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 Outside - The Precious Projectile

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PostSubject: Outside - The Precious Projectile   June 9th 2010, 8:11 am

Outside - Story Eleven
The Precious Projectile

Part 1

I do not know if I can tell this one properly, but the story is mine to tell. I was the one who actually was affected with most of the situation, so I have most of the first-hand facts. I, personally, find parts embarrassing, horrible, and simply hard to describe. I will however do my best.

This is Naomi. I was adjusting to being married with Clover and my new life. In a way I found things much more relaxed than with my people on Neosalem. There was work to do, but it really was not much. The constant attention to details was more pervasive in that the ship was more confined than our dome on Neosalem and the ability to gain help was non-existent. The rule was that if you used something, you fixed it. Such did not mean that you repaired it if it broke, but if you used it you cleaned it, checked it, and made certain that it would work the next time. The joke was always the coffeepot, as it was constantly busy supplying hot water, but I often found somebody wiping it down. Nobody laughed when I began to move around with a rag in my hand. They however reminded me that my job was as the ship medic, so I needed to be concerned with their health and not the shine on doorknobs.

I however felt stressed in that my free time left me with little options about what to do. On Neosalem there was work to do all day. On board the Menlo Park when we were in a solar system there was almost constant work, but between stars there was a lot of down time. Clover spent his days checking his computer systems and a multitude of data from financial to geological planet surveys. This was a new life for me, so I had not developed any hobbies to help pass my time. I thus would get nervous and move about our apartment cleaning everything not having anything else to do, although the work would put neither me nor my husband at ease.

Clover had methods of dealing with my anxiety. He would leave for point duty glad to be away from me for a stretch. He could also become so immersed in his computer work that he did not know that I was present. He did not ignore me, although I often had thoughts of such kind. It was just that I was not used to a lifestyle of so much time with so little to do.

Luckily, I did have access to messages from my mother. She provided advice for me. There was also the news from Neosalem that would often keep me mentally active for periods. It was strange, but through my mother I often learned of things that my husband was doing on his computer. He was so rich, that his manipulation of finances often had results that others talked about. Mother would thus give me her opinion of certain acts of my husband, and it helped to give me things to speak to Clover about.

It was as I went to meet my husband as he finished one period of duty that the events of this story began. I entered Harley's office to find her signaling for me to go to her. I moved to her desk to find her pointing with one hand to the door to a docking bay hallway as the other hand sent some commands to her computer station. I stopped before the lady as the voice of Rachel came over a speaker.

"Clover, we need to talk. Castle, go on about your business."

The voice of Castle returned, "I will simply tell Harley to listen in."

"I already commanded her not to."

Harley mumbled to me, "You are Clover's wife, so have every right to listen in," even as my husband returned, "I will blurt it all out anyway, Rachel."

The captain's wife returned, "I don't think so, Clover."

Harley waved for me to stoop down, so I did as Castle came through the air lock. Rachel did look toward Harley's desk, but not with any serious consideration for what she saw, although the movement of Castle through the door also helped block any view of me. Castle's mustache was lifted in a smile as his grin was wide upon seeing me. He shut the airlock quickly, then rushed to Harley's console to listen in on the conversation.

Even though she thought that she was alone, Rachel did not speak loudly. "Clover, just how much protection do you have for your time with Naomi?"

"My inventory is on record just like everyone else's. To answer your question though, I remember speaking to you on our first voyage about a certain item bought in bulk."

"You were sexually active on the first mission, Clover, and I do not believe you restocked."

"Stanley gave me a box as a wedding present, saying that would give Naomi and me a few months of peace. Still, I was not that sexually active on the first mission. As for this voyage, well, it is nice having a willing lady present."

Rachel's voice dropped even lower as she said, "Well, Thor and I were, and are, quite active. However, as I was checking our inventory, one of the boxes looked wrong. I opened it to see industrial condoms; those used in certain ducts to keep out unwanted particles."

"Thor is not that big?"

The tone of Clover’s voice clearly indicated that he sought to joke, but Rachel’s return statement came very dry. "I don't want to get off the subject, Clover. You and Thor can discuss it in one of your manly chats. The point is that while I want children, Thor and I might have no choice in the timing."

