READ A SAMPLE


PARAVOID

The Fourth in the "Rust Bucket" Universe Series

by

Atk. Butterfly


Chapter 1

"Admiral, those editorials about you today on the net are scathing. Have you seen them yet?" the cadet ensign asked.

"Some of them, but we're here to talk about how you're doing in the Academy. Your grades seem to be fine, but can you keep up with the physical demands?" Rear Admiral Dave Oden replied.

"Well, I think so. I'm working out real hard to get myself in better shape," Reese Harder, the cadet, said. "Still, I'm concerned about the editorials that are attacking you."

"Cadet, the editorials are always attacking someone. This year, I seem to be in vogue among some of them for whatever reasons they have. There's no cause for alarm."

"Well, it's not right, regardless. They ought to be down on their knees kissing your feet for keeping them free. Didn't you win two wars for the Union?"

"I didn't win two wars. I only did my part along with thousands of other men and women who did their part. A great many of them didn't come back either, so if anyone should be thanked, it's them. I was simply more visible to the public is all. Besides, their freedom to say what they want in the press is one of the very things we fought for. I would never think of depriving them of that right, no matter what they say of me. Our form of government has come a long way in its development. It used to be, a long time before the Union of Planets came about, that journalists were considered fair game for imprisonment, torture, and assassination simply because of what they wrote. Now that's changed. I think that the way it's changed is for the better."

"Well, I don't know," Reese replied. "Letting the press have immunity from arrest seems to let them get away with a lot under our laws."

"They're not totally immune from arrest. After all, they can still be arrested for breaking ordinary laws, but it has to be publicly announced first. I happen to think that's a good way to prevent politicians and other visible public figures from trying to intimidate them. They can't be tried in closed courts, either, and that's good as well. They're free to print whatever they want without censorship. Consequently, we enjoy a broad range of media coverage because of that. Besides, whenever they libel someone, the courts are available to the injured party to address that."

Cadet Ensign Harder said, "Oh, then you're going to sue them?"

"What for? They've only expressed their opinions in editorials. They're free to do that. Anyway, it wouldn't help any to show them a thin skin. Doing so would probably egg a few of them on into further attacks and give them more fuel to do it with. This will blow over when they get tired of running the same material and their subscribers will most likely get tired first. That will get their attention much faster than a court action. Remember, most people now consider the press to be an independent branch of the government. It would do me little good to attack the press as much as I believe in our government. People would then think that I hold myself above them and the government. But, enough of this. We're getting away from our reason for this chat. Now, is there anything the Academy can do that will help you attain your goals?"

***

Rear Admiral Oden reported for the simple ceremony that would promote him to Fleet Admiral. It was a year of numerous important events. Because of the earlier admission of a twenty-fifth Union planet in the form of Opal, now reclaimed by Ape-oid settlers, the Navy was expanding. For the same reason, the Space Academy was expanding its class base to two hundred and fifty cadets so that enough officers would be available for all the Navy and Space Marine units.

Only earlier in the year, Admiral Oden had proudly graduated the first Ape-oid cadet ensigns from the Space Academy. They were then assigned to the Navy as bright new officers whom the Navy eagerly welcomed with open arms. There weren't many of them in their first class and one failed, but each of the Ape-oid cadets earned his or her commission entirely on his or her own efforts. It was certainly one of Dave's prouder moments to see a former enemy become a member of the Union and then later preside over the graduation of their first cadet entrants to the Space Academy.

He wished it could be so for some or all of the worlds that comprised the Malakin Empire. He suspected that Milik, now estranged from the empire, might just someday actually do so. At any rate, it would be an important first step in creating more friends and eliminating animosities. Other than maintaining a security watch on the Malakin Empire, the Navy had little to do militarily during the past five years other than occasionally deal with some small-time pirates.

As Dave and others suspected, the Malakin Empire had fought another alien race in their history to become as good as they were in battle, even if their tactics were obsolete. However, the alien race was thoroughly wiped out by the Malakins who then became the inhabitants of their world. Consequently, there was no hope of ever making contact with them on a friendly basis. That information, when it was learned shortly after the war, created a boost in enlistments that quickly replaced any losses the Union military incurred during the war.

The information also spurred independent movements on member worlds like never before. The majority of worlds had at least one and sometimes numerous citizen-formed militia groups that practiced to be ready for the next invasion. Some of those groups even possessed armed space ships, as was their right under the Universal Rights Bill. Of course, hardly any of them carried anything approaching the power of the weaponry found on a typical Navy destroyer. Most manufacturers appeared to possess enough good sense not to sell what was available to just anyone. That was mostly to keep the weapons out of the hands of pirates. Generally, the arms manufacturers sold higher grade weapons only to some commercial companies and the Union military. However, sometimes pirates did manage to get hold of a well-armed ship. Then they became a task for the Navy and Space Marines to handle.

Admiral Oden didn't know it, but he was soon going to be seeing action again. For the time being, he was greeting old friends who came to observe his promotion and wish him well generally. Being in a period of peacetime, the Academy grounds were open at all times to the public and especially the press, which was there, too.

