those of us who did get out, for she was still firing capsules as she was rammed. But I wasn't aware of it; I was inside my cocoon, headed for the ground. I suppose our company commander knew that the ship had been lost (and half his Wildcats with it) since he was out first and would know when he suddenly lost touch, over the command circuit, with the ship's captain. But there is no way to ask him, because he wasn't retrieved. All I ever had was a gradually dawning realization that things were in a mess. The next eighteen hours were nightmare. I shan't tell much about it because I don't remember much, just snatches, stop-motion scenes of horror. I have never liked spiders, poisonous or otherwise; a common house spider in my bed can give me the creeps. Tarantulas are simply unthinkable, and I can't eat lobster, crab, or anything of that sort. When I got my first sight of a Bug, my mind jumped right out of my skull and started to yammer. It was seconds later that I realized that I had killed it and could stop shooting. I suppose it was a worker; I doubt if I was in any shape to tackle a warrior and win. But, at that, I was in better shape than was the K-9 Corps. They were to be dropped (if the drop had gone perfectly) on the periphery of our entire target and the neodogs were supposed to range outward and provide tactical intelligence to interdiction squads whose business it was to secure the periphery. Those Calebs aren't armed, of course, other than their teeth. A neodog is supposed to hear, see, and smell and tell his partner what he finds by radio; all he carries is a radio and a destruction bomb with which he (or his partner) can blow the dog up in case of bad wounds or capture. Those poor dogs didn't wait to be captured; apparently most of them suicided as soon as they made contact. They felt the way I do about the Bugs, only worse. They have neodogs now that are indoctrinated from puppyhood to observe and evade without blowing their tops at the mere sight or smell of a Bug. But these weren't. But that wasn't all that went wrong. Just name it, it was fouled up. I didn't know what was going on, of course; just stuck close behind Dutch, trying to shoot or flame anything that moved, dropping a grenade down a hole when ever I saw one. Presently I got so that I could kill a Bug without wasting ammo or juice, although I did not learn to distinguish between those that were harmless and those that were not. Only about one in fifty is a warrior but he makes up for the other forty-nine. Their personal weapons aren't as heavy as ours but they are lethal just the same -- they've got a beam that will penetrate armor and slice flesh like cutting a hard- boiled egg, and they co operate even better than we do . . . Because the brain that is doing the heavy thinking for a "squad" isn't where you can reach it; it's down one of the holes. Dutch and I stayed lucky for quite a long time, milling around over an area about a mile square, corking up holes with bombs, killing what we found above surface, saving our jets as much as possible for emergencies. The idea was to secure the entire target and allow the reinforcements and the heavy stuff to come down without important opposition; this was not a raid, this was a battle to establish a beachhead, stand on it, hold it, and enable fresh troops and heavies to capture or pacify the entire planet. Only we didn't. Our own section was doing all right. It was in the wrong pew and out of touch with the other section -- the platoon leader and sergeant were dead and we never re-formed. But we had staked out a claim, our special- weapons squad had set up a strong point, and we were ready to turn our real estate over to fresh troops as soon as they showed up. Only they didn't. They dropped in where we should have dropped, found unfriendly natives and had their own troubles. We never saw them. So we stayed where we were, soaking up casualties from time to time and passing them out ourselves as opportunity offered -- while we ran low on ammo and jump juice and even power to keep the suits moving. This seemed to go on for a couple of thousand years. Dutch and I were zipping along close to a wall, headed for our special-weapons squad in answer to a yell for help, when the ground suddenly opened in front of Dutch, a Bug popped out, and Dutch went down. I flamed the Bug and tossed a grenade and the hole closed up, then turned to see what had happened to Dutch. He was down but he didn't look hurt. A platoon sergeant can monitor the physicals on every man in his platoon, sort out the dead from those who merely can't make it unassisted and must be picked up. But you can do the same thing manually from switches right on the belt of a man's suit. Dutch didn't answer when I called to him. His body temperature read ninety-nine degrees, his respiration, heartbeat, and brain wave read zero -- which looked bad but maybe his suit was dead rather than he himself. Or so I told myself, forgetting that the temperature indicator would give no reading if it were the suit rather than the man. Anyhow, I grabbed the can- opener wrench from my own belt and started to take him out of his suit while trying to watch all around me. Then I heard an allhands call in my helmet that I never want to hear again. "Sauve qui peut! Home! Home! Pickup and home! Any beacon you can hear. Six minutes! All hands, save yourselves, pick up your mates. Home on any beacon! Sauve qui -- " I hurried. His head came off as I tried to drag him out of his suit, so I dropped him and got out of there. On a later drop I would have had sense enough to salvage his ammo, but I was far too sluggy to think; I simply bounced away from there and tried to rendezvous with the strong point we had been heading for. It was already evacuated and I felt lost . . . Lost and deserted. Then I heard recall, not the recall it should have been "Yankee Doodle" (if it had been a boat from the Valley Forge) -- but "Sugar Bush, " a tune I didn't know. No matter, it was a beacon; I headed for it, using the last of my jump juice lavishly -- got aboard just as they were about to button up and shortly thereafter was in the Voortrek, in such a state of shock that I couldn't remember my serial number. I've heard it called a "strategic victory" -- but I was there and I claim we took a terrible licking. Six weeks later (and feeling about sixty years older) at Fleet Base on Sanctuary I boarded another ground boat and reported for duty to Ship's Sergeant Jelal in the Rodger Young. I was wearing, in my pierced left ear lobe, a broken skull with one bone. Al Jenkins was with me and was wearing one exactly like it (Kitten never made it out of the tube). The few surviving Wildcats were distributed elsewhere around the Fleet; we had lost half our strength, about, in the collision between the Valley Forge and the Ypres; that disastrous mess on the ground had run our casualties up over 80 per cent and the powers-that-be decided that it was impossible to put the outfit back together with the survivors -- close it out, put the records in the archives, and wait until the scars had healed before reactivating Company K (Wildcats) with new faces but old traditions. Besides, there were a lot of empty files to fill in other outfits. Sergeant Jelal welcomed us warmly, told us that we were joining a smart outfit, "best in the Fleet, " in a taut ship, and didn't seem to notice our ear skulls. Later that day he took us forward to meet the Lieutenant, who smiled rather shyly and gave us a fatherly little talk. I noticed that Al Jenkins wasn't wearing his gold skull. Neither was I -- because I had already noticed that nobody in Rasczak's Roughnecks wore the skulls. They didn't wear them because, in Rasczak's Roughnecks, it didn't matter in the least how many combat drops you had made, nor which ones; you were either a Roughneck or you weren't -- and if you were not, they didn't care who you were. Since we had come to them not as recruits but as combat veterans, they gave us all possible benefit of doubt and made us welcome with no more than that unavoidable trace of formality anybody necessarily shows to a house guest who is not a member of the family. But, less than a week later when we had made one combat drop with them, we were full fledged Roughnecks, members of the family, called by our first names, chewed out on occasion without any feeling on either side that we were less than blood brothers thereby, borrowed from and lent to, included in bull sessions and privileged to express our own silly opinions with complete freedom -- and have them slapped down just as freely. We even called non-coms by their first names on any but strictly duty occasions. Sergeant Jelal was always on duty, of course, unless you ran across him dirtside, in which case he was "Jelly" and went out of his way to behave as if his lordly rank meant nothing between Roughnecks. But the Lieutenant was always "The Lieutenant" -- never "Mr. Rasczak, " nor even "Lieutenant Rasczak. " Simply "The Lieutenant, " spoken to and of in the third person. There was no god but the Lieutenant and Sergeant Jelal was his prophet. Jelly could say "No" in his own person and it might be subject to further argument, at least from junior sergeants, but if he said, "The Lieutenant wouldn't like it, " he was speaking ex cathedra and the matter was dropped permanently. Nobody ever tried to check up on whether or not the Lieutenant would or would not like it; the Word had been spoken. The Lieutenant was father to us and loved us and spoiled us and was nevertheless rather remote from us aboard ship -- and even dirtside ... Unless we reached dirt via a drop. But in a drop well, you wouldn't think that an officer could worry about every man of a platoon spread over a hundred square miles of terrain. But he can. He can worry himself sick over each one of them. How he could keep track of us all I can't describe, but in the midst of a ruckus his voice would sing out over the command circuit: "Johnson! Check squad six! Smitty's in trouble, " and it was better than even money that the Lieutenant had noticed it before Smith's squad leader. Besides that, you knew with utter and absolute certainty that, as long as you were still alive, the Lieutenant would not get into the retrieval boat without you. There have been prisoners taken in the Bug War, but none from Rasczak's Roughnecks. Jelly was mother to us and was close to us and took care of us and didn't spoil us at all. But he didn't report us to the Lieutenant -- there was never a court-martial among the Roughnecks and no man was ever flogged. Jelly didn't even pass out extra duty very often; he had other ways of paddling us. He could look you up and down at daily inspection and simply say, "In the Navy you might look good. Why don't you transfer?" -- and get results, it being an article of faith among us that the Navy crew members slept in their uniforms and never washed below their collar lines. But Jelly didn't have to maintain discipline among privates because he maintained discipline among his non-coms and expected them to do likewise. My squad leader, when I first joined, was "Red" Greene. After a couple of drops, when I knew how good it was to be a Roughneck, I got to feeling gay and a bit too big for my clothes -- and talked back to Red. He didn't report me to Jelly; he just took me back to the washroom and gave me a medium set of lumps, and we got to be pretty good friends. In fact, he recommended me for lance, later on. Actually we didn't know whether the crew members slept in their clothes or not; we kept to our part of the ship and the Navy men kept to theirs, because they were made to feel unwelcome if they showed up in our country other than on duty -- after all, one has social standards one must maintain, mustn't one? The Lieutenant had his stateroom in male officers' country, a Navy part of the ship, but we never went there, either, except on duty and rarely. We did go forward for guard duty, because the Rodger Young was a mixed ship, female captain and pilot officers, some female Navy ratings; forward of bulkhead thirty was ladies' country -- and two armed M. I. Day and night stood guard at the one door cutting it. (At battle stations that door, like all other gastight doors, was secured; nobody missed a drop. ) Officers were privileged to go forward of bulkhead thirty on duty and all officers, including the Lieutenant, ate in a mixed mess just beyond it. But they didn't tarry there; they ate and got out. Maybe other corvette transports were run differently, but that was the way the Rodger Young was run -- both the Lieutenant and Captain Deladrier wanted a taut ship and got it. Nevertheless guard duty was a privilege. It was a rest to stand beside that door, arms folded, feet spread, doping off and thinking about nothing . . . But always warmly aware that any moment you might see a feminine creature even though you were not privileged to speak to her other than on duty. Once I was called all the way into the Skipper's office and she spoke to me -- she looked right at me and said, "Take this to the Chief Engineer, please. " My daily shipside job, aside from cleaning, was servicing electronic equipment under the close supervision of "Padre" Migliaccio, the section leader of the first section, exactly as I used to work under Carl's eye. Drops didn't happen too often and everybody worked every day. If a man didn't have any other talent he could always scrub bulkheads; nothing was ever quite clean enough to suit Sergeant Jelal. We followed the M. I. Rule; everybody fights, everybody works. Our first cook was Johnson, the second section's sergeant, a big friendly boy from Georgia (the one in the western hemisphere, not the other one) and a very talented chef. He wheedled pretty well, too; he liked to eat between meals himself and saw no reason why other people shouldn't. With the Padre leading one section and the cook leading the other, we were well taken care of, body and soul -- but suppose one of them bought it? Which one would you pick? A nice point that we never tried to settle but could always discuss. The Rodger Young kept busy and we made a number of drops, all different. Every drop has to be different so that they never can figure out a pattern on you. But no more pitched battles; we operated alone, patrolling, harrying, and raiding. The truth was that the Terran Federation was not then able to mount a large battle; the foul-up with Operation Bughouse had cost too many ships, `way too many trained men. It was necessary to take time to heal up, train more men. In the meantime, small fast ships, among them the Rodger Young and other corvette transports, tried to be everywhere at once, keeping the enemy off balance, hurting him and running. We suffered casualties and filled our holes when we returned to Sanctuary for more capsules. I still got the shakes every drop, but actual drops didn't happen too often nor were we ever down long -- and between times there were days and days of shipboard life among the Roughnecks. It was the happiest period of my life although I was never quite consciously aware of it -- I did my full share of beefing just as everybody else did, and enjoyed that, too. We weren't really hurt until the Lieutenant bought it. I guess that was the worst time in all my life. I was already in bad shape for a personal reason: My mother had been in Buenos Aires when the Bugs smeared it. I found out about it one time when we put in at Sanctuary for more capsules and some mail caught up with us a note from my Aunt Eleanora, one that had not been coded and sent fast because she had failed to mark for that; the letter itself came. It was about three bitter lines. Somehow she seemed to blame me for my mother's death. Whether it was my fault because I was in the Armed Services and should have therefore prevented the raid, or whether she felt that my mother had