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“Are we assigned or unassigned?” Spaceman Apprentice Jack Yin said, looking around the echoing shuttle bay. The Columbia II shuttles held sixty people, mixed about equally between military and civilian. But if any of them were willing to give directions to some newbie recruits it wasn’t evident and none of the threesome was about to ask.

“Do I look like I know?” SA Sarin Chap said, shrugging his A bag up on his shoulder. 

“The lowest of the low have to be unassigned,” Engineering Apprentice Dana Parker said. “And since we are the lowest of the low, we will go to unassigned.”

“And if we’re wrong?” Sarin said, gulping.

“Then we will get chewed out,” Dana said. “And told where to go.”

“Heh,” Jack said, grinning. “You know, there’s more than one way to...”

“Just walk, Jack,” Dana said.

Her earliest clear memory was walking. Walking and fire.

She sort of had a vague memory of being somewhere with her mom and dad. She was pretty sure, thinking about it later, that it was a mall. And that was about the only real memory she had of her dad. The first clear memory was the walking. And the fire. And the smell of things that weren’t made to burn. And a sky that was a strange red. Like it should be dark but it was red like a banked fire. And ash. Thin. Light. Constant.

She sort of remembered the buses. And staying places she wasn’t used to. Hotels. Tents. She remembered telling her mom it was okay to cry. Which didn’t make any sense cause her mom was always crying.

Then they were at Uncle Don and Aunt Marge’s farm. 

And then her mom “went away” too. That was how they phrased it to a three year-old orphan from the LA bombing. That they went away, like they were taking a trip to Maui for a while or something. They had three nearly grown kids of their own and a sister that had carefully hung herself where only her sister would find her and a new three year-old to raise and they just said “Your mom had to go away. You’re going to be staying with us for a while.”

The door had a big sign that read “Unassigned Receiving.” Dana pushed it open and negotiated her seabag through the door. Jack didn’t even think about trying to give her a hand. He knew better by now.

“Engineering Apprentice Parker,” Dana said. “With a party of two, I guess.”

The woman behind the desk was a civilian, blonde and, unsurprisingly, pregnant. Dana was even more blonde, had had full-blown Johannsen’s until she got gene-scrubbed by the Navy doctors and managed to keep from getting belly-full in high school by determination and a lot of cold showers.

“Transmit your orders,” the civvie said, nibbling on a cracker. She considered her screen and sighed. “You’re assigned.”

“Told you,” Sarin said.

“Go down the corridor to the hatch that says Assigned Personnel,” the woman said, pointing to the door. 

“Thank you,” Dana said.

Jack, by dint of being barely able to squeeze into the small compartment, was by the door. He yanked it open and squeezed more so Sarin and Dana could get out.

“If this thing is so huge,” Sarin said. “Why the hell is everything so squeezed?”

The corridors were narrow. They had to hug the bulkhead so a harassed looking PO could sidle by.

“Do I look like I know?” Dana said, opening the door to Assigned Personnel.

This compartment was larger and included nicely uncomfortable looking chairs for those unfortunate enough to have to wait.

There was no line.

“Engineering Apprentice Parker,” Dana repeated. “With a party of two.”

“Orders?” the PO behind the desk said then contemplated his screen. “142nd Boat Squadron. Take the purple line. That leads to the 142nd offices.”

“Aye, aye, PO,” Dana said, turning around. “Jack? You’re in my way?”

“Sorry,” Jack said, stepping aside.

They called him “Gentle Ben” from the old TV show. As blonde as Dana, and therefore a carrier for Johannsen’s before he got scrubbed, he was about as big as a grizzly and, except when you got enough beer in him, about as gentle as a lamb. Unfortunately, when you did get enough beer in him, it turned out he had a mean streak a mile wide. That also showed up, fortunately, when friends needed a hand. Dana could generally hold her own with difficulties, but Jack was useful to have around.

The three had been at separate A schools that were co-located at McKinley Base. They had run into each other from time to time, mostly in the EM club and the combined mess. They weren’t the only guys who got to follow the short blonde engineering apprentice around sniffing like bloodhounds. But they were a couple of the nicer ones, so Dana was just as glad they’d been scheduled to ship out together.

