Read Mercenary Online

Authors: Piers Anthony

Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction


BOOK: Mercenary
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Bio of a Space Tyrant 2 - Mercenary
Bio of a Space Tyrant 2 - Mercenary

Bio of a Space Tyrant 2 - Mercenary

Anthony, Piers

Bio of a Space Tyrant 2 - Mercenary
Editorial Preface

Hope Hubris, as the prior manuscript Refugee showed, was not originally aware of his destiny to become the all-powerful Tyrant of Jupiter. At first he was a desperate Hispanic refugee, fleeing his home-moon of Callisto when wrongfully charged with a crime. He saw his group brutalized and his parents murdered by pirates and the indifference of the established powers. He lost the first great romantic love of his life, the refugee girl Helse, to the savagery of the marauders of the Jupiter Ecliptic.

He was lucky to survive at all, and lucky to be admitted at last as an immigrant to the peripheral off-Jupiter society. Certainly he was unprepossessing as a person in those early days, despite his education and intelligence.

However, his special talent with people found ready application as he entered the Jupiter Navy, and in due course he became the redoubtable military figure the texts describe today. That reputation was, of course, the springboard for his subsequent civilian success in the political arena. But the conventional descriptions omit certain vital insights, such as the influence of the sinister QYV, his relations with certain migrant laborers and pirates, and the frank use of social and sexual inducements to put together one of the strangest, yet most brilliant, staffs of Naval history.

The adult Hubris was always a man for the ladies, but rumors of his infidelities turn out to be largely apocryphal. He indulged in sex freely but fairly, and not a single woman who knew him well ever spoke evil of him, not even the fiery pirate wench he raped. Neither did the males of his association; he commanded an almost fanatical respect within his unit.

Hubris, despite his superficial indifference in appearance and manner, was a truly potent motivator of people. Yet little of this shows in this private narrative. Perhaps it pleased him to portray himself as the somewhat naïve observer, as if others made most of his decisions for him; or perhaps he was genuinely innocent in his private reflections. But he was expert at delegating authority, and very little slipped by him.

Many opponents misjudged him, until it was too late, because he understood them far more precisely than they understood him. His special genius did not show up in the standardized tests upon which most personnel judgments were made. Those tests never properly defined him. That, oddly, was one of his greatest assets.

This narrative, translated from the original Spanish, should be perused with that in mind: There was more to Hope Hubris than shows in the official records, and more than he himself chose to present. His highly unorthodox procedures were often the mark not of insanity but of genius. It was not, after all, mere chance that brought him eventually to the Tyrancy.

But some few did appreciate Hope Hubris's potential early, as we shall see, and there was one who perhaps contributed more to his success than Hope himself did, yet who received virtually no recognition for it.

No dates are listed in this manuscript, but external evidence suggests that it commences on or about June 1, 2615, perhaps a month after the termination of Refugee .

Bio of a Space Tyrant 2 - Mercenary

I never saw it coming. I thought the man was just shoving past me from behind, for the concourse was not wide, and then there was a hard blow to the side of my head. I saw a flash of pain, lost my balance, fell against the wall, and slid to the floor. The man shoved me about; I thought he was helping me to get up, but then he was gone and I just sagged there, dazed.

I don't know how many people passed me by; I was aware of them only peripherally, as moving shapes.

I put my hand to my hurting head and found moisture. I looked at my fingers and saw the stain of red on them: blood. I thought about that awhile, not moving, while the foreign shapes continued to pass.

Then a shape stopped. “Kid, I think you been mugged,” he said in English.

I looked up at him. He was a poorly shaven man with short, curly light hair and blue eyes: a fair Caucasian, rather than the dusky Latin of my own type. More succinctly: He was Saxon; I, Hispanic. He wore faded, worn coveralls and a sweat-stained shirt and cheap old composition shoes: a laboring man.

But he represented help, and he looked great to me, a Good Samaritan. “I think so,” I agreed.

“Check for your money,” he advised, helping me to my feet with strong hands.

