Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Thirty-seven

Sergeant Wallace Stone didn't like the fact that both Price and Coolledge were on the planet's surface and he was stuck on the ship. He should be there with them rather than some lieutenant that they didn't know. She wouldn't know how to handle herself on the ground, on an intelligence assignment, in combat. She was too new, too inexperience and therefore, too unpredictable.

Now Stone was being sent out in one of the small ships armed with missiles and bombs and torpedoes. He was going to help guard the invasion fleet. It was not a job he felt qualified to do, though he'd been through flight training as part of one of his assignments. It certainly wasn't the assignment that an intell NCO should have.

Sitting alone in the intell office, his feet up, and with the latest intell being broadcast over the intership system, he thought about that. About the twelve months that he'd spent, as a young lieutenant commander, trying to determine if there was a spy in their class. Rumor had it that they had been infiltrated by a group from a small planet that wanted to overthrow their normal government. Because of that, Stone had gotten placed into the class as one of the three agents to locate the bad guys. Once they were identified, Stone and his friends would return to their normal assignment.

But Stone, knowing that the best way to get along in the military was to know as much of value to the military as he could, made a pack with the others. Oh, he wasn't supposed to know they were around or who they were, but he wouldn't have been a very good agent if he hadn't known. Once he was sure, he approached them and suggested that even if they learned they were infiltrated and who the bad guys were, they would keep their mouths shut until they were through with the class. Both had agreed.

The funny thing was, two days later, he learned who the bad guys were. If he hadn't been so busy trying to spot the other agents, he would have spotted them immediately. But each of the men kept his word and they continued through the school. Stone, along with the other two, graduated as pilots.

Now that training was about to put him right into the middle of the action again. He was a qualified pilot, he had seen the planet, and he had friends on the ground. That meant he would do a good job, according to the latest of the psychological studies that military planners relied upon. So he was now one of the pilots.

"All pilots please report to the shuttle bay." The message was broadcast over the ship's intercom system.

Stone let his feet drop to the desk and pulled a keyboard toward him. He put his fingers on it and typed quickly. He moved the cursor down, clicked the mouse, and shut down everything in the shop. Without the proper start up code, no one would be able to enter any of the computers or use the terminals. That was the equivalent of locking the safe.

He stood up, took a quick look around and then pulled a flight suit from the rack near the hatch. It had no insignia on it. Combat pilots weren't supposed to fly in suits covered with patches and insignia. That provided too much information to the enemy in the event of a crash. He fastened the velcro and then moved to the hatch. When it irised open, he stepped out, and then locked the it.

He walked down the corridor wondering if it was true. It didn't appear that they were about to invade another planet. Those in the corridor were strolling along. None of them seemed to have the dedicated look of people with a mission. They didn't have the extra fast walk that suggested they had something important to accomplish. Then, he too was strolling along, but that was because he'd been around long enough to know that you didn't have to hurry to get to the place where they would make you wait.

At the shuttle bay the situation changed. There were armed guards at the hatch, but they were for show. Inside the bedlam he expected was evident. The noise level was extreme with men and women shouting, banging on metal, trying to get the small craft ready for a coordinated launch.

"You are?" asked a sailor staring down at an electronic clipboard.

Stone didn't know exactly what to say. He had been used as a pilot as a Naval officer but those orders had been recinded when that mission had ended. If he said he was a sergeant, he was afraid that he would be replaced in the rotation. Sergeants weren't supposed to be flying as pilots. He solved the dilemma by saying, "Stone."

"Yes, sir. I have you here, Lieutenant."

Stone raised an eyebrow. Someone had thought of the problem and resolved it quickly. "Which ship?"

"Two oh six," said the sailor. He pointed to the rear of the hangar deck. "Over there, sir."

"Thank you," said Stone. He walked across the deck, reading the numbers on the craft until he found the one assigned to him. He walked around it slowly, looking for any sign of external damage that no one had repaired. Satisfied that the ship was space worthy, he began his preflight inspection.

When he completed that, he climbed up into the cockpit, flipped the battery switch and checked the electrical systems, especially those related to the weapons systems. He made his commo check, and inspected the sensors and radars and target acquisition system. Satisfied that his craft was completely space worthy, inside and out, he reported that to the control room and then sat back to wait for the orders to be issued.

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