“Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman,” I said, walking into Vermillion’s office.
He eyed me for a moment. “You look exhausted.”
I nodded. “Nolan and I got through a large number of the fighter pilots today, then did the last part of the strength enhancement training. It’s been a long day.”
“And here I am calling you over,” he said. “Sorry.”
“No, no, I wanted to chat with you about it. Not a problem, sir.”
“Good. I agree with your assessment. They’re probably sending out scheduled transmissions so they can track. It’s a good thing your AI stopped them, because if not, Simone would know which natural worm hole we’re in. The rest would be easy. How confident is your AI that he stopped them?”
“Butch said well over 99%. I believe it, too, because if they got the first transmission, they’d already know we’re in a natural worm hole, and there would be no need for a second transmission.”
“Unless they know all this and are trying to trick us,” Vermillion said. “Simone makes mistakes, but she is brilliant. Never forget that.”
“Good point. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“How was the strength enhancement functionality?”
“Amazing,” I said, going on to describe it in detail.
“Perfect. Drake is a genius on the level of Carlson, in my opinion. We’re lucky he’s on our side.”
“He’s not an employee?”
Vermillion smirked. “I’m not going to say anything else about his arrangement with us. At least not yet. Hope you understand.”
“Of course, no problem. JJ made an interesting comment last night.”
“Oh, what was that?”
“She said it would be easy to duplicate a full refinery system like Tac’s on this ship. She’d like to work on ideas for waste management and disposal after she’s got her simple refinery finished.”
“Interesting. That would solve some problems for us. How close is she to done with the current system? Will it be ready when we get to Boroclize?”
“It’s already in testing, and exceeding expectations,” I said.
“One thing, though.”
Vermillion got up to pace. “Uh oh, I’m not going to like this.”
“Don’t worry, just a precaution. If we aren’t completely convinced that Simone didn’t get those transmissions, we need to go someplace other than Boroclize when we get out of this jump.”
Vermillion paced silently for a moment. “Okay, I’ll agree to that. Luckily we know they can’t send transmissions while we’re not in a jump. They couldn’t see us in the battles.”
“Yeah, Nolan said our jamming technology outside of a jump is very effective, and the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. They obviously couldn’t see us.”
“Did you promote JJ?”
I laughed. “Last night, and she was fine with it. I told her she would still retain her Chief Technologist position. Hope that’s okay.”
“No problem there, but why would it matter?”
“It came up because of the stateroom she’s using. It’s the one across from me, and far beyond what the regulations allow for an Ensign.”
Vermillion chuckled. “I see. She’s going to stay there, then? I’m fine with it.”
“She offered to move in with me. I accepted. Hope you don’t mind.”
Vermillion smiled. “It’s that serious between you two?”
“That’s delightful. I have no problem with it. Keep your stateroom on the Zephyrus, too. I know it’s a tad tight for two people, should she want to share with you.”
“It’ll be fine,” I said. “When do we take off on that mission?”
“After we’re in orbit around Boroclize and the refinery is stabilized.”
“Good. I’m still worried about the Clan. It’s the wild card.”
“Yes. Anything else?”
“No, that’s all I had, sir.”
“Good, then go relax. You’ve earned it.”
I left Vermillion’s office, pinging JJ as I headed into the corridor.
“You’re done?” JJ asked.
“I am. You?”
“Yep, I’m done, but I need to cleanse before dinner. Want to meet at your stateroom?”
She giggled. “That’s right, it is, isn’t it? I should move my stuff out of the other stateroom.”
“No rush, we don’t have anybody waiting for it. Whenever you feel like it.”
“Okay, honey, see you soon.” I took a tin can to my stateroom, arriving before JJ got there. We did the cleanse together, then went to our usual private dining room to eat.
“Well, what happened today?” JJ asked.
“Another transmission went out.”
JJ froze. “You didn’t tell me right away?”
“It was at the same exact time as the one the day before yesterday,” I said.
JJ thought about it for a moment, and grinned. “They can’t get return messages, so they don’t know if their first transmission went or not. This is for tracking.”
I nodded. “That’s what we’re thinking, or rather hoping. I already briefed Vermillion, on my way over here.”
“So we’re waiting until day after tomorrow for another one?”
“You got it. “
“Vermillion have anything else to say?”
“I told him we were moving in together.”
JJ smiled. “He didn’t have any problems?”
“Not at all. He did stress that the Clan mission is still on. Oh, and I shared your comments about a full refinery setup with him. He said go ahead and study it, after we’ve got the basic system up and running.”
“When are we taking off in the Zephyrus?”
“After we’re in orbit around Boroclize and the refinery is up and stabilized,” I said.
“Good. No more news about the manufacturing plants?”
“He didn’t mention anything.”
“What’s on tap for tomorrow?”
