41: Goblin Driver 7 – Friction

Piloting a Goblin isn’t pressing buttons and wiggling joysticks like in a video game. Between the stress and the gees, high-energy maneuvering is outright hard labor. By the time you get a break, you feel like you’ve been on the outside, pushing the damn thing into space yourself, rather than sitting in the cockpit driving it. From when we launched until we transited to Meta-space, Red and I had worked uninterrupted for a full two hours to get safely underway, outward bound on the Sun’s hyperlight stream.

We were still under acceleration, so it wasn’t yet time for rotation. Normally, at this point, I activated the auto/tend, a system that is able to handle the easy stuff and pass control to me through my nerve-ware when the situation requires it, then trudged to the galley dragging a massive caffeine jones.

But just doing so without saying anything no longer worked on the Mo. A person who had never before existed on this crew, the executive officer, was on standby behind me in the jump seat, called the ‘observer seat’ even though it now had some access to flight systems as well. The XO had been observing, not participating, because Goblin flight controls are normally handled by one pilot and one jetman (Red). 

The XO’s job was to rest during the shift that I flew, and flew when I rested, but she wanted to watch the takeoff. Probably familiarizing herself with the controls. She had flown Goblin bombers, but Mo was her introduction to the G model cargo. Well, to the modified former cargo, anyway. I looked over my shoulder at her.

“Lieutenant, I usually take a fifteen minute break at this point. Would you like to take the conn, or shall I put it on auto/tend?”

Poppy Kirkwood shook her head with a smile. “I’ll pass. I should rest for a bit, Sir. My daughter was crying all night, so I’m short on sleep.”

“A baby? Whose taking care of her?”

“She’s with my parents. My husband’s always gone on long range patrol, so we live with them.”

My new XO was in her early twenties, in a two-income marriage, and still living at home? I thought it was odd for a moment, then realized the baby was probably the reason. If both parents were at space all the time, they needed a caregiver for their child. And espees of her age lived with their parents all the time. Not usually the two-income married ones, but whatever.

She got out of her seat, flashed a salute and left the control room. I started up the auto/tend with my own shake of the head.

The XO was the weirdest part of this transition for me. In the normal ESDF, Lieutenants do not salute Senior Aviators. The Youth Aviation ranks stand above warrant officers but below commissioned officers. Nor do they call them ‘Sir’.  But as long as she was part of my crew, my authority and Kirkwood’s were flipped, because I was the captain.

Does that make any sense? No? In any rational military, she would be the captain and I would be the XO? I agree, but direct your complaints to my superiors.

Well, my Senior Aviator rank would flip to Lieutenant Senior Grade once I reached eighteen. Only about one in five Aviators make SA, so it isn’t a small accomplishment. Kirkwood was a Lieutenant JG, so in a few months I really would outrank her unless she got a promotion first. So, I guess the situation made some kind of weird sense?

Farley grinned at me from the coffee station as I entered the galley. “Hullo, Skipper. Quite a thrill ride you gave us.”

I prayed the color in my cheeks didn’t show. “It’s all the modifications, I think. She doesn’t want to fly straight now.”

He scowled at me while I looked for my mug. I had no idea what his problem might be, so I concentrated on pouring coffee. I was searching for the creamer when he finally answered.

“Skipper, don’t ever say that to anyone else.”

His angry tone surprised me. I looked up from the cup into eyes exactly like my drill instructor’s, in officer preparatory school.

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t ever say such a thing to anyone betting their lives on your ship. Not to crew, not to passengers, not even to a fellow pilot like me. Any bloke with the brass to ask the captain about his ship-handling deserves whatever b******* you care to feed him. Say you had to dodge a passing 747. Say you sucked a great white into the intake. Say you swerved to avoid hitting Santa Claus. Don’t ever say that your ship wasn’t flying for you.”

He pitched his remaining coffee into the sink, stowed his mug and strode out. I stared at his exiting back, bewildered.

# # #

Mo to Tapper, requesting closed channel call.”

After the automated loop-back I received from her at the start, I had to wait almost thirty seconds before Martins responded. The setup for the private call took only a couple seconds, so during the rest she was either wrapping something else up or getting herself woke up from a nap. I had just crashed on my cot to grab one myself, so I very nearly fell asleep before she answered.

