Authors: Jonathan P. Brazee
It was closer to three minutes before the seven passengers were mounted up and everyone was in position. SSgt Hecs gave the command, and Holleran and Lopez pushed out the main doors while the five militiamen slipped
back inside. Ryck had Holleran’s visuals on his visor. The lance corporal bounded down the steps as in front of him, startling the surprised protesters who then started to move back. Suddenly, the projection tumbled, making it hard to tell what was going on.
in a PICS was actually pretty hard to do. The gyros kept PICS upright through most forces thrown at it. The gyros had to be bypassed, and with them off, controlling the PICS took much more skill, skill Ryck hoped Holleran really did possess.
A loud “fuck
!” sounded out as Holleran yelled, making sure his speakers were on. For a moment, the visuals steadied with a view of the sky. Then images started crowding forward as they shouted for the Marine’s blood. A couple of men actually jumped on Holleran’s chest, making the visuals too jumbled to make much sense from.
SSgt Hecs passed, and Sams’ first fire team and then the mounts-with their cargo onboard-- pushed out the door to start running along the broad walkway that ran along the front of the building.
One of the legionnaires shouted “
giddyup” as they started to move, to Ryck’s annoyance.
Ryck had to wait several moments before
he, as the second-to-last one to leave, got outside. About 20 meters beyond the bottom of the steps, a mass of people was attacking the prone Holleran. Several of the crowd, though, had stopped when they realized more Marines were pouring out of the building. A few were starting towards them.
To his left, Ryck saw that the way was clear all the way to the end of the building. Marines had already reached the edge and were disappearing down the stairs to ground
level. He counted the seven mounts, their piggyback cargo still secure on their backs. As he took that in, a couple of the militiamen scooted past him and started running pell-mell after the lead elements.
“OK Holleran,” he passed. “Get out of there now!”
ROE be damned. If Holleran had any problem, Ryck was going to charge, his 8mm hypervelocity gun ablaze. Bodies were going to fall.
A few of the protest
ers who were still focused on Holleran seemed to lose their footing. The welcome sight of a PICS Marine rose from the mass of people. It lurched forward, looking like at least one protestor was under its bulk. A few steps forward, and Holleran broke free and started into a lumbering run along the bottom of the stairs parallel to the route Ryck was now taking. Two protesters tried to stop Holleran, but they went flying like pinballs after colliding with him.
At the end of the building, Ryck ran down the steps into the square. Along with the rest of his squad who were not acting as mount
s and joined by Holleran, they formed a rough arc in back of the last of the cargo.
“Vehicle at our two o’clock!”
Cpl Mendoza passed.
Ryck looked to see a hover picking up speed as it crossed the square, heading for where the Marines were entering the street
that led deeper into the city. A quick mental calculation, and Ryck knew the hover could crash into the last of the Marines carrying the legionnaires and two civvies before they could get out and into the street. A hover at speed could probably only damage a PICS if it crashed into it, but the same impact could be deadly to any unprotected passenger.
He was about to tell Prifit, one of the squad
’s heavy gunners, armed with the 20mm HGL
, to take out the hover when a burst of fire sounded behind him. He didn’t have to look back. His visor identified the outgoing fire as coming from two of the militiamen. The sparks flashed off the hover, then it fell to the ground sending even more sparks as it slid along the cobbles.
“Rey, Prifit, Keiji, slow down a little. We’re going to cover
those militia until they can at least get out of the square,” Ryck passed to First Fire Team.
They might not be highly trained, but the militiamen, already being left in the dust, had stopped to remove a threat to the Marines. Ryck was not going to abandoned them.
It seemed like forever, but it probably only took another minute until the militiamen, with the four Marines covering them, made it to the edge of the square. Lieutenant Xie gave Ryck a sloppy salute, then followed his men as they disappeared into the warrens that surrounded the area to the northeast of the square.
Ryck immediately sped up his team and caught back up with the rest. The same warrens that gave the militiamen cover provided the same cover for anyone trying to stop the Marines so all senses were on full alert.
Ryck only half listened to the recall of Capt Davis and Lt. Nidishchii’s groups to turn and move to their respective rally points. They didn’t have unprotected people riding Marines.
osion sounded in front of Ryck, and he caught a glimpse of a body being blown off one of the Marines. It wasn’t much of an explosion, probably a home-made grenade of some sort, but Ryck’s heart fell. Losing one of his charges was not supposed to happen. But much to Ryck’s surprise, the passenger got back to his feet. It was one of the Tylarians. The skin and bones he had put on had saved his butt. He shakily got back up on Hartono, and the group was back on the move.
