2952-05-08 – Tales from the Service: The Survivors’ Refuge 

Obviously, because we have the account, Daniel Kuhn and his gunner were eventually rescued, but the two badly-injured Navy spacers were not so lucky that this rescue was quick. They did indeed crash behind enemy lines, and it would not be until more than twenty-four hours after the crash that a recovery team picked them up. 

It’s something of a miracle that the pair survived for twenty-four hours in a strange wilderness as badly injured as they were. Ayama does not have any large wildlife capable of threatening a human, but exposure to the elements is equally fatal on any world. 

[N.T.B. - As you will see in the continuation of the account below, they were lucky to find shelter from those elements quickly after leaving their wrecked craft. Without that, I fear they may have perished; night-time temperatures in the region apparently drop below zero degrees Celsius and the wind can be cruel. Out in the open, they might have lost their thermal blankets to a fickle gust and frozen to death.]  

The cave was barely worthy of the name, being little more than a hollow in an overhanging bank of crumbly conglomerate, but Daniel Kuhn didn’t know if he or Val Isakov could go much farther in search of something better, and at least it kept them out of sight and out of the wind. After sweeping the inside with his jumpsuit’s wrist-light, Daniel helped his compatriot to a seated position inside, then unwrapped a silvery thermal blanket and spread it over her lap. 

Val looked up blankly, but her eyes were unfocused, looking past her companion. Shock from her recently-severed lower leg was quickly setting in, and there was nothing Daniel could do about it with only the contents of their Magpie’s emergency first-aid kit except make sure the torniquet and bandage protecting the stump didn’t come loose and try to get them rescued as soon as possible. 

Rescue, however, would have to wait; he didn’t have any fix on their position, and it seemed only too likely that they were on the wrong side of enemy lines. Trying to attract a rescue before friendly forces were close would only ensure their capture by the Incarnation, which would make Val’s case of shock the least of either of their problems. 

Daniel wasn’t in much better shape than his surviving gunner, either. Without a maximum dose of painkillers and a lot of nano-bandages, the burns on his thigh and side would be too painful for him to stand, let alone walk – and those painkillers would be wearing off in a couple of hours. He didn’t look forward to the agony awaiting him beyond the drugs. 

With trembling hands, Daniel pulled the pack off his shoulder and rooted around inside for one of the emergency ration bars within. He wasn’t hungry, but it seemed like a good idea to get some calories into his system now. Later, he might not be in any presence of mind to eat. 

“Lieutenant?” Val suddenly looked up, her eyes wide. “Where’s Haak?” 

“Relax, Isakov.” Daniel held up his hands. “Don’t you remember?” 

“He was just... He was...” Val’s hands scrabbled against the stone, as if she were trying to stand. “He’s probably still...” Her voice grew weak and faint again. “Still waiting for...” 

The thought seemed to dissolve in front of Val’s eyes, and she put her hands into her lap, staring down at them. Daniel winced and returned to chewing the unappetizing ration bar. 

A sound like a footstep above their hide-out made Daniel freeze. Val didn’t seem to have heard it, so after a few seconds, he began to relax; perhaps it was just a figment of his imagination. 

A moment later, he heard the sound again, this time louder, closer. Daniel slowly reached down to the side-arm hanging from his belt and slid it free of its holster. He knew only too well what Incarnation troops did with prisoners. He and Val weren’t going to be taken without a fight. Barely breathing, he trained the muzzle of the weapon on the center of the cave-mouth, waiting for targets to present themselves. 

Seconds ticked by, and the only sound was the mournful whistle of the wind through the rugged boulders and scraggly trees outside. Daniel knew he hadn’t imagined the sound. Someone was out there. The only question was whether they’d been discovered. 

“Lieutenant...” Val whispered. 

Daniel held up his hand and shot her a warning glance. If there were Incarnation soldiers out there, even the slightest sound would make their discovery certain. Hopefully she would recognize the need to be quiet, even in her current state. 

“I was thinking.” Val whispered hoarsely. “Do you think anyone in the squadron saw where we went down?” 

