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How I  Saved  Lt.  Snell’s  Command   By  Dan  Graves  


© Copyright  2012  by  Dan  Graves  


i. First  Impressions.    

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ieutenant Snell  descended  into  my  life  in  response  to  an  SOS     signal.  My  signal.  

After Clay  killed  Jamil,  stole  my  yacht  and  skedaddled  skyward  

with the  mindstone  we  had  just  discovered  (and  had  instantly  known   we  could  never  share),  three  thoughts  had  barrelled  like  tornadoes   through  my  mind.  The  first  was  all-­‐consuming  hatred  for  Clay.  The   second  was  to  find  another  mindstone  to  fill  the  awful  void  I  was   already  experiencing.  The  third  was  to  call  for  help.      

Left at  our  cook  site  had  been  a  few  tins  and  packets  of  food—

stew, oatmeal,  lentils,  dried  milk;  in  a  week  I’d  be  eating  the   indigenous  scrawm—in  a  month  I’d  be  starving.      

So I  had  inched  my  way  to  the  top  of  the  highest  object  in  the  

vicinity and  planted  my  transmitter  there.  There  was  the  cap  of  one  of   the  thousands  of  mysterious  cairns  of  solid  rubble—”beehives”— which  dotted  the  otherwise  flat  surface  of  Nuevo  Tundra,  the  only  

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source of  mindstones  in  the  universe.      

About sixty  six  days  later  (I  lost  count  early  on)  SS  Willock  

emerged from  XC-­‐space  (exocosmic  space)  into  our  normal   hendecaspace,  picked  up  my  signal  and  honed  in  on  it.    

Lieutenant Snell  led  the  Willock’s  ground  force.  He  and  two  of  

his men  dropped  to  Nuevo  Tundra’s  surface  in  a  bulbous  transfer   dingy  scorched  on  its  underbelly.  My  heart  welled  with  gratitude  and   relief.  A  few  days  more  might  have  been  too  late  for  me.  My  belly   protruded,  my  ears  rang,  my  thoughts  wavered  between   hallucination  and  reality;  my  gums  were  black  and  most  of  my  teeth   had  fallen  out.  More  than  anything,  I  wanted  a  good  meal,  a  hot  bath,   and  the  chance  to  thank  my  rescuers.      

Perhaps Snell’s  voice  was  distorted  by  his  speaker;  at  any  rate  

its tone  was  not  flattering.  “Pig  snot!  It’s  a  twitchy.”  He  yanked  my   bag  from  my  grasp  and  heaved  it  over  his  shoulder.  “Here  you  two,   get  him  up.”      

The two  space-­‐marines  behind  him  yanked  my  arms  and  half-­‐

walked, half-­‐dragged  me  at  waist  level  to  the  side  of  the  dingy.  “Why  

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in blazes  do  we  have  to  rescue  scum  like  this?”  the  taller  one  asked.   Without  waiting  for  an  answer,  he  turned  on  me  with  foul  curses.   “What  the  deuce  possessed  you  to  get  yourself  into  such  a  mess,   Twitchy?”  From  his  name  badge  I  could  see  he  was  called  Leith.      

Outside the  dingy,  the  pair  let  me  flop  face-­‐plate-­‐forward  onto  

the sand.  Lieutenant  Snell  guffawed  and  plopped  my  bag  onto  the   middle  of  my  back.  The  shorter  marine  went  on  into  the  airlock.   Leith snapped a plastic collar into a channel around the dingy’s airlock and expanded a porta tent from it. When the tent was fully inflated, he kicked the bag off my back, rolled me inside the shelter. Snell followed with my bag. Leith zipped the seal, released a breathable atmosphere into the temporary cocoon, popped open his visor and ordered me out of my space suit. Meanwhile Lt. Snell lifted my bag shoulder high and dumped its content onto the floor for inspection.  

With feeble  fingers  I  undid  my  spacesuit.  Leith  grimaced.  

“Phew, what  a  stink!  You  never  hear  of  soap  and  water,  Twitchy?”  He   resealed  his  face  plate.     How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 7


His words  stung.  I  was  about  to  protest  this  wasn’t  my  fault  

when up  from  memory  bubbled  the  many  acts  of  defiance  and  self-­‐ indulgence  by  which  I  had  brought  myself  to  these  straits—dropping   out  of  mining  college  without  so  much  as  a  “by  your  leave”  to  my   guardian,  flying  off  to  unauthorized  destinations  in  his  yacht,  blowing   my  school  savings  on  a  pleasure-­‐binge  on  Sirén,  hooking  up  with   unsavory  partners  to  try  to  recoup  my  losses,  neglecting  to  lock-­‐out   my  yacht’s  controls,  fingering  the  mindstone  in  spite  of  serious   warnings...  The  retort  died  on  my  lips.  I  settled  for  an  assertion  of  my   humanity.    

“The name  is  Stan.  Stan  Elyot.  Not  ‘Twitchy.’”  

“Whatever you  say,  Twitchy.”  He  tossed  me  a  pack  of  wet  

wipes. So  much  for  my  fantasies  of  a  hot  shower.    

The shorter  marine  re-­‐emerged  from  the  airlock  with  a  

medical kit  and  pricked  my  left  hand  index  finger  with  a  lab-­‐on-­‐a-­‐pin.   His  badge  proclaimed  him  to  be  Han  Lee.     Han  studied  the  readout,  “He’s  clean,  Lieutenant.  No  parasites;  no   contagion.”    

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That was  good.  It  meant  I’d  be  heading  into  space,  one  step  

nearer Charianna  and  home.    

With portable  instruments  Leith  scanned  my  head,  torso,  and  

limbs. Satisfied  that  no  weapons,  mindstone  or  contaminants  were   concealed  under  my  tongue,  in  my  ears,  in  my  stomach,  or  within   nature’s  piping,  he  tossed  a  clean  gown  into  my  face.  Some  people   cannot  handle  even  a  smidgeon  of  power.  Clearly  Leith  was  one.  With   feeble  arms  and  smarting  pride  I  donned  the  garb,  and  Leith  half-­‐ lifted,  half-­‐shoved  me  through  the  airlock.      

“Where  you  from,  Twitchy?”  called  Snell  to  my  back.  

“Charianna.”

“Ought to  make  those  pious  surf-­‐strokers  come  fetch  their  

own sewer  rat,”  he  said,  playing  on  the  twin  facts  that  Charianna  is   predominantly  a  water  world  and  deeply  devoted  to  the  Great  King.      

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ii. Sewer  Rat  

s I  stumbled  into  the  dingy,  glad  to  divorce  myself  from  Nuevo   Tundra,  my  first  glance  filled  me  with  apprehension.  The  

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shuttle showed  signs  of  neglect:  frayed  armrests,  streaked  gauges,   oily  surfaces.  Was  the  craft  even  space-­‐worthy.  This  Lieutenant  did   not  run  a  tight  ship.      

