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Dana smiled faintly to herself as she followed the yellow line to the assigned personnel office. She’d never heard of any military personnel being sent to one of the Troy class without being assigned. The “unassigned” office only existed to answer questions from the terminally lost.

A few people glanced at her as she marched along hauling her grav case. That was less that she was a good looking blonde than that she was wearing a leopard suit. Most people didn’t in secured areas. But she wasn’t going to fly on someone else’s shuttle, much less a 143rd shuttle, simply in uniform. She knew way too much about the 143rd.

She hadn’t been specifically briefed on why she was being transferred, but she’d picked up the scuttlebutt. In the battles in E Eridani, and in the emergency evacuation just prior to them, it had become apparent that the overall quality of flying, and maintenance, of the 143rd was not entirely up to par. Certainly not up to the standards set by the 142nd, Earth’s first space light boat squadron.

Dana was simply part of a series of transfers, 143rd personnel to the 142nd and vice versa, designed to “spread the wealth.” She was pretty sure it wasn’t going to help. The 143rd were so screwed up she wasn’t sure how they got their birds out of the bays much less survived in space. Transferring a few good people into the unit wasn’t going to make any serious improvements. The phrase “stiffening a bucket of spit with buckshot” came to mind.

She waited in line with the other assigned personnel, her space suit occasionally buzzing as it worked off her body heat, until she got up to the civilian clerk. She commed the pad with her implant and waited.

“PO...Parker...” the clerk said. Male and with a raspy voice, she figured he was one of Apollo’s tech people who had gotten a whiff of death pressure and been temporarily reassigned. He didn’t look as if he normally flew a desk. Nametag said Gribson. “Hmmm...”

“Shouldn’t that be a unit and bay assignment?” Dana asked. “Not ‘hmmm...’?”

“Unit is easy,” the guy said, looking up and grinning. Like her he was blonde and if not cute than not uneasy on the eyes. “You’re assigned to the 143rd. We’re handling billeting for them, though. And the problem is there’s no female billeting.”

“Then get me a room to myself in male billeting,” Dana said. “That’s where I’m normally assigned.”

“You’re from the 142nd,” Gribson said. “Which operates under US rules. 143rd is an Alliance unit. Operates under slightly different regulations and guidelines. One of which is no coed billeting.”

“So where do the other female personnel stay?” Dana asked.

What female personnel?” Gribson replied.

“I’m it?”

“You’re it. Which is why I’m looking for a billet to stick you in.”

“Preferably one, you know, close to the boats,” Dana said, sarcastically.

“Wasn’t my rule,” Gribson replied. “And that’s what I’m looking for. Not there...”

“Where’s there?” Dana asked.


“Don’t get me wrong when I say this,” Dana said, frowning. “But I sort of get along with Marines pretty well.”

“Not Pathan Marines,” Gribson said. “As in Afghan and Pakistani tribesmen with some basic knowledge of how to work their spacesuits and great glee at having laser rifles instead of AKs. Oh, and who consider women who don’t wear burkhas to be whores.”

“Ah,” Dana said, nodding. “Yes, I’d prefer somewhere else.” What the hell?

“I’m going to have to stick you in the transient NCO quarters for now,” Gribson said, shrugging. “It’s not convenient to the boats and it’s supposed to be for, well, transients. But somebody else is going to have to figure out where to put your permanent quarters.”

“Joy,” Dana said. “Well, a bunk’s a bunk.”

“They’re actually pretty nice,” Gribson said, uploading the map and keycode. “And we are done. Have an enjoyable time on the Therm. We endeavor to please.”

“As long as you’re a guy,” Dana said, nodding at him. “See ya.”

* * *

Dana had been sent a message to report for in-brief the day after her arrival. With nothing better to do the next morning until the brief at 0900 she headed for the gym.

Thermopylae, like Troy, had more than a dozen “fitness facilities.” Some were designated for specific units, some were designated for general military or general civilian and some were open to everyone.

Figuring that she might as well figure out the layout of “her” gym, she headed for the one designated for the 143rd.

The layout turned out to be Apollo fitness facility, one each. It was set up virtually identical to the one she’d been using for the last four years.

What was a bit different was the users. Women, due to Johannsen’s as much as anything, had become less common in the military. But even in the 142nd there were a few “splits” as Chief Barnett so delicately put it. Five by Dana’s count and she could figure on not usually being the only woman in the gym.

