Excerpt from Working the Trenches

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Meal concluded, the same private escorted us back to more hours of waiting. One more operant inductee joined us, and then the same Trained Private came in with an operant Staff Private. Addressing us, he said, "This is Staff Private Ugatu," gesturing at the Staff Private, "He will be escorting you to your training facility and turning you over to your unit Instructor. Follow his instructions." Why was a lowly Trained Private instructing us to obey a Staff Private, several grades higher? Because staff ranks were not part of the chain of command. Yes, a Staff Private was senior to us, but wasn't normally entitled to give orders, to us or to anyone else. Technically speaking, if we obeyed an order from a Staff Private without such an instruction, we'd be responsible for the consequences. "There are reasons for everything the Imperial military does," Parnit had explained over and over. "You might not understand or even agree with those reasons. You might think they are pointless, even counterproductive. The reasons are never explained, for reasons that won't be explained to you, either, at least not until you achieve your first staff rank. But every single one of them has been field tested and cross-checked over thirty square (75,000+ Earth years) of successful operations covering an incredible volume of space and situations too varied for you or even me to imagine."
The Imperial solutions were definitely different than the ones the US military had employed. My older sister married a Navy Senior Chief, so I thought I understood what sorts of things to expect. I was wrong.

"Grab your clothing bags," he said, "Form a single file line starting here. Follow me. When we get to the ship, move aft to the cargo section. First one in, move to the left side of the ship and all the way back, one to a seat, fill that side then fill the right in the same manner. Place your bag under your seat and strap in." Asto and I were third and fourth in line; if it was a standard cutter we'd be sitting together in the two front left cargo seats. If we were headed for a different type of hull, we'd have been given different instructions. Destroyer hull seating was in front-facing rows, like an airliner on Earth. I didn't know of any Starbirds able to seat eight or more, and their cargo section wasn't separate from the flight deck.

We didn't walk; it was more like a trot. It wasn't a difficult pace to keep; about eight kilometers per hour. No, they weren't trying to march us or wear us out, yet. Maybe fifteen minutes later (twenty-five Earth), we came to the edge of a landing field that looked like it could land an assault cruiser or fifty, as the white pavement stretched at least a kilometer in each direction. There were actually three assault cruisers I saw, as well as sundry other craft, but our destination was a cutter, landed in 'belly down' mode near our edge. Think of something shaped like the old NASA shuttles, roughly thirty meters long by twenty-six in wingspan, with no rockets on the rear.

The first woman in started to move left in the cargo bay, Ugatu barked out, "Ship's left!" and she corrected her mistake, moving to our right. I didn't see what difference it would make, but my opinion didn't count. Ugatu hadn't said anything abusive, from his tone of voice I gathered he didn't think we were worth it. It wasn't quite a standard cutter, as there were two rows of six seats each facing each other across the cargo bay, as opposed to the more usual four per side, at least on the models I'd been in. There was still plenty of room, and it meant Asto and I were actually close enough to hold hands. The last man in line was left all by himself on the right side of the ship, all the way in the back. I threw my bag under my seat and pulled out the star-shaped five point harness that would be recognizable to most Earth pilots, if different in the details. I strapped myself in and put on my passive waiting face.

No, there wasn't a passenger's telemetry feed I could access. I tried both with my datalink and via telepathy, and was locked out both times. Ugatu came into the cargo bay, looked straight at me and said, "Stop trying to compromise my piloting! You're cargo! You will be told what you need to know!" I hunched down a little in apology, and responded, "Yes, Sir!" The Technical term ang was actually sex-neutral and translated as "person who is my direct superior" but in English, "sir" captures the feeling better.

They want us off-balance for now, love, Asto cautioned, accept the situation. Things will need to change later.

I know. Parnit had shown us evaluation criteria, both for passing training and for promotions. To say they didn't reward robots or blind obedience was an understatement. Then I saw what Asto was doing. Thanks to auros, perception, and a knowledge of onboard systems, he was able to build up a picture of what the cutter was doing without a feed from the control link. The advantages of more practice and being a stronger Guardian. He would have shared, but I wanted to be able to do it for myself. It was a horrible confusing mass of data, so I started with propulsion. We were still on the ground, but not for long. With Asto's help, I found I could follow enough of what the propulsion system was doing. Then I realized what this implied - Guardians could issue control instructions to Imperial vessels without having piloting authorization!
Yes and no, he said, there is crosschecking built into the system. I could probably issue a control instruction, but it would get cancelled as soon as the pilot realized the ship wasn't doing exactly what he told it. After that, he would go into interference mode. Didn't EnIlas make you practice that?

I remembered something about it, Once, I told him, it slows reaction and makes you repeat everything.
Exactly. And if I managed to master that?