I had  no  time  to  think  about  it.  Han  Lee  seized  my  left  arm  

firmly above  the  elbow  and  I  felt  the  sting  of  a  hypodermic  needle  in   my  shoulder.  The  shot  sent  a  hot  rush  through  my  system.  Between   that  and  the  cabin  oxygen  (over-­‐rich  after  the  thin  air  of  Nuevo   Tundra)  I  grew  dizzy  and  blacked  out.  The  acceleration  of  liftoff  would   have  knocked  me  out  anyhow.    

When I  came  to,  we  were  synchronizing  with  the  airlock  of  the  

SS Willock.  To  my  blurry  eyes,  the  mother  ship  looked  like  a  metallic   soap  bubble.  When  I  shifted  for  a  better  view,  my  head  throbbed.   Through  an  opposing  port,  I  saw  the  reddish  limb  of  Nuevo  Tundra,   deceptively  beautiful  below.    

“The sewer  rat  stirs,”  sneered  Snell,  tweaking  a  yoke  to  align  

the dingy  with  the  Willock’s  airlock.  Evidently  my  blacking  out  had   become  another  excuse  for  him  to  disdain  me.      

The ships  bumped.  Clamps  swung  out  and  locked  airlocks  rim  

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to rim.  I  unbuckled,  gathered  my  bag  (weightless  now)  and  braced   myself  to  meet  more  people,  explain  my  situation,  and  protect  my   secrets.  I  prayed  the  Encourager  to  guide  me  safely  through  the   labyrinth  of  pitfalls  I  faced.    

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iii. What  They  Knew  

heerful lights  greeted  my  eyes  when  I  obeyed  a  gesture  from   Snell  and  followed  Han  Lee  through  the  airlock  into  the  

warship. To  my  relief,  the  Willock’s  mid-­‐deck  was  spick  and  span,   each  item  stowed  in  place.  The  explanation  came  to  me  at  once:  the   dingy  belonged  to  the  marines  and  was  under  Snell’s  command,  but   the  Willock  was  managed  by  the  ship’s  captain.  My  spirits  lifted.  I   could  fit  in  here.  I  could  make  myself  useful  with  the  hydroponics   tanks,  repairing  equipment,  or  many  other  things  I  had  learned  in   engineering  classes  before  I  dropped  out.  I  had  even  assembled  and   installed  a  pair  of  Eberstein  rod  in  a  classroom  project.  For  a  few   exhilarating  seconds  I  saw  things  in  a  more  hopeful  light.      

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Even the  fact  that  I  had  blacked  out  on  the  passage  up  could  

be a  blessing  in  disguise.  It  strengthened  my  cover.  The  marines  knew   that  no  one  in  contact  with  a  mindstone  will  faint:  the  stones  give  too   much  potency  for  that.  They  also  knew  that  no  twitchy  will  ever   voluntarily  give  up  a  stone.  I  was  a  twitchy.  I  had  fainted.  Therefore,  I   did  not  have  a  stone.      

That is  what  they  “knew.”  

But in  fact,  when  I  boarded  the  Willock,  hardly  a  tycoon  on  

Sirén, and  certainly  no  one  on  my  native  Charianna,  could  have   touched  me  for  wealth.  I  could  have  bought  three  Willocks  and  hired   their  crews  for  a  year  with  credits  to  spare.  In  short,  I  was  in   possession  of  a  mindstone—a  priceless  riftbender,  Kelly  Crystal,   neuro-­‐intensifier,  6D-­‐lift,  tessawarp,  ecstasy-­‐jewel,  thought-­‐warmer,   or  whatever  other  name  you  call  it  by.    

I had  one—but  had  hidden  it.    

Right there,  I  know  I’ve  lost  half  of  you.  I  can  almost  hear  the  

snorts of  contempt:  “You  could  never  have  gotten  aboard  a  Sirénian   warship  with  the  thing!  Especially  not  off  Nuevo  Tundra  where  the  

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marines are  doubly  alert  for  any  attempt  to  smuggle  the  priceless   jewels.  There  is  absolutely  nowhere  you  could  have  hidden  a   mindstone  and  kept  it  from  discovery.”    

All true.  I  did  not  say  I  took  the  stone  aboard  the  Willock  with  

me. Of  course  it  would  have  been  detected  at  once!      

No. I  had  found  a  different  way  to  sequester  it.  As  paradoxical  

as it  may  sound,  I  had  it—but  I  didn’t  have  it  on  me.    

Now the  other  half  of  you  are  jeering:  “A  twitchy  give  up  a  

mindstone? That  will  be  the  day!”    

And you  are  almost  right.  Easier  for  a  heroin  junkie  in  a  

bygone era  to  kick  his  habit  cold  turkey  than  for  a  twitchy  to   relinquish  a  mindstone.  Without  the  Encourager  I  could  never  have   done  it.    

I will  explain  in  its  place.  

Meanwhile, my  rising  spirits  caromed  off  a  ceiling  of  glass  and  

went into  freefall.  Leith,  coming  up  behind  me,  shoved  me  full  force   across  the  capsule  so  that  I  slammed  into  the  opposite  wall  and   ricocheted  with  flailing  arms  and  legs  back  toward  the  hatch.  “Look  

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guys, we’ve  brought  you  a  sewer  rat,  a  holy-­‐hell  foam-­‐head  from   Charianna,”  he  exclaimed  with  a  guffaw.  A  dozen  eyes  swiveled   toward  me  as  if  I  were  a  freak.    

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iv. Some  Things  They  Didn’t  Know  

or half  an  hour  after  that  uncouth  introduction  to  Willock’s   other  marines,  I  ticced  uncontrollably,  as  a  twitchy  will  under  

stress. Somehow  I  managed  to  croak  out  my  gratitude  for  rescue,  and   I  tried  to  remember  the  names  of  the  men  introduced  to  me.  Apart   from  Lieutenant  Snell,  Han  Lee,  and  Leith,  the  other  space-­‐marines   were  Sundar,  Hardy,  Crab,  Turk,  Pavel  and  Izon.  All  eyes  were  on  me,   and  I  pulled  myself  together.      

None of  the  men  made  any  effort  to  veil  their  contempt  for  a  

twitchy. Snell  said,  “It’s  as  good  as  a  freak  show”—and  that  was  the   mildest  comment  that  came  my  way.    Leith  mimicked—and   exaggerated—my  uncontrolled  motions.  I  longed  to  be  alone  again  in   my  tent  down  on  Nuevo  Tundra  with  my  mindstone.  Better  to  drift   into  eternity  at  peace  clutching  the  warmth  of  a  stone  than...  

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Enough of  that!  The  Encourager  was  stern.  Hastily  I  turned  off  

my spigot  of  self-­‐pity.  We  had  a  deal,  the  Encourager  and  I,  and  I  was   reneging  on  my  part.    

About then,  things  began  to  get  better.  Han  Lee  handed  me  a  

draught of  vitamin-­‐rich  broth  and  I  gulped  it  down  with  thanks.   Within  a  few  minutes,  feeling  noticeably  stronger,  I  was  able  to  croak   out  my  story  to  an  audience  of  eight  marines,  Lt.  Snell,  and  the  ship’s   navigator  and  co-­‐pilot  who  had  joined  us.      

