Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series (21 page)

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
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“I forget, sir. What’s a Regimental commander called?”

“I shall be dipped and then drowned,”
Caud
Angara said slowly. “I never thought the pols would go for it without Redruth personally invading the planet and raping and maiming their next of kin. Maybe these bastards aren’t as self-centered as I thought.”

“Sir,” Hedley said, “please don’t get maudlin. I’d worry. They’re just piss-scared. In a couple of weeks, they’ll be whining like a turbine and wondering what strange hypnotics you used on them.”

“Twenty thousand goddamned men,” Angara said again. “Now, if I could only figure a way to double that again on them …”

“That’s what I like about you, sir,” Hedley said. “You never take yes for enough of a flipping answer.”

“Don’t be insubordinate,” Angara said. “And shouldn’t you be figuring out who’s going to cadre for Second Brigade?”

“Well, me for
Caud
, and I’d love to take either Fitzgerald or Rees with me. You can bring up Ken Fong as your new XO. I’d suggest Jaansma, since he’s quicker than Fong, but still needs some seasoning. I’ve got a little list here of some other people.”

“You did some fast planning on the way over here.”

“Sir,” Hedley said. “I’ve been organizing my own brigade since the day I got commissioned, all the way back on Centrum.”

“I should have known. Beware the skinny bastards, for they have a lean and hungry look, or however that goes.”

• • •

“Congratulations again, sir,” Hedley said, becoming serious.

“It’s a start,” Angara said. “A definite start.”

“Hey, Garvin,” Njangu said. “I’ve got a question for you.”

“Go ahead,” he said. “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

“Ha. I laugh,” Njangu said, and Garvin finally noticed his friend’s slightly worried look.

“Sorry. Listening.”

“How do you know what love is?”

“Uh-oh,” Garvin said. “Two uh-ohs, in fact.”

“I mean, I wasn’t ever shy about things with women or anything,” Njangu said. “My clique wasn’t celibate, and there were girls I liked beyond going to bed with. And I guess Jo Poynton and I got along fine. But it didn’t matter that much when we split up, either time, other’n being maybe a little lonely for a while.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being lonely,” Njangu said. Suddenly introspective, he said, softly, “Hell, maybe I been lonely all my goddamned life, and not known it.”

Garvin shifted, a bit uncomfortably. Their friendship was firmly founded on not talking seriously about the important things.

“Sorry,” Njangu said, seeing Garvin’s expression.

“So you think you’re in love with Maev?”

“Shit, I dunno
what
I’m feeling about her,” Njangu said. “I like seeing her, being around her, and she’s always got good ideas.

“But love? I don’t know what love is, I think I realized. Which is why I thought I’d ask you.”

“Of course I’m a grand expert,” Garvin said. “And just so you don’t take anything I come up with seriously, I was thinking about asking you the same question.”

Njangu stared at Garvin.

“Uh-oh,” he said.

“That’s what I said, a couple seconds ago.”

“So what’s the matter with you and Jasith?”

“I … I dunno,” Garvin said. “Maybe nothing.”

“So why are you asking?”

“Well … the whole thing with me and Jasith has been so goddamned strange. I see her at a party, and whambo, high-ilium flares go off, and we’re running here, there, falling in bed every chance we get.

“Then the ‘Raum thing explodes, and a whole bunch of people get killed, and Jasith doesn’t want to see me.

“I hang around like a stomped
giptel
, and then she goes and marries Kouro, which she now says she doesn’t know why the hell she did it.

“Neither do I. So they’re married, and I’m stumbling around here behaving like a shit under glass, and then the Musth come roaring in.

“Now it’s Kouro’s turn to be a prize prick … except that he does it on everybody, sucking the Musth off. So here comes Jasith back, and we’re kazoingo again, and then the war’s over, and Kouro’s history.”

“That was a very quick sitrep,
Mil
Jaansma,” Njangu said. “What’s the problem now? Can’t you handle being the toy of somebody who’s maybe the richest … and sure as hell the prettiest … Rentier in the whole frigging system?”

“I don’t
know
what the problem is,” Garvin said.

“Has Jasith gotten unhappy with things?”

