Lt Scott, who can't believe he is still just a lieutenant, looks at his watch and realized that the briefing conference would be starting in ten minutes. He impatiently drummed his fingertips on the steel top table in the currently empty Crew Rec Room 127 three doors down from the Advanced Weapons Systems Unit. He takes a sip from the coffee cup he's been aimlessly turning back and forth and grimaces at the cold bitter taste. Looking once again at his watch, he then stares a hole in the closed hatch to Crew Rec Room 127.
"Where the hell are you, Fletcher," he mutters.
Just then the door opened and a young lieutenant stepped in. He had the look of a Figi Islander with short cropped black hair and skin still as tan as the day he stepped off the beach to join the civilian crew of a intrasystem merchant space ship. He glanced around at the empty tables, then quickly joined Lando Scott. Before he even sat down, Lando was talking, "Fletcher, what the hell took you so long. And you didn't even bring what we discussed."
Fletcher Adams flinched and said, "Keep your voice down for christ sake. I could get in a lot of trouble just talking to you about this stuff. And I don't know, its really experimental and its never had a test outside the lab yet. Something could go wrong and kill you, man. We discussed all this before."
"Lots of things out there could kill me, at least this has the potential to let me kill back. And you know I can't tell you what goes on out there, but you have to believe me when I say we have enemies and not just aliens. One of our crew was fired on. And we're sitting there with our dicks in our hands and nothing better to do than piss on the badguys."
Fletcher leaned in closer, "Geez, man. Who would have ever believed any of this when were just a couple of hick yokels scrubbing cargo holds with tooth brushes."
Lando smiled back at him, "Hell, Fletcher, it was your fault we were in that scrape. They nearly left us on that space station when we ended up stinking drunk at Madam Lacy's and missed the crew call. Especially when we finally showed up to a closed airlock with the ship in the last stages before breaking away from dock, you missing your pants and me bleeding profusely from the knock on my skull Lacy's strongboy gave me as we raced away without paying our bill. But I begged and pleaded with the first officer, offered him my first born that I would be forever responsible for you for now on. And don't forget, the next time we were on station, who it was that paid our bill and took the punishment beating for embarrassing her. You owe me, man."
Fletcher was nodding as Lando's story came to an abrupt stop. He came to a decision, "Ok, follow me."
Fletcher led them down the passage past two doors to the door labeled Advanced Weapons System Unit. Before opening the door he rapped twice, waited and rapped three more times. There was a scraping sound on the other side of the door. Fletcher waited a few seconds and then opened the door. Once inside, Lando could see a steaming cup of coffee on a reception desk, the chair behind it was pushed back and the first of the two doors behind it was just shutting. Fletcher led them through a second door, then down a series of passages and through two more doors before entering a lab. The Lieutenant Commander standing in the middle of the room had cargo tape covering the stitching of his name on his uniform, but that was just for show. Anyone on this base would know who that man was. The man looked at Fletcher, then at Scott. Then he spoke.
"Fletcher explained to you how to mount and operate it? And the the risks?" He waited for Scott's agreement then went on. "The full scale canon is nowhere near ready for production. It catastrophically fails 57% of the time in lab firings and it has yet to be successfully fired without a single glitch, even though its been very close at times, just minor glitches. What we are now sending to your ship is everything you need to mount and prep the prototype junior version. Compared to the full canon, its a pop gun, but it will, if all goes as well as it has in lab tests, allow you some close in knife fighting without it altering the flight path of your ship. There will be a box labeled, 'Coffee, experimental, vat grown from genengineered chick peas' as part of the load going to your ship. It will contain a computer ribbon that will control the firing of the vulcan long rifle, instructions and technical manual, and some smaller equipment parts that you will want to make sure you collect and store in a safe place. The rest of it will be marked, 'Actuated Globe Valve Assembly, parts 1, 2 and 3 of 3"
"Thank you, sir, you don't know how much this means to me and my .."