"Naomi wants children as well. She is thus very interested in one of my projects."

The lady captain continued to keep her voice very matter-of-fact. "This mission is just starting, Clover, so we have a few years."

"Okay, Rachel, I believe that in our original discussion you pointed out that I had enough for a thousand uses in a year. I do not want to admit how few chances I actually had, although on this mission I have finally had to reopen the box holding my supply."

"That is what I wanted to hear, Clover. If you do not mind, I will want access to raid from that box."

"I just do not want any word of complaint should you and Naomi be pregnant on our return."

Now some lightness came to the voice of our female captain. "If we return."

"We do not talk like that, Rachel."

"You know damn well what I am talking about. Still, I am sure that you and Thor will have one of your chats. We can thus keep each other informed of certain facts."

"Okay, Rachel. I will send you details about releasing the locks on that container."

Castle and I rushed through the door to the other docking corridor as Rachel opened the airlock door on her corridor. Luckily, the doors are hard to open from the inside, so time was with Castle and me. Doug waved at the two of us as we anxiously waited with out backs against the wall. The cameras were set towards Doug's cabin, so we would not be seen although somebody might notice Doug waving at someone. Both Castle and I held our breath in fear of being caught when the airlock door opened, but gasped with relief when it was only Clover.

"Okay, I know that there is no way to control how far this will go."

Castle moved to leave as he said, "I am glad to have heard, as it will help me understand certain references. I think that the topic will get out, but I am not one who can bring up certain topics without being embarrassed myself."

As Castle left, I said, "I believe that there is enough room on this ship for babies."

My husband asked, "And just how prepared do you believe that you are to handle any complications of pregnancy?"

"Our animals on Neosalem were reproducing, and I worked with them." I saw my husband simply glare at me, so I added, "I believe that aid and advice could be gained if there is a complication."

"Well, we need to at least wait until all solar systems are explored. Those periods demand so much of our time that a child would suffer."

"You are still talking years from now. My mother is already asking certain questions."

Doug asked from near his cabin, "I don't want you two having a spat."

Clover asked me, "Are we spatting?"

"Maybe in a year or so. I really want children, Clover."

"Well, maybe this situation will force the conversation out in the open." He then spoke more loudly, "We are just having a serious discussion."

Doug said in return, "Come on over here, and tell me what is going on."

The elder photographer had never been married, but his age was enough to supply him with some understanding. He was also somebody that my husband considered a part of his family. In the short time that I had known him, I had also come to enjoy spending time with Doug, so willingly discussed things. I actually liked the fact that he did not, and could not, tell me how things had been with him with the tones indicating that such should also be the case with me. The elder photographer did not act anything like the elders of Neosalem, so I appreciated his words of wisdom.

After listening to us, Doug said, "You two are younger, so have less to fear from the time necessary for this mission than our two captains. Thor and Rachel are also in charge of this ship and this mission. If I thus have any advice, let them have the child first."

Clover replied, "That is not the issue, Doug. We want the best for our children. The demands on our lives will not allow us to give out children the attention we want."

"How much attention did your parents give you, Clover?"

"I remember quite a bit. I definitely did not appreciate being sent off to school, but wanted to stay with my parents."

"Well, …"

Suddenly, Thor's voice came over the speakers, "Naomi, wherever you are, get to docking corridor two. We have Felix coming in. His boat has been hit. We do not know if he is alive, but if he is you will have the duty to keep him that way."

I spoke in response to the statement over the speaker trusting the central computer to route my words, "I am already in docking corridor two. I am with Doug."

The voice of Thor grumbled as he replied, "Not too glad to hear that, Naomi. Diamond and I are coming with a stretcher, but you might need medical supplies. I was hoping that you could pick up things on your way."

"I have medical supplies stashed in here with Doug, since he is someone that I fear might one day need it."

The voice of Darlene now sounded, "Felix's boat should be docking in about two minutes, Naomi."

I did have some basic medical supplies in the room built for Doug. They were mostly for treating an elderly man with weak bones. His life without gravity, artificial or otherwise, had me worried about his aged thin support structure. I thus did have some trauma medicine, and some devices for securing limbs. I did not have much time, but pointed out the stashes to my husband with some comments about what items should be there.

