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East of the Sun, West of the Moon: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Saturday, December 17, 2005 23:06 EST



    "Meredith," Megan said, entering the office. "Could you give me a moment with Herzer?"

    "Certainly, Megan," Meredith said. "I have the list of personnel and material he needs. I'll just run it down to the War Department."

    "I'd prefer you send Ashley," Megan reminded her. "I'd like you around for the meetings this evening."

    "Of course," Meredith said, nodding as she left.

    Herzer had another notebook open and was doing one handed push-ups as he read it. From time to time he'd pick up a fountain pen and make a note then set it down and return his off hand to his chest.

    "Interesting reading?" Megan asked, watching him slowly lift himself up and down.

    "The damned doors on the airlocks are a bitch," Herzer admitted. "Good if we're defending them. A stone bitch if we have to get through them."

    "So we make sure we're on the right side?" Megan asked.

    "that will depend upon what shuttles we get," Herzer said. "If New destiny gets the close shuttles, it will be a race with them in the lead from the beginning. Then we'll have to force our way in. That will mean high casualties, which was why the initial team was sending up only fighters in the first wave." He paused and turned a page. "But I don't think that will work. I don't think it would have worked in the first place. You can force the doors to the control room but not the doors that access the structural ring tube. Those are eight centimeter composite. They assumed that they could get forces in on one side of the access tube or the other. That's a bad assumption. If we get into the control room, first, that is where we'll hold them. At the internal blast doors. But there are other access ways," he added, turning another page. "Not good ones, not ones that I like, but we can use them. The problem is that I'm also thinking of ways you could block them, that New Destiny could block them." He rolled a tongue in his cheek and clicked his prosthetic, which was the off hand at the moment, thoughtfully.

    "Herzer," Megan said, carefully. "Shanea just asked me if she could borrow you for a couple of days."

    "To show her around town?" Herzer asked, turning another page. It was clear that he was only half listening. "I was going to talk to you about that. The poor girl is starved for some entertainment..."

    "Actually, she was asking about indoor sports," Megan said, clearly.

    Herzer paused in his push-ups and looked over at her, aghast.

    "Jesus," he muttered, "I hadn't realized it had gotten that far."

    "You knew?" Megan snapped.

    "Well, she was sort of giving off signals," Herzer admitted. "Just today, though, at lunch. I was going to talk to you about it, later. One of the ensigns I said I needed I was, frankly, going to sic on her. Put him in charge of an escort so she can get out of the house and then let nature take it's course."

    "She's not the only one," Megan pointed out.

    "Megan, I'm not making eyes at any of them, honest," Herzer said, flipping himself to his feet with one hand and coming over to brush her cheek, lightly. "Ashley...well she's sort of started to notice me lately. But you don't have to worry about me...straying. Honestly, honey. Hell, I spend most of my time around Meredith for God's sake."

    "And she's another," Megan said, holding up her hand to forestall protest. "I didn't notice it but Mirta did and she's right. Meredith won't ask, I think...I hope..." she trailed off.

    "Christ on a crutch," Herzer muttered, sitting down. "What in the hell are we going to do?"

    "Mirta suggested that since I'm not using the local stud that I share him," Megan said.

    "No," Herzer replied. "Absolutely not. If we were...if we were having sex and you were more stable about it, it would be possible." He held up his hand this time and fixed her with a glare. "I said possible. But even if you agreed, now, I would say no. You couldn't handle it, not the way that you still are. I'd end up losing you and gaining...nothing worth losing you for."

    "So how come you're so knowledgeable?" Megan asked, trying not to cry but smiling at the same time. "Big tough soldier. You're not supposed to be able to think about these things."

    "Maybe some of Bast rubbed off on me," Herzer said with a shrug. "She's as tough as they come, but she looks at people's emotions and reads them as well as anyone I've ever known. And, now, you could not handle that. No matter what you told yourself, it would tear you apart. And I'm not willing to lose you for a quick roll in the hay with Shanea."

    "Oh, I don't think she was thinking quick," Megan said, shaking her head.

    "The one thing I don't know is why this has come up so quickly," Herzer said.

    "Well, Mirta understood," Megan said, tartly. "Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

    "Every morning," Herzer said.

    "I mean below the jaw line," Megan snapped.


    "You said we hadn't seen you in shape before," Megan said, more softly. "We definitely hadn't seen you getting into shape. Women are not, generally, visual. But there's a bit there and... Anyway. The other thing is that you're...changing. I don't think in a bad way. Actually, I think it was what you were when we met and you'd changed for me. Now you're again. And you are quite..." she paused and thought for a moment then shrugged. "Sexy."