I told  them  of  my  dissipation  in  Hamartia  City,  Sirén,  and  they  

laughed ruefully.  Many  of  them,  pleasure-­‐penniless,  had  joined  the   space-­‐marines  to  escape  indenture  on  that  wastrel  planet.      

Clay had  recruited  Jamil  and  me  for  a  stone-­‐mining  expedition.  

His part  was  to  provide  the  coordinates  to  Nuevo  Tundra  and  teach  us   the  mining  process;  Jamil  would  stake  our  equipment  and  grub;  and  I   would  provide  the  transportation—cousin  Leo’s  three-­‐bunk  space   Yacht  Carmen.  We  agreed  to  sell  any  stone  we  found  and  split  the   profit  three  ways.    

Before long,  we  had  found  a  Kelly  crystal,  a  ravishing  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 15


mindstone, and  all  three  of  us  had  coveted  it.  Clay  had  urged  us  to   keep  our  hands  off  the  lovely  thing,  himself  handling  the  purple   beauty  only  with  tongs;  but  we  did  not  heed  his  advice.  All  heart  for   selling  the  glorious  prize  had  trickled  out  of  Jamil  and  me  the  moment   our  finger-­‐tips  brushed  its  glossy  surface  and  the  tingle  of  super-­‐ awareness  flashed  along  our  nerves.  One  could  die  for  such  a  thing   and  never  let  it  go.  Jamil  did  die  for  it.    

Clay cursed  us,  beat  back  our  hands,  and  flung  the  stone  into  

the titanium-­‐steel  safe  we  had  brought  along  to  safeguard  it.  He   slammed  it  shut.  It  required  three  keys  to  open.  We  each  had  one.    

Feeling our  first  symptoms  as  twitchies,  Jamil  and  I  had  rushed  

at the  box  and  struggled  to  open  it.  Without  Clay’s  key  we  could  not.   We  turned  on  Clay.  “Give  us  your  key,”  we  demanded.    

By way  of  answer,  Clay  produced  a  firestick  and  shot  Jamil.  

That sobered  me.  I  bolted  from  the  yacht,  zigzagging  as  I  ran.  

Clay fired  twice  at  my  back  but  missed  me  both  times.  A  few  minutes   later,  he  rolled  Jamil  out  of  the  airlock,  tossed  my  bag  atop  the  body,   sealed  the  yacht  and  departed.  

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I was  alone,  not  another  miner  for  hundreds  of  miles.  There  

was a  good  chance  I  would  starve  to  death  before  relief  came.  “He   was  heartless.  He  could  have  pitched  me  a  few  rations,”  I  grumbled.   “If  we  hadn’t  shifted  some  of  our  grub  out  of  the  yacht  to  have  it   handy  by  the  cooker,  I’d  have  starved.”  I  showed  them  my  gums—my   teeth  had  fallen  away  from  eating  scrawm,  the  only  growth  on  Nuevo   Tundra  which  offers  a  human  the  slightest  sustenance.    

“But he  tossed  you  your  personal  bag,  didn’t  he?”  asked  Snell.  

“So he  couldn’t  have  been  as  heartless  as  you  say.”      

Surprised, I  looked  into  the  man’s  dark  eyes.  I’d  never  

considered that  obvious  point  before  now.    

“Maybe he  was  experiencing  regrets,”  I  said.  

“Maybe,” said  Snell  skeptically.  “Or  maybe  you  killed  Jamil,  

and Clay  fled  for  his  life.”    

The thought  that  I  could  be  under  suspicion  for  the  murder  of  

Jamil sent  me  into  a  fresh  round  of  convulsions.  I  called  on  the   Encourager  for  help.  A  measure  of  peace  returned  to  me.    

When I’d  gotten  my  latest  round  of  spasms  under  control,  I  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 17


told my  audience  how  I  had  appealed  to  the  Great  King  in  my   desperation  and  how  the  Encourager  had  come  to  me.  The  marines   grew  restive  at  this.  A  couple  rolled  their  eyes.  Leith  said  roughly:   “The  Great  King.  Yeah.  I  believe  in  the  tooth  fairy,  too.  No  one’s  ever   seen  this  mythical  King  except  some  Jew  priests  down  in  Jerusalem.   Mighty  convenient  for  them  to  trot  out  his  authority  when  they  want   to  shove  the  rest  of  us  around.  You  can  take  your  Great  King  and...   Anyone  who  buys  that  hokum,  well,  all  I  can  say  is,  they’re  nuts.”  He   tapped  the  side  of  his  head.  Sirénians  are  known  for  their  anti-­‐ Semitism  and  blasphemy;  after  all,  they  are  rebels.      

“If he’s  so  powerful,  why  doesn’t  this  Encourager  do  

something about  your  twitches?”  asked  the  Crab  pointedly.  (How   he’d  gotten  that  name  I  never  found  out.)    

In truth,  it  was  only  because  of  the  Encourager  I  had  been  able  

to face  the  twitches  and  let  go  the  mindstone  I’d  unearthed  after  Clay   had  bolted  with  the  first;  but  I  dared  not  tell  them  so.  That  would  be   revealing  too  much.  To  get  back  to  Sirén  alive  with  the  stone  I  had  to   keep  it  a  secret.  I  was  terrified  my  tongue  would  betray  me.    

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 18


“We’re working  on  that,”  was  all  I  could  say.  

There were  sneers  all  around.  Leith  looked  intently  at  me.  

“You’re hiding  something,”  he  muttered.  He  turned  to  the  others  and   repeated  his  suspicion  loudly.  “He’s  hiding  something.”      

This was  a  serious  moment.  There  was  always  a  chance  the  

marines might  dope  me  with  truth  serum.  If  they  asked  just  the  right   questions,  my  mindstone  would  be  outed  and  my  future  would  be   toast.  The  scorn  and  bullying  I  already  endured  would  be  magnified.   Stress  of  it  almost  sent  me  into  another  spate  of  tics.  Silently  I  cried   out  to  the  Encourager.    

Suddenly I  saw  the  humor  in  Leith’s  statement.  Hiding  

something? If  they  only  knew  what  I  was  hiding!  Here  I  was  with   wealth  and  a  power  they  could  only  dream  of,  and  I  had  no  way  to   use  either  one.  I  laughed  so  hard  tears  spurted  from  my  eyes.      

It was  probably  the  best  reaction  I  could  have  had.  Everyone  

stared at  me  like  I  had  gone  nuts,  then  one  by  one  began  to  grin,  or   even  chuckle  as  my  laugh  infected  them.  The  swarthy  fellow  named   Sundar  snorted,  “You  got  second  sight  or  something,  Leith?”    

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 19


The others  laughed  openly  at  that,  and  one  by  one  drifted  

back to  their  duties.  Mine  was  not  the  first  tale  of  stone-­‐loss  they  had   heard.      

