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The Weapon: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Saturday, March 5, 2005 01:39 EST



    I arrived on base at Heilbrun feeling only slightly cocky. I knew I was the new guy, and knew they wouldn’t let me forget it. Still, I was determined to make a good impression. I managed, but not in the fashion I intended.

    One of the huge advantages of SW is that we don’t exist. I don’t mean in the secretive sense, but in the hassle and admin sense. We aren’t in chain of command for either the Combat Operations Battalions or the Base Battalions. We’re “tenant units.” This means no hassles in the pecking order, except that sometimes out of the blue, one of our officers will decide he’s too old for ops and snag a regular command. This is done the way Operatives and Blazers usually do things—in a fast, brutal and unexpected fashion. A slot will open up, a bunch of aspiring officers will vie for it and, while they’re congratulating themselves on their marvelous performances, an SW officer will magically appear in the desk. Next morning, the regulars find themselves reporting to a new commander, with no idea where he came from. Needless to say, this causes some friction.

    Such was the case the day I got there. The commander of Black Operations Team Three, Captain Alan David Naumann, had just grabbed the command slot for 3rd Mobile Assault Regiment, to whom we were usually attached. This had two repercussions. First was that all the company and duty section commanders in 3rd Mob were pissed at SW again. Second was that we had a hole in our own chain of command to fill. There was a shuffle to do so, and I didn’t realize this was all advantageous to my career.

    So I reported in instead to Captain Juletta Maron. The driver for the base taxi (junior troops except SW soldiers rotate that duty) gave me a quick tour and dropped me at 3rd SW Regiment HQ. I appraised the area as I would any combat zone. It was old but clean in minimalist fashion—grass and bushes perfect, one single pair of flamebushes a riot of crimson and orange aflank the entrance to the plain paneled building. I dropped my duffel and ruck inside the door and went about becoming known. We do this from the top down, so as to ensure everyone is familiar with the chain of command.

    I checked with the orderly, got my new commander’s name since it wasn’t “Naumann,” knocked on her office and heard her bellow, “ENTER!” There was nothing wrong with her voice.

    I stepped in, snapped to and said, “Operative Kenneth Chinran reports as ordered, Captain.” My voice didn’t crack, and I felt confident. I looked her over. Short black hair, slightly graying, trim, slightly above average height for a woman and clearly self-secure.

    She saluted back, dropped it, and I raced her down, trying to be back at attention before she was. I made it, but her age was not slowing her down yet. It seemed we both had something to prove, being new. “Do you have an attitude problem, Chinran?” she asked.

    It was a bolt from the blue. What had I done to come across as non-reg? I was here less than one hundred seconds and I was being hit with that routine. What in the name of God and Goddess had I done?

    I decided, instantly and without conscious thought, to go on the offensive. I had nothing to be ashamed of and wasn’t going to grovel. That would be the worst possible response. So I said, “As often as I can, Ma’am.”

    She nodded and said, “Good. I like that.” It had been a test. “What do you go by, Chinran?”

    “Ken or Kenneth is fine, Ma’am,” I said, still quivering slightly from that first question.

    “And what’s your hobby?”

    “Shooting, Ma’am,” I said.

    “Good hobby for an Operative. Let’s get you up to speed.”



    I met our First Sergeant, who would handle all my personnel issues. Senior Sergeant John C. (“Call me Sergeant Jack”) Hayduke would almost qualify as a recruiting vid icon, taken from the neck down. His face was on the craggy side, which matched his office. He had imposing cliffs of rams, paper and folders, and his comm was idling. “Welcome,” he said, all grins. “Good to have you.” He ran me through a chart on his wallscreen, gave me a ramchip for reference on inprocessing, and sent me to our logistics element.

    SW troops are required to maintain all their gear at all times. We may deploy on short notice to almost anywhere in space, and our gear is specialized; it can’t be acquired locally most of the time. This sounds smart theoretically, and is, but do you have any idea what it means in the real world?

    I already had my standard-issue weapon that I would keep for life. SW issued me a Merrill automatic carbine and an Alesis pistol, both in 7mm, sealed packs of clips, magazines and ammunition, grenades, demolition blocks and detonators, body armor, another knife and riot gear modified for use in clandestine takedowns. I got lock picks and coders, detection gear ranging from DNA sniffers and programs for my comm to binoculars and goggle/contact lens displays that worked on a variety of frequencies. There was a vac sled, an emgee maneuvering harness, a skintight suit with recycling gear and extra oxy bottles. Diving gear and more bottles, wet and dry water suits, chameleon camouflage and exomusculature gear, climbing gear, parachutes, ropes, tens of ramchips of documentation and training volumes, repair kits and a tool pack, along with harnesses, rucks and canteens rounded it out. Then I got dated food and water packs that I would consume on missions, or else they would be turned in when expired. I would use them on exercises, but only after replacing the amount expected to be used.

