Read The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley Online

Authors: Assorted Baen authors,Barflies

The Many Deaths of Joe Buckley (9 page)

Ashes of Victory

DAVID WEBER

As for the final member of the crew, Lieutenant Joe Buckley, the tac officer, the jury was still out. He was very good at his job, and had demonstrated a positive genius for tweaking and modifying his weapon systems’ software, but the consensus in the squadron was that he could not possibly be as innocent as his earnest expression and manner seemed to indicate. He was, after all, assigned to
Cutthroat,
and everyone knew what
that
meant.

Actually, Tremaine admitted to himself with an inner smile, Roden had managed to hammer his personal collection of misfits into exactly the sort of “LAC jocks” Captain Harmon had envisioned. Their record in sims and drills was second to none,
Cutthroat
’s engineering readiness was the second best in the wing, and they had that swaggering confidence, verging on arrogance, which was the mark of an elite small-craft crew. Indeed, Tremaine was often bemused by how well they performed, since they never seemed to have the time to waste on things like practice. That would have dragged them away from their true passion, for the lot of them seemed addicted to cards, and particularly to the ancient game of spades, which they played with special fervor and bloodthirstiness. As a rule, they seemed to resent the intrusion of anything so ephemeral as an interstellar war on
important
things like setting the high-bidder in a hand of cutthroat, and Bolgeo and Paulk, the two who’d actually come up with the idea for locating the sternwall generator, were the worst of the lot.

Of course, it
was
an . . . offbeat approach, which was probably no more than was to be expected of those two. Indeed, it was hardly surprising that the more orthodox thinkers at BuShips had never considered such an
outré
notion, no matter how much sense it made once someone actually suggested it.

* * *

Two of Tremaine’s strike died, then a third. A fourth. Three more flashed the amber of serious damage, but they were through the Peep formation and streaking away, safe from further harm while their crews fought to make emergency repairs.

The three squadrons Tremaine had diverted to the battlecruisers swarmed over their massive foes, firing savagely. The sheer fury of their headlong attack seemed to touch them with invulnerability, and two of the Peep ships blew up in spectacular boils of light as raking graser shots slammed down the throats of their wedges and directly down their long axes. But the third survived, brutally wounded, probably dying, but still in action, and her commander wrenched his broken ship around, rolling his less-damaged broadside onto his attackers as they overflew him and receded rapidly into space’s immensity.

His fire ripped at them, and the sternwalls Roden and his crew had designed proved their worth as they bent and diverted the handful of shots which struck home.

But even as relief began to flash through Tremaine, the single Peep battlecruiser got off one last broadside . . . and a single graser struck squarely on the grav eddy Horace Harkness had spotted so long ago.

Her Majesty’s Light Attack Craft
Cutthroat
exploded as violently as any of her victims had, spewing herself into the void like a fleeting nova, the only casualty of the three-squadron strike on the battlecruisers.

There were no survivors.

Mission of Honor

DAVID WEBER

“This is the sixth
Joseph
Buckley
they’ve built,” she said, “and I’ve got to wonder why even Sollies haven’t learned from that much history. It hasn’t been exactly the luckiest name in the SLN’s history.”

“Well, fair’s fair, Cindy,” Michelle pointed out. “They didn’t name any of them for the luckiest
scientist
in history, either.”

“Is that your understatement for the day, Ma’am?” Lecter asked, and this time Adenauer chuckled, too, as the name finally clicked for her, as well.

Dr. Joseph Buckley had been a major figure in the development of the original impeller drive on Beowulf in the thirteenth century. Unhappily, he hadn’t been one of the more fortunate figures. He’d been a critical part of the original developmental team in 1246, but he’d had a reputation among his peers even then for being as erratic as he was brilliant, and he’d been determined to prove it was accurate. Although Adrienne Warshawski was to develop the Warshawski sail only twenty-seven years later, Buckley had been too impatient to wait around. Instead, he’d insisted that with the proper adjustment, the impeller wedge itself could be safely inserted into a hyper-space gravity wave.

