Read The Empire’s Corps: Book 01 - The Empire's Corps Online

Authors: Christopher Nuttall

Tags: #war, #galactic empire, #insurgency, #marines

The Empire’s Corps: Book 01 - The Empire's Corps (7 page)

BOOK: The Empire’s Corps: Book 01 - The Empire's Corps
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Leo paused, gathering himself. Somehow, the direct question cut right to the heart of his problems. “I spoke truth to power,” he said, honestly. “They didn’t like it.”

Stalker laughed. “So did I,” he said, seriously. “That’s why they sentenced me to exile.”

He leaned forward, his eyes meeting Leo’s. “I have never read your book, although I'm sure that you have a copy or two in your luggage,” he said. “I do know that I will do my best to protect you and your family, subject only to carrying out my other orders. I don’t believe that your enemies will chase you as far as Avalon, but if they do, they will regret it.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Leo said.

“Major,” Stalker corrected. He grinned, suddenly. It completely transformed his face. “As a fellow political exile, you can call me Edward. Now, tell me; just what did you tell them to get yourself marked for death?”

“The truth,” Leo said, flatly. It still hurt to remember how all of his comforting illusions had been torn away, revealing the naked truth that underpinned the Empire. “I told them that if they continued on their current path, the entire Empire was going to explode like a powder keg underneath them. As for the specifics...” – he shrugged, expressively – “where would you like me to start?”

Stalker lifted an eyebrow. “I started looking into the conditions in the more....recently established colonies, the ones established since the Tyrant Emperor was killed,” Leo clarified. “Most of them suffer under levels of taxation and debt they can never hope to pay off, not ever. Their children’s children will still be paying it off hundreds of years in the future. It made no sense to me so I started tracing the money and realised that most of it was being spent on social welfare to keep the underclass happy. Yet there were limits to how much the Empire could extract from its subjects and there were already small rebellions popping up, all over the Empire...”

“I fought on Han,” Stalker said, dispassionately. There was a haunted note in his voice that made Leo shiver. The realities of violence, despite everything he’d been through, were still largely alien to him. “There was no time to think about how, or why, or if they had a cause worth dying for. It was kill or be killed.”

“I know,” he said. It was scant comfort, but what did one say to a man charged with upholding an edifice that would come toppling down one day and bury them all under the rubble? “There are a thousand more such rebellions just waiting to happen.”

“We’re going to be talking about this on Avalon,” Stalker said, slowly. “I want you to get into your tube now, Professor. We’re about to start loading the ship and we don’t need you getting in the way.”

Leo shook his head. “I’d prefer to stay out of the tubes until we’re underway,” he said, slowly. He couldn't tell the young Captain why, not yet. “Please...”

Stalker stared at him for a long moment. “We’ll assign you a bunk,” he said. “It won’t be pleasant sailing, but it’s the best we can do. Stay out of everyone’s way.”

“Of course,” Leo said. “Thank you for taking care of us.”

Chapter Six

 

It is a curious fact that humans are capable of forming bonds with only a limited number of people; the ‘group’ becomes more abstract as the group becomes larger. At one end of the scale, with the trillions of humans in the Empire, it is very different to truly put the Empire first. Why not, one might ask, put my own interests first? Is that not for the good of the Empire? The largest number of humans that can be considered a real group, from the point of view of its members, is around one hundred and fifty men. It is for that reason that the Marine Company, generally composed of one hundred men, is the building block of the higher Marine units. Within the Company, loyalty is absolute.

- Professor Leo Caesius,
The Waning Years of Empire
(banned).

 

Edward smiled to himself as Professor Leo Caesius was escorted down to one of the bunks, a tiny compartment that would give him the same level of privacy as any Marine Rifleman would have, which was very little. Marines practically lived in each other’s pockets and shared equipment and private entertainments regularly. The Professor would probably want to jump into his tube after a day or two in orbit, although Edward would be sorry if he did. Based on his brief meeting, Leo would be an interesting conversationalist during transit.

