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2173 – Ensign Xiu-Li Chen
The Spacer Series: Book One
by B.B. Irvine
Copyright 2012 B. B. Irvine
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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To my parents, Hope and Bruce, without who I would not have been possible – B.B.I.
Chapter 01 - MARIPOSA
IWG-SS JOHN A. WHEELER
17 JANUARY 2173 – Monday
The silver slashes of light intensified as she reached the climax. Now keep the beats steady. One, two, a two-three, four...
The young woman slicing the air in the “court space” of the small gym on the science survey starship JOHN A.WHEELER was of Asian heritage, somewhat more distinctively so than most humans these days. Her short swords also added to a more timeless sense, for they were butterfly swords used in an ancient Earth fighting art from Asia – Wu-Shu. It was a form that was at least a thousand years old, and when Captain D. “Bert” Matisou and First Officer Commander Jason Takaguchi passed through on a ship’s planning and inspection tour, they stopped. They looked at each other and Takaguchi’s mouth dropped open.
What impressed Matisou was that the woman didn’t stop. She was working pretty hard – her crew T-shirt and sweatpants were dark with sweat – and wasn’t going to stop working out just because the captain walked into the gym during her P.E. time. And even he could see she was good – really good. That doesn’t mean she can actually fight with them, of course, or what she’d be like unarmed... who is she again? One of the mid-December newbies...
He nudged Takaguchi. “The secondary tube? Where the optics cabling would run?” He was pointing to his EngDPaT screen map. It was an engineering version of the Data Pad and Transmitter unit, a duplicate of the one held by his first officer, borrowed from the chief engineer, who wanted them back as soon as possible.
“Hm? Oh, yes, Captain. That’d be...” They moved off, looking along the wall.
They returned just as she finished moving, and assumed a set position. She straightened and smiled at Matisou. “Please excuse me, Captain. Good afternoon.” She bowed slightly, then nodded at Takaguchi. “Good afternoon, Commander.”
“Crewperson Chen. Good afternoon.” Matisou nodded. “That’s very impressive, Xiu-Li. May I?” He held out his hand.
“Thank you, sir. Of course.”
He took one of the swords and held it up. It was designed so the end of the blade could be removed and stowed inside the handle itself, making it smaller for travel. Memory metal assisted in locking it in either of the positions – and right now, it was a balanced and fully functional blade. Takaguchi, who had just looked on, now whistled. Matisou handed back the sword. “Traditional form?”
“Yes, sir. Wu-Wei Do; this is a wu-shu path butterfly sword. Originally from China.”
Matisou whistled. “Wu-Wei? That’s from the orbital and L-point construction period, isn’t it?” He had already found the sword form itself impressive, but if she was also a student of the zero G martial art system called Wu-Wei Do, that made her much more seriously trained than he’d expected. He noticed she had straightened slightly.
“Yes, sir. I learned it there. My mother was a hull buster after we left the South China Sea Arcology platform project.”
He nodded. “I see.” Matisou vaguely recalled the files on her from a month earlier, when she had joined the ship – something about her father dying in the seafloor quake that destroyed the huge arcology platform being built in the South China Sea. It made him look at her more closely, and he saw a resilience there he knew and recognized. This kid’s a fighter like I am – slow to anger, then watch out. “You’re in the Science Division, right? Engineering cross-trainee?”
Before she could answer, the gym door slid open and a rather impatient looking Chief Engineer walked in. Lieutenant Commander Aria Threnody was a Niv and suffered fools madly, it seemed. Time wasters qualified, as such, even a captain; but Matisou awed her, so she merely glared at him, then at Xiu-Li, the cause of the delay.
“Yes, sir; I’m on the systems integration team.”
“You’re something of an engineer, then.” Matisou smiled. “You know a lot about fighting, for an engineer.”
Xiu-Li thought about Chief Engineer Threnody standing there, one of the best engineers in the whole InterWorld Group fleet – which was why she was on survey ship WHEELER, charting the lesser known so far from home. I am going to have to evade his blunderjab gracefully here...
Xiu-Li smiled, just slightly, which helped the next words come more prettily. “Excuse me, sir. I’m a scientist who can do simple engineering, to be fully honest, sir. It is Chief Threnody who’s the real engineer here.” She smiled wider – to dazzling. “As for knowing how to fight, sir, well... as a scientist I’ve seen that the universe gives up little without a struggle. This study calms my mind so I can think more clearly.”
