Monday, May 7, 2012

The Ranger Alone

“Need more rounds for my rifle, Tonto!” Captain Elias Freng, 12th Republic Space Ranger Battalion, shouted into his comm.

*All rounds expended Captain. I am fabricating more now. Time to completion…4 minutes, 30 seconds.*

Freng sighed. Nothing he needed less than to be pinned down on a planet so obscure it had no name. Strike that. He needed about a division’s less of the damned enemy here.

The Space Rangers required a tough, resourceful individual, willing to do whatever to accomplish the mission. For those reasons, Freng had not merely warped out when he detected the concentration of forces on the mudball.

He’d had his ship execute a burn into the atmosphere, ejecting him at the last possible instant before taking up. The planetoid hosted an automated intelligence outpost that had spent the last three solar months charting enemy activity and strength. His mission?  Retrieve the data at all costs and return to HQ.

In this case, “at all costs” involved neutralizing more enemy forces than any ranger could be expected to. Freng didn’t really care for the idea, but failure wasn’t an option.

“So, Tonto, we got a few while you fabricate and them bastards regroup. Wanna kill time getting’ better acquainted?”

Freng’s singleship was the first fully-autonomous scout vessel in the quadrant. He’d been paired with the experimental craft from a pool of hundreds of applicants. Though they’d been deployed awhile now, operations had prevented completion of the full ‘bonding procedures’ from Science Command . It was believed the bond between commander and ship would decrease manpower needs and significantly improve efficiency. Good theory but unproven.

*As you wish, Captain. I have noted your continued references to this unit as ‘Tonto’. This is not my designated nomenclature, model number or any classification I have knowledge of. Explain, please.*

He chuckled. “Big Braniac like you hasn’t figgered that out, eh? Well then, here goes. What’s the standard crew complement of a Republic Ranger scout unit?”

*Two. Pilot and Intelligence Analyst/Gunner.*

“Yep. Now, how many are there crewing our ship?”

*One. My autonomous nature renders the need for an additional crewman unnecessary.*

"Yep. So…instead of a human partner I’m out here all by my lonesome. That makes me a lone ranger, got it? And if I’m the Lone Ranger that makes you Tonto.”

Freng imagined he could hear the AI puzzling out the human logic.
*Reference understood, Captain. Enemy troops massing on your location. Ammunition not fabricated. Shall I plot course for extraction?*

“Naah…I’m gonna hang out here Tonto and fight these buggers off with some surprises I been workin’ on. Need you to get in range of Base and get me some help.”

Freng was glad the ship was incapable of emotion. It saved time and energy arguing the point while downplaying the seriousness of his situation.

*Calculating flight plan. Estimated round trip two hours, 14 minutes, 34 seconds.  Good luck…Kemo Sabe.*

Despite the dire straits, Freng took time for a startled bark of laughter. “High ho Silver, buddy!”

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