Authors: Robert & Heck Asprin,Robert & Heck Asprin
No Phule Like An Old Phule
Peter J. Heck
General Blitzkrieg was just lining up a tricky four-meter putt when a buzzer sounded on his desk. He flinched, at the noise, and the ball jerked to the right missing the target by a good half meter. “Damn it all to hell, what is it now?” he snarled, stomping over to the desk and. pressing a button.
“Colonel Battleax to see you, sir,” came the voice of Major Sparrowhawk, his adjutant. ”Shall I send her in?“, Blitzkrieg stifled another-curse, and nodded. Then, realizing that Sparrowhawk couldn’t see him, he said:
“Sure, sure; send her in.” He quickly stashed his custom-made ultracarbon putter behind the desk and turned to stand with the window behind him. The view of the North Rahsome Mountains behind the old city wasn’t anything to get ecstatic over, but he was pleased at the ‘thought’ of having his back turned to Battleax when she entered the office-a subtle slight, but nothing she could take overt offense at. If he'd been able to contrive a way to make her cool her heels in the outer office for fifteen or twenty minutes; he’d have enjoyed it even more-but that would have required some advance planning. Might as well just get the unpleasant confrontation over with. He didn’t know what the colonel was here for, but it was bound to be unpleasant.
He heard the door slide open, but he resisted the impulse to turn; let the old harpy wait until he was good and ready. He let a thin smile cross his face as he heard the colonel come into the. office. “I think you’ve forgotten something, General,” came a voice from behind him.
Blitzkrieg turned, just in time to see Colonel Battleax toss him the golf ball he’d left sitting in the middle of his office floor. Caught off guard, he snatched at it clumsily, and stifled another curse as it bounced off his chest, then ricocheted off his toe to roll under the desk. He determinedly ignored it. “What brings you here today, Colonel?” he asked, doing his best not to show his annoyance at her.
“I’ve got the latest” intelligence reports on the Zenobian situation,“ she said. ”You’ll be glad to know…“
“I won’t be glad unless you’re going to tell me those blasted overgrown lizards have eaten Captain Jester;” said the general, losing his composure after all. “That’s the planet he’s on, and the less I hear about it, the less I’ll have to ruin my appetite.”
“I doubt there’s much that could do that,” said Battleax, eyeing his ample midsection. ”Anyhow, you need to know this, whether you like it or not. The second race that Jester found on Zenobia-the Nanoids-claim to be indigenous to the planet.“
“Very interesting, I’m sure,” said Blitzkrieg. He poked his toe under the desk, experimentally, hoping he could kick out the golf ball without bending over to look for it. No such luck.
“More interesting than you may realize, General,” said Battleax, smugly. “We have two technologically advanced, races inhabiting one planet—and both are apparently legitimately native to that world. Now, as you may recall, Captain Jester’s company was called there because the Zenobians had detected the Nanoids conducting surveillance of their major cities. This suggests that the Nanoids may be looking to expand their territory-and you can surely guess what that would lead to.”
“Civil war,” said Blitzkrieg, waving a hand dismissively. “Not our problem, as long as the conflict doesn’t break out into Alliance space. We keep a strict hands-off policy, and provide sophontitariail aid where appropriate. They covered that in second year MilSci at the academy or did you miss that lecture?“
“No, General,” said Battleax, smiling. “Did you miss the fact that the Zenobians signed a mutual defense treaty with the Alliance just over a year ago, and that we’re now making diplomatic overtures to the Nanoids, to get a treaty with them? That planet already is Alliance space, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to be deeply entangled with both sides in the conflict. And the only combat-ready Alliance military unit in the entire system is one Legion company.”
Blitzkrieg’s eyes lit up. “Yessss!” he hissed.
“No,” said Battleax, shaking her head. “we can’t just leave them in the line of fire.”
“Of course we can. It’s the Legion way,” said Blitzkrieg, a feral grin on his face.
“Maybe I did miss a lecture at the academy, after all,” said Battleax, coldly. “Or is that one of the lessons reserved for the old boy network?”
