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Governor: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Monday, November 16, 2020 19:07 EST



    Callum stuffed a pair of scuffed boots into a beige space bag with the Harriman Academy emblem, then flung open a drawer and packed the rest of the bag full of socks and undergarments.

    “Shirts! Dress shirts. . . utilities I think I got those. Is it black shoes or brown on a carrier? What time is . . . ah hell,” he opened a closet and lifted a full non-military suitcase.

    “At least you’ve got your head screwed on,” a feminine voice said from behind.

    Callum spun around and wiped sweat from his brow, his younger sister, Reagan, stood in the doorway to his room.

    “You want to help or gloat?” Callum went back to ransacking his dresser.

    “You know Uncle Harry sent you a packing list like a week ago?” Reagan asked.

    “Was busy. Had to fit two years’ worth of living into the time I had left. Do I need a pillow? The bunks on the ship should have pillows.”

    “And then Mom sent the list to the printers and had all new clothes and gear made up for you?”

    “She what?” Callum dropped his bag.

    Reagan went to a hallway closet and opened it with a swipe of her hand over a reader. Three vacuum-packed olive green bags were nestled next to racks of fluffy towels.

    “She mentioned something about going to war in clean underwear.” Reagan rolled her eyes.

    “Why didn’t you—I mean she—”

    “Because you’ve got nineteen minutes until the car comes to take you to Port Olympia,” she said. “She’ll meet us there and embarrass you with hugs and kisses before you cross the gates.” Her eyes welled up and she turned away.

    “Reagan. . . don’t be like that,” Callum said. “It’s New Dublin! Two years holding down the orbital platforms and maybe light customs work." He put an arm around her shoulder. “And you know who’s in charge? Our dad. The man doesn’t go looking for trouble. He’s a politician at heart, not a fighter.”

    Reagan sniffed hard and pulled away.

    “It’s just that my friend Susan lost her brother in Beta Cygni, and now you and Dad are leaving and I don’t want you to—”

    “Stopppp,” Callum pulled her into a hug. “This isn’t like that time Dad was out at Steelman’s. That was a total fluke. This is a nothing deployment. Heck, you and Mom can even come visit us.”

    Reagan pushed him away.

    “And spend weeks in a star liner listening to her complain about the food? I’ll pass,” she said.

    “You can come by yourself. Crann Bethadh has skiing. . . and bears. Giant terrifying bears.”

    "What's Cran . . . Cranny . . . what you just said?" she asked suspiciously. "You're going to New Dublin."

    "True," Callum said. "But the only inhabited planet's called Crann Bethadh." His tone was more than slightly smug, that of an older brother impressing a younger sister, and she rolled her eyes.

    "What language is that?" she challenged.

    "I don't know," he admitted after a moment in a somewhat less smug tone. "But it's something about a tree. And they do have skiing! I know how much you enjoy that."

    “No promises from me. You just do what you can to stay away from farmer’s daughters or getting all weird and deciding to live on the frontier selling organic candles or something,” she said.

    “I like girls with a bit of culture. I won’t settle for anything less than a spoiled Heart World brat. So you just keep tabs on any of your friends from finishing school that— Ow! I need that foot.”

    “Get your stuff, spacer!” Reagan thrust a finger at the closet. “And don’t you dare make Mom cry when she sees you off, because then I’ll start crying and—”

    “New Dublin,” Callum picked up a bag under each arm. “Get that one for me, please. And it’s New Dublin! I might as well be posted to Centauri or Pluto for all the danger I’ll be in. It’ll be fine.”



    The Murphy family limo stopped in an outer lane of the Port Olympia military terminal. Shuttle busses meandered along the curb to the main building, dropping off young men and women in midnight blue navy coveralls and digital pattern Marine uniforms.

    Callum was the first out of the limo and he felt something in the early evening air, an almost palatable sense of dread. He slipped on a dark blue beret and adjusted it while looking in a window. The shape wouldn’t hold no matter how hard he tugged, and the head gear looked more like an Italian chef’s hat than the perfect slant and peak that his father sported. He gave up, comforting himself with the reflection that he only had to wear it through the lot and could remove it once inside the terminal.

    A low chant carried on a breeze from one side of the fenced-in lot. Protestors in all black and with veils over their faces held up sticks with moving digital projections of anti-war slogans. One held a counter, displaying a number well over three billion and increasing by several dozen at irregular intervals.

    “Ugh.” Simron, dressed for a boardroom meeting, got out behind Callum and straightened out the top of her pants suit. She shook her head at the protestors. “How unpatriotic. Don’t they know doing this gets them on hiring blacklists?”

    “Maybe that’s why they wear the veils.” Callum went to the trunk and slapped it twice to signal the robot driver to pop it open.

