Wednesday, September 12, 2012

G is for...


United Systems light cruiser Muzio Attendolo was a mere 2 hours out from the sector naval base on Alderbaran 6 when the trouble started. With a groan the portside main engine lost power while the starboard gained thrust. The great vessel immediately began to slew, a motion which if left unchecked would send it whirling through the Alderbaranian system like a poorly aimed boomerang.

“Shit!” said Acting Captain Luigi De la Penna, slapping at a red button on his console intending to kill the engines. It seemed to him that the button turned green a split second before his hand struck it. “Shit twice!” he added.

“What?” exclaimed a panicky Cadet Mulsberger.

“Gleason Box.” Said Della Penna and the intercom at the same time.

Dela Penna remained silent but the intercom was not finished. “I’m still faster.” said the disembodied voice which in reality belonged to the Attendolo’s only other regular navy crewman, Chief Boson’s Mate Fenrus Hoggarty in Engineering. ”I had you by a quarter second.”

“Yep” replied Dela Penna. “But I still have what it takes. Which explains the bunking arrangements. “

He switched the intercom off, imagining the profane and outraged reply and grinning.

On active duty the Attendolo carried a complement of 52 officers and ratings, with accommodations for a dozen Marines and perhaps another half dozen supernumeraries. For the milk run to Alderbaran to refit, rearm and re-crew the current complement of two regular Navy personnel and four Cadets in Training should have been enough. If nothing went wrong.

Presently Cadet Mulsberger was on the Bridge with Dela Penna, Cadet N’gon was annoying Hoggarty in Engineering, Cadet Ni was presumably sleeping and Cadet Yum was in the Captains stateroom, creating ever more transparent lingerie items using the auto-tailor while rubbing interesting scented oils into her equally interesting topography in anticipation of shifts end.

“What’s a Gleason Box?” queried Mulsberger.

“It's right behind you, kid”, said Dela Penna, pointing “It’s not working correctly. Normally it balances the ion flux between the anti-polarity nebulizing generators and keeps us running straight and true, rather than cartwheeling off into the void and exploding into tiny and in some cases bloody bits. But it isn’t working. Thump it with your fist, there’s a lad.”

“Thump it?” said Mulsberger, “Fist?”

Dela Penna rose, sighing. He approached the Gleason Box. This device was about 2 feet on a side, and projected perhaps a foot from the bulkhead. A twelve by twelve inch monitor, currently inactive,  occupied the center. Across the bottom were 6 controls; an on/off button, an archaic twistable dial numbered 1 through 13, and 4 more dials labeled “volume”,  “contrast” “vertical roll” and “brightness”.  He whacked the top of the console with a clenched fist.

Mulsberger gasped.

A pinpoint of light appeared in the center of the dark grey screen. It expanded to a horizontal line and then the monitor brightened. The image of a fat man in grey appeared briefly. Glaring at an unimpressed and garishly costumed woman he gestured flamboyantly.
“One of these days, Alice, one of these…” said the Gleason Box.

The voice faded into white noise. The image on the monitor morphed into a sea of black and white stipples.

“Not good”, said Dela Penna, “Snow is not good”

“No snow?” said Mulsberger

"No." amplified Dela Penna

The screen flashed, concentric circles appeared, quartered by one vertical and one horizontal line.

“Damn!” swore Dela Penna, “Test pattern!”

“Not the test pattern!” screamed Mulsberger.

The pattern faded, the screen went dark.

“What does it mean?” quavered Mulsberger.

“That’s a fade to black and it means we’re effed. It will take two weeks to reach Base on auxiliary power and we only have food for one week. I expect you cadets will be mighty hungry. It also means no digitally re-mastered episodes of American Scene Magazine or the Honeymooners.  Oh we’re effed all right.”

“Can we make repairs?” inquired Mulsberger?

“Depends. Let’s see what we got in the tank…”

On top of the Gleason box was a circular object, which proved to be a cap. Dela Penna twisted it free and removed it, a dipstick was attached. It was dry as Bernard Shaw’s wit.

“Tri-fusioned Gleason Box oil. Worth its weight in honest politicians. And we don’t have any of either.”  He regarded Mulsberger glumly. “Mulsberger! Did you receive any training at all? What is the acceptable emergency substitute for tri-fusioned oil?”

“Twice fusioned oil?” Mulsberger hazarded.

“Idiots. We have idiots in our brevet officer corps. I blame the Bush Administration for this. No, Mulsberger, the acceptable emergency substitute for tri-fusioned oil is good old fashioned spar varnish. The very same varnish that Nelson’s old salt’s coated their spars with before Trafalgar. Ring any bells, Mulsberger?”.
Mulsberger's bells remained unrung. He had never heard of Nelson nor of Trafalgar, separated by a thousand standard years and half a galaxy as they were in space and time. He found the idea of rubbing anything on his spar prior to battle bizarre. And who the hell was Bush? But he was learning.

“Oh yes! Spar varnish! Nelson and Bush, yes indeed! Er, where do we keep the spar varnish, here on the Attendolo?”

“Points for trying, Kid!” Dela Penna was beaming, “Hoggarty has a 55 gallon drum of it down in engineering and I expect he has a quart, which is exactly what we need, waiting for you. Just pop off and fetch it back would you?”

Mulsberger popped.

“Oh hey and kid?”

Mulsberger paused in the hatch.

“Do NOT rub any on your spar, there’s  a good boy.”
Mulsberger fled.