I didn't sleep well that night. I just lay there staring at the bunk above me. I could say it was the snoring of the tin-horn conked out 2 feet over my head, but that'd be a lie. All I could do was envision all the different ways that a mission could fail. All of them, gruesome or, worse, embarrassing. Oh come off it. I'm a reservist now and 36 hrs from mustering out. How bad can it be? It's not like there was a war going on.
The breeze that blew in through the dormatory windows couldn't take the stiffling heat away. I could hear the howl of thrusters every so often from the taxi-ways just over the berm. Sheesh, I know this is a small podunk planet, with a small podunk military, but why couldn't the service at least rent some air conditioing to go along with these 'luxury suites' they had leased from the COACC. It feels like I landed in hell at 4 in the morning with no tisane. Maybe I oughta just get up now and get something cold to drink from the mess. Maybe I could just take a look at my new baby. So I gathered up my shaving kit and flip-flops and stumbled out to the showers with a towel wrapped around my waist and ran right into a big smelly hull tech with a big smelly crate in his arms.
"Are you Ishmael James?"
I was confused. Go away you annoying person. I don't want to talk to anyone now.
"I was told by my supervisor to give this to ya before I could knock off for the morn. He seemed to think it was important. So here and bye 'cause I'm off to the showers myself."
And with that, he shoved the 30 kilo box into my arms and walked off. It stank and it was full of papers and data disks...a couple of manuals too. Hey, maybe this might be fun after all. Yeah, that thought lasted all of 20 seconds while my towel slipped down around my ankles. You can't hold a towel around your waist and a big box at the same time. I wish that guy was dead. Friedrich jogged up the hallway in his running sweats. He's something of a fitness nut.
"Hey ya partner! What's swingin' besides your...heheh."
"I just stopped by to tell ya that the ship is in her berth, that power and plumbing is hooked up, and I got a data terminal running on the basenet. You'll be happy to know that the life support system works ....cooool. I slept in her last night. Air conditioning is A-1. Did you sleep here in the temp housing all night? Gosh, why'd ya do something dumb like that for when we got us a mobile home?"
"Oh. Did you realize that the corner of the box you're holding is soaked with hydraulics? No? It is , really. Well, gotta blast. We have to be in Scolpino's office in an hour."
"What!! When was I going to be told? Damn it!"
"Well if you had accessed a data terminal, it was posted to you 8 hours ago."
"This is the temp barracks, stupid! There aren't any terminals in here! Damn it!"
I was cursing an empty hallway. Ishmael had left running. Had places to go and all that crap. Now I had to run like a white rabbit. I don't see how I could shit, shower and shave and be in Scolpino's office in an hour. Damn it. I really did land in hell alright. The bottom of the box I was holding fell out where the paper-board was soaked and papers, manuals and disks, all wet with hydraulic oil crashed to the floor. Damn it! I wish everybody was dead.
About an hour and a half later, I met up with my partner in the admin building and we went up the elevator together. And what were those Vargr doing in the office? I thought that this is a secured area. I saw a high rank emissary ; you can tell by his outfit...high rank equals gaudy uniform. He had 4 assistants, two males and two females of low rank. They walk with eyes lowered.
I didn't see any weapons but I still didn't like it. Nothing personnal , but the last sentient being to try to kill me was a Vargr. They sat in the waiting area as if they owned the place. Or at least the old leader did. The others followed and stood respectfully at the old dog's side. Except for a young female. She was drawn to every mechanical device in the room, touching each thing and occasionally giggling as she examined every object before carefully placing them back in their exact places.....reverently? Queer....The other female, an older one, watched the youngster's every move and smiled? Very Queer....
"Senior Administator Scolpino will see you now."
Its amazing how such a sweet and sensuous voice can come out of such a wrinkled old hag as that secretary. She smiled at us and waved toward the door to the office, then turned back to her work. Very efficient girl I guess. You can bet she wasn't hired for her looks.
The dickhead's office was spartan. You'd think that an officer of his rank would have panelling and teak desks and brandy-in-the-drawers and stuff, but not this office. Oh it had carpet and air conditioning and a large desk with a terminal on it, but none of it was fancy. And the desk had stacks of files 10 cm high on it. No wonder he hated us. It was like a prison cell made out of red tape. Better him than us.
An entire 10 seconds later he lifted his balding fat head to look who he was talking to. He peered over his general issue glasses and pack of forms and sneered at us.
Another ten seconds passed before I decided to ask the fatal question.
"Sir? When may we sign our mustering out papers? Our enlistment ends in a couple of days and we were wondering, see, as we hadn't been sent any papers to sign..."
My voice trailed off into silence as our hated old commander raised his head to sneer at us again. Uh oh...This time he had a wry smile on his withered old lips. The only time I had ever seen him smile was when he was gonna fuck us....and he was smiling bigger and bigger each moment. Bastard. Damn it! I wish he was dead.
"You won't be signing any papers until further notice. We've been ordered by Secintcom to cooperate in a joint exercise with our good allies, the Gvegh. This is a top priority project and I am authorized to use any and all resources at my command to complete this joint exercise in a successful fashion. So naturally I thought of you two."