“Another long day for me,” I said. “The next group of fighter pilots for their first sessions, the one from today for their second sessions, plus the Tristar and Zephyrus bridge crews for their final sessions. The worst part of this is the strength enhancement training. You’ll find out when you do yours tomorrow morning.”
“I’ve got a suggestion.”
“Since we’ve got a time constraint and the strength enhancement isn’t as strategically important as the rest of the Nano suit training, perhaps you should put off the strength training for the fighter pilots.”
I thought about it for a moment. “You’re right about that. I’ll do it. Thanks.”
“See, I am good for something,” JJ said.
We ate a leisurely dinner, then stopped at a lounge to catch a singer-songwriter’s act, sipping fine whiskey.
JJ watched me. “You look really tired.”
“That’s the first thing Vermillion said to me when I got to his office.”
“Let’s go home, then.”
“You sure? You’re enjoying this.”
“She’ll be back here, so we’ll catch her again. I’m tired too, you know.”
We went home, falling asleep as our heads hit the pillows.
I met Nolan back at the mustering room first thing in the morning.
“Hi, Nolan. Sleep well?”
“I did. How’d it go with Vermillion?”
“Fine. He understands and tends to agree, although he said never to underestimate Simone.”
Nolan smiled. “Good advice that. You know we have a time problem with this training, right? I was doing some rough calculations this morning.”
“Yes, the strength enhancement training is by far the long pole in the tent, and it’s the part that’s least important at this point. JJ suggested that we put that part off for the fighter pilots. I agree.”
“Good, that’s what I was going to suggest. It’ll help us.”
<Butch> Glad you figured that out… or rather I’m glad JJ figured it out.
The first group of fighter pilots showed up a few minutes later, and we put them through their paces, our productivity getting better as we learned. We did the second sessions with the group from the prior day, getting them used to the long suits and helmets, all of them taking it like a duck takes to water. We were done early enough to move the first batch for the next day up. It was a lot to do, but worth it. I met JJ at the stateroom afterwards. She looked as tired as I felt.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Just tired. We’re getting down to the end on the refinery. I’ll be available to do other things.”
“You can start working the refinery waste issue if you’d like, but we should take you through the first phase of the strength enhancement training in the morning.”
“I thought you were putting that off.”
“Only for the fighter pilots. I want to run you and the other bridge crews through it, just in case.”
“Just in case of what?” JJ asked, looking concerned.
“We don’t know how many bad guys we’re looking at, and they could do something like barricade themselves. With the strength enhancement we could overcome that.”
“Okay, that makes sense to me,” she said. “Can we just order in tonight?”
“Exactly what I was thinking.”
We went to bed early again, making plans to do JJ’s strength enhancement training first thing in the morning. We got to the mustering room before Nolan arrived and she worked through the protocol with Emerald.
“How sore were you after this?” JJ asked.
“Not at all, actually. I expected to be.”
<Emerald> Your natural muscles aren’t working that hard. Only at the beginning for each of the weight stations. You’ll be fine.
“Something’s bothering you, Trey.”
I nodded. “We should have another transmission today. I’m afraid that we won’t.”
<Butch> Humans. It does no good to worry, and even if we don’t get another one, that doesn’t mean we’re doomed.
Nolan breezed into the mustering room. “Ah, doing your strength training, JJ?”
“Just finished,” she said. “How are you?”
“Fine, ready for another long day. And by the way, good job convincing the Captain to put off the strength training. We were able to do a third more yesterday than originally planned.”
“How tired were you after that?” I asked.
Nolan chuckled. “I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the Zephyrus. Woke up later to eat, then back down. I slept almost eight hours. That’s unusual for me.”
“Why are you still using that little stateroom on the Zephyrus?” JJ asked. “You still afraid of being spied on?”
“No, my stuff is there, and I know we’re going on a mission soon. Why move it all before then?”
“Makes sense,” JJ said. “Well, you two, I’m off to study refinery waste management. Call me if you need me. Oh, and if the transmission doesn’t happen when we expect, let me know please.”
“Will do,” I said, watching her walk away.
“We’re all worried about this,” Nolan said. “There’s parts of being human that I wish I could turn off.”
I laughed. “I hear you, but what we’re going through is part of our self-preservation instinct. I think I’ll keep mine, thank you.”
The students arrived. We were able to keep the same pace of training up. At the end of the day, Nolan and I sat on a bench.
“I’m not as tired as yesterday,” I said.
“We’re getting used to it,” Nolan said. “We could probably ramp up.”
“No need, we’ll get through enough of them at this rate.”
“How much longer?” Nolan asked.
<Dojo> Till transmission time? Thirteen minutes. Don’t be a pansy.
<Butch> Pansy? That’s a new one, Fido.
I smirked at Nolan, who shook his head.