Daniel frowned; he hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t sent any distress call either before or after their hard landing, but there had been at least five other Magpies in the sky when they’d been hit. Now, of course, the question seemed academic. Whoever was out there now would get to them first – and if it was friendlies, there would be familiar voices calling his name, and Val’s. 

Val shivered and hugged the thermal blanket to herself. Daniel gritted his teeth and rested the grip of his gun on his knee, still waiting for a figure in a silver Incarnation uniform to appear between him and the sky beyond. 

Despite his certainty that he’d heard footsteps, though, no figure appeared. The shadows began to grow longer, and the distant, itchy feeling of heavily suppressed pain began to blossom once more. 

2952-05-01 – Tales from the Service: The Magpie’s Last Landing 

Three days ago, Seventh Fleet announced that an invasion of the world of Ayama here on the Sagittarious Frontier had been ongoing for nearly a month, and was expected to be in its final stages. 

Ayama, one of several worlds slated for the first phase of colonial settlement of the region before the war, seems to have been used by the Incarnation mainly as a staging point for ground troops being prepared for operations elsewhere. One hopes that the invasion was timed for a moment when enemy numbers there were at a minimum, but no information about this has been made available. 

This account reached us about five days ago, but it seems to describe events that happened within the first few days of the invasion of Ayama. Naval Intelligence initially requested we hold it for a later time, but following the announcement by headquarters, they released their hold and let it be released immediately. 

Lieutenant Daniel Kuhn clambered out of the belly hatch of his Magpie gunship and paused for only a few breaths before tossing aside the bag dangling from his arm and reaching a hand back in to assist Val Isakov. 

The burns on his leg and side hurt despite the maximum dose of painkillers he’d administered to himself, and half his ribs felt broken, but he held his breath and pulled as soon as Val grasped his wrist, ignoring the pain until he had hauled her up to lay on the hull next to him. 

Val whimpered and clutched the bandaged stump of her right leg, which ended just above the ankle. Her foot had been so badly crushed and trapped in the ruin of her gunnery station that amputation was the only hope of getting her free. Her leg was probably broken above the stump, too, but they couldn’t do anything about that. 

“I don’t... suppose we can...” Val’s labored voice brought Daniel back from a loathsome memory of blood and the feeling of bone under the edge of a med-kit vibro-scalpel which was never meant for such radical incisions. “Can get Haak out?” 

Daniel shook his head glumly. “We’re in... no shape to try.” The Magpie had rolled over to starboard after striking the ground, and crushed that side of the crew compartment on that side like a tin can. Ismail Haak, the starboard gunner, had nearly been sliced in two by pincers of crumpled metal; when Daniel and Val had regained consciousness in the wreck, their compatriot was already dead. 

“How long until... someone picks us up?” Val shuddered, eyeing the local star already heading for the horizon. “It’s going to get cold.” 

Daniel looked around at the rugged hills into which they’d crashed. Ayama was theoretically a pleasant, Earthlike planet, but the scraggly, gnarled tree-analogues which populated this region had a cruelly hostile appearance that agreed with Val’s assessment. 

“We should get clear of the ship.” There was no guarantee that the first people to investigate the wreck would be friendly. True, the Incarnation defenders had been hard-pressed and on the retreat when they’d been hit, but Daniel had no idea which side of the lines they’d come down on. “And scuttle it. Find cover.” 

Val nodded. “Aye, Lieutenant.” With a deep breath, she rolled over on her stomach and began half-crawling, half-sliding toward the mound of rocky turf that covered the strike gunship’s smashed bow. 

Daniel took a moment to locate the bag he’d tossed aside, then turned and pulled himself to the half-open doors of the Magpie’s munitions bay. The easiest way to set the scuttling charge was normally to do it from inside, but he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to climb out a second time. After pushing one of the doors open all the way, he reached in past the sleek noses of a pair of air-kill missiles and scrabbled around for the scuttling charge’s manual override. 

The roar of an aero-engine echoed forlornly off the hills in the distance, and Daniel looked up, half expecting an Incarnation Sirocco to rise above the ridge-line, its laser arrays blazing. Nothing of the sort happened, but the sound confirmed that enemy forces were in the area; the Confederated invasion force, supported in the air mainly by Magpies and Pumas from the carriers in orbit, wasn’t using anything with air-breathing engines. 