Doug had moved to the door, and called to Clover and me upon hearing a thump on his wall. I went to the door and floated up in the almost lack of gravity to the portal that suddenly lit up. As the voice of Harley sounded saying that Felix's boat should be unlocked, I was already at work attempting to open the airlock.

I heard the airlock into the corridor open even as the voice of my husband asked, "There is air in Felix's boat?"

"The panel indicates that there is, but the airlock is taking time to cycle."

The voice of the ship's captain grew louder as he closed upon my position, "Don't rush moving the body out, Naomi."

"Moments could count, Thor. We need to check on Felix quickly. What we decide to do afterwards might however need careful thought."

Diamond responded, "Good words, darling. What is the airlock saying?"

"It seems to have trouble equalizing the pressure."

All of the men seemed to say in unison, "That means that there is a breech."

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PostSubject: Part 2   June 14th 2010, 7:58 am

Outside - Story Eleven
The Precious Projectile

Part 2

Thor nudged me away from the airlock, then began a series of commands upon the panel. It turned completely red, blinked a few times, then an alarm sounded. The captain mumbled phrases about always liking the display when he tested the emergency system even as he banged on the metal hull in a hope to speed up time before the system would go ahead and allow the airlock to open.

The inside of a boat is not a cramped space. All the pilots designed their crafts to be comfortable places to spend a portion of their lives. Felix had not built his own boat the way Castle or my husband had, but it still had luxuries that Felix considered made the boat uniquely his own. The tube behind the command seats was padded in a manner suggesting that Felix did not want to have to sleep in his chair should he be confined for a period of time. Neither Thor nor I checked the padding to discover what compartments might be covered as we moved to the hopefully only injured pilot.

There was blood, but I kept my promise of being able to handle the sight. What bothered me was seeing the hole in Felix's chest. All aboard the Menlo Park had become family to me, and seeing someone that I considered a friend harmed had an emotional impact. The presence of Thor helped me focus on the situation. I did not want him to feel bad about giving me the duties of the ship's medic. I thus started to work on Felix's form.

Thor seemed as bothered by the body as I was, but he turned his attention to the breech. A sizable hole had been made in Felix's boat, which the emergency systems had not been able to fully close. A tough goop continued to be pumped upon a section of the hull, although we could all tell that air continued to escape. Thor worked to stop the loss of atmosphere, although also continued to worry about Felix. He pointed out certain features of the boat as I commented about certain serious medical problems facing me.

I never would have considered a vacuum hose for minor cleaning duties to work as a siphon for blood, but the captain handed it to me with a quick explanation. "If you use it, you fix it. The device might not be made for blood, but it was going to need cleaning and checking anyway. Don't be afraid to use something out here, Naomi."

"I was sent out here because I did not use equipment the way it was intended."

"I thought it was because you used it for purposes against the beliefs of your people. I believe that those on Neosalem would agree that saving a life was a good use of anything."

My smile came out as a grimace as my expression of pleasure was mixed with the disgust of what I was seeing and smelling, so I added, "Thank you, Thor."

I quickly worked to clean up the wound. The opening into Felix's chest looked bad, and it was bad, but the man was still alive. He did not have on his spacesuit, but he was wearing good clothes with tough plastic sections. I know that Felix liked them for their shine. Now that he was rich he made a special effort to look good. The plastic had actually worked to spread out the energy of the impact and was easier to clean than a fiber fabric.

While the object had enough energy to pass through his hull, by the time it reached Felix most of its energy was spent. It cracked some ribs, causing a puncture of a lung, but somehow avoided doing anything that resulted in a major loss of blood. The ship had filled the cabin with oxygen to keep enough gas present to prevent the body from suffocating. With the wound treated, I worked to inflate the lung. The ribs were still a problem, but I felt that I had done enough to risk moving Felix.

When I asked for Diamond to ready the stretcher, he said in return, "Are you sure we can take him into gravity?"

"I need to get him where I can check the ribs."

"Can you do that in Doug's cabin?"

"Yes, but you will need to bring the x-ray viewer."

The voice of Darlene sounded over the speakers, "Sandra moved to the medical bay in case of a need. She will be bringing the x-ray viewer."

"Clover, we prepared for this emergency with Doug. The computer in his cabin is supposed to be able to handle the equipment."

