Tim took to the training well, not wanting to leave when he was done with the day’s lesson. Nolan analyzed every detail, the conversation between him and Dojo sounding like two brothers. Izzy was bewildered, but took to it well. I had the sneaking suspicion that all of them wondered why I was being so aggressive with the training. I knew I had to tell them, but wasn’t ready yet. Then there was Vermillion. Should I say something to him about my fears, or let Butch find evidence first?
<Butch> I heard that. Find the evidence first, but better put him under protection as well. You’re right, if we’re discovered, everybody on your team will be in danger. The Chairman is the only one who won’t be protected.
<Me> How do we handle this? I don’t want to surveil him without an air-tight reason.
<Butch> He’d notice if we did. You know that, right? I say we just keep an eye on anybody going to his suite who doesn’t belong, and we go on alert when he leaves. We can use the ship’s video cameras for that.
<Me> Okay. I can do a few more today. How about Andrea, Sondra, and Skip?
<Butch> You haven’t looked at your schedule? They’re next up, though not in that order. Sondra first, then Skip, then Andrea. I had them scheduled for tomorrow morning. Want to check with them about this afternoon?
<Me> Yes, send a message, but no pressure, okay?
I leaned back on the bench, my legs feeling sore from my own workouts.
<Butch> It’ll get better, trust me. Your muscles and the suit are both in the learning mode still.
<Me> My legs aren’t really moving as fast as they’d need to for the top two speeds, are they? Can’t imagine they could survive that.
<Butch> The strides are much wider for speeds 3 and 4. You’re basically jumping, so your legs are moving slower than they do in the slow-speed enhancement and speed 2.
<Me> Ah, so the power of the Nanos is pushing me on the jumps?
<Butch> Yes. Oh, and by the way, the long suits give you a tad more speed. We should start working with them tomorrow.
My PA buzzed, and JJ’s pretty face showed.
“Hey, how’s it going?” she asked.
“Finished with Nolan, Tim, and Izzy. Just sent a message to the next three, to see if they can do this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning.”
“Good, I’ve got enough to keep me busy for about three more hours. We’ve made a lot of progress. Just heard from Deacon, too. He’s got the shielding installed in the Zephyrus cargo bay. We’ll be ready to hit the ground running when we get to Boroclize.”
“Excellent. Save some energy for me later.”
JJ laughed. “Yeah, you too.”
Sondra walked in. “I was in the neighborhood when the message hit my PA.”
“Good, ready to start?”
“Of course,” she said. I took her to the storage room, found her size with Butch’s help, and left the room so she could dress, telling her not to zip it all the way up until she came out into the main room.
<Butch> She picked a good name for her AI.
<Me> As opposed to me, I suppose.
<Butch> I no longer hate my name, now that I’ve been able to string together enough of your memories to know the real Butch. I now consider the name to be a complement. Tell Emerald or Dojo and I’ll deny it.
<Bagiwang> Maybe I’ll tell them.
<Bagiwang> Just kidding.
<Butch> Be that as it may, you’ve got a worthy name.
<Me> What does it mean? It’s Korean, right?
“It means Queen of the Earth,” Sondra said, walking out of the storage room. “I’m ready to zip up.”
“Good. You know about the suit fitting itself, I’m sure. Go ahead.”
Sondra zipped up the neck, the suit tightening in an instant, a look of panic washing over Sondra’s face for a split second.
“Wow,” she said.
“You’ll get used to it quickly,” I said. “You can see the Nano choices?”
“I can,” she said, starting to calm down.
<Bagiwang> Let’s get started.
I watched as Sondra worked her way through the Nanos, and then tried the low-speed enhanced movement.
<Butch> Private. This one’s a natural.
<Me> Why private?
<Butch> Bagiwang requested it. We don’t need our students to become over-confident right out of the gate.
<Me> I never liked that concept, but okay.
Sondra finished and left, Skip showing up a moment later. His training went well, as did Andrea’s. By the time they were done, I was tired and hungry.