made a trip to Buenos Aires because I wasn't home where I should have been, was not quite clear; she managed to imply both in the same sentence. I tore it up and tried to walk away from it. I thought that both my parents were dead -- since Father would never send Mother on a trip that long by herself. Aunt Eleanora had not said so, but she wouldn't have mentioned Father in any case; her devotion was entirely to her sister. I was almost correct -- eventually I learned that Father had planned to go with her but something had come up and he stayed over to settle it, intending to come along the next day. But Aunt Eleanora did not tell me this. A couple of hours later the Lieutenant sent for me and asked me very gently if I would like to take leave at Sanctuary while the ship went out on her next patrol -- he pointed out that I had plenty of accumulated R&R and might as well use some of it. I don't know how he knew that I had lost a member of my family, but he obviously did. I said no, thank you, sir; I preferred to wait until the outfit all took R&R together. I'm glad I did it that way, because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have been along when the Lieutenant bought it . . . And that would have been just too much to be borne. It happened very fast and just before retrieval. A man in the third squad was wounded, not badly but he was down; the assistant section leader moved in to pick up -- and bought a small piece of it himself. The Lieutenant, as usual, was watching everything at once -- no doubt he had checked physicals on each of them by remote, but we'll never know. What he did was to make sure that the assistant section leader was still alive; then made pickup on both of them himself, one in each arm of his suit. He threw them the last twenty feet and they were passed into the retrieval boat -- and with everybody else in, the shield gone and no interdiction, was hit and died instantly. I haven't mentioned the names of the private and of the assistant section leader on purpose. The Lieutenant was making pickup on all of us, with his last breath. Maybe I was the private. It doesn't matter who he was. What did matter was that our family had had its head chopped off. The head of the family from which we took our name, the father who made us what we were. After the Lieutenant had to leave us Captain Deladrier invited Sergeant Jelal to eat forward, with the other heads of departments. But he begged to be excused. Have you ever seen a widow with stern character keep her family together by behaving as if the head of the family had simply stepped out and would return at any moment? That's what Jelly did. He was just a touch more strict with us than ever and if he ever had to say: "The Lieutenant wouldn't like that, " it was almost more than a man could take. Jelly didn't say it very often. He left our combat team organization almost unchanged; instead of shifting everybody around, he moved the assistant section leader of the second section over into the (nominal) platoon sergeant spot, leaving his section leaders where they were needed -- with their sections -- and he moved me from lance and assistant squad leader into acting corporal as a largely ornamental assistant section leader. Then he himself behaved as if the Lieutenant were merely out of sight and that he was just passing on the Lieutenant's orders, as usual. It saved us.
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. -- W. Churchill, XXth century soldier-statesman As we came back into the ship after the raid on the Skinnies-the raid in which Dizzy Flores bought it, Sergeant Jelal's first drop as platoon leader -- a ship's gunner who was tending the boat lock spoke to me: "How'd it go?" "Routine, " I answered briefly. I suppose his remark was friendly but I was feeling very mixed up and in no mood to talk -- sad over Dizzy, glad that we had made pickup anyhow, mad that the pickup had been useless, and all of it tangled up with that washed-out but happy feeling of being back in the ship again, able to muster arms and legs and note that they are all present. Besides, how can you talk about a drop to a man who has never made one? "So?" he answered. "You guys have got it soft. Loaf thirty days, work thirty minutes. Me, I stand a watch in three and turn to. " "Yeah, I guess so, " I agreed and turned away. "Some of us are born lucky. " "Soldier, you ain't peddlin' vacuum, " he said to my back. And yet there was much truth in what the Navy gunner had said. We cap troopers are like aviators of the earlier mechanized wars; a long and busy military career could contain only a few hours of actual combat facing the enemy, the rest being: train, get ready, go out -- then come back, clean up the mess, get ready for another one, and practice, practice, practice, in between. We didn't make another drop for almost three weeks and that on a different planet around another star -- a Bug colony. Even with Cherenkov drive, stars are far apart. In the meantime I got my corporal's stripes, nominated by Jelly and confirmed by Captain Deladrier in the absence of a commissioned officer of our own. Theoretically the rank would not be permanent until approved against vacancy by the Fleet M. I. Repple-depple, but that meant nothing, as the casualty rate was such that there were always more vacancies in the T. O. Than there were warm bodies to fill them. I was a corporal when Jelly said I was a corporal; the rest was red tape. But the gunner was not quite correct about "loafing"; there were fifty-three suits of powered armor to check, service, and repair between each drop, not to mention weapons and special equipment. Sometimes Migliaccio would downcheck a suit, Jelly would confirm it, and the ship's weapons engineer, Lieutenant Farley, would decide that he couldn't cure it short of base facilities -- whereupon a new suit would have to be broken out of stores and brought from "cold" to "hot, " an exacting process requiring twenty-six man-hours not counting the time of the man to whom it was being fitted. We kept busy. But we had fun, too. There were always several competitions going on, from acey-deucy to Honor Squad, and we had the best jazz band in several cubic light-years (well, the only one, maybe), with Sergeant Johnson on the trumpet leading them mellow and sweet for hymns or tearing the steel right off the bulkheads, as the occasion required. After that masterful (or should it be "mistressful"?) retrieval rendezvous without a programmed ballistic, the platoon's metalsmith, PFC Archie Campbell, made a model of the Rodger Young for the Skipper and we all signed and Archie engraved our signatures on a base plate: To Hot Pilot Yvette Deladrier, with thanks from Rasczak's Roughnecks, and we invited her aft to eat with us and the Roughneck Downbeat Combo played during dinner and then the junior private presented it to her. She got tears and kissed him -- and kissed Jelly as well and he blushed purple. After I got my chevrons I simply had to get things straight with Ace, because Jelly kept me on as assistant section leader. This is not good. A man ought to fill each spot on his way up; I should have had a turn as squad leader instead of being bumped from lance and assistant squad leader to corporal and assistant section leader. Jelly knew this, of course, but I know perfectly well that he was trying to keep the outfit as much as possible the way it had been when the Lieutenant was alive -- which meant that he left his squad leaders and section leaders unchanged. But it left me with a ticklish problem; all three of the corporals under me as squad leaders were actually senior to me -- but if Sergeant Johnson bought it on the next drop, it would not only lose us a mighty fine cook, it would leave me leading the section. There mustn't be any shadow of doubt when you give an order, not in combat; I had to clear up any possible shadow before we dropped again. Ace was the problem. He was not only senior of the three, he was a career corporal as well and older than I was. If Ace accepted me, I wouldn't have any trouble with the other two squads. I hadn't really had any trouble with him aboard. After we made pickup on Flores together he had been civil enough. On the other hand we hadn't had anything to have trouble over; our shipside jobs didn't put us together, except at daily muster and guard mount, which is all cut and dried. But you can feel it. He was not treating me as somebody he took orders from. So I looked him up during off hours. He was lying in his bunk, reading a book, Space Rangers against the Galaxy -- a pretty good yarn, except that I doubt if a military outfit ever had so many adventures and so few goof-offs. The ship had a good library. "Ace. Got to see you. " He glanced up. "So? I just left the ship, I'm off duty. " "I've got to see you now. Put your book down. " "What's so aching urgent? I've got to finish this chapter. " "Oh, come off it, Ace. If you can't wait, I'll tell you how it comes out. " "You do and I'll clobber you. " But he put the book down, sat up, and listened. I said, "Ace, about this matter of the section organization -- you're senior to me, you ought to be assistant section leader. " "Oh, so it's that again!" "Yep. I think you and I ought to go see Johnson and get him to fix it up with Jelly. " "You do, eh?" "Yes, I do. That's how it's got to be. " "So? Look, Shortie, let me put you straight. I got nothing against you at all. Matter of fact, you were on the bounce that day we had to pick up Dizzy; I'll hand you that. But if you want a squad, you go dig up one of your own. Don't go eying mine. Why, my boys wouldn't even peel potatoes for you. " "That's your final word?" "That's my first, last, and only word. " I sighed. "I thought it would be. But I had to make sure. Well, that settles that. But I've got one other thing on my mind. I happened to notice that the washroom needs cleaning . . . And I think maybe you and I ought to attend to it. So put your book aside . . . As Jelly says, non- coms are always on duty. " He didn't stir at once. He said quietly, "You really think it's necessary, Shortie? As I said, I got nothing against you. " "Looks like. " "Think you can do it?" "I can sure try. " "Okay. Let's take care of it. " We went aft to the washroom, chased out a private who was about to take a shower he didn't really need, and locked the door. Ace said, "You got any restrictions in mind, Shortie?" "Well . . . I hadn't planned to kill you. " "Check. And no broken bones, nothing that would keep either one of us out of the next drop -- except maybe by accident, of course. That suit you?" "Suits, " I agreed. "Uh, I think maybe I'll take my shirt off. " "Wouldn't want to get blood on your shirt. " He relaxed. I started to peel it off and he let go a kick for my kneecap. No wind up. Flat- footed and not tense. Only my kneecap wasn't there -- I had learned. A real fight ordinarily can last only a second or two, because that is all the time it takes to kill a man, or knock him out, or disable him to the point where he can't fight. But we had agreed to avoid inflicting permanent damage; this changes things. We were both young, in top condition, highly trained, and used to absorbing punishment. Ace was bigger, I was maybe a touch faster. Under such conditions the miserable business simply has to go on until one or the other is too beaten down to continue -- unless a fluke settles it sooner. But neither one of us was allowing any flukes; we were professionals and wary. So it did go on, for a long, tedious, painful time. Details would be trivial and pointless; besides, I had no time to take notes. A long time later I was lying on my back and Ace was flipping water in my face. He looked at me, then hauled me to my feet, shoved me against a bulkhead, steadied me. "Hit me!" "Huh?" I was dazed and seeing double. "Johnnie . . . Hit me. " His face was floating in the air in front of me; I zeroed in on it and slugged it with all the force in my body, hard enough to mash any mosquito in poor health. His eyes closed and he slumped to the deck and I had to grab at a stanchion to keep from following him. He got slowly up. "Okay, Johnnie, " he said, shaking his head, "I've had my lesson. You won't have any more lip out of me . . . Nor out of anybody in the section. Okay?" I nodded and my head hurt. "Shake?" he asked. We shook on it, and that hurt, too. Almost anybody else knew more about how the war was going than we did, even though we were in it. This was the period, of course, after the Bugs had located our home planet, through the Skinnies, and had raided it, destroying Buenos Aires and turning "contact troubles" into all-out war, but before we had built up our forces and before the Skinnies had changed sides and become our co-belligerents and de facto allies. Partly effective interdiction for Terra had been set up from Luna (we didn't know it), but speaking broadly, the Terran Federation was losing the war. We didn't know that, either. Nor did we know that strenuous efforts were being made to subvert the alliance against us and bring the Skinnies over to our side; the nearest we came to being told about that was when we got instructions, before the raid in which Flores was killed, to go easy on the Skinnies, destroy as much property as possible but to kill inhabitants only when unavoidable. What a man doesn't know he can't spill if he is captured; neither drugs, nor torture, nor brainwash, nor endless lack of sleep can squeeze out a secret he doesn't possess. So we were told only what we had to know for tactical purposes. In the past, armies have been known to fold up and quit because the men didn't know what they were fighting for, or why, and therefore lacked the will to fight. But the M. I. Does not have that weakness. Each one of us was a volunteer to begin with, each for some reason or other -- some good, some bad. But now we fought because we were M. I. We were professionals, with esprit de corps. We were Rasczak's Roughnecks, the best unprintable outfit in the whole expurgated M. I. ; we climbed into our capsules because Jelly told us it was time to do so and we fought when we got down there because that is what Rasczak's Roughnecks do. We certainly didn't know that we were losing. Those Bugs lay eggs. They not only lay them, they hold them in reserve, hatch them as needed. If we killed a warrior -- or a thousand, or ten thousand -- his or their replacements were hatched and on duty almost before we could get back to base. You can imagine, if you like, some Bug supervisor of population flashing a phone to somewhere down inside and saying, "Joe, warm up ten thousand warriors and have `em ready by Wednesday . . . And tell engineering to activate reserve incubators N, O, P, Q, and R; the demand is picking up. " I don't say they did exactly that, but those were the results. But don't make the mistake of thinking that they acted purely from instinct, like termites or ants; their actions were as intelligent as ours (stupid races don't build spaceships!) and were much better co ordinated. It takes a minimum of a year to train a private to fight and to mesh his fighting in with his mates; a Bug warrior is hatched able to do this. Every time we killed a thousand Bugs at a cost of one M. I. It was a net victory for the Bugs. We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn't care any more about expending soldiers than we cared about expending ammo. Perhaps we could have figured this out about the Bugs by noting the grief the Chinese Hegemony gave the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance; however the trouble with "lessons from history" is that we usually read them best after falling flat on our chins. But we were learning. Technical instructions and tactical doctrine orders resulted from every brush with them, spread through the Fleet. We learned to tell the workers from the warriors -- if you had