"Admiral! Admiral Oden! What's your opinion on Lobbyist Lordsman being released from prison?" someone called out from the group of press representatives.

Admiral Oden glanced out at the group of press representatives and replied, "Sorry, but I could barely catch your name, affiliation, and the question over the nearby conversation. Could you please repeat them for me?"

"Admiral Oden, John Christiansen of the Daily Bread. I asked what your opinion of Lobbyist Lordsman being released from prison was."

Dave realized that almost anything he said to that particular reporter would be used badly as the Daily Bread was actively attacking Dave in editorials. It would be best to say as little as possible. Dave replied, "I wish him well in putting his life together."

"Then you're not seeking to do anything more to him? You're not going to destroy a fine man again?" Christiansen asked.

Dave replied, "I harbor no grudges or ill-feelings. What happened is now in the past. I stand on my statement of wishing him well."

Admiral Derek Heavywolf stepped in front of Dave to shield him from further insidious grilling from a reporter with an agenda to carry out. Derek was well aware of the Daily Bread's connections to Serapha, when it was inhabited, and to Raymond Lordsman. There was no way that the Daily Bread was going to push Admiral Heavywolf around without getting one of their most supportive planets, Glint, aroused and angered.

After all, Glint was a large contributor to religious causes and efforts. It was a cultural and science center, contributing more than its share of artists and scientists to improve life for all within the Union. Its scientists perfected the terraforming techniques that worked on planets that would otherwise still be barren using some of the older techniques. It could also accomplish the job of terraforming to where the planet could be inhabited as soon as five years after beginning, in some cases. Glint was also an ardent supporter of the Universal Rights Bill and still ashamed of its failure to see what Serapha tried to get away with five years earlier during the Malakin War. Glint's people prided themselves on supporting minorities and their representative had proudly acted as a sponsor of Bragh when it asked for admission to the Union.

Derek had been one of two admirals who wouldn't support the Navy's mutiny against Congress during the Malakin War. Only his friendship with Dave Oden and Dave's own word of honor, that the Union was to still be completely protected by the Navy, persuaded Derek not to lead any forces against the five planets that declared their secession when Serapha was erroneously and illegally admitted. Now Derek was repaying part of that debt that he and others felt they owed for having their full rights kept intact against the same malignant force that created the Daily Bread.

"Thanks, Wolfie. I'm more glad to see you here as a friend though, than as a shield," Dave said low enough that it wouldn't be picked up easily.

"Glad I could make it, Dave. Finally getting that third star. I've heard rumors that I'm up for my second star next month," Derek said.

"More than just rumors, Wolfie. I'm looking forward to attending your promotion ceremony."

"Then Congress approved my promotion?"

"Absolutely and with no abstentions. You're a good admiral, Derek. I know that I can count on you fully when the chips are down."

"Almost all the time," Derek tried to admit.

"Wolfie, forget that, please. It's old, over with, and forgotten. If anything, you helped provide a necessary counter balance for me then. It would have been too easy for me to let my own popularity go to my head and do the wrong things. You were a reminder to me of what I was doing it for and that I couldn't allow myself to forget that reason. You were still there for me in the right way."

"Let us talk of other things, Dave. I'm embarrassed over being hoodwinked by Lordsman," Derek suggested.

"Suits me fine. Benz is up for his second star, too. I think his is scheduled about a month or two after you get promoted."

"How about Kyle?" Derek asked.

"Kyle, I believe, is about nine months away from his second star," Dave answered.

"I heard that Nicky is planning on retiring."

"I heard that, too," Dave responded. "I'll miss him, but he has his reasons for taking an early retirement."

"What's new or should I ask what's old that you're going to revive in the Navy?" Derek asked.

"There's not too much more to be done that I can find. It's looking to me, more and more, like a new set of eyes is needed to take a look at the Navy and decide where it's going. We've certainly got a lot of up and coming officers who can do just that."

"I heard that you're using more than one ship for the Academy training now."

"That's partly true. This will be the first time that we use more than one ship of our own at a time while conducting actual maneuvers in space. We needed a way to address the training needs of all the cadets. Some of them were getting the exact training that they needed. Others were having to equate what they learned with a different type of ship. Now we can better train them by having our own miniature training squadron using some ships the Navy is retiring. We'll be using third year cadets in the enlisted positions and fourth year cadets in both enlisted and officer positions on a rotating schedule. At last, we'll be able to give them a solid grounding in what everyone does on board."

"What about those who want to become marines?" Derek asked.

"We've got them covered, as well. We'll have an armed, armored transport complete with hover artytanks so that we can practice landing on a planet and let the cadets have a little fun while they learn. We'll also send the cadets looking for space debris to recover so they can become familiar with our new, armed and armored support ships."

"The artytanks might even be useful in defending Beulah in the future. Wish I was a cadet again," Derek said. "I could probably learn a lot more. As it is, some of these new officers you keep putting out seem to know more about the Navy than I do."

"Hmmm. . . You know, a refresher course for senior officers might not be a bad idea, Wolfie. I think you've hit on something there. You ought to submit that to Admiral Reason. I'm sure that he'll think it's a good idea as much as I do."


