11 January 2011
IN THE NAVY
By Curtis C. Chen
Petty Officer Second Class Sandra Choe, Sandy to her friends, was bored.
The clock on the wall read 11:32. She had the whole day off, but she'd already read every book in the base library, and the next planetside shuttle didn't make another run for six hours.
"I'm bored," Sandy said.
Her bunkmate, Charlene, grumbled in the bed above Sandy. "Why don't you go get some lunch? I hear it's cake day."
Sandy contained her excitement long enough to ask, "Will you be okay here by yourself?"
Charlene waved a hand over the edge of her bunk. "I'll be fine. It's just a rhinovirus. Go."
Sandy went to the cafeteria, where there was indeed cake. She selected the two largest, most frosting-laden pieces and sat down to enjoy them. Halfway through her second piece, two Master Chief Petty Officers came into the cafeteria and sat down within earshot of Sandy.
"Still can't fucking believe it," said the first Master Chief.
"Total fucking clusterfuck," said the second Master Chief.
"How the fuck do you misplace half a million dollars' worth of fucking armor?"
"And you fucking know that's coming out of our fucking budget."
The only unusual thing about this conversation was the discussion of missing equipment. Sandy, being a sensor tech, had never worked directly on armor, but she had calibrated plenty of sensor arrays to detect enemy armor.
After finishing her cake, Sandy found her commanding officer, explained about the conversation she'd overheard, and asked for permission to search the base's cargo holds.
"Do you know how many fucking holds this base has?" her CO asked. "Waste of fucking time. But hey, if that's how you want to spend your fucking day off, go to town."
Sandy borrowed a portable sensor deck from her shop and began searching. The Gamma Accra orbital platform had grown "organically," as the PR flacks liked to say, and was in many places a maze of twisty passages. The cargo holds had been designed for access from space, not from inside the base.
It took her nearly an hour to locate and access the first hold. Sandy found nothing interesting in that one, or the second one. The third hold had several containers with more radiation shielding than necessary, but Sandy ignored them.
She found the missing equipment in the fourth cargo hold. It had been mislabeled—somebody had typed "5" instead of "4" on the manifest—but it was all there, a platoon's worth of armor pegging the needle on Sandy's sensor deck.
Her CO actually smiled when she reported her success.
"Well done, Choe!" he said, shaking her hand. "You'll get a commendation for this. Fuck, I'm putting you in for a fucking medal! Good work. Dismissed!"
Sandy went back to her quarters, where Charlene was snoring loudly. The clock on the wall read 16:04. The next shuttle didn't leave for two more hours, and there wouldn't be any new books in the base library until the next USO ship docked.
"I'm bored," Sandy said.
Photo: Air Traffic Controller Airman Chelsea Pitchford aboard USS Essex, September, 2010