time, you could tell from the shape of the carapace, but the quick rule of thumb was: If he comes at you, he's a warrior; if he runs, you can turn your back on him. We learned not to waste ammo even on warriors except in self- protection; instead we went after their lairs. Find a hole, drop down it first a gas bomb which explodes gently a few seconds later, releasing an oily liquid which evaporates as a nerve gas tailored to Bugs (it is harmless to us) and which is heavier than air and keeps on going down -- then you use a second grenade of H. E. To seal the hole. We still didn't know whether we were getting deep enough to kill the queens -- but we did know that the Bugs didn't like these tactics; our intelligence through the Skinnies and on back into the Bugs themselves was definite on this point. Besides, we cleaned their colony off Sheol completely this way. Maybe they managed to evacuate the queens and the brains . . . But at least we were learning to hurt them. But so far as the Roughnecks were concerned, these gas bombings were simply another drill, to be done according to orders, by the numbers, and on the bounce. Eventually we had to go back to Sanctuary for more capsules. Capsules are expendable (well, so were we) and when they are gone, you must return to base, even if the Cherenkov generators could still take you twice around the Galaxy. Shortly before this a dispatch came through breveting Jelly to lieutenant, vice Rasczak. Jelly tried to keep it quiet but Captain Deladrier published it and then required him to eat forward with the other officers. He still spent all the rest of his time aft. But we had taken several drops by then with him as platoon leader and the outfit had gotten used to getting along without the Lieutenant -- it still hurt but it was routine now. After Jelal was commissioned the word was slowly passed around among us and chewed over that it was time for us to name ourselves for our boss, as with other outfits. Johnson was senior and took the word to Jelly; he picked me to go along with him as moral support. "Yeah?" growled Jelly. "Uh, Sarge -- I mean Lieutenant, we've been thinking -- " "With what?" "Well, the boys have sort of been talking it over and they think -- well, they say the outfit ought to call itself: `Jelly's Jaguars. ' " "They do, eh? How many of `em favor that name?" "It's unanimous, " Johnson said simply. "So? Fifty-two ayes . . . And one no. The noes have it. " Nobody ever brought up the subject again. Shortly after that we orbited at Sanctuary. I was glad to be there, as the ship's internal pseudo-gravity field had been off for most of two days before that, while the Chief Engineer tinkered with it, leaving us in free fall -- which I hate. I'll never be a real spaceman. Dirt underfoot felt good. The entire platoon went on ten days' rest & recreation and transferred to accommodation barracks at the Base. I never have learned the co-ordinates of Sanctuary, nor the name or catalogue number of the star it orbits -- because what you don't know, you can't spill; the location is ultra-top-secret, known only to ships' captains, piloting officers, and such . . . And, I understand, with each of them under orders and hypnotic compulsion to suicide if necessary to avoid capture. So I don't want to know. With the possibility that Luna Base might be taken and Terra herself occupied, the Federation kept as much of its beef as possible at Sanctuary, so that a disaster back home would not necessarily mean capitulation. But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is. Like Earth, but retarded. Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides. With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation. Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna -- our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside. With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable -- like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one. As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much -- morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed. Now all the above is perfectly obvious from high school biology ... But the high forehead from the research station there who was telling me about this brought up a point I would never have thought of. What about the human beings who have colonized Sanctuary? Not transients like me, but the colonists who live there, many of whom were born there, and whose descendants will live there, even into the umpteenth generation -- what about those descendants? It doesn't do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it's a bit safer -- leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there. Besides that, the economic situation is at present all in their favor; when they plant a field of (Terran) wheat, they don't even have to clear out the weeds. Terran wheat displaces anything native. But the descendants of those colonists won't evolve. Not much, anyhow. This chap told me that they could improve a little through mutation from other causes, from new blood added by immigration, and from natural selection among the gene patterns they already own -- but that is all very minor compared with the evolutionary rate on Terra and on any usual planet. So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a spaceship? Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere? (Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of mutation for the benefit of their descendants. ) This bloke predicted that they would not do anything. He claims that the human race is too individualistic, too self-centered, to worry that much about future generations. He says that the genetic impoverishment of distant generations through lack of radiation is something most people are simply incapable of worrying about. And of course it is a far-distant threat; evolution works so slowly, even on Terra, that the development of a new species is a matter of many, many thousands of years. I don't know. Shucks, I don't know what I myself will do more than half the time; how can I predict what a colony of strangers will do? But I'm sure of this: Sanctuary is going to be fully settled, either by us or by the Bugs. Or by somebody. It is a potential utopia, and, with desirable real estate so scarce in this end of the Galaxy, it will not be left in the possession of primitive life forms that failed to make the grade. Already it is a delightful place, better in many ways for a few days R & R than is most of Terra. In the second place, while it has an awful lot of civilians, more than a million, as civilians go they aren't bad. They know there is a war on. Fully half of them are employed either at the Base or in war industry; the rest raise food and sell it to the Fleet. You might say they have a vested interest in war, but, whatever their reasons, they respect the uniform and don't resent the wearers thereof. Quite the contrary. If an M. I. Walks into a shop there, the proprietor calls him "Sir, " and really seems to mean it, even while he's trying to sell something worthless at too high a price. But in the first place, half of those civilians are female. You have to have been out on a long patrol to appreciate this properly. You need to have looked forward to your day of guard duty, for the privilege of standing two hours out of each six with your spine against bulkhead thirty and your ears cocked for just the sound of a female voice. I suppose it's actually easier in the all-stag ships . . . But I'll take the Rodger Young. It's good to know that the ultimate reason you are fighting actually exists and that they are not just a figment of the imagination. Besides the civilian wonderful 50 per cent, about 40 per cent of the Federal Service people on Sanctuary are female. Add it all up and you've got the most beautiful scenery in the explored universe. Besides these unsurpassed natural advantages, a great deal has been done artificially to keep R & R from being wasted. Most of the civilians seem to hold two jobs; they've got circles under their eyes from staying up all night to make a service man's leave pleasant. Churchill Road from the Base to the city is lined both sides with enterprises intended to separate painlessly a man from money he really hasn't any use for anyhow, to the pleasant accompaniment of refreshment, entertainment, and music. If you are able to get past these traps, through having already been bled of all valuta, there are still other places in the city almost as satisfactory (I mean there are girls there, too) which are provided free by a grateful populace -- much like the social center in Vancouver, these are, but even more welcome. Sanctuary, and especially Espiritu Santo, the city, struck me as such an ideal place that I toyed with the notion of asking for my discharge there when my term was up after all, I didn't really care whether my descendants (if any) twenty-five thousand years hence had long green tendrils like everybody else, or just the equipment I had been forced to get by with. That professor type from the Research Station couldn't frighten me with that no radiation scare talk; it seemed to me (from what I could see around me) that the human race had reached its ultimate peak anyhow. No doubt a gentleman wart hog feels the same way about a lady wart hog -- but, if so, both of us are very sincere. There are other opportunities for recreation there, too. I remember with particular pleasure one evening when a table of Roughnecks got into a friendly discussion with a group of Navy men (not from the Rodger Young) seated at the next table. The debate was spirited, a bit noisy, and some Base police came in and broke it up with stun guns just as we were warming to our rebuttal. Nothing came of it, except that we had to pay for the furniture -- the Base Commandant takes the position that a man on R &R should be allowed a little freedom as long as he doesn't pick one of the "thirty-one crash landings. " The accommodation barracks are all right, too -- not fancy, but comfortable and the chow line works twenty-five hours a day with civilians doing all the work. No reveille, no taps, you're actually on leave and you don't have to go to the barracks at all. I did, however, as it seemed downright preposterous to spend money on hotels when there was a clean, soft sack free and so many better ways to spend accumulated pay. That extra hour in each day was nice, too, as it meant nine hours solid and the day still untouched -- I caught up sack time clear back to Operation Bughouse. It might as well have been a hotel; Ace and I had a room all to ourselves in visiting non-com quarters. One morning, when R & R was regrettably drawing to a close, I was just turning over about local noon when Ace shook my bed. "On the bounce, soldier! The Bugs are attacking. " I told him what to do with the Bugs. "Let's hit dirt, " he persisted. "No dinero. " I had had a date the night before with a chemist (female, of course, and charmingly so) from the Research Station. She had known Carl on Pluto and Carl had written to me to look her up if I ever got to Sanctuary. She was a slender redhead, with expensive tastes. Apparently Carl had intimated to her that I had more money than was good for me, for she decided that the night before was just the time for her to get acquainted with the local champagne. I didn't let Carl down by admitting that all I had was a trooper's honorarium; I bought it for her while I drank what they said was (but wasn't) fresh pineapple squash. The result was that I had to walk home, afterwards -- the cabs aren't free. Still, it had been worth it. After all, what is money? -- I'm speaking of Bug money, of course. "No ache, " Ace answered. "I can juice you -- I got lucky last night. Ran into a Navy file who didn't know percentages. " So I got up and shaved and showered and we hit the chow line for half a dozen shell eggs and sundries such as potatoes and ham and hot cakes and so forth and then we hit dirt to get something to eat. The walk up Churchill Road was hot and Ace decided to stop in a cantina. I went along to see if their pineapple squash was real. It wasn't, but it was cold. You can't have everything. We talked about this and that and Ace ordered another round. I tried their strawberry squash -- same deal. Ace stared into his glass, then said, "Ever thought about greasing for officer?" I said, "Huh? Are you crazy?" "Nope. Look, Johnnie, this war may run on quite a piece. No matter what propaganda they put out for the folks at home, you and I know that the Bugs aren't ready to quit. So why don't you plan ahead? As the man says, if you've got to play in the band, it's better to wave the stick than to carry the big drum. " I was startled by the turn the talk had taken, especially from Ace. "How about you? Are you planning to buck for a commission?" "Me?" he answered. "Check your circuits, son -- you're getting wrong answers. I've got no education and I'm ten years older than you are. But you've got enough education to hit the selection exams for O. C. S. And you've got the I. Q. They like. I guarantee that if you go career, you'll make sergeant before I do . . . And get picked for O. C. S. The day after. " "Now I know you're crazy!" "You listen to your pop. I hate to tell you this, but you are just stupid and eager and sincere enough to make the kind of officer that men love to follow into some silly predicament. But me -- well, I'm a natural non-com, with the proper pessimistic attitude to offset the enthusiasm of the likes of you. Someday I'll make sergeant . . . And presently I'll have my twenty years in and retire and get one of the reserved jobs -- cop, maybe -- and marry a nice fat wife with the same low tastes I have, and I'll follow the sports and fish and go pleasantly to pieces. " Ace stopped to wet his whistle. "But you, " he went on. "You'll stay in and probably make high rank and die gloriously and I'll read about it and say proudly, `I knew him when. Why, I used to lend him money -- we were corporals together. ' Well?" "I've never thought about it, " I said slowly. "I just meant to serve my term. " He grinned sourly. "Do you see any term enrollees being paid off today? You expect to make it on two years?" He had a point. As long as the war continued, a "term" didn't end -- at least not for cap troopers. It was mostly a difference in attitude, at least for the present. Those of us on "term" could at least feel like short-timers; we could talk about: "When this flea-bitten war is over. " A career man didn't say that; he wasn't going anywhere, short of retirement or buying it. On the other hand, neither were we. But if you went "career" and then didn't finish twenty . . . Well, they could be pretty sticky about your franchise even though they wouldn't keep a man who didn't want to stay. "Maybe not a two-year term, " I admitted. "But the war won't last forever. " "It won't?" "How can it?" "Blessed if I know. They don't tell me these things. But I know that's not what is troubling you, Johnnie. You got a girl waiting?" "No. Well, I had, " I answered slowly, "but she `Dear-Johned' me. " As a lie, this was no more than a mild decoration, which I tucked in because Ace seemed to expect it. Carmen wasn't my girl and she never waited for anybody -- but she did address letters with "Dear Johnnie" on the infrequent occasions when she wrote to me. Ace nodded wisely. "They'll do it every time. They'd rather marry civilians and have somebody around to chew out when they feel like it. Never you mind, son -- you'll find plenty of them more than willing to marry when you're retired . . . And you'll be better able to handle one at that age. Marriage is a young man's disaster and an old man's comfort. " He looked at my glass. "It nauseates me to see you drinking that slop. " "I feel the same way about the stuff you drink, " I told him. He shrugged. "As I say, it takes all kinds. You think it over. " "I