    All this fits packaged into a one-meter cube mounted on the sled, but to repack it requires warehouse facilities. I was warned not to open it to show off (much of it is stuff we hope is secret in detail, unlikely as that is), as unnecessary repacking would be charged to me. It was mine for the duration of my career, and when not on leave, it would be within short reach of me at all times. Freehold soldiers are armed at all times with at least a pistol, and my orders were to have a pistol on my person and my standard weapon with me or in my vehicle as well. I would need to buy a vehicle post haste. I didn’t relish carrying the combo everywhere I went, which is why I’d already bought my own Taurus 8mm sidearm, smaller but as effective as the larger issue weapon.

    Being assigned a team did not mean I was trained. I had the basics, certainly, and was capable of chopping a typical foreign squad into sushi with my bare hands or any weapon. I was a trained killer from top to bottom, but I was not yet a specialist in the surgical skills of covert operations. That would take more time and in fact I’m still learning now, ten years—fifteen Earth years—later. That should scare you. It scares me. I could be more dangerous than I am.

    First, I had to have surgery for a CNS bioplant. Combat Neural Stimulant was secret for years, and isn’t widely acknowledged now. Slangly known as “Boost,” which I mentioned earlier, it is a combination of oxygenating compounds, adrenaline and other hormones, and glucose and other sugars, and I’m being deliberately hazy as to the ingredients. First of all, I don’t know for certain what they are, but I can recognize it in use and tell the signs in an autopsy or blood analysis. Second, you don’t need to know.

    The implant is a small artificially grown biological mechanism, implanted you don’t need to know where, and can be recharged with additional doses fairly easily with a syringe or, ideally, by a nanocarrier if you have a modern hospital. The artificial organ doesn’t show on most X-rays, CT scans or enzyme traces and is hard to see by eye even during an autopsy. Some nations give their troops extensive surgical enhancements, as we do for certain Blazer specialties, but that defeats the purpose of being “covert.” Boost enables me to nearly halve my reaction time and increase my strength and speed a considerable percentage. Add that to my training and its physical enhancement is exceeded only by its psychological effect on an enemy.

    After that was real generalized specialist (pardon that phrase) training in the art of Black Operations. We’d qualified to be ammo humpers and bullet stops, to get there and set up shop, now we had to learn to dish it out when we got there. I hope by now none of you thinks of us as “dumb grunts.” We were all better than Olympic quality athletes, more stubborn than mules and with intelligence ranging from borderline genius to right off the charts.

    Deni arrived and was promptly sent back out to Sniper school. I went to Advanced Demolitions. For six wonderful weeks I studied and planted charges on everything from starship hulls and planetoid installations to aircraft and house doors. Want to know how to take out the window on a 75th floor penthouse suite without scattering shards on the hostage two meters inside? I can do it. How about cracking the center spine on an al Jabr class Ramadanian cruiser without breaching the hull? Yup. You name it, if explosives can do it, I can set the charges.



    We met up again at NCO Leadership School. All Operatives regardless of rank go to NCOLS. We need to know how to plan operations for insurgents and lead them in battle. After that, we split again, she going to Russian Language School, I to Combat Medical. We moved around a lot, adding skills to our expertise in killing. As we traveled, we’d read up on the course basics for whatever we were to study and be prepared to test out of as much as we could. It saved time and was encouraged. I skipped three of six weeks of Combat Med, two weeks of Specialist Welding/Machining, and most of Basic Electronics. I bogged down in languages. My mother speaks ten, but I apparently don’t have her aptitude for grammar. Vocabulary and accent was no trouble, so comprehension wasn’t my problem, just diction and my comprehensibility to others. I was adequate for combat, but not for the finer points of clandestine work. I cursed and studied and took hypno and more rNA learning boosters than “normal,” which was a lot.

    Leadership School had the added complexity of having to learn the reorganized operation and personnel system. Briefly, until then, the FMF used 16 troop squads composed of three teams of four troops and a support pair with a machinegun, and two leaders. That was a good system, which I still heartily endorse, because it made for two buddy pairs per team and a third team for backup. The then new (and still current) doctrine called for twenty: three teams of six, the third being the weapons team, and two leaders. This added the third buddy pair to each team. Another plus was that we added two more support weapons in the hands of those extra pairs. The third team had an anti-tank gunner and assistant, a heavy machinegunner and ammo humper and a pair of combat marksmen (SpecWar teams get bona fide snipers). Thus split, we could do more damage. I’ll work with either approach, as they both have their pluses and minuses.

    I did fine in the Technical Physical Security course, which is a polite term for breaking, entering, lockpicking, code bypassing, and other rudeness. It’s taught by Operatives and by contractors of two types. The first type are either veterans or professionals who take a test whereby they crack a security perimeter. The second type are criminals who eventually got caught doing the same thing unofficially. Both were good, they just had different approaches.