"Shut Up, Lieutenant! I don't give a rat's ass about you. You're only value is that you are friends with Fletcher here and you had the balls, or mutinous attitude, to ask him what we had ready so far. The Joint Command has not seen fit to grant us our wish to live fire this equipment using an operable spaceship under flight. They state their reasons, but I believe they are just afraid to be seen failing at something if this goes bad. But I am privy to what happened on your last cruise, and we need this, the Vulcan Long Rifle, in operation if the Russian's get any more brazen. And the test results from this will go a long way to getting the full canon into operation. I am given you this equipment with the expectation that you will inform your Captain what we have given you and why, and that he gives you full permission to mount it on his ship. But, please, only inform him after you make the first jump. Before that and your Captain might be tempted to ask Joint Command for instructions and that will cost many of us our careers. I am willing to risk mine, but I would prefer we actually test the Long Rifle first."
He turned toward Fletcher, "Now you, young man, escort him back to his ship and see to it that he talks to no one between here and there. Be gone with you." With that, the older man turned away and left the room.
On the way through the passageways Lando Scott tried to thank his friend for his help. but fletcher gave him the "zip it' sign and they walked in silence. As they approached the docking bay where Fletcher would see his friend off, he saw that the message board was flashing "SASF Pagasus, prepared for launch, status HOLD". At the hatch was Commander Steele, in his space suit, and beside him was Scott's shore kit and his own space suit. Steele had a very unpleasant look on his face.
Fletcher looked over at his friend, "Haha, just like old times, only I'm wearing pants, you aren't bleeding and neither of us has had our ashes hauled recently. Sorry, since I am not going with you there is no need for me to catch whatever that Commander is getting ready to spray all over these bulkheads."
With that, Fletcher did a parade ground about face and was quickly out of sight.
At the airlock Steele spoke first. "Lieutenant," he said, as if he doubted it would be an accurate address for much longer, "Where have you been and what are these last minute add-ons to our equipment load out. You assured me the engines were in tip-top conditions."
"I'm sorry Captain, and old friend from my commercial space faring days turned up and we got lost in our youth. It won't happen again, sir. And the engines are in tip-top shape, but after some discussions with other ships engineers while I've been on leave I have come to the conclusion that there may be as much as a 4.3% chance that part may fail after several long jumps. I wanted and extra backup on board just in case."
"We'll discuss this later during your Performance Review, but for now, get in your suit and get aboard." Suddenly, Steele broke into a smile that he just couldn't hold back. "For we are heading back out into the Great Black Beyond"
Lando awoke suddenly. He'd fallen asleep in the briefing... he hoped the Commodore hadn't noticed. And it was such a strange dream, too... he wondered where he'd come up with a space station with a civilian bar on it. The bar he and Fletcher had gotten in trouble in was firmly on the ground.
And Fletcher... damn, it seemed like it had been a long time since he died in a construction accident on Churchill Station. But in his dream, he had seemed so real and so alive...
Scott really felt the need for a drink, but he knew he'd have to wait for the meeting to be over. He thought dark thoughts at the new scientist, asking all those questions and slowing down the proceedings. He really wanted to be in his engine room, fussing over the gauges and readouts and cursing the base technicians who had prepped Pegasus for every minor annoyance he could find. They always did something to annoy him, and when he complained they blamed regulations or procedures. Was it any wonder he took a nip now and then?
As Scott entered his engineering space, he placed the package of "experimental coffee' in his personal storage locker, then checked to make sure the special packages (3 of 3) were safely stored in the spare parts bay. It had worked, the plan he and Finn had worked out once they had arrived on the station had actually worked.
Finn had a theory that the martians had left some sort of ... machine overseer didn't quite define what he meant ... it was something that seemed to basically control this world/time we existed in out here. It controlled the actions of people outside of our own enclosed group and seemed to make substance out of whatever fuzzy images we saw out of the corner of our eye and specifically tried to find more information for. This Overseer System also artificially maintained a tight restriction on technology and any useful gains we could garner from researching the martian ruins left behind.
Finn devised a way to trick the Overseer into believing I was in the conference room for the briefing instead of sneaking contraband onto the Pegasus.
Scott smiled, remembering that escapade on one of the "extraplanetary colonies ... in orbit around Earth..." How Madam Lacy got the permits to open that place was politics well beyond Scott's level, but he suspected that the Joint Command knew that it was better to have their crew remain on the space station to throw off steam instead of taking personal, and dangerous, crewed launches out to the many space barges offering the same services that Madam lacy was offering.
((i know i know, I fully realize all this will end up on the cutting room floor))