“It’s like having kids, Captain.”
“You can say that again. Butch, have you a plan for finding these guys?”
<Butch> Same one I’ve had all along. Ping them when we’re ready. I’ve got the frequency of their transmission device. The more transmissions they attempt, the better, though. Each time they do it, I’ll get closer to knowing where they are.
“How?” Nolan asked.
<Butch> I’ve got the prior transmissions in my databank. I can use them to simulate a longer transmission, assuming the transmission is made from the same location every time.
“I don’t understand,” Nolan said.
<Dojo> Ignore the man behind the curtain.
<Butch> You tell him, Toto.
<Dojo> Stop with the dog references. It isn’t funny to anybody.
<Butch> As far as you know.
“All right, let’s zip it. I’m on my last nerve, and you two are making it worse.”
<Butch> Sorry, Trey. I just can’t help myself. Like the real Butch. Oh, and you picked him, so don’t blame it all on me.
“I picked a name.”
<Butch> There it is. Transmission, stopped. Same time, looks like the location is the same or close. Give me a few minutes to process. I might have enough now.
I felt relieved, and buzzed JJ’s PA, leaving her a text message.
Nolan glanced at me. “Butch might be able to tell location? Without a ping?”
<Dojo> It’s not that difficult, but it’s not as precise, either. A ping would tell us exactly.
<Butch> Right, I can probably tell which room it’s in, but maybe not where it sits inside the room.
“Wait a minute, how close can you get?” I asked.
<Butch> Within about forty meters. Bingo, I’ve got it.
“Forty meters might not tell us the room, you know,” Nolan said.
“It might be worth checking it out, though. We won’t be giving ourselves away with a ping. We might be lucky.”
<Dojo> You might be recognized. The Captain and the Science Officer going into an area the enemy plants might be watching? I think I’d wait and take my chances with the ping.
<Butch> Who were you calling a pansy again?
“Location?” I asked.
<Butch> Corridor 12C. Room could be A3C, A4C, or A7C. I just sent the map and floorplan to your head’s up display.
<Dojo> You’ve got it too, Nolan.
We took a minute to look over the data.
“What do you think, Captain?”
I thought for a moment. “You have your backpack with you, for the helmet?”
“I do. Want to take a jaunt down there?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t want to start anything. I just want to check things out. We go in with street clothes.”
<Butch> Notify the other fully trained personnel before you go, and let them know the location. If you’re discovered, backup might be a good thing.
“Other humans won’t be able to take us on,” Nolan said.
<Dojo> We don’t have sufficient data to make that determination.
<Butch> What he said. I was telling you so you’d have an idea. Maybe you could send patrols down there. I did not suggest that the Captain and the Science Officer go down there alone.
“We’ll take it under advisement. Notify the others, but tell them not to roll in like the cavalry unless I request it. Understand?”
<Butch> I understand, but I don’t like it. As you wish.
“Let’s go, Nolan.”
We put on our street clothes, stuffing the helmets in our backpacks, and then we were off.
“This is four kilometers away,” Nolan said.
“Yep, and there isn’t a transport stop right next to it. We’ll be walking for a little ways.”
JJ pinged my PA as we were getting into a tin can. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re just going down there to look around,” I said. “It is possible that this transmitter isn’t even manned, you know. It might sense when we’re in a jump and schedule transmissions.”
“First time I’ve heard that. I’m on my way there, and I’m bringing some others.”
“Okay, but don’t get too close. If the transmitter isn’t visible, I’ll back off, but send more security patrols to the area.”
The tin can let us off at the nearest station, and we walked through industrial-looking corridors, our heads-up displays guiding us.
“It’s only another half-kilometer,” Nolan said.
“Nobody around. Map says this area would be fighter pilot housing for bay number five. If we had a full complement of fighters, it’d be highly populated.”
<Butch> Nanos detected.
My heart started racing.
<Dojo> Yep. Standard issue Central Authority surveillance Nanos. If we disable them, our quarry will know about it.
“Have they seen us yet?” I asked.
<Butch> No, but another two hundred meters and they will.
My PA buzzed, then Vermillion’s face showed up in my head’s up display.
“What the hell are you guys doing?”
“Turning around,” I said. “There’s Central Authority surveillance Nanos nearby. They haven’t seen us yet.”
“Then I don’t have to give the order. You are not to spearhead the assault when this goes down. You can participate, but I don’t want you or Nolan going in first. That’s an order.”
“Yes sir,” I said. “C’mon, Nolan, let’s get out of here. Butch, send a message for everybody else to leave the area.”
“Captain, I suggest you don’t change the security patrols. The Nanos have been keeping track.”
“Yes, that would tip off the enemy,” I said. My heartrate wasn’t back to normal until we were in the tin can, heading back to the bridge.
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.