He shook his head, dismissing the thought, and scowled down at the portable datapad. The Marine Corps might have embraced all the possibilities opened up by new technology, but there was still an inordinate amount of paperwork to be carried out by the unit’s commanding officer. Edward was responsible for his men and keeping the records in order was one way of ensuring that, if the worst happened, his successor would be able to take over without hassle. It was also a way of ensuring that there was a proper record for posterity. If Stalker’s Stalkers went down in the history books, the historians would have a record for each of his men, although God alone knew what they would make of it. He’d been paying more attention to the hundreds of entertainment channels broadcasting to Earth’s population recently and he'd been shocked by just how badly the Marines were being slammed. The entire Corps seemed to be taking the blame for the Nihilist attack and the massive death toll.

The Pacifist League had informed the planet that the Marines had gone in hot, shooting at suspected terrorists, and triggered half of the explosives quite deliberately. The League seemed to believe that it was possible to negotiate with the Nihilists and, by listening to their spokesmen and granting their demands, the massive death toll could have been avoided. Edward knew better than to believe it. The Nihilist wanted death, nothing more, and simply didn't care what their enemies could offer them. They wouldn't have released the hostages for anything. Taking them all down as quickly as possible was the only way to prevent the Nihilist from detonating their explosives and destroying the entire block.

Pure Humanity, a group that had been among Leo’s tormentors, had taken the opposite track. Their version of events claimed that the Nihilists had been allowed to get into position because of Marine weakness and that if the Marines had showed strength and determination – and courage, they didn't quite say - the Nihilists would never have been able to take hostages in the first place. It made no sense at all, not to anyone who actually knew what had happened. The Marines hadn't been called in until the Civil Guard had fumbled the ball and, by the time they’d gotten into position and had been briefed, the hostages had already started to die. There had been no choice left, but to move.

He stared down at the datapad, not seeing the words displayed on the screen. One of the duties of a Marine Captain was to write to the families of those killed under his command and he’d had to write just under thirty letters in the last few days. They couldn't even use a form letter; tradition demanded a letter handwritten by the Captain personally. It had brought back memories of the dead men and women in happier times. One of the dead men had been up before Edward only a month before he died, charged with being drunk and disorderly on Mars. Edward had thought little of it at the time. The Marine had been visiting his family and, afterwards, had gone out drinking with his mates. And, a month later, he was dead.

It was a relief when his communicator buzzed. “Major” – Gwen used the courtesy promotion as if it were a real rank – “Drill Sergeant Jared Barr has just come onboard and is requesting permission to meet with you.”

“Very good,” Edward said, after he’d placed the name. Barr was one of the Marines who had requested a transfer to the Stalkers. Edward had learned from his previous CO that it was better to interview such people before approving their transfer. Even among the Marines, there were details that never made it into the personal files. “Have him brought to my office now, please.”

Two minutes later, the hatch hissed open and Drill Sergeant Jared Barr marched in. He stood to attention and saluted as Edward rose to his feet, eyes skimming over Barr’s uniform. Everything was perfect; he wore a handful of combat awards, including badges that marked proficiency in over a dozen different specialities. Even for the Marines, Barr was an overachiever. The ribbons on his left arm, marking campaigns he’d served in since graduating from the Slaughterhouse, suggested a long and very active career. His face showed the signs of too many regeneration treatments, a certain lack of movement that suggested plastic surgery.

“Drill Sergeant Jared Barr reporting, sir,” Barr barked. Even his salute was perfect. Marines were not sloppy - sloppiness could not be tolerated among the Marines – but perfection was rare.

“At ease,” Edward said. He had a good feeling about Barr, right from the start, but he wanted to talk to the man. It wouldn't be easy. “I don’t have time to beat around the bush, Sergeant. Why do you want to transfer to my unit?”

Barr didn't relax, much. “I understand that you will be training local Civil Guardsmen and raw recruits,” he barked. “If that is the case, I would like to take part.”

Edward smiled inwardly. A competent Drill Sergeant – and Barr’s record showed that he was very competent indeed – was worth his weight in gold. It took a special kind of man to act like a sadist without actually being a sadist, for a real sadist in a Drill Sergeant’s uniform could inflict immeasurable harm on raw recruits. If he'd served a term as a Drill Sergeant on the Slaughterhouse, he would be very well prepared to train new recruits on Avalon.

“I see,” he said, and waited.

