36: Goblin Driver 2 – Briefing

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Red could have pulled her arm from my grip without any trouble, and I was becoming surprised she still hadn’t done it. Instead, to my relief, she finally relaxed.

Since she’d backed down a bit, I met her half-way. “I’ll ask him. As captain to yard officer. Okay?”

That might have sounded pretty arrogant coming from a high school kid. And in fact, the ‘captain’ thing matters less than my words implied. It counts for something though. That word is not used as a rank in the ESDF. It means the commander of a vessel large enough to classify as an interstellar ship. It isn’t based on rank. The Yard Boss outranked me, but even if he were an admiral, I was still Mo’s captain. As the boss of a maintenance yard he had to hear me out on matters concerning the safety and spaceworthiness of ESDF ship TV-803 Morris Higgins. Even if he chose to ignore what I said after I left.

Red finally shrugged off my grip, but she nodded. “Right. I’ll be good. But we are going right now.”

I stood my ground. “We are going after you clean up. We’re scheduled for a briefing in an hour. You might not make it back to the showers in time if you don’t use them now.”

She looked down at her ruined coveralls and grinned. “Yeah. Good thing I’m naked under this, right? The oil soaking through the fabric would have ruined my undies.”

“You’re…” My face heated and she grinned as I looked away. Then she let out a merry laugh and took off for the bay entrance. I tried not to stare at the fabric plastered to her rump as I followed, but… yeah, she wasn’t kidding.

“You didn’t need to tell me that,” I complained, and she laughed again.

That’s our relationship in a nutshell. There’s nothing on the romantic front; frankly, she avoids me in school, or did before she graduated. She’s part of the popular, top-of-the-heap crowd. Me… well, girls avoid me. ‘He’s a little weird’, or so I’ve heard.

But we work well as a crew. I told her so when we first formed up. “If you keep my ship flying, I’ll keep you alive.”

She thought it was bragging at first. She knew we would be always be at risk of flying in harm’s way on the missions they had planned for us. But she’s come to believe it. And say what you want about Mo… my ship flies like an eagle. A really fat eagle, anyway.

I suppose most people would find an interstellar ship crewed by a couple teenagers strange, even a small one like a Goblin. Please understand that the ESDF wouldn’t be doing things this way if they could possibly avoid it.

The great majority of Earth’s population has never heard of the ESDF. They don’t know about the Allies and the Enemy, nor about the war between them that has gone on longer than our species has existed. Since the Sixteenth Century, when the war came to our planetary system, they have lived their lives in happy ignorance of the danger that dwells just beyond the Sun’s domain.

That ignorance is no accident. Both sides keep the biggest secret in Human history hidden from the billions of Humans we call the Surface Population. This isn’t because of some agreement between opponents. Each side has it’s own reasons, and would expose the other side in a second if they thought it would hurt the opponent more than themselves.

We call the division between friendly space and enemy space ‘the front line’, but it isn’t a line. It’s a wavy invisible sheet dividing the galaxy, with bulges and dips defined by which side owns the various star systems as it winds its way through the galaxy. Nor is it clear exactly where Allied space ends and Enemy space begins. The ‘sheet’ is a zone anywhere from three to fifty light years thick, transitioning slowly from one side’s control to the other’s. Earth actually sits within that zone, although closer to the Alliance side. That’s why the Enemy still covertly controls many humans here, and why the ESDF still has to fight from hidden bases and keep our existence secret from the public.

# # #

Our meeting with the Yard Boss went about as expected, but I kept Red out of the brig, anyway. And I did extract a promise that the yard would spend more time on my ship. I was still a little pissed off about this, later in the day, but… well, that was the subject of the briefing, it turned out.

I puzzled over the mission summary on the screen. “I don’t get it. Transport Fleet has their own ships for this kind of work. Why use us?”

Gulf Base Three’s briefing bay is an ugly dump. Generations of ESDF pilots had received their orders in this room, and frankly, the worn walls and the chipped tile showed it. Ancient round lamps hung above us, like something out of a WWII flick, because the room actually was that old. Big yellowed reflectors housed round fluorescent bulbs fed by aged electrical wires stapled to the ceiling. A chipped chalkboard lurked behind the equally-worn pull-down screen, and my CO’s laptop and DLP displaying the images showing on that screen provided the only evidence of anything that came from the twenty-first century.