“Very good.” Matisou looked at Takaguchi and glowered, keeping the first officer quiet, already anticipating the needling he’d be getting for not quite recalling enough details from the file – the main focus of the crew at the time she had joined the ship almost five weeks ago in mid-December had been the departure of the well liked Chandrasekhar Ray, the original ship systems integrations engineering officer, and the happy chance to get 2172’s Year End Day presents early.
Xiu-Li Chen and two other Space Fleet crew had sort of slipped on board as new replacement crew and spent the last four weeks learning their duties, usually far away from the bridge (like cleaning the organic muck filters). Although he’d seen Xiu-Li up there in the big science station chair doing overnight late watch shifts, they were just basic introductions for emergencies and her eventual overnight watch rotations. She had otherwise not been on his mind – a good thing, meaning no problems (unlike Tealing, who was this trip’s “not my favorite Ensign”). This kid’s sharp. Matisou nodded at her. “Well, let’s not keep you from, ah, calming your mind.”
She straightened to attention and nodded her head. “Aye, sir.” She pivoted, came to attention and bowed toward the floor she had worked out on, then she straightened and picked up her towel, heading for the locker area as Matisou led the smirky Takaguchi and a slightly less angry looking Threnody out of the gym.
In the locker room, Xiu-Li made a face. Correcting the Captain! Shaking her head, she opened her locker. Not my best encounter! Still, calling her an engineer in front of Threnody – she had to set that record straight away before Chief Threnody took offense that a lowly “sci-crewie” like herself would dare to dream of calling herself an engineer yet (even if she did have a degree in bioengineering; it was her degree in physics that had mattered – far emissions phenomena being so very critical in remote sensor design. Xiu-Li also suspected her medic crosstraining was what had got her the slot over Applebit, who was trained in specimens sciences, art preservation, and curation, crosstrained on computer systems – but on a system older than WHEELER was running, thanks to Threnody’s upgrades!)
Fifteen extra minutes on the beach for conduct unbecoming a student of Wu-Wei Do! Since she had first started to study martial arts, meditation had been a part of her life; once she was confirmed as a Wu-Wei Do student her teacher had given her a specific exercise to follow: the mental creation of an island with areas devoted to specific categories of thought or actions. Over the past ten years she had gotten “the beach at high noon” (for wakefulness, health, and use as punishment), and also “at sunset into night” (health, sleep, sex), as well as “the fighting field” (where she put one of her oldest visuals, her original “training room,” inside a shack out there), and “her room” (a setting for fantasies). It wasn’t all for fun: something as tranquil as a beach could also be used as discipline – fifteen minutes at high noon on a windless beach would make the presence of a lovely ocean just torture, although it also presented a realistic distraction as it would in real life.
Of course, it was all in her head, but it was a quite an exercise in memory to get it created, especially in an age so many relied solely upon electronic means – people rarely wrote by hand any longer. No one seemed to think they would ever lose power, especially those on the big starships using cold fusion plants for internal power.
Hmm... maybe if she perfectly visualized a sand crab digging in, she might... earn some fun – later.
– After the beach, Chen Xiu-Li! (Correcting the Captain! Aaah!)
The air hushed slightly as someone entered. Xiu-Li started putting some workout things away.
“Oh, hi, Jool!” said Julissa Martines. She was an Ensign in the Science Division, a very good meterologist and the expert in atmospheres, with a water geology subspecialty (evaluating past signs of water at work on rock).
“Hey, Julissa,” replied Xiu-Li, who was a Science Division crewper. Julissa was her senior but she had been very nice since Xiu-Li had joined WHEELER, nicest of the very nice crew (which had accepted her pretty quickly) and Xiu-Li’s bridge station trainer (the most intensely exciting thing she had done so far – and that was in the dead-of-night watch with nothing at all going on except a basic “in-flight” ship scan while they were routinely en route in hyperflight).
“Going in or getting done?” asked Julissa, looking at the bag.
“Getting done. You?”
“Getting a tuneChip out of my locker.” She looked at the chrono and back. “You going on watch?”
“Nope, just off.” Xiu-Li closed her locker. “Ouch.” She wiggled her shoulders. “That shower will be great!”
Julissa closed her locker. “I could massage that for you, if you’d like. Forbben traded my watch today for tomorrow; he’s got a shore leave approved, the lucky sh – spacebug!” she scowled, then smiled at Xiu-Li. “Anyway, I am suddenly off, and I find myself ready to relax and celebrate a change in routine.” She did not look away.