***

Dave went over the ship assignments for the third and fourth year cadets. He checked what the computer came up with against his own intuition and personal knowledge of the men and women. The computer seemed to have a better program each year, but it still missed out on some of the nuances that he felt obligated to provide. So far there hadn't been any really outlandish decisions by the program, but Dave still preferred to give the assignments that human touch which would strengthen individual cadets in the right places for each where more work was needed.

He felt lucky to have rather new ships, only five years old at most, assigned for the cadets to train on. Most of them saw service in the Malakin War. One was perhaps one of the most distinguished ships from that war. The Dust Bunny was now the flagship of the Space Academy fleet and probably would be for another ten to twenty years to come before being gracefully retired. She came complete with five fighters and all her original weapons along with the modified launcher system used to fire the Thunderhead-equipped missile. She had three fighter-destroyer escorts, a salvage ship, a transport with five hover artytanks, and a resupply ship to accompany her. Everything on board each ship was real and useable. Only the actual Thunderhead warhead was missing from atop the missile on board the Dust Bunny. Otherwise, the missile was real. In regular Navy terms, it wasn't even a quarter of a squadron, even by counting all its ships. Regardless, in Academy terms, it was counted as one.

For two months of each year, Admiral Oden received his chance to walk the decks of a ship as cadets went through their training with very few instructors to guide them. Each ship would have one instructor on board. Almost as few regular Navy personnel, who manned some of the more critical areas, would be along, though mostly for the ride. Otherwise, the regular Navy personnel took care of the ships while those weren't in use. It was hands on training in which the cadets were expected to work as a team and assist each other as they actually operated the ships in all their functions. Their training in space was mostly a pass or fail system. However, a failing grade in space could mean death, sometimes for others or for more than just the cadet who failed.

Even though Fleet Admiral Oden wouldn't have much to do while on board as far as operating the squadron, his presence was still required as the only active senior officer at the Academy. Technically he was in command of the Academy's squadron. Mostly, however, he would conduct informal talks with the men and women cadets where he would learn a bit more about their goals and how they felt. Even though most cadets were in their mid-twenties, there were still some who were undecided as to what they wanted to do once they became commissioned officers in the Navy.

Since this was the Academy's first year with more than one ship, Dave would likely have to give some direction at first. As always, he would still expect the cadets to do everything from that point on as the Academy Squadron made a trip around the edge of the Union of Planets territorial limits.


***

Admiral Derek Heavywolf walked into Admiral Oden's office and caught Dave's attention almost immediately.

"Wolfie, what brings you here?" Dave asked.
Admiral Heavywolf said, "I'm working on the senior officers' refresher course idea. I'm stuck. Partly because I'm too close to the problem. I came here to ask your help in putting it together."

"Hmmm, let me see what you've got," Dave replied as he accepted a disk. Moments later, he had the basic outline of the course displayed on his monitor. "I'm glad you annotated it with your thoughts. I can see your problem and I can't help you, either. I'm just as close to it as you are. However, I have access to some good people who aren't too close and would eagerly attack this problem. They'll give you a fair evaluation as well as some recommendations in these trouble areas."

"You do?" asked Heavywolf.

"Sure, we'll let the cadets have at it. They're always eager for real work."

"Will they have enough understanding, though?" Derek asked.

"We haven't anything to lose by letting them try."

"I guess not. Very well, go ahead and give it to them."

"I'll call in one of the cadet leaders, Wolfie. You can give it to her to pass among the cadets. They'll be more than sure to go over it in fine detail if they know it's not my idea," Dave replied.

"Throwing me to the wolves, Dave?"

"Coming from you, Heavywolf, that sounds almost funny," Dave remarked.

Wolfie replied, "I meant to say throwing me to the cubs and, yes, I was trying for a joke."

Dave laughed and was joined in his laughter by Derek.

Minutes later Admiral Heavywolf was giving the refresher course information to one of the cadet leaders. "Be certain that the cadets who work on it are ruthless in their evaluation and thorough in their recommendations."

She replied, "Yes, sir. I'll emphasize that to them."

***

Three days later a delegation entered Fleet Admiral Oden's office. They introduced themselves, though Dave knew most of them already. He could tell by their formality that something was up.

Ivan said, "Dave, you know that elections are coming up next year. Both Beulah's and Edun's representatives can't run for Congress again because of term limits. Since we're out here almost on our own at times, we tend to be somewhat clannish as you know."

Garin said, "Get to the point, Ivan."

"I am, Garin. Anyway, Dave, we'd like to know if you would consider making an official announcement placing your name into the running for one of those seats," Ivan said.

"Me? Run for office?" asked Dave. He shook his head. "I haven't even given the idea of me running for office any thoughts. I think I do more service for the Union where I'm at right now. This may not seem like much, but it's important to the whole Union and to me. No, I'm not making any announcement to throw my name into the running."

Garin asked, "Will you consider a draft?"