Six out of eight adults in the room looked back at me with mild curiosity. The seventh was Red, who was looking around expectantly, wanting an answer to the question as well. The eighth swiveled her head like a battleship turret and declared, “Surface Corps equipment has no relevance to this discussion, Senior Aviator.”

I had encountered PTO1C Joss before. Actually, I had carried a unit commanded by her before. She was a Zindavoor, an alien despite her appearance. The ‘human’ I was looking at was actually a special robotic simulacrum of a human. The real Joss rode inside the torso, controlling it.

I’ve seen Zindavoors outside their ‘mannequins’, because some of them work in the Yard as mechanics. When they leave their mannequins, they can crawl into really tight places to do repairs. They’re tiny things that look like a cross between a weasel and a cat, and they’re about that size, too.

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When they are in their mannequins, they appear human, but they don’t all possess the same skill for acting human. Joss treated her suit like a piece of military equipment, and operated it with military precision and a distinct lack of subtlety.

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A PTO is a strange existence in the ESDF too, although in a different way than a Zindavoor or a Youth Officer like myself. They are technically Surface Corps warrant officers, but instead of being specialists, they are fighting troops promoted out of the regular ranks to be company officers just like lieutenants. She had been a Master Sergeant or something once, and they had sent her to a school to learn how to command a platoon.

PTO Joss was a well-known, long-serving member of the local Surface Corps contingent at Gulf Base 3. And apparently she had temporary command of the surface corps contingent flying on this mission.

My CO, Commander Avary, cleared his throat. “Ah, PTO, allow me.”

Joss now swiveled her head to lock on to Avary. Thankful to be out of her gun sights, I looked back to him as well.

“Captain Resnik, I failed to explain that Chief Farley’s lander belongs to 1st Couriers, just like your Goblin.”

“Why would 1st Couriers have landers? We can land on our own.” The old Gobs, the new Argos, and the various airliner-like personnel transports were our only domain. Landers served Transport Fleet and Scout Fleet ships to land troops under fire.

Joss took over again. “The Morris Higgins cannot fly directly into a planetary free-fire zone without unacceptable risk. Even with the planned modifications, the defenses will not be sufficient against ground fire. So the vessel cannot complete the final leg of this mission.” The PTO’s eyes regarded the screen as if rereading the basic mission profile displayed there, then turned back to lock onto me. “Or is this not a correct assessment of the specifications of the vessel?”

Free-fire zone? I think I paled a little. I had never flown into anything quite that hot… well, I guess all of Earth is sort of near such places on the galactic scale, but it isn’t planetary warfare hot. “Ah… no. You are correct. But my ship isn’t an Assault Ship either.”

“Assault Ships are too large and too slow for Chief Farley’s typical mission, Captain Resnik. And sufficiently small and agile interstellar-capable assault craft don’t have enough capacity. The mission requires a mother ship small and nimble enough for the job, but big enough to ferry a large lander. Goblins are the perfect size, and the later models with uprated drives and armor, such as G types like Morris Higgins, have the right performance.”

I absorbed this news in confusion. If this was Farley’s ‘typical mission’, wouldn’t we already have ships outfitted for it?

Avary took over once more, with considerably more sympathy than Joss. “Mo won’t go unguarded either. These folks are here to fly cover.”

He’d gestured at the remaining four unfamiliar faces in the room. He’d already introduced CPO Farley, the tall Englishman flying the lander. Now, the others got their turns. “Lieutenant Commander Martins, with Lieutenants Xia, Viescas and Delaney of the 254th Escort Squadron. The ‘Road Kings’.”

My division wasn’t a ‘squadron’ so we didn’t have a cool name like that. These guys were the ‘Road Kings’ and the 77th Pursuit Squadron, the fighters based here at GB3, were the ‘Lucky Double’, but I was just Senior Aviator Cody Resnik, Captain, TV-803 Morris Higgins, 3rd Light Cargo Division, 1st Courier Wing, Aviation Corps. With an unwieldy handle like that, you can understand why I kinda resent these guys who can just snap, ‘Road Kings’ as they stick out their hand for a shake.

They would have cool call signs too. And I was willing to bet they were about to tell me.

- my thoughts:

Cody Resnik is a fun character to write first person. He has just the right balance between confidence and self-effacing humor.

And we get to see the business side of PTO Joss this time.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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