    “They think that will do them any good?” Simron sniffed as Callum hauled his space bags out of the limo. “Adorable. Callum, what are you doing? Don’t they have someone to carry that for you?”

    “No, Mom, that’s not how the Navy works,” Callum hefted one bag onto a shoulder. “Reagan? You coming out?” He bent over to look inside the passenger compartment. His sister had tucked herself against the far side, knees drawn up to her chest and hair covering her face.

    “Reagan. . . come on.”

    “She did this when your father left too.” Simron gave Callum a quick hug. “Two years. Take care of your father. Don’t go looking for trouble and don’t come back with any medals. You understand? No medals.”

    “I think I get one just for showing up today. Republic Defense Service or something.”

    “Don’t get the one your grandfather had. Purple Heart, I think it was. And none like your father has for being brave when he shouldn’t have been.”

    “Valor, Mom. Those are for valor.”

    “Not a single one.” She wagged a finger at him. “Now. . .” Her face held firm but Callum could see emotion building behind her eyes. “Now go on and muster or whatever it is you do in the Navy. Sorry Vyom couldn’t be here, but he’s at a critical design meeting on Luna and I’m due for a telecom at the office soon. I love you.”

    “Love you too,” Callum gave her another hug and lifted his other bag onto his back. He went to the window where Reagan was huddled and rapped on the glass. “I’m off. Can I have a hug?”

    “No!” came her muffled reply.

    “No boys while I’m gone. Vyom will back me up on this. Mom?” He looked up just as the opposite side door shut and the limo rolled away.

    He watched it go for a moment, then inhaled deeply.



    “Yeah. . . here goes,” he muttered, and shifted the space bag straps on his shoulders and started walking. He passed small knots of families as they said goodbye to sons and daughters. Most of those in uniform were in their early twenties, and wearing uniforms that looked fresh from the printers, with bare cloth where ribbons and unit crests would be.

    He did a double take at a Marine with a worn patch on his right shoulder as the man spoke to four children, a pair of elderly grandparents behind them. Republician Marines wore the patch of a unit they’d been in combat with, which meant this man was clearly a veteran. What was he doing here at a muster station?

    The feeling of dread grew as he joined a line outside the terminal leading to a barred revolving gate manned by armed military police. Those in the line were silent, eyes locked on the gate.

    Callum fought the urge to look back for one last glance at his mother and sister, but that felt as weak as it was useless. They were gone. The line moved forward slowly as the MPs did a bio ident scan on each person before they went through the gate. He glanced at his watch and guessed he wouldn’t be late.

    Even the little time he’d spent in military training was enough to accustom him to hurry up and wait. Yet, for as much of his time the Navy wasted, they wouldn’t tolerate him being late for anything.

    “Lieutenant?” a woman asked from one side.

    “Yes?” Callum craned his head over, careful not to bump the spacer behind him with the hump of his space bags.

    A heavyset chief petty officer with graying hair beneath a maroon beret gave him a quick salute. Her name tape read HUGGINS.

    “This isn’t your line, Sir,” she motioned to a door near the barred entrance.

    “No issue. I can—”

    “Not. Your line. Sir." A small but severe smile crossed her lips.

    “Must have missed the memo,” Callum said as he followed the petty officer. There was an awkward stiffness in her gait and she held a door open for him. Inside was a small office that smelled of old coffee. The spacer stepped around a combination scale-scanner and a tall desk, like she was going to check him into a flight.

    “Bags to the scanner, if you please, Sir." She slipped off her beret and tucked it into a back pocket. “No offense meant, but regulations require me to offer you this opportunity to surrender any contraband with no legal repercussion or notations to your personnel file. Anything?”

    “Some of my socks may be non-regulation,” Callum said as he dropped the bags on the scanner platform.

    “Must be your first muster,” the petty officer said as she tapped on a keyboard. “Still have a sense of humor. ID, please.” She tapped a small slate on the desktop and Callum laid his palm onto it.

    “This fast pass lane just for officers or. . .”

    “The Navy decided long ago that its more senior members had better things to do with their time than go through a common muster. Most of the compulsories out there haven’t declared for needs or preference, so they have more paperwork to go through. Hand off, thank you.”

    “Sorry, ‘needs’ or ‘preference’?”

    Huggins stopped typing and gave him a funny look.

    “You must not have gone to public school,” Huggins said.

    “No. Mostly tutors and the like. Then the Sorbonne.”

    “Must’ve been nice,” she muttered under her breath. “Needs or preference, Sir, is the first and last choice the Republic military gives to those serving their compulsory enlistment. Those who choose to serve at the needs of the military have their specialty chosen by the military and they serve no more than three years. Usually. After that they’re exempt from further compulsory service.

