual beta reader team: Steve B., Bennett B, A.J. Questerly (author of
Pangaea
), and Melissa M. This story would not be the as good as it is without their input. Oodles of thanks go to Melissa Manes (www.scriptionis.com) and Duann B. for their editorial expertise.

ONE

 

Being in a romantic relationship with a trained killer isn’t as easy as one would think. Stone felt more frustration than dismay and confusion at her refusal to attend dinner to meet his family. The fact that she was taller, stronger, older, more educated, and higher-ranking, made the relationship painfully awkward. Seventeen-year-old Navy Midshipman Blackmon Perry Stone wouldn’t have it any other way. He looked up at his girlfriend, Marine First Lieutenant Allison (Allie) Vedrian. He had to look up—she was six inches taller—even though he was going through growth spurt.

“Come on, Allie. We’ve been at Lazzaroni for weeks and you keep dodging them.”

Allie looked contrite and stubborn at the same time. “I’m not dodging them. Well, not this time—”

Stone interrupted, “How can you be nervous about meeting my parents and grandparents? They aren’t ogres, trolls, or Hyrocanians; they’re just simple business people.”

“Come on, Stone. Your family isn’t simple by anyone’s definition, except your own. The Stones hold the Empire’s largest privately held fortune and control a massive multi-function business enterprise. That isn’t simple.”

“Okay, but meeting Dad and Mom can’t be more nerve-wracking than going into combat, and you’ve done that more times than you’ll admit. What’s the problem this time? We can talk to Major Numos and get your duty changed, if that’s the problem.”

“It’s not base duty this time, Stone. I have orders to ship out. Numos, Heller, and I are taking our platoons out of the Lazzaroni System.”

Stone was stunned. He knew their separate services would eventually send them in different directions and they had already discussed plans for a long distance relationship. He hadn’t expected it to happen this soon. He managed to stammer, “Where?”

Allie shook her head. “You know better than to ask. I’ll write and let you know as soon as I can—if I can. Really, I’d have gone to meet your parents this time, but I can’t. Marine Command doesn’t leave a company of grunts sitting around doing nothing and we’ve been here far too long already.”

“It’s not—” He almost complained it wasn’t fair, but this was military life. Transfers and goodbyes were just a part of life in the empire’s military. “Crap! Who’s going to protect me from every gold-digging, cradle-robbing cougar in this part of the galactic arm? I mean, it’s no secret I’m one of the Stones. Everyone knows about the size of my family’s bank balance.”

Allie grinned, “I know you’re all of seventeen, single, and a legally consenting adult, just don’t let your head swell up too far. You’re still a shrimp and not muscled worth a damn. You aren’t the best catch out there, you know.”

Stone flexed his muscles. They were taut and hard. No matter how hard he worked out, he couldn’t seem to bulk up. He wanted to blame it on the old navy nanites that used to inhabit his system, they should’ve helped, not hindered. Still, those nanites weren’t as robust as his new marine combat nanites. “I’m trying to get stronger. It seems the more I eat, the skinnier I get.”

“Eating more ice cream is not going to build muscles.” She poked him in the chest with a long tapered finger. “Besides, if you get too desperate for protection, Lieutenant Hammermill hasn’t received orders. You can go to him to help you keep the lady beasties away. He is distracting in a handsome, well-muscled kind of way.”

“Major Numos is leaving Hammer behind? Why—?”

“Again, you doofus, that isn’t something you should ask. I don’t know and neither does Numos or Hammer. It’s just the way it is.”

“When will we see each other again?”

Allie grabbed him, despite all regulations against public displays of affection while in uniform; she wrapped her massive muscled arms around him, pulling him in tight. “We’ll work it out. I promise. Somehow—maybe we can take leave together…” Her voice faded away, both of them knew such things don’t happen.

Stone felt like crying. Was this the last time he’d ever see his girlfriend?