<Butch> This was a productive day. We’re down to the principles from the Tristar now. You should have them done early tomorrow, and then we can start bringing in the fighter pilots.
<Me> You’ve got everybody invited?
<Butch> Yes. The first of the fighter pilots tomorrow will be squadron leaders. Day after tomorrow we’ll do the first batch of rank-and-file pilots. Oh, and by the way, all fighter pilots have their AIs now. The added brain power on the system is exhilarating.
<Me> Glad we’re keeping you amused.
<Butch> Whatever. You should spend some time with the Central AI node tonight. It’ll be good to get a feel for that module when there’s a population to look at.
<Me> I’ll do that.
My PA buzzed. I looked down, expecting JJ’s face, but saw Vermillion’s face instead. “Uh oh.”
<Butch> Your boss? The gig’s up.
<Me> Will you stop that. I’m not hiding that much from him. I plan to give him a full report.
<Butch> Oh, I know, but I can feel your nervousness. You didn’t clear this first, but he won’t be upset. He wants you to protect us. That’s exactly what you’re doing.
“Mr. Chairman, how are you?” I asked.
Vermillion smiled. “You look tired. Been working with the Nanos all day?”
“I’ve been working others in the cell through the training. We’ve got the bridge crews of the New Jersey and Zephyrus done, and will be doing the Tristar crew and the fighter pilot squadron leaders tomorrow. Want me to come over and give you a full report? I know more about the capabilities now.”
“I do want you to come over, but I’ve got things to tell you about. You can give me the cliff-notes version of the Nano capability too, but it’s not as important.”
“Roger that. Your office?”
“Yes, please. See you in a few minutes.” Vermillion’s face disappeared from my PA.
“Well, duty calls,” I said.
<Butch> Trey, put on a long suit, to start getting used to it. Just grab one from here, and bring the other one back. Oh, and take your helmet with you.
<Me> Why change suits now?
<Butch> We need to use them for the next round of speed training. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it as fast as you did with the short suit. Probably faster.
<Me> Why even bother with the short suit?
<Butch> People who know what they’re looking for will notice a slight sheen on your arms and hands with the full suit on. The short one is for training and undercover work. You know enough now to be on duty. Time for the real suit. You’ll be glad to have it on if there are problems.
<Me> Okay, as you wish. I should carry the short one back to my stateroom?
<Butch> Yes. I’ve sent a message to Emerald asking her to suggest the same to JJ.
I made the switch, the suit feeling in need of adjustment when it tightened, the arms and legs not bothering me as much as the feet and hands. JJ buzzed my PA when I got to the transport station.
“Hey, honey, you about done?”
“Hi, JJ. I’m done with the training, but I’ve been summoned to Vermillion’s office. I’ll let you know when I’m done. Did Emerald ask you to put on the other suit?”
“She did, about five minutes ago. I can use the one I took back to my stateroom. She said to keep the helmet I’ve got there and bring it to training tomorrow.”
“Good, makes sense. How’s the refinery system coming?”
“We made more progress than I expected today,” she said. “Did the training go well?”
I got into my tin can. “It did. I’ll tell you all about it when we get together. Can I buzz you when I get out of the Chairman’s office?”
“You’d better. Talk to you later.”
I smiled to myself as the tin can sealed and took off, my mind popping back to the prior night.
Vermillion was in his lounge, not his office, and he summoned me there when I arrived.
“Drink?” he asked. “I’ve got some very good Bourbon.”
“I’ll take a little, thanks.” I watched as Vermillion poured me a glass from the cut-crystal decanter. I took a sip. “Wow, this stuff is smooth.”
“It’s from 2128,” Vermillion said. “Best I’ve had in a while.”
I sat on the couch facing his chair. “What’s on your mind, sir?”
“Well, the easy stuff first. No problems at any of the production facilities. We’re ahead of schedule at all of them, and Tac is ahead of schedule on fuel refinement, too.”