will. " Ace got into a card game shortly after, and lent me some money and I went for a walk; I needed to think. Go career? Quite aside from that noise about a commission, did I want to go career? Why, I had gone through all this to get my franchise, hadn't I? -- and if I went career, I was just as far away from the privilege of voting as if I had never enrolled . . . Because as long as you were still in uniform you weren't entitled to vote. Which was the way it should be, of course why, if they let the Roughnecks vote, the idiots might vote not to make a drop. Can't have that. Nevertheless I had signed up in order to win a vote. Or had I? Had I ever cared about voting? No, it was the prestige, the pride, the status . . . Of being a citizen. Or was it? I couldn't to save my life remember why I had signed up. Anyhow, it wasn't the process of voting that made a citizen -- the Lieutenant had been a citizen in the truest sense of the word, even though he had not lived long enough ever to cast a ballot. He had "voted" every time he made a drop. And so had I! I could hear Colonel Dubois in my mind: "Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part . . . And that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live. " I still didn't know whether I yearned to place my one-and-only body "between my loved home and the war's desolation" -- I still got the shakes every drop and that "desolation" could be pretty desolate. But nevertheless I knew at last what Colonel Dubois had been talking about. The M. I. Was mine and I was theirs. If that was what the M. I. Did to break the monotony, then that was what I did. Patriotism was a bit esoteric for me, too large-scale to see. But the M. I. Was my gang, I belonged. They were all the family I had left; they were the brothers I had never had, closer than Carl had ever been. If I left them, I'd be lost. So why shouldn't I go career? All right, all right -- but how about this nonsense of greasing for a commission? That was something else again. I could see myself putting in twenty years and then taking it easy, the way Ace had described, with ribbons on my chest and carpet slippers on my feet . . . Or evenings down at the Veterans Hall, rehashing old times with others who belonged. But O. C. S. ? I could hear Al Jenkins, in one of the bull sessions we had about such things: "I'm a private! I'm going to stay a private! When you're a private they don't expect anything of you. Who wants to be an officer? Or even a sergeant? You're breathing the same air, aren't you? Eating the same food. Going the same places, making the same drops. But no worries. " Al had a point. What had chevrons ever gotten me? -- aside from lumps. Nevertheless I knew I would take sergeant if it was ever offered to me. You don't refuse, a cap trooper doesn't refuse anything; he steps up and takes a swing at it. Commission, too, I supposed. Not that it would happen. Who was I to think that I could ever be what Lieutenant Rasczak had been? My walk had taken me close to the candidates' school, though I don't believe I intended to come that way. A company of cadets were out on their parade ground, drilling at trot, looking for all the world like boots in Basic. The sun was hot and it looked not nearly as comfortable as a bull session in the drop room of the Rodger Young -- why, I hadn't marched farther than bulkhead thirty since I had finished Basic; that breaking-in nonsense was past. I watched them a bit, sweating through their uniforms; I heard them being chewed out -- by sergeants, too. Old Home Week. I shook my head and walked away from there -- went back to the accommodation barracks, over to the B. O. Q. Wing, found Jelly's room. He was in it, his feet up on a table and reading a magazine. I knocked on the frame of the door. He looked up and growled, "Yeah?" "Sarge -- I mean, Lieutenant -- " "Spit it out!" "Sir, I want to go career. " He dropped his feet to the desk. "Put up your right hand. " He swore me, reached unto the drawer of the table and pulled out papers. He had my papers already made out, waiting for me, ready to sign. And I hadn't even told Ace. How about that?
It is by no means enough that an officer should be capable . . . . He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor . . . . No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention, even if the reward be only one word of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate. True as may be the political principles for which we are now contending . . . The ships themselves must be ruled under a system of absolute despotism. I trust that I have now made clear to you the tremendous responsibilities . . . . We must do the best we can with what we have. -- John Paul Jones, September 14, 1775; excerpts from a letter to the naval committee of the N. A. Insurrectionists. The Rodger Young was again returning to Base for replacements, both capsules and men. Al Jenkins had bought his farm, covering a pickup and that one had cost us the Padre, too. And besides that, I had to be replaced. I was wearing brand-new sergeant's chevrons (vice Migliaccio) but I had a hunch that Ace would be wearing them as soon as I was out of the ship -- they were mostly honorary, I knew; the promotion was Jelly's way of giving me a good send-off as I was detached for O. C. S. But it didn't keep me from being proud of them. At the Fleet landing field I went through the exit gate with my nose in the air and strode up to the quarantine desk to have my orders stamped. As this was being done I heard a polite, respectful voice behind me: "Excuse me, Sergeant, but that boat that just came down -- is it from the Rodger -- " I turned to see the speaker, flicked my eyes over his sleeves, saw that it was a small, slightly stoop-shouldered corporal, no doubt one of our -- "Father!" Then the corporal had his arms around me. "Juan! Juan! Oh, my little Johnnie!" I kissed him and hugged him and started to cry. Maybe that civilian clerk at the quarantine desk had never seen two non-coms kiss each other before. Well, if I had noticed him so much as lifting an eyebrow, I would have pasted him. But I didn't notice him; I was busy. He had to remind me to take my orders with me. By then we had blown our noses and quit making an open spectacle of ourselves. I said, "Father, let's find a corner somewhere and sit down and talk. I want to know . . . Well, everything!" I took a deep breath. "I thought you were dead. " "No. Came close to buying it once or twice, maybe. But, Son . .. Sergeant -- I really do have to find out about that landing boat. You see -- " "Oh, that. It's from the Rodger Young. I just -- He looked terribly disappointed. "Then I've got to bounce, right now. I've got to report in. " Then he added eagerly, "But you'll be back aboard soon, won't you, Juanito? Or are you going on R & R?" "Uh, no. " I thought fast. Of all the ways to have things roll! "Look, Father, I know the boat schedule. You can't go aboard for at least an hour and a bit. That boat is not on a fast retrieve; she'll make a minimum-fuel rendezvous when the Rog completes this pass -- if the pilot doesn't have to wait over for the next pass after that; they've got to load first. " He said dubiously, "My orders read to report at once to the pilot of the first available ship's boat. " "Father, Father! Do you have to be so confounded regulation? The girl who's pushing that heap won't care whether you board the boat now, or just as they button up. Anyhow they'll play the ship's recall over the speakers in here ten minutes before boost and announce it. You can't miss it. " He let me lead him over to an empty corner. As we sat down he added, "Will you be going up in the same boat, Juan? Or later?" "Uh -- " I showed him my orders; it seemed the simplest way to break the news. Ships that pass in the night, like the Evangeline story -- cripes, what a way for things to break! He read them and got tears in his eyes and I said hastily, "Look, Father, I'm going to try to come back -- I wouldn't want any other outfit than the Roughnecks. And with you in them . . . Oh, I know it's disappointing but -- " "It's not disappointment, Juan. " "Huh?" "It's pride. My boy is going to be an officer. My little Johnnie - - Oh, it's disappointment, too; I had waited for this day. But I can wait a while longer. " He smiled through his tears. "You've grown, lad. And filled out, too. " "Uh, I guess so. But, Father, I'm not an officer yet and I might only be out of the Rog a few days. I mean, they sometimes bust `em out pretty fast and -- " "Enough of that, young man!" "Huh?" "You'll make it. Let's have no more talk of `busting out. ' " Suddenly he smiled. "That's the first time I've been able to tell a sergeant to shut up. " "Well . . . I'll certainly try, Father. And if I do make it, I'll certainly put in for the old Rog. But -- " I trailed off. "Yes, I know. Your request won't mean anything unless there's a billet for you. Never mind. If this hour is all we have, we'll make the most of it -- and I'm so proud of you I'm splitting my seams. How have you been, Johnnie?" "Oh, fine, just fine. " I was thinking that it wasn't all bad. He would be better off in the Roughnecks than in any other outfit. All my friends . . . They'd take care of him, keep him alive. I'd have to send a gram to Ace -- Father like as not wouldn't even let them know he was related. "Father, how long have you been in?" "A little over a year. " "And corporal already!" Father smiled grimly. "They're making them fast these days. " I didn't have to ask what he meant. Casualties. There were always vacancies in the T. O. ; you couldn't get enough trained soldiers to fill them. Instead I said, "Uh . . . But, Father, you're -- Well, I mean, aren't you sort of old to be soldiering? I mean the Navy, or Logistics, or -- " "I wanted the M. I. And I got it!" he said emphatically. "And I'm no older than many sergeants -- not as old, in fact. Son, the mere fact that I am twenty-two years older than you are doesn't put me in a wheel chair. And age has its advantages, too. " Well, there was something in that. I recalled how Sergeant Zim had always tried the older men first, when he was dealing out boot chevrons. And Father would never have goofed in Basic the way I had -- no lashes for him. He was probably spotted as non-com material before he ever finished Basic. The Army needs a lot of really grown-up men in the middle grades; it's a paternalistic organization. I didn't have to ask him why he had wanted M. I. , nor why or how he had wound up in my ship -- I just felt warm about it, more `flattered by it than any praise he had ever given me in words. And I didn't want to ask him why he had joined up; I felt that I knew. Mother. Neither of us had mentioned her -- too painful. So I changed the subject abruptly. "Bring me up to date. Tell me where you've been and what you've done. " "Well, I trained at Camp San Martin -- " "Huh? Not Currie?" "New one. But the same old lumps, I understand. Only they rush you through two months faster, you don't get Sundays off. Then I requested the Rodger Young -- and didn't get it -- and wound up in McSlattery's Volunteers. A good outfit. " "Yes, I know. " They had had a reputation for being rough, tough, and nasty -- almost as good as the Roughnecks. "I should say that it was a good outfit. I made several drops with them and some of the boys bought it and after a while I got these. " He glanced at his chevrons. "I was a corporal when we dropped on Sheol -- " "You were there? So was I!" With a sudden warm flood of emotion I felt closer to my father than I ever had before in my life. "I know. At least I knew your outfit was there. I was around fifty miles north of you, near as I can guess. We soaked up that counterattack when they came boiling up out of the ground like bats out of a cave. " Father shrugged. "So when it was over I was a corporal without an outfit, not enough of us left to make a healthy cadre. So they sent me here. I could have gone with King's Kodiak Bears, but I had a word with the placement sergeant -- and, sure as sunrise, the Rodger Young came back with a billet for a corporal. So here I am. " "And when did you join up?" I realized that it was the wrong remark as soon as I had made it -- but I had to get the subject away from McSlattery's Volunteers; an orphan from a dead outfit wants to forget it. Father said quietly, "Shortly after Buenos Aires. " "Oh. I see. " Father didn't say anything for several moments. Then he said softly, "I'm not sure that you do see, Son. " "Sir?" "Mmm . . . It will not be easy to explain. Certainly, losing your mother had a great deal to do with it. But I didn't enroll to avenge her -- even though I had that in mind, too. You had more to do with it -- " "Me?" "Yes, you. Son, I always understood what you were doing better than your mother did -- don't blame her; she never had a chance to know, any more than a bird can understand swimming. And perhaps I knew why you did it, even though I beg to doubt that you knew yourself, at the time. At least half of my anger at you was sheer resentment . . . That you had actually done something that I knew, buried deep in my heart, I should have done. But you weren't the cause of my joining up, either . . . You merely helped trigger it and you did control the service I chose. " He paused. "I wasn't in good shape at the time you enrolled. I was seeing my hypnotherapist pretty regularly -- you never suspected that, did you? -- but we had gotten no farther than a clear recognition that I was enormously dissatisfied. After you left, I took it out on you -- but it was not you, and I knew it and my therapist knew it. I suppose I knew that there was real trouble brewing earlier than most; we were invited to bid on military components fully a month before the state of emergency was announced. We had converted almost entirely to war production while you were still in training. "I felt better during that period, worked to death and too busy to see my therapist. Then I became more troubled than ever. " He smiled. "Son, do you know about civilians?" "Well . . . We don't talk the same language. I know that. " "Clearly enough put. Do you remember Madame Ruitman? I was on a few days leave after I finished Basic and I went home. I saw some of our friends, said good-by -- she among them. She chattered away and said, `So you're really going out? Well, if you reach Faraway, you really must look up my dear friends the Regatos. ' " "I told her, as gently as I could, that it seemed unlikely, since the Arachnids had occupied Faraway. "It didn't faze her in the least. She said, `Oh, that's all right -- they're civilians!' " Father smiled cynically. "Yes, I know. " "But I'm getting ahead of my story. I told you that I was getting still more upset. Your mother's death released me for what I had to do . . . Even though she and I were closer than most, nevertheless it set me free to do it. I turned the business over to Morales -- " "Old man Morales? Can he handle it?" "Yes. Because he has to. A lot of us are doing things we didn't know we could. I gave him a nice chunk of stock -- you know the old saying about the king that tread the grain -- and the rest I split two ways, in a trust: half to the Daughters of Charity, half to you whenever you want to go back and take it. If you do. Never mind. I had at last found out what was wrong with me. " He stopped, then said very softly, "I had to perform an act of faith. I had to prove to myself that I was a man. Not just a producing- consuming economic animal . . . But a man. " At that moment, before I could answer anything, the wall speakers around us sang: " -- shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young!" and a girl's voice added, "Personnel for F. C. T. Rodger Young, stand to boat. Berth H. Nine minutes. " Father bounced to his feet, grabbed his kit roll. "That's mine! Take care of