Dave looked pensively at Garin and pondered the question for a moment. "I don't know. It would depend on circumstances. I happen to know that there are qualified people on both Edun and Beulah to run for office. Any of them would do well for their worlds."

"Then you're not ruling out a draft?" asked Ivan.

"I guess I'm not," Dave admitted. "However, how could Edun or Beulah possibly draft me since I'm not a citizen of either of their worlds?"

Garin said, "Because you're military. Until you leave the service, you can claim planetary citizenship on any world and change it as often as you like. Didn't you know that?"

"I guess I forgot about that," Dave lied.

Stella said, "Besides, you would be one of the first Earth-born representatives for either planet in a long time. As such, you would have the capability to coordinate with the other members of Congress somewhat beyond what we can normally achieve. That would guarantee some trust among the other representatives who think we want all the military bases and government projects out here. Whatever you voted on would be for the common good of all. The other members of Congress know you for that. We know you for that, too."

"Edun wouldn't even ask you to vote any other way," said Garin.

"Nor would Beulah," said Bart.

"And you'd have the full support and cooperation of the rest of us out here on the edge," said Stella. "With the seven of us out here, you could always place anything you wanted before Congress for a fair vote."

Dave said, "Okay, I won't rule out a draft completely. Still, it's going to depend on circumstances. After all, you're asking me to give up a lot if I accept."


***

The draft movements on Edun and Beulah took little time to be noticed by the rest of the Union. Likewise, some portions of the press began looking at what was already being published by other parts of the press about Admiral Oden. Both the good and the bad were repeated and distorted even further. Some press institutions sent reporters to Beulah to follow Dave around, even on the Academy grounds. After all, he was once more the hottest news in the Union, except for some occasional pirate attacks on shipping in space. Also, the Academy was an open institution when it came to public inspection.

Dave went back to his plans for the two-month space training and revised those to include new passengers he knew would now be coming along in the form of press members. If nothing else, Dave was glad that he had enough time to make the changes smoothly. At least, he knew that he could limit how many reporters went along due to actual limitations of available living quarters aboard the ships, in particular the Dust Bunny.

The press, when it chose to go on board a Navy ship, was well aware that a pool was always required. The ship's mission couldn't be jeopardized by removing crew members to make room for them. It would be up to the press to select its own pool members. Dave was thankful for that. The last thing he wanted to do was have someone accuse him of rigging the news coverage by selecting the reporters himself. However, he did hope that the Daily Bread's journalist wasn't among them. It would be more than difficult to avoid that man on board what would quickly feel like a very small ship. Dave could see already that he would be glad, if not eager, to go on board some of the other ships during the voyage if only to avoid the press for a short while.


***

Outside Dave's office, John Christiansen waited for the admiral to walk out. He approached Admiral Oden as he stepped out of his office. Several military personnel around them took notice of the sudden confrontation.

John said, "I understand you've thrown your hat in the ring for Congress."

Dave answered, "I've done no such thing."

"Liar. People on Beulah and Edun are both trying to get you elected," Christiansen said.

Admiral Oden stopped and looked at the man. He knew he could probably goad the man into attacking him to make up for the insult. Regardless, it still didn't look good to harm a member of the press, even when they swung on you. "I understand that people on those worlds are trying to draft me as their candidate. That does not mean that I have thrown my hat in the ring as you stated. I suggest you get your facts straight," said Dave.

"A draft is the same thing as throwing your hat in. They're not doing it without your approval," said Christiansen.

"Mr. Christiansen, I suggest you check with them to find out if I approved. Perhaps you'll believe them since you are determined to disbelieve what I say and make me out to be a liar. You might also check with military personnel and discover for yourself that I am still on active duty. I have not requested inactivation nor early retirement, one of which is still necessary for me to be eligible for public office. Now unless you have something important to ask, I would like to be on my way."

Sergeant Pettibone walked over to them and handed a note to the admiral. She stood beside the reporter and waited as the admiral read the note.

Dave read the note and then turned to his left without saying another word. He walked away, leaving the reporter unable to follow without walking through the sergeant. Even as Dave passed her, another sergeant walked over and stood blocking the part of the aisle that Dave just used.

"I'm with the press. Would you mind letting me through?" John said.

"Military business. Sorry, but you'll have to go around. You know our work takes precedence here," Sergeant Pettibone replied without budging an inch. Then she turned to the other sergeant and spoke in military slang that Christiansen wouldn't likely understand, much less realize was actually totally meaningless.

The reporter started to move around the desks to catch up to the admiral, but other sergeants and specialists were also standing in key aisle intersections conducting business of one sort or another. Not until the admiral was out the door did a passageway suddenly clear for the reporter to use. By the time Christiansen reached the front door, Admiral Oden was leaving in his hover. Before Christiansen could reach his hover, another news team, coincidentally from Beulah, set up a news take just behind Christiansen's hover. Their news angle was a lot more favorable towards the admiral than his own. Christiansen couldn't interrupt them, either. If not out of professional courtesy, he did so because the same law protected them that protected him. There were far too many recorders about for him to take a chance on skirting the law. He still couldn't follow once the other news team was out of his way, since the admiral was out of sight. Without knowing Admiral Oden's destination, there was little that Christiansen could do.


