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The XO stomped down the deserted corridors of the crew compartment, looking around in delight at the near pristine conditions. With none of the pesky crew cluttering things up, it was possible to have a truly efficiently run ship. Suddenly he slid to a stop.

"BOSUNNN!" he shouted, pointing at the floor. "What is that??!"

"Gum, sir," the bosun replied.

"Who is in charge of this area?" the XO asked, furiously.

"Cooper," the bosun replied. It was getting easier and easier to remember as the number of crew dropped precipitously.

"Well, space him!" the XO said. "Gum on the floor is just slackness."

"Yes, Sir," the bosun replied. "You'll remember that we're returning them to their families . . ."

"Very well," the XO said, continuing on his survey. "Send him to the medics."

"No, no!" Cooper yelled, hopping up and down in the grip from two men-at-arms and winking for all he was worth. "Don't kill me, Doc!"

"Oh, shut up and take it like a man," Tyler replied tiredly. He rolled up Cooper's sleeve and injected the engineering tech with a sedative. "Take him to the forecastle."

"I bet he dropped that gum on the floor on purpose," one of the men-at-arms grumped. "I could do with a three day vacation at this point."

"If we lose many more engineering techs, we're never going to make it," Sean replied darkly.

Captain Zemet opened his eyes and stared blearily into the face of Admiral Judah Yanakov. A quick glance to the side showed the two medics, the engineering officer and the astrogator lined up against one wall of what was apparently a hospital room.

"Captain, would you kindly tell me what in the Tester's name was going on up there?" the admiral said furiously. "I would especially like to know how you came to be in a coma and left that Masadan of an XO in charge. The one hundred and twenty-three personnel that your former XO had sedated have all been returned to duty, by the way."

"Well, Sir," the captain said, not even glancing at the figures against the wall, "we were drilling on compensator adjustments in movement. The ship went right and I went left and that's all I remember."

"Warrant Officer Kearns?"Admiral Yanakov asked. "Corpsman Tyler? Is that an accurate report?"

"He's our Captain, Sir," Kearns replied. "What he says is what happened."

"Hmmmph." The admiral peered at the captain for a moment then shook his head. "That's not quite the same as saying 'It happened like he said.' I don't have anywhere more out of the way to put you, Zemet, except Blackbird Base and I already stashed your XO there. So I guess I'll have to leave you in command. The rest of you are dismissed."

* * *

"That's it?" Tyler asked, collapsing into the sickbay chair. The flight back from Grayson had been made in total silence.

"What's it?" Kearns asked, pulling out his bladder of whiskey and pouring some into his cup.

"No investigation?" the Manticoran asked. "We just go back out on patrol?"

"You remember you're in Siberia, right?" the warrant asked, taking a sip of his tea. "And you know that Siberia was nothing but a giant prison?"

"Sort of."

"We're all prisoners, trapped in a Siberia called the Francis Mueller. You. Me. The Captain. Hell, even Kopp and the Chaplain, both of whom have been thrown out of at least one decent ship so far. And prisoners don't rat out other prisoners to the warden."


"I notice you didn't say anything," Kearns pointed out.

"Well . . . hell," Tyler said. "I guess you're right. Why didn't he just say he fell in the shower?"

"He's too professional for that," the warrant officer said, tossing the bladder over to the corpsman. "Only amateurs fall in a shower. Welcome to Siberia."

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