TWO

 

Stone peeked around the corner. The long corridor had only a few twists and turns. Should the need arise, there wasn’t any place to hide. He didn’t want to hide, but Petty Officer Third Class Tammie Ryte, a communications technician, was aggressively trying to become his next girlfriend. Allie left the system six months ago and he missed her, but not enough to get trapped in a corner by Ryte. He glanced behind him, the coast was clear.

He was only a few steps away from the overcrowded midshipmen’s barracks when Ryte appeared, glomming onto him, working diligently to trap him into a corner or back him into any handy dark corridor.

He stopped in his tracks, unable to run or advance.

“Hello, Mister Stone,” Ryte said.

“Good morning, Petty Officer Ryte.” He almost cringed. He controlled his face, keeping it as passive as he could. Luckily, this corridor didn’t have any dark corners.

No matter what his feelings were toward Allie, he was seventeen and couldn’t stop himself from looking at Ryte. She was an attractive young woman, slim, and round in all those strange places women are curvy. He wondered how her supervisor let her get away with wearing a uniform a couple of sizes too small. Her face was framed neatly by a halo of hair, often appearing golden and at other times, clearly the color of perfectly made pancakes.

Ryte pulled out her dataport and tapped open a display, turning it so he could see it. “I was, um, like wondering if I could get your opinion on something, Mister Stone.”

Stone grimaced at the video showing a Hyrocanian soldier. The video was frozen on one frame and enlarged to show the alien’s face. Everyone knew he and his drascos had survived hand-to-hand combat with the aliens aboard a Hyrocanian ship. A feat no one else had ever accomplished and lived to tell about it. He was tired of recounting his last battle with the empire’s enemy—at least she was prettier to look at than most admirals or intelligence officers who normally asked him questions about the encounter.

“What is your question?”

“Well, my real question is, I’m heading for a late breakfast and wondered if you would, you know, care to join me? You see, I would like it oodles and bunches just to get your opinion on whether or not the Hyrocanian’s hear the same frequencies as we do.” She jabbed a finger at the picture of the Hyrocanian’s ears.

If Stone hadn’t met Allie first, he would be more than willing to dally over breakfast with this young woman. True, she was a few years older than he was, but most of the women who approached him were older. Regulations about fraternization between the ranks be damned, Ryte did have one of the best derrieres on the base and could wiggle it with eye-popping style. He shook his head. Allie was still entrenched between his ears. He compared each woman through a filter of her attributes. Ryte was gorgeous; she just couldn’t measure up to his marine.

He said, “I don’t know about their hearing. Their ears are hinged, so I imagine they detect sounds without turning their heads, like humans sometimes do. Nevertheless, Petty Officer Ryte, how good their hearing is remains a mystery to me.”

She sidled in close to him, not touching, yet close enough the air between them began to heat up. “Well, I was just curious about their comms, you know, since I’m a communications tech, and all. Anyway, how about breakfast?”

Stone shook his head. “I have duty in a few minutes so I need to get going.” Without waiting for her response, he turned and practically ran down the corridor, leaving Ryte behind. The woman made him more nervous than a hangar full of Hyrocanians.

THREE

 

Stone stood as far back as he could get from the hatch, pressing his back to the shuttle garage bulkhead. The huge bay was empty at this time of the day. He let the small noises surrounding him echo back. The wide expanse of the deck stretched out before him, coming to a comfortable end at the far bulkhead with a decent ceiling over his head. He looked up, getting a quick nod from Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas, who was standing nearby. With a little internal shiver and a tightening in his gut, he put aside his fear of open spaces. Using thick, heavily gloved hands, he slapped the up button on the garage hatch’s control panel. He closed his eyes and clamped his teeth shut against the impending doom.

He wasn’t getting any better living with impending doom than yesterday or the day before, or at any time in his short seventeen years. Sure, he’d survived his last little brush with death aboard the United Empire Navy’s spaceship, UEN Periodontitis, and his brief introduction to the Hyrocanian War. His introduction to hand-to-hand combat wasn’t so much as living with doom as it’d been simple survival. He wasn’t a hero, he’d done what anyone else would’ve done. He’d done his job, nothing more and nothing less. Today’s doom was ever more present and always just around the corner. He couldn’t even fight back against the surrounding planet’s openness.