For just a moment, Dana seriously thought about just turning around and heading back to the BNCOQ. The gym looked like work-out time at San Quentin. It was a mass of Hispanic males, most of them as short as she was, and all of them as tattooed if not more so.

“Jeeze, I hope I don’t get shivved in the yard,” she muttered, making her way through the press to an open Nautilus machine.

She set the adjustment higher than it had been and started doing presses.

“Yo, Chaco, check out the whore,” one of the men called across the room. “She is fine, no?”

Dana paused in her repetitions for just a moment in shock. It wasn’t so much that it was a sexual reference, just that it was so clear and blatant. Then she realized it had been in Spanish and her plants had automatically translated. She looked at the speaker and concentrated until his name and rank came up in her vision. Spaceman First Class Jose Reyes.

“You might consider not calling a CM2 a whore, Spaceman,” Dana commed. “Our plants translate everything you say so if you think you were being cute, think again.”

“Who the hell sent that?” the Spaceman First Class said, angrily, setting his weights back in the rack.

“I did,” Dana said, loudly enough to cut across the buzz in the room. “And to repeat, plants translate anything around them, especially if there’s a reference to the individual. So I’d be careful about the sexual remarks.”

“When I want any shit out of you, whore, I’ll tell you,” the SM1 said, waving a hand and smiling broadly. It was in Spanish, again, so he’d clearly not been listening.

“That does it!” Dana said, rolling to her feet and triggering her recording feature. “You had better lock it up, Spaceman. The first thing you said was an actionable offense. Direct disrespect to an NCO is an Article Ninety-One violation.”

“Back off, bitch.” The flash pop was CM2 Pedro Benito so she was at least dealing with the same rank. Benito had a large tattoo that ran up onto his neck of what looked like an angel. “That’s my brother, not somebody for you to screw with.”

“CM, I’m willing to disregard this encounter,” Dana said, taking a deep breath. “But you need to lock down your personnel. One, they need some retraining on plant abilities. Two they need some retraining on basic military respect and courtesy.”

“When I want your opinion, whore, I’ll ask for it,” the CM2 said, waving a hand at her dismissively.

“That fracking does it,” Dana said, her jaw flexing. “Leonidas, request immediate message to nearest senior NCO, preferably male, in the area. We have multiple EEOC and Article 91 violations.”

“Message transmitted,” Leonidas, the Thermopylae AI responded. “Do you need security assistance.”

“Not at this time,” Dana said as the group started to form around her. She just stood looking at them with her arms crossed. “We’ll sort this out in a moment, gentlemen.”

* * *

It was more than a moment and Dana was getting decidedly nervous when the hatch dialed open.

“What the hell is going on in here?”

The speaker was a BM1, American to Dana’s covert relief.

“Bosun’s Mate, wish to report violation of Article 91, to whit disrespect to an NCO or Warrant as well as multiple EEOC violations,” Dana said, tightly. “I tried to dial it back but apparently the personnel remain unaware, despite input, that plants translate anything they say.”

“Bullshit,” CM2 Benito said. “We didn’t say a thing that was out of line, CM.”

“Oh, really,” Dana said, squirting a video of the part she’d recorded to the BM1. “Prior to that SN Reyes first described me as a whore loudly enough for the whole room to hear. Then when I pointed out, by com so it would not embarrass him, that the plants translate everything, he repeated the insult. At which point I started to record. When I told him to lock it up, CM2 Benito became involved.”

“This is just so much lying bullshit, BM,” Benito swore. “She’s just trying to get us in trouble like the 142nd is always doing. We never called her a whore!”

“Hang on a second,” BM1 Steve Persing said, consulting his plants. “Shit. Okay, Pedro...CM2 Parker, outside.”

When they were out in the corridor Persing started swearing under his breath.

“Okay, Parker, first of all you’re not supposed to even be in this gym,” Persing said. “There’s a reason we have an in-brief for all new personnel. Which you get at 0900. You’re not part of this unit, yet, so you’re not supposed to be using the gym.”

“That’s it, BM?” Dana said, her eyes widening. “I’m not supposed to be in the gym so some unwashed deck monkey can call a CM2 a whore?”

“No,” Persing said, grinding his teeth. “And that is right on the edge of insubordination, CM.”