“No,” Garvin said. “Whatever problem there is … if there’s even a problem … is me.”

“Awright, let’s try it with simple questions,” Njangu said. “Have you started jumping the bones of anybody else?”

“No.”

“Are you
thinking
about wanting to jump somebody’s bones?”

“I don’t know.”

“Could I ask who … never mind. None of my goddamned business, and not part of the question, anyway,” Njangu said. “Let’s stick to Jasith. Since I know zip-squat about love, which has been established, what’s wrong? Don’t the ol’ bells and whistles go off?”

“I think so.”

“What do you mean, you think so? Put it vulgarly … do you two still screw like rabbits?”

“Well, yeh.”

“All right,” Njangu said with finality. “Let’s call the matter settled. You still get hard, she still gets soft, so there’s no problem there. Beyond that, if either of us believed in any kind of a god, I’d say you should talk to the chaplain, which, come to think, I just realize the Force hasn’t replaced since whatsisface got blown away in the war.

“So let’s leave it at this … you’re still in love, you’re just having a moment of self-doubt. Which no big-time
Mil
can afford, especially one who’s expected to be a symbol to his men. Right?”

Garvin smiled a little tentatively, then his grin firmed up.

“Right. Sorry. Maybe I’m just tired. Or it’s the weather.”

“Probably,” Njangu agreed. But, when Garvin went back to his spreadsheet, Yoshitaro considered him carefully, a slightly worried look on his face.

• • •

Ho Kang, four other officers, and two dozen other trainees stared up at the ship. It appeared to be a shining-new Kelly-class destroyer, but was another fifty meters longer, and was referred to as a kane-class attach controller.

Kang wondered what she was doing here, having found a nice, safe slot as a thinker. But she’d discovered she was more of a soldier than she’d thought and couldn’t stand that her friends in the Force were going into jeopardy without her. Plus she had a nice, healthy streak of bloodthirstiness, and so she’d volunteered for this new section.

The job she was being trained for was nearly as ancient as the convoy system the Larissans had adopted — to attack organization with organization. The system, back in the Very Dark Ages, had been called the wolfpack, and had worked very well, especially when an attack commander was able to keep himself just away from the actual battleground to coordinate the attackers, but close enough to be able instantly to react to any change from the enemy.

Kang had taken the quick tests Force doctors had devised, done very well, not surprising since she was already a qualified pilot, good at instinctive targeting, had a liking for probability analysis, and found herself once again in school.

It was tough. Ho hadn’t realized how rusty her advanced math had gotten, how much of her prob-analysis came from experience and instinct rather than a systematic use of the Neumann-Haller equations. Not to mention having to learn other areas, from the logistics of how many bullets and beans the ships she’d be controlling had aboard, when their crews were scheduled for leave, resupply capabilities at various Legion bases. Not to mention strategic intelligence understanding of what Redruth and company might have in mind for their next plot.

One thing that helped her was her earlier background as a warrior. She was in good physical shape, stayed there, so when the school problems were dumped on the trainees, hour after hour, she was one of the few capable of still blearing through to a solution.

An emaciated-looking technician who was cultivating a drooping moustache in the faint hope it might make him look slightly more military stood in front of the class.

“This never happens in the romances,” said the technician, who had the equally uninspiring name of Spelvin. “A warrior’s sword or helmet is always ready for him to clap on and go out and smite away. The Kane should’ve been ready two weeks ago.

“However, one of the suppliers decided to lower his pay scale, and the electronics guild has struck. The government’s intervening, but that’ll take another week or so to resolve.

“We brought you here so you can rest assured your training isn’t in vain, that there actually is at least one craft being set up as a control ship, and hence we shall have a place for you.

“We just aren’t sure when.”

• • •

Adj-Prem
Monique Lir and
Tweg
Darod Montagna sat in the wardroom of the Merchant Ship
Brns
, cups full of a murky substance imaginatively called caff, talking away another dull watch.

All around them, working in their bones, was the hum of a spaceship under drive. The
Brns
, on secondary drive, was making a quick transit from D-Cumbre out to the research station/warning post on K-Cumbre, with a small patrol ship as escort. The two I&R soldiers were aboard the transport because
Caud
Angara had decided all ships traveling beyond the orbit of G-Cumbre must not only be escorted, but be armed as well.

