2949-04-27 – Tales from the Service: A Spacer’s Intervention 

Thank you all for your kind messages of well-wishing during my illness. Fortunately the infection I came down with was never life-threatening, and I have now made (according to the medics) a full recovery.)

We’ve covered the fighting on Margaux and the Fifth Fleet’s attempts to break the orbital blockade around the planet extensively on this feed. In the last few days, the Fifth Fleet battle line made another attempt to scatter the Incarnation fleet in the system.

While reports are still coming in about the results of the battle, I believe it safe to use the word “attempt” here. Throughout the battle we’ve maintained HyperComm contact with the planet via the secondary relay station set up by the Navy in the outer system, and groundside reports filtering back to us at Maribel along this line of communication indicate no flood of reinforcements or orbital bombardment of enemy positions has taken place on the Causey Plana battlefield, even as the Navy has reported a limited success there.

When Admiral Zahariev’s staff releases additional information on the action in Margaux, we’ll cover it here. I suspect that means you can expect additional details next week.

This week by popular request we’ll continue with another section from the account sent in by Steffen McTaggart, skipper of the heavy salvage tug Aram Sangster. They did manage to get their charge back to Maribel on time to get paid, but to do it, Mr. McTaggart needed to take certain drastic measures.

“Sorry, Boss, I don’t know what happened.”

As Steffen stared out the command deck’s forward viewpanel at the two halves of the wrecked Ravi Songbird, gripping the back of his command chair hard enough to pop the seams on the upholstery, he took three slow, deliberate breaths. At least Freddy Tyson had the good sense to sound convincing about his apology.

Despite the torch ops specialist’s protest, they both knew why the wreck had split in two. Freddy Tyson had made a mistake in his calculations and instructions to his torch-jockeys, and in their attempt to shore up the sundered ship’s remaining structural integrity, Sangster’s swarm of plasma-welder-armed launches had touched off a catastrophic failure of the last few components holding the smashed cruiser together.

Sober, Tyson could out-perform any other torch ops expert in the Reach. He could even, Steffen was certain, direct the torch-jocks through the complex dance required to reattach the two tumbling halves of the vessel into one reasonably stable unit. If he did, Sangster could still tow the wreck through several star drive hops back to Maribel within the Navy’s time constraints and get paid.

Unfortunately, a drunk Freddy Tyson invariably made mistakes, and the current two-piece status of Songbird told Steffen that the drunk version of his torch operations officer was the one currently aboard. “Call the torches back, Freddy.”

“Call them back? I can still-”

“No, you can’t.” Steffen felt the last few stitches holding the padded headrest of his chair fail under his white-knuckled grip. “Go off-shift and get some sleep. We’ll try again at the top of third shift.”

Jeanette Vang, face pale, pretended not to notice her boss’s quiet fury, and Steffen appreciated her tact. She knew as well as Steffen that nobody else aboard had a chance of directing the salvage effort in time; if they couldn’t guarantee the Freddy Tyson who woke nine hours later was the sober one, they would be missing the contract deadline and most of the Navy’s credit bounty for the Ravi Songbird’s recovery.

Steffen knew what he had to do, but he knew that the moment he did it, he would earn the enmity of every spacer aboard his overworked ship. “Make sure those launches get back aboard.” He pointed to Vang, and judging by the wide-eyed nod that constituted her only response, he knee she would.

Hobbling into the lift, Steffen directed it to take him to the crew berth deck, his jaw clenched. Freddy Tyson’s hand-made still squatted in one of the unused cabins, producing noxious moonshine at a prodigious rate thanks to the automation features some of the engineers had helped Tyson build into the rig. No doubt dozens of liters of its output sat in stashes in each crew-member’s private effects, but Steffen didn’t care about most of that; it would be consumed gradually and safely.

Approaching the still cabin, Steffen stared down a crew tech emerging from the door with two newly-filled flasks until the young spacer scrambled out of the way and rushed down the corridor.

When he entered, he found the machinery bubbling and muttering contentedly, unaware of its doom. In another state of mind, Steffen might have switched off the power, disassembled the rig, and made off with critical components to use as leverage. In his current state, however, he reached into his pocket for the tiny shredder grenade he always carried, a holdover habit from his Navy days. Though small and designed to minimize damage to shipboard pressure-seals, the device could still turn a room full of people into a neatly homogenized mass of lightly browned hamburger.

It wouldn’t have quite the same effect on distilling equipment, but he knew it would destroy the still utterly until Sangster returned to port, where Tyson could buy, beg, and steal enough equipment to rebuild  it. Scowling, Steffen armed the weapon, rolled it underneath the machinery, and backed out, overriding the door controls to seal the cabin behind him.

By the time the crump of an explosion and a shrieking alarm indicated that Tyson’s still was no more, Steffen was already halfway down the corridor once more, headed for the torch operations officer’s own cabin. Before damage control had responded to the blast, Steffen had already overridden Tyson’s cabin door and marched inside.

The first few stashes of moonshine proved fairly easy to locate – Freddy Tyson had never been terribly creative. Dumping the acrid liquid into the food-processor’s return receptacle one flask, jug, or bottle at a time, Steffen felt the dull thump of a secondary explosion down the hall through his boots. He hoped he hadn’t done Sangster any lasting damage, and that pouring such a vast amount of ethanol into the food-reclamation piping would not lead to a sanitation system failure, but either of those would be an acceptable loss to have his torch operations expert sober.

“What are you-”

Steffen turned away from the return receptacle in time to see Freddy Tyson charging across the small cabin at him, face ashen. Rather than fight over the bottles, Steffen dropped them and turned to wrap the younger, smaller man in an inelegant but inescapable bear hug, slowly pushing him away from the still-intact moonshine bottles. “You’ve lost it, Freddy.”

“Don’t do this, Steffen.” Freddy struggled and squirmed to free himself. “Don’t. I’m begging you.”

Tyson had never been a military man and had never been in a proper fight as long as he’d been aboard Sangster, so it took Steffen, even in his advanced age, only a few moments to push Freddy bodily out of the cabin.

“Seal door. Command override.”

As Tyson struggled shakily to his feet, the computer obeyed Steffen’s instructions, interposing the metal panel between them.

Ignoring furious pounding on the other side and the muffled screaming and begging of his subordinate, Steffen returned to his task, emptying the bottles one at a time, then searching the cabin for more hidden stashes. Freddy Tyson would be sober when it came time to re-attach the two halves of Ravi Songbird and tow her back to Maribel. If that meant this would be Freddy Tyson’s last cruise aboard Sangster, that was a price Steffen and his remaining crew would just have to pay.