“Nothing more than learning to look at the big picture,” said Blitzkrieg. A superior smirk came to his face. “If you’re ever going to get stars on your shoulders, that’s the kind of choice you have to be ready to make, Colonel. They don’t play this game in short pants you know.“
“I’ll take your word for that,” said Battleax. She leaned forward and picked up the golf ball, which had rolled out of the far side of the desk and come to rest at her feet. She handed it to the general, and said, “But if Phule’s company is going to be in the middle of a Civil War, I’m going to make sure they know in advance just what kind of game they’re in and what kind of pants their superior officers are wearing. In your case…” She paused and looked Blitzkrieg up and down. “No, it’s too easy. I won’t say it.“
She saluted, then turned and walked out of the office with a mischievous grin. Blitzkrieg spent the rest of the day trying to figure out just what she’d meant by it.
After his success in the Zenobian affair, my employer had naturally assumed that his Legion career was back on track. He had scored not only a diplomatic but a scientific coup in discovering a new alien race, the Nanoids. He had managed to discredit the new commander sent by headquarters to take over his unit. And he had successfully cemented trade relations with our hosts, the Zenobians.
Little did he realize that there were machinations under way in several distant worlds, all of which were destined to intrude on his peace of mind.
The yellowing poster in the dirty store window hung crookedly between two nondescript advertising signs, and its once-bright colors had long since faded to shades of off-white. But Zigger found it beautiful, nonetheless. He had been admiring its picture of a heroic figure in a black jumpsuit ever since his father had brought him down this street and he had seen the store. To a small Lepoid from a second-rate factory town on the planet Teloon, it was the stuff of his dreams. He hadn’t been able to read the words the first time he saw it, but he’d gotten his father to read them to him: “Join the Space Legion and See the Galaxy!” Zigger hadn’t known what a galaxy was back then. But he knew magic when he saw it. It made his nose twitch and his ears snap to attention, and as far as he was concerned, whatever the poster was selling had to be the real thing.
And every time he came down that street-even when he was running errands for his mom, or late for school-he’d stop for a brief moment in front of the store and gaze upon the poster with loving eyes.
It was something of a letdown when Zigger realized what kind of merchandise the store sold. The store (its name was Spotty’s) sold nothing at all heroic or magical just stupid ordinary things like fur restorer, groot repellant, stupid entertainment capsules, and a selection of print zines. The Space Legion recruiter had come by one day and put the poster in the window, one of many crowded into the space. Several years later, it was still there. But not even that could detract from the allure. Zigger had already made up his mind that he was going to join the Space Legion, and everything else was second to that.
His parents didn’t necessarily approve, but they were smart enough to use it to motivate him to do well in school.
“You’ll never get into the Space Legion if you don’t do your math problems,” his father would say, and that was all Zigger needed to dig in for another round of attrition and subduction. Or, if he didn’t like something his mother had made for supper, she would say, “Eat up, little one-you have to be a big, strong, healthy Lepoid to join the Space Legion!” And Zigger would gobble down the last few pieces of brittleroot on his plate. It worked every time, and even after Zigger figured out what his mom was doing, he didn’t stop listening. After all, it stood to reason that she was probably right. And so young Zigger grew up strong and smart, and all his teachers said he could be anything he wanted to when he grew up.
That pleased Zigger. But all he really cared about in life was joining the Space Legion when he grew up.
So when he hopped onto the stage to receive his school diploma (with honors in three subjects, though not the highest honors-those went to Snickly, who was a grind and a suckup anyway), and citations as an All-Teloon athlete in three different sports, and a plaque for Good Citizenship, everyone expected great things of him. The commencement speaker had told the young Lepoids that the universe was their tuber, and even though the graduates knew it was a cliche, most of them were willing to believe it for a moment, at least.
So it came as a considerable shock to Zigger when his parents put their feet firmly down in opposition to his announcement that he was going to join the Space Legion instead of going on to HarevardUniversity , where his grades (not to mention his prowess at running and jumping) were certain to earn him a scholarship. “You can’t just throw away an opportunity like this,” said his father, glowering at him from the head of the breakfast table. “With a Harevard education, you can do anything you want-to.”