I checked. My new wallet was gone, and with it my money—and my identification. I groaned. I hadn't meant to make that sound; it just came out.

“They need more patrolmen in these public places,” the man said. “Someone gets mugged just about every day. Where you going, kid? I'll help you there.”

Confused, I pondered. “Looking for work,” I said. “I—just checked the Navy office, but...” I was having trouble organizing my memory.

“Too young?” he asked sympathetically.

“Yes. He asked my age, and I said fifteen, and he said to come back in two years. Then—”

“Then you got mugged on your way to the employment office,” he finished. “It happens. Here, let's introduce ourselves. I'm Joe Hill, migrant laborer, en route to a new hitch as a picker.”

“Hope Hubris,” I said, grateful for his easy manner. Other people were shoving by us, paying no attention. “From Callisto, refugee. I've just been granted status as a resident alien.”

Joe smiled. “I'd guessed as much. You're from that batch they just processed at the immigration center, right? This your first day out on Leda?”

“First hour,” I agreed, nodding. That made my head hurt again, and I touched the bad spot.

Joe brought out a large old handkerchief. “Let me mop that. It's not as bad as it feels. It's mostly a bruise with a little cut skin, and the blood's matting the hair a little. You'll get off with a headache.” He patted the spot, and his reassurance made me feel better. “Look, Hope—I don't like to make you feel worse, but the fact is, this whole system isn't much better than the mugging you just got. At your age you just can't find decent work. All the employment offices will tell you the same. You've got to get a ticket to the Jupiter atmosphere—”

“They're not admitting aliens now,” I said. “I have to find work out here in the Ecliptic until I qualify for citizenship.” The Jupiter Ecliptic is the plane of the orbits of the satellites of Jupiter; actually, the outer moons do not match the plane of the inner ones, but it's all called the Jupiter Ecliptic anyway, or Juclip for short.

“Then you're screwed,” he said, employing Saxon vernacular that was new to me. “Your age and nationality box you in. And now that you've lost your cash stake and your ID—”

“I must get them to issue me a new card,” I said.

“Which will take weeks or months. I know this bureaucracy, Hope. What are you going to eat while you're waiting?”

I spread my hands, baffled. I hadn't counted on getting mugged.

“Come on,” he said. “I'm running short on time, but I can get you to the alien office to put in for your card. Then—”

“Then?” I repeated, sounding stupid even to myself. I remained disorganized, and my head was hurting.

He sighed. “Then I guess I'd better take you with me on the picking gig. It's no life for the likes of you, but I can't see you stranded here. You'd wind up having to mug for a living.”

“Oh, I would never—” I protested, shocked at the notion.

“Kid, when you're hungry and broke, and there's no work, and you know if you complain they'll deport you to your moon of origin, what do you do?”

I was silent. The realities of my situation were making themselves felt. Without my card I couldn't get a good job, and without the hundred-dollar tide-over stake they had issued me, I couldn't eat. They would indeed deport me on the slightest pretext. My kind was tolerated, not welcomed, here. They had made that clear enough at the outset. Mighty Jupiter, home of the free, had little use for dusky-skinned foreigners who couldn't manage their money and didn't work productively. Mighty Jupiter was not interested in listening to excuses, such as being mugged or being underage for employment. It was indeed a rigged system, but I was bound by its laws.

“Yes, I thought you were honest,” Joe said. “I got a feel for people. That's why I stopped to help you.”

He paused. “No, that's not entirely so. I would've stopped, anyway. I can't pass up a working man in distress.”

“No, you can't,” I agreed.

His lips quirked. “You can tell?”

“Yes. It's my talent, too. Understanding people. I will go with you.”

He laughed. “ 'Sokay, Hope! But remember I warned you: Picking's tough work. This is just to tide you through till your card comes and you can go for a decent job.”

“Yes, thanks.”

We checked in at the alien registration office where the bored clerk made a note. I would have to check in at weekly intervals, no oftener, until my replacement card was issued. Meanwhile I was on my own.