He was an officer in the Emperor’s Navy, but his supervisor saddled him with a babysitter. Stone was a certified combat veteran, so why did he need an old master chief dogging his every step, watching for mistakes, spying on his every move? Didn’t the cameras everywhere on the base watch his every move? Weren’t those enough to make anyone paranoid? Not to mention the fact, his supervisor, the high and mighty Lieutenant Commander Thomas Butcher, hated his guts. LCDR Butcher wasn’t like his last supervisor who’d tried to murder him. Nevertheless, the man obviously took great pains to make his life miserable.

To top it off, the Navy hadn’t seen fit to assign him to a new ship or station. He was adrift on temporary duty, assigned to Lazzaroni Base on the planet with the same name, an unhealthy place with all of its open outside. Even though he’d spent time on the Ol’ Toothless trying to desensitize himself to open spaces, he still got queasy when faced with the possibility of going anywhere there wasn’t a ceiling overhead. Planets were the worst offenders when it came to having places without roofs.

The garage sirens blared in warning. The broad hatches at the far end began their noiseless ascent, opening the extensive interior to the vast outside. The siren was now harmonized, as the outside warning synchronized with the internal system. The warning let everyone on either side of the hatch know it was opening.

An air gust blew under the door, and would’ve blown any loose dust, paper or debris around, if there had been any trash or dirt to blow. Without any obstructions to hinder the slight wind, it wafted straight up to Stone, tugging at his utility uniform and ruffling his straight black hair. He never understood how anyone could call it fresh air. The atmosphere was an unpleasant mixture of unfiltered gasses smelling of fresh mowed grass, warm sand, pine trees, mold, decaying plant life, and week-old animal poop. He was far happier breathing the clean machine-purified air inside a ship or station.

The unnatural brightness of the outside sunlight outshined the manmade overhead lights as the hatches creeped upward, opening the whole western wall. The hatch was taller and wider than the usual requirements because this bay stored ground shuttles for everyone at Lazzaroni Base. Instructors, administrators, and senior officers could check out vehicles for any use if the shuttles weren’t being used for training. When untrained cadets and unassigned midshipmen practiced their driving skills, they required large open spaces and tall doors.

Stone didn’t need or want large openings, but it wasn’t his garage and he didn’t design it. He didn’t even want to be here when the hatch opened. However, he was assigned the duty for two reasons. First, and for some reason no one ever explained to him, base regulations required a naval officer and a senior non-commissioned officer be present during an atmospheric containment breach without the benefit of an airlock in the base’s main training building. The environment on Lazzaroni didn’t require an airlock, however, rules were rules, meaning he, as an officer, had to be here to push one little button. The second reason he needed to be here was to let Jay and Peebee back in after their outside romp. Of course, if he was here to push a button, it meant MCPO Thomas was lurking about, watching to make sure he pushed it in a proper military manner.

He kept his eyes shut, listening to the gaggle of marines in combat armor stomping their way into the bay. Returning from their outside training grounds, they moved loudly though their massive nine-foot tall combat suits didn’t clank, squeak, or creak. No noise escaped their sealed helmets, all communications were shielded and silent. All he heard were the heavy footfalls tromping on the hardened plasticrete floor and impacts from the occasional, punch, kick, or head butt armored marines called good-natured jostling—noises that wouldn’t have happened if a quiet assault were in progress.

A duet of wild wonking and clanging of metal-on-metal assaulted his ears, highlighting the second reason he had to be in the garage when the hatches went up. Long since discarded was the drasco’s original chromed metal armor as they outgrew it. It was replaced by stronger, more impact resistant, and lighter protective gear. Their second set of gear was noise resistant and black to match marine armor, but both drascos had rejected it. This new set was shiny chrome with blue filigree for Jay and red flames for Peebee. They clanged and rang like a junkyard musical band. He opened his eyes and braced himself for an onslaught as Jay and Peebee danced across the floor to him, knocking any unwary marine out of the way.

