CS Lonestar complex, 109 P.A., mission time -5 days
Master Sergeant Markus Lang and Corporal Miller: Introduction story
The young corporal wound his way through the busy cargo bay towards the engine room, trying to avoid the forklifts rolling in and out. The ramp was down, allowing the cargo loaders, and the oppressive Lonestar heat, into the vessel.
He entered the engine room and took a deep breath to cool off, and ease his nerves. Even though the engine room was running hot, it was still cooler than the outside air that had filled the cargo bay. He looked and immediately saw the Chief Engineer. The engineer’s NGR insignias and his 9’ tall red cyborg frame stood out among the CS troops nearby.
He looks more like a part of the engine than he does the engineer thought the corporal. I can’t even touch the ceiling if I jump, and he barely fits in here!
He walked up the borg, saluted, and said “Corporal Miller, reporting for duty”.
The borg looked at him without expression for a moment. Damn, it’s so hard to read their faces. I wish they put more motor control into the face plates. He checked the name stenciled across the front of the armor, M. Lang, just to make sure. Idiot! As if there was another 9’ tall German cyborg wandering around the ship!
Finally the borg said “Corporal Miller, Equipment Maintenance Technician” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes Master Sergeant”
“Good. I’ve been expecting you. And don’t ‘Master Sergeant’ me every time we talk. It slows things down. Listen rooky, I’m not big on military protocol. As long as you can keep this ship running at 100%, I don’t care what your uniform looks like or what you call me behind my back. Hell, if you can keep it running at 110%, I won’t even care what you call me to my face.”
“Yes M…” Miller managed to stutter. He was clearly perplexed. After hearing about the advanced technology, precision equipment, and military might of the NGR, this was not what he was expecting from one of their top engineers. He finally managed to find his tongue again. “With all due respect Chief, I’m no rooky. I served a tour in the Tolkeen war, I received…”
At which point Markus cut him off “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I read your file. Graduated in the top 3% of your class. Good enough to score a gig at a comfy field base well away from the front lines. Listen Rook, I started going into combat about the same time you started going into diapers. Ten months of rear echelon work doesn’t mean a thing. As far as I’m concerned, you’re still a rooky.”
The corporal’s face was starting to turn red, but Markus kept pushing. “And you still managed to get two insubordination marks on your record. ‘Delay of needed combat materials’ it said. Almost got court-martialed on the second one. Care to explain that, Rook.”
Miller took a breath. He had expected this to come up. He knew it would come up. He had prepared what he would say, even had files that he could show detailing the incidents. He just didn’t expect it to come up in the first two minutes of conversation, and most of his planned dialogue went out the window. “Those engines were already over the red line!” he blurted out. “If those vehicles had rolled out, they wouldn’t have even made it to the battle.” He was talking faster now, and his face was practically glowing red. “The court marshal threat was just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. Captain Scott was just looking for a scapegoat to blame his loss on. If those cores went critical we would have…”
Markus held up his hands and said “Ok, relax Rook, relax”. The rooky looked like he was about to have a meltdown himself. “I’ve read your statements as well, and I agree with your assessments. That’s why you’re here. I don’t think it will surprise you if I tell you that your name was not at the top of the list for this assignment. I didn’t get to pick who would be here, but I did have some influence in the outcome”. And one day, Markus thought, I may even tell him what that means exactly.
After the initial conversation, they settled down to work, going over the engine and the maintenance routines.
Markus had called the Corporal over to the aft starboard engine. “Ok, Rook, we’ve got less than a week before the rest of the crew arrives, and for you to get up to speed on this ship. First lesson is the engine turbine mounting” He said, pulling open the engine casing. “Despite dampeners and maglev technology, there will always be some vibration. Over time this can loosen the mounting bolts. In a worst case scenario, the bolts can loosen to the point that one of the turbine blades contacts the walls around them. When that happens, it breaks off and causes a chain reaction leading to a catastrophic failure in less than a tenth of a second. The shrapnel will shoot out like a bomb. Some of it will shoot upward, punch through the crew deck and shred any crew members within ten feet.”
Then, with a stiff mechanical smile that was more of a death-like rictus, he added “Guess whose bunk is directly above the aft starboard engine?”
The rooky had gone slightly pale at the comment. Markus, still with that smile on his face, handed a ratchet to Rook as he walked past, and said “Sleep tight”.