Despite the confined route to the rally point, they were able to move pretty quickly, only having to stop twice for one of the legionnaires who
was having a hard time staying on his Marine.
Eight minutes after leaving the square, they arrived at the rally point, which was a parking lot for a large Tesco store. Two Tylarian armored personnel carriers were there waiting. The five legionnaires and two Tylarians climbed off their Marines
--gratefully, Ryck thought. The legionnaire who had fallen, a captain whose name Ryck hadn’t caught, had messed up his uniform pretty badly. It was torn, and one sleeve was hanging off. Major Gruenstein was rumpled, and his nose was bleeding where he had probably slammed it into the back of his ride, but he had somehow managed to keep the blood off of his uniform. None of the legionnaires looked good, uniform-wise. Looking at the two Tylarians, even the one who’d been blown off Hartono, Ryck thought the legionnaires would be looking much more presentable if they had put on the skins.
“Well, Staff Sergeant
Phantawisangtong, this was, shall we say, and adventure?” Major Gruenstein said, walking stiffly to the platoon sergeant.
“Glad to be of service, sir,” the platoon sergeant said. “You should be at the LZ in another 10 or 15 minutes, so in less than an hour, you’ll be on a French vessel.”
“Yes, and in the arms of dear
Capitaine de corvette Blanchard,” he said dryly.
Ryck laughed, despite himself. The major had escaped what could have be
en a serious situation. He’d been beat up on a long run riding piggyback on a PICS. He looked like shit. But still, inter-service rivalries and personal dislikes trumped all of that. It was good to know that the Legion was just like any other service.
The major might have a feather up his ass, but Ryck found he kind of liked the guy. He wished him well, at least.
Major Gruenstein loaded up his four legionnaires, then turned and saluted the Marines before getting in himself. A moment later, the personnel carrier roared out of the parking lot and disappeared down the road in a cloud of black smoke.
“Good job, everyone
,” SSgt Hecs said. “ We accomplished that part of the mission, but it’s not over yet. We’ve got another five klicks to the rest of the platoon before we can get out of here. The ROE is still in effect. We will avoid any situation that can get ugly. Any questions?”
“Yeah, anyone got any
charge on them?” Sams asked Ryck and SSgt Hecs on the command circuit.
“What?” SSgt Hecs asked
On your PA. Money.”
“What the grubbing hell for, Sams?” Ryck asked.
“Coke. That’s a Tesco there. They’ve got to have Coke. I want a Coke.”
Ryck started laughing, choking it off as SS
gt Hecs flipped them back to the platoon circuit.
“If no questions, let’s get the hell out of here
,” SSgt Hector
Phantawisangtong, Federation Marines Corps, passed on to his men.
“You ready for this shit?” Sams whispered out of the side of his mouth to Ryck.
“Quiet in the ranks,” Lieutenant Nidishchii’ hissed, shutting Sams up.
The entire battalion was formed up in front of the
nine of them: Capt Davis, the lieutenant, Lieutenant Lauer from Second Platoon, SSgt Hecs, Sams, Ryck, Lips Holleran, and Fab Groton, one of the squad leaders from Second.
The PA system was not working well. With galactic travel a
long accepted fact of life, Ryck thought a simple PA system should not be beyond their capabilities. At least the battalion adjutant was able to project his voice.
“Personnel to be recognized, front and center . . .
march!” he called out, his command clearly reaching them in back of the formation.
“Detail, right face,” Capt Davis ordered. “Forward, march.”
The eight Marines marched to the far right side of the formation, in back of H & S Company, then performed a column left and marched up alongside the formation. They conducted another column left after clearing the battalion, marching along its front to the center before halting.
“Detail, right, face.
Present, arms!” the captain ordered.
Marines saluted the three men in front of them. One of the men was the battalion commander. The second was none other than Major General Praeter, the division commanding general. The third was a
Bellerose, a Legion three-star.
Bellerose was short, wiry man. His grayish dress uniform was understated despite the colorful medals on his chest, but the scrambled eggs adorning his kepi was pretty impressive. Ryck tried to keep his eyes locked forward, but he kept looking at the legionnaire through the corner of his eyes. He’d read the general’s bio on the ceremony program, and it was pretty impressive. He’d served in seemingly most Legion conflicts over the last 30 years, commanding everything from a platoon to a division.
The fact that the Legion had sent a three star to Alexander for the presentation was a message in and of itself. With the current tension between Greater France and the Federation, the Legion was showing
that civilian leaders aside, there was a brotherhood of warriors. The cynic in Sams kept insisting to Ryck and Popo that the French were just trying to win over the Marines for political purposes.