It was Diamond that spoke in return, "Don't you worry about the computer system. Doug's cabin was not just thrown together, but built by a lot of people that wanted him to have the best. It can handle your medical devices."

"I guess that it is time to put everything to the test."

"No, darling, it is time to find out if our testing procedures are any good. That is the difference in real emergencies and designed ones. Real emergencies don't give a damn about the way things are supposed to happen."

Felix did get safely moved to Doug's cabin, and the medical equipment did work. I found myself annoyed by the number of people looking at the x-ray screen. Everyone stated that they were helping me look for shrapnel. No one seemed satisfied by a simple movement of the device around the chest section, but kept wanting to examine the wound more thoroughly. When I found my husband taking advantage of me turning my eyes from the screen, my frustration finally erupted.

"What is so important about looking for shrapnel? I am trying to fix Felix's bones!" I started crying as I further screamed, "Leave me alone!"

Clover apologized as Thor pulled him back to say, "Keep working, Naomi. We will explain ourselves later. You are however correct that we need to be more concerned about our injured pilot. That goes for you as well, Naomi, so wipe them eyes and get back to work."

I really did not like the captain's tone of voice, but I understood that he was correct. I did not smile as I took a cloth from Clover. I simply wiped my face, then returned to work.

Felix's wound was more substantial than I originally thought, although my training had caused me to perform correctly. He had been hit by something larger than a normal bullet, and although most of its energy had been spent before reaching his body the object still had weight. His damage was thus more that of being hit by a large heavy object and not a normal projectile. I found myself fatigued as it took a few hours to set ribs and tend to a variety of physical problems in a large circumference around the wound.

The time required to work on Felix did not help my attitude towards those around me. My fatigue only fueled my anger. While I kept my focus on doing everything for Felix that was possible, when I finished I was ready to cause serious injury to others in the room.

What Clover handed me was not a towel, but the rock that had hurt Felix. I recognized it by its shape and weight, although its appearance was different having been cleaned. I still felt a need to be angry at the men in the room, but the lump of metal did give some explanation to their earlier interest in finding more pieces. I stayed calm as I sat in a chair while examining what had been handed to me.

"This is gold?"

Thor first handled some basics, "Standard procedure in an emergency is for everything to go into shutdown. The silence of communications is not appreciated by those tracking us, and is actually against the law, but it is the only way to secure our finances. We will of course be reprimanded for our silence, but we need to have an understanding to keep our stories straight."

"But gold is good, right? This object is worth money."

"There are a number of things worth more than gold, but it does have value. Look at it again, Naomi. That is basically pure gold."

I handed it to Thor as I admitted, "I am tired. What am I supposed to see?"

A number of people, including my husband, wanted to speak, but it was the captain that spoke. "Ingots of pure gold are not unknown. It is possible that some supernova shot out chunks of the metal as big as planets. That is not how it is found however, and it is a rare element."

Clover finally found an opening to speak. "There is also the fact that it impacted a ship traveling at tachy."

Diamond picked up on the conversation. "Impacts are our most fundamental fear. That is why we have people flying point. The increase in object detection increases by a large factor. That thing might be small, but gold is rather dense. Our sensors check for densities of vacuum. This piece of gold should have been detected with slight course corrections made to avoid."

I asked, "You have checked his ship's sensors?"

Thor answered, "Sandra and Castle have checked the hardware while your husband ran tests of the computer software."

Clover added some details. "I also ran a number of simulations looking for how the impact could have occurred. The only one that makes sense is that this piece of gold was a projectile."

I had to ask, "You mean that somebody shot this at Felix?"

Thor replied, "Occram's Razor would say that is the reasonable solution. The simulations say that this piece of gold was traveling at over point seven the speed of light, which is quite fast for a normal object. The purity of the object implies that it is not natural. While it is possible for this to be natural in origin, and reasonable to assume that it is natural in origin, the simplest explanation is that it was a projectile."

Clover added, "And the simulations say that it had to have a more streamlined shape to have caused the type of impact that it did. We kept double-checking your x-ray data because the computer kept saying that the object should have spread out more."

I became really concerned for Felix as I asked, "Who fired it?"