yourself, Son -- and hit those exams. Or you'll find you're still not too big to paddle. " "I will, Father. " He embraced me hastily. "See you when we get back!" And he was gone, on the bounce. In the Commandant's outer office I reported to a fleet sergeant who looked remarkably like Sergeant Ho, even to lacking an arm. However, he lacked Sergeant Ho's smile as well. I said, "Career Sergeant Juan Rico, to report to the Commandant pursuant to orders. " He glanced at the clock. "Your boat was down seventy-three minutes ago. Well?" So I told him. He pulled his lip and looked at me meditatively. "I've heard every excuse in the book. But you've just added a new page. Your father, your own father, really was reporting to your old ship just as you were detached?" "The bare truth, Sergeant. You can check it -- Corporal Emilio Rico. " "We don't check the statements of the `young gentlemen' around here. We simply cashier them if it ever turns out that they have not told the truth. Okay, a boy who wouldn't be late in order to see his old man off wouldn't be worth much in any case. Forget it. " "Thanks, Sergeant. Do I report to the Commandant now?" "You've reported to him. " He made a check mark on a list. "Maybe a month from now he'll send for you along with a couple of dozen others. Here's your room assignment, here's a checkoff list you start with -- and you can start by cutting off those chevrons. But save them; you may need them later. But as of this moment you are `Mister, ' not `Sergeant. ' " "Yes, sir. " "Don't call me `sir. ' I call you `sir. ' But you won't like it. " I am not going to describe Officer Candidates School. It's like Basic, but squared and cubed with books added. In the mornings we behaved like privates, doing the same old things we had done in Basic and in combat and being chewed out for the way we did them -- by sergeants. In the afternoons we were cadets and "gentlemen, " and recited on and were lectured concerning an endless list of subjects: math, science, galactography, xenology, hypnopedia, logistics, strategy and tactics, communications, military law, terrain reading, special weapons, psychology of leadership, anything from the care and feeding of privates to why Xerxes lost the big one. Most especially how to be a one-man catastrophe yourself while keeping track of fifty other men, nursing them, loving them, leading them, saving them - - but never babying them. We had beds, which we used all too little; we had rooms and showers and inside plumbing; and each four candidates had a civilian servant, to make our beds and clean our rooms and shine our shoes and lay out our uniforms and run errands. This service was not intended as a luxury and was not; its purpose was to give the student more time to accomplish the plainly impossible by relieving him of things any graduate of Basic can already do perfectly. Six days shalt thou work and do all thou art able, The seventh the same and pound on the cable. Or the Army version ends: -- and clean out the stable, which shows you how many centuries this sort of thing has been going on. I wish I could catch just one of those civilians who think we loaf and put them through one month of O. C. S. In the evenings and all day Sundays we studied until our eyes burned and our ears ached -- then slept (if we slept) with a hypnopedic speaker droning away under the pillow. Our marching songs were appropriately downbeat: "No Army for mine, no Army for mine! I'd rather be behind the plow any old time!" and "Don't wanta study war no more, " and "Don't make my boy a soldier, the weeping mother cried, " and -- favorite of all -- the old classic "Gentlemen Rankers" with its chorus about the Little Lost Sheep: " -- God ha' pity on such as we. Baa! Yah! Bah!" Yet somehow I don't remember being unhappy. Too busy, I guess. There was never that psychological "hump" to get over, the one everybody hits in Basic; there was simply the ever-present fear of flunking out. My poor preparation in math bothered me especially. My roommate, a colonial from Hesperus with the oddly appropriate name of "Angel, " sat up night after night, tutoring me. Most of the instructors, especially the officers, were disabled. The only ones I can remember who had a full complement of arms, legs, eyesight, hearing, etc. , were some of the non-commissioned combat instructors -- and not all of those. Our coach in dirty fighting sat in a powered chair, wearing a plastic collar, and was completely paralyzed from the neck down. But his tongue wasn't paralyzed, his eye was photographic, and the savage way in which he could analyze and criticize what he had seen made up for his minor impediment. At first I wondered why these obvious candidates for physical retirement and full-pay pension didn't take it and go home. Then I quit wondering. I guess the high point in my whole cadet course was a visit from Ensign Ibanez, she of the dark eyes, junior watch officer and pilot-under-instruction of the Corvette Transport Mannerheim. Carmencita showed up, looking incredibly pert in Navy dress whites and about the size of a paperweight, while my class was lined up for evening meal muster -- walked down the line and you could hear eyeballs click as she passed -- walked straight up to the duty officer and asked for me by name in a clear, penetrating voice. The duty officer, Captain Chandar, was widely believed never to have smiled at his own mother, but he smiled down at little Carmen, straining his face out of shape, and admitted my existence . . . Whereupon she waved her long black lashes at him, explained that her ship was about to boost and could she please take me out to dinner? And I found myself in possession of a highly irregular and totally unprecedented three-hour pass. It may be that the Navy has developed hypnosis techniques that they have not yet gotten around to passing on to the Army. Or her secret weapon may be older than that and not usable by M. I. In any case I not only had a wonderful time but my prestige with my classmates, none too high until then, climbed to amazing heights. It was a glorious evening and well worth flunking two classes the next day. It was somewhat dimmed by the fact that we had each heard about Carl -- killed when the Bugs smashed our research station on Pluto -- but only somewhat, as we had each learned to live with such things. One thing did startle me. Carmen relaxed and took off her hat while we were eating, and her blue-black hair was all gone. I knew that a lot of the Navy girls shaved their heads -- after all, it's not practical to take care of long hair in a war ship and, most especially, a pilot can't risk having her hair floating around, getting in the way, in any free-fall maneuvers. Shucks, I shaved my own scalp, just for convenience and cleanliness. But my mental picture of little Carmen included this mane of thick, wavy hair. But, do you know, once you get used to it, it's rather cute. I mean, if a girl looks all right to start with, she still looks all right with her head smooth. And it does serve to set a Navy girl apart from civilian chicks -- sort of a lodge pin, like the gold skulls for combat drops. It made Carmen look distinguished, gave her dignity, and for the first time I fully realized that she really was an officer and a fighting man -- as well as a very pretty girl. I got back to barracks with stars in my eyes and whiffing slightly of perfume. Carmen had kissed me good-by. The only O. C. S. Classroom course the content of which I'm even going to mention was: History and Moral Philosophy. I was surprised to find it in the curriculum. H. & M. P. Has nothing to do with combat and how to lead a platoon; its connection with war (where it is connected) is in why to fight -- a matter already settled for any candidate long before he reaches O. C. S. An M. I. Fights because he is M. I. I decided that the course must be a repeat for the benefit of those of us (maybe a third) who had never had it in school. Over 20 per cent of my cadet class were not from Terra (a much higher percentage of colonials sign up to serve than do people born on Earth -- sometimes it makes you wonder) and of the three quarters or so from Terra, some were from associated territories and other places where H. & M. P. Might not be taught. So I figured it for a cinch course which would give me a little rest from tough courses, the ones with decimal points. Wrong again. Unlike my high school course, you had to pass it. Not by examination, however. The course included examinations and prepared papers and quizzes and such -- but no marks. What you had to have was the instructor's opinion that you were worthy of commission. If he gave you a downcheck, a board sat on you, questioning not merely whether you could be an officer but whether you belonged in the Army at any rank, no matter how fast you might be with weapons -- deciding whether to give you extra instruction . . . Or just kick you out and let you be a civilian. History and Moral Philosophy works like a delayed-action bomb. You wake up in the middle of the night and think: Now what did he mean by that? That had been true even with my high school course; I simply hadn't known what Colonel Dubois was talking about. When I was a kid I thought it was silly for the course to be in the science department. It was nothing like physics or chemistry; why wasn't it over in the fuzzy studies where it belonged? The only reason I paid attention was because there were such lovely arguments. I had no idea that "Mr. " Dubois was trying to teach me why to fight until long after I had decided to fight anyhow. Well, why should I fight? Wasn't it preposterous to expose my tender skin to the violence of unfriendly strangers? Especially as the pay at any rank was barely spending money, the hours terrible, and the working conditions worse? When I could be sitting at home while such matters were handled by thick-skulled characters who enjoyed such games? Particularly when the strangers against whom I fought never had done anything to me personally until I showed up and started kicking over their tea wagon -- what sort of nonsense is this? Fight because I'm an M. I. ? Brother, you're drooling like Dr. Pavlov's dogs. Cut it out and start thinking. Major Reid, our instructor, was a blind man with a disconcerting habit of looking straight at you and calling you by name. We were reviewing events after the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony, 1987 and following. But this was the day that we heard the news of the destruction of San Francisco and the San Joaquin Valley; I thought he would give us a pep talk. After all, even a civilian ought to be able to figure it out now -- the Bugs or us. Fight or die. Major Reid didn't mention San Francisco. He had one of us apes summarize the negotiated treaty of New Delhi, discuss how it ignored prisoners of war . . . And, by implication, dropped the subject forever; the armistice became a stalemate and prisoners stayed where they were -- on one side; on the other side they were turned loose and, during the Disorders, made their way home -- or not if they didn't want to. Major Reid's victim summed up the unreleased prisoners: survivors of two divisions of British paratroopers, some thousands of civilians, captured mostly in Japan, the Philippines, and Russia and sentenced for "political" crimes. "Besides that, there were many other military prisoners, " Major Reid's victim went on, "captured during and before the war -- there were rumors that some had been captured in an earlier war and never released. The total of unreleased prisoners was never known. The best estimates place the number around sixty-five thousand. " "Why the `best'?" "Uh, that's the estimate in the textbook, sir. " "Please be precise in your language. Was the number greater or less than one hundred thousand?" "Uh, I don't know, sir. " "And nobody else knows. Was it greater than one thousand?" "Probably, sir. Almost certainly. " "Utterly certain -- because more than that eventually escaped, found their ways home, were tallied by name. I see you did not read your lesson carefully. Mr. Rico!" Now I was the victim. "Yes, sir. " "Are a thousand unreleased prisoners sufficient reason to start or resume a war? Bear in mind that millions of innocent people may die, almost certainly will die, if war is started or resumed. " I didn't hesitate. "Yes, sir! More than enough reason. " " `More than enough. ' Very well, is one prisoner, unreleased by the enemy, enough reason to start or resume a war?" I hesitated. I knew the M. I. Answer -- but I didn't think that was the one he wanted. He said sharply, "Come, come, Mister! We have an upper limit of one thousand; I invited you to consider a lower limit of one. But you can't pay a promissory note which reads `somewhere between one and one thousand pounds' -- and starting a war is much more serious than paying a trifle of money. Wouldn't it be criminal to endanger a country - - two countries in fact -- to save one man? Especially as he may not deserve it? Or may die in the meantime? Thousands of people get killed every day in accidents . . . So why hesitate over one man? Answer! Answer yes, or answer no -- you're holding up the class. " He got my goat. I gave him the cap trooper's answer. "Yes, sir!" " `Yes' what?" "It doesn't matter whether it's a thousand -- or just one, sir. You fight. " "Aha! The number of prisoners is irrelevant. Good. Now prove your answer. " I was stuck. I knew it was the right answer. But I didn't know why. He kept hounding me. "Speak up, Mr. Rico. This is an exact science. You have made a mathematical statement; you must give proof. Someone may claim that you have asserted, by analogy, that one potato is worth the same price, no more, no less, as one thousand potatoes. No?" "No, sir!" "Why not? Prove it. " "Men are not potatoes. " "Good, good, Mr. Rico! I think we have strained your tired brain enough for one day. Bring to class tomorrow a written proof, in symbolic logic, of your answer to my original question. I'll give you a hint. See reference seven in today's chapter. Mr. Salomon! How did the present political organization evolve out of the Disorders? And what is its moral justification?" Sally stumbled through the first part. However, nobody can describe accurately how the Federation came about; it just grew. With national governments in collapse at the end of the XXth century, something had to fill the vacuum, and in many cases it was returned veterans. They had lost a war, most of them had no jobs, many were sore as could be over the terms of the Treaty of New Delhi, especially the P. O. W. Foul-up -- and they knew how to fight. But it wasn't revolution; it was more like what happened in Russia in 1917 -- the system collapsed; somebody else moved in. The first known case, in Aberdeen, Scotland, was typical. Some veterans got together as vigilantes to stop rioting and looting, hanged a few people (including two veterans) and decided not to let anyone but veterans on their committee. Just arbitrary at first -- they trusted each other a bit, they didn't trust anyone else. What started as an emergency measure became constitutional practice . . . In a generation or two. Probably those Scottish veterans, since they were finding it necessary to hang some veterans, decided that, if they had to do this, they weren't going to let any "bleedin', profiteering, black- market, double-time-for-overtime, army-dodging, unprintable" civilians have any say about it. They'd do what they were told, see? -- while us apes straightened things out! That's my guess, because I might feel the same way . . . And historians agree that antagonism between civilians and returned soldiers was more intense than we can imagine today. Sally didn't tell it by the book. Finally Major Reid cut him off. "Bring a summary to class tomorrow, three thousand words. Mr. Salomon, can you give me a reason -- not