Rail Gunner Joe

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

A non-canonical Generation 3 AU story

"Talk about one-track minds," Conrad Marlow said. "That’s Rail Gunner Joe for you. Just like a railroad. Not that railroads ever had anything to do with rail guns. Now this story I’m going to tell you never happened, but I swear it’s true just the same."

We were hanging out at the Bar 20 after work. The Bar 20 was really private; only Roush Technologies people were allowed in; even the bartenders had top clearances. The theory was that it was better all around if we had a place of our own to unwind and hoist a few without having to worry about loose lips sinking ships. Whatever.

The place didn’t advertise itself, of course, there was no name on the door. People knew it was a private club, that’s all, and since nearly everyone seen entering was male, they kind of figured it was that kind of club. Which was fine with us; perfect cover. But the place was bug-proof, just in case.

I was new on the job, and working on another part of the project, so I’d never even met Joseph Brandt. But I’d heard about him, sure. His job was designing rail guns for the one-man fighters. Area 51 was working on the technology to build the fighters fast and cheap, but the Hornets wouldn’t be any use against Near Earth Command unless we could hit their cruisers with something really new, something they weren’t expecting.

Yeah, we knew about the Arions. But they didn’t know about us. We hoped. And if they did, we hoped they knew about only the Potemkin projects – stuff to do with biological warfare and the like. They were all fake, but they generated enough files and paperwork to make them seem real. We even used a double helix on the corporate logo to throw people off the track. And every once in a while, we’d let something leak.

For some reason, the Arions and the Velorians never seemed to have done much with rail guns. Marlow had a theory that they must have developed anti-gravity early on and thus never needed the large-scale applications of the same technology like mag-lev trains and launching cannons for spacecraft. Another disincentive, he thought, was that they’d licked the dispersion problem with pure energy weapons from the start.

There were defenses against rail-guns that the enemy could develop pretty quickly if they knew what they were up against. But they didn’t. We meant to keep it that way. So did Area 51; the Hornet program was buried among its own Potemkin projects, and there were several layers of cover stories, the most plausible being that they were developing fighters to use against the Chinese in near space.

Besides internal security, we had our own Protectors. Ours called herself Tammy; not her real name, obviously. I didn’t even know what name the one at Area 51 was using, and I hadn’t ever met Tammy, either, but she was here. Just in case NEC ever found us out and sent a Betan hit team, or even a Prime. She had direct com-links to her Area 51 counterpart, not to mention Kara and Cat, we’d heard. Again, just in case.

There was another reason for the Velorian presence: They were actively involved in the research, staying barely within the limits of their Prime Directive by feeding us leading questions that pointed us in the right direction. Here, that meant the condensed electricity technology we’d need to power those mini rail-guns. The Velorians had a word for it, but we weren’t allowed to know it – the word alone would be a tip-off if it ever got out. But we were talking gigajoules, not kilojoules. Standard capacitor banks couldn’t cut it, and they’d take up too much space for the Hornets anyway.

Everybody knew the Navy was putting rail guns and energy weapons on surface ships, but Navy ships had plenty of room. We couldn’t send anything that big into space; we’d have to build it there. Nobody would believe it had anything to do with the Chinese, either – it would be a sure tip-off to the Arions that we were on to them, and they’d make short work of it. But the Hornets, with their Velorian drive units (We didn’t know the name for those, either), could take off just like – well, hornets.

Marlow was telling us all this stuff as if we didn’t already know it, and we were beginning to wonder what the point of the story going to be when his narrative suddenly took a different turn.

"I think she’s even sexier than Kara," he regaled us. "We know Kara’s super, even if she looks like just a supermodel. But Tammy’s a superwoman. Not a female bodybuilder type with hyper ceps and toids and abs, mind you. Just succulent golden Velorian flesh. So golden it seems to glow. But rock solid. One look at her, and you know she could take any weapon a man could throw at her – and all the loving a man could throw at her, too."

He paused a moment, savoring the fantasy.

"Now I wasn’t in charge of the project, nowhere near. So I figured I was nowhere near having a chance at—you know, what we all dream about."

It wasn’t a fantasy? This was going to be that kind of a story?

He must have seen the look on my face, a cross between longing and embarrassment. Sure we all dreamed. Maybe the rest of us felt the same way.