“Go ahead, Mo.”

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“Time check. On my tone, please confirm nineteen U-constant hours, forty seven minutes, thirty seconds into flight plan, and at scheduled position.” Through my nerve-ware, I directed the beep to transmit at the specified time.

“Checks on my comp within zero-point-zero-five seconds, Mo.”

“Cool,” I answered and chewed my lip in thought.

“You didn’t request a closed channel to do a time check, Captain.”

“Yeah.” I contemplated a few more seconds, then asked, “You have any idea what Farley’s problem is with me?”

“I’m afraid you and I met him at the same briefing. I know him no better than you do.”

I nodded to myself. I’d figured as much, but it was worth a shot. “Damn. You’re both English, so I was hoping you had run into him before.”

“Great Britain’s a big island, Captain.”


“Hang a tick. Duty calls.”

I waited through another lengthy dead-air time wondering whether I was just being a whining kid. She finally returned with a suggestion.  “Care to give me an example? Maybe we can puzzle it out together.”

“Well I run into the attitude that I’m too young all the time, so I’m used to that. But this is more than that. It’s more like he’s daring me to act up. Like, he wants me to get full of myself and try to put him in his place.”

“He wants you to prove that you’re immature, in other words,” she translated.

“Right. And I’m not sure why he would want that. And as long as I can’t figure that out, I’m stumped as to how to deal with him.”

I don’t know if she was mulling, or something on her comp was taking her attention away but Martins didn’t respond. I sighed.

“Well, I already asked the question I called to ask. I didn’t call you to whine, but if I keep going, that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll sign off now.”

“Could you stay on a bit longer, Captain?” Martins asked.

“Um… well, if you want.”

“I just have a spot of advice to pass on. I don’t know if it will help you with Farley, but it might. It’s a couple questions I ask myself when I’m having trouble with a subordinate.”

I had been getting worried she felt she was just dealing with a whining kid. But if she was handing out advice, well… okay, I’m as bad at following advice as most guys, but after two years driving Mo I’ve at least learned that I should have followed the advice I get from people like Martins.

“Okay. Sure.”

“You’ve been in the Corps long enough to run into your share of berks and gits. So the first question is, does Farley strike you as one of those?”

As I often do when interacting with Brits, I had to guess the meaning of a couple words from context, but I was pretty sure I understood. The stinging lecture I had received in the galley almost made me answer ‘yes’, but something about how he had done it told me that wasn’t the case. No matter how harsh he’d been, he had said it as if he felt it was important knowledge to pass on to me. The sort of person Martins meant wouldn’t bother doing that.

“No. He doesn’t.”

“Okay, then you can proceed to question two, because if the answer to question one is ‘yes’, the only things you can do are write him off or run him over. You do whichever the situation requires. So the second question is, does he have a problem with you, or do you have a problem with him?”

“Do I… what?”

“Don’t start off assuming his problem is particular to you. If all you know is that his attitude is trouble for you, then you don’t know if his attitude is about you. And if it isn’t, then it requires a very different response. You may not be able to work problems like that out for your crew. As their commander, you should consider it, but if it isn’t possible, then you simply have to tell them to do their jobs and stop turning their problems into yours.”

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I was about to answer, I guess he has a problem with me, based on our conversation in the galley. She saved me from heading the wrong direction just in time, by adding, “I saw it in that first meeting. He’s been on your back since the moment he met you. He hadn’t had time to form a proper opinion about you, frankly. That has me thinking he transferred the problem he arrived with onto you.”

“You think so? I had the impression he took one look at me and decided I was a kid out of my element.”

“That would just make you his kindred spirit, Captain. He’s no more than a couple years older than you, and I’m sure he still sees himself that way. After all, that’s your analysis of yourself, isn’t it?”

My cheeks burned. “Well…”

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. We pilots have all been there. All of us were once kids stuck with an adult’s job. It’s the nature of the ESDF. In his eyes, you might simply represent the problem he already had eating him, when he walked in. That’s my read, anyhow.”

- my thoughts:

There's an old Navy saying that a ship captain is father to his crew. Sometimes he's more busy with keeping his subordinates on the right track than with steering his vessel.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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