When they  had  left,  Lieutenant  Snell  took  my  official  

statement and  cursed  me  violently.  “You  should  have  told  us  about   the  murder  when  we  picked  you  up,  Twitchy.  Now  we’ve  got  to  burn   another  unit  of  fuel  dropping  down  to  investigate.  All  I  can  say,  Bub,   it’s  your  money.  You’ll  die  indentured,  paying  for  this  rescue  and  the   investigation—and  serve  you  right,  too.”    

His attitude  was  over  the  top.  He  was  supposed  to  be  the  

professional, not  me.    

“I appreciate  you  rescuing  me,”  I  said.  “But  surely  the  space  

marines have  a  procedure  for  rescues.  Mine  cannot  have  been  the   first  case  of  this  kind.  And  to  expect  me  to  carry  the  ball  in  the  state  I   was  in…  Had  I  been  in  your  place  and  you  in  mine,  I  would  have  asked   how  you  came  to  be  alone,  why  you  had  signaled  for  help,  and  what   you  had  done  with  your  ship.”    

“Are you  telling  me  my  job,  Twitchy?”  Snell’s  cold  eyes  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 20


chiseled into  me.  “Willock  doesn’t  have  to  ship  your  lousy  carcass  to   Sirén.  There  is  no  protocol  between  your  Charianna  and  us.”    

“I know  Sirén  does  not  consider  itself  bound  by  galactic  

protocol. All  the  same,  your  marines  must  have  procedures  for  cases   like  mine  and  you  should  have  followed  them.  And  now,  if  you  will   excuse  me,  I  need  rest.  I’m  on  empty.”    

Snell glared  but  emitted  no  more  threats  as  I  pushed  away  

from the  arm  of  the  flight  chair  I  had  been  perching  on.  For  my  part,  I   was  relieved  to  have  survived  the  initial  dangerous  round  of   questioning,  and  eager  for  some  shut  eye.  Perhaps  with  rest,  I  could   strategize  my  next  moves.    

T

v. Journal  of  a  Misfit  

he next  day  I  asked  for  a  job.      

“Sure, Twitchy,”  said  Snell.  I  started  to  bristle,  then  bit  

my tongue.  Like  it  or  not,  I  was  saddled  with  that  nickname.  With   regret,  I  recalled  the  times  I  had  sneered  at  twitchies  back  on  Sirén.   Sauce  for  the  goose,  sauce  for  the  gander.  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 21


Next I  knew,  I  was  the  ship’s  designated  latrine  attendant.  Not  

as glamorous  as  taking  scientific  observations  or  manning  the   hydroponics  tanks,  but  hey,  now  I  had  a  chance  to  prove  I  was  no   freeloader,  and  an  occupation  to  pass  the  time.  What  is  more,  Snell   ordered  me  to  log  my  hours  which  will  be  deducted  from  my  rescue   fee.      

Who can  help  but  wonder  at  the  marvels  of  modern  science:  

bioformed planets,  thousand  ton  ships  that  lift  with  the  lightness  of  a   feather—and  a  urinal  that  works  faultlessly  in  weightless  conditions.   The  most  tedious  part  of  my  job  was  cleaning  a  bank  of  electrostatic   filters  because  I  had  to  run  a  vacuum  probe  through  each  vane.    

My first  four  days  aboard  Willock,  as  we  rode  a  low  orbit  

above Nuevo  Tundra,  I  gulped  controlled  air  as  if  my  lungs  were   attached  to  one  of  the  vacuum  cleaners  I  operated.  My  gums   regained  pinkness,  the  result  of  rich  oxygen  and  nutritious  rehydrated   soup.  And  I  adjusted  to  the  creaks  and  whirs  of  the  ship  that  had  at   first  made  sleep  difficult.    

On the  fifth  day,  I  began  a  journal  in  my  Logic-­‐Brute.  My  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 22


entries were  in  Jerusalem  Standard  Reckoning  (JSR)  although  the   Willock  employed  the  Sirénian  calendar.       Sivan  24th,  958  JSR.  I’m  cooped  in  with  eight  men  whose   principle  source  of  fun  is  to  find  new  ways  to  torment  me.   They  thump  my  bunk  shield  when  I’m  dozing,  call  me   Twitchy,  confer  loudly  about  having  me  vacuum-­‐test  newly-­‐ patched  spacesuits,  etc.     Leith  is  the  worst;  he  will  shove  me  suddenly  from  behind   and  laugh,  “See,  I’m  the  Encourager,  just  giving  you  a  nudge   to  help  you  on  your  spiritual  journey.”     From  time  to  time  I  stare  out  the  port,  down  upon  the   dusky  red  of  Nuevo  Tundra,  unrelieved  in  its  monotony   except  for  the  darker  gash  of  Humboldt’s  fissure  which  runs   crookedly  from  pole  to  pole.  I  had  thought  I  would  never   want  to  visit  the  place  again,  but  now  I  long  to  stretch  my   legs,  and  enjoy  some  solitude.  There  are  levels  in  hell.    

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 23


How I  long  for  the  day  I  can  stride  off  the  ship  onto  the   surface  of  Sirén  to  saunter  alone  along  a  lane  with  cool   breezes  and  wide  open  spaces  under  a  warm  sun.  But  that   won’t  be  soon;  the  Willock  will  be  out  here  until  its  tour  is   up,  several  months  from  now,  and  I  can  anticipate  no  escape   from  my  present  company  in  all  that  time.  Charianna  seems   farther  away  than  it  did  when  I  was  dying  alone  of  Nuevo   Tundra.     Luckily  I  have  my  own  bunk.  Our  compartment  is  built  for   ten,  because  in  addition  to  these  star  troops,  Willock   sometimes  carries  a  galactographer  or  other  scientific   supercargo.  The  ship’s  crew  bunks  in  a  separate   compartment  “above”  us;  of  the  marines  only  Lt.  Snell  is   allowed  to  enter  that  level.       I  haven’t  seen  the  captain  yet.  The  guys  say  she’s  pretty.   To  judge  by  her  voice  over  the  ‘com,  she’s  beautiful.  It’s   melodious  with  a  slight  burr.  I’m  half  in  love.    

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 24


Sivan 25th.  Han  Lee,  doubling  as  a  dentist  (all  these  marines   are  trained  in  two  or  three  specialties),  biopsied  one  of  my   follicles  today  for  stem  cells  and  placed  the  sample  into  a   Sheila  Cultivator.  It  will  bud  replacements  for  my  missing   teeth.  In  a  week  or  ten  days,  he’ll  transplant  them  into  my   jaw.  He  said  he  would  have  stimulated  regrowth  of  the   existing  teeth  ultrasonically  if  the  roots  hadn’t  been  so   damaged.     Han  has  an  interesting  story—was  actually  born  on  Earth,   but,  seething  with  resentment  at  the  Great  King  because  he   had  lost  a  girlfriend  to  XC  madness,  he  recklessly  sought   forgetfulness  in  the  pleasures  on  Sirén  until  a  depleted  bank   account  forced  him  to  join  the  space  marines.  So  far  he’s  the   only  one  who  has  conversed  with  me  as  though  I  am  a   human  being.     Sivan  26th.  The  guys  attempted  to  coerce  me  into  a  Sporaka   double-­‐tournament,  needing  an  eighth  since  Sundar  was  on  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 25


