Space Opera Part 42 – Steel Sheets

Nolan and I entered the weight room, ready to start experimenting with the strength enhancements.

“We working just arm strength, or arms and legs?” I asked.

<Butch> Both. Let’s start with arms. You have to use mind dictation to turn this feature on. That can’t be overridden like other features.

“Why?” I asked.

<Butch> You won’t know your own strength. You’ll try to open a locked door and pull the doorknob off.

I laughed. “Had an uncle like that. Wish he was still alive today. He’d love this.”

“What do we dictate?” Nolan asked.

<Dojo> Strength enhancement. When you’re done, dictate strength enhancement off.

“Does it expire, like the Nanos?” Nolan asked. “I didn’t see anything too that effect in the documentation.”

<Butch> No, that would be bad. Imagine fighting somebody and you get a time out, going back to your normal human strength. That wouldn’t be too good.

“No, that wouldn’t be good,” I said. “Are there different levels, like there are in the speed enhancements?”

<Butch> No need for that. The speed enhancement has to change your stride for the different modes, and the higher speeds are more jumps than running.

“Hey, I’ll bet we can jump a long way, can’t we?” Nolan asked.

<Dojo> We’ll cover that in the last part of the speed training. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

“Perish the thought,” Nolan quipped. I shook my head, laughing.

<Butch> Ready to begin? We have to do this carefully. And don’t say I was born ready.

I glanced at Nolan, grinning. “Yes, Butch, I think we’re ready.”

<Butch> Each of you pick a bench press station. Do not activate strength enhancement yet. That’s important.

<Dojo> Yes, very important. We want you to find the weight where you’re struggling to lift. Work up to it if you need to. Only your natural muscles, get it? The suit needs to understand how your muscles are aligned very precisely.

“I already know what mine is,” Nolan said, “because I still work out three times a week. I can do about 220.”

“Wow, better than me. Last time I benched, it was about 190.”

<Butch> Well make sure. Push it. We want your muscles obtaining the shape of your strength limit.

“I think we get the concept, Butch,” I said, setting down on the bench station of the first weight machine inside the door. Nolan went to the next weight machine.

<Butch> Stretch first. Then you may proceed. The suits will capture the data.

Nolan and I did some stretching exercises. Then I set the weight at 190 and lifted, struggling slightly, but able to do about five reps.

<Butch> Bump it up ten pounds.

I changed the weight and tried again, barely able to raise the weight, not able to complete a second rep. “That’s all I’ve got.”

<Butch> Perfect. Data recorded. Now dictate Strength enhancement.

I did the dictation. A status message flashed onto my heads-up display, then moved to the periphery. “Shall I proceed?”

<Butch> Yes, try to lift the 200 pounds now, Trey.

I pushed, the weight going up. “Geez, this feels like about a pound.”

Nolan laughed from his station. “This is amazing.”

<Butch> Okay, ten reps, up one increment, then another ten reps – all the way to the highest weight available on these machines. Then we’re gonna do this on all of the stations, starting with the most you can lift unenhanced, exactly like we did with the bench press.

“Does it matter which order?” Nolan asked.

<Dojo> Nope.

I chuckled. “Now I know why you told me not to run too late on the training sessions. This is gonna take more than an hour.”

<Butch> Yep. Better get started.

Nolan and I cut the chatter and worked through the process. JJ showed up after we were at it for about forty-five minutes.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Good. Watch this.” I put the bench press all the way to the highest weight, then lifted it with one hand.

<Butch> Show off. Don’t do that, follow the protocol.

“Naughty naughty,” JJ quipped. “Can you use this capability anywhere?”

<Emerald> Don’t even. He’d kill you.

“Kidding,” JJ said. “How much longer?”

“Less than a half hour,” I said. “Maybe you can get started.”

<Emerald> Tomorrow. She needs to get through the process from start to finish in one shot.

Nolan and I finished, then put our street clothes over the suits and left the weight room.

“Care to go get a bite to eat, Nolan?” I asked.

“No thanks, Captain. You two enjoy. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He left the room.

“Well, what do you think?” JJ asked.

“About the training, or dinner?”