A marine at the head of the group waved. Stone had learned to pick out enough minor differences in the huge combat suits to recognize a few of the suited monsters. He waved back at Lieutenant Hammermill. Stone’s greeting to the two drascos was less friendly, or so it would seem to any casual observer.

The two alien pets from Allie’s World had grown from their large size to dwarf even the marines. Both had grown to stand a bit over eight feet at the shoulder, not quite matching the helmet height of a combat armored marine, and they stretched twice that length from the tip of their flat-faced, dragon-like snout to the end of their bone-spiked scorpion-like tail. They were clearly half again as large as their mother.

Stone pounded on the two with much more enthusiasm than punching the heavy bag in the gym. Swiveling his hips like his instructors taught him, and twisting on the balls of his feet, he threw a solid punch against Jay’s head. The drasco wonked happily and danced around for another. Throwing an uppercut to Peebee, the drasco slipped her head sideways and shoved him, gently pushing him to the side. Gently to a drasco meant Stone was merely knocked off his feet rather than thrown against a distant wall and broken beyond repair. Climbing to his feet, he reached under their back legs and rubbed his knuckles deep into a hidden tender spot causing Peebee’s back leg to dance with unrestrained joy and Jay’s eyelids to droop with contentment.

The hidden spot was one of the rare places not covered by a drasco’s tough hide. Almost all spots on their bodies were layered with a thick covering of something resembling gnarly rusted pig iron wrapped in thick gritty sandpaper. Rubbing against his drascos was a sure way to lose a few layers of skin. Their thick skin was protection against their native planet’s flora and fauna. Cutting though their hides would require a combat survival knife. Stone wasn’t even sure these two could be cut. Their epidermis was much rougher than he remembered their mother having. He’d watched his companion, Doctor Danielle Wright skin their birth mother after these two imprinted on him as their surrogate mother. Her knife could barely cut through the tough drasco hide.

Only a year had passed since the unfortunate incident at Point Alpha-Beta where, as a lowly midshipman, he’d taken command of UEN Periodontitis, leading her and her crew into combat, saving the fleet and destroying more Hyrocanian ships than he could count. He still claimed his actions weren’t anything more than a series of guesses with some good luck thrown in, and how he’d only been doing his job. That little trip resulted in him receiving a chest full of medals and a blood red stripe down his trouser legs for commanding one of the emperor’s ships in combat. That stripe caused each officer on base, from other lowly midshipmen to full commanders to glare at him with envy, jealousy, or resentment. Most, if not all of them, would never earn a combat command stripe.

The last twelve months were spent on Lazzaroni Base, doing what Master Chief Thomas called casual scut work befitting a lowly midshipman who still couldn’t do basic math calculations without dataport assistance. Endless days of supervising kitchen helpers scrubbing pots in a galley—even though the cooks and stewards had machines to do it better. Mindless workshifts watching teams of students working off demerits sweeping the garage floor—even if the mechanics and shop crew had machines to do it faster.  Boring hours directing low ranking enlisted crew emptying office trash bins—although the administration technicians had machines to do it with far less grumbling. Stone’s scut work was mixed with incessant days of legal testimony, interviews, and depositions about the unfortunate incident at Point Alpha-Beta and his deliberate destruction of a large portion of one of the emperor’s spaceships.

He was thankful the military tribunal determined he wasn’t financially responsible for destroying Tower Six of the Ol’ Toothless. They found him well within regulations, even as a junior grade midshipman, for forcibly replacing an admiral and taking over as captain of UEN Periodontitis, a huge warehouse resupply ship.

They vetted every metal and ribbon he’d been awarded, including the coveted red stripe on his trousers denoting his experience as the captain of a ship during combat operations. He’d been given more awards and decorations for risking his life to save the empire’s fleet from destruction by an invading Hyrocanian force.