“That’s excellent. What’s the bad news?”
Vermillion got up to pace. “Well, it isn’t bad news yet. Just a cautionary comment from Drake.”
I swallowed hard, trying to hide it.
“Don’t worry, Captain, you didn’t do anything wrong. Drake seems to think it’s unlikely that the Overlords can really track us through a jump.”
I shook my head.
“What?” Vermillion asked.
“I came to that conclusion yesterday, and have been rushing through the Nano training as a result.”
“Why the rush?”
I paused, collecting my thoughts for a moment. “I want to turn Butch loose to monitor for any outgoing transmissions. We’re both afraid our attempts will be discovered. I’d prefer to have my core team in the best fighting trim possible before we tip our hand.”
“Drake had the same concern. Who’s done so far?”
“The bridge crews of the New Jersey and the Zephyrus, including JJ and Andrea. Tomorrow I’m working with the Tristar bridge crew, and the fighter squadron leads. After that comes the rest of the fighter pilots.”
“Is that going to be all?” Vermillion asked.
“That’s all I’ve been given permission to provide the AI capability to, sir. An order is an order.”
“Once we get past this, we can expand,” Vermillion said, “but for now, I think this is the safest way to go.”
“There is one thing that worries me, sir.”
“What’s that?” Vermillion asked.
“You, sir. I don’t want you to become a target, if our suspicions are correct.”
Vermillion stopped his pacing for a moment. “You want me to get an AI and go through the training too.”
“Well, either that, or you need a bodyguard with that capability,” I said.
Vermillion sat on his chair. “I don’t want to go through the training. I’m a guest on this ship, and for certain legal reasons, that needs to remain the situation. We can make a good case for training members of the crew in this technology. Training me or other civilians? That’s gonna be a concern to the Central Authority. Which reminds me. JJ needs to become an officer on the New Jersey. Give her a rank of Ensign and put her in charge of the refinery team.”
I chuckled. “That’s not a very high rank for her capabilities.”
“She can’t be working directly under you, Captain. We both know why.”
I nodded. “Good point. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Any new info about Devonia Axiom or the Central Authority coup attempt?”
“People are being indicted left and right,” Vermillion said. “Government employee union protections are being pushed aside, and the unions are fighting back. It’s a mess. At least they’re making some progress getting the Overlord agents out of the bureaucracy.”
“There’s bad news too, though, isn’t there?”
Vermillion got up and paced again. “I don’t know if we can trust the President.”
“You don’t think he’s in with Simone?”
Vermillion chuckled. “Lord, no. I think he might take advantage to consolidate his power, and perhaps to increase the power of the executive branch yet again.”
“Never take politics lightly, Captain. Remember how the Overlords used politics. Didn’t work for them, but that might have been as much due to bad timing as anything.”
I nodded. “Point taken, Mr. Chairman. Who could I assign to be your bodyguard?”
“Pick one of the fighter pilots. It’s only until we’ve either captured the plants or determined that the Overlords really can track us, right?”
“Right. Once we’re finished with that, we’ll be in a position to trust the crew, hopefully, and we’ll be expanding our Nano-capable forces as well.”
Vermillion sat down again. “Good, we’re on the same page. What were you going to tell me about the training?”
“Well, it’s going well so far, and we’ve started working with the speed enhancement technology.”
Vermillion grinned. “Drake figured your AIs would tip you off on that.”
“It’s amazing, sir. Flat out amazing. In the fastest mode, you can’t even see us move. We disappear from one spot and reappear in another.”
“So I’ve heard. If we do have some evil-doers on this ship, they won’t last long.”
“Assuming they aren’t similarly equipped,” I said.
“They shouldn’t be. Drake invented most of this stuff over the last six years. The concepts haven’t even been in the technical journals yet.”
“I don’t suppose we can continue my training with Drake using the holographic system?” I asked. “While we’re still in the jump, that is?”