“Is that...” Val hissed in pain. “The trouble I think it is, sir?” 

“Yeah.” Daniel reached in again, and this time the knob he was looking for. Fortunately, it was undamaged; he shuddered to think of what he’d have to do if it had been otherwise. “Fifteen minutes?” 

“Plenty.” From the bow, Daniel heard the sound of pebbles rattling against the Magpie’s hull. “As long as you help me walk.” 

Daniel turned the knob until it clicked fifteen times, then pushed the recessed center and turned it fifteen clicks in the opposite direction and withdrew his hand. The mechanism of the scuttling charge, entirely mechanical, emitted a bright chime, then began to tick ominously. 

“Set.” Daniel extracted his arm and slid down the side of the Magpie toward the bag. When his feet hit the churned dirt, pain flared, but he gritted his teeth, scooped up the bag, and followed the bent and torn hull around to where Val was. 

Unsteadily, Val sat up and let Daniel help her up into a standing position, her amputated leg between them. Though each time she leaned on him was new agony, he helped her stagger away from the wreck, following the terrain downhill merely because the going was easier. Neither of them had any idea where they were or where they were going. 

After thirty or forty paces, Val stopped and turned to look over her shoulder. “It was a good rig, sir.” She shook her head. “Hate to leave it now.” Though she was doing her best not to show it, Daniel could see in her slightly glazed eyes and waxen skin the early stages of shock. “And Haak...” 

“Come on, Isakov.” Daniel pulled her into motion again. 

They’d just gone around a protruding rock formation down the slope when Daniel’s fifteen minutes expired. The explosion of the scuttling charge was almost soundless, but the pressure wave made Daniel and Val stagger. The bomb worked by filling the passenger compartment with two aerosolized explosive components and then igniting them, turning the whole craft into a fuel-air bomb without the need to carry a bulky, vulnerable explosive payload. 

Looking up, Daniel saw twisted pieces of metal glittering in the afternoon sunlight as they tumbled groundward. Some of this shrapnel rain landed around them, but it was all small pieces, too small to do them any harm. 

“Good rig.” Val’s voice was growing increasingly dreamy. “Always a smooth ride.” 

“It was.” Daniel agreed, looking around for likely places to find shelter. “Right up until that final landing, anyway.” 

2952-04-24 – Tales from the Service: The Postmaster's Special Delivery 

Petty Officer Samuel Planque was waiting barely five minutes when Lieutenant Langer returned from within the ship bearing a tool-bag and a pair of EVA suits. The sly grin still had not faded from his face, and Samuel decided he did not like that look. 

“Duce’s bunk is on deck three, portside.” Langer gestured to one side, as if this explained his intentions. “About twenty meters that way. I’ve already had the ship vent the compartment for maintenance.” 

“What for?” Samuel glanced between the titanic package beside him and the suits slung over the lieutenant’s shoulder “Oh. Oh, no, sir, don’t you think that’s taking-” 

“Relax, we’re not going to take anything apart besides the viewpanel plug, and I supervised putting them all in before we made the Gap crossing.” Langer tossed one of the suits to Samuel. “The skipper wanted me to check them for fatigue during the next patrol anyway. I’m just starting early. With Duce’s.” 

Samuel caught the suit and winced. His EVA certification was technically still valid, but he hadn’t been topside in a suit since he’d made Petty Officer, more than a year before. “We’re both over-qualified to do hull inspections, Lieutenant.” 

“Then it’s a good thing we’re volunteering to do this on our down time.” Langer stepped into the lower half of his suit and pulled it up to his arms. “Go find us need at least three tethers while I call the port controller for access to the service airlock.” 

Samuel sighed, dropped his shoulders, and started rummaging through the storage compartments around the dock-side end of the umbilical. Since this was a Navy dock, his access keys unlocked everything, and soon he had set out two thruster packs and several coiled tether lines, each with a mechanical claw at one end and a sturdy clip lock on the other. He attached one of the tether lines to his own suit before he even shrugged it on, and then passed one over to Langer, who was muttering something into his comms earpiece. 