"I know what you’re thinking," Marlow continued. "But it’s not like that. I’ve got nothing to brag about. I mean, just look at me. Do I look like someone who’d be at the top of her list? Any woman’s list? No, I was just lucky, that’s all. And I owe it all toJoe.

"When I came on board, it was the summer of 2003. That was when Ah-nold was running for governor of California. I noticed right off that his talk was practically all shop – he didn’t even carry on about sports like most of the guys. So one day I tried to lighten things up by kidding him about what Ah-nold would say if he lost the election: ‘I’ll be back.’ Only, Joe didn’t get it.

"Turned out he’d never even seen the Terminator movies. Well, he was just a kid when the first one came out, but still… And he was like that about everything. It wasn’t that he didn’t keep up with the news; he knew what was going on in the world. But that was all. Somebody once told him a joke about trying to flush out Hussein loyalists in Iraq by opening a truck rental agency in Tikrit, and he didn’t get that, either.

"Remember when Security wanted us all to wear those blazers, the ones with the Roush logo? Everybody thought it was a stupid idea; I mean, how many people wear company blazers on the job, let alone off it? Security finally figured that out and dropped the idea, but not before we’d been fitted. As it happened, Joe and I were being fitted at the same time.

"'Strange thing to be wearing,’ I remarked, when the tailor took a break to answer a call of nature.

"'I don’t see anything strange about it,’ Joe responded in dead earnest. ‘Logo’s on the upper left, seems to be squarely in place and exactly three inches high, according to specs. I could check it for you with the tape measure.’

"'Never mind,’ I said, trying to keep a straight face. I told the tailor about it after Joe left. He was rolling on the floor.

"But you have to remember, Joe knew his job. We’d never have gotten as far as we have without him. He didn’t even need any kibitzing from Tammy on his end; he could figure it all out for himself. A real genius. Tammy was impressed with that, I could tell. Brains are a turn-on for her. And Joe isn’t bad looking, either, and I’m pretty sure he isn’t gay. So I can’t explain what happened, except he was either very dense or very shy.

"Everything being on a need-to-know basis here, Joe didn’t have any details about the Hornet design. All he had to know was how big the gun had to be and how powerful it had to be. And I’m not going to tell you, because you don’t need to know, any more than he did. He just reverse engineered the whole thing, according to the parameters he'd been given.

"I don’t have a clue myself how we got the Vendorian steel samples, either, whether they replicated the stuff at Area 51 or it came straight from Velor. All I had to know was that it was what the enemy used. Strongest alloy in the universe, and they plate their cruisers two feet thick. We had to lick it, but setting up the test was a bitch, because all hell could break loose if it went wrong.

"The slug was supposed to punch right through the target, which meant it would also punch through anything behind it. We couldn’t use an outdoor test stand, obviously, even if security had allowed for that; but even setting things up in the basement risked damage to anything beyond the walls, We had to make sure there wasn’t a chance of hitting gas mains or underground power lines or fiber optic cables. And what if the slug ricocheted? We had to cover ourselves in both directions.

"I was in charge of setting things up, mounting the gun and connecting the power unit. Joe was there, of course, and Tammy herself. Any idea how much Vendorian steel weighs? So she carried the targets and set them in place on the floor. That would have been below the line of fire, normally, but I decided that firing at a downwards angle was the safest way to go; the slugs would just bore through the ground and lose themselves in bedrock.

"Anyway, I hooked up the power unit and the trigger box to the gun itself, and Joe checked the connections to his satisfaction. We didn’t have any kind of safety barrier to get behind in case something went wrong, but that was another reason Tammy was there: she could move even faster than a slug, get between us and a ricochet. Or shrapnel from the targets, although I couldn’t see that happening unless the targets were substandard.

"Tammy was between us and the setup, except for the trigger box, of course, and I couldn’t help staring at her ass. She wasn’t wearing a Protector’s uniform, just some sort of blue strap outfit that barely covered her breasts and didn’t conceal her moons at all. I was trying to be all business, but I couldn’t help imagining. She must have known the effect she was having, even if she wasn’t using her tachyon vision on me.