The three officers returned the salute and the captain brought them to order arms. There was a pause, then the adjutant’s voice rang
de la Légion Étrangère
Général Alain Plessey, takes pleasure in authorizing the
Croix de guerre des théâtres d'opérations extérieurs
with bronze star to the following United Federation Marines for service in Tylaria on the planet Soreau on June 14, 366 Standard Reckoning:
Prentice K. Davis.”
Ryck had been told that the award was the equivalent to a Federation Battle Commendation Second Class. If a Marines was awarded a BC, even a Third Class, a citation describing the action was read before presenting the medal. Not so with the TOE,
which was the nickname of the French medal. Each recipient was mentioned by name in the battle dispatch, but not to the detail as in a Federation award citation.
A Legion lieutenant stepped up and presented the medal in a platinum box to the general
as the flag officer stepped up to the captain. He pinned the white and red medal to the captain’s dress blue blouse. As he stepped back, Capt Davis saluted, which the general returned. The French general took a step to his right to stand in front of SSgt Hecs while General Praeter slid in front of the captain.
“First Lieutenant Robert Lauer,” the adjutant called out as the same procedure was followed to pin on the medal.
“Second Lieutenant Bertrand Nidishchii’,” “Staff Sergeant Hector L.
Phantawisangtong,” “Sergeant Fabio Groton,” and “Sergeant Bobbi Samuelson” followed. Ryck had to keep from sniggering at Sams’ real name. Sams detested having a “girl’s” name, and only answered to “Sams.” It was as simple enough procedure to change a name. He could be “Duke,” “Butch,” “Rock,” whatever, but he refused, saying Bobbi was the name his father gave him. He wouldn’t let anyone use it to call him, though.
“Sergeant Ryck Lysander,” the adjutant called out.
The Legion general took a step to stand in front of Ryck. He took the medal and started to pin it to Ryck’s chest.
“That was aggressive thinking, sergeant. Major
Gruenstein was quite impressed. Rumor has it that you were originally planning to join the Legion back on your home planet of Prophesy,” he said quietly in his French-accented Standard.
How did he know that?
Ryck wondered. Standing at attention, he stared straight ahead at the general’s forehead, not responding.
“If you ever have second thoughts, I imagine we would have a place for you,” the general said.
With the medal pinned on his blouse, Ryck saluted. A salute was an all-encompassing action, one that forced the officer to stop what he was saying to return it. It was the simplest thing for Ryck to do to change the subject.
Laste R. Holleran,” rang out as the general took another step to his left.
Ryck let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. One general might have passed him, but now his division commander was in front of him. Ryck saluted, figuring that was usually a safe move.
General Praeter had started to reach to shake Ryck’s hand, then when Ryck saluted, had to reverse course and bring his hand up in a salute. That done, he stuck out his hand once more.
Ryck didn’t think he could shake hands while in the position of attention, but when a general officer offer
ed his hand, it was best taken.
“Good job, Ryck. You made the division proud.”
What is with these flags? One knows about when I enlisted, and here another is calling me by my first name?
The familiarity was making Ryck uncomfortable. General
Praeter’s attempt seemed forced, and that was even more disquieting. Ryck was glad when Lips’ medal was pinned and the officer’s stepped back.
“Detail, present, arms!” Capt Davis ordered.
The three brass returned the salute, and the captain had them order arms, left face, and forward march. They got back to behind the formation, and within minutes, the battalion commander had turned the formation over to the sergeant major who dismissed the battalion.
The formalities were not over, though. The Legion was hosting a social at the O-Club, and each
awardee was to attend. A number of Marines wandered over to take a look at the French medal and offer congratulations, and the platoon sergeant had to remind everyone to get to the club. He addressed the enlisted, but made sure the three officers heard him as well.
“So, Ryck, what do you think?” the staff sergeant asked
once everyone was moving towards the club. “This legion medal mean as much as your Silver Star or BCs?”
“I don’t know, Staff Sergeant. I mean, its
kinda zap, I know, what with not many Marines having one.”
Even after all these years, Ryck still had a problem addressing his former drill instructor. The staff sergeant was low-key, not at all like he’d been on the drill field. He called Ryck by his first name on a social basis. But to Ryck, SSgt
Phantawisangtong was still “King Tong.” His actual name was too unwieldy, and Ryck didn’t feel comfortable calling him just “Hecs,” so it was usually “staff sergeant” or rarely “Staff Sergeant Hecs.”
“Still, we go
t the froggies out without too much damage to the locals, right?”
ut it isn’t like we were really in too much danger. Not like on Luminosity,” Ryck countered.