Diamond answered, "Someone that did not want to shoot at a lady. Indigo was the other point pilot."

I was about to reply when the voice of Sharon, Indigo, sounded, "Breaking silence here guys, as I am quite a bit out, but I found it."

Thor wanted to speak, but the voice of Rachel rang out, "We need basics, Indigo."

"They are not traveling along any star route, so I am having to switch vectors to stay with this mass. Data being transmitted… now."

I almost got angry again at having so many heads crowded around the screen that I was looking at. It was my husband's computer however, and in this case he and the others were better able to make sense of the data. I only got to look because I had moved next to my husband. He had the computer input the data into a simulation program allowing me to see some graphics of rocks and ships, and while the problem should have been obvious I did not make the jump that the men around me did.

Clover's voice yelled, "Indigo, that is not it!"

The voice over the speaker said, "What?" even as Thor commanded, "Watson, Castle, I want you in your boats!"

Castle's voice came back over the speaker, "I am in my boat checking things after JUST coming off duty, then spending time checking things with Felix’s boat."

Watson also stated that Thor was forgetting some facts, "I am already out checking other alternatives."

Diamond, who was in the room, said, "This is my shift, Thor. I should be the pilot out."

The captain paused to remember some details, then nodded his head as he replied, "Okay, Diamond, get yourself ready." He then raised his voice as he spoke to another, "Watson, are you finding anything?"

The voice of Indigo came over the speakers, "What is wrong with this group?"

My husband replied, "You are sending the information, Indigo, and you know the situation. What do you find right about the group?"

Thor made certain that his question was not being ignored, "Watson, I want an answer!"

The voice of Watson softly chirped, "Uh, I think we have a problem," even as Indigo said, "Ah, Clover, I think you need to see what I am seeing."

I heard my husband mutter curses, which I could empathize with looking at his screen, but Thor was looking at the speaker as the voice of Watson whispered, "There is a facility ahead of me."

The captain shouted to the speaker, "Darlene, I want to know what is around us!" even as Clover said, "Thor, we have a problem."

The captain looked to my husband as if he had just said one of the most idiotic phrases ever to leave anyone's mouth, but his jaw dropped as he saw what was on my husband's screen. The rocks were loosely grouped, but their configuration was not our concern. What bothered us was the presence of signs on the moving space debris. The signs were not stating the distance to any destination, but were targets for others to aim at. Felix had been hit because somebody had missed.

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PostSubject: Part 3   June 19th 2010, 8:23 am

Outside - Story Eleven
The Precious Projectile

Part 3

Thor did not say anything, although his eyes darted when a box opened on Clover's screen stating that a computation had finished. Clover mumbled something about the quality of his A5 processing chips, although said nothing else. It was not my husband, but the captain who spoke as the data was viewed.

"Indigo, Clover's computer is going to send tactical to your boat. Please authorize and let me know what you find."

As the female pilot stated an acknowledgement, the voice of Watson whispered, "Uh, Thor, I have held my position, but the facility seems to have been made aware of my presence."

"Do what you need to do, Watson. I believe that we have data that will match with your situation. I am putting this ship on alert." To assure that his words were taken seriously, he added, "Clover, that means that I will probably need you in your boat as well."

"I just came off duty as did Castle, but he has been checking his boat while I have been here. If you need me, I will go, but Castle should be next on the roster."

The voice of Rachel came over the speaker. "With Felix out of commission, that puts me on the roster, Thor. My boat is ready."

The captain called to his wife, "Come in and see what Indigo transmitted. You need to be aware of what is going on."

I had thought Rachel was in the bridge, but her quick arrival let me know she had been in the common room with Harley. While Clover had been working on his own computer system, the information from the pilots came over the general system. Rachel had thus seen the visuals, so only needed the results of certain computer programs to understand the present strategies. As her face contorted to probably come up with an alternative appraisal of the situation, the voice of our female pilot declared that my husband’s computer had been correct.

"Good call, Clover. They are tight and in formation. Transmitting."

We all voiced amazement at the images that now were sent, although Thor was quick to give an order. "Indigo, I want them."

As the female pilot again stated an acknowledgement, Rachel looked to our wounded pilot as she said, "Poor Felix, things are supposed to happen in threes. The first and second time has earned him money, but the third time might kill him."