Evidently, the controller didn’t ask too many questions; a moment later, Langer was finished on the comms. “All clear.” He pointed to the crate on the wheeled dolly. “Can you get that down to the service airlock by yourself?” 

“No problem, sir.” Samuel grabbed the dolly’s yoke and pulled it around toward one of the big lifts at the center of the docking hub, conscious of the way the suit’s collapsed helmet bounced against his back as he did. Though light enough, the insulated, airtight EVA suits were uncomfortable things to do any sort of manual labor in; Samuel was sweating by the time he manhandled the crate into the lift and it began to move down. 

There was nobody on the lower level, so Samuel was spared having to explain what he was doing. The entire space below the main docking deck was littered with unused machinery, piles of spare parts, and unlabeled crates, enough that he was briefly tempted to wonder if anyone would notice if he simply left the crate in some corner. 

Before he could do more than wonder, Lieutenant Langer appeared from a ladder-way off to one side. His helmet was already on, but not sealed. Squaring his shoulders, Samuel flipped his own suit’s helmet up, listening to its stiffening ribs snap into place before lowering it over his head as a wobbly, clear-fronted bubble. One by one, the various indicator lights around the margin of the faceplate came online before his eyes. Those which monitored pressure remained solidly red, since Samuel had not tightened any of the suit’s pressure seals. 

A few minutes later, after Samuel and Langer had helped each other seal up and check their suits, they manhandled the crate off its dolly and into the service airlock. Unlike the ship’s hatches, this portal was large enough to accommodate it Langer’s bag of tools, and two spacers quite easily. Langer pressed a button on the back of one suited wrist, and the airlock began to cycle. 

“Should only take us about ten minutes.” Langer’s tinny voice over the radio still carried much of its sly satisfaction from earlier. He hooked his tether to a carry-handle on the crate, then clipped a second tether to his belt. “One clip for the payload, one onto the hull.” 

Samuel nodded and affixed his first tether to the crate. He wasn’t keen on the idea of letting the troublesome package tumble off into space with him attached, but they were working on a ship in dock; there was little likelihood of anything tumbling in just the correct direction to float past all the station’s various extensions, arms, antennas, and other sprawling fixtures, and that assumed they sent the crate tumbling to begin with, which they didn’t intend to do. 

As the outer airlock door ground open, Langer led the way out onto the station’s hull. Samuel followed cautiously over the threshold where artificial pseudo-gravity reached its end, and made sure he had one magnetic boot securely affixed to the threshold before he stepped out into the zero-gee environment beyond. 

“I can’t wait to see the look on his face.” Langer muttered, possibly not realizing his comms were active. 

Samuel checked that his own radio was turned off. “I can’t wait for this to not be my problem anymore.” He grumbled. Langer might technically be right about them not doing anything worth getting in trouble, but he didn’t like any of it, and couldn’t imagine there not being trouble, somehow. 

As you might imagine, Mr. Planque was quite right, which is why he sent this story in. Langer’s decision to entomb the gigantic package directly in the tiny crew bunk-space of the package’s addressee caused no small amount of trouble, but most of it was for the prankster who managed to get himself shipped a package nearly the size of his own crew quarters. Planque lost his postion as the ship’s postmaster, but after this, it seems like that came as something of a relief. 

2952-04-17 – Tales from the Service: The Jokester’s Delivery 

The fleet-mail system in use by the Navy gets little attention outside the service. Obviously, most communication between ships is handled digitally via datasphere interfaces we are all familiar with, but spacers in the fleet have the right to send physical parcels to each other as well, within reason. Everything is scanned, and any data device sent in this manner is subject to being copied and searched as a security measure. Most of the items sent, I am told, are physical-print books and souvenirs; the only time I myself have ever used it was to borrow and then to return a print mystery novel recommended to me by a spacer I met in sickbay. 

Apparently, someone in Seventh Fleet has learned to trick the system into accepting large items. This odd work-around, naturally, creates many headaches for everyone involved. 

Petty Officer Samuel Planque accepted the slate with a frown, hoping to find that he was being subjected to some sort of elaborate prank. Unfortunately, the fleet-mail codes looked to be in perfect order. He ran his scanner over the digital identifier blocks just to make sure, but each one came up green. 