McKinley was just about the largest Navy base in the US after the loss of Diego, Jax and Norfolk. A collection of rapidly growing pre-fabricated, pre-stressed, dug-in concrete buildings, it was located about fifty miles outside Wichita, Kansas in what had once been a dense-pack nuclear missile base. The second largest Navy base in the US was outside of Minot, North Dakota. Every base anywhere close to a city, including Kings Bay, Bremerton, Pearl and Great Lakes, was either closed or in the process. The “wet” navy had squeezed down to a collection of fast frigates most of which were based either overseas or at Key West. There was talk of calling it the “Sea Guard” or something.

Dana didn’t really care. The only Navy that mattered to her was the one that kept more rocks from falling. The one that might, someday, get her some payback for a mom and dad who had to go away.

The purple line seemed to go on for freaking ever. She didn’t have trouble with carrying her A bag—it wasn’t much heavier than a bale of hay—but it seemed like a mile of up and down and sideways until they finally got to a corridor with a big sign over the hatch reading “Welcome to Myrmidon Country.”

“Finally,” Sarin said, shifting his A bag.

Sarin was not much taller than Dana with black hair and a fading but clearly once severe case of acne. The way that he drove a plant, Dana had asked him why he wasn’t in IT or something.

“I deliberately failed the exam,” he said. “I spent five years working for my brother running cable. I’m about sick of it.”

The line continued on for a while but you could tell they were finally in Myrmidon country. Most of the personnel were Navy for one thing and most of them were wearing flight suits.

Finally it terminated in a hatch, and it was a real hatch, that read “142nd Receiving.” Someone had taped up a hand-lettered sign under it that read “Abandon All Hope, ye who enter here.

“Cheery,” Sarin said.

“Yeah,” Dana said, cycling the hatch. It didn’t open.

Who dares approach the gates?” The voice was a “com” in her plants. The caller ID was blocked. 

The first time she got a plant com it was unnerving. The voice sounded like it was in your head but a “real” voice at the same time. Sort of like telepathy. On the other hand, it made communication over distance easier than radio since hyperwave was faster than light.

Glatun implant technology was still rare and expensive. Mostly it was being used by the US and other “advanced” militaries. There was more to the implants than just a super-radio. The plants acted as a sort of PDA that could record video, drawn from vision, and audio, recall notes, acted as a cell phone and last but not least, could connect to other computer systems and the internet or hypernet. And there were physical aspects. There were various upgrades and improvements that could be installed with the plants. In Dana’s case that included a “spaceman’s package” that permitted up to six hours in an airless condition, resistance to toxins and radiation, elimination of motion sickness and resistance to vacuum and various smoke inhalation issues. It didn’t mean you could breathe vacuum for very long, but you could survive longer than an unaugmented person.

EA Parker with a party of two, reporting?” Dana commed.

You may enter, EA Parker,” the voice said. “One at a time.”

The outer hatch undogged and Dana entered what was clearly an airlock. She cycled the door then checked the telltales.

“Uh...” she said. “The other side of this is vacuum?”

There was a banging on the bulkhead and the light cycled to green.

Try it now.”

The hatch opened outward. If it was really vacuum, she was about to do a Dutchman without a spacesuit.

She thought about that for a second. This was just another test. She was good at tests.

Beneath the main airlock control panel is the manual testing system. Manual tests of atmosphere integrity may be obtained...

Thank God she hadn’t slept through that class. She opened up the access panel and twisted the knob. Air immediately started sucking out. She quickly closed the test knob.

Asking another question was out. There was no way they were just going to kill an arriving noob. Somebody was playing silly buggers.

She put her ear to the steel bulkhead. Faintly, she could hear something that sounded very much like a small motor.

“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll open the hatch if the joker with the vacuum cleaner will shut it off.”

The hatch cycled from the other side and a tall Coxswain’s Mate First Class grinned at her.

“Welcome, junior space eagle,” the CM1 said. “Come in! Come in!”

There were three people in the compartment, a Bosun’s Mate Second and a Spaceman First behind desks and the CM1. The CM waved with both hands, like he was directing a taxiing shuttle.

“Come, come, we don’t bite!”

“Much,” the BM2 sitting behind a desk said. He was bent over some paperwork and clearly not enjoying his reading.

“Uh...” Dana said. She’d gotten it right the first two times but the vacuum indicator had sort of thrown her. “Engineering Apprentice Parker with party of two?”

“Welcome, EA Parker,” the CM1 said. “You are a sight for sore eyes. A FUN that actually can figure out that red means stop. Stand by.” He got the distant look of someone using a plant and set up a small hand vac on the manual indicator. “Hold this, will you?” he said, handing it to Dana.