Thor replied, "I didn't think that you believed in superstitions."

"I have been married to you for too long to rule them out."

The voice of Watson came over the speaker, "Darlene, there has not been any message? I see boats filling orbits around the facility."

The voice of our nighttime helmsperson replied, "All circuits are open, Watson. There is no chatter except for ours."

We now heard the voice of Lichen from Outside Control, "We have a situation here, Menlo Park. My fiance just sent me a message to go home. Of course, I am not."

The speaker erupted with a multitude of voices now speaking. While the usual courtesy was to allow those needing to speak to have the frequency, the threat to Outside Control was something that all took seriously. Those Inside might be aware of their numbers due to regular censuses and being packed together like sardines, but those Outside were just as much of a multitude. It was seldom that one became aware of their number, but this was one occasion.

The voice of Lichen somehow managed to be heard over the throng, "Just assure me, Menlo Park, that you are not dealing with flying saucers."

Watson put strength in his reply, "Oh, no, Outside Control. These are not flying saucers."

Clover somehow came to a conclusion, so asked, "Watson, Lichen said that her fiance sent her the message to go home. That facility is not military?"

"I shut down as soon as my sensors recognized the station, Clover. I did not want to get involved with smugglers alone. I have my visual on maximum magnification, but I am barely able to make things out."

The voice of Indigo said, "It is military, Clover. They stamped their bullets. Solid gold bullets I might add."

Thor asked, "How many do you have?"

"Eight, but you said to get them all. There are quite a number around here."

Darlene's voice now rang out, "I lost Outside Control! Black Dove, Red Dove says that her station will take up central communications."

A new voice now came over the speaker, "Red Dove, shut your communications down. Outside Control will be put back in commission once transmissions with the Menlo Park have been isolated."

"You cannot hush us up without paying us."

Thor did not whisper as he said, "Way to go, Darlene!"

The voice said, "Tell you what, Menlo Park, you can keep the gold."

Darlene replied, "We don't come cheap."

Clover looked to me as he said, "Our soldiers don't get paid so well, Darlene. They probably believe that we are making a profit."

The voice of our night shift helmsperson said what I was about to say, "They shot the stuff as missiles. What would make me believe that they think the stuff is expensive?"

The new voice said, "Okay, Menlo Park, we can deal, but not on the normal frequencies."

Darlene was not backing down as she said, "Listen, you are dealing with independents. Tax paying independents I might add. You work for us."

The voice of Watson now came over the speakers, "Uh, guys, find a common point of negotiating quick. I believe that the military has found me."

Our lady at the helm returned to our observing pilot, "What weapons do you have on you?"

I jumped as Thor next to me rose as he loudly said, "Stand down, Darlene. Watson, what made you say what you said?"

"They are heading in my direction. I am holding, Thor. I don't have any issues with the military."

"I don't believe you have any boyfriends out here, Watson."

"Those that I have are in the military, Thor."

The captain suddenly began to tap on my husband's computer. Clover wrote his programs for ease of use. While I saw him write for hours, outside of his room he seldom used the keyboard. Thor did not call up a writing program, but solidly punched keys. My husband simply watched, then pointed to Rachel when the captain looked to him for an answer.

Thor whispered to Clover, "Keep things under control," then grabbed his wife and pulled her outside the door.

My husband spoke as the couple left Doug's cabin, "We already have Felix hurt, Watson. If you get hurt, some of us are going to have to pull double-duty."

"They aren't firing Clover. They are isolating us, but I suspect to say something privately. We should at least give them a listen."

"Could we take them?"

"Let's not talk like that."

"Come on, Watson, we need to know our options."

Darlene's voice came over the speaker, "I am having Sandra ready some missiles."

"Watson says that they aren't firing, Darlene, and they have not issued any ultimatums. Don't you have us become the bad guys."

I did not get to hear any more, because as my husband said that Thor opened the door to the room and signaled for me to come out. I pecked Clover on a cheek, then headed out into the docking corridor. I joined the captain as he rushed me out to the meeting room. He did not speak as he took me away from my husband, but I suspected that Thor had something to say. Once in the far corner from Harley, he softly spoke to me.