“Aye, aye, BM1,” Dana said, coldly. “Noted. According to my orders, as of my arrival on station and check-in, which was performed at 1732 last evening, I was officially assigned to the 143rd boat squadron, BM. This is the 143rd designated fitness facility. My mistake.”

“You’re officially part of the unit, Parker,” Persing said, sighing. “But you, clearly, needed the in-brief.”

“Duly noted, BM,” Dana said. “Would you care at this time to note just what portion of that would have applied in this situation?”

“You’ll get that at the brief, CM,” Persing said, turning to the Hispanic CM. “Benito, this was unnecessary and unwise. It’s the job of an NCO to dial down something like this, not make it worse.”

“I tried,” Benito said. “But she just kept making these crazy accusations. You know how they are.”

“BM,” Dana said, tightly. “If this continues, I’m going to make a formal EEOC complaint. I’ve never made one in my life. I try like hell to be one of the guys. But this is just bullshit.”

“Okay, clearly we need to get you two separated,” Persing said. “Pedro, you need to counsel Spaceman Reyes on proper respect due and NCO as well as com and implant protocol. Parker, I’ll see you at the in-brief.”

“BM, a moment of your time,” Dana said as Benito entered the gym.

“Yes, CM?” Persing said, tightly.

“If that is the entirety of this incident, you will face a formal complaint, BM,” Dana said. “I’m assigned to this unit. If I can be treated as ‘just another whore’ then to say the least that undermines my ability to act as an NCO.”

“We’ll deal with this, CM,” Persing said. “In the meantime, keep your ass out of sight until we’ve got this situation you created under control.”

* * *

Dana flopped back down on the rack and shook her head.

“What the hell?”

She wasn’t used to this. She’d dealt with some jack-asses that took her at face value, blonde Barbie one each, a couple of times. But not this bad. And the BM1 seemed on their side. Which wasn’t just an EEOC problem, it went right to the core of military discipline. At the 142nd she’d been treated as a FUN, a fracking useless noob, until she proved herself but it was just proving she was beyond noob. Not...this. She’d been aggressively disrespected by a junior spaceman, a guy who made sure the decks were properly washed. What the hell?

She hated to do it but she only knew one person to consult.

She sent a hypercom ping wondering if the Chief was available.

Yo, Comet, what’s up?”

“Got a few minutes?” Dana asked. “I think I already stepped in it.”

It’s the 143rd,” Barnett commed back. “They should be used to cluster gropes by now.”

“Sending a recording,” Dana said.

Oh, holy fracking hell,” Barnett commed back a moment later. “Does that idiot Persing even know what military regulation means?”

“I probably shouldn’t have continued into the counseling session but I was so mad I didn’t turn off. Now I’m glad I didn’t.”

This is a problem,” Barnett said. “Among other things, if this is the standard of discipline I can see why they’re so jugged. But dipping into another person’s well is a no-no of the highest order. I’m going to do some discrete pushing on the Chief network but you’re mostly going to have to fly this one alone. As soon as you get the in-brief and you get a few seconds, call me back. I’d like to see what part of the brief covers a clear Article 91 violation not to mention 117. In fact, I’d love to see what part of the brief covers that since it would, in turn, be an 81 and 92 violation.

“So I’m not just being a gurrl about this?” Dana asked. “I was wondering.”

I would have hit the roof and screamed to high heaven,” Barnett said. “There’s playing the boy’s game and being disrespected. The first and second are two different things. So is playing girl games just to play games. There ought to be an article just for passive aggressive bullshit. This was straight forward disrespect to an NCO, Article 91 and provoking speech or gestures, 117. They don’t get that under control and you might as well give away the whole shooting match. Doesn’t matter if it’s a newly transferred female CM or the fracking President. You don’t violate the articles. Call me back after the brief. But, again, I can’t get directly involved. Time to girl up, girl.”

“Will do, Chief,” Dana said. “Thanks for the counsel.”

* * *

“Good morning and welcome to the Thermopylae and the 143rd boat wing. I am Bosun’s Mate First Class Steve Persing, personnel NCOIC for the 143rd.”

When Persing said “he’d see her at the briefing” she’d assumed he was just going to be one of the people at the brief. Not the briefer.