A moment later, Jack stepped through the inner hatch and looked around.

“Hey, Dana! Is this where we’re supposed to report or not?”

“It becomes clear why EA Parker was placed in charge of this group,” CM1 Keith Glass said, considering their orders. “Two of you just failed the single most important test of being useful junior space eagles. You will hear this not once, but again and again and again. This is not Earth. This is the Troy. Around earth there is a protective sheath of, fortunately breathable, gases called an at-mo-sphere. Around Troy there is this thing called va-cuum. It smarts rather severely when one attempts to breathe it. Two of you just attempted to test that fact. Had you done so in other than controlled conditions you would now be swelling up like freeze-drying grapes and I’d probably have to do the body recovery.

“Since there are still far too few mighty master space eagles with much time in this thing we call space, I have been chosen to deliver your inbrief. You just got the first and second part. The first part was the test, the second part was the lecture. I repeat. Always. Check. Airlock. Integrity. Can I get a repeat back?”

“Always check airlock integrity, aye,” the three newbies parroted.

“That sounded very rote,” Glass said. “But if you don’t check airlock integrity you will not live to be mighty master space eagles such as myself. So it’s up to you. I don’t even have to write the next of kin.

“The third part of the in-brief. You have joined the mighty 142nd Tactical Assault Squadron, part of the 1st Troy Boat Wing. I might add that since there is no second, third or fourth squadron, we are the 1st Boat Wing. Our job is very simple and oh so complex at the same time. We deliver the mail. The mail may be food, supplies, scrap metal, equipment, actual mail, or, if we are very unlucky, Marines express service. Whatever we are delivering, our job is to ensure timely delivery. Neither snow, nor asteroids, nor laser fire shall stay us from our appointed rounds. Please be very clear on that. Whether your mission is to ensure that the boats remain functional or to drive them, your first, last and only job is to ensure delivery.

“The fourth part is like unto the first three. Most of the things we do, there is only one way to do them and survive. There is no third option. Do it right or someone dies. There is no “good enough.” There is no “close enough for government work.” If you cannot get your head around everything you do, every moment, every day, being a very big deal, please see BM2 Grumwalter for paperwork to transfer to the Army or something where it’s not. Please do so before you kill me or someone I like. You do not yet fall into that category but you’re unlikely to just kill yourself. Are there any viable and intelligent questions?”

He looked at the three and nodded.

“Good. I wasn’t going to answer them anyway. That is what your division Petty Officers are for. Who are on the way to collect their little lambs. Go in violence to deliver the mail.”

“This is your rack.”

Engineer First Class Bruce Dennison clearly was enjoying showing the new Engineer Recruit around. That might have been because it got him out of his normal duties but Dana figured it was the way he was looking at her with calf-eyes.

Being in quarters, alone, with a guy had some rather unpleasant memories associated, but Dana decided to take Bruce on first impression. He was a nice guy. Unlike certain EM1s she’d met in A School.

The quarters were much better than she’d expected, a two person room with its own head. And, apparently, otherwise unoccupied. There were two racks and wall-lockers but both racks were unmade, indeed the mattresses were still in plastic, and the wall lockers were empty. And, as Bruce had briefed her, they were also capable of supporting two people for up to six days without external support. She really didn’t want to test that.

“You get to pick your side,” Bruce said. He was short, five-six or so, with sandy brown hair. She didn’t even have to ask if he’d had Johannsen’s. Not that it was any problem for guys. They were all born with Johannsen’s. They called it being male. “We, uh...”

“Don’t have many chicks,” Dana said, setting down her A bag. Bruce had made a motion when he picked her up at Squadron to help her with it. She’d just glared.

“I, uh, wouldn’t have said ‘chicks,’” Bruce said. “But, yeah. Just leave your A bag. Next step is getting your suit. Then you’re off until next watch.”

“When do I start...” Dana said, then shrugged. For all the classes she’d had, she wasn’t sure what her job actually was. “When do I start working?”

“I’ll come get you next watch,” Bruce said. “Thermal’s off-watch at the moment so I don’t even know your assignment.”

“Thermal?” Dana said.

“Sorry,” Bruce said. “That’s Engineering Mate First Class David P. Hartwell. Also known as Thermal, behind his back, because he managed to get one of our first Myrmidons drifted right in the way of a SAPL. It was on dispersed beam and the Myrm just sort of...​melted.”