historical nor theoretical but practical - - why the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans?" "Uh, because they are picked men, sir. Smarter. " "Preposterous!" "Sir?" "Is the word too long for you? I said it was a silly notion. Service men are not brighter than civilians. In many cases civilians are much more intelligent. That was the sliver of justification underlying the attempted coup d'etat just before the Treaty of New Delhi, the so-called `Revolt of the Scientists': let the intelligent elite run things and you'll have utopia. It fell flat on its foolish face of course. Because the pursuit of science, despite its social benefits, is itself not a social virtue; its practitioners can be men so self-centered as to be lacking in social responsibility. I've given you a hint, Mister; can you pick it up?" Sally answered, "Uh, service men are disciplined, sir. " Major Reid was gentle with him. "Sorry. An appealing theory not backed up by facts. You and I are not permitted to vote as long as we remain in the Service, nor is it verifiable that military discipline makes a man self-disciplined once he is out; the crime rate of veterans is much like that of civilians. And you have forgotten that in peacetime most veterans come from non-combatant auxiliary services and have not been subjected to the full rigors of military discipline; they have merely been harried, overworked, and endangered -- yet their votes count. " Major Reid smiled. "Mr. Salomon, I handed you a trick question. The practical reason for continuing our system is the same as the practical reason for continuing anything: It works satisfactorily. "Nevertheless, it is instructive to observe the details. Throughout history men have labored to place the sovereign franchise in hands that would guard it well and use it wisely, for the benefit of all. An early attempt was absolute monarchy, passionately defended as the `divine right of kings. ' "Sometimes attempts were made to select a wise monarch, rather man leave it up to God, as when the Swedes picked a Frenchman, General Bernadotte, to rule them. The objection to this is that the supply of Bernadottes is limited. "Historic examples range from absolute monarch to utter anarch; mankind has tried thousands of ways and many more have been proposed, some weird in the extreme such as the antlike communism urged by Plato under the misleading title The Republic. But the intent has always been moralistic: to provide stable and benevolent government. "All systems seek to achieve this by limiting franchise to those who are believed to have the wisdom to use it justly. I repeat `all systems'; even the so-called `unlimited democracies' excluded from franchise not less than one quarter of their populations by age, birth, poll tax, criminal record, or other. " Major Reid smiled cynically. "I have never been able to see how a thirty-year old moron can vote more wisely than a fifteen-year-old genius . . . But that was the age of the `divine right of the common man. ' Never mind, they paid for their folly. "The sovereign franchise has been bestowed by all sorts of rules -- place of birth, family of birth, race, sex, property, education, age, religion, et cetera. All these systems worked and none of them well. All were regarded as tyrannical by many, all eventually collapsed or were overthrown. "Now here are we with still another system . . . And our system works quite well. Many complain but none rebel; personal freedom for all is greatest in history, laws are few, taxes are low, living standards are as high as productivity permits, crime is at its lowest ebb. Why? Not because our voters are smarter than other people; we've disposed of that argument. Mr. Tammany can you tell us why our system works better than any used by our ancestors?" I don't know where Clyde Tammany got his name; I'd take him for a Hindu. He answered, "Uh, I'd venture to guess that it's because the electors are a small group who know that the decisions are up to them . . . So they study the issues. " "No guessing, please; this is exact science. And your guess is wrong. The ruling nobles of many another system were a small group fully aware of their grave power. Furthermore, our franchised citizens are not everywhere a small fraction; you know or should know that the percentage of citizens among adults ranges from over eighty per cent on Iskander to less than three per cent in some Terran nations yet government is much the same everywhere. Nor are the voters picked men; they bring no special wisdom, talent, or training to their sovereign tasks. So what difference is there between our voters and wielders of franchise in the past? We have had enough guesses; I'll state the obvious: Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage. "And that is the one practical difference. " "He may fail in wisdom, he may lapse in civic virtue. But his average performance is enormously better than that of any other class of rulers in history. " Major Reid paused to touch the face of an old-fashioned watch, "reading" its hands. "The period is almost over and we have yet to determine the moral reason for our success in governing ourselves. Now continued success is never a matter of chance. Bear in mind that this is science, not wishful thinking; the universe is what it is, not what we want it to be. To vote is to wield authority; it is the supreme authority from which all other authority derives -- such as mine to make your lives miserable once a day. Force, if you will! -- the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax. Whether it is exerted by ten men or by ten billion, political authority is force. " "But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico. " He had picked one I could answer. "Responsibility, sir. " "Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal -- else a balancing takes place as surely as current `flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority . . . Other than through the tragic logic of history. The unique `poll tax' that we must pay was unheard of. No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead -- and responsibility was then forced on him willy- nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple. " "Superficially, our system is only slightly different; we have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service -- nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable. Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility -- we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life -- and lose it, if need be -- to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert. Yin and yang, perfect and equal. " The Major added, "Can anyone define why there has never been revolution against our system? Despite the fact that every government in history has had such? Despite the notorious fact that complaints are loud and unceasing?" One of the older cadets took a crack at it. "Sir, revolution is impossible. " "Yes. But why?" "Because revolution -- armed uprising -- requires not only dissatisfaction but aggressiveness. A revolutionist has to be willing to fight and die -- or he's just a parlor pink. If you separate out the aggressive ones and make them the sheep dogs, the sheep will never give you trouble. " "Nicely put! Analogy is always suspect, but that one is close to the facts. Bring me a mathematical proof tomorrow. Time for one more question -- you ask it and I'll answer. Anyone?" "Uh, sir, why not go -- well, go the limit? Require everyone to serve and let everybody vote?" "Young man, can you restore my eyesight?" "Sir? Why, no, sir!" "You would find it much easier than to instill moral virtue -- social responsibility -- into a person who doesn't have it, doesn't want it, and resents having the burden thrust on him. This is why we make it so hard to enroll, so easy to resign. Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination -- devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues -- which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out. Conscript armies have been tried in the past. Look up in the library the psychiatric report on brainwashed prisoners in the so called `Korean War, ' circa 1950 -- the Mayer Report. Bring an analysis to class. " He touched his watch. "Dismissed. " Major Reid gave us a busy time. But it was interesting. I caught one of those master's thesis assignments he chucked around so casually; I had suggested that the Crusades were different from most wars. I got sawed off and handed this: Required: to prove that war and moral perfection derive from the same genetic inheritance. Briefly, thus: All wars arise from population pressure. (Yes, even the Crusades, though you have to dig into trade routes and birth rate and several other things to prove it. ) Morals -- all correct moral rules derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level -- as in a father who dies to save his children. But since population pressure results from the process of surviving through others, then war, because it results from population pressure, derives from the same inherited instinct which produces all moral rules suitable for human beings. Check of proof: Is it possible to abolish war by relieving population pressure (and thus do away with the all-too evident evils of war) through constructing a moral code under which population is limited to resources? Without debating the usefulness or morality of planned parenthood, it may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. Some human populations did so, in Terran history, and other breeds moved in and engulfed them. Nevertheless, let's assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens? Soon (about next Wednesday) the Bugs move in, kill off this breed which "ain'ta gonna study war no more" and the universe forgets us. Which still may happen. Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out -- because both races are tough and smart and want the same real estate. Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race. Try it -- it's a compound-interest expansion. But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe? Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics -- you name it -- is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is -- not what do gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be. The universe will let us know -- later -- whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it. In the meantime the M. I. Will be in there, on the bounce and swinging, on the side of our own race. Toward the end each of us was shipped out to serve under an experienced combat commander. This was a semifinal examination, your `board-ship instructor could decide that you didn't have what it takes. You could demand a board but I never heard of anybody who did; they either came back with an upcheck or we never saw them again. Some hadn't failed; it was just that they were killed -- because assignments were to ships about to go into action. We were required to keep kit bags packed -- once at lunch, all the cadet officers of my company were tapped; they left without eating and I found myself cadet company commander. Like boot chevrons, this is an uncomfortable honor, but in less than two days my own call came. I bounced down to the Commandant's office, kit bag over my shoulder and feeling grand. I was sick of late hours and burning eyes and never catching up, of looking stupid in class; a few weeks in the cheerful company of a combat team was just what Johnnie needed! I passed some new cadets, trotting to class in close formation, each with the grim look that every O. C. S. Candidate gets when he realizes that possibly he made a mistake in bucking for officer, and I found myself singing. I shut up when I was within earshot of the office. Two others were there, Cadets Hassan and Byrd. Hassan the Assassin was the oldest man in our class and looked like something a fisherman had let out of a bottle, while Birdie wasn't much bigger than a sparrow and about as intimidating. We were ushered into the Holy of Holies. The Commandant was in his wheel chair -- we never saw him out of it except Saturday inspection and parade, I guess walking hurt. But that didn't mean you didn't see him - - you could be working a prob at the board, turn around and find that wheel chair behind you, and Colonel Nielssen reading your mistakes. He never interrupted -- there was a standing order not to shout "Attention!" But it's disconcerting. There seemed to be about six of him. The Commandant had a permanent rank of fleet general (yes, that Nielssen); his rank as colonel was temporary, pending second retirement, to permit him to be Commandant. I once questioned a paymaster about this and confirmed what the regulations seemed to say: The Commandant got only the pay of a colonel -- but would revert to the pay of a fleet general on the day he decided to retire again. Well, as Ace says, it takes all sorts -- I can't imagine choosing half pay for the privilege of riding herd on cadets. Colonel Nielssen looked up and said, "Morning, gentlemen. Make yourselves comfortable. " I sat down but wasn't comfortable. He glided over to a coffee machine, drew four cups, and Hassan helped him deal them out. I didn't want coffee but a cadet doesn't refuse the Commandant's hospitality. He took a sip. "I have your orders, gentlemen, " he announced, "and your temporary commissions. " He went on, "But I want to be sure you understand your status. " We had already been lectured about this. We were going to be officers just enough for instruction and testing -- "supernumerary, probationary, and temporary. " Very junior, quite superfluous, on good behavior, and extremely temporary; we would revert to cadet when we got back and could be busted at any time by the officers examining us. We would be "temporary third lieutenants" -- a rank as necessary as feet on a fish, wedged into the hairline between fleet sergeants and real officers. It is as low as you can get and still be called an "officer. " If anybody ever saluted a third lieutenant, the light must have been bad. "Your commission reads `third lieutenant, ' " he went on, "but your pay stays the same, you continue to be addressed as `Mister, ' the only change in uniform is a shoulder pip even smaller than cadet insignia. You continue under instruction since it has not yet been settled that you are fit to be officers. " The Colonel smiled. "So why call you a `third lieutenant'?" I had wondered about that. Why this whoopty-do of "commissions" that weren't real commissions? Of course I knew the textbook answer. "Mr. Byrd?" the Commandant said. "Uh . . . To place us in the line of command, sir. " "Exactly!" Colonel glided to a T. O. On one wall. It was the usual pyramid, with chain of command defined all the way down. "Look at this -- " He pointed to a box connected to his own by a horizontal line; it read: ASSISTANT TO COMMANDANT (Miss Kendrick). "Gentlemen, " he went on, "I would have trouble running this place without Miss Kendrick. Her head is a rapid-access file to everything that happens around here. " He touched a control on his chair and spoke to the air. "Miss Kendrick, what mark did Cadet Byrd receive in military law last term?" Her answer came back at once: "Ninety-three per cent, Commandant. " "Thank you. " He continued, "You see? I sign anything if Miss Kendrick has initialed it. I would hate to have an investigating committee find out how often she signs my name and I don't even see it. Tell me, Mr. Byrd ... If I drop dead, does Miss Kendrick carry on to keep things moving?" "Why, uh -- " Birdie looked puzzled. "I suppose, with routine matters, she would do what was necess -- " "She wouldn't do a blessed thing!" the Colonel thundered. "Until Colonel Chauncey told her what to do -- his way. She is a very smart woman and understands what you apparently do not, namely, that she is not in the line of