“Technically, all of the space forces currently in operation in the Sol Defense Zone are now Alliance forces,” Persing continued. “However, as you are well aware, up until recently the 142nd has been a purely North American unit. The 143rd, on the other hand, is made up of a mixture of various countries from South America. The majority of the Coxswains are from Argentina and Chile, which are traditional enemies. The Engineer’s mates are from both countries as well as Peru, El Salvador and two from Colombia. Simply integrating persons from multiple countries, many of which are as I’ve noted traditional enemies, has been a challenging task. Now we are also dealing with the cultural differences with American personnel.

“Latin Americans have a long history of antagonism towards the United States and, arguably, vice versa. The United States, under the Monroe Doctrine, considered the entire Western Hemisphere its zone of influence and has repeatedly tinkered with the governments of many of these countries as well as often using them as a source of raw materials and labor. There is, therefore, a certain amount of entirely justifiable friction that is our job, as the senior partners in this Alliance, to assuage as far as possible. These are rich cultures as well advanced as our own but they are different cultures. That has to be remembered at all times. On top of that there is the fact that all the senior officer and NCO slots are held by Americans. There are Coxswains who were fighter pilots, officers, in the Argentinean Air Force which in the Falklands war went toe-to-toe with the British. This simply exacerbates that friction. It is our job, at all times, to keep the cultural differences in mind and work with them not against them. Are there any questions?”

Dana looked around at the rest of the personnel sent from the 142nd and hoped that somebody would say something. Finally an Engineer’s Mate from Bravo flight raised his hand.

“BM, I was under the impression we’d more or less pulled the UCMJ right over to the Alliance,” the EM said. “Are you saying that we’re not working under UCMJ?”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice was the rules and regulations under which US forces operated. Dana was under the same impression that the UCMJ hadn’t changed.

“No, the UCMJ, with very little modification, was transferred to the Alliance,” Persing said, carefully. “However, if you simply bark an order at one of your engineers, you may get the job done. More likely, though, you’ll find that simple barked orders are counter-productive. Latins are automatically respectful of certain types of authority but tend to be less so when the authority figure is not of their own culture. And certainly when the authority figure is counter to their culture,” Persing finished, looking squarely at Dana. She didn’t flicker so much as an eyebrow.

“What gets the job done?” the EM asked. “Begging? Because as far as the rest of us are concerned, BM, the reason that we’re here is because the job hasn’t been getting done.”

“That attitude you had better lock up, Engineer’s Mate,” Persing snapped. “We’re dealing with culture clashes and the fact that the boats are simply screwed up coming from the yards. We don’t need the ‘they brought in the Americans cause the Suds couldn’t get the job done’ attitude. That is exactly what is going to cause issues. Already is causing issues.”

“I don’t know what a Sud is, Bosun’s Mate,” the EM said, leaning back and crossing his arms. “But if you’re saying I got to plead and beg to get an engineer to do his job, I think it’s pretty clear what the issue is and it’s not my attitude.”

“Bosun’s Mate?” Dana said, raising her hand. “Dialing the atmosphere down a little bit, what do you find does get the job done?”

“Generally I’ve found that it’s best to be less the grand poobah than create a team spirit,” Persing said. “Smile instead of frown. Work with them rather than creating a hierarchical approach. Honey gets more flies than vinegar.”

“Thank you, Bosun’s Mate,” Dana said trying not to scream.

“The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s important to integrate into this team,” Persing said. “We don’t need a ‘North American’ clique to form. That’s the greatest reason that you need to keep cultural differences in mind. Different culture, different methods of obtaining team bonding. So, as to assignments...”

* * *

“Parker. As noted many of these Latins have more experience as pilots than our most experienced coxswains. The critical need is for experienced engineers. So you’re being reverted to your engineering specialty. You’ll be taking over Engineering NCOIC for Division Two, Troop B which puts you in Twenty-Three. Your cox is Coxswain First Class Angelito Mendoza.”

“Bosun’s Mate?” Dana said, wincing. She liked engineering well enough but she knew she knew piloting. “I haven’t turned a wrench since my initial trial period. I’ve been a coxswain for three years and have over ten thousand hours in the Black. I would, respectfully, recommend a reconsideration of that change.”

“Duly noted,” Persing said, dryly. “It didn’t come from my office, it came from higher. Some of the transfer personnel had to shift to engineering. You drew the short straw.”

Parker had to wonder if she’d drawn the short straw before or after the incident in the gym.

“Aye, aye, Bosun’s Mate,” Dana said, trying not to curse.


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