Read The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley Online

Authors: Assorted Baen authors,Barflies

The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley (8 page)

The Tau-Ceti Agenda

TRAVIS S. TAYLOR

The XO tapped on the office door and waited for the captain to look up from his papers. “Captain, Lieutenant Joseph Buckley, sir.”

“Yes. Come in, Lieutenant. Thank you, Larry. The rest of the crew is being taken care of, I take it?” Captain Wallace Jefferson asked his trusted XO.

“Yes, sir. Looks like a good bunch, sir.”

“Good, Larry. Carry on.” Jefferson nodded at his XO and longtime friend.

“Aye, sir,” Chekov answered. He nodded and winked at the captain and left Buckley standing at full attention. “Good luck, Lieutenant,” he whispered with a chuckle on his way out of the CO’s office.

“At ease, son.” Jefferson grinned and stood from his desk, offering Joe his hand. “I just wanted to shake your hand.”

“Sir?” Joe took the captain’s hand and shook it firmly, more confused than anything. The captain seemed sincere, and when he began speaking, Joe immediately understood what this was all about.

“Your father was a hull tech under my command on the day the damned Seppies did their mass exodus,” the captain said.

“Yes, sir. You wrote his letter, sir. I’ve read it many times, sir.” Joe choked down a lump that was starting to well up in his throat.

“If it hadn’t been for Hull Technician Third Class Joe Buckley, we might have lost the ship and the fight. He gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could stop those bloodthirsty heathens from destroying an entire city and the millions of people in it. Your father was a hero, and I’m proud to have had him serve under my command. We would have never known of his sacrifice had his AIC not downloaded a record of his actions just before they were both incinerated. I tried to capture the feel of what he had done in the letter, but I can let you hear the final report from his AIC if you would like.”

“Yes, sir. That would be nice.” Buckley thought it would be nice for his grandma to hear, but more than five years had gone by, and he wasn’t sure that it would really do anybody any good to bring up those memories.

“I’ll have my AIC, Uncle Timmy, pass it along to your AIC. And I hope to see you do your father’s memory proud.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m proud to serve under your command, and I will do my best, sir.”

“Well, I’m afraid there’s little time to get acquainted. We’re about to start an operation in a little more than an hour from now, and I’m sure we’ll need you down in the Engine Room. Good luck, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, sir.” Joe saluted the CO and thought of his father for the next several minutes as he wandered around the ship—absently trying to find his duty post.

* * *

A bolt of electricity stronger than most bolts of lighting jetted out from the busted valve stem of the coolant flow loop through the large power cable and across the gap to the projector power coupling. The cable danced around, at first wildly like a poorly thrown jump rope, and then it was locked still with a
snap
by the extreme electromagnetic bottle created from the field lines of the system. The cable sheathing melted away, and the metal strands glowed bright like the filament of an incandescent light bulb. Then the cable vaporized into a plasma of metal gases, and the electric arc hummed and filled the gap between the conduit and the projector power coupler. The bolt grew white-hot with shades of violet pulsing through it. The projector began to whirl up. It whirled faster and faster as the gamma particles tried to breach the massive gravitational boundary of the event horizon within it. The exotic energy flow pulsed through the space-time bubble created within the field projector.

It’s working, Joe!

Yeah, let’s hope and pray it does quickly!

Sparks exploded off of several systems as smaller fingers of the electric bolt tried to dance free of the electromagnetic bottle. Each time a bolt would strike a bulkhead, part of the metal would be vaporized, and more nasty gaseous fumes would be added to the room’s already nauseous atmosphere. Joe’s DTM still displayed the engineering drawing of the makeshift power conduit path that he had created, and along the path, he could see emergency systems being activated. There were fire alarms, secondary explosion alerts, loss of atmosphere, overpressure, and any other type of alert that was in the safety protocols of the ship’s systems. Then there was a rupture along a maintenance corridor six decks down, and the power drained off to ground in the deck plating of the floor for a microsecond before the power supply ground-fault circuit interrupters kicked the breakers. The lightning bolt across Engineering vanished, and the whirling of the projector slowed to idle.