***


Admiral Oden lit a cigarette and relaxed once his hover was out of sight of headquarters. Then he burned the note given him by the sergeant that stated simply, 'Run for it, we'll block.' Dave was made aware again, probably for the thousandth time, that it was always best to know your people well and see to their needs. One never knew when it would be their turn to come to the rescue as his did earlier.

After all, one didn't become an admiral without having a certain amount of natural aggression in the psyche. Dave could have easily goaded Christiansen into taking a swing at him in front of the other reporters. About the only thing that kept Dave from setting up and then retaliating against that reporter was his greater concern for the Navy and the Union.

Dave wasn't at all concerned about his own career. He had enough credit saved over the years and wisely invested to live well the rest of his life, whether he had a job or not. Even if he left the Navy, he could always rely on a job with Pennywaite Shipping. He was still on an official unpaid absence from them. Dave also owned part of the company, a fact that further insulated himself and his family from financial harm. If that wasn't enough, his wife, Annie, owned significant properties herself.

As the hover bearing him to his home crossed over onto his and Annie's property, he felt more comfortable knowing that it was one place where Christiansen wouldn't follow him, unless the man was desperate to get information. Without being able to follow and learn where Dave lived, Christiansen was stymied. He wouldn't be able to find a reference to it, either, since Admiral Oden's address was listed as being on the Academy grounds. There wasn't any reference to his family or holdings in public records for their own safety. Dave felt sure that Christiansen was probably sitting out near his quarters waiting for him to return and wondering where he was or what could be taking him so long.

***

Cadet Ensign Reese Harder pressed up nearer to the board with the ship assignments on it. A number of cadets had already expressed their amazement at their assignments, almost all of which seemed to be in areas where they needed more effort. His own first assignment was in the fighter hangar on board the cruiser.

***

Admiral Oden stepped out of his hover to enter the headquarters building. A disheveled reporter waited at the front door. Dave could see there was no way of avoiding John Christiansen again. He would have to be content with the hours he had that the man wasn't in his face for now.

"The Daily Bread wants to know what you're doing about the pirate scourge?" John asked.

"Mr. Christiansen, you know very well that the Academy is not responsible for chasing pirates. Reports of one pirate incident so far this year don't exactly qualify as a scourge," Dave answered.

"I didn't ask about the Academy. I asked about you. You're still in the Navy, are you not?" John asked.

"I am still on active duty with the Navy. However, I am assigned to training. A good officer knows when to apply himself to the right tasks. That way other good officers can do their work without finding themselves tripping over good intentions sown by others who don't have the assignment. I try to be a good officer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have military work to do and that takes precedence over your interview. Good day, Mr. Christiansen," Dave said with just enough coldness in his voice to instill a shiver down John's back.

***

Within an hour, part of Dave's impromptu interview was on the net, badly misquoted and misleading as usual since it was being reported by the Daily Bread. Within a few minutes of that, Admiral of the Navy Reason was in contact with Dave to find out the truth of the matter.

"Dave, what was the conversation really like?" Bill asked.

Dave answered, "His usual line of bull. He wanted to know what I was going to do about the pirate scourge. I told him that I was assigned to training and not to catching pirates. I do my job and stay out of the way of those whose job it is to catch them. I also told him that one incident in a year hardly constituted a scourge of pirates. You want a recording of the conversation?"

Bill replied, "Not really, but hang on to those recordings. Did you get that message off to Admiral Ray?"

Dave answered, "Yes. I kept it simple and harmless so that if any of the wrong people picked it up, they couldn't do much with it."

"Fine. Give my best to Annie and the kids," Bill replied.

***

Within an hour after the Daily Bread story, another news syndicate carried the entire conversation, though working from a copy of Dave's recording. John Christiansen came barging into the admiral's office shortly after he learned of it.

"You son-of-a-bitch! You recorded my interview with you!" Christiansen almost shouted.

Dave said, "Perfectly within my rights as a citizen. You know that. You decided to misquote me. I corrected your story without so much as suing you or your news organization. A court would have found in my favor. You know that, too. I merely settled for an immediate correction instead of financial damages and having your group forced to disseminate the correct and full quotes later at their expense. However, if you feel guilty, I'll gladly accept a contribution on your part to a charity service as sincere atonement."

John Christiansen looked at Admiral Oden with hatred in his face. He was almost about to speak.

Dave added, "And yes, I am recording you, again. You fail to understand that you've just interrupted military business to express your outrage over being legally recorded. I suggest you leave now while I'm still feeling charitable. I can still bar you personally from the grounds on that basis and let your news organization shuffle someone else over to Beulah to take your place. It won't be an infringement on the rights of the press in the least. There're still several other press organizations represented here at the present, so nothing is being hidden from the public. Even the public is permitted to visit, so long as they behave. Now either leave or apologize, if that's what you came in here for. Either way, make it fast so that I can get back to work."