    The most fun was the class in Manners and Etiquette, slangly known as “Pie With A Fork,” which I’m told is a literary reference. We had to learn how to be polite, make small talk, dance, eat cake without making crumbs, sip wine and dine at a formal event. Keep in mind that while doing this, we are staking the place for its security provisions and plotting a way in or out, or else swiping as much overheard intelligence as possible and grilling other guests for data while being courteous and saying nothing. I can eat appropriately to any culture known, and fake well in an unknown circumstance after a few seconds of surreptitious observation. One of our tests involved a “drunk” host who played with his food, wiped his nose on the tablecloth, drank until the booze spilled over his lips, and was generally a slob. So were his other “guests,” and the trainees were graded on how long it took us to fall into the routine. We also ate raw rat and rancid yellow roe at that one, without making faces. I can’t recommend either as a delicacy. I can suggest a wine, order an appropriate meal from start to finish in six languages, and charm the thongs off lady diplomats, politicians, officers and wives. I can even fake it and charm male types or ladies’ husbands, if the mission calls for it. I prefer not, but a mission’s a mission.

    Operatives train constantly. I can’t stress that enough. There is always something else that can be used in combat, or as a cover persona, or for infiltration. New tools and techniques are developed all the time. From waking until retiring, I read updates, studied manuals, worked out, practiced operations, shot and jumped and took things apart. Sometimes, I even put things back together. I lived, breathed and dreamt warfare. You probably wouldn’t want me in your parlor at a diplomatic banquet, although you’d never know which one of your guests I was, but you certainly want me on your side when SHTF—Shit Hits The Fan.

    There were several of us from about the same cycle of training posted at Team 3 (3rd MAR had one squad of Operatives and Blazer squads in Combat Air Control, Combat Pioneer, Combat Rescue and Recon attached to it). We were encouraged to be friends, as it gave us needed socialization at minimal security risk, increased esprit de corps and let our competitive natures urge each other to learn better. In short, it made us easier to control. The thought of a rogue Operative defecting to an enemy, the private sector, or even going freelance is enough to give us nightmares. Anyone this powerful has to have iron discipline and control. We’re more dangerous than nukes—we can’t be detected until after we go off. So we keep a good eye on each other, and why would we associate with regular people anyway? It made dating rough. I was lucky enough to have a fellow Operative, but there were few women. Mostly, we dated other soldiers at least. The relationships with civilians tended not to last long. We just weren’t compatible. And let’s face it: we were egotistical punks back then. We wouldn’t grow up for years. But that attitude sometimes meant the difference between death and life.




    So it was that after six months (fifty day months, remember) of tiring skill training, Frank Lutz, Tyler Jones and I were assigned to audit the Chersonesus Army Advanced Combat Assault Course and report back on what we found. Whenever possible, we swap with “similar” units from other nations. This is to trade secrets for dealing with terrorists and insurgents, practice working with unknown allies and assets, and of course to spy on their capabilities. This was at least a slight change from our training so far—we weren’t being graded, we were the assessors. I had slightly more time in service than either of them even though we were all E-4 Senior Operatives, so I was in charge. There’s no real significance to relative newbies like ourselves going on the mission. We do this at all ranks to get different viewpoints.

    Tyler Jones was a cute but mousy woman who kept her brown hair bobbed in what was called a dyke cut (I’m not sure why it’s called that. Fashion is not my strong suit), measured about 160 cm and massed about 60 kilos. At the time, she was twelve. Don’t let that fool you, as she was inhumanly strong and could outwrestle me about half the time. She was also a bloodthirsty little killer who delighted in starting fights whenever someone made a derogatory comment about her, which happened not infrequently. During our advanced training, she lugged an M23 Heavy Machinegun (20.6 kilos with tripod, plus ammo) without any complaints or assistance. I hated carrying the heavy, personally. I do love the firepower, though.

    Frank was taller than me, slightly softer with curly hair and had a wicked sense of humor. His idea of entertainment was to use a pressurized can of solvent and a lighter to torch any bug that landed within range. He only caught a fellow drinker’s hair on fire once. He was working on Combat Air Control and Meteorology and had a stack of rams with him.

    The three of us were cut orders to ship as supernumeraries on a UN military transport pulling routine rotations among embassies and remote sites. It was departing in two days. I screened a quick message to Deni, telling her I’d miss our planned encounter for the weekend, and grabbed gear and ran. Mercifully, we were not required to ship our full package. We’d be detached and unavailable. Still, what I had to carry was plenty.

    The shuttle that was our first leg launched less than a div later. It was a nice flight, I must admit. We were stuck on a contract flight to save time and the only three spots available were in First Class. Seen through station ports as we entered the gangtube, the craft was a brilliant red, polished and glowing in Iolight. The cabin inside was rich leather, real nuggetwood paneling, and had enough legroom even for lanky bastards like myself. As military in uniform (which is rare for Operatives, but we were dressed as Blazers and officially acting as Blazers), we were treated to complimentary booze and snacks, and the meal was lovely—shredded chicken quesadillas with sweet jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and four cheeses. I highly recommend Barchetta Shuttle Service, if you have the means to travel in such fashion. It was a personnel shuttle only, and we climbed until the nacelles could no longer duct enough air. Then the real thrust kicked in—reaction engines. Those took us to Skywheel docking altitude.

    We switched to one of their intra-system ships in the odd centripetal and real gravity of the Skywheel, whipped off at the outer arc and headed for Transfer Station in Gealach (our satellite) orbit. Yes, “Transfer Station” is its corporate name; after all, that’s what they do. We had berths nicer than any in a military training craft. In less than a day, the shuttle clanked and connected, and we had to rush to transfer to the UNS Paris.