The navy had scrapped UEN Periodontitis as everyone expected. Her crew was reassigned, waiting reassignment, or sent to prison for theft, embezzlement, murder, and a host of other charges too long for news pundits to bother listing. Her passengers were long gone and her cargo was unloaded, verified, and shipped out to resupply the fleet. Only Marine First Lieutenant Hammermill and his platoon from his deployment on the Ol’ Toothless, remained on Lazzaroni Base. Danielle Wright had retired to marry Maggot and wait for her fortune to accumulate—riches from her part ownership of Allie’s World, the planet she and Stone had found. Major Numos and Second Lieutenant Heller were gone to points unknown, taking a tearful First Lieutenant Allie Vedrian with them.

He missed Allie most of all. He wrote to her each day, trying desperately not to sound desperate. Letters coming back were infrequent and heavily redacted, empty of anything about where she was and what she was doing. The other women on the base weren’t any consolation, although many, like PO3 Ryte threw themselves at him. None came close to Allie’s wit, intelligence, strength, or courage.

Ryte was more than pretty and had a smoking hot body—many of his fellow midshipmen went out of their way just to get a glimpse of her—but she wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. Stone liked large women, much larger than Ryte’s five feet five inch frame. Allie was still a head taller than him even though he was in the middle of a growth spurt. Though five feet seven inches at academy graduation, he now stood an amazing five feet ten inches. His height was amazing to him, although everyone else seemed to take it as a matter of course.

The delay in his reassignment due to the legal proceedings, kept him inside, even stationed planet-side on Lazzaroni Base, except for a few shuttle side trips flying from one garage hangar to another. He was thankful he wasn’t a marine who had to go outside and train in the actual open air on real dirt.

Hammermill was still with him, though no one would explain why the newly promoted first lieutenant’s platoon hadn’t been deployed with the rest of his unit. The huge marine still enjoyed drasco-sitting his pets when Stone needed to be elsewhere. He became giddy at the thought of taking the drascos along with a squad outside to play in the dirt every morning. Hammer claimed they were playing, but from the video playback Stone watched, it looked like combat training with his drascos playing the bad guys. Stone liked watching the training videos because the good guys didn’t always win.

Stone’s dataport blared, “Midshipman Stone to Commander Butcher’s office ASAP.”

He breathed into Jay and Peebee’s mouths, huffing out carbon dioxide, sharing a breath with his two most loyal friends. “Crap!” Looking into Jay’s eyes, he said again, “Crap!” Lieutenant Commander Butcher never had good news, in fact, terrible news was always on the agenda whenever he was called to go to his supervisor’s office for a face-to-face meeting. He received general bad news at officer’s call in the early morning. Run of the mill bad news came via Master Chief Thomas. His personal dataport always delivered personal bad news. He wasn’t scheduled for any legal depositions today, his drascos hadn’t broken anything important in the last few days, and he hadn’t committed any military faux pas like mutiny or murder—none he could remember, anyway.

Hammermill waved at him from a cluster of nearby marines. “I heard. I have a meeting at Marine Bureau of Personnel. I can’t watch the girls for you.”

Another marine flipped up her faceplate. “I’ll watch the drascos, sweetie.” Lance Corporal Barbara Tuttle’s grin gave Stone the shivers. He barely managed to shake his head “no thanks”. Barb was a good marine and a fun person when she wasn’t trying to get into his pants. Her six feet six inch frame was large enough to suit his tastes and she was pretty enough to model for recruiting posters with jet black hair, deep blue eyes, and the weird, sexy, front tooth gap some women get. Her body wasn’t as broad and muscular as Allie’s, but she was built like she was welded from eight inch steel cables twisted into a woman’s shape, all taut muscle and tendons under soft leather. She wasn’t shy about letting everyone know she was interested in Stone—not for his money, just for his body. Barb dabbled in sex like coin collectors dabbled in pennies, pence, and pounds or bug collectors dabbled in beetles, bees, and butterflies. She’d worked her way through all the marines on base, both permanent party and transients, and had recently started working her way through the base navy personnel. Stone was tempted—what seventeen-year-old guy wouldn’t be, except Barb scared the bejeezus out of him, not to mention what he thought Allie would do if she found out about it. No, not if, but when. Allie always seemed to know what went on everywhere in Stone’s universe.

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