Barr took the bait. “I was detailed to New Charleston to assist in training their Civil Guard to cope with an insurgency on their planet,” he said. “I believe that my experience will be useful to you. My record speaks for itself.”

“So it does,” Edward said, straightening up. “You are aware, of course, that you will be Junior Sergeant within the Company?”

“Yes, sir,” Barr said. Sergeants were always Sergeants, but they often held different titles and responsibilities. Barr might have been entitled to call himself a Drill Sergeant, yet he would not always be serving as a Drill Sergeant. The Slaughterhouse rotated its instructors in and out of frontline units to keep them up to date on the latest developments...and to keep them thinking of themselves as Marines. “I have been Junior Sergeant before.”

“Of course,” Edward agreed. “Welcome to the Stalkers, Sergeant. Report to Command Sergeant Patterson for induction, and then we’ll drop you in at the deep end. We have a great deal of training to catch up on and very little time.”

“Thank you, sir,” Barr said. He saluted again. “It will be my honour.”

Edward smiled as he marched out of the small compartment. “Gwen,” he said, keying his communicator, “I have accepted Sergeant Barr into the Stalkers. Give him the standard welcoming tour and then put him on the duty roster.”

“Yes, sir,” Gwen said. “Sink or swim.”

An hour passed slowly as Edward completed his paperwork. There would be little else to do until he reached Avalon, where at least delay was acceptable. With six months between Avalon and Earth, no one would care if the reports were a week or so late, not when starships could be lost so easily, along with their reports. He filed it in a datachip, pulled it out of the datapad and marked it for transfer by courier to the Marine Headquarters on Earth. The Commandant would take care of it personally. Whatever he’d had in mind – and Edward had a private suspicion that there was more to his operations than just preserving a few people from the mob – he’d deal with the reports. He was about to head down to the training compartment when his communicator buzzed.

“Sir, Rifleman Aaron McDonald is here,” Gwen said. It took Edward a moment to place the name. A Rifleman who had requested a transfer to the Stalkers, something unusual for a mere Rifleman. A Drill Sergeant might request a transfer to a combat unit and no one would think much of it. A Rifleman should stay with his parent unit. “He is requesting permission to speak with you.”

“Have him escorted up here,” Edward said, realising that he probably wasn't going to have a chance to get some exercise before heading back down to the Barracks on Earth. It was just something else to do while they were in transit. “And then send me the training rotas. We don’t have much time left to complete matters.”

Rifleman Aaron McDonald turned out to be middle-aged, older than the average Rifleman, although that wasn't too uncommon within the Marine Corps. If McDonald hadn't been interested in promotion – his record showed that he’d severed as a Corporal at least twice, but that had always been a brevet promotion – he would probably have been allowed to remain as a Rifleman, although he would probably have been quietly encouraged to become an NCO. He’d survived ten years in the Corps, which suggested that there was nothing seriously wrong with him. His file, which Edward had skimmed briefly, hadn’t thrown up any red flags.

“All right,” Edward said, studying him carefully. McDonald looked to be a combination of ethnic traits, not uncommon among some of the other colony worlds. Despite the name, he looked vaguely Chinese. “Why do you want to become a Stalker?”

McDonald met his eyes levelly, a good sign. “I understand that you are being transferred to Avalon,” he said. “Avalon is my homeworld.”

Edward silently cursed himself under his breath. That particular titbit would have been in the files, but he’d missed it. Marines, wherever they were born, went through the Slaughterhouse and came out as Marines. Their pasts didn't matter. Unlike the Imperial Army, which was careful
not
to allow its soldiers to serve on their homeworlds, the Marine Corps didn't care, as long as they were Marines. A career Marine like McDonald shouldn't have been attached to his homeworld. He was half-inclined to refuse the transfer on those grounds alone, yet...the prospect of having someone who actually knew Avalon attached to his command was tempting. Very tempting. It was tempting enough to suggest that he should overlook the irregularity.

“I...see,” he said. “And you want to go back there?”

“I’ve put eighteen years into the Corps,” McDonald said, honestly. “I expect to go on inactive status when I reach twenty years of service. I don’t have fond memories of Avalon, sir, but if we build up a proper Civil Guard and deal with those damned Crackers, it might be...liveable.”

BOOK: The Empire’s Corps: Book 01 - The Empire's Corps
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