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Starship Security

Cedric Barnes, Barney to his friends, stood in a ten by ten formation with 99 other recruits, excited, nervous, and wondering for the 147th time why the hell he’d chosen to sign up for Fleet. Sure, “Join the Fleet and see the Galaxy!” sounded really good, certainly better than the dead end job he’d been working, but still, was traveling the Galaxy worth everything he was leaving behind? Gina? His parents? The guys? Sure, if he made it into the Fleet, that would be a start to building a real life for himself, and maybe for Gina too.

That was, of course, if she waited.

He knew that wasn’t likely. Gina was too pretty to be single for long, no matter what they had promised each other as he boarded the train. Even though their final goodbye last night had been quite energetic, he wasn’t sure if it was “Goodbye,” or “Goodbye, for now.” Either way, that was six months ago, with another 18 before he could even begin to hope of seeing her again.

Certainly not worth worrying about now. Barney knew his thoughts were wandering to avoid thinking about what was coming next. Today was Detailing. He was about to find out how he would spend the next seven plus years of his life, assuming that he didn’t wash out of the training. After the first four months of Boot, once Fleet began to believe the remaining members of his induction class would make it, they began putting the recruits through a battery of aptitude tests. Physical ability, emotional stability, temperament, psychological adjustment, aggression index, and combat skills were all tested and graded, along with other tests that seemed to have no real purpose other than to embarrass, enrage, or completely confuse him. The worst part was he had no idea how he did on the tests, or which ones had more bearing on getting Command Track. All he knew was his orders sent him to line up outside Room 127 of the Training Building for Detailing at 0630.

And here he was at 0615, 99 other people in line with him. That wasn’t a good sign for Command Track, Barney’s first choice. Rumor had it that only two people from each class of 1000 recruits made it to Command Track and unless the school had a phenomenal drop rate, there were way too many people in line with him. Barney was disappointed that he hadn’t made the cut, but Astrogation and Engineering, his second and third choices respectively, weren’t bad options either. Competition for those berths was stiff, although not as bad as Command, because those ratings were exclusively space based ratings. He would get off planet with either of them.

Precisely at 0620, the door to the room opened and the recruits filed in, maintaining silence per the regs. Recruit Regulation 408: During duty hours, no conversation allowed unless it pertains directly to duty. The training room had no chairs, just numbered spots on the floor, each spot matching a recruit’s ID number. They sorted themselves and came to attention as a Master Chief Petty Officer entered the room and closed the door.

“Recruits, my name is Master Chief Flug and congratulations for making it through the first phase of your training. For the last six months, you’ve been worked, pushed, beaten, tested, and trained till you dropped, all to bring out your strengths and expose your weaknesses. Those who were too weak, too smart, or too dumb have been weeded out, and every one of you that is left is a member of the Fleet. So congratulations; you’ve made it.”

“But now, your real training begins.”

“Everything you’ve accomplished over the last six months no longer means shit. All it means is we can trust you to stay alive while we work you harder than you’ve ever been worked before in your lives. You have been given the great honor of being selected for the toughest, most important job in Fleet. While others get the glory, you will be ignored. While others pull glamour duty on first contact missions, you will be assigned to some of the worst hell holes in the galaxy. And even if you pull an assignment on an exploration vessel, your job will be dangerous, arduous, unappreciated, and largely unrecognized. Your fellow crew members will hate to see you coming because that means the shit is about to hit the fan.”

“You’ll freeze, burn up, get shot at, take crap from aliens, both enemy and ally, lose sleep, go hungry, and learn not to trust anyone. No strike that; you will be able to trust one person. That would be your enemy because you’ll know he’ll want to kill you. You’ll never be sure about anybody else.”

“You’ll work under asinine rules of engagement that virtually guarantee you’ll get hurt or killed. You’ll train endlessly on fighting techniques, only to be assigned to duty where you are not allowed to fight back. Diplomats will curse you; captains will ignore you, and at times, almost everybody you work with will interfere with your ability to do your job.”

“You’ll be a bodyguard, a policeman, an enforcer, a peacemaker and a peacekeeper. You’ll be spies, soldiers, and assassins. You will be assigned impossible tasks, and expected to do them quietly, and unobtrusively. And when you manage the impossible, there will be no medals awards or ribbons, not even a BZ from the boss. The only time he will notice you is when you screw up, because then important people will die.”

“You are now part of Fleet Security. Welcome to the Redshirts.”

Fleet Security? Barney couldn’t believe it, and judging from the murmurs he heard, neither could quite a few of the other recruits in the room. Redshirts were the shit detail in Fleet. It was for the rejects, the knuckle-draggers, the guys who failed to qualify for any other duty. Redshirts were the butt of every Fleet joke. It had been his last choice after Hull Maintenance Technician; he’d rather be a turd chaser than a redshirt. Barney knew he did better on his assessments than that; there had to be some kind of mistake.

