15 February 2013


    Aboard the USSF William Mitchell, inbound to Trinity's Star, autumn of 1981 back home, around about oh-dark-fifteen.


     Silver-haired and gone just a bit fleshy, he sports a cookie-duster mustache that would make a WW II British fighter ace envious.   He walks with the least hint of a limp but somehow still projects an impression of keen-eyed health, often with a ghost of a smile lurking in the corners of his eyes.

   He isn't smiling right now.  He looks—  He looks for all the world like a college professor about to administer a test and hoping his charges have learned all he's tried to teach them: a kind of annoyed-hopeful foreboding.

     There's a cane tucked under his left arm and a fat file folder in his left hand.  He's walking down a narrow corridor, metal walls, metal-grating floor, low metal overhead nearly covered in piping and conduit.  He comes to a doorway — a hatch? — spins the wheel at the center and steps through silently.  Inside, lights are dim red.  Bunks line the walls, four high, two rows deep with another half-row row in the back center.  A small table and a half-dozen latched-down chairs take up the open space left.  It smells like sleep and the sound of gentle breathing and quiet snores provides a counterpoint to the muted hum and rush of the ventilation system.  Every bunk visible is occupied.

     He spares himself time for a quick, fierce grin and turns to the bunks at his right, right hand taking the cane from under his other arm, and raps vigorously on the upright supporting the nearest corner, producing a shattering clang-clang-clang!  "Wake up, geeks!  Waaaaake uuuup!"

     The result is immediate: a few startled grunts and a general scramble to get out from under covers and vertical, side-by side in front of their bunks as rapidly as possible.

      He flips on the white light, sudden and bright and while his hapless charges may be squinting, not a word or sound of complaint is heard.

     "Well!  Are we all bright-eyed and ready for our cornflakes, or what?"

     The "geek" nearest him — one of the four occupants of the bunk he used as an impromptu bell — blinks though thick lenses and says, hesitantly, "Um, 'Or what?' Cornflakes don't usually come with paperwork."

     "Well-spotted!  'Or what' it is.  Billy Mitchell will be emerging into real space in two hours; Intel says there will be Edgers on the far side, probably military, and we drew the short straw.  Get up, get fed and be in the tank room in under a half-hour; we'll ride it out in the cockpits and drop our drones on emergence."

     The room is silent for a beat and then from the back of the room a voice: "Whoa.  Whoooooa..."

      The young man who spoke earlier pushes his "birth control" glasses up.  "Sir?  We've never done this—  For real.  I mean, when there was gonna be anyone—"

     "That's right, you haven't.  You've run simulations.  You've ridden out Jumps hot into friendly space, into empty space.  You're not going to get any more ready for 'for real' than you are right now.  Tank room.  25 minutes."  And he leaves, cane, mustache, file folder and all, closing the hatch behind him, spinning the wheel and— Stopping.  Listening.

     And he hears a cheer.  Maybe a little ragged, but a cheer.  Ed nods and heads back down the passageway, heading for the "tank room," where eleven teleoperation cockpits await ten two-man teams and one officer: him.

     Ed's done this before, but never in command of a green crew.   He did it time after time, when you went out there and did it in person, in realtime, and he wishes he still could.  This is next best.  His wife claims it's "better." Well, maybe.  His thoughts return to his crew of "remote pilots," the end result of a harsh selection process, and he smiles to himself again, a small and somehow wolfish smile.  Green, yeah, but he's run them through sims, he's pushed them through Jumps, he's pushed them to the edge and right on through, or as close as you can come when the price of failure is a "Game Over" and an after-action review of why.  They're ready.  They can do this.

     It's the job, and they're going to do it.


     In memorial, Maj. Edward J. Rasimus, USAF (ret.) 1942 - 2013  (Biographical link, automatic audio, NSFW!)