“Oh my God,” Dana said. “Was the...”

“There was no crew,” Bruce said. “And it was written off as an accident after about a zillion Incident Evaluation Reviews. It really wasn’t his fault. But he doesn’t expect to make Chief any time soon. Anyway, he’s the Division Engineering Mate who’s in charge of us lowly wrench turners. And since he’s off-watch, I get to show you around.”

“So...​where do I get my suit?” Dana asked.

“Prepare for a looong walk,” Bruce said.

“There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to find my way around,” Dana said.

They must have walked a mile but she figured it wasn’t in anything like a straight line. There had been about four elevators, two escalators, several sets of stairs, more corridors than she could count and two grav walks. Those were new but they weren’t that much different from the sliding walkways in airports. She’d just followed Bruce and tried not to seem like a noob.

“You’d be surprised,” Bruce said. “I felt the same way when I first got here. You figure it out. If you get totally lost, and there’s not a priority, you can ask Paris where the hell you are.”

“Paris?” Dana asked as they walked through a large, already open hatch that read “Environmental Fittings Department.”

Troy’s AI,” Bruce said, walking up to the counter. The guy manning it was older, probably in his thirties, with a bit of a paunch. And clearly a civilian. “New arrival.”

“Got it,” the man said, looking at his screen. “Engineer Apprentice Dana Parker?”

“Here,” Dana said.

“Helmet,” he said, reaching and pulling down one from a rack. “Boots, gloves and suits down the end.”

Bruce gestured to three slots on the bulkhead marked, remarkably, “Boots, Gloves, Suits.” She opened them up and pulled out the space suit parts.

“And we’re done,” Bruce said. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” the man said, finally looking up. “Mind you keep the seals checked and if you want some personal advice, always keep the catheter lubed.”

“Yes, sir,” Dana said, coloring slightly.

“They run air-breach drills about every two days,” the civilian said. “If you maintain lubrication on the catheter, you’re not scrambling for the gel when you’re in a hurry.”

“Yes, sir,” Dana said, again. “Thank you, sir.”

“I tell the guys, too, miss,” the man said, nodding. “Good day.”

“Boots and gloves go in the helmet,” Bruce said, stuffing the gloves in. “The helmet goes, neck-ring up, under your left arm. The suit,” he continued, tossing it over her right shoulder, “is prescribed to be carried in a jaunty manner over the right shoulder. That shows you’re a real junior space eagle.”

“Yes, Engineer,” Dana said, trying not to smile. But once she got the leopard suit adjusted so it wasn’t sliding, it did feel rather jaunty.

“Suity has a point,” Bruce said as they exited into the corridor. “But we’re in and out of suits so much, you just sort of do it anyway. If you want my advi...” He stopped and blushed.

“Bruce,” Dana said, frowning. He was an Engineer, she was just an Apprentice. But getting it out of the way was a good idea. “I know that Johannsen’s means there’s not many women in the military these days. With the Horvath hitting us over and over, there’s no time for mommy-track. And if you’ve got Johannsen’s, and I did, you practically have to wear a chastity belt to not get belly-full. But I’m gene scrubbed, I didn’t have four kids by the time I was out of high school and I’m here to do a job. I’ve got different parts but that’s all it means. I don’t get offended when somebody says something racy. I grew up on a farm with four male cousins. If they couldn’t get me to choke up at the jokes they tell, you’re not going to. Or what they talk about. You’ll know you’ve crossed a line when I start talking about what having Johannsen’s PMS is like.”

“Ouch,” Bruce said. “Message received.”

“So you were about to impart some wisdom about suits to a fricking useless noob,” Dana said. “Yes, I even know what a FUN is. And I know I’m a fricking useless noob. So you said...​ If I want your advice about wearing suits.”

“Yeah,” Bruce said. “Thing is, we spend about half our watch time in suits. We don’t have bays for the Myrmidons, yet. We’re on an external spine system.”

“Outside the Troy?” Dana said, her eyes widening.

“No, no,” Bruce said. “We’re in the main bay. It’s a sort of...​ Well, from the entrance to the bay it looks like a fricking hypodermic needle with warts. It’s a tube of steel they welded on the wall. There are fifty shuttles, as of this morning’s roster, locked on. So when we have to do an exterior inspection...”

“Which by standard is once a day,” Dana said.