    "Thanks," Herzer grimaced. "I think." He looked at her and then frowned. "I don't suppose you're starting to think I'm sexy?"

    "A bit," Megan admitted, sighing. "Damn me, but not enough. I'm sorry." She got up and started to leave but Herzer quickly darted across and grabbed her arm.

    "No," he growled. "You do not get to walk out on that note."

    "Let go of me, Herzer," Megan said.

    "Sit down," he said, pointing at the chair. "I'm serious."

    Megan sat and looked up at him, angrily.

    "Okay," Herzer said, sitting back on the weight bench. "I'm sorry that I asked. It was the wrong time. You're all messed up about this other thing. It was the wrong time to press. I'm sorry."

    "You shouldn't be," Megan said, shaking her head. "This is my fault..."

    "Megan," Herzer cut her off. "Don't use the term 'fault' okay? If it's anyone's 'fault' it's Paul's and you dealt with that 'fault' as well as anyone could." He paused and frowned then shook his head. "Can I be selfish and blunt for a minute?"

    "Yes," Megan said after a moment's thought.

    "What can I do to make you more able to handle the thought of sex?" he said, softly. "I will admit that I want to see your hair spread on a pillow and the soft sweat trickling down your stomach. I want to hear you moan in pleasure, true, real, pleasure. I want to slide my hands between your silken thighs and touch you. I want to kiss your breasts and nuzzle at them like a child. I want to touch you and take you and love you in the hardest possible way. So what can I do to help?" he asked, quietly.

    "Oh, God," Megan said, her eyes closed. "I think you just did."

    "I thought that might help," Herzer admitted, grinning. "We fell in love so quick we forgot the whole seduction thing. Remind me to get you some flowers."

    "Herzer Herrick," Megan said in a soft voice. "You are a danger to women."

    "So I've been told," he admitted. "Can we do something?"

    "What?" she asked. "Here? On the weight bench or the floor?"

    "No, not here," he said. "After we get rid of Mike and Courtney I want you to throw everyone out with a vengeance. And then we'll spend an evening together, getting to know each other. And then we'll see what happens."

    "Okay," Megan said, nodding. "I think I can face that."

    "It's not a competition," Herzer said. "If we don't have sex, we don't have sex. That will be up to you. I will admit that I will press, but very gently. Leave it up to me, okay?"

    "Okay," Megan said, her face creasing in worry.

    "Don't tense up about it," Herzer said. "We're just going to spend some time talking, that's all. What happens after the talk is open. It might just be we get tired and snuggle. Okay?"

    "Okay," Megan said, nodding firmly.

    "Now we can go," he said, looking at the chronometer on Meredith's desk. "Cruz is going to be here soon and I need to take a shower."

    "Yes, you do," Megan said, sniffing the air.

    "Happy sweat," Herzer said. "Think happy sweat."

    "I will," Megan said, standing up.

    He glanced at her and then at the desk and shook his head.

    "Meredith?" he asked, plaintively. "Really?"

    "Really, really," Megan said, shaking her head. "I think she's going to hold a candle for you for some time, Herzer. Like I said, you're a danger to women."

    "Damn," he said. "She's really hot. You don't think..."

    "Don't push your luck," Megan said, chuckling as she opened the door.



    "Hey, Cruz," Herzer said, waving at the couch. "Grab a seat."


    Brice Cruz was thin and tall with shoulder length blonde hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was also dressed in the height of fashion wearing a light-weight tan suit and a cravat with a gold stick-pin.

    "Nice duds," Herzer said.

    "The most common flunkie in Washan is a congressional flunkie," Cruz said, shrugging and pouring himself a glass of wine. "Fitting in is my job."

    Cruz had started out in the Blood Lords but after an unpleasant incident with some bandits he had been asked to leave the service. For a year after that he had tried to find something he was good at besides killing. Unfortunately, no matter what he turned his hand to it never seemed to work out. He'd been close to the bottom rung of the ladder, working as a casual day laborer, when approached by the newly formed UFS intelligence corps. It had offered him an outlet for his skills with the caveat that if he screwed up using them, similarly skillful gentlemen would relieve him of the need to earn a living. Ever. He had performed his duties flawlessly and as a reward they had assigned him to head the security detail for the UFS' newest council member, who also happened to be the boss' daughter.

    He and Herzer went back to the apprentice program in Raven's Mill and it had been Herzer that had convinced him that resigning from the Legions was in his best interest. Especially when Herzer, who was at least as "good with his hands" as Cruz, had explained that he had recommended court martial. Cruz couldn't find it in his heart to blame Herzer, who was the paladin's paladin. But he much preferred his current bosses who had a much grayer approach to the value of human life.