"Listen, Rachel is seeking to find the transports that would supply this base. Almost everyone on my crew is ex-military or from a space station, with only Terry being from Earth. You grew up on a developing world, so might be able to help us determine what these people might need."

"We never dealt with the military, Thor. They have their own ships."

Rachel, who was watching the monitors with Harley, said, "She is probably right."

The captain replied, "The military is up to something. We need to have a counter."

Harley normally slept during the time that Darlene at the helm. The pilots however trusted her to keep them organized while the one at the helm worried about the ship as a whole. While Darlene was a rather dominating figure, she easily allowed for others to step into position under her wing when troubles raised their head. Harley had returned to her station without needing any announcement and without fear of any challenge, and had been doing her job of working with the pilots. Considering that her office was in the meeting room, she had been busy while we worked, and stood to wave at Thor before increasing the volume on one of her speakers.

A strange voice spoke as with a dry tone as if it were repeating itself, "Craft BE901-7Y, please identify yourself."

The voice of Watson replied, "Uh, military. let me specify, government, person, BE901-7Y should tell you a lot about who I am. I did not choose those call signs. They are government assigned and registered. I am fully licensed. Let's stop whatever charade is going on and treat each other with some respect."

"This is Second Lieutenant Chad Begonnia of the United Inhabited Worlds Space Navy asking a question."

"Uh, you are Outside, Second Lieutenant Begonnia. YOU does not exactly have authorization out here. We however have our credentials with our route clearly documented with YOU. Again, let us stop the charade."

The captain moved to Harley’s desk to activate a microphone before saying, "This is Thor Hawkins of the Menlo Park wishing to speak to Second Lieutenant Chad Begonnia. I believe that we have evidence that those serving under your command, assuming that you are in the chain of command, are responsible for mortally wounding another of my pilots. If you are under the impression that you need to perform further acts of carnage, please go ahead and initiate. Cold blood is cold blood."

A new voice came over the speaker, "Explain that last remark, Captain Hawkins."

"No, as I first want to know why my government suddenly feels that it can waste my tax money firing gold bullets at targets on wandering asteroids."

I added, "And miss."

Thor smiled at me as he added, "Oh, yes, and miss."

Silence came over the speaker, but we did not notice. Rachel had finally had some success with her database. I had heard from my conversations with Officer Ammons about the government moving their space research somewhere Outside. He used the term 'Area 51' in his explanations, although it never made much sense to me. I only received the impression that it was the secret research facility that once existed on Earth. I saw the term 'Area 51' in the text that Rachel showed her husband, and from their whispers understood that we had found the 'Area 51' facility in space.

The last one to speak from the military now said, "I am going to ask, politely, that you stop broadcasting on tachy, Captain Hawkins."

"Sure, whoever you are. Darlene stop your chatter and switch us to light.” Thor paused, but spoke again I assume when he saw certain indicators change on Harley’s board. “Now, just being honest with our military, we are recording."

"I am going to ask, politely, for you to erase those recordings."

"Well, that might happen, but you are still dealing with one of the more popular exploratory vessels. I cannot promise that word will not get out."

"Understood."

I suddenly had an idea, so moved up to speak into a microphone, "Watson, there are men in the boats around you?"

"Military vessels are not required to have windows, Naomi, but most do. I have been looking at what I can see, and they are mostly men."

Thor and Rachel were looking at me strangely, although smiles returned to their faces as I continued speaking. "Whoever you are, we have a need for a transfer. It seems that some industrial condoms were switched with the usual type."

"That is not our problem."

"It might help ease your problem."

There was silence for only a moment, then the voice returned, "It would also help ease our problem if our bullets were returned to us."

The voice of Darlene sounded, "Our wounded pilot is Captain Ezra Benjamin Guiosky who was honorably discharged from military service. I believe certain obligations are present about his medical care."

There was silence again for a moment before the voice said, "We would like to send a medical officer to check on Captain Guiosky."

Darlene's voice came as a whisper over the speaker, although I got the impression that she had played with our system to assure that the military did not hear her. "Thor, they are going to board."

"We are not the ones hiding."

"They will probably want us to sign documents."

"They will then probably give us our excuse."

"Oh, yeah. Two more systems, right?"

"Hush, Darlene."