    We bumped through the passageways of Transfer, apologizing to civilians and bouncing off the mostly bare metal walls of the military terminal. There were a few framed prints to break the monotony, and they looked interesting at a glance, but we had no time to dawdle.

    We weren’t last aboard, but did reach the lock with only fifteen “minutes” (60 Earth seconds each, roughly 60 of ours) left. We saluted the flag (“ensign”) as we’d been briefed, even though it stuck in our craw to salute a foreign flag, and were ushered aboard. We had our bunkroom assignments and map already loaded into our comms, saluted the Officer of the Deck and swam aft.

    We needn’t have rushed; they didn’t thrust on time.

    This is one of many cycles of positive feedback in the UN Peace Forces. They don’t actually punish soldiers for being AWOL. As a result, people are under no real urgency to get where they’re supposed to be on time. This means the commanders call troops early and plan to commence operations late. Knowing it will commence late, the troops sleep in or goof off until the last moment they figure they can get away with, which is after the official deadline. This delays the start even further, so to compensate, the commanders give earlier deadlines. As military craft, they get priority slots in UN and colonial space, so they aren’t in any real hurry to do anything about the problem.

    This is actually beneficial to the companies that run docks in the Freehold. Since neither they nor the Citizens’ Council take orders from the UN, they don’t have to give priority to UNPF ships. So if the ship misses its slot, they have to pay a premium to bump the schedule and be fit in. They whine about it, and accuse us of not respecting their importance, but if they can’t have their troops stick to a schedule, it obviously isn’t that important to them.

    A Freehold military vessel would leave on schedule, and any-



    A Freehold military vessel would leave on schedule, and anyone who had not cleared ahead with the chain of command would simply be left behind. When he did eventually catch up through civilian ships at personal expense, he would be dragged up for AWOL charges, too. It almost never happens.

    We had time to examine our bunkroom while we waited. We lucked out, and there would only be the three of us in the six person bay. That was a rare occurrence, and we made the most of it. We could take turns with some small privacy (a luxury in the confines of a ship), and run through some training sims. It kept us busy, but as a plus, we wouldn’t have to deal with snoopy questions.

    It’s probably a good thing we could keep to ourselves. That evening, we went down to the centrifuged deck that serves various functions including exercise, certain labs and dining, and joined the line for chow. I was early in line for food, as always.

    A soft, ugly spacer ahead of me turned and asked, “You’re the Colonial troops we picked up, right?”

    It was an obvious rhetorical question. Who else would we be in these uniforms? We weren’t “colonials” either, but it was a friendly enough inquiry, despite the ignorance. There was no need to make an issue over it.

    “Freehold Blazers, yes,” I agreed.

    “Marines, basically then,” he nodded.

    Frank wasn’t thrilled by that comparison. “We aren’t Marines,” he said. “Mobile Assault troops pull that duty, among others. They don’t fall under a space force authority, because we have a unified military structure.”

    “So what are you, then?” he asked. He seemed to be prodding a bit from his tone, despite the innocuousness of the question.

    Tyler answered, “We’re like your Special Units. Only we’re better.” The expression on her face was not a smile.

    He snorted. “Got a bit of an ego there?” he asked.

    “Yes,” I said. “Because we’re that good.” I will always back my people up, even when they go overboard. Especially then. But dammit, they understood diplomacy. They simply were choosing not to exercise it. I sighed.

    He carefully ignored us through the rest of the line. I knew we’d hear about this later, though.

    The next words I spoke were to the server, who was a civilian contractor. Yes, on a warship. I found that to be bizarre. “What’s good?” I asked him.

    “It’s all good!” he said, smiling.

    “What do you recommend?” I asked, correcting my question.

    “The Thai chicken with green sauce is very good,” he said with a smirk. He obviously thought to play a trick on us. I knew exactly what trick, and went along with it.

    “I’ll take it,” I said. Frank and Tyler did, too.

    We sat down with steaming trays and got settled. It actually looked to be adequately prepared, and it was still steaming. While the crew awaited our surprise over the “hot” food, we grabbed our utensils and dug in. We could hear the conversation volume drop in anticipation as we outsystem hicks each took huge mouthfuls.

    Actually, I’d give it a 7 of 10. It wasn’t bad. The next thing Frank did, however, was to produce a bottle of “Crowley Osbourne’s Satan Pepper Sauce” and pass it around so we could dose it to a higher plane. The bay was silent at that. I really don’t care for Satan Peppers. They’re too bitter for my taste. But I can eat them, and a point had to be made.

    A nearby diner gestured at the bottle, and Frank nodded. Mister Curious took a whiff of the fumes and handed it back fast. His reaction made it seem he’d sniffed a plasma torch. We’d won this round.

    Of course, it got better from there.

    Three days later, I was working out in the gym. Frank was running on the centrifuge track, outpacing those few UN troops who bothered to exercise. That gave Tyler two “hours” to listen to music, or talk to herself, or masturbate, or whatever she chose to do with her precious privacy.