    "I've got a mission coming up," Herzer said.

    "The quest to capture the fuel ship," Cruz said, nodding.

    "I hope all of Washan isn't aware of it?" Herzer asked.

    "Not even the horsey boys," Cruz said. "But the legionnaires and Blood Lords are. They don't talk, though. Our sources haven't picked it up in the capitol so far."

    "Good," Herzer said, ignoring the point that Cruz was getting intel that he wasn't. "I want you on the mission."

    "Why?" Cruz asked, frowning. "I thought you didn't care for my kind."

    "Bullshit," Herzer said. "And you know it. This is going to be one hairy fisking mission, Cruz. Damned straight I want you on it. You are one stone bitch killer and that's what it's going to take. Don't give me shit about 'your kind.' That is 'your kind.'"

    "Okay," Cruz said. "But you've got your pick of the damned legions and the Lords. Why me?"

    "Because this thing is going to be...weird," Herzer pointed out. "I'll take the Lords and even the legionnaires if it was just a stand up fight in a field. No problem. This is going to be shit coming out of corridor walls and in every direction. Maybe external on the ship. You can handle that, I take it?"

    "I'm not afraid of heights or close spaces if that's what you mean," Cruz said, still frowning.

    "You're not going to panic if we get hit from behind by whatever monster Celine has dreamed up this time," Herzer said. "You're just going to do the job. I know that. That's why. So I want you in."

    "What do I get?" Cruz asked.

    "Besides killing people and breaking things?" Herzer asked. "What do you want?"

    "A commission," Cruz said. "My record expunged. I want back in. I want in on the invasion. I swear to you, Herzer, I won't fisk up again. I want to be in the battles. I want to die or drop, damnit," he finished, his mask finally cracking.

    Herzer looked at him for a long time then nodded.

    "I'll try," he said. "I'll have to get the Duke to agree. And that incident with the bandits really pissed him off. But I'll talk him around. No 'deal' to it. You do the mission as an ensign..."

    "Lieutenant, for God's sake," Cruz said.

    "Okay, lieutenant," Herzer said, his face unreadable. "Or you don't do it at all. But if you fisk me, now or in the future, run far and fast."

    "Got it," Cruz said. "What's my job?"

    "When I figure that out, I'll tell you," Herzer said, sourly. "This thing is a cluster fisk if I've ever seen one. I don't actually see a good way to win. That's why I want you to be there, because we're going to have to change plans on the fly and I know you can keep up. You'll have a team, that much I know. Beyond that, I'm still working on it."

    "Got it."

    "In the meantime, just keep Megan alive," Herzer added. "You heard about the things that took down the Icarus team?"

    "That's why we were brought in on it," Cruz said. "Nasty. But at least one of them got taken down by the team itself, the colonel killed one with a bedpost, if you'll believe it."

    "I can," Herzer said, sadly. "He was very good."

    "The braincase is right behind the mandibles. They're not the solfugids that your lady was talking about, by the way. They're more or less straightforward giant scorpions. Stinger and all, very nasty toxin, and dual metallic composite claws. Metallic mandibles as well. The carapace isn't chitin, some sort of polycarbonate, very tough. But they're vulnerable right at the brain case. Hit them between the eyes and they go down. Weak at the joints as well. Fighting them will be a bugger if you don't have a shield, but you or I could take one down with a longsword. Shortsword would be iffy. Long mace or halberd would be optimum. I've been retraining some of the Lords with both."

    Herzer nodded, filing that away.

    "That is exactly why I want you," Herzer said, finally smiling.

    "Your servant, major," Cruz said, cracking a smile as well.

    "That's it for now," Herzer said, standing up. "Keep on the Detail until we move up to the training facility and then you move over to the teams."

    "Works," Cruz said, standing up as well. "Thank you."

    "Joel's going to scream about losing you, you know," Herzer said.

    "Well, I'll still be around," Cruz said, shrugging. "Somehow, I don't think I'll end up as a legion commander. But...I want the damned rank on my shoulders. I want to be able to say I'm somebody besides an accountant or an aide, you know?"

    "I know," Herzer admitted. "Welcome back. I hope."

    "Yeah," Cruz said, shaking his hand. "I'll tell you something, but you've got to promise that you won't fisk me."

    "Okay," Herzer said, frowning.

    "I'll do the mission even if you can't get me back in," Cruz said. "It sounds like fun. As long as I get a team command. Not just Joe Sword Fodder. But try, damnit."

    "I will," Herzer said.

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