Authors: Jerry Pournelle,S.M. Stirling
Tags: #Science Fiction
Damned if I know why she wants to go for a soldier,
Guiterrez thought. The word was that Governor Blaine had offered her a good job in administration here on Tanith.
Maybe she wants to make a fresh start.
He could understand that; Sergio Guiterrez had started out running with a gang in San Diego, and had been lucky enough to catch the attention of a CD Marine recruiter looking over the newcomers to a relocation center. It was the Marines or a one-way trip to Tanith.
Got me here anyway. But not as a slave.
Smart girl, and a looker too, with that heart-shaped face and enormous green eyes; a little more athletic than he liked, but on a heavy-gravity world like this you got a workout just walking down to the corner.
"Well, it's confirmed I'll be coming to Sparta with the Fifth," she continued, returning his salute. It was a little awkward, like the way she wore the blue and gold of the Legion, but she was trying. "Captain Alana wants me to arrange a cross-training schedule on the Armor Company simulators while we're on shipboard."
"Yes, Ma'am. I'll take care of it. Welcome to the Fifth," Guiterrez said. He liked the smile he got back.
Maybe she'll do.
Did the Governor
to hold the going-away party in the Hilton?
Ursula Gordon thought.
She surreptitiously wiped her palms on her pocket handkerchief and smoothed down her dress-white jacket. The Tanith upper-classes never wore white, because white jackets were the uniform of convict trustee laborers; but Falkenberg's Legion wasn't about to change its customs. No one was going to mistake one of Falkenberg's officers for a convict. Not more than once, anyway.
It was only mildly hot in the screened and sunroofed porch of the Lederle Hilton, with the overhead fans whirring and cool water trickling down the vine-grown screens of Gray Howlite stone spaced about.
My palms would be sweaty if it was air-conditioned.
This building had been her home since the Hilton company bought her contract at the age of four; children of convicts had been automatically indentured then, back before the current Governor's reforms. Her place of work from the day she turned fifteen and became a fixture of the luxury suites, until Prince Lysander checked in. Three short months ago, and now she was seeing it for the last time. As a guest.
She sipped at her iced soda water and watched her fellow officers mingle with Governor Blaine's bureaucrats and planters; the planters included some former rebels, here to show their humble gratitude for the amnesty.
Sweating to please,
she thought coldly.
Learn how it feels, you slave-driving bastards.
Blaine himself was being determinedly friendly to all. . . . It was his main weakness, a desire to be liked. Fortunately, he knew how to control it. He broke free of the circle of former enemies and came over to her. "Good-bye." He gripped both her hands with his.
I think he really will miss me.
Blaine was a tall man, over 190 centimeters, and thin enough to look almost skeletal to someone Tanith-born; his sandy brown hair was thinning on top and tousled as always, and he wore the inevitable blue guayabera shirt with the CoDominium seal on the left pocket.
"I still wish you'd taken my offer," he said. Second Administrative Assistant in the Department of Labor; a glorified executive secretary, but it was in the line of promotion, a good position for someone as young as she was. "I hate to see Tanith lose anyone with your abilities; we need all the smart, tough people we can get. Perhaps something else? Name it." Blaine was eccentric that way; he had
posting to Tanith, when every previous governor had taken it as a punishment post. For that matter most planters and company executives dreamed of making a killing and moving somewhere else.
"No, thank you, sir," she said. Then she smiled; it made her look younger than her eighteen Earth years. "That's the second serious proposition I've declined in the last week; it's refreshing."
"Proposition?" he said, looking protective.
"Well, the other one was of marriage," she said. "Captain . . . ah, an officer of the Legion."
Blaine nodded, looking away slightly.
What romantics men are,
she thought. It made them easy to manipulate, if you knew. Women had to; some men learned. Colonel John Christian Falkenberg III was as expert as she; military romanticism was as powerful a way to lead men by the nose as the sexual variety.
"Spare the pity, please, Governor," she said a little sharply. "It wasn't all bad here, and I'm not scarred for life, I assure you." Though there were some memories that still woke her shivering in the night; that couple from California . . . She pushed the memory aside.
"Actually, the worst thing about being a . . ." She considered; prostitute was not exactly accurate. For one thing,
had never seen any of the money, except for tips and gifts. For another, she had been carefully trained to offer a number of services besides the sexual. ". . . a geisha was that you had to be so damned
all the time. In the Legion, nobody gives a tinker's curse if I have the personality of a Weems Beast, as long as I get my job done and stand by my comrades."
"Look, sir, I appreciate your concern—and the gentleman who asked me to marry him—but
I don't need any more rescuing.
Right now, I'm getting a fresh start away from Tanith. I know you'll make Tanith a better place to live, but not for
And I've got a movable home and family going with me, the Legion. It's a tough place, but you
what you get, you don't
it to you." She shrugged. "And if I get a husband someday, it won't be someone who wants to protect me because I'm young and pretty and look vulnerable. Hell, maybe
Blaine laughed. "I understand," he said. "I hope you like Sparta, too. Bit drier and cooler than you're used to, I hear."
Ursula laughed back at him, still feeling a slight stab of satisfaction that she could laugh because she
to. "I'm looking forward to it, to getting out of this sauna."