“Yeah,” Bruce said. “Well, you have to do it in a suit. So we’re in and out of suits pretty much all the time. You’re not fully suit qualed, so you’re going to have to qual for that before you get really put to work. But when you’re qualed, you’ll be in and out all the time. So...​ Always, always, always take a dump before watch. You can dump in a suit, but it sucks. And so does doing the maintenance on the fecal matter repository. And getting out of it sucks, especially if you’re in a hurry. So take a dump. If you get an inflammation from the catheter, don’t hardcore it. See the corpsman. Check your seals. Check your, check your, check your fricking seals. Check ’em for any FOD every day, every time before you put it on, every time you just happen to be going by. When you put it on, do a buddy check if you can. If not, do the best single check you can. And, can I repeat, check your fricking seals?”

“I take it you’ve been having noobs not checking their seals?” Dana said, chuckling.

“Define noobs,” Bruce said, hitting the 32 button on an elevator. “We had a chief get assigned to us. Straight out of ‘we’re going to make you a master space chief’ school.”

“They’ve got one of those?” Dana asked.

“They’ve got one of those,” Bruce said. “Where do you think we’re getting all our chiefs? And you’d think that a Chief Petty Officer with twenty years in the Navy would have learned something called attention to de-tail. By which I am not making a sexual innuendo.”

“I take it he didn’t?” Dana said. “I mean, a chief?”

“Decided to make an inspection walk to ensure that ‘maintenance tasks were performing to standard,’” Bruce said. “Which means ‘people aren’t screwing off.’ Let me point out that nobody screws off in vacuum, Engineer Apprentice. I am the master of screwing off and even I don’t go ghosting in the main bay. But I guess on carriers or something they go hiding out in the escape boats. I dunno, I’ve never been in what the old timers call the ‘real’ Navy. But he knew that somebody, somewhere, was going to be ghosting and the obvious place was clearly hiding in vacuum in the main bay to, I dunno, play null g cards or something!”

“And he didn’t check his seals?” Dana said. 

“We know that this was his intention because,” Bruce said, pausing as they exited the elevator, “and I do not lie, he left a voice log.” His voice deepened and assumed a pompous tone. “‘Sixteen thirty, port watch, performing inspection to ensure maintenance tasks performing to standard.’

“Uh...” Dana said, blinking. “And the point of leaving a voice log? Aren’t we supposed to log actions.”

“Nobody but utter geeks or noobs leaves a personal log,” Bruce said. “I mean, do you regularly narrate your way through the day? ‘2230, arrived Troy. 2243, assigned 142nd Shuttle Wing. 2247, took dump...​’ I mean, I mean, what is this? Star Trek?”

“Uh,” Dana said, as they got on a grav walk. 

“No, to answer my own question,” Bruce said. “This is the Troy. Which exists not to go where no man has gone before and as a vehicle for narration by ham actors, but to sit on the door and pound the ever-living crap out of anybody who comes through the gate we don’t like. And as a further word of advice, we do not leave personal voice logs. But fortunately, in this case, we didn’t have to have a major Article 32 investigation when Chief Buckley was found a-Dutchman in the main bay. The point of this anecdote is check your seals. Check your navopak...”

“Navigation and atmosphere support system?” Dana guessed.

“Right,” Bruce said. “Which everybody calls the navo. Make sure you’re capacitors are charged, make sure you got dio...”


“Sorry,” Bruce said, sighing. “I think the Navy is so addicted to slang we’re trying to catch up. Di-oxygen molecules. O2.”

“Oh,” Dana said, starting to feel totally out of her depth.

“To,” Bruce said, grinning. “Get it? Oh-Two? Mono is not good stuff nor is trio. Dio makes you bright. Not too few atoms, not too many. Juuuust right.”

“Okay,” Dana said, grinning. “Monatomic oxygen is pretty nasty stuff. And trio is...​ozone.”

“Nio is for fun,” Bruce sang, taking a little skip. “Sio makes you sad. And Suo is so very very bad.”

“I won’t even try to catch up on those,” Dana said, adjusting her suit on her shoulder.

“We occasionally carry some very scary stuff,” Bruce said. “There’s just not enough transport and all the loading bays aren’t done yet. So we do a lot of what the oldies call ‘lighter’ work. Picking up cargo on freighters and bringing it into bays. The coxswain and engineer have to sign off on the cargo which means at least having a clue about the MSDS.”

“Material Safety Data Sheet,” Dana said.

