Excerpts from the autobiography of Garth Jensen
by Larry F
I just got my orders today. I'm being given a Fleet assignment. I guess
you know that "ensign" is the lowest rank of officer in the
Navy, right? It probably sounds kind of weird that I was posted to a Ground
Forces base for my first assignment, but there was a reason for it. The
High Command wants there to be an "open line of communications"
between the Combined Fleet and the Federal Ground Forces.
What that means is that a liaison officer has to be assigned to every
base or Fleet formation; Naval officers to Ground Forces bases and vice-versa.
Reisburg base is a hard-luck assignment, though, so that's why they got
an inexperienced rookie. The Navy had to send an officer, but no one ever
said that it had to be a good one. The only requirement that both
services stick to is that the liaison officer has to be a MECO pilot.
That's because so many officers have to be traded; if we're all MECO pilots,
we can just fill in for the guy who's traded to our service.
Now that I have a few decorations, though, I guess they figured that
Public Information could get some mileage out of news footage of me being
"rewarded" with a better post. Never mind what I might want,
never mind what it means to my mother, who has to watch her only living
child go off where he has a better chance of earning a medal posthumously.
Just go where you're told and do what you're told.
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so bitter. It's just that I really
don't want to go have to pretend I'm happy in front of a bunch of strangers,
especially when I just went through such a shattering experience not so
long ago. It's worse because it means leaving my mother behind. Her reassignment
to Reisburg base gave us a chance to get to know each other again. You
know, not just the "hi, how are you doing" kind of relationship
that we had because she could only come home for the weekend a few times
each year. After my breakdown, I got to see her every night after
normal duty hours. That's more solid family time than I've had with her
since I was six.
Now, courtesy of the Navy, it's over. Who knows when I'll have a chance
to visit her again? Who knows if I'll ever have a chance?
Yeah, I'm scared. Sue me.
Here's my latest confession in a long line of failings: I suffer from
acrophobia, the deathly fear of heights.
Itís really kind of pitiful. Iím a MECO pilot, trained to operate my
mecha on land, or in air, sea or space, yet Iím afraid to climb more than
a few rungs up a ladder.
I know what youíre thinking. How can I fly if I canít stand heights?
My phobia is strange that way. Iíve spent a fair amount of time in air
transports, and although Iím always nervous before we take off, the flight
itself doesnít really bother me. Looking out a window in an aircraft doesnít
seem any more real to me than seeing the same scene on television. In
fact, television sometimes seems more realistic.
I once watched a documentary program about the girls who clean windows
on high-rise buildings. The moment the anti-grav platform the camera crew
was on went over the side to follow them as they worked, I had an attack
of vertigo that left me sweating. There was just something about seeing
the side of the building stretching away on the television screen, with
the ground so far below, that set off my fear as if I were there with
Yet when Iím in a MECO, flying along with the monitors around me showing
the outside world, itís completely different. I never enjoy it much, but
I can do it.
Space is both better and worse at the same time. Zero gravity gives you
the sensation of falling, like you get on a roller coaster just as youíre
beginning a drop, but it doesnít stop. You have that feeling in the pit
of your stomach, and it never goes away. Veteran spacemen get used to
it, and some find the floating feeling relaxing; those lucky guys can
sleep in zero-g and wake up more rested than they ever would in a gravity
Sad to say, Iíve always hated roller coasters. Zero-g makes me nauseous.
When Iím on a ship, it doesnít matter much. Itís standard practice to
use the a-grav drives to create a one-g attraction towards the floor,
so that the crew can do their jobs more efficiently. Thatís because zero-g
is a lousy environment for working in. That old physics law "for
every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" really turns
around and bites you when, say, youíre trying to loosen a bolt and you
donít have gravity to give you the advantage. In zero-g, Iíve seen techs
fight corroded bolts and lose.
Where I run into problems is during combat launches. They turn off the
gravity in the launch bays. Thatís because they rack the suits all the
way up the walls and across the ceiling, to take advantage of all possible
storage space. When red alert is sounded, off goes the gravity so that
the pilots and launch crews can float straight to the suits.
The distance from the access corridor, across the bay to my suit, is
always something I have to force myself to travel. Thankfully, once aboard
my MECO, I can turn on my suitís a-grav and get comfortable again, but
during OCS exercises, the trip through a launch bay could, and sometimes
did, made me feel sick and disoriented enough to lose my dinner.
I wonder if anyone will ever read this journal? What will life be like
for that person?
When I was still in school, my fourth grade teacher, Miss Dorian, showed
us an ancient movie about cultures that existed on Earth. It looked so
funnyÖ There were both men and women working civilian jobs, instead of
just women. It made all of us kids laugh when we first saw a scene of
men working in a restaurant.
I think I've already mentioned that only women have civilian jobs in
the Federation. All of the men are conscripted into the Ground Forces,
or the Combined Fleet. Even guys that have mental problems are drafted.
If all they can train you to do is push a broom, then they'll hang a uniform
on you, stick you in a Labor Battalion, and you'll push that broom for
the rest of your life. The only guys around most cities are either boys
too young for military service, or old men who survived until retirement
age. By the Earth calendar, that's seventy-five years old.
Not that all that many of us live that long. The average guy dies in
action, especially in the Fleet. When you're out in space, there isn't
much of a chance of living if you're wounded. If you're hurt by enemy
action, it means that whatever hit you went through both the ship's hull
and your environment suit to do it. The resulting vacuum is usually fatal;
the guys around you are either too busy fighting the battle to help, or
in the same condition you are.
I've heard that women compete to get jobs in towns near military bases,
just so they can see men occasionally. Whenever I went home to visit,
I always had a lot of girls watching me walk by, although most of them
were too shy to try to talk to me. I guess it would seem strange to someone
who lived in a different society.
We only had a few hundred guys working at Reisburg Base, and we had to
have permission to go into town. It was easier for me than it was for
the enlisted personnel; a private might only get a pass one day each week,
or longer if he had disciplinary problems.
Because guys are so scarce, it's pretty common for women to go out on
dates with other women. That's not to say that they're necessarily interested
in each other in a romantic way, but Saturday nights get lonely whether
or not there are men around, don't they?
Okay, I guess you're probably wondering "how do they get a next
generation when life is like that?"
It's simple enough. One of the batteries of tests we take in our last
year of school is a psychological exam. One of the uses they put the results
to is compatibility with a member of the opposite sex. If I live to be
twenty years old, the service will arrange a marriage for me, and the
war permitting, I'll get a two-week conjugal leave every year to visit
Sounds impersonal, doesn't it? It's especially rough on the girls. Only
a percentage of them get husbands, and they only get to see them for a
couple of weeks at a time, with a darn good chance that every visit might
be the last. The only good part of the deal is that the Psychology Service
has gotten really good at it, and the couples usually become good friends
very quickly. Mother told me once that she really did fall in love with
father after a little while, even if he didn't have the kind of good looks
that they use in propaganda films. You know, the ones that show handsome
young men in uniform, protecting society from the evil Kailai?
I've heard that the male-female ratio is getting so bad that the powers-that-be
are even considering a law saying that guys will have to have two or three
wives, but I don't know if that'll ever really happen.