“There, you see?” The deliveryman, a Navy longshoreman in a gray coverall, snapped his fingers and pointed to the huge crate on the dolly behind him. “Your problem now, postman.” 

Samuel sighed. “I guess.” Normally, the fleet-mail system used by the Confederated Navy would only permit small parcels to be sent to any vessel. One needed to have friends in very high places to get anything bigger than a kilo accepted by fleet-mail, and a large package could be rejected at any stopover for the thinnest of reasons. The system was intended to move only the usual constantly-bartered bits of a spacer’s life: sweets, souvenirs, paper books and magazines, and the occasional handwritten love letter. Once, Samuel had tried to send his cousin aboard Philadelphia a potted plant cutting no more than a handspan across wrapped in protective packfoam, and that had been rejected as too bulky. 

As the longshoreman strolled off, Samuel glanced behind him at the hatch. Even if he could get the dolly through that – and he doubted it – the armored airlock on the other end of the umbilical was significantly more constricted. Even if he could get the huge crate aboard Sarina Shaw, it would certainly not fit in the tiny lifts or down the spiral-stair accessways to the fourth deck, and if by some miracle he found a way to get it onto the fourth deck, it would take up all the space in the destroyer’s postal station, leaving him no room to dole out the other parcels from the locker or to process items into the fleet-mail system. 

Samuel paced around the crate, considering his options. It had come too far through the system to be rejected and returned to sender, and he obviously couldn’t open it without risking a court-martial charge for tampering with fleet-mail, and there was no guarantee the contents were significantly easier to move than the crate. He could call the station’s logistics chief and ask for the use of a launch to move the item to Shaw’s hangar deck, but old Huddleston would never second his resources to a mere postman, and that would only solve the problem as far as getting it inside the ship anyway.  

The first thing to do was to attempt to contact the addressee. Samuel scanned the slate again and was unsurprised to find the huge box addressed to Spacer Technician Harvey Duce. A practical jokester who spent more time on punishment duty than anyone else aboard, Duce probably had friends just like him on other ships. Doubtless one of them had discovered the loophole to make fleet-mail move gigantic packages, and the contents were both useless and embarrassing to the recipient. 

Duce, of course, was aboard station on shore leave, like most of the crew. A quick call to his Navy comms code returned only the forlorn beep that indicated Duce’s comm was turned off. He would not be returning to Shaw until it was time to leave the station – and, knowing him, he would probably return at the last moment in restraints, escorted by two glowering station security men. 

Grinding his teeth, Samuel grabbed the dolly’s control yoke and maneuvered it toward the hatch. To his surprise, it did fit through – barely – and he was able to work his way up the umbilical to the ship’s airlock. Less surprisingly, the top of the crate was almost a half-meter above the top of the airlock’s outer hatch when he got there. He sized it up, and decided that it would never fit through at any angle. 

Someone cleared their throat behind Samuel, and he turned around to see Lieutenant Langer standing there. “Sorry, sir.” Samuel started shifting the dolly to one side, only for the top of the crate to bump into the angled umbilical overheads. “Strange mail delivery today.” 

“I’ll say, Mr. Planque.” Langer looked up at the towering parcel. “I didn’t think fleet-mail would move anything this big.” 

“Normally it won’t, Lieutenant.” Samuel shrugged. “This seems to be an exception. Let me back it out of the umbilical to let you by.” 

Langer moved back out of the tunnel and to the side while Samuel threaded the dolly back down and out onto the station dock. For some reason, it took far longer to move out than it had to move in. "All clear, sir.” Samuel waved Langer past him. “Sorry for the wait.” 

“Do you want me to send some help?” Langer gestured to the dolly. “That’s at least a three spacer job.” 

“Three spacers won’t help me any.” Samuel shrugged. “If it won’t fit in the hatch, it won’t fit in the lift or the accessway, and I can’t reach Mr. Duce. There’s no process for sending it back, either.” 

A frown spread across Langer’s face, followed quickly by a sly smile. “It’s for Duce, eh?” He held up one finger. “I’ll be right back.”