Xiu-Li felt herself flush. Her heart began to beat harder, and she felt nervous. Was there a new possibility here? Right now it was just being “a helpful friend,” but... hmmm. If she and Julissa began to spend time together, it would be added to the ship’s rumor server – but so what? Her past affair with a male senior student during her junior year at Space University (Earth) had already been thoroughly dissected, Xiu-Li was certain – it had been torrid (and in retrospect, less discreet than they had imagined), and he had many friends in the fleet who had made fun of his early elimination from that year’s Skills And Arts Tournament at the hands and feet of his own girlfriend – but he was a good man, and they had parted as friends when he’d graduated at last. Discreet? Not really – many people had heard about it, just as they had heard about her going to the holos with Javier Nunez, the helm underwatch (and a nice guy, but a pretty cocky pilot-type who was in general more interested in himself than her – oh well).
Julissa’s nickname was “Mariposa,” but some called her “fickle,” because she moved from love to love like a butterfly to flowers. Xiu-Li had been sleeping alone for just about a year and a half now – senior year required that level of focus, and she’d been station to station until arriving on WHEELER – and well, she was ready to rejoin the human race that way. And if another lone “Mariposa” was inclined to flutter by her way, maybe she would, or maybe... maybe not, it wasn’t like she was a Sister, she had never actually – ohhh, it’s so cold outside these walls, though. Xiu-Li would not say “no” tonight. Anyway, she was probably reading too much into it, because she had generally been a loner (except for the few she had let into her life).
Julissa’s just being nice.
Xiu-Li smiled. “That would be very nice, Julissa.”
Julissa smiled. “Great! Listen, you might as well wait, to shower off the oil as well – let me meet you at your quarters in... ?”
“I’m going straight there. So whenever you get there will be fine. Thanks, Julissa.”
“So she says ‘to be honest, I’m a scientist who can do simple engineering!’” Matisou could just about overhear Takaguchi talking to Enronn Debitts, the helmsman and second tactical officer. Aria Threnody was at the engineering station reviewing the day logs and would be coming on as overnight watch officer.
Matisou was reasonably content at the moment. Planetfall was coming up with “shore and exploratory leaves” planned – he hoped to get some hiking and climbing done with Jason on both. He had a list of samples to collect – IWG-SS JOHN A.WHEELER was out on survey duty, after all. If they happened to return with rock samples from every major planetary range or Highest Mountain Base, well, it was all data. Besides, finding ocean fossils in the high ranges on the Earth had revealed plate tectonics. Who knew what secrets the ranges on Cape Of Velvet held?
Debitts was talking with Takaguchi, and whatever he said made the first officer’s jaw drop. This must be good, he thought, getting up and stepping closer. “Gentlemen? A point of interest regarding crew skills?”
Takaguchi still seemed unable to cope. “But – she’s too pretty!” he finally blurted, then blushed and shut up.
Matisou looked at Debitts. “Lieutenant?”
“I was just telling the Commander about the University’s Arts Skills Tournament,” said the Chief Helmsman.
“She won in 2171 and 2172!” cried Takaguchi.
Matisou was puzzled. “In what class?”
Debitts took a breath. “Well, sir, they changed the whole finals process in 2170. No matter what type of skill you entered with, you ultimately compete in a worse case scenario, sometimes more than one. In 2171 they went with zero G for the finale, after conventional fighting en route. She beat everyone en route and then the finalist.” He grinned. “I remember I made a friendly wager with a friend, and was he pissed when she won.”
“It was unexpected? Why?”
Debitts shrugged. “My friend’s one of the training officers at the University. She entered the University on a special five year program when she was 17. For three years she was never more than a very fast, competent fighter during training exercises, who professed a non-violence philosophy at all times and seemed reluctant to actually fight. She entered the Space University Tournament after she, uhh,” he dropped his voice, “learned about the artifacts – and, well, she ‘had permission for a demonstration of her skills against the universe’ is the way my friend said she described it.”
Takaguchi stared at him. “She said something like that, and you still bet on her?”
Debitts scowled at him. “I knew her mother. I suspected Xiu-Li might know a lot more than she was going to show a roomful of plain average Fleet cadets with things to prove and an instructor looking for mere perfection in basics. But not to show off, or even because she could. Her mother gave her permission, maybe even directed her.”
Matisou nodded. “Her mother was a hull tank buster. That’s how Xiu-Li learned Wu-Wei Do.” It was an art born of loneliness and large but contained zero G spaces in which to work out action and reaction. Not exactly a “secret” art, it was not one ever taught formally in the University or by any military; in fact, no one knew how to find a real teacher at all. Students had been observed and the results noted: it outmatched any military zero G combat system ever developed by either Earth orbital or Belt military combat trainers in response to the challenges of combat in a zero G environment (where Newtonian physics meant a good punch – in fact, any contact at all – would send both parties flying in opposite directions, unless one knew how to grip or anchor to an opponent).