    We were at 1 standard G in the centrifuged gym. It’s lower than Grainne’s gravity, and I had the mass boosted to compensate. While I pumped, some tendonhead from the ship’s Marine force came by to razz me. “I hear you said you’re better than us?” he started without preamble.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t say that.”

    “One of you did,” he pushed.

    “Nope.” I wasn’t going to let this start, and I wasn’t going to be misquoted, either. “Different, yes. We aren’t Marines.”

    So then he took the machine next to me and tried to push more mass than I. He was obviously from a high-G homeworld too, although I couldn’t place the accent at that point in my training. I did the best thing I could think of; I ignored his challenge of constantly rising mass, and asked him about home. He was from Thorkel, I found out, and gave me a brief rundown on it. By the time I was done, he was quite happy to drop the testosterone challenge. It seemed like a good start to me. Real warriors (which I am and he was at least trying to be) always like to team up against spacer pukes. We agreed to meet up again and spot for each other.

    We were five days out when we hit Jump Point One and flipped through to Earth, from where we’d jump in another fifteen days to Alsace, and from there to Chersonesos. That’s when the encounter I expected to happen actually happened.

    I left the gym, having said goodbye to Fremont (“call me Monty”), the Thorkel-based Marine, and took the companionway aft toward the bunks. I slipped through a side passage that would take me further out the radius, and there they were.

    “Hello, friend,” one of them said.

    “Hello,” I replied, looking at the group. There were eight of them. I counted six men and two women and they



    “Hello,” I replied, looking at the group. There were eight of them. I counted six men and two women and they were the burliest, ugliest looking pack of goons I’d seen so far. One of them was the troll from the chow line that first day. I felt flattered. “Companionway party? Where’s the beer?” I asked, hoping.

    “It’s a party alright,” the leader said. “A jump party.”

    “Am I invited, then?” I asked. I could see exactly where this was going. Okay, I cheated: I’d read about it beforehand. Tactical knowledge of the enemy and all that. But I waited patiently for him to proceed. I also checked out the environment, which I should have done earlier. It was a late-night low-use passage with a few stanchions for gripping in an emergency, and precious little else. That had the disadvantage of little for me to use, but the advantage of little for the higher-numbered enemy to use. And yes, I’d already pegged them as enemies before the alpha weasel spoke again.

    “The way it works,” he said, “is that slimy little spaceworms, which is you, go through the Spacer’s Ordeal, and become real spacers. It happens to everyone on their first hyperjump. You come with us to the Court of the Space Queen and make nice to him, er, her, rub up, drink some Space Goat Juice, and we get a few photos.” Such rituals were officially banned. Good commanders let them happen anyway. Bad commanders were clueless. The rituals persisted.

    “I’ve jumped before,” I told him. I wasn’t interested in playing games. I’d been through far worse than he could imagine, but it was my stubborn streak. I had no need to play, no desire to play and wasn’t going to play. And no one took photos of Operatives, even if it meant destroyed equipment.

    “Not on a UN ship you haven’t,” he said, grinning. He probably thought his size would intimidate me into his silly hazing ritual. “You do it, or you go through us to get out.”

    Well, he hadn’t mentioned that option before. That seemed fair.

    My kick caught him toe-first in the balls, knocking them up into his abdomen. He whuffed, curled up as I expected and gave me a handhold in the emgee. I used my left hand for leverage, with his head as the fulcrum. It incidentally bounced off the bulkhead, which was fine with me.

    That swung me toward one of his buddies, and the edge of my right hand caught him across the bridge of the nose. He grunted as it cracked. As I recoiled the other way, I caught the third one with the same hand, jabbing hard under her ribs, then grabbing a tit and crushing it as I bounced. I pulled my foot free of the first thug with another kick, twisted around her right tit as she screamed, and planted my feet on the overhead to soak up momentum. I straightened, pushing her toward the walkway and blocking another geek with her body. She gave me a good base from which to punch one in the side of the head. He spun into the inboard corridor side as a few drops of blood drifted past, alerting me that number two was trying something else.

    I jackknifed and pushed off, then yawed right, getting my feet onto the outward corridor side. I brought my left foot up behind his head, hooking him with it and driving my right boot heel into his ear. Then I scissored it back and caught another woman dead center in her crotch with the instep of my foot. You may think that without testicles that doesn’t hurt, but the reactions I’ve seen tell me it does, and she howled in appreciation of my form.

    I jabbed fingers into a convenient throat, pivoted around an arm as I used my feet to push the attached torso the other way, thus dislocating it with a satisfying rubbery feel, and bashed my head back into the face of the person trying to get a stranglehold on me. That made me a bit dizzy, but I wasn’t about to show it. With feet against the walkway, I grabbed the nearest body and dove straight “up.”

    Remember that I can leg press 500 kilos in 1.18 gees? There was a satisfying thud as we hit, and my brains shook in my head. My victim probably didn’t feel a thing, but would upon waking. Someone interrupted my satisfaction by grabbing me, so I slammed a foot into his head, then drove my other heel back into his face. I stopped my forward momentum by kicking the first woman in her left breast to give her a matched set, and gracefully hiked my toe under her chin, clacking her teeth closed on her tongue. She gurgled a scream as I twisted and threw a stiff-fingered hook into an exposed solar plexus, male type.