John Christiansen left quickly, determined not to disappoint his boss by getting himself knocked off the task he was really supposed to accomplish. John knew he'd have other opportunities to get at the admiral. He knew that no one could successfully dodge every shot aimed at him. Sooner or later Oden would get hit by one of John's shots. Once wounded, Oden would become an easier target for more shots.

***

Late that same day, pirates made an unsuccessful attack on a freighter. It was a rarity for any freighter in space to be empty, but the one they chose was without a cargo and returning from making a special delivery run. There was nothing for the pirates to gain by seizing an empty ship, so they allowed it to continue on its journey. They had nothing to gain by forcing the crew out into space to await pickup. They had too much to lose since the crew had already sent out a distress call about the attack. The crew then sent another message letting the Navy know that they were still on their freighter and safe. It gave the Navy a few extra moments to chase after the pirates since they didn't have to delay in order to conduct a search and rescue of a drifting crew.


***


John Christiansen waited in front of the headquarters building for Admiral Oden to arrive for work. He watched as the admiral's hover came into view and settled down in front of him.

"Admiral Oden, it seems to me that there is a scourge of piracy going on!" he said.

"The Navy is doing what it can, to my understanding of the matter, at this very moment. You may continue to think of it as a scourge of piracy, but those pirates seemed to be rather inept compared to the pirates I've fought before. Rest assured the Navy will deal with those pirates, inept or not, and bring them to justice. Now please stand back so I may go to work," Dave replied.

"If you're so successful at fighting pirates, why hasn't the Navy assigned you to the job?" John asked.

"Ask someone higher up in the Navy about that. I'm not privy to their thoughts on that matter," Dave said.

***

Two days later, the pirates struck again. Unlike normal pirate attacks where the crew was spared to keep them from resisting during later raids, the pirates tossed them out into space without their space suits to be found dead later by Navy rescue ships.

The shock of the needless murder of ten men and women hit the top of the news reported by practically every news organization in the Union. The Daily Bread prefaced its story with the interview two days earlier between John Christiansen and Admiral Oden. Their headline read, 'Inept Pirates Kill Ten, Steal Ship'. It finally appeared as if they had hit Admiral Oden with one of their shots.

***

"Dave," said Admiral Reason, "I'm glad you'll be going with the cadets on a two-month training mission fairly soon. Perhaps that will give things a chance to cool down."

"I hope so, Bill. Is Operation Q on schedule?" asked Dave.

"Completely on schedule. We'll be sending it out on the freighter routes by itself with ordinary looking crew members," Bill replied.

"Good to hear that," Dave said, "I think that there's a connection between these attacks and Christiansen's obsession with them and me. No one else was overly concerned about these particular pirates when they first struck. The Daily Bread hasn't paid much attention to pirates in the past, either. The only exception was when one of their people was on board an attacked ship. Even then, it hardly rated much coverage from them."

"That's going to be tough to prove," said Bill.

Dave said, "Doesn't matter if we prove it or not. What's important is that we stop the piracy. Operation Q should do just that. I hardly think that they'll be able to just go out and hire another pirate crew to create headlines when this one is dealt with by the Navy. When we do that, they'll have to come up with something else for an issue. Frankly, I don't think they're ready with anything else yet."

Bill replied, "Well, it's still going to be tough finding them in that much space. We've only got one Q-ship. We're still waiting for others to come out of the shipyards."

Dave said, "That shouldn't be a problem, Bill. Smuggle some Space Marines aboard some of the legitimate freighters that operate in small convoys. Then escort some of the freighters that operate alone with Navy ships around the areas where those pirates are operating. That should keep the pirates operating in a more limited area where you'll have a better chance of getting them with the Q-ship. Also, make sure that the Q-ship has an important cargo announced for its maiden voyage."

"What do you think they'll want most?" asked Bill.

"Computer chips or heavy weapon repair parts. I don't know of a legitimate pirate who wouldn't take the risk if he thought he could get hold of a Mark VI or VII, even if he had to put it together himself from parts," said Dave. "If he has a Mark IV or V already, he has enough pieces to put together a better weapon."

Bill said, "Hmmm . . . maybe we can make it look like that's the cargo."

***

Admiral Oden looked at the list of reporters selected for the pool. Somehow, Christiansen of the Daily Bread made the cut and would be going along. There seemed to be no way of getting away from the man. As he looked at the posted list, Christiansen walked over and rubbed it in.

"Thought you'd be rid of me, huh?" he asked.

"Not really. Just wondering whether to give you one of the new space suits or an old one. You know, one of the ones that has about as much credibility as your press stories," Dave replied.

"Huh?" said Christiansen.

"I can see that you're a real fast thinker who doesn't waste words. That's good. Space has plenty of room for people like you," Dave said.

"Are you threatening me?" asked Christiansen.

"Mister, if I was in the frame of mind to threaten you, you'd already be dead. I don't normally give my enemies fair warning unless it's to my advantage to do so. In your case, I would never threaten you," replied Dave.

"So, you consider me an enemy then," said John.

"Don't rate yourself so high. To me, you're more of a pest and hardly worth any effort. You'd be beneath any response at all if you weren't in a position to poison minds with misinformation and inaccuracies in your reporting. It's too bad that you appear to have a hidden personal agenda," Dave responded.