command and has no authority. " He went on, " `Line of command' isn't just a phrase; it's as real as a slap in the face. If I ordered you to combat as a cadet the most you could do would be to pass along somebody else's orders. If your platoon leader bought it and you then gave an order to a private -- a good order, sensible and wise -- you would be wrong and he would be just as wrong if he obeyed it. Because a cadet cannot be in the line of command. A cadet has no military existence, no rank, and is not a soldier. He is a student who will become a soldier -- either an officer, or at his formal rank. While he is under Army discipline, he is not in the Army. That is why -- " A zero. A nought with no rim. If a cadet wasn't even in the Army -- "Colonel!" "Eh? Speak up, young man. Mr. Rico. " I had startled myself but I had to say it. "But . . . If we aren't in the Army . . . Then we aren't M. I. Sir?" He blinked at me. "This worries you?" "I, uh, don't believe I like it much, sir. " I didn't like it at all. I felt naked. "I see. " He didn't seem displeased. "You let me worry about the space-lawyer aspects of it, son. " "But -- " "That's an order. You are technically not an M. I. But the M. I. Hasn't forgotten you; the M. I. Never forgets its own no matter where they are. If you are struck dead this instant, you will be cremated as Second Lieutenant Juan Rico, Mobile Infantry, of -- " Colonel Nielssen stopped. "Miss Kendrick, what was Mr. Rico's ship?" "The Rodger Young. " "Thank you. " He added, " -- in and of TFCT Rodger Young, assigned to mobile combat team Second Platoon of George Company, Third Regiment, First Division, M. I. -- the `Roughnecks, ' " he recited with relish, not consulting anything once he had been reminded of my ship. "A good outfit, Mr. Rico -- proud and nasty. Your Final Orders go back to them for Taps and that's the way your name would read in Memorial Hall. That's why we always commission a dead cadet, son -- so we can send him home to his mates. " I felt a surge of relief and homesickness and missed a few words. ". . . Lip buttoned while I talk, we'll have you back in the M. I. Where you belong. You must be temporary officers for your `prentice cruise because there is no room for dead-heads in a combat drop. You'll fight -- and take orders -- and give orders. Legal orders, because you will hold rank and be ordered to serve in that team; that makes any order you give in carrying out your assigned duties as binding as one signed by the C-in-C. "Even more, " the Commandant went on, "once you are in line of command, you must be ready instantly to assume higher command. If you are in a one-platoon team -- quite likely in the present state of the war -- and you are assistant platoon leader when your platoon leader buys it . . . Then . . . You . . . Are . . . It!" He shook his head. "Not `acting platoon leader. ' Not a cadet leading a drill. Not a `junior officer under instruction. ' Suddenly you are the Old Man, the Boss, Commanding Officer Present -- and you discover with a sickening shock that fellow human beings are depending on you alone to tell them what to do, how to fight, how to complete the mission and get out alive. They wait for the sure voice of command -- while seconds trickle away -- and it's up to you to be that voice, make decisions, give the right orders . . . And not only the right ones but in a calm, unworried tone. Because it's a cinch, gentlemen, that your team is in trouble - - bad trouble! -- and a strange voice with panic in it can turn the best combat team in the Galaxy into a leaderless, lawless, fear-crazed mob. "The whole merciless load will land without warning. You must act at once and you'll have only God over you. Don't expect Him to fill in tactical details; that's your job. He'll be doing all that a soldier has a right to expect if He helps you keep the panic you are sure to feel out of your voice. " The Colonel paused. I was sobered and Birdie was looking terribly serious and awfully young and Hassan was scowling. I wished that I were back in the drop room of the Rog, with not too many chevrons and an after-chow bull session in full swing. There was a lot to be said for the job of assistant section leader -- when you come right to it, it's a lot easier to die than it is to use your head. The Commandant continued: "That's the Moment of Truth, gentlemen. Regrettably there is no method known to military science to tell a real officer from a glib imitation with pips on his shoulders, other than through ordeal by fire. Real ones come through -- or die gallantly; imitations crack up. "Sometimes, in cracking up, the misfits die. But the tragedy lies in the loss of others . . . Good men, sergeants and corporals and privates, whose only lack is fatal bad fortune in finding themselves under the command of an incompetent. "We try to avoid this. First is our unbreakable rule that every candidate must be a trained trooper, blooded under fire, a veteran of combat drops. No other army in history has stuck to this rule, although some came close. Most great military schools of the past -- Saint Cyr, West Point, Sandhurst, Colorado Springs didn't even pretend to follow it; they accepted civilian boys, trained them, commissioned them, sent them out with no battle experience to command men . . . And sometimes discovered too late that this smart young `officer' was a fool, a poltroon, or a hysteric. "At least we have no misfits of those sorts. We know you are good soldiers -- brave and skilled, proved in battle else you would not be here. We know that your intelligence and education meet acceptable minimums. With this to start on, we eliminate as many as possible of the not-quite-competent -- get them quickly back in ranks before we spoil good cap troopers by forcing them beyond their abilities. The course is very hard -- because what will be expected of you later is still harder. "In time we have a small group whose chances look fairly good. The major criterion left untested is one we cannot test here; that undefinable something which is the difference between a leader in battle . . . And one who merely has the earmarks but not the vocation. So we field-test for it. "Gentlemen! -- you have reached that point. Are you ready to take the oath?" There was an instant of silence, then Hassan the Assassin answered firmly, "Yes, Colonel, " and Birdie and I echoed. The Colonel frowned. "I have been telling you how wonderful you are -- physically perfect, mentally alert, trained, disciplined, blooded. The very model of the smart young officer -- " He snorted. "Nonsense! You may become officers someday. I hope so . . . We not only hate to waste money and time and effort, but also, and much more important, I shiver in my boots every time I send one of you half-baked not-quite-officers up to the Fleet, knowing what a Frankensteinian monster I may be turning loose on a good combat team. If you understood what you are up against, you wouldn't be so all-fired ready to take the oath the second the question is put to you. You may turn it down and force me to let you go back to your permanent ranks. But you don't know. "So I'll try once more. Mr. Rico! Have you ever thought how it would feel to be court-martialed for losing a regiment?" I was startled silly. "Why -- No, sir, I never have. " To be court-martialed -- for any reason -- is eight times as bad for an officer as for an enlisted man. Offenses which will get privates kicked out (maybe with lashes, possibly without) rate death in an officer. Better never to have been born! "Think about it, " he said grimly. "When I suggested that your platoon leader might be killed, I was by no means citing the ultimate in military disaster. Mr. Hassan! What is the largest number of command levels ever knocked out in a single battle?" The Assassin scowled harder than ever. "I'm not sure, sir. Wasn't there a while during Operation Bughouse when a major commanded a brigade, before the Sove-ki-poo?" "There was and his name was Fredericks. He got a decoration and a promotion. If you go back to the Second Global War, you can find a case in which a naval junior officer took command of a major ship and not only fought it but sent signals as if he were admiral. He was vindicated even though there were officers senior to him in line of command who were not even wounded. Special circumstances -- a breakdown in communications. But I am thinking of a case in which four levels were wiped out in six minutes -- as if a platoon leader were to blink his eyes and find himself commanding a brigade. Any of you heard of it?" Dead silence. "Very well. It was one of those bush wars that hared up on the edges of the Napoleonic wars. This young officer was the most junior in a naval vessel -- wet navy, of course -- wind-powered, in fact. This youngster was about the age of most of your class and was not commissioned. He carried the title of temporary third lieutenant' -- note that this is the title you are about to carry. He had no combat experience; there were four officers in the chain of command above him. When the battle started his commanding officer was wounded. The kid picked him up and carried him out of the line of fire. That's all -- make pickup on a comrade. But he did it without being ordered to leave his post. The other officers all bought it while he was doing this and he was tried for `deserting his post of duty as commanding officer in the presence of the enemy. ' Convicted. Cashiered. " I gasped. "For that? Sir. " "Why not? True, we make pickup. But we do it under different circumstances from a wet-navy battle, and by orders to the man making pickup. But pickup is never an excuse for breaking off battle in the presence of the enemy. This boy's family tried for a century and a half to get his conviction reversed. No luck, of course. There was doubt about some circumstances but no doubt that he had left his post during battle without orders. True, he was green as grass -- but he was lucky not to be hanged. " Colonel Nielssen fixed me with a cold eye. "Mr. Rico -- could this happen to you?" I gulped. "I hope not, sir. " "Let me tell you how it could on this very `prentice cruise. Suppose you are in a multiple-ship operation, with a full regiment in the drop. Officers drop first, of course. There are advantages to this and disadvantages, but we do it for reasons of morale; no trooper ever hits the ground on a hostile planet without an officer. Assume the Bugs know this -- and they may. Suppose they work up some trick to wipe out those who hit the ground first . . . But not good enough to wipe out the whole drop. Now suppose, since you are a supernumerary, you have to take any vacant capsule instead of being fired with the first wave. Where does that leave you?" "Uh, I'm not sure, sir. " "You have just inherited command of a regiment. What are you going to do? With your command, Mister? Talk fast -- the Bugs won't wait!" "Uh . . . " I caught an answer right out of the book and parroted it. "I'll take command and act as circumstances permit, sir, according to the tactical situation as I see it. " "You will, eh?" The Colonel grunted. "And you'll buy a farm too that's all anybody can do with a foul-up like that. But I hope you'll go down swinging -- and shouting orders to somebody, whether they make sense or not. We don't expect kittens to fight wildcats and win -- we merely expect them to try. All right, stand up. Put up your right hands. " He struggled to his feet. Thirty seconds later we were officers -- "temporary, probationary, and supernumerary. " I thought he would give us our shoulder pips and let us go. We aren't supposed to buy them -- they're a loan, like the temporary commission they represent. Instead he lounged back and looked almost human. "See here, lads -- I gave you a talk on how rough it's going to be. I want you to worry about it, doing it in advance, planning what steps you might take against any combination of bad news that can come your way, keenly aware that your life belongs to your men and is not yours to throw away in a suicidal reach for glory . . . And that your life isn't yours to save, either, if the situation requires that you expend it. I want you to worry yourself sick before a drop, so that you can be unruffled when the trouble starts. "Impossible, of course. Except for one thing. What is the only factor that can save you when the load is too heavy? Anyone?" Nobody answered. "Oh, come now!" Colonel Nielssen said scornfully. "You aren't recruits. Mr. Hassan!" "Your leading sergeant, sir, " the Assassin said slowly. "Obviously. He's probably older than you are, more drops under his belt, and he certainly knows his team better than you do. Since he isn't carrying that dreadful, numbing load of top command, he may be thinking more clearly than you are. Ask his advice. You've got one circuit just for that. "It won't decrease his confidence in you; he's used to being consulted. If you don't, he'll decide you are a fool, a cocksure know-it-all - - and he'll be right. "But you don't have to take his advice. Whether you use his ideas, or whether they spark some different plan -- make your decision and snap out orders. The one thing -- the only thing! -- that can strike terror in the heart of a good platoon sergeant is to find that he's working for a boss who can't make up his mind. "There never has been an outfit in which officers and men were more dependent on each other than they are in the M. I. , and sergeants are the glue that holds us together. Never forget it. " The Commandant whipped his chair around to a cabinet near his desk. It contained row on row of pigeonholes, each with a little box. He pulled out one and opened it. "Mr. Hassan -- " "Sir?" "These pips were worn by Captain Terence O'Kelly on his `prentice cruise. Does it suit you to wear them?" "Sir?" The Assassin's voice squeaked and I thought the big lunk was going to break into tears. "Yes, sir!" "Come here. " Colonel Nielssen pinned them on, then said, "Wear them as gallantly as he did . . . But bring them back. Understand me?" "Yes, sir. I'll do my best. " "I'm sure you will. There's an air car waiting on the roof and your boat boosts in twenty-eight minutes. Carry out your orders, sir!" The Assassin saluted and left; the Commandant turned and picked out another box. "Mr. Byrd, are you superstitious?" "No, sir. " "Really? I am, quite. I take it you would not object to wearing pips which have been worn by five officers, all of whom were killed in action?" Birdie barely hesitated. "No, sir. " "Good. Because these five officers accumulated seventeen citations, from the Terran Medal to the Wounded Lion. Come here. The pip with the brown discoloration must always be worn on your left shoulder -- and don't try to buff it off! Just try not to get the other one marked in the same fashion. Unless necessary, and you'll know when it is necessary. Here is a list of former wearers. You have thirty minutes until your transportation leaves. Bounce up to Memorial Hall and look up the record of each. " "Yes, sir. " "Carry out your orders, sir!" He turned to me, looked at my face and said sharply, "Something on your mind, son? Speak up!" "Uh -- " I blurted it out. "Sir, that temporary third lieutenant - - the one that got cashiered. How could I find out what happened?" "Oh. Young man, I didn't mean to scare the daylights out of you; I simply intended to wake you up. The battle was on one June 1813 old style between USF Chesapeake and HMF Shannon. Try the Naval Encyclopedia; your ship will have it. " He turned back to the case of pips and frowned. Then he said, "Mr. Rico, I have a letter from one of your high school teachers, a retired officer, requesting that you be issued the pips he wore as a third lieutenant. I am sorry to say that I must tell him `No. ' " "Sir?" I was delighted to hear that Colonel Dubois was still keeping track of me -- and very disappointed, too. "Because