    “Those that choose to serve at their preference pick their specialty—aptitude and service need dependent. They’ll serve three years plus twice the length of their training. . . and are subject to recall for twenty years after their initial enlistment.”

    “That. . . doesn’t sound like a very enticing offer,” Callum said.

    “Let’s see. . . Murphy,” she narrowed her eyes at him, “Callum T. Assigned to the Ishtar. New Dublin? That’s not in the Beta Cygni sector." She scowled at him for a moment, then composed herself. “Scan complete. No contraband. I’ll have your gear tagged and moved to your ship in just a moment. Those that serve at the needs of the service are more likely to be assigned to the combat-oriented specialties.”

    “Which have higher casualty rates,” Callum said.

    “And those that choose preference can learn valuable skills for the job market at the taxpayers’ expense,” she said. “This system’s been in place since the first decade of the war. It’s worked out well enough.”

    “Which was your choice?”

    “Needs,” she bent over and knocked knuckles on her pants leg and the metallic ring of a prosthetic limb came back. “Anyone under a hundred percent disability can refuse a medical discharge. I found a way to stay useful.”

    Huggins placed a deep blue pamphlet on the desk top.

    “Your initial muster receipt. Orders assigning you to the Ishtar and alcohol chits. Don’t lose those. Or sell them. . . Murphy. The task force commander on the Ishtar’s named Murphy.”

    “The name's not that uncommon. Thanks, Chief,” Callum slipped the pamphlet into a pocket. “So now I . . .”

    “Take this door, stay on the orange line and get to holding area thirty-seven and wait there. Transport will pick you up soon as it’s available. By regulation I’m required to tell you that any attempt to leave this facility in anything but an authorized and assigned military vehicle will result in arrest and a mandatory sentencing for desertion.”

    “That’s necessary?”

    “Good luck, Sir." She touched an earpiece and went out the front door back to the parking lot. The lock snapped shut behind her. A panel opened in the wall and a robot wheeled out and collected his bags, then vanished into a dark tunnel.



    “Am I in the military or a prison with strange rules?” he asked and went out the office's other door. It led to a narrow stairwell and up to a bar-lined walkway with four colored lines running down the middle.

    The walkway extended over an open space where spacers and Marines waited inside painted squares, their bags piled in one corner. Drill sergeants in bright yellow berets barked orders as they prowled between the squares.

    Callum felt self-conscious as he made his way down the walkway. He was an officer, yes, but being so high above the enlisted personnel made it seem like he was lording over them. He passed over a square where a drill sergeant gave specific and high-volume instructions on the proper way to walk in a single file line. Callum stopped, noticing that several had their hands cuffed in front of them.

    “Hey, one of our lords and masters is playing spacer!” a man in the line shouted up at him. “Don’t worry, Sir, we’ll be good little sheep!” He snatched up a water bottle and hurled it at the catwalk. It struck a bar and broke open, spraying Callum across the arms.

    A drill sergeant tackled the protester to the floor and a dog pile of military police followed on.

    The man let out a "Baaa," and the brays spread to more and more draftees. The drill sergeants promised dire consequences trying shut down the chant, but the noise only spread and grew louder.

    Callum shook water off his hands and increased his pace. The noise level behind him dropped as he went down another stairwell and found himself in a lounge that extended several hundred yards, with numbered gates on either side. Benches spread across it, filled with other officers and senior enlisted spacers and Marines who glanced at him, and then back to the walkway where the farm noises had settled down.

    He passed a kiosk where a pair of elderly ladies offered cookies and coffee and found his departure gate, halfway down the concourse.

    The benches were nearly unoccupied at Gate 37. A single woman in dark green Marine fatigues with a corporal's stripe and medic's caduceus sat next to a pile of long gun cases. Uniform tops were draped over the bench beside her.

    "This is . . . the Ishtar, yes?" he asked her.

    She raised her gaze slowly. A row of tattoos like shark teeth stood out along her jaw, one eye was a pale green, and the other was a dark prosthetic orb. Her sleeves were rolled up above her elbows, and pale patches of replacement skin with dates inked to them stood out against her naturally olive complexion.

    "Yeah. Ishtar, Sir."

    "How long have you been waiting? Don't know if I have time to —"

    "Nine hours." She stretched an arm over her head and leaned to one side. "Maybe we were waiting for you." She lowered that arm, raised the other one, and leaned to the other side. "Maybe we should check and see if the shuttle's here now."

    "Nine? That's ridiculous."

    Callum went to the gate and grasped the handle, but the door flew open and knocked him back before he could open it. He landed hard on his rear and winced in pain.

