Manticore System, Manticore A Orbit.
Destroyer H.M.S. Swiftsure
December 1922, post-diaspora

The spanner slipped from it's loose hold on the conduit housing. The hand applying force behind it flew forward and cracked into a wall of metal. Chief Petty Officer Michael Dawson spat out a violent oath as the pain in his knuckles registered. He resisted the urge to slap the bulkhead in front of him and instead wiped sweat from his brow.

"You alright in there, chief?" Electronics Technician Petty Officer Third Class Jonathan Kellogg asked from outside the access hatch.

Dawson bit back a snarling retort. "Yes." He snapped instead. "The moly-circ is still being stubborn bitch." He flexed his throbbing hand and looked around for the dropped spanner. The downside of working in a crawl space like this one was there was only enough room to lie flat on one's back. It was so small that there was no room for both himself and a toolkit. Hence Kellogg, who's job it was to hand him the tools he asked for. The upside was that there weren't a lot of places dropped tools could run off to. He found the spanner near his head, awkwardly reached over to pick it up, and began to wiggle it against the cube of molecular circuitry and it's casing.

Most moly-circs were standardized. You could plug one into any slot and program it to do the job you wanted. Unfortunately, this one had been hit by a power surge and warped inside it's casing. Dawson either had to wiggle it out or cut apart the entire casing to remove it. The latter option would require days to replace and repair. Not an option, unfortunately. The Swiftsure was scheduled to leave Manticore orbit seventy-two hours with orders to the Talbott sector. From there, the destroyer was slated for anti-piracy patrols.

Normally a fried moly-circ wouldn't be a bit deal. Alas, it was tied into Swiftsure's forward gravitic array. The failed part was causing severe degradation of said array's effectiveness. So naturally the Swiftsure's CO, Commander Alphonse, wanted it fixed before the destroyer left for Talbott. Dawson understood that. And he was sure he could wiggle the moly-circ out eventually. But he was beginning to think maybe he'd prefer total reconstruction to smashing his knuckles every two minutes.

His hands had just made another violent encounter with the module housing when he heard a voice calling out from beyond the access hatch. "How are things looking in there?" It said. The voice didn't belong to the CO or the XO or Kellogg so Dawson let loose.

"Fucking peachy! I'm about to fuck a hexapuma! You wanna crawl inside this fucking coffin of an access hatch and fucking join me?!" When no reply came, Dawson turned his attention to his hapless assistant. "Kellogg stop standing around with your dick in your hand and get me a fucking micro-torch!" There was a pause. Dawson heard someone murmur something. This was followed by some scrabbling noises and the small, pen-shaped object slid next to Dawson's head. He set to work carefully trimming bits of moly-circ away from the housing. And to his relief, nobody asked any more stupid questions.

-0-0-0-0-

"-join me?!"

Stunned silence filled the gravitic array's control room. PO Kellogg stared at the legs sticking out of the access hatch in abject horror. His face was white as old fashioned paper. Commander Alphonse seemed to be doing a fine impersonation of a Montanan steer that had just been hit over the head with a mallet. Captain Morgana Zumwalt, CO of both Swiftsure's sister ship and the destroyer division to which they both belonged, wordlessly opened and closed her mouth. As if she was repeating what she had just heard but dared not say it aloud. Lady Dame Honor Stephanie Alexander-Harrington, Steadholder and Duchess Harrington, CO Grand Fleet, merely rubbed her chin to hide a smile that threatened to form. The cream and gray treecat riding her shoulder made no such attempt to hide his amusement.

"Kellogg stop standing around with your dick in your hand and get me a fucking micro-torch!" Bellowed the man from the access shaft. Alphonse made strangled noise and scarlet began to color Zumwalt's face. Before they could do anything, the Grayson Steadholder and Manticoran Duchess held up and hand and merely glanced at PO Kellogg. The man looked like he was about to faint.

"I believe your chief asked you for a tool, PO. You better get it before he gets upset." She said dryly. Kellogg visibly started when Harrington spoke to him. The man nearly tripped over himself getting to the toolbox and manically dug through it to find the requested item. The micro-torch almost fell from his trembling hands as he passed it off to his chief. The CO of Grand Fleet looked around her. "Well as interesting as that was, I believe there's other parts of the ship that needs touring." Harrington gestured to the corridor outside the hatchway. The congregation funneled out, leaving a mortified PO Kellogg in their wake.