CS Lonestar complex, 109 P.A., mission time -3 days
While they were working together on one of the engines, Miller asked “So do you mind if I ask some personal questions, since you already know my file?”
“Shoot” said Markus
“Why did you become a cyborg? Most full conversion borgs are combat personnel, not engineers.”
Markus was silent for a moment while he continued to crank away on the ratchet, and the corporal thought he may have gotten a little too informal. But Markus replied “Good question. You see there was an incident, with a nuke, that I was a little too close to. And I’m not talking about these little tactical nukes that they like to throw around the battlefield. I’m talking a high yield, multi-megaton city killer. Afterward, well, let’s just say that this was the best option.”
Miller looked shocked. “Whoa. The NGR used a nuke? I never heard about that.”
“No, they didn’t. At least, not as far as I know. This happened before I joined the NGR, back when I was working as a mercenary.”
The rookie’s eyes were full of interest. “You mean someone else has access to full scale nuclear weapons? Who? Where did this happen? Russia? China?”
“Sorry Rook, that’s all classified.”
But Rook pressed on. “How can the NGR classify that if you weren’t even with them at the time?”
“I told them all about it when I moved to the NGR. We agreed that at this point in time, it would be better if that information was not public knowledge.”
“So you’re not even from the NGR originally? Where were you from before that?”
“Sorry, that’s classified too. If you knew the one bit of that information, you could deduce the other.” The corporal looked slightly dejected at this. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you about it over a drink one of these days”
“But…if it’s classified…you…” he stammered with confused look on his face.
“I agreed that it should be kept quiet for now. That won’t always be the case. When I think it’s safe, I’ll tell you all about it.”
“But you can’t just decide what is classified or not!”
Markus paused in his work to look at Miller. “Yes you can, and should, always decide things for yourself” he said in a serious tone. “Always question the data you are given, the orders you are given, the equipment you are given, and anything else that you didn’t do yourself. It could end up saving your life, or the lives of others. You already know this. I can see from the insubordination in your file. Sometimes you have to disobey an order. Sometimes, you are the only one who can make the judgment call.”
The corporal’s voice had gone high again “But those were faulty engines. I could have proven that I was right, if they had let me.” Markus did the mechanical equivalent of raising an eyebrow at him, waiting for the corporal to calm back down. Rooks voice lowered back to normal “It just seems different”.
Markus sounded distant when he said “Rook, it always seems different from the other side.” And then, picking up again after a pause, “Listen, there was a time when I was about your age that I was sent on a mission with some equipment. I didn’t bother checking it myself. The officers said it was good, the techs said it was good, the paperwork said it was good. Hell, it even looked good on the outside. Why bother checking? Well it wasn’t good, and some people died because I didn’t bother to check it. Question everything. Check everything.”
CS Lonestar complex, 109 P.A., mission time -1 day
Markus sat at one of the terminals reviewing data on the mecha that were loaded on board today. The crew had also arrived, and introductions made. Many of them were going out to the bar tonight, the last chance before shipping out and a good way to get to know one another. But he and the rooky were still here working. Rook especially had been hard at work; it was nearly two hours past his shift end.
Rook finally put down his tools, wiped the sweat off his brow with a greasy sleeve and said “Ok, old man, I’m done here. I’m heading to the bar with the others. You coming, Rusty?”
Markus looked up to see Rook beaming at him with a shit eating smile. He stood up to his full height and said with a displeased tone “Old man? Rusty? I’m fair certain I can break you with both arms and one leg tied behind my back. So you care to explain what that was all about?”
The rooky stiffened to attention, and tried to put on a serious face. But his smirk was still leaking out when he said in a stiff military voice “Sorry Master Sergeant, I took you as a man of your word. You said if I had the engine running at 110 percent you didn’t care what I called you to your face.”
Markus walked over with an angry look on his face, stood looking down on Rook for a moment, and then stooped to check the readout. “One-one-zero point two-seven.” he said with a neutral expression. He stood and looked at Rook for a moment before saying “Good work, carry on.” As he turned back to his desk, he could still feel the rookies grin on his back. “Go on” he called over his shoulder “I’ll meet you over at the bar later.”
Rusty? he thought to himself. Frack. That one’s probably going to stick. He looked down at his body. I guess it’s my own fault for picking the famous Red Borg model.