"Only Joe seemed to be ignoring her, going back and forth between the trigger box and the gun several times to check the adjustments. The dedicated perfectionist. Except that I had to remind him about the earplugs. Well, we got those in, and he took his place next to me, put his finger on the trigger and….


"Just like that. Nothing to see, really, except that suddenly there was a hole in the target and the wall behind it. Joe had Tammy pick up the massive block so we could both look through it. A clean hole, clean as a whistle. Not very big, and it wouldn’t have been enough to disable a cruiser. But there’d be a swarm of them, those Hornets, buzzing in to fire bursts and buzzing out again, computer targeting turning vital areas like the command center and the engine room into Swiss cheese.

"Joe didn’t even seem to notice that Tammy was holding the target so that the view through the hole was of her breasts. She had to be teasing us; she’d shift it just enough to pan from left to right, so that we could feast our eyes on every square centimeter of that incredibly firm, perfectly flawless, totally invulnerable Velorian flesh. I was afraid of embarrassing myself in public, especially since I knew this was all being recorded.

"But Joe….

"'Nominal,’ he pronounced. ‘Precisely according to calculations. But protocols call for triple redundancy, so let’s get busy with the other targets.’

"So we went through it again, with the other targets. Joe didn’t adjust the aim for the second test, which was so perfect that the slug didn’t even leave a second hole in the wall, but followed the first to… wherever the first had gone, I wondered what would happen when the second slug caught up with the first. Also when Joe was going to catch on that Tammy was trying to seduce him.

"For the third test, Joe tried an angle shot, having Tammy shift the target so that the slug would hit it on the corner instead of dead on. He wanted to be sure that if something like that happened in combat, the shot wouldn’t be wasted. And it wasn’t. An ordinary bullet might have skipped, but those electromagnetic suckers are too damn fast – 1,500 klicks a second. We got another hole in the wall, and that was all.

"Joe and I checked the target, just like we’d checked the others, and Tammy gave us the same view. She set it down at last, then sat on it. No reason to do that except it gave us a better view of her awesome cleavage. She was looking right at Joe, striking a series of provocative poses, but he seemed oblivious to her, absorbed in recording his notes. I was practically coming in my pants.

"'I think we can report to Area 51 that our part of the Hornet project has been successfully completed," Joe observed. ‘Assuming that their part is equally successful, and that proper security is maintained, we can be very optimistic about the final outcome of the project.’

"'Meaning, the Arions will never know what hit them,’ I added.

"'You must remember, Conrad, never to mention that word beyond these premises,’ he lectured me. As if I didn’t know the drill. But what happened next wasn't part of the drill, any drill.

"'Aren’t you going to try it on me?’

"It was Tammy, of course, striking another seductive pose.

"'And you must remember,’ Joe barked. ‘This is serious work we’re doing. The very survival of our planet is at stake. Yours too, for all I know. We’re not running some sort of carnival sideshow here.'

"I was speechless. I’d never heard of anyone talking to a Velorian like that. I think Tammy must have been speechless, too. Maybe Joe realized that he was making the wrong impression.

"'Anyway,’ he added, ‘We need to make our report right away. The Skunk Works is waiting on us.’

"I rather doubted it. The Skunk Works waited on no one. They knew the rail gun assemblies would fit, and they wouldn't hold up their part of the project for anything. For all I knew, they'd completed it. But I didn't want to put it that way.

"'Doesn’t this at least call for a celebration?’ I ventured.

"'When we win the war, then we’ll have reason to celebrate,’ he said. ‘Let’s not count our chickens, or our Hornets, before they hatch. You two want to celebrate, do it at the Bar 20.’

"With that, he stormed out of the test lab, leaving me and Tammy alone together.

"I didn’t know what to say, so she was the first to speak.

"'I think he’s afraid of me, afraid of us,’ she said.

"I shook my head.

"'It doesn’t make any sense. He knows you’re on our side. He’s worked with you.’

"'But he hasn’t. Not really. He’s never asked my advice on anything. But I kept up with his work. I do have top clearance, after all. That's what I admire about him; he never needed our help. He’s got the right stuff where it counts: brains and the determination to use them.’

"'That wasn’t the message you were sending him.’

"'He deserved some appreciation, A reward, in fact.’