    There was a lot of blood drifting through the air now, clogging the vents and splattering the deck and sides. It was good blood, i.e., not mine. I swam through the moaning, grunting and retching bodies, turned and said, “I trust that this satisfies the ritual requirement?”

    I took a slight wiggle of a head as “yes” and went to find food. Exercise makes me hungry.

    This incident had two additional payoffs. The next “morning” by ship’s clock, Frank, Tyler and I came to breakfast. We entered the centrifuge (which was spun to create G when not under pseudothrust. As we were currently under thrust, it was stationary, but still in use), grabbed our trays, and I led the way to a table. I didn’t see any obvious spaces where the three of us might sit, but as we—I—approached the nearest, a space five seats wide cleared out, the spacers grabbing trays and falling over themselves to make room. Apparently, word of our escapades had gotten out. Tyler, I found out, had also been hazed and had gone for joints—three spacers had broken elbows or wrists. I told you she was a bloodthirsty bitch.



    I told you she was a bloodthirsty bitch. Frank had been asleep in his bunk and was unmolested. This says something about the value of plenty of rest, but I’m not sure what. The crew were unfailingly polite to us from then on, and the Marine NCO in charge of training officially and obsequiously asked if we might share some of our knowledge with his people. He’d “heard somewhere” that we had “better than average” unarmed combat training. He said it with a straight face, too. We showed them a few tricks as a professional courtesy, and the Marines were solidly on our side from then on.

    We jumped through to Earth, stopped not at all, but went right across the system to Earth Jump Point Five to Alsace. Fifteen days transit, then pop across another 36 lightyears.

    The UN Star Nation of Alsace is the 11 Leo Minoris system. It’s interesting. The primary is a G8, slightly larger but cooler than Sol, gradually coming off the main sequence into subgianthood, to be followed by a stint as a red giant. We can probably only inhabit the planet for another ten thousand years or so. And there’s this tiny red dwarf companion orbiting at 800 million kilometers that is fun to watch. You’d think that not being able to stay for long (in an astronomical sense) would make the system less than desirable, but no one worries about the impending deadline. Well, they have time to do something about it.

    We were there two days and managed some ground time, as the ship had a call in orbit anyway. One of our encounters was quite amusing. The three of us “Blazers” left the usual mobile assault/marine/specialist/seconded army haunts, along with Monty and two of his buddies, and traveled a slight distance. There was no way we were going to swill with vacuum sucking spacer pukes, so we found what we thought was a quiet bar to sample the local beer and wine, which was in order good and so-so. The Alsatians should probably not be allowed to run distilleries, though.

    We thought it was a quiet bar. For some reason, Alsatians have an obsession with sexual orientation. They don’t discriminate and will gladly insult anyone’s preference. I knew mine, wasn’t bothered by it and cared less what people said about me. Deni thought I was a charming rogue, one or two other women I’d had torrid flings with claimed I was a male dynamo (exercise increases endurance…what can I say?) and I didn’t worry about the opinions of people I wasn’t trying to meet horizontally.

    As with most Freeholders, Tyler had made excursions to explore her sexuality. Despite everything else about her, she was timid in her personal encounters and had blushed and stammered while the three of us were discussing our experiences one bored night aboard ship. She definitely preferred men. Her only encounter with a woman up until then had been with a UNPF Space Force tech aboard ship. We ribbed her about getting more pussy than we had and she’d flushed red as she smiled. She was a late bloomer, and that was as fair game for jokes as anything else. That was among friends, though, not strangers.

    One of the Alsatian Army troops, not realizing our language skills, made a comment behind her back, involving mention of her haircut, the typical body-hairlessness of Freeholders, her height and his greater height. There were howls of laughter and Tyler glowed infrared. I was about to put a restraining arm on her, when she turned and went to town.

    Alsace is .82 gees. Grainne is 1.18. She was in peak condition. The joker came over her head and into the bartop through two of his buddies. The fight started. Being good soldiers, we backed her up. Being Operatives, we did so with great skill. Being slightly drunk, we did so with an excess of enthusiasm. Being wiser than most, we made no effort to resist when the Gendarmerie arrived. Monty’s friends acquitted themselves quite well, too, right up to the point where he slugged a cop.

    Less than a div later, we were dragged out of the local hoosegow (where a couple of local bullyboys had received a lesson in manners, also) and delivered to the landing field. The UN Landing Officer and the local top cop and the army’s honchos gathered around to roundly roast us. “Where are the rest of these hoodlums?” the soldier asked.

    When the LO patiently explained that only three FMF Blazers were aboard and that we were they, he looked confused. When the local arresting officer confirmed that he’d dragged in the three of us, the three Marines and twenty-two local soldiers, the colonel there for her men and women looked as if she’d melt from shame. Tyler was tiny, and Frank and I are not on the particularly large size. Even with the Marines along, the mass ratio was impressive.