“He’s got his hands full right now,” Vermillion said. “He might not be ready for you even when we come out of this jump. How long will it be, anyway?”
“Nolan gave me an updated span. Two and a half weeks instead of three weeks.”
“Excellent. Any change on the impulse cruise?”
“Three weeks instead of four,” I said, “but the four was just a rough estimate.”
“Good, then I’ll get back to work,” Vermillion said. “Let me know if you run into trouble.”
“Of course,” I said, getting up to leave. “Talk to you soon.”
Vermillion nodded, and I left the lounge, heading to the corridor. I buzzed JJ.
“Good, you’re out,” she said. “Me too. I’m in my stateroom, getting ready to change into the full suit. Shall we go grab a bite?”
“Yes, I’ll come pick you up after I’ve freshened up a bit.”
“See you soon, honey.”
I ended the call.
<Butch> Yes, Trey?
<Me> We need to start scanning for plants sooner rather than later. I think we should start now. We’ve got enough people trained.
<Butch> Why don’t you wait until after the training sessions tomorrow?
I paused. “You’re worried.” My stateroom door slid aside when I got there. “Home sweet home.”
<Butch> I know what your concern is. We need to figure out if we’ve got a problem before we get out of this natural wormhole. We might even need to go elsewhere while we pursue the plants.
I set my helmet down on the table, and kicked off my shoes, plopping down in a chair.
<Me> Okay, so you get it. We don’t want them sending something to Simone from orbit around Boroclize. I’m surprised you haven’t said anything about that.
<Butch> You don’t understand how I’ll go after the transmissions. I’ll see them and stop them. Nothing is getting to Simone from this ship, period. I’ve already got sensors running, and so far no transmissions have been attempted.
<Me> Doesn’t that put us at risk?
<Butch> Don’t worry, no more transmissions will leave this ship, and that started a few days ago. Scanning for transmissions was never the danger. The danger is in pin-pointing the source in the ship. We can’t do that without pinging the bad guys, and they’ll see it.
I shook my head. “Butch. You’re kinda pushing it, aren’t you?”
<Butch> No sir, I stayed within the boundaries we discussed. I’ve not done anything that will tip off a plant that we’ve seen them.
<Me> Okay, okay. Sorry. How do you think Drake came up with this idea?
<Butch> Same way I did, probably. He’s been doing research, trying to find any trace of this capability outside of the Samson Corporation.
<Me> We didn’t know about development of the Razor ships.
<Butch> Correction. You didn’t know. Vermillion and Drake knew a new ship class had been developed by somebody other than the Samson Corporation. Good thing, too, because they were on high-alert when those railgun attacks happened on Earth.
I sighed. “You’re right, that’s the only scenario that makes sense. I’d sure like to know who Drake is.”
<Butch> Your woman is wondering where you are.
I chuckled. “Did Emerald tell you that?”
<Butch> How’d you guess? You know you’ll have a physical woman and her AI keeping tabs on you all the time, right?
<Me> After last night, I don’t care.
<Butch> Do I need to mention the big head versus the little head?
<Me> Don’t be crude. Tell Emerald we’ll be there in a few minutes. I just need to rinse my face. She’s just across the hall, remember?
I got out of the chair and washed my face at the sink. The excitement of seeing JJ again was building in me, as I put my shoes back on my feet, wiggling my toes for a moment. The hands and feet in the full suit still felt strange. The rest of the suit was fine, even the legs and arms-in fact the legs and arms felt more secure, building my confidence. I left my stateroom, going across the hallway to JJ’s door. I was about to buzz her with my PA when the door opened. JJ was inside, smiling at me.
“Emerald told me. She’s a big help in so many ways.”
“Yeah, Butch had a choice comment or two about that.”
She eyed me, not sure whether that was good or bad.
<Butch> Uh oh.
<Emerald> That’s an understatement.
“Oh, crap, what now?” JJ asked.
<Butch> Somebody just tried to send a transmission.
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018’