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.”