observation and  rules  prevented  Snell  from  fraternizing  with   subordinates.  They  were  meaning  to  gamble,  of  course.   Gambling  was  one  of  the  behaviors  that  had  ruined  me  on   Sirén.  The  Encourager  planted  a  check  within  me,  thin  as   tissue  paper  and  as  easily  brushed  aside,  a  warning  to  avoid   entangling  myself  again  in  addictive  behavior.  I  knew  I  would   be  considered  a  prig  if  I  refused,  and  was  blowing  a  chance   to  gain  a  measure  of  tolerance  from  my  bunk  mates,  but   there  was  no  help  for  it.       Drawing  on  the  strength  of  the  Encourager  I  declined  their   proposal  as  graciously  as  I  could,  even  offering  to  join  them   instead  in  a  game  of  Quantum  Packet  which  is  equally   popular  on  Sirén  but  seldom  played  for  stakes.  They  booed   the  suggestion.  Taunting  me  as  a  wet  blanket,  they  flung   boots  and  empty  food  tubes  at  me  and  gave  me  several   incontrovertible  evidences  that  in  their  eyes  I  was  five  or  six   degrees  below  a  matricide.  The  most  belligerent  was  Leith   who  muttered  that  they  should  have  left  me  on  Nuevo  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 26


Tundra, and  actually  ejected  a  wad  of  spit  in  my  direction.  I   dodged  it,  but  the  tension  was  high  until  Magwin,  the   purser,  joined  them  as  their  eighth  player,  taking  the  heat   off  me.  The  worst  of  it  was  I  itched  to  throw  a  token  into  the   game  which  I  love.     Sivan  27th.  Maybe  it  was  because  I  couldn’t  sleep  last  night.   I  don’t  know,  but  I  threw  up  during  exercise.  Embarrassing   and  messy.  I  was  an  hour  wiping  off  the  elastic  bands.     Bubbles  of  puke  had  to  be  fished  out  of  nooks  where  they   had  drifted.  I  am  exercising  to  gain  muscle  so  I’ll  be  able  to   walk  when  I  get  to  Sirén,  but  exercise  is  no  fun  in  zero  gee.     One  good  thing,  though:  I  was  able  to  touch  my  mindstone   while  cleaning  up  the  mess,  and  assure  myself  it  was  still   parked  within  reach...       Here  I  had  better  step  out  of  my  journal  long  enough  explain  that  last   line.  Otherwise,  you  won’t  know  what  I’m  talking  about.  As  I  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 27


described above,  Clay  stole  the  mindstone  the  three  of  us  found,   marooning  me  on  Nuevo  Tundra.  Crazed  with  stone  lust  and   desperate  to  fill  the  void  within  me,  I  hacked  at  the  sides  of  the   beehive  we  were  working  until  I  found  a  second  mindstone.  When  I   had  steamed  it  clean  and  cooled  it,  I  clutched  it  in  my  hand.  My   spasms  had  stopped  at  once.  Once  again  I  had  felt  the  golden   pleasure  of  a  mindstone,  this  time  long  enough  to  really  feel  its   power.  My  mind  sharpened.  Smells  became  intoxicants.  Colors   brightened  and  glowed.  Euphoria  welled  within  me.  I  wanted  to  sing,   to  meditate,  to  drink  in  the  world.      

Opening my  hand  I  had  stared  into  the  stone.  It  was  like  

opening one’s  eyes  in  XC-­‐space.  Just  as  no  one  has  ever  satisfactorily   described  spirit,  so  I  could  not  define  this  stone.  My  mind  slithered   over  angles  that  had  no  corners.  A  kaleidoscope  spun  down  into  a   vortex,  throwing  out  sparks  whose  shapes  defied  the  human  eye.  It   was  XC-­‐Space  all  over  again—  except  somehow...  broken.  I  had   shuddered—not  because  of  any  evil  in  the  stone  (it  was  a  neutral   thing)—but  because  it  was  so  baffling,  so  impossible  to  fathom.  I  

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pulled my  eyes  back  to  the  surface.  All  was  tranquility  again  and  I  was   content  to  just  hold  the  glorious  thing.  Weariness  drained  from  me.    

Scientists call  this  elation  lapiscaleo,  but  common  folk  refer  to  

it as  stoneglow.  As  long  as  the  mindstone  was  in  direct  contact  with   my  flesh,  I  would  experience  the  glow.  Withdraw  the  stone  and  I   would  instantly  be  a  twitchy  again.    

With the  stone  in  hand,  I  wondered  how  I  could  keep  it  from  

being wrested  from  me  if  I  were  rescued.  At  the  thought  of  losing  the   mellow  thing,  an  almost  infinite  well  of  sadness  rose  in  me,  so  bleak  I   could  have  killed  myself.  Then  I  felt  again  its  warmth  in  my  hand  and   was  instantly  almost  infinitely  content.  That  is  when  I  realized  that   among  the  properties  of  this  precious  thing  was  an  ability  to  amplify   emotions.    

I was  studying  the  depths  of  the  thing  again,  when  suddenly  I  

felt it  stir  faintly  in  my  hand.  Now  I  remembered  that  others  had   remarked  on  the  same  thing—as  if  the  stone  was  trying  to  twist  out   of  one’s  hand.  It  occurred  to  me  that  because  this  was  a  thing  of  XC-­‐ space,  its  slight  movements  might  be  owing  to  fluctuations  in  that  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 29


“medium.”    

One thought  led  to  another,  and,  with  my  heightened  intuition  

I realized  that  by  giving  the  stone  a  little  shove  and  twist  with  my   hand  while  nudging  it  in  a  certain  manner  with  his  mind,  I  could  push   it  into  XC-­‐Space  just  off  my  “fingertips.”  I  tried  it  without  quite  letting   go,  and  found  my  guess  was  justified.  By  making  a  reverse  tugging   motion  with  my  hand  and  mind,  I  could  retrieve  it.  I  repeated  the   process  again  and  again  until  I  was  quite  sure  it  was  entirely  under  his   control.  Now  aboard  ship  I  had  just  confirmed  that  the  stone  still  was   “where”  I  had  parked  it,  supposing  whereness  is  a  property  of  XC-­‐ space.  So  there  you  have  my  secret.  As  far  as  I  can  tell,  no  one  has   ever  before  discovered  or  described  this  trick  for  hiding  a  mindstone.    

Now back  to  my  journal.  