"I knew I was blushing at the thought of what kind of reward she meant, but I kept that thought out of the conversation. So did she. For a while.

"'Maybe he doesn’t have the right stuff with women.’

"'That doesn’t make any sense.’

"'No, it doesn’t. Or maybe he was just embarrassed that you were teasing him in front of me.’

"'Velorians never tease. Unless they mean to please. That would be cruel.’

"'Does he know that?’

"'Doesn’t everybody? I thought our behavior was notorious.’

"'Well, he didn’t come here from Tibet.’

"'Denver, actually.’

"'Did he tell you that, or…

"'The latter.’

"'He’s never talked to me about anything personal, either. I’ve never seen him at the Bar-20.’

"'That’s another reason I wanted to reward him. He doesn’t seem to have much of a life outside his work. Never married. No girlfriend.

"'Girlfriends are hard to come by for men in our line of work. Security and all. You’d think they could recruit more women for the project. I know engineering doesn’t appeal to most, but out of tens of millions in the country I’ll bet they could find a few hundred.’

"'Backward thinking at the top. But don’t tell anyone I said so.’

"'The recorders are probably still running.’

"'So what are they going to do? Fire me? Those bureaucrats can be such a pain. Even when they’re trying to be politically correct, finding warm bodies to fill high-profile jobs who fit their affirmative action agenda even if they can’t do the work. Of course, the ones here think they’re fighting that kind of thing.’

"'I’ll bet they could have found some who could do the work here.’

"'Why not? They have women astrophysicists at universities these days.’

"'And I’ll bet you could tell them a thing or two.’

"'But that would be cruel. It would rob them of the joy of discovering the secrets of the universe for themselves. Sharing military technology is a necessity, and even there we have to cheat a bit on the Prime Directive.’

"'Tell that to the Arions. They’ll think it’s more than a bit.’ Not that they’ve ever believed in the Directive.’

"'A bite’s more like it. We’ll take a big bite out of them.’

"'It’ll be different once we go into action with the Hornets. With women, I mean. When the world finds out. They’ll be lined up around the block wanting to reward us. It’s an atavistic response, sure. But I don’t think any of the guys are going to complain.’

"'The fighter pilots will get most of the action.’

"'Sure, but they’ll be plenty left for us. Nerds will be sexy all of a sudden. Our kind of nerds, anyway.’

"'I already think nerds are sexy. Some nerds, anyway. Tell you a secret: I’m a nerd myself. Majored in engineering at the Academy before I was called up. And they assigned me here because I knew enough to ask the right leading questions, the ones that would get your mental mojos going.’

"'The recorders….’

"'Oh, I zapped them a while back. After Joe cut out, what with seeing how I had your mojo going – and I don’t mean the mental one. They’ll have the tapes of the official test upstairs, but not our private test.

"'Private test?’

"'The one on me, remember? The one Joe didn’t want to do.’

"'But why?’

"'Surely you’ve heard. When we first arrived here, your military always wanted to test their latest weapons on us. They’d say it was strictly for research, of course, but we knew better. And so did they. The ones who ordered the tests, at any rate, and watched through high-powered binoculars or over closed circuit TV. But we won’t need either of those here, will we? It’s just you and me….’

"My heart was pounding. I knew about those tests. We all did. And we all had the same fantasies, even if we didn’t admit it. Those fantasies of Velorian goddesses showing off their invulnerability and then….

"I knew Tammy could hear my heart pounding. Super hearing. And she must know another part of me was throbbing, even if she wasn’t using her tachyon vision.

"'You’re lucky I’ve got an engineering degree," she remarked with a slight smirk. "This could be really dangerous. Not to me. To you, and anybody else in the neighborhood. But I know the precise mass and velocity of the slug. I also know the precise elasticity of my flesh…."

"She paused to run her hand across her stomach.

"'Therefore I can calculate the precise angle of deflection. You do understand the need for precision?

"I nodded.

"But then Tammy abandoned all pretense of scientific objectivity. She assumed the classic superheroine stance, hands on hips, chest thrust proudly forward. And the look on her face: sassy and supremely confident as she fed me the targeting adjustments. Satisfied at last, she blew me a kiss before resuming her pose and starting a countdown.

"'10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0.’