Ryck had earned a Silver Star on Luminosity as well as his second trip to regen. SSgt Hecs had earned a Navy Cross. A Navy Corpsman and another Marine had been awarded Federation Novas, one posthumously, the first time since the War of the Far Reaches that two Novas had been awarded for the same battle.
“True,” Hecs replied. “But we saved lives, and sometimes, that is our mission.”
“If you two can stop jabbering, we’re here. The
is that the Frenchies have brought some real French wine and cognac, and I’m itching to try some of that,” Sams said, pushing past the two to climb the steps to the club.
Ryck had never been in the O-Club. It was forbidden territory, not open to mere NCOs. As they entered the big double doors, he looked around eagerly—and was a bit disappointed. There was more wood than in the NCO Club and a fancy carpet at the entrance, but it was basically the same
layout. Dining tables were off in a room to the left, a more open room with high tables at which they could stand was directly forward, and the bar, with lower tables and chairs and a pool table was off to the right—just like the NCO Club. Even the Enlisted Club was laid out in the same pattern. Ryck hadn’t really thought about it before, but it seemed as if officers hung out, drinking beer and playing pool, just like the enlisted Marines. Officers and enlisted might not be as different as Ryck had assumed.
“Gentlemen, may I interest you in some of this ’56 Chateau
Latour?” a familiar French-accented voice asked from behind them, the major’s hand grasping the neck of a partially drunk bottle of wine.
“Major, it’s good to see you,” SSgt Hecs said to
Maj Gruenstein. “You kinda left us with the impression that the Legion was gonna slap your wrist some.”
“True, I did say that. But good for me that my father is a schoolmate of our president, so after a short investigation, I was absolved of any wrongdoing. I was, how you say, whitewashed?”
He grabbed three empty glasses off a passing waiter, handed them to the three
Marines, and sloppily filled the glasses.
“No disrespect, sir, but are you drunk?” Sams asked before taking
a tentative sip of the wine.
“Ah, very astute of you.
Yes, I most certainly am drunk. I am
. Do you say that? ‘Buttered?’ No, you don’t,” he answered for himself. “‘Smashed,’ yes, that is what you say. But this is very fine, very expensive wine, so it matters not.”
Ryck took a sip of the wine. He had always liked wine, even the cheap stuff back on Prophesy. This was decidedly not the same. It was intense and complicated. He wasn’t sure how much he liked it, but he knew he should like it, so he swirled it around in his mouth, sucking in some air, just as he’d seen on the food
Sams made no pretense.
“Whew! Don’t like it none. Maybe I need to try that cognac stuff instead,” he said, pronouncing it “cog-nac.”
“So what’s next for you, sir?” SSgt Hecs asked
, talking over Sams. “You still getting your command?”
“That, my dear staff sergeant of Marines, is why I am
buttered. Our dear
général over there,” he said, pointing with his glass at the Legion flag officer, “is not so much a fan of our president. And with the present situation growing between Greater France and your Federation, he seems to feel that we need a bigger liaison with you Marines and your Navy. As someone who has now performed combined operations with you, I am his logical choice. I found out this morning that I will be staying here on Alexander.”
“Sorry about that, sir,” SSgt Hecs said, reaching out to take the almost empty wine bottle. “But you’ll get your command billet soon, I’m sure.”
C'est la vie, mon sergeant, c’est la vie
,” he replied, refusing to relinquish the bottle, tipping it up instead to drain it into his mouth.
Ryck wasn’t sure how, or even if
, he should respond. He looked up at the two generals on the other side of the room. Both men were watching them, and the Legion general didn’t seem happy as he said something to General Praeter.
“Uh, Staff Sergeant, check your six,” he said quietly
, worried for the major.
SSgt Hecs casually glanced about, immediately realizing what
Ryck had meant.
“Sams, why don’t you take the good major and try and find that cognac you said you wanted. Ryck, grab Holleran and Groton, and let’s go make nice with our honored guests.”
The rest of the evening dragged on. Ryck was bored after 15 minutes, but he put up with the congratulations of the legionnaires, Marines, sailors, and civvie bigwigs. The deputy mayor wanted to drag Ryck into a discussion on what whether Greater France and the Federations would ease tensions between them, but Ryck begged off comment, saying that was for the civilian government to decide.
He finally decided that he did like the
Latour, as well as several other nice vintages. The Le Bleu champagne was particularly nice. Sams, on the other hand, tried the cognac and immediately switched to beer. When Ryck spied Lips standing alone behind one of the buffet tables, he took that as an excuse to make his getaway.