Sivan  28th.  Feeling  better  today.     Tammuz  16th.  Finally  saw  the  captain.  She’s  pretty  all   right—pretty  old:  161  today.  We  had  ration  packs  with   chocolate  cake  to  honor  her  birthday;  the  guys  laughed  all  

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through the  meal  at  putting  one  over  on  me.  I  didn’t  care.   Still  think  she  has  the  most  beautiful  voice  I’ve  ever  heard.     vi.  How  I  Saved  Lt.  Snell’s  Command   Av  1st.  We’ve  had  quite  a  stir  since  I  last  wrote.  Rival  gangs   of  miners  (the  marines  nicknamed  them  the  Hissies  and  the   Sissies)  got  into  a  fracas  down  on  Nuevo  Tundra  and  the   Sissies  radioed  for  help.       The  Willock  lobbed  a  translateration  bomb  into  no-­‐man’s   land  as  a  warning  to  the  antagonists.  The  result  was  an   implosion,  and  a  crater  half  a  mile  wide  appeared,  all  its   matter  shifted  through  XC  space  into  the  local  sun.  After  this   demonstration  of  force,  the  ship  dropped  down  to  make   sure  that  love  and  fraternal  good  will  was  restored  between   the  Hissies  and  Sissies.     Willock  was  one  of  Sirén’s  “toy  warships,”  a  merchant   vessel  remodeled  in  imitation  of  a  class-­‐six  Star-­‐Guard  vessel   of  the  Forty  Worlds.  The  Forty  Worlds  quite  reasonably  

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refused to  sell  Sirén  real  warships.  You  don’t  give  that  kind   of  power  to  a  renegade  regime.  Although  in  this  peaceful   millennium,  wars  between  planets  are  unthinkable,  Sirén’s   mad  council  might  consider  such  action.     The  purpose  of  the  Star-­‐Guards  is  not  war.  They  rescue   stranded  individuals,  suppress  private  feuds,  and  police  the   worlds  to  ensure  that  space  piracy  never  takes  root.  Along   the  way,  they  might  translaterate  a  stray  asteroid  to  protect   a  planet.  Sirén’s  makeshift  navy  had  similar  roles  in  the   relatively  circumscribed  radius  the  Great  King  allowed  it  to   oocupy.         Lest  you  are  tempted  to  ridicule  Sirén’s  “toy  navy,”   remember  that  each  ship  is  equipped  with  more  stun-­‐power   and  firepower  than  entire  armies  of  earlier  eras.  And  unlike   former  eras,  they  have  translaterators,  which  are  able  to   vacate  matter  from  a  preset  spherical  radius  and  shift  it   through  XC-­‐space  onto  some  nearby  sun  or  planet,  thus   creating  a  devastating  low  pressure  “blast”  as  air  rushes  in  

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to fill  the  vacuum.  Unlike  thermonuclear  reactions,  these   events  leave  no  radiation,  heat,  or  radioactive  side  effects.       The  marines  ordered  me  to  stay  inside  the  tin  can  because   I  had  no  deflecto  armor.  I  confess  this  disappointed  me,  for  I   very  much  wanted  to  stretch  my  legs.  I  wasn’t  exactly   homesick  for  Nuevo  Tundra’s  rancid  air  and  endless  red   plains,  but  the  thought  of  striding  a  couple  miles  in  the   opposite  direction  of  the  marines  in  had  it  attractions.     Half  a  dozen  miners  approached  Willock,  waving  a  white   flag  and  holding  up  empty  hands  to  show  they  were   unarmed.  These  were  the  Sissies  who  had  radioed  for  help.   They  spoke  urgently  with  Lt.  Snell,  warning  him  that  the   Hissies  were  swearing  retaliation  against  the  Willock.  A   couple  Hissies  had  been  crawling  across  no  man’s  land   intent  on  lobbing  a  shrapnel  keg  at  the  Sissies  when   Willock’s  bomb  imploded  directly  above  them.  One  of  the   dead  had  a  brother,  the  other  an  uncle  who  vowed  revenge.   That’s  the  problem  with  over-­‐reliance  on  technology—it  has  

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no discernment.  These  deaths  could  serve  as  a  textbook   example  of  why  human  assets  on  the  ground  are  essential.   Even  the  Great  King,  omniscient  and  omnipotent  found  it   best  to  become  a  man  in  dealing  with  men.  To  be  sure,   Willock’s  crew  had  done  a  ground  scan,  following  proper   procedure,  but  then  fiddled  for  an  hour  before  lobbing  the   warning  shot,  without  bothering  to  re-­‐scan.  Lt.  Snell’s  typical   slackness.  Not  that  the  dead  had  justification  for  being  at   the  wrong  place  at  the  wrong  time—but  revenge  never   considers  its  own  wrongs.     The  marines  thanked  the  Sissies  for  the  warning,  but  took   it  as  seriously  as  you  would  a  warning  that  a  220  year  old   grandma  was  going  to  attack  you  with  a  crochet  hook  from   her  wheelchair.  They  asked  a  few  questions  about  the  lay  of   the  Hissies’  camp,  but,  trusting  their  deflecto  armor,  satellite   images,  firepower,  binocular  goggles  and  galaxy-­‐size  egos   they  didn’t  think  much  of  the  threat.       Captain  called  down  on  the  com,  urging  Snell  to  adopt  full  

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armor.   “I  don’t  tell  you  how  to  fly  your  ship,  you  don’t  tell  me  how   to  handle  military  maneuvers,”  retorted  Snell.     He  did  not  lack  self  assurance,  that’s  for  sure,  but  it  was   his  willingness  to  rely  on  his  instincts  to  the  dismissal  of   everyone  else’s  judgment  that  would  have  cost  him  his   command  had  it  not  been  for  me.     The  eight  swaggered  down  to  the  Hissies’  camp  in  light-­‐ weight  walking  armor.  Captain  prudently  powered  up   Willock’s  powerful  deflectors.       Next  thing  I  knew,  Captain  was  shouting  at  me  to  get  down   to  the  lock  and  receive  the  wounded.  As  soon  as  the  lock   opened,  I  saw  things  were  bad.  Sundar’s  right  sleeve  was   Maxtited®  shut.  Leith  was  being  carried  on  a  makeshift   stretcher  the  way  pall  bearers  carry  a  casket.  Bellowing  with   rage  and  embarrassment,  the  men  hoisted  him  in.  Han  Lee   slapped  a  lab  chip  onto  Leith’s  arm.  When  the  readout  

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appeared, he  shook  his  head.  “No  sense  wasting  supplies  on   him.  He  has  half  an  hour  tops.  No  more.”       “As  bad  as  that?”  asked  Snell  in  a  subdued  tone.  “This  is   going  to  put  paid  to  my  career.”       The  marines  came  to  a  standstill.  Never  before  had  any  of   them  heard  an  admission  of  vulnerability  from  their   lieutenant.  Snell  deserved  whatever  consequences  befell   him,  but  I  hurt  for  him  all  the  same.       Our  hush  registered  on  the  lieutenant.  “What  are  you   gawking  at?”  he  screamed.  “We’ve  a  job  to  do.”  Instantly   everyone  busied  themselves  as  if  no  thought  but  their  work   had  crossed  their  minds.  “And  you,”  said  Snell,  glowering  at   me,  “Why  are  you  hovering  around  me?”     “Let  me  see  what  I  can  do  with  Leith,”  I  pleaded.  “I’ve  had   first  aid.”  I  was  horrified  that  they’d  abandon  Leith  while  he   still  breathed.  I  suppose  it  is  the  difference  between  being   raised  on  Charianna  and  Sirén.       Snell  hesitated,  finally  shrugged  assent.  “OK.  Just  don’t  