Poison dripped from his slimy fangs when he said that last. That's a tough trick for a human to pull off. His evil little grin was big enough to wrap around his pea-brain, hook-nose, jackass-ear, fat head. Bastard. He was screwing us to high heaven and enjoying it way too much. That's what makes him a dick.
"You two are now a part of a technical exchange program where we send a couple of techs to work in their fleet and they send us a couple of techs so we can show them how we do things. You will be teaching a young female technician how to run a starship engineering deck after the three of you rebuild that old scout-ship."
"But she's just a pup! We saw her outside! She looks like she's barely been weaned!"
"SILENCE!. She was hand picked by my Gvegh counterpart for this mission and I've been assured that she represents the cream of young Gvegh engineering students. They wanted to use young cadets for this project. That way they won't be too old to teach what they've learned when the project is over and they return home. You will teach her and then retire after this mission is over. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes. Is she house broken at least?"
If looks could kill, Freddy, the comedian, would be dead and cremated. In the interests of damage control, I spoke up before my village idiot pal could sink us deeper in the gunk-pit.
"How long will this mission last, sir? And what will we be assigned once our ship passes her certification period?"
Seriousness and sir always seems to soothe the savage beast. I hope I don't lay it on too thick or it'll really annoy him. I just want to get outta this mess with as little loss as possible.
Unfortunately the answers weren't what I wanted to hear. One glance at my partner told me that he was deeply considering the ramifications of our plight; in his head, the gears were turning but the axles needed to be oiled. I just hoped that it looked like he was finally paying attention to our lard-assed, chunk-brained, son-of-a-bitch, steaming-pile asshole superior. Please, just let us leave already before things get worse.
"The mission will be open ended. It will last until further notice. As soon as your ship is ready to fly, you will begin a standard recon sweep of the sector, updating nav charts and sending reports on your trainee's progress."
He then stared me straight in my eye and smiled.
"I'm afraid there won't be any papers for you to sign for a long time."
I give up. No use fighting now as we are trapped for the duration of Scolpeenies' whims. He'll probably forget about us and we'll be slaves to the IISS forever. I deflated like a chummer who's getting cinder-blocks tied to his ankles on a boat. That's exactly the look that Senior Administrator Dickhead wanted. I'll give it to him now, but just wait. I'll have my turn eventually. I wish he was dead.
"You are now dismissed."
I closed the door behind me as I left the office. Friedrich bumbled along beside me. What's his game? I know he's not clumsy or a stooge, so why the act? As soon as the doorlatch clicked shut, he straightened up and smiled big like a tot with a new toy. He was bursting to tell me about it but he'd have to wait.
The gray muzzled Vargr Emissary strode up to us and leaned importantly on his cane. His tail and one ear were perked up; always a good sign with a Vargr. His other ear was flopped over and looked like a tree weasle had chewed on it a long time ago. He had a black tooth, and his coat was clean and shiny, well groomed. His fur was combed in a couple of spots to hide scarring. Yep, he'd seen a bunch of stuff in his life and was nobody's fool.
"Greetings, friends. You are the gentlemen who will look after my little Rortuvu, yes? Do not worry, she is an Angueth and what she needs to learn is not in the manuals. You will teach her much, I think, if the stories I've heard about you are true. The sort of reputation that is perfect for this teachings, yes? Heh. KHuere asid zaekhsvob. Ahh. Our turn is it?"
The secretary had waved him into the office. A young male rushed to open the door so the leader wouldn't have to wait. He entered without missing a step and his entourage followed except one male , who was obviously assigned to watch the door; rear guard security, I guess. I turned and the youngest one, named Rortuvu, ran into me as she hurried to get in line behind the rest. With eyes lowered and a mumbled 'pardon, good sir', she disappeared behind the closing door. She was kinda cute for a barker. Too bad she seemed like a bit of a klutz. She had almost got her tail caught in the door.
We were getting the evil eye from the witch behind the counter so we left and took the stairs down. Freddy was practically dancing, he wanted to tell me his secret so badly. For him to be so excited, his secret must have great capacity for evil.
"Okay, so spill it. What were you up to in there? What was with the phony stumble-bum act?"
"Well...he's stupider than we thought, and with a really bad memory for anything except about us, right? He had a note stuck to his computer screen.....with 3 of his passwords on it! What a moron! How's that for a weapon to get our vengeance.!"
"Oh man. Oh man.. I would kiss you if I swung that way. And to think I figured you were just ignoring him out of spite. You did more good than I thought you could in there."
"Hah, and that's why you always sucked at forward recon. Always too busy to look around at the important stuff. Let us retire, good sir, to our home and plan our revenge on our enemy for interrupting our retirement."
We were feeling jolly, yes, yes, and full of ourselves while returning to the hangar where our ship lay waiting for refurbishing. Then we saw the trunks and cases by the loading ramp and remembered that we were going to have a new crew member involuntarily... indefinitely.
Without a word, I turned around and trudged back to the temporary berthing quarters to gather my things, leaving Friedrich to load the gear by himself. I'll be damned if I let a puppy choose her stateroom before me and, like they say, snoozers losers and sleepers weepers...or something like that. All I know is that I gotta stow my gear before she does. In the scouts, sleeping arrangements on small ships were usually on a first come, first deserve basis and I did not want to lose out to a baby barker chick. Not on the last ship I'd ever serve on. That would just be wrong.