“But I can do what I want to without it,” said Zigger, with a forkful of synveggies halfway to his mouth.
“Besides, if I’m good enough to get in now, I’ll still be good enough after I’ve served a term in the Legion. And they let you save up your pay to cover college expenses. It’s a really smelliferous deal, Dad!”
“It smells pretty bad to me,” muttered Zigger’s dad.
“Now, Oswald, you know that’s just the slang these youngsters’ use nowadays.” Said his mother, in a conciliatory tone. “When he says smelliferous, he just means it’s very shuropteous.”
“Well, why doesn’t he say so, then?” said Oswald.
“Have to get a dictionary to figure out what kids mean these days.”
“What I mean is that I’m not going to Harevard.” said Zigger. “Not until I find out if I can make it in the Legion. It’s the only thing I’ve always wanted. You know that, Dad.”
Oswald shook his head, started to say something, then took a deep breath. “You know what? I think I’m going to let you do it…”
“Yaay!” cheered Zigger, hopping out of his seat and prancing around the table.
“… With a couple of conditions,” his father continued.
“First, if you get accepted to Harevard and if they agree to hold a place for you while you complete one tour of duty in the Legion. If you still want to stay in the Legion after that, I guess there’s not much I can do for you.”
“I’ll accept those conditions, Dad,” said Zigger, pausing in his celebratory dance. “They don’t matter, anyhow. All I’ve ever wanted is to join the Legion.”
“There’s an old saying,” said Zigger’s mother. “‘Be careful what you wish for-you just might get it.’ I hope the Legion is everything you want it to be. And if not, there’s always Harevard.”
But Zigger wasn’t listening anymore.
“Sergeant Brandy, may I ask a question?”
It took all of Brandy’s self-control not to permit herself a deep sigh. “What is it, Mahatma?” she asked: She knew even before she heard the question that it was going to take all her resources to come up with an answer. Mahatma could twist almost anything she said into a refutation of all the discipline and authority the Legion depended on: But that was just part of a day’s work for the Top Sergeant of Omega Company.
“We have been on Zenobia nearly six months,” said the young legionnaire, smiling beatifically-it was his invariable expression. If she hadn’t known better, Brandy would have assumed Mahatma was on some kind of meds, legal or otherwise. (In this outfit, it was most likely otherwise.) Brandy waited for Mahatma; he hadn’t asked any question yet, so she knew he wasn’t done. The silence lingered.
Finally, as the rest of the training squad fidgeted, she said, as calmly as she could manage, “That’s right, Mahatma. We’ve been here six months.” Sometimes she thought half that time had been spent with her answering Mahatma’s questions, but she carried on with only a hint of impatience. “Now, what was your question?”
Mahatma’s smile never wavered. “When we had finished our job on Landoor, we were sent to this planet. You told us it was because we had done a good job there.” He paused again.
“That’s right,” said Brandy, not letting the pause stretch out this time. “What did you…”
“Have we not done a good job here?” Mahatma broke in. “Or have we not finished the job we came to do?”
“Neither one,” said Brandy. “We came as military advisers to the Zenobians, and we’ve been able to solve their problems without any fighting at all. That’s doing a damned good job, if you want my opinion.”
“But we have not been sent to another posting,” argued Mahatma. “That must mean the brass don’t think we’ve finished the job.”
“Dude’s makin‘ sense,” came a voice from the back of the squad before Brandy could answer. She was pretty sure she knew who it was, but she thought she’d be better off dealing directly with Mahatma instead of being drawn off into side issues. At least, unless she needed to divert everyone’s attention from whatever point Mahatma was leading up to. The little legionnaire always had a point usually one that undermined some basic tenet of military doctrine. She still hadn’t figured out what he was doing in the military. Luckily for Brandy, most of his points were too subtle for anyone but her and Mahatma to understand.