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waste vital  supplies  on  him.  No  more  than  one  standard  unit   of  anything.  There  may  be  other  casualties.”     Snell  shouted  at  his  squad  to  shuck  their  light  deflecto  and   don  the  heavy  stuff,  but  they  had  anticipated  the  order  and   were  halfway  there.  He  delegated  Leith’s  and  Sundar’s  tasks   to  other  team  members.  For  five  or  six  minutes,  all  seemed   chaos,  but  before  ten  minutes  were  up,  two  marines  had   winched  the  armored  truck  (a  Conestoga  II)  onto  the   planet’s  surface.  Others  had  loaded  scopes,  range-­‐finders,   probes,  and  shells.       I  heard,  more  than  saw,  this  activity.  I  had  pulled  on  gloves   and  was  busy  cutting  away  Leith’s  scorched  breastplate  with   a  needle  torch  and  prying  off  pieces.  Thank  heaven  for  first-­‐ aid  training!     Han  Lee  returned  with  a  local  anesthetic  and  patched  the   raw  end  of  Sundar’s  arm.  Sundar  insisted  he  was  going  out   with  the  team  and  nobody  argued  with  him.  They  needed   every  warm  body  they  could  muster.  Sundar  poped  a  

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painkiller and  sealed  his  suit’s  leaks;  he  was  ready  to  lend  his   one  good  hand  to  the  job.     Meanwhile,  I  had  Leith’s  suit  off.  It  seemed  as  if  I  was   hours  at  it,  but  it  actually  took  me  only  minutes.  Blood  was   bubbling  out  of  his  chest  around  fragments  of  metal.  Sundar,   who  had  inserted  a  needle  into  one  of  his  own  veins,  sat   watching  me  as  plasma  trickled  into  his  good  arm,  replacing   what  had  leaked  out  because  of  his  injury.     “Isn’t  anything  you  can  do,”  said  Sundar,  “except  IV  him   and  that  is  only  going  to  prolong  the  inevitable.”  Leith’s  lips   were  blue.  His  skin  was  cold,  his  pulse  barely  discernable.   “Here,  I’ll  poke  the  needle  for  you.”     Sundar  had  just  finished  assisting  me  one-­‐handedly  when   Lt.  Snell  hollered  into  the  cabin,  “Below  aft,  Sundar!  We’re   going  to  smoke  these  foxes  out  of  their  holes!”     Sundar  dashed  for  the  ladder.  I  had  to  credit  him  with   guts.  When  the  hatch  thudded  shut,  the  compartment  was   suddenly  quiet.  Glancing  up  at  just  the  right  moment,  I  saw  

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the Conestoga  framed  in  a  porthole  as  it  crawled  away  on  its   deadly  mission.  Then  my  eyes  dropped  back  to  my  patient.  I   knew  that  the  best  thing  I  could  do  for  him  was  to  compress   the  bleeding  gaps  in  his  chest;  but  the  metal  had  to  come   out  first.  Pressure  would  merely  drive  the  shrapnel  farther  in   and  worsen  his  condition.  I  snatched  a  pair  of  tweeze-­‐pliers   and  started  yanking  out  shreds  of  steel  at  top  speed.   Whether  Leith  lived  or  died  would  be  a  function  of  how  fast  I   could  extract  the  fragments  and  spray  elasto-­‐foam  to  seal   his  chest.       From  what  I  had  overheard,  the  Hissies  had  packed  a   combination  of  mining  explosives  and  homemade   gunpowder  beneath  the  shaft  of  a  portable  hydraulic  ram   and  fired  it  like  a  cannon,  sending  the  eighty-­‐pound  shaft   and  several  pounds  of  scrap  metal  whistling  toward  the   marines.  Leith  took  the  brunt  of  that  blizzard  of  steel.  His   light  armor  defelcted  about  99%  of  the  energy  directly  into   XC-­‐Space,  but  the  remaining  1%  had  overwhelmed  his  

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defenses with  sufficient  force  to  split  his  suit  wide  open  and   drive  shards  into  his  chest.       His  IV  bag  ran  dry.  I  read  the  specs  as  quickly  as  I  could,   reached  for  another  of  the  same,  and  switched  the  bags  out.   The  Lieutenant  could  scream  at  me  all  he  wanted  for  giving   Leith  seconds,  but  fluids  were  the  man’s  only  chance  of   survival.     Every  shard  of  metal  I  plucked  from  his  body  worsened  the   bleeding.  There  was  a  rattle  in  his  chest.  Finally,  I  had  gotten   all  the  metal  out.  I  squirted  antibiotic  goo  on  him,  grabbed  a   can  of  EEF®    and  sprayed  his  chest.  As  soon  as  I  touched  it   with  a  drop  of  catalyst  it  did  just  what  it  was  supposed  to  do,   shrinking  and  solidifying.  The  sum  effect  (as  they  had  taught   us  in  first  aid)  was  to  compress  the  wounds  and  stanch  the   blood  flow.  The  EEF®  would  soften  and  peel  off  like  rubber   from  a  mold  when  we  brushed  it  with  a  counter-­‐agent.  I   pulled  a  flex  wrap  tight  around  Leith  to  sanitize  the  area.   There  seemed  to  be  nothing  more  I  could  do.  I  had  stopped  

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the outward  bleeding  but  who  could  say  what  was  going  on   inside?  Internal  bleeding  was  probable.  He  barely  breathed.     It  was  horrible  to  think  of  him  passing  into  eternity   unprepared—a  sworn  enemy  of  the  Great  King.  I  found   myself  pleading  with  the  Encourager  for  him.       “Use  the  stone,  Stan.”  I  almost  gasped  with  the  force  of   the  command.  Immediately  I  saw  the  sense  of  it.  Down  on   Nuevo  Tundra  the  mindstone  had  brought  me  strength  and   healing  and  could  do  the  same  for  Leith.       But  he’ll  become  a  twitchy  and  try  to  wrest  it  from  me,  I   protested.  Or  one  of  the  ship’s  crew  will  see  me  using  it  and   that  will  be  that.  Even  as  I  protested,  I  realized  it  was   useless.  I  had  better  find  a  way  to  obey.  I  could  cup  the   stone  below  Leith’s  body  to  protect  it  from  monitoring  eyes.   And  I  remembered  an  earlier  conjecture,  which  now  became   a  certainty  to  me,  that  the  stone’s  power  lay  in  its  ability  to   magnify  conscious  thought.  Leith  would  never  be  aware  of   it.  Unconscious  as  he  was,  I  would  have  to  do  the  thinking  