Although several of his contemporaries had acknowledged the theoretical brilliance of his work, none had been prepared to endorse his conclusions. Unfazed by his peers’ lack of confidence, Buckley—whose considerable store of patents had made him a wealthy man—had designed and built his own test vessel, the
Dahak
, named for a figure out of Babylonian mythology. With a volunteer crew embarked, he’d set out to demonstrate the validity of his work.

The attempt, while spectacular, had not been a success. In fact, the imagery which had been recorded by the
Dahak
’s escorts still turned up in slow motion in HD compilations of the most awe-inspiring disaster footage in galactic history.

While Buckley undeniably deserved to be commemorated alongside such other greats as Warshawski and Radhakrishnan, and despite the huge body of other work he’d left behind, it was the dramatic nature of his demise for which he was best remembered. And his various namesakes in SLN service had fared little better than he himself had. Of the current ship’s predecessors, only one had survived to be withdrawn from service and decommissioned.

“Actually, only three of them were lost on active service, Cindy,” Michelle pointed out.

“Four, if you count the battlecruiser, Ma’am,” Lecter argued respectfully.

“Well, all right. I’d forgotten about her.” Michelle shrugged. “Still, I don’t think it’s exactly fair to blame the ‘Buckley Curse’ for a ship lost ‘to causes unknown,’ though.”

“Why? Because having witnesses makes it more final? Or because faulty fusion bottles and wedge-on-wedge collisions are more spectacular?”

“They’re certainly more in keeping with the original’s final voyage,” Michelle pointed out.

“All right, I’ll grant that much,” Lecter agreed. “And, actually, I suppose losing only four of them—or three, if we go with your list—in the better part of seven hundred T-years probably isn’t really
proof
the Curse exists. And I’m not an especially superstitious gal myself. But having said all that,
I
wouldn’t care to serve aboard one of them! And especially not”—her smile disappeared and her eyes darkened—“if I was sailing into what promised to be the ugliest war my navy’d ever fought.”

“Neither would I,” Michelle acknowledged. “On the other hand, she doesn’t think that’s what she’s doing, now does she?”

* * *

SLNS
Joseph
Buckley
lurched indescribably as the Manticoran missiles detonated and X-ray lasers ripped at her massive armor.

Thick as that armor was, it was no match for the stilettos of focused radiation punching into it like brimstone awls. It shattered under the transfer energy as the lasers ripped deeper and deeper, and the huge ship bucked in agony.

Jacomina van Heutz clung to the arms of her command chair as her shock frame hammered her. The fleeting instant in which the Manticoran missiles could bring their lasers to bear against her ship’s sidewalls as they penetrated the Solarian formation with a closing velocity which had climbed to seventy-three percent of light-speed was far too brief for any of
Joseph
Buckley
’s damage to register on merely human senses as individual hits. It was all delivered in one stroboscopic lightning bolt of devastation, too sudden and intense for even the ship’s computers to register or sort out.

Those missile-born talons gouged and tore. Energy mounts and missile tubes, counter-missile launchers, radar arrays, point defense clusters, boat bays, gravitic sensors, impeller nodes—all of them shattered, exploding into tattered ruin in a single catastrophic moment, faster than a man could have blinked. In less time than it would have taken to cough, Sandra Crandall’s flagship was transformed into a broken wreck, a splintered hulk, coasting onward under momentum alone, with three quarters of her crew wiped out of existence.

Michael Z. Williamson:

I may actually hold the record on Buckley kills, given the body count in
The Weapon
and doing a demographic count of English speakers named “Joe Buckley” or variants thereof. But he wasn’t named there. I was actually late to the game, though I’d enjoyed the backstory on how the Buckley kills came about, and watching them pop up in various novels.

I did put him in several of my novels--
Better to Beg Forgiveness
. . . and
Contact with Chaos
among them. I’m sure I can get him again. And Joe is so good-natured about it, it’s hard to stop. No one can kill just once. There’s creative deaths, valiant deaths, violent deaths, and grotesque deaths. Death for everyone! As long as their name is “Joe Buckley” or variants.