“Maybe that worked.” Buckley crawled up to his feet giving the engineer’s mate first class a hand.

“We’re gonna need a shit load of mops, sir.” Shah shook his head at the mess in the Engine Room.

“Actually, Vineet, we need to run as fast as we can to sickbay.”

“Why, sir? I feel fine.”

“Yep, so do I. But in about five minutes, our bodies are going to realize that we’ve just been hard-boiled by all the extremely high energy x-rays that we were just exposed to, and we’re gonna start dying of extreme radiation dosage.” Buckley looked at his hands to see if they were swelling yet. He felt the need to grunt and clear his throat, which was definitely a bad sign.

Start a clock, Debbie.

Already did, Joe. In three minutes, it will be hard for you to keep walking. Now, get moving. Joe?

Yes, Debbie?

The ship is still here. Your father would be proud.
Joe noticed that the clock for the mass driver impact was now at plus twenty-eight seconds.

“Let’s move it, EM1.”

“Jesus, sir. I don’t wanna die!”

“Well then, you’d better fucking hurry to sickbay.”

* * *

“We may have to set up temporary shelters in the hangar decks for any displaced troops.” Jefferson rubbed at the day-old growth on his face. He was tired and needed to shave. Five decks that housed soldiers had been obliterated by that damned Seppy railgun, and the
Madira
was a three-month ride from Earth at top hyperspace jaunt speed. It would be a long, uncomfortable ride home. “Get somebody working on that.”

“Aye, sir.”

“And CHENG, how’s Buckley?” Benny’s mention of the wounded AEMs suggested to the CO that he had been down to see his MPA in sickbay.

“Not good, sir. The swelling in his limbs was so bad that it was easier to amputate them. All of them. Same for EM1 Shah. The doc says that they have a good chance of surviving if they can manage the swelling in their brains without causing too much gray matter damage. It would mean a lot to them if you saw them, sir.” Benny cursed abruptly at somebody in the background. “Uh, sir, if that’s all?”

“Yes, CHENG, get back to work.”

“Aye, sir.”

One Good Soldier

TRAVIS S. TAYLOR

“What can I do for you, CHENG?”

“Would a metal grate stop a QMT?”

“No, CHENG. You can QMT through walls, you know.”

“Duh, right. But what about SIFs? Isn’t there some interaction with spacetime or the vacuum fluctuations or something that confuses the QMT connection?” Joe asked.

“Uh, something like that, CHENG. Uh, sir, is this gonna take long, cause, well, we’re kinda busy down here.” Mr. Ransom seemed a bit uppity to Joe, maybe even constipated.

“Well, we need to flow air in from the outside without allowing enemy QMTs. Could we put small holes in the SIFs and do that?” There was no immediate answer, which meant that Joe had asked a question that the arrogant CWO4 QMT expert hadn’t thought of.

“Damn, I never thought of that. Hell, you could just make the SIFs a screen instead of a solid field, and think how much energy you’d save on that,” he replied.

Energy saved, hell—think of the heat we wouldn’t have to dissipate if the field were half the size due to holes in it,
Joe thought.
Since it is a surface-area thing, that will be a squared factor! We could increase the SIF lifetime in battle by orders of magnitude.

We need to get on with this, Joe,
his AIC warned him. Time was getting short, and the fucking Seppies were still outside, pounding away at them.

“Uh, how small do the holes need to be?”

“My AIC says a tenth of a millimeter in diameter with the same center-to-center spacing. And I bet that is conservative. Damn good idea, CHENG.”

“Right, Mr. Ransom. Thanks for your help. CHENG out.”

“You’re welcome, CHENG.”

Joe turned and noticed for the first time the bewilderment on the faces of his engineering crew. He wasn’t sure if it was because they were confused or couldn’t believe the brilliant idea they had just pulled out of their collective asses. He didn’t care. Ideas did nobody any good if you didn’t follow through with them.

“Okay, Kurt, get that damned panel fixed and get on to the next job. Mira, thanks for the sheer-fence idea. I’m reconfiguring the SIFs on the aft section and in nooks and crannies that are unlikely to be hit by enemy fire to have the screen geometry. I’m also doing that over the openings that Andy is making. We’ll see how it works.”