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for him.     The  Encourager  seemed  to  say,  “If  a  man  must  lose  his  life   to  save  it,  how  much  more  must  he  be  willing  to  lose  his   mindstone?”     Reluctantly  I  stripped  off  my  glove,  moved  my  hand   beneath  the  table  and  tugged  the  stone  from  XC-­‐Space.  I  felt   its  glorious  glow  on  my  fingertips.  Shielding  it  with  my   fingers  I  brought  it  into  contact  with  Leith’s  back.     Instantly  I  groaned.  I  could  feel  the  smothery  blood   bubbling  out  of  his  lungs  as  if  it  was  bubbling  out  of  my  own.   I  wanted  to  slip  the  stone  off  him,  free  myself  from  this   agony.  Somehow,  half-­‐fainting,  I  managed  to  keep  the  thing   in  contact  with  his  body  while  willing  his  recovery.  Gradually,   over  what  seemed  an  eternity,  but  was  probably  no  more   than  ten  minutes,  Leith’s  breathing  firmed  and  a  slight  flush   returned  to  his  ashen  skin.  My  pain  diminished,  too.     His  eyes  fluttered  vacantly  and  he  moaned.  I  had  become   so  rapt  in  watching  his  improvement  I  had  forgotten  that  

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this was  the  moment  when  I  must  break  the  stone’s  contact   with  him,  lest  he  waken,  become  conscious  of  it,  and  covet   it.       Fortunately  for  me,  the  ship  shuddered  just  then  and  my   hand  fell  away  from  Leith  of  its  own  accord.  I  quickly  parked   the  stone  in  XC-­‐Space,  feeling  forlorn  as  I  lost  contact  with  it.   Immediately  my  body  convulsed,  followed  by  tics  which   wouldn’t  stop.  But  I  had  experienced  worse.       As  soon  as  I  was  able,  I  stumbled  to  a  port  and  peered  out.   A  puff  of  sand  swirled  like  a  dirt  devil  in  the  vicinity  of  the   Hissies’  camp.  An  explosion.  From  the  size  of  it,  I  could  tell  it   was  one  of  ours.       There  was  another  rumble.  The  ship  shuddered  again.  A   pillar  of  smoke  rose  above  Humboldt’s  Fissure.  I  saw  the   Conestoga  II  creeping  along  the  raw  seam.       Leith  moaned  and  I  turned  from  the  window  back  to  him.   Exhausted  though  I  was  from  my  battle  for  his  life,  I  still  had   work  to  do  if  he  were  to  recover.  He  needed  more  fluids.    

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As I  was  getting  a  saline  solution,  another  explosion  rocked   the  ship.  And  another.  No  doubt  the  Hissies  had  dug   themselves  deep  holes.  The  marines  would  be  listening  with   probes  and  at  the  slightest  hint  of  movement  underground,   and  would  drop  corkscrew  charges  onto  the  surface,  the   kind  that  auger  themselves  swiftly  through  sand  or  stone   and  explode  deep  below  the  earth  with  vibrations  calculated   to  turn  an  enemy’s  inwards  to  mush.       I’d  have  to  wait  for  details.  But  while  they  were  killing   foxes  I  could  take  satisfaction  in  having  saved  a  life,  for  I  was   now  sure  Leith  was  going  to  make  it.     Av  3rd.  I  dragged  around  all  day  yesterday,  listless  from   exhaustion,  and  was  taunted  by  my  mess  mates.  “You  had  it   easy,”  they  said,  and  boasted  of  their  vengeance  upon  the   Hissies.  To  hear  them  tell  it,  they  are  redoubtable   conquerors,  bug  exterminators  who  will  have  the  hormones   of  every  woman  in  the  Forty  Worlds  raging  for  them  as  soon  

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as they  can  shout  to  the  cosmos  what  they  have  done.     Han  Lee  switched  on  some  of  Sundar’s  stem  cells  to  start   growing  him  a  new  hand.  Even  with  growth-­‐accelerants,  it   won’t  be  full  size  for  at  least  five  years.  He’s  going  to  look   comical  with  a  baby  fist  on  the  end  of  his  brawny  stub  until  it   reaches  maturity.     Everyone  said  Leith  had  them  fooled;  it  was  just  shock  and   surface  cuts.  Han  Lee  said  he’d  have  to  file  a  complaint  with   the  makers  of  the  lab-­‐on-­‐a-­‐chip  for  a  defective  unit.       Sundar  though,  was  staring  from  Leith  to  me  with  a   puzzled  expression  every  time  I  looked  up.  He  was  with  Leith   the  longest  and  knows  that  the  man  really  was  as  good  as   dead.       I  overheard  him  whispering  to  Snell.     “One  way  to  tell,”  said  Snell.  “I’ll  remove  the  compress.”   He  called  Han  Lee  and  they  examined  Leith  together  in  the   bunk  room.     They  came  out  with  sober  expressions.  Neither  said  

How I Saved Lt. Snell’s Command 45


anything to  me,  but  evidently  they  did  to  the  others,   because  at  chow  Hardee  said,  “You  may  be  a  twitchy  and  a   bit  of  a  snob,  but  you  aren’t  a  bad  sort,  Doc.”     Now  everyone  calls  me  Doc;  everyone,  that  is,  except   Leith.  He  avoids  my  eyes  and  won’t  speak  to  me.     vii.  No  Thanks    

There isn’t  much  else  to  tell.  On  Av  4th,  Snell  called  me  into  

the cubby  that  passes  for  his  office  and  chewed  me  out  for  violating   his  orders  on  medical  supplies.      

I retorted  that  orders  or  no  orders,  Leith  was  alive.    

“If you  were  one  of  my  marines  I’d  throw  you  into  isolation  

without food  for  five  days  for  your  disobedience,”  he  replied.  “But  as   you  are  a  civilian,  and  as  Leith  is  alive,  I  am  going  to  fine  you  half  the   credits  you’ve  earned.  Remember  this,  I  am  boss  over  our  supplies.  If   ever  anything  like  this  happens  again,  I  won’t  be  so  lenient.”    

That was  as  close  as  Snell  ever  came  to  thanking  me  for  saving  

his command.  

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Han Lee  and  Sundar  sought  me  out  and  asked  questions  about  

the Great  King  and  the  Encourager.  Both  became  more  thoughtful.   Leith  never  would  look  me  in  the  eye  the  rest  of  our  tour,  nor  did  he   ever  thank  me.    

Nevertheless, I  was  content.  I  had  done  what  the  Encourager  

asked of  me  and  had  my  reward  in  his  approval  and  in  the  improved   attitude  of  the  men  in  our  remaining  months  in  space.  During  our   remaining  months  in  space,  I  mastered  XC  calculations  and  brushed   up  my  engineering  math  to  work  out  the  proper  “trajectory”  down   which  to  “push”  my  mindstone  so  that  it  would  lodge  in  XC-­‐space   around  Siren  ready  for  me  to  pluck  when  we  got  there.  But  that  is   another  story.     THE  END  

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H o wI S a v e dL i e u t e n a n t S n e l l ’ sC o mma n d ©201 2b yDa nGr a v e s

How I Saved Lieutenant Snell's Command  

When a military op went awry on Nuevo Tundra, Stan Elyot risked his life and mindstone to save his enemies.

How I Saved Lieutenant Snell's Command  

When a military op went awry on Nuevo Tundra, Stan Elyot risked his life and mindstone to save his enemies.

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