"I had to read her lips, so to speak, after putting my earplugs back in. But I couldn’t miss the big O she made with those luscious lips as the count reached zero.


"Her magnificent body didn’t even flinch as it took the impact of the slug and safely deflected it to… somewhere in the direction of Yuma. There wasn’t a mark on her from the most powerful projectile weapon known to man.

"'Ready for some higher mathematics?’ she teased me. "It’s going to be a lot harder to calculate the deflection angles for my breasts. But fortunately, we Velorians have an algorithm for it.’

"An algorithm for bullets-and-boobs. Or just for rail guns and boobs? Had she come up with it herself? Whatever, we put it to use, oh how we put it to use. No harm to her breasts, of course, and none to the environment. Just a few more holes in the wall.

"'I think we’ve demonstrated that nothing here can penetrate my body,’ she cooed, then gave me a knowing look. ‘Except maybe one thing… but I think it would be better to carry out that experiment… elsewhere.’

"I don’t have to tell you where ‘elsewhere,’ was, and you’ve probably read stories in Maxim or wherever about what it’s like. But you can’t imagine what it’s like, really. The absolute freedom of it.

"See, with human women, you’re always afraid that there’s some hidden agenda. That they’re just trading sex for something else. That they feel intimidated, afraid to say no, because they think you’re one those Neanderthals who won’t take no for an answer. Or at the other extreme, that they feel sorry for you, they’re just doing you a favor, and hoping you won’t notice they’re faking it.

"But with a Vel, there’s no doubt, no ambiguity. You’re in her bed because she wants you there. She wants to fulfill your every fantasy, because it’s her fantasy, too. How can there be anything else like it: to be wanted by a goddess, to feel a willing goddess in your arms, to exchange kisses with a willing goddess, to drink her fragrant juices, to feel your manhood surrounded by the source of those juices, to be surrounded by the heady scent of honey and wildflowers?

"It’s got nothing to do with power, nothing to do with control. You can’t control a Vel. It’s about letting loose, about letting passion carry you away. You know you can’t harm her; nothing can. She’s wearing gold, of course, but that’s just her way of letting loose, of banishing any fear that she might harm you. She's just as invulnerable, and still strong enough to banish any doubts of your own. She wants you there, she's enjoying every minute of it, and when she comes you know the utter joy of having pleasured a goddess.

"And like I said, I owe it all to Joe."

I didn’t know how to react. This guy has himself a one-night stand, it’s like he just got religion? But I couldn’t call him on it. I’d sat there listening, even though I like to think I don’t approve of kiss-and-tell stories. We’d all sat there listening. Men are like that. But a lot of women are like that, too, these days. They kiss and tell, drive aggressively, play violent video games, not to mention fight wars.

Welcome to the real sexual revolution. The Velorians were ahead of us in that, I guess. We never see their men, so I can’t say for sure. Chances are Tammy didn’t mind Marlow blabbing about their exploits, so why should I?

He had it all wrong about Joe Brandt, though. We didn’t find out about that until after the Battle of Europa, although any enterprising reporter could have found out if he’d known where to look, or that anybody would be interested in the private life of a man whose job was classified and whose very existence was impossible to verify.

You know how the battle turned out, and we were damned proud of our work. We hadn’t thought beyond taking out Near Earth Command, but the Pentagon had. We were as surprised as anyone to learn that a new generation of submarines was actually the first generation of picket ships to block access to the solar system through that hidden stargate (That sounds sexier than wormhole to the PR people). Just install a Velorian drive in a sub with appropriate but not too obvious design changes, and….

We were all heroes. Joe was a hero. So of course the Denver Post had to do a story on him, and in the course of research for that story, it came out that there had been some collateral damage during a battle between Kara and a Prime that took place several years before Joe was recruited for the project. The collateral damage was a woman named Ellen McKnight. She was Joe’s fiancée, and he loved her more than anything else in the world.

I think you get the picture. The man was a true patriot. He hated Velorians almost as much as Arions. Irrationally, perhaps, but understandably. But he worked with them. He did his duty. He was better than any of us.

I don't hold it against Tammy. She didn't know any more about this than we did — I asked her during a victory celebration at which Joe was conspicuously absent. But as for Marlow, I’d like to give him a punch in the nose.