“Private Calcelmo.” Commander Martins bellows, his voice ringing sharply in my ears, cigar wobbling up and down like a fishing bobber.

I sigh tentatively in relief as Calsy moves to stand beside Martins. Only three more names will be called for the dive. There are only three more dead men in our midst today. Will I be one? Statistically, no. There are two hundred Rocket Rats on this ship and I dove last week, so I should be exempt this week...Right?!

“Private First Class Vickner.”

I try to scratch the cold, wet itch at the back of my neck, but my Diving suit gets in the way. Why do we do it this way? Why is the roster random? Can’t we just make a list and have rotation?! Some poor fools have done consecutive dives and no one who does a consecutive dive survives. It’s simply bad luck. Luck. What a stupid invention. Why did the Universe make luck? What use does randomness have in anything? Why can’t everything be orderly? The eggheads always talk about entropy and probability, but I can’t see why either of these things are necessary.

“Corporal Torr.”

Heck, I must be jealous. What I’d give to be a Ruler-Roo right now, whizzing away at my tabulations and trig. It’s not the Ruler Riders that have to go fighting and dying. That’s my job. All for the glory of the Matriarchy. I was born into my job and the Math-munchers were born into theirs. All because Mommy took one look at me and said, “This one’s a Rocket-Rucker.” And kicked me off into the belly of one of her mechanical monsters.

“Lance Corporal Nathsen.”

I look up panicked...frightened even, blood cold and vision grey. “Sir?!”

“Get your pusillanimous hide over here.” He growls, grinding the stogie.

“You’re diving today.”

“But I jumped last week!” I shout, voice pitiful and disgraceful. “Ain’t you got anyone else?”

Commander Martins pats his steam pistol maliciously, slowly, hoping. “Scared o’ dyin’?”

I swallow the dry glass in my throat, quenching my cowardice. “No, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Good. Fall in with the other corpses, then.”

With the deathly haste that only a conscript can have, I waddle over to the newly selected strike squad. The weight of my suit taxes every muscle in my body with the slightest of movements and the visor fogs with every labored, condemned breath of mine. I heard that the ConFasc have been giving the new knuckle draggers helmets with inner wipers to keep the condensation in check. Lucky them. I gotta tap this stupid fishbowl on my head to knock the droplets off. Mommy doesn’t care that much about her boys...

“Hey, Nathsen!” A corporal whose name I don’t remember shouts, rapping my visor with a metal gauntlet. “Quit fantasizing about soiling yourself and focus.

I snap back to focus like a fish in his bowl. “Yessir.”

“’ight.” The dive sergeant drawls, his voice denoting the simplistic accent of the Tuvalin ice hoppers. “It’s ‘imple. Dive into th’ Con ship ‘nd render i’ ‘noperable. Now get t’ yer Rockers.”

“Yessir.” Each of the ten of us responds.

I waddle over to the rocket bay, trying my hardest to guess which nerd seems to be the smartest. I’ve always picked one with glasses and I’ve always come back alive. One of the other guys, I don’t remember his name, said that the ones with glasses were smartest because they fried their eyes looking at tiny math equations. Poor fella got imploded the other day, though, so I don’t know too much about that theory. But hey, it’s the only hypotenuse I got.

“Lancer Nathsen.” Says one of the Number Nuts at a table next to one of the rockets. “I’m the only spot left.”

I take one look at him and know I’m dead. “Blast, you don’t wear glasses.”

The mathematician looks curiously at me. “And?”

“Means you’re dumb.”

“Right.” He coils his nose at my bluntness and grabs a piece of paper and pencil. “Mass.”

I think hard for a moment. I weighed myself last night, as is custom on the eve of a big battle. The eggheads say it “helps” with the math, but I don’t know. They’re the ones who always tell me that the feather and the bowling ball drop at the same speed in a vacuum cleaner, so I don’t get it if I gained a kilo or two. “220...Wait, no. 218, because I just emptied my ballast tanks, if you catch my lingo.”

“Loud and clear...” The nerd’s voice trails off as he whips out the sacred weapon of war used by countless generations. The slide ruler goes back and forth and his pencil begins to draw a very pretty picture of scribbles and letters. The mathie looks out the porthole with a rangefinder and scribbles some more.

Minutes crawl by and all I hear is the maddening scratching of pencil on paper. Too bad I’m not on a big ship. The Matriarch announced a while back that the big ships get these fancy things called computers that can do all the nerd stuff without the nerd. But, they’re bigger than a bunch of pencil-pushing, limp wristed virgins, so we’re stuck with the balding, acne plagued losers.

I sling my steam rifle off of my back and check the hose to my air tank and the pressure gage. The little needle is resting in the green, so I should have enough air to shoot...and breathe. It’s a fine balance between form and function. I look to make sure that I have my space tape dangling from a carabiner. If I ever did get shot, it’s doubtful that patching up my suit would help very much, but having it helps us younger Divers feel better about the odds.

“All right, Nathsen, all need to do now is calibrate the fluid pressure in your suit so that you don’t become a sack of blood and bones on impact.”

“Just don’t pop me,” I say, defensive. This is one of my least favorite parts.

“I’ve never popped anyone bef...”


The sound emanates through the rocket bay and I blink, patting my chest to make sure it wasn’t me. The feel of my hands against my chest convinces me I’m not pink mist and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Droga!” Someone shouts. “Vickners blew it.”

The egghead, topping off the water in my suit, shakes his head. “Jameson messed up his decimal conversion again, for sure.”

“What?” I ask him, not understanding anything.

The puny man holds up his ruler. “You have to move a decimal place on these things sometimes to get the right value. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“I don’t and I won’t,” I respond proudly. “It’s always Divers who do the dying so you layabouts can pretend you’re like officers, living it up on Mommy’s dollar.”

“What are you talking about?!” The geek gaffs. “Without me, you’d be circling the void, lost for all eternity in the darkness.”

“You done with your math crap?”

The nerd sighs. “Yeah. Hop in.”

I climb into the cigar-shaped deathtrap and strap myself in, lying prone on my back. The mathie shuts my hatch and I hear him spin wheels and flip levers, calibrating my sorry hide for the dive.

The fraction freak is right. Without him, I’d be long dead. If he messes up one of those decimal points, I’ll never hit the target and I’ll just drift until I suffocate to death. Shoot, I could crash into another rocket and be vaporized before I even know it.

The sweats return and I try to breathe calmly. No one’s ever survived two dives in a row. No one. My goodness, I’m gonna die for Momma and her Matriarchy. What if it were the boys who were in charge? What if I had the freedom to choose what I do? Would I be strapping myself to rockets?