Pias blisters were hastily cast and mounted to merchant ships’ hulls. Two Goddard shipkillers were mounted inside the blisters, and small Shadow countermissiles added in smaller blisters to either side. A control station was located somewhere within the ship that didn’t get in the crew’s way too badly, and four Forcemen assigned as auxiliary military gunners. The ship’s captain was their nominal commander, unless special circumstances, clearly defined, required them to follow general orders issued by the Force.

Two of the Forcemen on the
Brns
were assigned to the freighter on permanent duty — one a Forceman who was getting a bit old for hill-running, the other a new recruit. The other two, Lir and Montagna, were floaters, dividing duty time between their normal station and a starship. The I&R people didn’t wear rank tabs or uniforms aboard ship, but civilian clothes or ship’s coveralls, trying to fit into the civilian world as cleanly as possible.

Other Cumbrian ships received the same weaponry, the same assignment of gunners.

There’d been some trouble at first. The soldiers resented the merchantmen’s vastly higher pay and living conditions during wartime, and the civilian crew members scorned the military for being not much better than armed sheep.

Three things ended the potential feud —
Caud
Angara’s orders that gun crew would work as hard as any crewmen on any task the captain chose to ask them to perform, whether or not it had to do with their missiles; the slow realization that, if Larissan raiders hit the Cumbre system, these four women and men would be a ship’s only chance; and the willingness most Forcemen had to escalate, with Angara’s tacit approval, any forecastle brawl.

At first, many of the soldiers swore they’d never get any sleep offplanet, that the hum of the ship drive would turn them into babbling idiots long before the ship ported. But after two days in space, they didn’t notice the noise any more than the crew.

“And here I went and thought riding shotgun on these transports would make life a little more interesting than sitting around the barracks spit-shining a blaster.” Montagna sighed.

“Careful, young
Tweg
,” Lir warned. “Every war I’ve been in starts slow, with everybody pissing and moaning about no action, and they’re never going to get forward in time for the shooting, shitting and shouting. A year later, people are stumbling around, shell-shocked, thousand-meter stare, wondering why they were so damned foolish.

“Stand warned, Darod.”

“Mmmh,” Montagna said.

“Another thing about wars,” Lir continued. “You always seem to remember the beginnings best. After things get serious, it’s just a dull, bloody blur. Also, the people that get dead at the beginning of a war generally are the best remembered. So if you want barracks or a landing field named after you, now’s the best time to die heroically.”

“I’ll pass on that idea,” Montagna said. “Question. How many wars have you been in,
Adj-Prem
?”

I&R troops might have been informal in combat or in their own company, but not around outsiders, and the soldiers assigned to escort duty kept things especially formal, just as they kept themselves as immaculate as possible, even in the rather oily working spaces of a merchant ship, with the whispered slogan, “Anybody can be piggy enough to be a sailor.”

Monique considered. “The ‘Raum … then the Musth … then this bit … before that two minor campaigns before the Force got sent to Cumbre. That was back when we were called Swift Lance, for shit’s sake, under
Caud
Melk, and then
Caud
Williams, who got killed in the ‘Raum rising. Plus, on Cumbre, chasing what they called bandits in the hills, which never rates a campaign ribbon.” She paused, tallied.

“Enough, I guess.”

Darod thought better than saying Lir was obviously a little older than she looked, found another question: “What was it like, being under the Confederation?”

“About the same as now, to be truthful. Independent Strike Forces like this one always were assigned to the edge of nowhere. I never had the chance to operate with a full-scale Confederation army, just like I never saw a full-tilt war.” Lir sounded envious. “But there were differences. We had better supplies, faster, naturally. ‘Though when I think back, toward the end, when we were on … what was it, Qwet VII, that was it, before we got shipped to Cumbre, we were operating pretty thin. Promotions were a lot slower, since there were tests and stuff, and after you got temp rank, the promotion had to be vetted all the way back to Army Headquarters on Centrum.”

BOOK: Storm Force: Book Three of the Last Legion Series
12.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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