We walked the concourse again. I call it walking, though actually it was more like floating. Leda is the smallest outer moon of Jupiter, only about five kilometers in diameter, so it's strictly trace-gravity on the surface. Leda is really no larger than a major city-bubble, but of course it's solid instead of hollow, so must have a hundred times the mass. It serves mainly as an anchor for a series of rotating domes, each dome generating Earth-normal gravity by its spin, at the edge. Traveling between domes tends to be stomach-wrenching until you get used to it. Maybe that was part of my problem. Certainly I did not feel well, and so I suffered myself to be moved along by this well-meaning stranger.

This was, I think, the true beginning of my military career, which is why I commence my narrative at this point. But the progression was not clear at the time. That often seems to be the way with fate: We perceive its devious channels only in retrospect.

At any rate, Joe brought me to the bus. This was an old space shuttle with its guts gutted. It had been fitted with tiered bunks in the center of its cylindrical shell. Thus a ship designed for perhaps thirty passengers could house a hundred and twenty. There were a number of men hunched about the bunks, and one somewhat more solid, self-assured man near the entrance.

“This is Gallows,” Joe told me, bringing me to the solid man. “He's hard but he's fair.” He turned to the man. “This is Hope. He's not a regular picker; he got rolled, so he needs some time.”

“How's he going to pay his fare?” Gallows asked.

“I'll cover it,” Joe said. “I've got a little to spare.”

“It costs money?” I asked, startled. “I don't have—I can't—”

“There ain't no free lunch, kid,” Gallows pronounced.

“I said I'd cover,” Joe said, producing some bills.

Gallows accepted them. “Better teach him the ropes, too, Joe, if you don't want to be stuck.” He checked his list. “Bunk forty-nine.”

“I'll repay—” I said, embarrassed. “I didn't realize—”

“Here's the bunk,” Joe said, indicating the one marked 49. “We'll have to split-shift it. You sleep four hours, I'll sleep four. I couldn't afford two bunks. It'll work out.”

“Yes, certainly,” I agreed. “I'm sorry you had to pay anything for me. I'll try to make it good as soon as—”

“I know you will, Hope,” he said easily. “I told you, I have a feel for people. I know what it's like to be in trouble.”

“Trouble!” a man exclaimed a few bunks down the line. “Kid, if you like trouble, Joe's your man!”

“That's Old Man Rivers,” Joe said. “Him and me, we see eye to eye on—”

“Nothing!” Rivers agreed jovially. “Kid, you better know right now you hooked up with the biggest rabble-rouser in the Juclip! Watch he doesn't incite a riot with your head in the middle!”

“You two are friends?” I asked, perplexed, for I perceived that there was an edge to this banter. I also had a moment's hesitation about the word Juclip; I have defined it here, but this was my introduction to it.

Joe laughed. “Friends? Never! But what Rivers says is true. I'm a union organizer. That's why they gave me my song.”

“Your song?” Was this more slang?

“You asked for it.” Joe sat on the bunk, hooking his heels under it so as not to drift away in the trace gravity, and sang. His voice was decent but hardly trained:

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and I.

“But Joe,” says I, “You're ten years dead!” Says Joe, “I didn't die!”

And now the others in the ship joined in: “Says Joe, 'I didn't die!' ”

It was a rousing song with a catchy tune, and the men sang it with gusto. But I didn't understand it. “A dead union organizer?” I asked.

“Several centuries ago,” Joe said. “But it's a good name.”

“Do the others have songs, too?” This was another aspect of the culture I had not known about. I had always been one of the most fluent students in my English class, and I could speak the language almost faultlessly; now I realized that there is a great deal more to understanding than fluency.

“All of them. That's what safeguards a man's place. His song.”

“He just chooses any song he likes?”

Joe laughed again. He was really at ease here. “Never! It has to be given to him by the group. Since this is your first trip, Hope, we'll figure out yours on the way.”