“Roger,” Bruce said. “Nio: Nitrogen dioxide. Nitrous in other words. You can huff it if you’re a druggie type but this stuff is liquid so doing it straight is a baaad idea. We’ve never actually carried silica dioxide. It’s a waste material from grav-well steel production but it rhymes. Suo is sulfur trioxide which we have carried and it’s beyond nasty stuff. If you get a fire in it you can open up the ports and watch it burn in vacuum. Which I suppose would be cool...​ And speaking of screwing off,” he continued as they exited another hatch.

The air was filled with the buzz of people and the smell of food. Dana’s mouth started to water and she looked around in surprise. It looked pretty much like...

“The food court,” Bruce said, waving expansively. “Courtesy of Apollo Mining and LFD Mall Division.”

The food court looked huge at first, rising six stories above the bottom level where they were standing. But then Dana noticed that only the ground floor was in business. There was an angle around a corner she couldn’t see into that seemed to stretch into more space.

“There’s a mall?” she asked.

“And her eyes lit with the passionless passion of shopping,” Bruce said, grinning. “Not as such, no. Not yet. It’s planned for Phase Two. There are currently three thousand something military and about an equal number of civvies living on the Troy. That’s not enough to support a real mall. When section one is at full capacity...​it’ll support a mall. They’re talking about getting a Wal-Mart first but I’ll believe it when I see it. For now, there’s just the food court and a couple of independent stores that sell civvy clothes and stuff and a little-bitty Publix. But I, hereby, by the authority invested in me by BM2 Johnson, under orders to ‘go get the noob a suit and show her around and stuff’ declare it to be lunch time at the food court. I’m going to get a gyro. Meet me over by the purple caterpillar.”

The “purple caterpillar” turned out to be an orientation poster on the Ogutorjatedocifazhidujon...​ The name was two lines long. After a bit it just seemed to be a stream of random letters. They were, according to the poster, “a peaceful race dedicated to hospitality in all its forms.”

According to one of the briefings they’d gotten in A School, the Ogut civilians did tend to fill positions like hospitality, gardening, personal care, and such in other polities. If for no other reason than to get the hell out of the Ogut Empire. The Ogut government was anything but hospitable. It was a hereditary empire run mostly by its aristocracy and during the Multilateral Talks that had ceded the E Eridani system to the Horvath, the Ogut had bitten off a good bit of the Ormatur worlds as “protectorates.” And the instructor had made clear that meant pretty much the same as the “protection” the Horvath had once afforded earth. “That’s a right nice planet you’ve got there, shame if a rock fell on it.”

Dana had admitted she was hungry and had gotten a double meat teriaki special at the Sushi House. Which made her wonder where the gym was. She was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be on Bruce’s version of “showing her around.”

Then there was the question raised by the Ogut poster.

“So...” she said as Bruce sat down. “Say there’s a pressure drop. I’ve got my suit. What are you going to do?”

“See the red exit signs?” Bruce said. “They go to emergency survival centers. They’re the heads, mostly. Sealed against pressure breach and there are boxes that open in the event of a loss that have emergency survival packs. We just call ’em body-bags cause if you’re down to those you’re probably a carbonite sculpture waiting to happen. However, at the moment we’re about four hundred meters in from the main bay and about a kilometer and a bit from the exterior. Somehow I’m not worried about pressure loss. Now when we’re at the quarters, I’m pretty careful.”

Troy isn’t even officially commissioned, yet, is it?” Dana asked.

“Nope,” Bruce said. “They’ve only got one laser tube cut and one missile tube. They’re still in test phase. Commissioning ceremony is in about three months and everybody is already freaking out. Expect a lot of brass. Military and civilian.”

“I guess that’s going to be kind of an issue,” Dana said. “And I’d expect you’re probably going to figure out a way to...​ghost it?”

“Already working on it...” Bruce said, then a flash of annoyance crossed his face. “Roger, Bosun’s Mate. Still getting her suit, BM. Roger. Will do. Aye, aye. Frack.”

“Problem?” Dana asked.

“Bosun Mate Johnson has just queried the time I am expending ‘showing you around and stuff,’” Bruce said, picking up his tray. “Especially since, apparently, nobody has seen either of us in a while. I hope you can gobble.”

“I’m done,” Dana said. “Am I in trouble?”

“You were just following orders,” Bruce said, dumping the contents of his tray in the trash. “And if nobody mentions going to the food court that would be a good thing.”

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