Enforced approval. Then feedback loops. All intended to increase the advantage of the authorized pilot over the interloper.

Would this keep someone good enough from over-riding your control?

No, but someone that good could take you over and directly force you to relinquish control. And the pilot could be enlisting other crew to aid in defense of the ship.

That was the story with Imperial technology and their abilities, over and over again. It wasn't that the safeguards would absolutely stop such interference, it was that they would put all of the advantages they could on the side of the legal pilot. The only circumstance where I envisioned the control interference having critical effects was combat - and Guardians strong enough to make that sort of difference were too valuable to waste for that trivial a gain.

A few seconds later, I watched instructions to the impellers spike as weight fell away. Evidently, we were making this trip with shipboard gravity on "enforced null". Roughly three seconds up, the Vector system pulsed, but I didn't have enough capacity left over to monitor ship's sensors. I asked Asto if he knew where we were, and he said, "Yes. Only one system looks like this," as he shared the view with me. I saw an image of a large sphere, all but totally enclosing a star - Couldn't see them from here, but I knew there were small gaps near the poles. We were at Sharanna.

The ship's Impellers started up again, then the Vector Drive pulsed again. Asto shared the new picture - we were inside the sphere now. Nothing too unusual; I'd done it myself on many occasions as there wasn't an outside spaceport convenient to my dog farm, but one assumed that a major military facility would be built with port facilities in mind. Maybe they were, and a cutter was simply too small to make it worth mixing it up with massive capital ships. There was roughly a half-million to one volume and mass disparity between this ship and a size four capital ship, which in turn was the smallest of the cargo carriers in common use.
The impellers spiked again. Ugatu was bringing us in hot. Evidently he was on a tight schedule of some kind. The impellers were only a little below maximum power. Suddenly, we reversed, flipped end for end and the impellers flared all the way to their limits. Outside, my perception could feel atmosphere rushing past, thickening fast, scattering sonic booms through the atmosphere of Sharanna. He cut power to just a couple gravities as we dropped subsonic. My perception wasn't strong enough to feel the ground yet, but I didn't think we were very high.

Ten seconds later, we grounded with a thump-KLANG. Harder than I liked to put my ships down, but with a full hull charge, I had no reason to believe Ugatu had endangered the ship or anyone in it. Weight returned as the impellers went dormant. I stayed buckled and so did Asto; nobody had told us we were getting off here.

A few seconds later, Ugatu came back into the cargo bay and did just that, "Unstrap yourselves and grab your bags. Follow me out in reverse order to how you came in. Welcome to Sharanna Military Reservation Twentythree, the Empire's newest initial military training facility for Guardians. You'll be here until you pass or they allow you to quit."

The lone man who'd been on the opposite side of the ship followed him out first, followed by the left side from front to back, reversing the order we'd loaded in. We debarked on a much larger landing field, with many ships of varying sizes from Starbird all the way up to convoy craft at least, and it was just that I didn't see anything bigger, not that I was certain it wasn't there. First, we trotted at the same speed away from the ship as we had in approaching. This area of Sharanna was a lot cooler and less humid than Fulda or even Sumabad; maybe the equivalent of five degrees Celsius outside. Cold enough for natural state humans to be uncomfortable, and you could feel a hint of rain in the air. Classic towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds occupied a good slice of the horizon, approaching rapidly, and you could see the rain approaching. Overhead, the clear sky was rapidly turning to grey. Once the weather got up steam here, it could really move fast and grow powerful enough to make a joke of any Earthly storm. Imperial construction was tough; people just didn't go out when storms were bad. Sharanna was a completely artificial environment, so unless there was an intentionally created barrier, storms could travel millions of kilometers, alternately waxing and waning the whole way until they did run into something that stopped them for good. Kind of like the Great Plains states, or the oceans of Earth, times a thousand or so. My dog farm was in the prevailing wind-shadow of Band City with its massive ten and twenty mile high arcologies spreading across a swath a million kilometers or more in any direction, and no major sources of storms between the city and the farm. I gathered that this place was not so sheltered.

Another operant was waiting for us, a woman in a uniform like none I had seen before. It was Imperial forces field uniform, but with a large white tabard over each shoulder, like enlarged epaulets, as if she were staff, only more so. On each, an insignia of rank the size of my hand was emblazoned, about four times the normal size. It was a private's circle of rank, split by a horizontal white line. Below the line was purple, as in a Senior Private, above was green, as if for a Team Private. "This is Instructor Jereya," Ugatu told us, "She will take you to your barracks and your training units." Then without further ado, he headed back for the cutter.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 10, 2018 5:18 PM.

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