"I suppose you're recording all this?" asked John.

"Why? Is your recorder broken? Do you want an accurate copy of our conversation? I hardly think you would since you haven't the nerve to publish it in its entirety," Dave said.

"Is that what you think? Read the Daily Bread today and see just how much nerve I have!" exclaimed John.

"So this was a thinly disguised interview after all? Well, that fits your style of reporting. Well, you can consider the interview over as of now. I have to return to work," Dave said.

***

Dave looked at his terminal and logged onto the net to choose from the news services. Of course, he looked up the Daily Bread if only to see just how far he had goaded their reporter into going. Otherwise, he preferred not to spend any credits on reading their badly slanted versions of the news. It didn't take him long to find the latest interview between John Christiansen and himself. Incredibly, the Daily Bread had published the entire interview up to the point where Dave announced it as being over. Dave wondered how in hell they managed to print it without reading the content carefully. For once, he was looking forward to seeing their reporter, Christiansen, later in the day.

***

Christiansen stormed into headquarters and demanded an audience with Admiral Oden. Moments later, he was ushered into the admiral's office by one of the sergeants. The sergeant remained near the open door and listened in as Christiansen began to unload his aggravation at the admiral.

"You son-of-a-bitch! You insulted me during the interview! You did it deliberately and made me look like an ass to the public!" John exclaimed loudly.

Admiral Oden couldn't help but see the sergeants smile and released a grin of his own just to goad Christiansen even more.

"You jerk! See if I ever do anything for you again! You're a bastard, Oden! You're nothing but a slimeball in a uniform! If it's the last thing I do, I'll see that you get yours and that you get it in spades!" Christiansen proclaimed loudly. "And another thing, you better damn well make sure that I'm issued a new space suit!"

Dave replied, "Mister Christiansen, you're really quite comical and as misinformed as the news you report. The Navy doesn't issue you a space suit. Your own news service is responsible for that. When you choose as a member of the press to go along on a Navy vessel, you're responsible for your own needs, not the Navy. If you weren't such fun to tease and an easy target, I might become bored on this upcoming training trip. However, having you around with your misconceptions about life and the Navy is going to make this training trip an absolute heaven for me. You're more fun than fighting pirates and not nearly as dangerous as a two-year old with a stick. I hope we get to see a lot of each other during the two months that the training is going to last. In fact, I'm making sure that your quarters on board the ship are near mine just to be sure that you don't think I'm trying to avoid you for interviews. As far as insulting you, that's perfectly within my rights as a citizen. As far as making you look like an ass, you did that to yourself. I can easily imagine that you even persuaded your publisher to send out your interview without going over it first. If so, that's your fault. You and the Daily Bread didn't have to publish that interview and make yourselves look bad. Since your news service took such good care of your reputation, you'd be well advised to double check any space suit that they issue you. It really might be just as credible as your reporting. Now that you've expressed your feelings, I suggest you leave so I may get back to work. I have far more important things to do than waste time listening to your wounded ego."

"This way, Mr. Christiansen," the sergeant said from the doorway. "You've still got plenty of time to have your space suit checked by one of the maintenance companies in town."

John Christiansen walked out of the admiral's office, humiliated and completely shattered as he realized he had been tricked into harming himself publicly. Nor could he even respond to the sergeant's reminder to have his space suit checked in town. He walked out of the Academy headquarters building only to discover that other news service people were waiting for him.

"Hey John, which suit did they issue you?"

"Watch out! His fast thinking is generating smoke!"

"Want to buy a space suit, John? I've got one that was once blessed by the Pope. At least, I think it was. The former owner said it was holy."

One said, "Mr. Christiansen, I'd like an interview with you."

"Go away, all of you!" Christiansen said, "I'm trying to get back to work."

"Then you have no comments to add about your interview earlier with Admiral Oden?"

"Listen, I don't have any comments. I'm just trying to do my work, now leave me alone," Christiansen replied.

"Then I take it that you're satisfied with your earlier interview with the admiral. Did you just interview the admiral again?"

"No, I didn't interview the admiral just now. Now leave me alone or I'll call a cop," replied Christiansen.

"A cop? Uh, John, we're on Academy grounds. The police don't have any jurisdiction here. You'll need the military police and you'll have to ask the admiral to have them sent."

John almost became pale then as he realized that he would have to ask the very man he was targeting for help in avoiding his press brethren. There was no way he was going to return inside the building to ask Admiral Oden for assistance. Right now Admiral Oden was the last person he wanted to see again. John needed more time to think things through.

"John, then I take it that you and the admiral are friends? Were you in there taking advantage of a friendship to get information?"

John replied, "No, we're not friends or wasn't that obvious from that other interview?"

"Then are you a pest as the admiral stated? Were you in there interrupting the admiral from his work?"

"Yes, I mean no!" said John as he was surrounded by the other news people.

"Watch it there, Marcia! You're dealing with a fast thinker!"

