Authors: Randolph Lalonde
The Expendable Few
A Spinward Fringe Novel
By Randolph Lalonde
Special note to the reader:
This novel takes place between Spinward Fringe Broadcast six and seven. If you haven’t read the series, please look for Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins, available for free from Smashwords, Amazon, the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and many other eBook retailers.
The author would like to thank the readers. Their support and appetite for stories set in the Spinward Fringe universe made this experimental book viable. Without them, the ideas driving this novel would only exist in a pile of notes in a trunk. The characters, story and ideas here are better now that they’ve been brought out to breathe.
FREEGROUND INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL ONLY
This is a dramatised record of events surrounding Clark Patterson based on recordings made by his Command and Control Unit’s auto-logger, security records, neural captures, military files, and action reports. For educational purposes only.
FREEGROUND INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL ONLY
“You’ve got to get rid of this contraband before they do a random inspection,” Mary tells me as she looks through three data chips that she knows are as dirty as they come. The small, light gold bits fit in the palm of her hand - easily hidden from anyone but a Freeground scanning crew.
I ship out in sixteen days. That’s why she’s worried; they always scan commanders’ quarters before you ship out. “Can’t believe that’s contraband now,” I tell her. “Especially at my pay grade.”
“Let’s see if I remember,” she says, holding the first of the chips up between us. She’s sitting cross legged on the floor, I’m stretched out on the sofa. “This one is your collection of Valance’s security footage.”
“You learned a few things,” I remind her.
“Sure, after nine hours of watching a bounty hunter do his job, I’d better learn a few things. It’s the twenty hours of him walking around with his crew that I don’t understand.”
“There’s only five hours,” I say.
“Okay, only five.” She holds up the second data chip. “This one, with the notch on the side, has the outlawed First Light documentary, and Jacob Valance’s public speeches. That last bit is enough for them to dock you a month’s pay and put you under active watch for a whole tour.”
“Not the worst that could happen,” I tell her. Yeah, what she’s telling me is true. I’ll pass those data chips along to someone else, maybe Kevin. Nothing I have is enough to get me drummed out of the service, but I could end up being passed over for promotions for a few years. At least until the political climate changes.
She shakes her head, tsking at my indifference. “This last one, with a big divot on the top side...” She sighs, drawing her playful scolding out. “All the service records of the First Light Crew, recordings of Ayan Rice, and Ayan Rice the Second. I mean, I’d shag her in a heartbeat, too, but if Freeground Fleet found this with the other two chips you wouldn’t just have Intelligence on your ass, you’d be calling down Admiral Rice, her mother. That’s like naming your executioner.”
“I know, I know.” I laugh at the mental image of one of the most well known admirals in the Fleet sitting down across from me in an interrogation room. I’ve never met the woman, but if she’s as severe as she looks in the Fleet News Casts, then it would be an experience I’d never forget. “Last time they scanned my place two days before I shipped out. I’ll get rid of that stuff five days ahead.”
“Why don’t I just take them tomorrow?” Mary asks, holding them up like tiny playing cards. “I mean, what’s the real difference between five days and two weeks?”
“You just want my Ayan collection.”
She blushes a little, caught. “Ayan the Second, but only because she stood up in front of the highest court-”
“You like the curves,” I tease.
“Hey, she fought for reincarnate rights. I applied for that program, remember? If I get slagged in combat I’d like to know that my parents can grow another me and copy my scans into her, and that Mary two-point-oh will be able to continue where I left off.”
I didn’t press. Practically everyone in Fleet and the Infantry applied for the reincarnation program, myself included. The possibility of getting killed was becoming more real every time one of us shipped out, and the galaxy was becoming a more violent place all the time.
“And because I like the curvier version of Ayan,” Mary admits after a long pause. “I like a natural figure.”
We have a laugh. It’s good to have her back. She had been gone for two years, not the longest stretch, but it wasn’t always easy to keep in touch. Mary is like my second sister. We grew up together in Pod 1414, or what they call ‘B Pod Two’ because it’s the second pod the British from the outer core worlds settled in. My parents returned to Edinburgh after my second tour. Mary’s dad stayed in Freeground station when her mother left. Her mom couldn’t stand the embarrassment of Mary coming out as a non-breeder: a lesbian. That’s a massive taboo in a breeder culture. The social drive tells people to have families, to fill the empty habitation pods with children who will grow up in this isolated space station and never know what’s out there.
The breeder culture really took hold six years ago, when people started leaving Freeground in droves. The tactic was to encourage heterosexual coupling and marriage. Big emphasis on marriage and keeping the most honest part of the breeder culture behind closed doors. They want families, not a few million over-sexed youths taxing the social system, after all.