I’ve also slid him into some short stories in entirely other universes. This is a trend that should continue.

Better to Beg Forgiveness . . .

MICHAEL Z. WILLIAMSON

The crowd further back from the palace lightened, and he reached a good speed. He wove a little, forcing pedestrians to dodge and swear at him. They occasionally threw a rock or shot. He ignored that. Bart had hooked his legs around the front pillar to gain a hold while he shot right. Elke shot straight ahead right past Bart’s spine, with Rahul reinforcing the middle passenger side. Aramis stood through a hole he’d hacked in the thin roof, offering support in all directions even if he was exposed. Behind him, Jason wasn’t sure what was going on. He heard a lot of shooting and brawling. An empty carbine flew out in two pieces, stripped by someone who didn’t need it anymore.

He grinned at the promotional video Corporate could make out of this by enhancing Elke’s recordings.
We only sent six operators. It was only one war.

“Man down, man down!” someone shouted. He didn’t recognize the voice but it was someone in this car.

Then four people shouted, “Man down!” in confirmation.

“Orders, Alex?” he shouted back. He slowed a little but didn’t stop. Two of the NCOs were hauling a limp mess back up the rear deck.

“Sergeant Buckley is down, he’s . . . dammit, keep driving.”

Jason nailed it again. Behind him, White screamed curses and emptied her weapon. Buckley was at least her compatriot if not a friend, and he was dead.


I want all of you skinny little cocksucking illiterati to
die!” she shrieked, punctuated by bursts that sounded very controlled.

Well, that was original. He had to wonder whom she was killing, because it certainly sounded as if she knew how to handle a weapon. Her sobs were loud enough to hear over all that. She was definitely having a stress reaction to close combat, not that he could blame her.

Jason braked, the Security Techs jumped off the roof and assisted White out the rear. One of them grabbed Buckley’s body, and he could now see the wound. It was a headshot from the side, just under his helmet lip. Ugly. The rear vehicle of the convoy slowed and prepared to board them. Once it was clear they’d be picked up, Jason nailed it again. Allies were an iffy thing around here.

Contact with Chaos

MICHAEL Z. WILLIAMSON

“Eyes, rinse,” she said at once, reached up and snatched off her goggles. Moose poured two large splashes of saline into them; she grunted and let it drain. “Now let’s move,” she said, redonning the night vision. She rose and took the lead.

“Keep shooting?” someone asked in her ears via radio.

“Yes, envelope from the south and keep moving. Try to drive them back this way.”

A sharp report slapped her, then the world exploded.

She ducked down, hugged the ground, shut her face, opened her mouth, and rode it out. Bright orange flashes came in a kaleidoscopic whirl, and a cacophonous thunder, like a fireworks finale or a time on target artillery barrage.

Only there was no artillery here.

The thunder subdued and echoed away, leaving a hiss of dust, a drumming of falling debris, animal cries of pain . . . and Moose’s voice in a pained whisper.

First, though, was security. Chelsea rose enough to get a good scan, wishing she had more than a spear to protect her. Someone had called in heavies, probably orbital.

Sandy was already on Moose, slapping drugs to her and apparently putting a tourniquet on her leg. Chelsea swore, made a visor scan, and saw two other casualties, and one missing light. Not red,
missing
. Buckley was . . . gone. If that was an orbital kinetic strike, even a few grams would have blown him to vapor.

Oh, shit.

A wave of adrenaline-driven rush, nausea, shock and anger washed over her. Someone had violated the rules, hell, had nuked the rules.

And she’d made a promise to Ballenger to be diplomatic.

With casualties being treated, and no action available but to wait and ensure things were under control again, she let her anger out in the only way she could think of: pounding the ground with a fist and a booted foot. She grunted in exertion, then got a lungful of the crud she was stirring up. The resultant spasm of coughing made her decide to stop.

There would be a reckoning. It might be a while, but someone was going to pay dearly for that insanity.

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