"Boy, the admiral was right! John doesn't use many words. Hey John, how come you don't use many words?"

"John, I've got a dictionary if you need it!"

***

Within an hour, one of the news services had a copy of the latest altercation between John and the admiral. They listened to it carefully before they surrounded John again to taunt him.

"John, are you going to take a galaxy tour as a comedian?"

"Hey, John, I understand that comedians can make some big credit on Leuion. Are you scheduled to do a comedy tour there?"

"I think John's getting unfair treatment here with his quarters assignment. He's going to be given more access to the admiral than we are. I'm considering filing a protest."

"Jim, I don't think you can file a protest because John is entertaining the admiral. John has to be working as a reporter for you to file a protest."

"Hey John, when did you start your career as a comedian? Do you make much on the side? I thought they paid you well at the Daily Bread."

"Do you really have that much sway with your news service, John? I can never get my editors to leave my copy alone. Do you think you can teach me how?"

"Hey John, need a stick?"

"I'm getting out of here if you give him a stick! He might be dangerous then!"

***

Admiral Oden left by the front door to reach his hover. For once, John Christiansen wasn't in his face as he made his way to his hover. Nor did John bother trying to get to his own hover to attempt to follow.

***

Admiral Oden looked at the press services representatives gathered together in front of him. They were the members of the press selected to accompany him on the two-month training trip. There were only five of them, but they would have practically a completely free run on board the ship during the cruise.

"Members of the press, I am going to brief you on some of the rules for you to observe during the training mission. If you have any questions, you may ask during this briefing. Please raise your hands to be recognized rather than just blurting them out all at once. I'm sure that once you understand some of these rules, you'll find that we can be very cooperative and even assist you when you don't expect much in the way of help," said Dave.

"First of all, there will be some operations when you will be expected to keep out of the way. You don't, for instance, try to interview people on the bridge when they're working. After all, none of us wants to cause an accident where we collide with an asteroid or another ship by taking away the attention of the bridge crew from their duties. You may, of course, quietly observe the activities of the bridge at any time you wish. The same goes for other activities in other areas of the ship. Another example would be interfering with someone in the hangar while fighters are being launched."

"You are prohibited, of course, from entering anyone's quarters without their permission. Wherever more than one person shares quarters, you need the permission of all the occupants, not just the person you wish to talk with. You will have to treat the crew quarters just the same as you would treat someone's home on any member world of the Union. Now none of the crew or cadets have been instructed to avoid you or anything like that. They have been advised on your rights and theirs. Consequently, they will not ask or order you to leave any part of the ship without just cause."

"Now normally you would be responsible for providing all of your needs. However, the Navy has already been in contact with your news services to arrange for reimbursement covering your meals and other needs while on board. Yes, Marcia. You have a question?"

"Will special dietary problems be met while on board?" she asked.

Dave replied, "Yes. The Navy asked the news services about those. The ship's dining room is aware of special diets and will have the necessary items on board. Does that answer your question?"

She nodded.

Dave continued, "Good. To continue, you'll have access to our communications department twice a day to send out messages to your news services. This training will be treated as if the Navy was at war. All of your messages will be looked at by the cadets for training purposes only. They will not censor any of your content. However, if one of them spots something questionable and brings it to me, I might."

Marcia raised her hand and asked when recognized, "What would you possibly censor?"

Dave answered, "I would be inclined to delete the name of a crew member injured or killed while on the training mission if the relatives haven't been notified yet. I don't see that as unreasonable. In all likelihood, I will merely ask you to make sure that your news service not release the name without me removing it from your report prior to transmission. It would be far easier then for the news service to contact the military and coordinate public release of the name if they knew who they were talking about. I will also be inclined to ask that our position not be given out since that is a prime directive in the Navy. We never give out our position unless we are engaged with the enemy, in which case, it hardly matters. After all, we're not giving the enemy anything he doesn't already know then and it helps the Navy to know just where some of the enemy are located. I trust that these minor matters of censorship won't cause you any alarm or undue concern. If you've ever been on a regular Navy ship, you had to deal with the same rules there."

John asked, "What assurances do we have that you won't change our reports?"

Dave ignored the fact that John hadn't been recognized. Dave answered, "You'll be present when your stories are transmitted. You'll all be present and, quite often, so will I. If you have a problem with anything, you can have it addressed right then. Quite frankly, we don't have any intention of messing with your transmitted reports. None of us are journalists. I suspect that very few of us have any ambitions to become one."

"You'll all be on board the ship first and can become familiar with the layout while only a few personnel are there. I would advise you to stay on board and well inside the ship until after launch. This advice is for your own safety. I do not want you conducting any interviews at the entrance to the ship."

"Why?" asked John, "Are you going to brief the cadets on what to say there?"

Dave replied, "I have no intention of briefing anyone on board the ships on what to say to any of you. The Space Academy, like the Navy, recognizes the right of every service member to speak openly without fear of retaliation. We uphold the Universal Rights Bill in every nuance and to our utmost abilities. That is why we are having this meeting, so that you will be aware of the very few restrictions placed upon you."

 


END OF SAMPLE



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