“The training, and the capability.”

“It’s a little different than I thought it would be,” I said. “You don’t just turn this on and go into a battle. This functionality is very task-driven. Mind dictation has to be used to turn it on and off, and you have an indicator on the heads-up display always showing when it’s on. You don’t know your own strength when you’re using this.”

“Oh, so you’ll break things you might not want to if it’s on?”

I nodded. “That said, it’s amazing technology.” I spent a few minutes describing it to her.

“I’m anxious to try it, although I don’t see myself enjoying it as much as the speed functionality. That’s fun.”

“We aren’t finished with that training yet, by the way. The AIs are managing our training in ways they don’t explain to us.”

“Yes, Butch yelled at you for the one-handed bench press.” JJ chuckled.

<Butch> Don’t encourage him. It’s bad enough as it is.

<Emerald> I’ll say. These two aren’t the best influence on each other.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I said.

“So what part of the speed training have we not had yet?” JJ asked.

“Apparently we can jump. Far.”

JJ glanced at me as we walked into the hall, the mustering room door clicking shut behind us. “Hell, I should’ve thought of that. Emerald told me that the highest-speed mode is more like jumping than running.”

“Wonder what the training is, other than think your destination and leap?”

<Butch> The system computes trajectory, distance, and amount of boost required for you to make the jump you’re planning. It shows up in your heads-up display in a split-second.

“There’s one more Nano mode to learn as well, isn’t there?” JJ asked.

“The shield Nanos,” I said. “Can we do that part before I work with Drake again?”

<Butch> Nope. I’m locked out of that for now, and so are you.

“Why?” I asked. “Not fully functional yet?”

<Butch> I can’t answer that. Sorry.

“You’re being prevented from telling us?” JJ asked.

<Emerald> Drake hasn’t allowed us access to that mode yet.

<Butch> That’s right. We can’t tell you what we don’t know ourselves.

“I can guess,” I said.

<Butch> Don’t waste brainpower on that when you have so much to absorb that we do know about. You’ll be given the access and training in due time. Spend some time tonight reviewing the Central AI node. You didn’t do it last night.

“I was unavoidably detained,” I said. JJ cracked up.

<Butch> Such lack of maturity amongst our senior staff. It’s alarming.

We got to the transport station, and grabbed a tin can to the Officer’s dining room, getting our usual private room.

“Butch, sleep.”

<Butch> Thank you, Trey. Enjoy your meal.

“Emerald, sleep,” JJ said.

<Emerald> Thank you. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, young lady.

I laughed. “Oh, brother.”

“So what were you gonna say about the shield Nanos?” JJ asked.

“I knew you were going to ask me that, you trouble maker.”

“Just say it.”

“Once we have that, I’ll bet there isn’t anything Drake or Vermillion can do to stop us if we do something they don’t like. They want to watch us for a while. Or at least Drake does.”

“That’s what you were thinking? I figured you didn’t have confidence that they had the technology settled.”

I shook my head. “No, the Nano technology is amazing. Frankly, it might be more advanced than our society can handle. Drake has a cynical edge. Maybe he doesn’t trust the human species.”

“What’s on tap for me tomorrow?” JJ asked.

“Strength enhancement training, then you’re on your own to work the refinery. We’ll need to get up earlier tomorrow. That strength training takes some time, and there’s no way to rush it.”

“Okay, then we should get to bed earlier,” JJ said.

“How’d it go with the refinery today?”

“The system is put together, and we ran some tests today. It’s working better than expected. Too bad we have the waste problem. We could put a system like Tac has on this ship without too much effort.”

“We have what we need to do that onboard?” I asked.

“No, but we could have Tac’s folks fabricate it for us,” JJ said. “After we get past all the jobs that are currently on our plate, I’d like to spend some time looking into waste handling technology. Maybe there’s a way to handle it that doesn’t carry so much risk.”

“Keep in mind that our Zephyrus mission is still important,” I said. “The Clan is always at the back of my mind. They could do something unexpected that we aren’t equipped to handle. We need to plan around that task.”