“But I hardly know any English songs!”

“You'll learn this one. We'll work it out, never fear.”

“But suppose I don't like it?”

“Tough stuff,” he said with a smile. “Your song is you.” There was a murmur of assent by the others.

I shrugged. It wasn't a vital matter. My head hurt, and I just wanted to rest. I lay on the bunk, secured by its restraining strap, as the ship gradually filled up. Most of the workers seemed to know each other at least casually; they had been out on similar jobs before. The atmosphere was one of familiarity rather than festivity.

“Hey, I hain't seen you before!” a man said to me.

“I'm new,” I admitted.

“Then you have to be initiated!” he exclaimed, grinning in a not entirely friendly manner. “You know what we do to—”

I saw his gaze go to Joe Hill, who had come up beside me. Joe had drawn a monstrous dagger and was using it to carve his dirty fingernails back.

“He's with you?” the man asked Joe.

“Uh-huh. He got mugged and needed help, so I thought we'd help him. It's the neighborly thing.”

The man's eyes flicked to the dagger, and away. “Uh, yeah, sure. We'll help him. But he's got to—”

“Have his song,” Joe finished, making a small, significant gesture with the blade.

“Just what I was going to say!” the man agreed. “We've got to tag him with a song.”

“Once we get moving,” Joe said, putting away his knife.

“Right.” And the man moved on to his assigned bunk.

I realized that Joe was an excellent friend to have while I was among strangers. He might have a soft heart for a person in trouble, but that was only one facet of his character. He had not been fooling with that dagger! I owed him another favor.

I must have slept, because suddenly the ship was moving, accelerating from its dock. My head still hurt; the vertigo of initial motion didn't help. I lay on my back and listened.

They sang songs. Each man really did have his song, and he sang it with assurance, though few people had good voices. That didn't seem to matter; enthusiasm was what counted, and the assertion of possession. No one interrupted when a man started his song; then, after a few bars, they joined in, following his lead. The songs were unfamiliar to me, but I knew I would pick them up readily enough. I was, perforce, now a member of this culture; I would adapt.

Then, abruptly, it was my turn. “This is Hope's maiden voyage,” Joe said. “We must select his song.” He turned to me. “First we have to know about you. How did you come to leave Callisto?”

“That's a long story,” I said. “You probably wouldn't be interested in—”

“We love long stories,” Joe said. “They fill our tired evenings when the songs give out. But right now we're only doing your song, not your story. Can you summarize your life in one hundred words?”

“I can try,” I said, realizing that this was not a joke. Now that I was active, my headache was fading.

“My family had trouble with a scion, and we had to flee the planet in a bootleg bubble powered mostly by a gravity shield. Pirates came and—” Suddenly the horrible memories overwhelmed me, I choked up and could not continue. Only four months ago my family had been united and reasonably happy. Now...

“I think I understand,” Joe said. “They killed your family?”

I nodded.

“And you alone survive?”

“My—my sisters—” I said.

“Survive? Raped and taken as concubines for private ships?”

“One. The other, younger, she's called Spirit, and she's twelve. Got a... a position on a ship, concealed as a boy—”

“And you don't know where she is now,” Joe finished. He looked around at the bunks. “I think we have enough of the picture. You Hispanic refugees come through a hardball game.”

There was a general murmur of agreement. “A kid sister hiding among pirates,” Rivers said. “He's got reason to worry.”

“But his name is Hope,” Gallows said. He was the foreman, but he was evidently also part of this group.

“Hope is a worried man,” Rivers said, looking around.

Slowly the others nodded.

I looked up, perplexed. “What?”

BOOK: Mercenary
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Anxious Hearts by Tucker Shaw
The Contract by Lisa Renee Jones
The Weight by Andrew Vachss
Shelf Life by Dearing, S.L.
The Best Summer Ever by Eve Bunting, Josée Masse
Pitch Dark by Renata Adler
Do You Believe in Santa? by Sierra Donovan
Born in Twilight by Maggie Shayne