“Master Chief, permission to ask a question.”

“Go ahead Marquez”

“This can’t be right,” said Marquez. “I was told by my recruiter that I was certain to make Command Track. I aced all my entrance exams. This is wrong. I’m not supposed to be here with these…”

Barney was surprised at first to hear his thoughts spoken out loud. He would never have dared speak up like that.

The Master Chief looked over at the recruit.

“Front and center Starman Recruit Marquez.” As Marquez came to the front of the room, the Master Chief looked over the rest of us.

“Apparently, Recruit Marquez has something to say about redshirts. It seems he has a problem with serving in my unit. Well, finish your sentence Recruit Marquez. ‘Here with all these’ what?”

Marquez looked trapped. He’d stopped, realizing he was about to step in it hip deep; he didn’t know how to retreat and the Master Chief wasn’t about to let him.

“Answer me Marquez. All these what? Knucklebusters? Apes? Chumps? What were you going to say? Answer now or leave the room. But I warn you, you walk out now, you go to Fleet immediately, no more training, as a non-rate. You’ll mop floors, paint walls, and clean heads until you convince some poor bastard to let you strike for a new rating. It should only take 5 or 6 years.”

“Master Chief, I didn’t mean to imply, that is, I wasn’t trying to insult…”

“Last chance Marquez. Answer the question honestly, or get the hell out of my training room. ‘All these’ what?” The Master Chief’s voice wasn’t raised; he spoke quietly, calmly, but with an intensity that conveyed more than most people could with foam-spitting profanity. His contempt for Marquez was palpable. Barney could tell that no matter what Marquez said, he was toast, fleet bound without a rating.

“Losers, Master Chief. I’m not supposed to be here with these losers.”

“Am I a loser, Marquez? I’m a redshirt. Not so many years ago, I was standing on a number just like you. Does that make me one of the losers?”

“No Master Chief. It’s just that, well, I expected…I’ve always thought that redshirts were, ummm…”

“The dregs of Fleet, right?” asked the Master Chief. “The ones who couldn’t do anything else. Good enough to stop a pulse blast, but not good for much of anything else, right?”

“Yes Master Chief.”

“Good. That’s just the way we like it. Back in line Marquez. You live to die another day.”

The Master Chief turned to the rest of us.

“Recruits, you need to learn something right now. Fleet Security is the hardest billet to fill. It is the most complex organization in the Fleet. Consider; we handle both internal and external security on fleet vessels. That means we’re Master At Arms, policing the ship’s crew, then we turn around and protect them from off ship hazards. We may bust a man to the brig one day, then take a pulse blast for him the next.”

“Guess which one he remembers most?”

“Fleet Security supplies body guards for diplomatic missions. Do you think a knuckle-dragger could handle that? We accompany ship’s officers and crew on first contact and exploration missions. Would the ‘dregs of the fleet’ ” be able to assess threats from an unknown environment, evaluate potential hazards and come up with a plan to protect all of his fellow crewmen on the fly and without adequate intel?”

“Fleet Security takes a special kind of person to do the job. You have to be smart enough to recognize and react to a new situation, but not so smart you fail to react instinctively when needed. You have to be strong, aggressive, and capable of taking apart a platoon of regular soldiers, but disciplined enough to let them take you apart instead if that serves the mission. You have to follow orders, yet know when to break the rules to accomplish the mission, and then to take the consequences afterwards. In short, you have to be able to subordinate yourself, your life, and even your honor to the mission.”

“Not many people can do that. Not many can work so completely in the dark, not knowing why they are called to do what they do, only that they must do it. Each of you in this room has demonstrated that quality, and that’s why you are here.”

“Of the 100 people in this room, 25 of you will not complete training. 20 will quit, and five will be retired through injury or death. Of the 75 that make it, 60 will be assigned planetside security duty on Earth or some other planet. The pleasant planets have limited security needs, meaning chances are, you’ll be assigned to some hell hole, acting as Shore Patrol for a bunch of Fleet personnel that nobody else wanted. Of the 15 left, ten will be assigned in-system fleet duty. You’ll live in space, going planetside once every two or three months while you provide security for transport ships on routine runs. Five of you will grab the brass ring, Starship duty. You’ll travel the galaxy, make first contact with new civilizations, act as body guards to Ship’s company or any diplomats on board, as well as provide internal security aboard the ship.

“This is the glamour detail, recruits. This is the one that the new fish aim for. It also has the highest fatality rate. Of the five who get Starship duty, 2 will not live through their first enlistment. Of those who go career, 60% die before retirement. Comparatively, career Fleet security personnel who do not go Starship have a 85% survival rate, not counting losses during the first enlistment, which tend to reach 25% or so.