“Do you think we’ll run into them at Boroclize?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I’m afraid that we might, but realistically I’d be surprised. It’s a long impulse cruise, and this part of the Central Authority Zone is a long way from the border to the Clan Zone. It’s closer to the Free Zone. There aren’t good natural worm holes from the Clan Zone to get them to the one we’re in now.”

“They’ve been active in the Free Zone, from what we’ve heard,” JJ said. “They also might have technology similar to the Samson Drive themselves.”

“Yes, we’re in a lot of danger right now. More than anybody is talking about.”

“How so?” JJ asked.

“We had a balance of power. The Central Authority, The Clan Authority, and the Free Zone commission controlled things, along with the Samson Corporation. Some of that structure is weakened or gone now. Add to that the fact that the Overlords are still out there, with more ships than we have.”

“Thanks. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”

“Yes you will,” I said, grinning at her. “I’ll wear you out.”

“Check, please!” she said.

“We haven’t ordered yet.”

“Oh yeah.” She looked at me, her eyes misting. “I have so much fun with you. When I’m not with you, I’m wanting to be.”

“You know what that’s called, don’t you?”

“Love. Yes, I’m in love with you, Trey Clarke, and it’s growing by the day.”

“Good, glad we’re on the same wavelength.”

We had our dinner, and were in bed early, both of us falling asleep quickly enough. JJ woke first, thanks to a reminder from Emerald about the long day ahead of us. I felt her push me.

“Rise and shine, honey,” JJ said.

I stretched, looking over at her, then coming in for a kiss.

“Whoa, that breath,” she said, backing away. “Your food had a little too much garlic last night.”

“Sorry. You need to cleanse?”

“I can skip it today, I think. You?”

“I’m just gonna get all sweaty again either way, and my suit should’ve gone through a cleaning. Maybe I’ll just wash my face. Full day of training today. Then Nolan and I go through the second phase of the strength enhancement training.”

“You’ve got a lot of pilots to train today, don’t you? Maybe we should have Nolan help out, so you can process the students faster.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “I’ll talk to him. Ready to get up?”

“Since a kiss isn’t safe at the moment, yes,” she quipped. “Emerald, wake up.”

<Emerald> Good morning. Sleep well?

“I did, thanks.”

I woke up Butch, and we went to one of the small eateries to get a quick breakfast. Then it was off to the weight room, where I watched JJ go through her first session of strength training. The pilots started arriving shortly after she left for her refinery job. Nolan showed up to help, and we processed pilots as quickly as we could, all of them taking to the training well.

Nolan plopped down onto a bench in the mustering room when we were done. “Wow, that was a lot of work. Have you been working this hard every day?”

“I was a little more leisurely with the first groups. There are so many pilots to train that we had to adjust the schedule. I’m pretty beat too. Maybe we should take a break before we do the second phase of the strength enhancement training.”

<Butch> Do that. The second phase of the strength enhancement training isn’t long compared to the first. You won’t be hear nearly as late as yesterday.

“Great, then we can go have a few beers first, and then chuck some weights around,” I quipped, Nolan laughing at me.

<Butch> See what I have to put up with?

<Dojo> At least he doesn’t read ahead all the time.

Nolan and I shot each other a grin, then we put on our street clothes and headed out to a snack stand nearby. A few of our students from earlier in the day where there, and invited us to join them. We shared some pizza, most of the young men drinking beer. It was hard to abstain. We said our goodbyes and left after nearly an hour, arriving back at the mustering room.

<Butch> Incredible willpower. I know you wanted a beer or two.

“Yes, it’s great to chat with our young fighter pilots,” I said. “Gives me hope for the future.”

“It gives me more respect for Earthlings,” Nolan said.

“Only about a third of our pilots are from Earth.”

Nolan nodded. “I know, but the guys we shared the pizza with were all from Earth.”

<Butch> Transmission attempt.

“Oh, crap,” I said. “You stopped it, right?”

<Butch> Yep, I stopped it.

“They know we stopped the last one,” I said.

“Don’t be so sure about that, Captain,” Nolan said, looking at his PA.

<Dojo> You caught it.

“Somebody gonna clue me in?” I asked.