Major Peter Owensford sipped at his drink; it was the perpetual gin-and-bitters of Tanith. There was the rum-based liqueur made with Tanith Passion Fruit, but that was too sweet for lunchtime, and anyway it was rumored to be a mild aphrodisiac.
thing I need right now,
he thought dismally, looking over at Ursula where she stood talking and laughing with Blaine . . .
he reminded himself. Who had politely but firmly put him in his place; a favored uncle's place . . .
God damn it all.
"Feeling sorry for yourself?" Ace Barton said.
"Not really, Anselm."
Anselm Barton, he reminded himself. It was going to be difficult, with Ace along. He had been senior too long; with the Legion, and then an independent merc commander for nearly a decade.
And my commanding officer on Thurstone, a lifetime ago.
you're pissed, you never call me that unless something's got your goat."
Owensford relaxed. "Oh, all right, Ace; yes."
"Smart and gorgeous, but too young for you. The problem is," he went on, resting a hand on the younger man's shoulder, "you're getting those settling-down feelings. Endemic, once you turn thirty."
"You don't have them?" Owensford replied.
"Oh, yes, but I lie down until they go away." A wink. "Works fine, provided you lie down with the right woman."
Owensford snorted laughter. "Frankly, Ace, I'm nervous about this command as well. The rest of the Legion's going to be a
way away." Then he winced inwardly; he had never had a detached command before, and the older man
Barton shrugged. "What's to worry about? We go set up schools. Which works fine, because we've got the older troopers. Maybe they can't march fifty klicks and fight when they get there, but they can sure train others to do it."
Besides the raw Tanith recruits, Falkenberg had taken the opportunity to move a lot of men near retirement into the Fifth. Tanith was a good place to recruit, you had to be tough to survive here, and there were plenty of broken and desperate men. The Legion as a whole was over-strength, particularly the rifle companies. His unit would include the standard six hundred or so, but twice or three times the proportion of men over thirty-five. Many of them monitors or sergeants or centurions nearing retirement, rock-steady men but tired. There would be near a thousand women and children and pensioners as well.
"Fine for training," Owensford agreed. "On that score, just got the word. Hal Slater's going to Sparta. To set up their staff college. Which means we'll be taking George as well as Iona."
Barton raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.
"OK, so we got the old ones," Peter said.
"The old, the halt, and the lame," Barton agreed. "But not the stupid. Given my druthers I'll take what we got. Hell, Pete, it's just a training war anyway."
"Training war?" Lysander Collins said from behind them.
They turned to greet the heir to the Collins throne of Sparta. Prince Lysander was a tall young man, 180 centimeters in his sandals; about twenty, a broad-shouldered youth with cropped brown hair and hazel eyes that looked somehow firmer than they had when he came to Tanith a few months ago.
"We were just discussing the sort of recruits we'll be getting on Sparta, for your new army. We're not used to Taxpayer enlisted men. Sorry," Owensford corrected himself. "Recruits from the Citizen class, I meant." He would have to remember that on Earth, Citizen meant a member of the underclass, the welfare-dependent or casual-laboring lumpen-proletariat. Better than half the population of the U.S., and more elsewhere. On Sparta a Citizen was a voter, a member of the political ruling class. Not necessarily socially upper-class, but solidly respectable at least.
"Well, not all the recruits will be Citizens or from Citizen families," Prince Lysander said. "It's a big planet and not many people and there's a lot to do, if you've got some sort of education. A lot of the deportees BuReloc sends us are illiterate and have never held a job; there's plenty of unskilled laboring positions open, but I think some of them will join up for the Field Force as well."
He frowned slightly; a serious young man for the most part, thoughtful. "I'd have thought our Citizens would be easier to train," he added. "The schools on Sparta are pretty good, and there's a lot of paramilitary training through the Brotherhoods' youth-wings."
"True enough," Owensford said. "The Legion's training schedule is pretty much the same as the CoDo Marines, though. With the sort of street-toughs and gang warriors we get, you break the recruit to build the soldier; everything they've learned all their lives is wrong, except for pack loyalty and aggressiveness."
Which was why nine-tenths of Marine recruits had records; the sort who just sat in front of the Tri-V screens and stirred only to get more booze and borloi were little use.
"The new recruit is silly,
'e thinks o'suicide
'e's lost 'is gutter-devil
'e hasn't got 'is pride—"
Lysander quoted softly. "It makes better sense, now. He knew his stuff, didn't he?"
"Certainly did," Owensford replied. He had discovered Kipling on his own. The man had long since been purged from what passed for an educational system in North America, but Lysander had mentioned he was by way of a national poet. Sparta promised to be full of surprises like that.
They all lifted their glasses for a moment to Kipling's memory.
"We'll manage," Ace Barton said. "Soldiers do."
"Not only soldiers," the Prince said quietly; his eyes flicked toward Ursula Gordon and then away.
Owensford felt a brief stab of irritation mixed with pity. Sparta seemed to be a pretty straight-laced sort of place, at least at the upper levels, and Ursula had hit the young man like a ton of cement. First love and first adventure, that daredevil stunt with the Bronson's shuttle and a beautiful damsel in genuine distress, heady stuff. Doubly bitter when he realized that he could have neither; back to the strait confines of duty, and a marriage arranged by his elders.