David Weber:

Unlike anyone else in this anthology,
I
can claim credit as the very first author to slay Joe Buckley in print, and he had it coming. I believe John Ringo holds the record for the
number of times
he’s killed Joe, but it was I and none other who inaugurated this grand tradition of Baen Books.

Joe had had the impudence, the gall, the barefaced, brazen effrontery to point out a math error in something I had written. Obviously, faced with that action on his part, Something Had to Be Done.

Fortunately, the evil and unscrupulous Timothy Bolgeo of LibertyCon fame, had provided me with the perfect vehicle for wreaking my vengeance. Tim, you see, had set me on a nil bid in the rubber game of one of the spades tournaments associated with LibertyCon. Not only had he set me, but he’d done it on the final trick of the hand, when the only card left in my hand was the three of clubs. Tim, you see, had the
two
of clubs as
his
final card, there was no more trump, and he had the lead. Having set me, he proceeded to prance about the room in
most
unseemly fashion, chortling “I set Weber on the three of clubs! I set Weber on the three of clubs!”

Clearly he and the other participants in and witnesses of my humiliation must be punished, and in that moment the crew—and fate—of Her Majesty’s Light Attack Craft
Cutthroat
burst upon me. I would place the so-called friends who had rejoiced at my misfortune—my
freakish
and totally undeserved misfortune—aboard a warship which would then, when victory seemed assured, be destroyed by a freakish (although in this case totally
deserved
) hit. And since that well-deserved fate was about to overtake Chief Bolgeo and his cronies, I saw no reason to spare Joseph. Instead, I placed him aboard ship and thus took my vengeance upon them all.

[Cue suitable mustache-twirling cackle.]

Some years later, in the course of writing
Mission of Honor
, I needed a suitable name to foreshadow the doom of a Solarian League Navy capital ship, at least to experienced Baen readers. As I cast about for a suitable candidate, Joe was, of course, the very first to come to mind. By this time John had cornered the market on total Buckley fatalities and Eric Flint had probably cornered the market on goriest Buckley fatalities, so I needed something . . . more spectacular if I meant to stay in the Buckley Bashing game. Thus it occurred to me to create the Solarian League Navy’s “cursed ship,” SLNS
Joseph Buckley
. There was an additional resonance for me personally in making him a scientist whose theories went awry, because Joe was one of the very first readers to assist me in matters of Honorverse technology. He’s created two or three very useful little software applications that help me calculate accelerations and turnover times, for example, without doing it the hard way as I did when I first began the series. In addition, he’s provided me with a date converter which helps me keep things straight between T-years, Sphinxian years, Manticoran years, Gryphon years, etc. Since he’d been so helpful to me in a technical sense, it seemed inevitable that I should repay him by casting him as a brilliant, albeit somewhat addled and misguided, scientist. And because I had made the simple act of naming a Solarian warship the
Joseph Buckley
the kiss of death, I had the opportunity to effectively kill him six times in a single book by listing the fates of all the earlier bearers of that name. Still something of a piker compared to John’s, but respectable, I thought. Respectable.

Actually, the real reason I killed Joe for the first time was that I regard him as a close personal friend and the sort of fan who becomes almost a collaborator. His deep and abiding interest in the Honorverse and my other fiction has constituted one of the compliments of which I am most proud, and his maintenance and archiving—entirely on his own time and as his own project—of the “Pearls of Weber” on his Jiltanith site has been more valuable to me than I could possibly express. I’m honored to know him, and anyone else who knows him understands that he has a huge heart, a marvelous, quiet sense of humor, and one of the sharpest brains around. There’s a reason so many Baen authors feel the kind of personal closeness with Joe which leads us to include him in our books and do the sort of horrible things to him that really, really good friends who are somewhat . . . twisted practical jokers find hilarious. And one of the best things about it is that
Joe
gets a laugh out of it, as well.

It’s been a privilege to have been his friend for lo, these many years, and I look forward to many more years . . . and, undoubtedly, at least a few more fatalities along the way.

After all, what are friends for?

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