    At this point, the arresting officer mentioned our passivity to his apprehension and our manners then suggested that perhaps the soldiers had had a brawl and we’d merely been caught up in the festivities. To avoid paperwork and international inquiries, all parties agreed. I suppose it didn’t hurt that we had called the officier “M’sieur Constable” in our best accents throughout the incident, answered all questions truthfully and even addressed the receptionist as “Ma’meselle.” I’d even managed to make them believe that Monty’s swing had been an enthusiastic accident.

    There was a brief dressing down for us and the Marines who’d been carousing at another bar, then we boarded the shuttle. The LO was a Marine lieutenant, and he punched my arm and winked as we filed by. I grinned and winked back, promising with that gesture that he’d pay for the bruise he gave me. It had been no love-tap, as he was using it as an excuse to make a point.

    The only thing that bothered me about the whole incident was that we didn’t get to see much of the town. I still haven’t.



    Chersonesus was settled by Greeks from Earth. It has Member status in the Colonial Alliance. It orbits a star that has no name, only catalog numbers, because it’s barely visible from Earth. It was chosen for settlement because its distance and less than prime (though still adequate) characteristics meant that the major commercial and governmental powers didn’t want it, as opposed to my home of Grainne which was settled due to distance and lots of resources to exploit by a rich national conglomerate. Chersonesus is 37 light years to Galactic North of Sol, slightly inward toward the hub and less than 6 lightyears from Arcturus, which is a brilliant amber jewel in its night sky. Its only jump point links through Alsace. The primary is a K2 spectroscopic binary, and both stars orbit a common center of gravity in a tight, fast orbit. My brief didn’t tell me whether or not they were close enough to swap stellar material and gas, so I was eager to see it for myself. The light appears to human eye to be as bright as “normal” Sunlight (most do—the eye can’t handle the output of a star at any reasonable distance, so uses only what it needs), with a yellow-orange tinge to things. UV is quite a bit lower and the Earth plants are engineered to handle that. The people are paler than one would expect from a predominantly Mediterranean stock, of course. Heavy element wise, the system is lower than Earth normal, but high enough to make it easy to exploit with modern equipment. Chersonesus orbits its “Suns” at .69 AU, so it’s just slightly cool. The tropics get about as warm as is typical, they’re just a little smaller, and the polar caps a little larger. It’s approximately Earth/Grainne sized but has a surface gravity of only .78. Even that is high, considering the elemental makeup of the system. But it would make us high G types inhumanly strong.

    We orbited, took a plain but adequate commercial shuttle down and were waved right through customs. I tried to use my broken Greek (they have an odd accent after nearly 200 years of semi-isolation from Earth), but the customs officer was so helpfully polite. “Gohead, gohead,” he said, waving us through and turning to the travelers behind us.

    So we trotted outside, hoping to find some clues there. In moments, a drab but modern tan eight-seater pulled up and a Chersonesi soldier with two stripes said, “Fweeheld?”

    “Freehold Forces Third Blazer Regiment, yes.” I was relieved even if I didn’t show it. He opened the back and we tossed in our huge bags, then took seats up front.

    Most “civilized” people would have been terrified of his driving. It was under different societal rules than I was used to, but just as fast. After a few minutes, we were all comfortable with his weaving, darting convolutions through traffic. He kept up a rapid-fire guided tour as he drove, pointing this way and that at things we’d never see again. Still, it was friendly and fascinating and Frank snapped some photos for us.

    Things were brisk at the Chersonesi base, Ionides Army Training Center. We were thrown in like numbers, assigned, aligned and forgotten about. It was a moral imperative to us not to be considered part of the background scenery however, so we took steps to correct that deplorable turn of events. The first morning, everyone knew there were three Blazers present.

    The day started early at “Iodine,” as we took to calling it. It was a play on the name and on the orange tinged light we had. It was a familiar wakeup, with lots of pushups and screaming. It was great to be home, even with the twin suns a bloody stellar duel on the horizon, unlike anything I’d seen before. Tyler responded to an instructor’s smartass question with a roared “NAI, LOCHIAS!” (yes, sergeant!) that blew his ears back. He’d asked for us to be loud, so there was nothing he could complain about…officially. He shortly found an excuse to drop her for pushups, his obvious intent being to break this little woman physically, then emotionally. Little did he know.

    She dropped at his command, getting face into the mud in less than a second. There was almost a sonic boom as she descended. I snapped, “Kinoumai!” (“Move!”) over my shoulder to clear the soldier behind me out of the way of my legs, and dropped also, as did Frank.

    The instructor asked for fifty pushups. Allowing for the gravitational difference, we gave him sixty. Then we did twenty more for good measure. It seemed fair, as we only used each hand half the time. We counted them loudly in Greek, popped back up in unison, and snapped back to attention. We weren’t sweating. Of course, it was cool by our standards. But we’d use it as a psych advantage.

    Whenever an Operative was dropped for pushups, we all dropped. When required to run extra laps, we all did. We moved as a trio, and that evening arranged to bunk together, by the expedient of telling two of the three Chersonesi troops in my room to relocate. They left in a hurry. Moments later, an anthypolochangos (second lieutenant) came in and began to whine about us screwing up his orderly chart. I snarled. He ran, tail between legs. He returned with a staff sergeant. I spoke to the sergeant in reasonable tones.