“Exactly, sir. Naturally, her mother never explicitly spoke about it to me, but we discuss fighting whenever I’m near Earth and can visit – she made the mistake of admitting she’d learned the butterfly sword as a little girl, so she never pretended she hadn’t learned a little bit of something.” Debitts smiled in recollection. Matisou looked over at Takaguchi and they grinned. Matisou cleared his throat to remind Debitts where he was. “Sorry, sir. It was quite a shock when a junior at 52 kilos beat the 101 kilo, 3 year past champion, and 2171 senior class Tactical cadet leader ‘Kilo Beast’ Kippsk.”
Matisou nodded. “Impressive.” He saw Jason seemed bursting to speak. “There was a problem?”
“They ‘fixed’ it the next year! Tell ‘im, Enronn.” Takaguchi looked at Matisou. “Now, get this, Captain!”
Debitts coughed. “There were some, um, speculations that they might’ve come up with a final scenario designed to eliminate her – in 2172 the finals included a free spinning ‘heavy gravity’ scenario as well as zero G, and most of the conventional fighters were going after Xiu-Li Chen, specifically.”
Matisou looked at them. “Anything personal about that, or all in good sport?”
Debitts was shocked. “No, sir!” He shook his head, scowling. “Her fighting style, sir, I meant to say. There has never been anything personal, sir. Not that I heard, anyway. She doesn’t seem to have ever bothered peers or officers; no demerits, good team player, gets the job done quickly and very well; even the usual group of real idiots in every year class were no worse than neutral in their comments.” He again shook his head. “The 2172 Testing Committee felt the universe the University is now preparing students for needed better than simple, ‘traditional’ athletic competitions. They made it into something like a war game, with a ‘raider’ scenario to reflect possible boarding actions by, umm, well, anyone – and there were a series of tactical tasks in which there was an active opposition – from the instructors as well as competitors.”
“I recall Commander Baptiste at the University saying he was interested in trying out something like that.”
“Yes, sir.” Debitts grinned. “In 2172 Danilo Chaves entered Earth Space University. He was raised in a family that ran fully traditional anthropologic martial arts schools teaching ancient Wing Chun, added boxing in middle school, and passed through opponent after opponent in every division across all years in the fall and spring terms throughout his first year.” He grinned – like a wolf. “In the June 2172 Finals, 102 kilo Danilo ‘Sticky Death’ Chaves, a freshman regarded as unbeatable, came in against 55 kilo Xiu-Li Chen in her senior year.” Debitts chuckled. “As it seemed Xiu-Li never did any fighting until the day the tournament started, she wasn’t seen as even in training.”
Matisou grinned at him. “Your friend lose again?”
“Yes, sir. No one scored a point. In fact, that was Chaves’ only goal, in the final round – just get a single point.”
Matisou looked surprised. “She’s that Chen?”
“Yes, sir.” Debitts grinned. “You have heard of her.”
Matisou was thoughtful. “Yes – but I did not expect that Chen to be on my ship in the Science Division.” Usually people who trained in the martial arts tended to gravitate into the Tactical Division, as Tactical seemed a good career match for those already so inclined.
Debitts looked just slightly mournful. “No, sir. She’s never made tactical one of her career track interests – she’s been strictly science and medical.” He looked at the forward viewscreen. “She said she felt she needed to demonstrate she was prepared against the unknown, but she does not believe in fighting.”
“Like a Niv Paxian.” Takaguchi looked at Matisou. “If she graduated the University after five years, why isn’t she an ensign?” He raised his eyebrow at the captain. That would have been the usual rank at graduation for anyone with good grades and record, usually.
Matisou sighed. “We had a crewper-rank opening on WHEELER. I couldn’t take an ensign in science, and she isn’t quite hard ‘engineering’ enough for that Division. Once two candidates were announced, one opted for his rank over an opening and Chen joined us – at a crew rating.” He looked at them. No one said anything but everyone was pleased with Xiu-Li for making a tough career call; they all recognized the kindred spirit they shared with her (it cleared her with Takaguchi forever – he’d gotten reports from all of his people on how good she was; even Threnody had been impressed, and now his last lingering question had been resoundingly answered). “Anyway,” Matisou continued, “she’s crosstrained as a medic. You know how much we need those – and she’s doing a good job with the integration team. Ray told me he asked a friend to pick the best and that’s what I’m hearing.” He chuckled. “Sounds like she’ll be promoted to ensign soon enough.”
“In science,” Debitts sighed. “My Division can’t seem to get a break these days.”
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