    "Oops," a deep voice said. A massive man in a sweat-drenched undershirt and fatigue pants stood in the doorway. His craggy features and a nose left crooked by one too many breaks gave him an atavistic air. Another pair of Marines in a similar state stood behind him. "Best watch yourself, mate."

    "He's a zero," the woman on the bench said.

    "I mean . . . Sir," the big man said as he read Callum's name tag but made no effort to help him up. "Murphy but not Murphy. Not our principal."

    "The secondary?" a whip-thin man with a tight beard asked from behind him.

    "Suppose." The big man picked up a uniform top and wiped his face and neck.

    "The secondary," the woman said. "Same ride."

    Callum got up and brushed himself off.

    "Any of you want to clue me in?" He glanced through the open door and saw an empty landing pad with three puddles of sweat on it.

    "You're up." The big man slapped the woman on the shoulder and she stripped off her blouse, jogged outside, and began doing a round of calisthenics. "I'm Sergeant Major Logan," he said to Callum. "Chief of the Hoplon detachment assigned to Murphy, Terrence. One each."

    "Hoplon? I thought you guys had the mech armor and all that," Callum said.

    "We don't wear it all the time," a fair-haired man said as he plopped down next to Logan and looked over the weapon cases. "Steiner. Ugly there's Chavez." He tilted his head to the man with a goatee. "Faeran's out there, if she didn't say hi. She's like that."

    "All that —" Callum gestured to his jawline. "That's a bit nonstandard. Right?"

    "She's from the Fringe," Logan said. "Incorporation laws let her keep any religious markings. She was a shaman in training before she got drafted."

    "Oh. Pleasant. Why are Hoplons assigned to the Ishtar? You guys are high intensity ground combat troops."

    "You mean why are we assigned to your father?" Logan leaned back.

    "He is my father, yes," Callum said a bit stiffly, and Logan's mouth twitched into a brief sneer.

    "We were with our cohort to deploy to Beta Cygni," Steiner said. "Then we got 'Hey you'd' to be a personal security detachment for some Five Hundred princeling —"

    Logan grunted and Steiner went silent.

    "Seems the brass are worried your daddy needs some extra muscle around him," the sergeant major said. "The Fringe Worlds have been a bit restive these past few years. We'll be along to keep the locals from doing a Gobelins."

    "Gobelins. That's where the planetary government declared independence from the Republic a few years back," Callum said.

    "And where the locals built a guillotine for all off-world officials." Logan nodded. "Got messy. Got messier when we got things back in line."

    "You sure? The planet was brought back into the Republic through negotiations." Callum sat down on a bench facing Logan.

    "That's what the news told you." Logan shrugged. "I've got scars that say otherwise, but don't you worry, Sir. We've got you." He smiled.

    "Six months busting our chops training in Australia," Chavez said. "And two days before we're supposed to go break League skulls in Beta Cygni, we get this duty."

    "Why's your old man so important?" Steiner asked.

    "I doubt he requested your . . . services," Callum said. "More likely it was someone else's idea."


    "Because he's a Murphy." Callum shrugged. "Maybe you've heard of Henrik Murphy? Father of the Republican Navy?"

    "We only care about the Navy when they're taking us somewhere or providing orbital support," Chavez said.

    "Okay. What about the hero of the Battle for Steelman's Star?"

    "Lots of heroes out there," Logan said.

    "My grandfather is Kanada Thakore," Callum offered.

    "What's a Thakore?" Chavez asked.

    "One of the Five Hundred," Logan said. "Big one, too. You got an uncle in command of a task force out in Beta Cygni?"

    "Rajenda Thakore. That’s the one."

    "Makes sense now," Logan said. "But who'd we piss off to get a babysitting tour?"

    "You know I'm his son," Callum said, his cheeks flushing with anger. "You figured that out on your own."

    "What's he going to do?" Logan raised a palm. "Send us to war?"

    "Terrence Murphy doesn't need 'babysitting'," Callum said. "I doubt any Fringe World is that bad. Though I did just have a water bottle thrown at me."

    "Ooooh, a water bottle!" Logan stifled a laugh. "You need a hug? Granny back there with the snickerdoodles might oblige you. Wouldn't ask Faeran. She bites."

    "He's not kidding about that," Steiner said.

    Callum got a whiff of the Marines' body odor and noted that there weren't any shower facilities readily available.

    "Two hours to the chow cart," Logan said to his men. "Clean weapons, then we can rack out." He slid a case from the pile, opened it and removed a heavy machine gun. He flipped the breach open and puffed air into the receiver.

    "I'll just . . . wait here, then," Callum said.

    No one replied. Nor did any of them speak to him while they worked.

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