    “Archilochias,” I said, “the three of us are a team. We must be in close proximity to continue our language and technical studies—” I indicated our comms and a stack of ramchips—“and to properly assess this course, which is our mission here. Also, as ranking member of this team, I need to have my troops where I can be responsible for their safety and discipline.”

    The sergeant agreed as to how I made sense, and I apologized to the officer for scaring him, which elicited a grin from the sergeant behind him. The lieutenant couldn’t see it, of course. We assured him that we were quite comfortable with coed arrangements and that Tyler didn’t mind the other male’s presence and he shrugged and left, towing the lieutenant with him.



    There was another row the next morning when we were first in formation. Or perhaps it was our method of egress from the building—we jumped. From the third floor. It was only seven meters from ledge to ground and the gravity was lower than we had trained in, but for some reason, despite the fact we would later practice landing from that height or better, they objected to us jumping the gun.

    There was an amusing aside to this. Their Ranger course was also required of their combat rescue troops. Combat rescue troops anywhere are nuts, and no one is allowed to do more pushups than they. So when we dropped, they dropped with us.

    Then the Special Forces candidates decided they didn’t want to be showed up, so they started dropping with us, too. That put the Ranger students in a bit of a bind, and their instructors suggested they shouldn’t be shown up. That just left the Alpine contingent, who weren’t going to be left out of the fun…

    It wound up with the entire training battalion pumping out a thousand or more pushups a day. The instructors couldn’t really ask us not to do so, so they had to reduce the number they awarded just to have time to get in the training. The lesson here is: teamwork wins wars.

    The course was decent, we would report back. The technical capabilities of their Ranger students were comparable to Mobile Assault, although their shooting was poorer, but above average. They were not as physically active, nor did they have the emphasis on unarmed combat.

    A note on unarmed combat, as I haven’t mentioned this before. There’s a debate on the validity of unarmed combat in modern warfare, as it is little used and some see it as outdated. I disagree. The necessity of getting into your opponent’s face and beating on him, while taking damage personally, is excellent psychological preparation and of great value. The physical aspects of the training are good for strength and flexibility. Also, “unlikely” to be needed in combat is still “possibly” needed. I think our emphasis on it is valid. I will admit to a preference for shooting the enemy at a distance. It is far more cost effective in damage, casualties and speed of resolution. Martial arts will never replace good shooting, but can complement it nicely.

    The course was no real strain. We learned the differences between our equipment and found a couple of useful items to consider. I liked their rucksacks better than ours. Their field shelter was to beat all hell. It was a combination insulation mat, bivouac sleeping bag, inflatable one-soldier puptent and hammock. It worked anywhere, and was no bulkier than the bag and mat we carried. I was impressed.

    We only got one weekend in town. I wish we’d had more. It started off slow but was eventually a lot of fun.

    There was a surplus store near base, naturally. We wandered in there to look at knives and such, that being my moral weakness, before the civilians were awake and moving. And behind the cluttered cases of knives, they had one of the combination shelters on display, hanging from pillars. It was a practical thing, just too damned cool to pass up, so I grabbed one to add to my non-issue gear. Then I grabbed two more, figuring to make gifts of them to Deni and possibly my sister for her camping trips. The shopkeeper didn’t seem to mind my broken Greek, as much money as I was spending. But what the hell else did I have to spend it on? It came down to liquor, women and anything I could use in the field. I’m a practical person. As there were no women handy, and booze was cheap, it may as well be field gear.

    As we left, Frank said, “Geez, Ken, three hundred credits? And not even one of those knives?”

    “I know of better blades,” I said. “But these are really cool. Are we ready for a drink?”

    He replied with a shrug, “Hey, it’s your money. And what do you mean, ‘Are we ready for a drink’? We’re always ready for a drink.”

    Tyler pointed and said, “Wine, ho!”

    So we sampled the local wine at a little brick bistro. It was rich and red, their soil having a favorable chemistry. The wine was, I mean. The bricks were rich and red, though I don’t think the chemistry made them any better, just a nice color. The climate was pleasant. We sat outside, the object of strange looks for our foreign uniforms, and had a good time. Frank drank liters. He said, “I plan to save up my empties, cash them in for the recycle value, and when I’m done, I’ll have enough money for a regenerated liver.” There was something wrong with that logic, but it made sense at the time. I was drinking, too.

    The local women were not bad. Though I only have a statistical universe of one to draw data from.

    The next week, we marched through a parade and got to add Chersonesi Ranger wings to our uniforms. Then we packed up and prepared to ship out, on a commercial vessel. It had been a good six weeks.

    I’ve always thought myself a decent writer. It seems others agreed. Based on our experiences and service time, we all got bumped one rank to Operative Corporal slightly ahead of the usual time in service. For leading a deployment, even a small one, I got a note in my file. It couldn’t hurt at promotion time. I also wrote a glowing review of the combination shelter, and graciously donated one to the FMF field lab for testing. We adopted it on a trial basis shortly thereafter and it became standard. I was only doing my job. But it was nice to be thanked officially and credited for the discovery.

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