Thor signaled to Harley to reestablish communications with the military, then said, "Already on this mission we have worked with the Reagan and Ghandi, and been in communications with the Castro. The present and past history of the Menlo Park shows no reluctance to work with our military. Considering that our medical officer is still young, we would appreciate the presence of a fully trained and experienced medical officer along with other considerations to assure a proper future understanding."

The voice from the military said, "Hold your position, Menlo Park. Recall your pilots. Make no broadcasts. We will have a boat move to your position shortly."

The military did not visit us with any hostility. They actually brought wedding presents for me and Clover. Darlene was given some chocolate valentines in recognition of her regular broadcasts while on helm duty, as it seemed that those aboard the military base listened in. The doctor sent to check on Felix complimented me on what I had done, gave me some pointers on what to do next time, then made certain that I knew how to use certain supplies that he brought with him. Felix was transferred to his room with assurance that he could probably return to his duties within a couple of weeks. They did not force us to sign any documents, but simply commented that our meeting with the facility would be denied. For a meeting that did not occur, all left saying kind words and shaking hands.

I shall end this story with a visit that I made to Felix soon after we had again returned to tachy velocities. He was awake when I entered the room, and attempting to remove the straps around his chest. I rushed to him while fussing at him for possibly reopening his wounds.

He pointed to his desk while gasping out the words, "I want to look at those."

"Neither one of those exist, Felix, but I will get them for you after I check your chest."

"I would rather Sandra or Sharon check my chest."

"Well, it seems that it won't be long before neither will notice a problem with your chest. That is, if you will stay still.” I touched his chest in a manner that I knew would send a signal of pain in order to stress the importance of my words. “The military medicine is good, but I am more scared of it healing you improperly. We need to keep your bones aligned."

As the expression of pain left his face, Felix said, "No offense to you, Naomi, but your face is a little too young to stir my interest."

"Sandra and Sharon have been here rather often, Felix. I would hate to be you, as you have quite a hard decision to make."

The man now smiled as he replied, "Yeah, I want babies too, Naomi. Castle came in and gave me an update on the condom situation. Let me know what plans you and Rachel decide, as it could help me make a decision as I discuss the topic with my Ss."

"The actual plans are for the next mission, Felix. Rachel and I simply don’t want to wait years before having children."

"Whatever, it would still help to have facts."

"I tell you what, Felix. We can discuss the subject more the next time I check on you. I will bring those objects to you, but be careful. Your body is healing quickly, but we need to make certain that it heals properly."

He nodded at me, and I felt it to be enough agreement to have me fetch the two golden objects. One was the object that hit him, and the other was a pristine missile that missed the target and him. As I handed the objects to him, I explained that those of the military facility felt he deserved the bullet that hit him, but that it was deformed past the point of being anything more than an expensive paperweight. The other the military did not know existed, but Sharon felt that he deserved it.

Felix had to ask, "Did they explain why they were firing gold?"

"Out of uranium and lead, but they claimed the location due to a gold lode in the nearby rocks. The original thought was to use the metal as payment for secrecy, but the metal really is not worth the cost of transport. They thus used it for target practice as the weight was applicable for their machines. They always reclaimed it from the passing rocks they used as target practice, but some maneuvers would go wild and some shots would be unrecoverable."

"They never gave us gold shot when I had patrol planet-side."

"Wrong location and branch of service, Felix."

He handed them back to me as he said, "Okay, Naomi, I will look at them later, after this medicine has my body better mended. You are a good doc. Glad that Clover got you."

"Well, of your two ladies, I like Sandra the best."

"Yeah, she can cook. I often see the two of you working on recipes."

I allowed that the fact that doing things with Sandra did affect my decision as I said, "Clover works with Sharon, and says that as a fellow pilot you and her probably have more in common."

"As you said, Naomi, I have a hard decision to make."

"Don't let life slam you in the chest again, Felix. Be a little bit more careful as you go about making decisions."

"Okay, Naomi, although I still expect you to be there to patch me up."

"I thought you said that my face was a little too young for you."

He laughed. It brought him some pain, but I felt good seeing the positive spirit. I left the room feeling cheerful as well.

_________________
Fantasy puts more requirements on the writer than any other fiction, because the world must be made as real before anything else can be real.
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