It hasn’t worked. People are already sick of their entertainment being saturated by sappy love stories and family adventures. Everyone who’s smart enough to realise that the approved entertainment and social activities on Freeground are really a form of social programming protests in his or her own way.
Mary works out to the point of obsession. She’s a one point eight metre tall soldier who wears tight fitting vacsuits just so she can show off.
I keep contraband about a group of patriots who went out into the galaxy to help the Freeground Nation only to find out that their sheltered lives didn’t prepare them for what they found. I’m sure I don’t know everything about their journey, but from what I can piece together, they managed the ship Freeground Fleet gave them very well, developing technology that was rushed into service later. But they couldn’t deal with the culture they met out there, and in the end they didn’t see betrayal coming. A former Freeground Fleet Intelligence officer named Wheeler was supposed to work with them on a critical mission and burned them in the end. He made a deal with the enemy, Vindyne Corporation, and sold out the First Light crew.
That crew, led by Jonas Valent and Ayan Rice, was celebrated for a long time. I had been in the service for eight years when the First Light returned with some of the heaviest combat damage I’d ever seen. Jonas Valent had sacrificed himself so his crew could get back home.
Years later, recordings of someone who looked a lot like him started turning up on the Stellarnet, the unregulated galactic data network. Surveillance videos of this bounty hunter going under the name of Jacob Valance added a new chapter to the First Light story, and only a short time later Ayan Rice stole a prototype ship to go after him. She died before long, and Ayan Rice the Second was born on Freeground, a genetically pure woman who was given all of her predecessor’s memories. She was the beginning of the Resurrection Program. When Freeground refused to grant her the identity and rights of the first Ayan Rice, she left.
That’s when all footage of Jacob Valance, the First Light, and her crew became contraband. As if that wasn’t bad enough, other former crew members of the First Light abandoned their posts, including Captain Terry Ozark McPatrick, who had just been given command of the refitted version of the First Light carrier. They renamed it the Sunspire, and that became its own special kind of disaster.
“Lost in thought?” Mary asks.
“Just thinking about the First Light crew. They changed everything. I don’t see it when I’m out there on a starship,” I point to the star field outside the transparent steel window in my quarters, “but whenever I get back home it’s like the Puritan Party is desperately trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle.”
“It’s not working,” Mary says, dropping into an arm chair and stretching out. “Especially since the Puritans contradict themselves all the time.” She yawns. “Find a partner, start a family, but don’t show skin in public, don’t quit your job if you manage to spawn six kids, and don’t ask for public money if your marriage doesn’t work out.”
“You’re the poster child for resistance, with two citations for public affection under your belt. Well, I’m glad we get a pass in the military, that’s something.”
“Oh, that’s another thing. Random arrests at public protests, and us military folk get officially reprimanded for appearing. No wonder a few thousand people were leaving every week before the transit ban,” she says.
“That’s lifted. More people are leaving than ever,” I tell her. She just got back, so she’s not all caught up on recent events.
“Wow, big win for the Nationalists,” she replies. “Hey, mind if I bunk here for a while? There are promotions coming up, and my chances might be a bit better if I pretend I’m hetero for once.”
“As long as you don’t mind my alarm going off early. I have to send my sister off tomorrow, she’s leaving for Edinburgh Colony.”
“Connie’s leaving?” Mary said.
“Yup. She’s changed in the last two years,” I reply. “We barely talk now unless it’s on Status Comm, through the network. I think it’s because of the new behaviour guidelines.”
“If I weren’t in Fleet, I’d go with her.”
Edinburgh, light years away from Freeground, part of the extended British Colonies. It’s not perfect, but it’s centuries old, and if what my parents say is even half true, there’s a job for everyone and a whole world with hundreds of cities to live in, to make a life. It makes my four room quarters and the habitation pod we live in seem stifling.
As Mary and I are huddled together in bed a little later, I can’t help but think about my parents, and maybe following them after my next tour. In my dreams, the bare sunshine warms my face and I don’t feel like the eyes of the Puritan Party are on me every second of every day.
Freeground station has fantastic space ports. There are five major ones in use by the general public, and numerous other commercial ports. Military ports are separate and secure. I put my Freeground Fleet uniform on that morning by mistake. It’s just a habit, and when you’re stumbling around, concentrating on trying not to wake someone up, habits can take over.
Mary snores through me taking a shower, having coffee, and getting dressed twice. Most of my adult life has been spent on starships, properly dressed for duty; the loose fitting civilian vacsuit doesn’t feel right. My long black trench coat is part of my commander’s uniform. It’s worth a minor citation if I wear it with civilian dress, but I wear it anyway. No one I know has been cited for mixing and matching their weather gear in the time I’ve been serving. It’s an ignored regulation these days.