“This was a scheduled message,” Nolan said. “This is the same exact time as the transmission attempt day before yesterday.”

<Butch> You may have something there. I’ll be on board completely if we get another one day after tomorrow at this time.

“Good thinking, Nolan,” I said. “Butch, same general placement in the ship?”

<Butch> Appears to be, yes.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” I said. “They send out a periodic ping of our location at regular intervals. That makes it easy for them to track us. The location it pegged us in with the first transmission won’t help anybody find us.”

<Dojo> You’re forgetting we’re in a natural wormhole. It’s common knowledge where it will dump us out.

Nolan smiled. “The protocol was probably developed for Samson Drive worm holes. They’re just running it here.”

I nodded. “You’re probably right. And by the way, most of the crew have no idea we’re in a natural worm hole as opposed to a generated worm hole. Some might suspect as much, since it feels slightly different when we enter it.”

“True, some might have noticed, but the difference is subtle,” Nolan said. “I might not have noticed it if I didn’t know what was going on.”

<Butch> Well, in any event, let’s not panic about this. We’ll just wait until day after tomorrow. If there’s no transmission at the same time, we’ll know we might be in trouble. Until then, let’s keep our noses to the grindstone and get the Nano training done.

“Send a message to Chairman Vermillion about this transmission and our thoughts about it,” I said. “Invite him to summon me if he wants to chat about it.”

<Butch> Done. Let’s get this strength training finished now. Go back to the storage locker where the suits are kept. There are several large sheets of steel there. Bring them out into the mustering room and place them in the middle of the floor.

Nolan and I walked into the locker room. A large, tall door opened for them. The sheets of steel were leaned up in there.

“This is what we’re supposed to lift?” I asked. “These can’t weigh more than a few hundred pounds each.”

“Steel with hard rubber padding on one side,” Nolan said. “These are to protect the floor. It’ll take the two of us to carry them out, though. They’re an awkward shape.”

<Dojo> Don’t forget to do the mind dictation.

“Thanks,” Nolan said. “Done. You ready, Captain?”

I did my mind dictation to activate strength enhancement and nodded to him, helping him pull the first sheet out of the cabinet. Then I got on the other end and we carried it out.

“This is like carrying a big piece of cardboard,” I said. We placed the first sheet on the floor of the mustering room, then went back to grab the second one, placing it next to the first. “Okay, Butch, we’re done.”

<Butch> You think I’m not watching?

<Dojo> Humans always tell us things we know, and ask questions they already know the answer to.

“All right, cut the nonsense,” I said. “What now?”

<Butch> There are some very large free-weights in the storage room. Bring them out and put them on the steel sheets. I’ve already opened the door to the storage locker they’re in.

Nolan and I went into the storage room, and saw the open door on the far end.

“Look at those things,” Nolan said. “Two-ton barbells?”

I looked a them. They had very large round weights, with a bar between them small enough for a human hand to grasp. “What are these made of? Can’t be lead. They’re not big enough.”

<Butch> Sealed depleted uranium, with some proprietary compounds included.

“So we shouldn’t drop them,” I said.

<Butch> Not on the nice wood game floor out there. Set them down on the steel sheets carefully. Each of you can carry one by yourselves. They’ll feel heavy.

I went to the first one and lifted it. It did feel heavier than anything else I’d lifted using the strength enhancement, but I had no problem carrying it to the steel sheet and setting it down. Nolan was right behind me, and set is down a moment later.

“Wow,” Nolan said. “Now what?”

<Butch> Take that stuff back where you got it. You’re done.

I laughed. “Really? You’re joking.”

<Butch> I never joke. Scratch that. I do joke, but I’m not joking now.

Nolan snickered.

<Dojo> What’s funny?

“The banter,” he said. “I think I understand what’s going on here. The suits have matched to our muscles after the training yesterday. This was just a test. We know all we need to know to use this capability.”

<Dojo> I couldn’t have said that better myself.

<Butch> Don’t pander.

I laughed. “All right, let’s get done with this. I’m expecting a call from the Chairman any second now.”

We finished putting the weights and steel sheets away, and were pulling our street clothes back on when Vermillion called my PA.

To be continued…


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