“Like I said when you first walked in, this is the toughest job in the Fleet. And it’s also the most important. When we do our job right, we may die but the mission is completed. When we screw up, the mission fails and other people die. It’s just that simple. We are expendable; the people we protect are not.”

The Master Chief paused, and looked around the room for a moment, assessing the recruits.

“Our testing is good; we know each of you has the qualities to make a good redshirt. What we don’t know, what we can’t measure, is whether you want to be a redshirt. We can’t measure the heart; we can’t calculate desire. So here’s what we do instead. Over the next year of training, we won’t fail a single trainee. You can’t fail out of this training. If you get injured or can’t master a requirement, we’ll roll you back to the next class. If you don’t quit, you won’t fail. On the other hand, we are going to do everything we can to make you want to quit. We don’t want you here unless you want to be here and the only way we can know that you want to be here is to try as hard as we can to drive you out. Everything we do from the moment you walk through the door to your left will serve two purposes. First, to train you as a redshirt, and second, to make you quit. Nothing you do will be good enough; you will fail over and over again and we will expect you to keep trying until you get it right. And once you do, we’ll just pile more on you. You’ll scream, you’ll rage, you’ll cry like a little baby.”

“But if you make it through, you’ll be a redshirt, and you’ll never need another person to tell you whether you are good enough or not. You’ll already know it, deep inside.”

“Now, here is your chance to escape. You don’t want to be here with the losers and knuckle-draggers, then leave. Go out the door to the right, and you’ll be assigned to the duty second highest on your aptitude testing. Marquez, in your case, you qualified for Command Track. Walk out the door and you’ll go directly to Command School and start training. For the rest of you, the door to your left takes you to Security Training School. Your training will begin the instant you step through that door and will end when you complete training or quit. Quitting after walking through the left door will get you exactly what I promised Marquez earlier, an instant ticket to Fleet as a non-rate. Failure to pick a door constitutes quitting.

“Recruits, you have 3 minutes to decide.”

Barney stood still, thinking about being a redshirt. Could he stand it? He wanted Command Track, and was pretty sure he’d made it, but not completely. But still, even if he didn’t make it, anything had to be better than Fleet Security. There was absolutely nothing keeping him from taking the door to the right as several other recruits had already done. He could get his second best rating and most likely still get to space.

But something held him in place. Something Master Chief Flug had said had struck a spark in him but he couldn’t quite make it out. Why should he stay? Why should he subject himself to the torturous training, and the probability of assignment to the ass end of the universe? There seemed to be nothing in it for him.

But still, he stood motionless.

His mind raced, taking him back to the beginning of Boot Camp. He’d spent two days on the train to Camp Wright, observing most of his fellow recruits while getting to know few. They were a mixed bag, ranging in age from 17 to 26, and from all over the world. They were all nervous, even the ones that claimed otherwise. Some were boisterous, laughing a little too loudly and often. Others were quiet, studying the General Orders they were all supposed to have memorized by the time they arrived at camp. Barney tended to be one of the quiet ones, and had responded when people talked to him, but had not initiated any conversations himself. When the train had pulled into the camp around 22:30, two Starman Apprentices had entered the car, called roll, and then lined the new recruits up on the tarmac in four columns. They had been marched over to a large single story building, trying to follow the cadence called by the SAs and failing miserably. They had entered the building and assembled in classrooms based on some system only known to the SAs, who had consulted sheets of paper to arrange the recruits.

There were desks in the room, and numbers painted on the floor beside each desk. Each recruit was given a number and told to stand on it until given new orders. Barney had found the number 27 and was standing on it. There was a single Starman Recruit standing by the door, and he looked prepared to stand there all night if necessary. Barney hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. He needed to visit the facilities; it had been a long train ride.

At midnight, the SR snapped to attention, standing up straight, arms at his side, thumbs aligned to the seams of his trousers, looking straight ahead.

“Attention on deck!” he shouted, and then snapped a salute as a woman in a spacer’s working uniform entered the room. The uniform was a light blue jumpsuit with a dark blue belt. The left sleeve had three chevrons on the shoulder, and Barney recognized that as the rank of a Petty Officer First Class. There were two red slashes at the bottom of the sleeve, indicating at least 8 years of service. She returned the SR’s salute, snapped, “At ease,” and stood there for a moment, looking over the new recruits.

“Recruits, take your seats. My name is Petty Officer Lee. Welcome to Indoc. You’ve all passed your physicals and taken your oaths, but there is paperwork that must be done before you commence training. You will learn over the next eight years that the military runs on paperwork. If the paperwork isn’t right, then neither are you. Lift the top of your desks and you will find two pens, and a packet of papers to fill out. Put them on the top of the desk and we will fill out the paperwork. Once it is done to my satisfaction, you will be marched over to your temporary barracks, and get some sleep. Reveille is at 0530, so the faster we get this done, the happier you will be. I work nights, so it’s no skin off my nose if we’re here all night.”