0-0-0-0-0

"Your Grace-"
"Admiral-"

Both Alphonse and Zumwalt said at the same time. The division commander shot the destroyer CO a look before starting over. "Your Grace, I must simply apologize for-"

"Apologize for what, Captain?" Harrington interrupted her. The trio of officers and Spencer Hawk, Harrington's Grayson Armsman, paused in the passageway.

"Ah…well…back at the gravitics control room when-" Zumwalt stammered out before Harrington raised a hand, cutting her off again.

"Captain, what happened in that room was a Chief and his PO hard at work trying to fix Swiftsure's gravitic systems before this ship left the system. A Chief who's work was being interrupted by silly questions." Dame Honor explained. "We all know he was unaware of who had entered the compartment because regulations prevented 'attention' from being called in active work areas." She let that linger for a moment before continuing. "That said, someone might want to impress upon him the importance of knowing who he's addressing before he speaks." The CO of Grand Fleet added. Her lips twitched in a ghost of a smile.

"I…will…discuss that with him, your grace." Alphonse acknowledged.

"Good. Then let's be about it." Harrington replied, clasping her hands together.

0-0-0-0-0

"Another job well done." Dawson uttered the phrase with venomous cynicism. Over the past hour he had wiggled, pried, and shaved the warped moly-circ until the damn thing had finally popped free. And God be praised, the housing and interface leads were undamaged. It was a simple matter of plugging the new moly-circ block in and ensure it was working properly. He assigned to Kellogg clean up as he stared sourly at his skinned and bleeding knuckles.

"Kellogg!" He barked suddenly.

"Yes Chief?" The junior PO replied.

"Who was that idiot in here earlier? That was definitely a snotty tier question. Possibly ensign tier. I need to know who to give a half-hearted apology to." The Chief grumbled as he flexed his fingers. Kellogg froze. He recalled the conversation he had with the captain after Admiral Harrington had left.

"Well…." He started.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"-And while Fleet Admiral Harrington didn't take offense to your…slip of decorum…she did stress the importance keeping silent about it. As you can imagine, it would not be conducive to fleet cohesion if rumors started to spread that a mere petty officer insulted the C.O. of the entire Grand Fleet. Especially if said rumors spread to allied forces." Commander Alphonse said sternly. He tactfully didn't mention that the "allied forces" he was worried about said rumors spreading to was the Havenite component of Grand Fleet.

"Absolutely sir. You can trust us to remain silent." CPO Dawson said, standing at parade rest. Kellogg, standing even more stiffly than his chief, nodded in agreement.

"Good. Because if I find out this information somehow 'slipped' to the rest of the fleet, changing warped moly-circs will be a welcome relief compared to the tasks I'll find for you." The Swiftsure's captain promised. The two crewmen nodded again. Alphonse relaxed a bit as he saw his message had gotten through. "Right. Kellogg, report back to your section. Dawson, go to medical and get your hands fixed before you bleed anymore on my deck." He ordered. The two snapped to attention, saluted and left Alphonse's cabin. The Commander sighed and leaned back, wondering how long it would take for the rumor to get started.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

As it happened, the one who leaked the story was Captain Zumwalt. She had told her XO after returning to her own vessel. Who had later shared it with the ship's TO. Who then spread the story to his friends during a drunken night of shore leave. By the time Swiftsure left for Talbot, the story had mutated into a variety of strains. Different ships and a colorful cast of characters had been swapped in and out to replace the Swiftsure, Dawson, and Harrington. One of the more colorful being a repair tech who was unwittingly cursed out Empress Elizabeht while he was fixing a LAC missile tube. Ironically, the story had become so garbled that almost nobody in Grand Fleet knew it had originated on Swiftsure. And despite not telling anyone, even after the rumor had spread back to their ship, Dawson and Kellogg found themselves performing more than their fair share of unpleasant maintenance duties.

0-0-0-0-0

Author's note: All I have at the moment is audiobook. No hard copies. So I'm hoping I'm not misspelling anyone's name. "Moly-circ" is also my best guess on how to spell the abbreviation for "molecular circutry." I know the shorthand has been used before but I don't remember how it's been spelled out. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed the story.