“Questions? Forget it. You don’t know enough to ask intelligent questions yet. Let’s get started,”

Barney filled out the forms, including several he had already filled out during the recruitment process. He didn’t know if they were trying to trip him up, catch him in a lie, or just didn’t forward the forms from recruiting commands to training commands. Either way, he wasn’t going to ask the question. However, the need to go to the bathroom was becoming a pressing issue, and finally, after filling out a postcard to tell his parents he had made it to boot camp safely, filled out in block capital letters and dictated by Petty Officer Lee, he couldn’t wait any longer and raised his hand.

Petty Officer Lee didn’t need to consult a seating chart. “Recruit Barnes, you have a question?”

“Yes, Petty Officer Lee. Are we going to get a restroom break soon?”

Some recruits snickered, and Barney flushed, feeling like he was back in elementary school.

“What’s so funny, Recruit Johnson? Do you find normal bodily functions amusing? Are you blessed with the ability to never go to the bathroom? That might explain why your eyes are brown!”

The recruits laughed louder than the joke deserved, releasing nervous tension.

Petty Officer Lee waited for the outburst to quiet, then spoke again.

“Recruits, you haven’t started Boot Camp yet. You’ll be going through in-processing for a couple of days. A certain amount of informality is expected. At the same time, it will go better for you if you begin to practice self-discipline, like raising your hand when in class, and requesting permission for things. In this case, going to the restroom. We’ll take a ten minute break. Heads are located down the hall to your right.”

After the break, they finished up the paperwork and marched to the barracks where, despite Petty Officer Lee’s prediction, Barney waited three weeks to begin Boot Camp. During that time, he was detailed to the Indoc center, and assisted the staff in bringing new recruits up to speed. He spent one week on night shift, and spent quite a bit of time talking to Petty Officer Lee.

One night, after putting a new class of recruits to bed in the barracks, he asked her if this duty was what she’d signed up for.

“Of course not,” she said. “I wanted to be an Astrogator on a battle cruiser.”

“What happened,” Barney asked.

“I learned my limitations,” she replied curtly.

“Oh,” he said lamely. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Lee said. “I’m not. This isn’t my primary duty. I’m on a shore rotation. Six months left of this vacation, then I’ll be back to the fleet, standing one in three watches in the engine room of a courier. Its good duty, interesting, and I get to go more places than I would’ve in a cruiser. In the last three years, I’ve seen 12 planets and 14 different systems.”

“I’m shooting for Command Track,” muttered Barney, afraid of being laughed at.

“Good for you,” Lee said. “Go for what you want. But a word of advice; if you don’t get your first choice, don’t let it throw you. Fleet’s got pretty good at sorting people into the right job. Just keep an open mind come Detailing.”

An open mind. Sure. Easy for PO Lee to say. She had a good billet in a good ship. She got to see the galaxy, travel to new systems and spend liberty ashore on different worlds. Barney was looking at Fleet Security. The only shore leave he would see would be on scum pits of backwards ass planets and if he saw a new planet, it was liable to try and kill him as soon as he stepped out of the shuttle.

“There’s a difference between having an open mind and just letting your brain fall out on the floor,” Barney thought. “I need to get out the right door now, while I have time.

“Two minutes left,” the Master Chief said.

Barney saw Marquez out of the corner of his eye moving towards the front of the training room. Marquez said something quietly to the Master Chief, then listened intently to the reply. Barney couldn’t hear either one, and assumed that Marquez was apologizing to the Master Chief again. The Master Chief nodded and Marquez stepped back, turned to the left and went out the door. He’d chosen Fleet Security over Command Track!

What the hell? Why would he do that? Barney couldn’t figure it out. His confusion grew as the clock ticked down. A minute thirty left. If he went to the right, he’d get to be whatever else he’d qualified for. There was no shame in not wanting to be a redshirt. Nobody wanted to be a redshirt.

Except Marquez.

Why the hell did he do that?

A minute left. A couple more recruits went out the right door but the rest still stood there indecisively. Barney thought furiously. Standing still, failing to make a decision was the coward’s way out. He needed to decide his fate, not allow the clock to do it. A redshirt? Really? That was the way he could serve the fleet best?

As soon as he thought about it like that, as soon as his focus changed from what was best for him to what was best for the fleet, he had his answer, and knew why Marquez had chosen as he did. Barney stepped out briskly and decisively, turned left, and hit the door with 45 seconds to spare. As he went out the door, he saw most of the rest of the class moving behind him towards the left door. Whether they were just following him, or more likely Marquez, or they had reached the same conclusion he did, it didn’t matter. They were all choosing to serve the fleet instead of themselves.

They were redshirts.

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