I can't! I issued those pips two years ago -- and they never came back. Real estate deal. Hmm -- " He took a box, looked at me. "You could start a new pair. The metal isn't important; the importance of the request lies in the fact that your teacher wanted you to have them. " "Whatever you say, sir. " "Or" -- he cradled the box in his hand -- "you could wear these. They have been worn five times . . . And the last four candidates to wear them have all failed of commission -- nothing dishonorable but pesky bad luck. Are you willing to take a swing at breaking the hoodoo? Turn them into goodluck pips instead?" I would rather have petted a shark. But I answered, "All right, sir. I'll take a swing at it. " "Good. " He pinned them on me. "Thank you, Mr. Rico. You see, these were mine, I wore them first . . . And it would please me mightily to have them brought back to me with that streak of bad luck broken, have you go on and graduate. " I felt ten feet tall. "I'll try, sir!" "I know you will. You may now carry out your orders, sir. The same air car will take both you and Byrd. Just a moment -- Are your mathematics textbooks in your bag?" "Sir? No, sir. " "Get them. The Weightmaster of your ship has been advised of your extra baggage allowance. " I saluted and left, on the bounce. He had me shrunk down to size as soon as he mentioned math. My math books were on my study desk, tied into a package with a daily assignment sheet tucked under the cord. I gathered the impression that Colonel Nielssen never left anything unplanned -- but everybody knew that. Birdie was waiting on the roof by the air car. He glanced at my books and grinned. "Too bad. Well, if we're in the same ship, I'll coach you. What ship?" "Tours. " "Sorry, I'm for the Moskva. " We got in, I checked the pilot, saw that it had been pre-set for the field, closed the door and the car took off. Birdie added, "You could be worse off. The Assassin took not only his math books but two other subjects. " Birdie undoubtedly knew and he had not been showing off when he offered to coach me; he was a professor type except that his ribbons proved that he was a soldier too. Instead of studying math Birdie taught it. One period each day he was a faculty member, the way little Shujumi taught judo at Camp Currie. The M. I. Doesn't waste anything; we can't afford to. Birdie had a B. S. In math on his eighteenth birthday, so naturally he was assigned extra duty as instructor -- which didn't keep him from being chewed out at other hours. Not that he got chewed out much. Birdie had that rare combo of brilliant intellect, solid education, common sense, and guts, which gets a cadet marked as a potential general. We figured he was a cinch to command a brigade by the time he was thirty, what with the war. But my ambitions didn't soar that high. "It would be a dirty, rotten shame, " I said, "if the Assassin flunked out, " while thinking that it would be a dirty, rotten shame if I flunked out. "He won't, " Birdie answered cheerfully. "They'll sweat him through the rest if they have to put him in a hypno booth and feed him through a tube. Anyhow, " he added, "Hassan could flunk out and get promoted for it. " "Huh?" "Didn't you know? The Assassin's permanent rank is first lieutenant -- field commission, naturally. He reverts to it if he flunks out. See the regs. " I knew the regs. If I flunked math, I'd revert to buck sergeant, which is better than being slapped in the face with a wet fish any way you think about it . . . And I'd thought about it, lying awake nights after busting a quiz. But this was different. "Hold it, " I protested. "He gave up first lieutenant, permanent grade . . . And has just made temporary third lieutenant . . . In order to become a second lieutenant? Are you crazy? Or is he?" Birdie grinned. "Just enough to make us both M. I. " "But -- I don't get it. " "Sure you do. The Assassin has no education that he didn't pick up in the M. I. So how high can he go? I'm sure he could command a regiment in battle and do a real swingin' job provided somebody else planned the operation. But commanding in battle is only a fraction of what an officer does, especially a senior officer. To direct a war, or even to plan a single battle and mount the operation, you have to have theory of games, operational analysis, symbolic logic, pessimistic synthesis, and a dozen other skull subjects. You can sweat them out on your own if you've got the grounding. But have them you must, or you'll never get past captain, or possibly major. The Assassin knows what he is doing. " "I suppose so, " I said slowly. "Birdie, Colonel Nielssen must know that Hassan was an officer -- is an officer, really. " "Huh? Of course. " "He didn't talk as if he knew. We all got the same lecture. " "Not quite. Did you notice that when the Commandant wanted a question answered a particular way he always asked the Assassin?" I decided it was true. "Birdie, what is your permanent rank?" The car was just landing; he paused with a hand on the latch and grinned. "PFC -- I don't dare flunk out!" I snorted. "You won't. You can't!" I was surprised that he wasn't even a corporal, but a kid as smart and well educated as Birdie would go to O. C. S. Just as quickly as he proved himself in combat . . . Which with the war on, could be only months after his eighteenth birthday. Birdie grinned still wider. "We'll see. " "You'll graduate. Hassan and I have to worry, but not you. " "So? Suppose Miss Kendrick takes a dislike to me. " He opened the door and looked startled. "Hey! They're sounding my call. So long!" "See you, Birdie. " But I did not see him and he did not graduate. He was commissioned two weeks later and his pips came back with their eighteenth decoration - - the Wounded Lion, posthumous. CHAPTER 13
Youse guys think this deleted outfit is a blankety-blank nursery. Well, it ain't! See? -- Remark attributed to a Hellenic corporal before the walls of Troy, 1194 B. C. The Rodger Young carries one platoon and is crowded; the Tours carries six -- and is roomy. She has the tubes to drop them all at once and enough spare room to carry twice that number and make a second drop. This would make her very crowded, with eating in shifts, hammocks in passageways and drop rooms, rationed water, inhale when your mate exhales, and get your elbow out of my eye! I'm glad they didn't double up while I was in her. But she has the speed and lift to deliver such crowded troops still in fighting condition to any point in Federation space and much of Bug space; under Cherenkov drive she cranks Mike 400 or better -- say Sol to Capella, forty-six lightyears, in under six weeks. Of course, a six-platoon transport is not big compared with a battle wagon or passenger liner; these things are compromises. The M. I. Prefers speedy little one-platoon corvettes which give flexibility for any operation, while if it was left up to the Navy we would have nothing but regimental transports. It takes almost as many Navy files to run a corvette as it does to run a monster big enough for a regiment -- more maintenance and housekeeping, of course, but soldiers can do that. After all, those lazy troopers do nothing but sleep and eat and polish buttons -- do `em good to have a little regular work. So says the Navy. The real Navy opinion is even more extreme: The Army is obsolete and should be abolished. The Navy doesn't say this officially -- but talk to a Naval officer who is on R & R and feeling his oats; you'll get an earful. They think they can fight any war, win it, send a few of their own people down to hold the conquered planet until the Diplomatic Corps takes charge. I admit that their newest toys can blow any planet right out of the sky -- I've never seen it but I believe it. Maybe I'm as obsolete as Tyrannosaurus Rex. I don't feel obsolete and us apes can do things that the fanciest ship cannot. If the government doesn't want those things done, no doubt they'll tell us. Maybe it's just as well that neither the Navy nor the M. I. Has the final word. A man can't buck for Sky Marshal unless he has commanded both a regiment and a capital ship -- go through M. I. And take his lumps and then become a Naval officer (I think little Birdie had that in mind), or first become an astrogator-pilot and follow it with Camp Currie, etc. I'll listen respectfully to any man who has done both. Like most transports, the Tours is a mixed ship; the most amazing change for me was to be allowed "North of Thirty. " The bulkhead that separates ladies' country from the rough characters who shave is not necessarily No. 30 but, by tradition, it is called "bulkhead thirty" in any mixed ship. The wardroom is just beyond it and the rest of ladies' country is farther forward. In the Tours the wardroom also served as messroom for enlisted women, who ate just before we did, and it was partitioned between meals into a recreation room for them and a lounge for their officers. Male officers had a lounge called the cardroom just abaft thirty. Besides the obvious fact that drop & retrieval require the best pilots (i. E. , female), there is very strong reason why female Naval officers are assigned to transports: It is good for trooper morale. Let's skip M. I. Traditions for a moment. Can you think of anything sillier than letting yourself be fired out of a spaceship with nothing but mayhem and sudden death at the other end? However, if someone must do this idiotic stunt, do you know of a surer way to keep a man keyed up to the point where he is willing than by keeping him constantly reminded that the only good reason why men fight is a living breathing reality? In a mixed ship, the last thing a trooper hears before a drop (maybe the last word he ever hears) is a woman's voice, wishing him luck. If you don't think this is important, you've probably resigned from the human race. The Tours had fifteen Naval officers, eight ladies and seven men; there were eight M. I. Officers including (I am happy to say) myself. I won't say "bulkhead thirty" caused me to buck for O. C. S. But the privilege of eating with the ladies is more incentive than any increase in pay. The Skipper was president of the mess, my boss Captain Blackstone was vice-president - - not because of rank; three Naval officers ranked him but as C. O. Of the strike force he was de facto senior to everybody but the Skipper. Every meal was formal. We would wait in the cardroom until the hour struck, follow Captain Blackstone in and stand behind our chairs; the Skipper would come in followed by her ladies and, as she reached the head of the table, Captain Blackstone would bow and say, "Madam President . .. Ladies, " and she would answer, "Mr. Vice . . . Gentlemen, " and the man on each lady's right would seat her. This ritual established that it was a social event, not an officers' conference; thereafter ranks or titles were used, except that junior Naval officers and myself alone among the M. L. Were called "Mister" or "Miss" -- with one exception which fooled me. My first meal aboard I heard Captain Blackstone called "Major, " although his shoulder pips plainly read "captain. " I got straightened out later. There can't be two captains in a Naval vessel so an Army captain is bumped one rank socially rather than commit the unthinkable of calling him by the title reserved for the one and only monarch. If a Naval captain is aboard as anything but skipper, he or she is called "Commodore" even if the skipper is a lowly lieutenant. The M. I. Observes this by avoiding the necessity in the wardroom and paying no attention to the silly custom in our own part of the ship. Seniority ran downhill from each end of the table, with the Skipper at the head and the strike force C. O. At the foot, the junior midshipman at his right and myself at the Skipper's right. I would most happily have sat by the junior midshipman; she was awfully pretty but the arrangement is planned chaperonage; I never even learned her first name. I knew that I, as the lowliest male, sat on the Skipper's right - - but I didn't know that I was supposed to seat her. At my first meal she waited and nobody sat down -- until the third assistant engineer jogged my elbow. I haven't been so embarrassed since a very unfortunate incident in kindergarten, even though Captain Jorgenson acted as if nothing had happened. When the Skipper stands up the meal is over. She was pretty good about this but once she stayed seated only a few minutes and Captain Blackstone got annoyed. He stood up but called out, "Captain -- " She stopped. "Yes, Major?" "Will the Captain please give orders that my officers and myself be served in the cardroom?" She answered coldly, "Certainly, sir. " And we were. But no Naval officer joined us. The following Saturday she exercised her privilege of inspecting the M. I. Aboard-which transport skippers almost never do. However, she simply walked down the ranks without commenting. She was not really a martinet and she had a nice smile when she wasn't being stern. Captain Blackstone assigned Second Lieutenant "Rusty" Graham to crack the whip over me about math; she found out about it, somehow, and told Captain Blackstone to have me report to her office for one hour after lunch each day, whereupon she tutored me in math and bawled me out when my "homework" wasn't perfect. Our six platoons were two companies as a rump battalion; Captain Blackstone commanded Company D, Blackie's Blackguards, and also commanded the rump battalion. Our battalion commander by the T. O. , Major Xera, was with A and B companies in the Tours' sister ship Normandy Beach -- maybe half a sky away; he commanded us only when the full battalion dropped together -- except that Cap'n Blackie routed certain reports and letters through him. Other matters went directly to Fleet, Division, or Base, and Blackie had a truly wizard fleet sergeant to keep such things straight and to help him handle both a company and a rump battalion in combat. Administrative details are not simple in an army spread through many light-years in hundreds of ships. In the old Valley Forge, in the Rodger Young, and now in the Tours I was in the same regiment, the Third ("Pampered Pets") Regiment of the First ("Polaris") M. I. Division. Two battalions formed from available units had been called the "Third Regiment" in Operation Bughouse but I did not see "my" regiment; all I saw was PFC Bamburger and a lot of Bugs. I might be commissioned in the Pampered Pets, grow old and retire in it -- and never even see my regimental commander. The Roughnecks had a company commander but he also commanded the first platoon ("Hornets") in another corvette; I didn't know his name until I saw it on my orders to O. C. S. There is a legend about a "lost platoon" that went on R & R as its corvette was decommissioned. Its company commander had just been promoted and the other platoons had been attached tactically elsewhere. I've forgotten what happened to the platoon's lieutenant but R & R is a routine time to detach an officer -- theoretically after a relief has been sent to understudy him, but reliefs are always scarce. They say this platoon enjoyed a local year of the fleshpots along Churchill Road before anybody missed them. I don't believe it. But it could happen. The chronic scarcity of officers strongly affected my duties in Blackie's Blackguards. The M. I. Has the lowest percentage of officers in any army of record and this factor is just part of the M. I. 's unique "divisional wedge. " "D. W. " is military jargon but the idea is simple: If you have l0, 000 soldiers, how many fight? And how many just peel potatoes, drive lorries, count graves, and shuffle papers? In the M. I. , 10, 000 men fight. In the mass wars of the XXth century it sometimes took 70, 000 men (fact!) to enable 10, 000 to fight. I admit it takes the Navy to place us where we fight; however, an M. I. Strike force, even in a corvette, is at least three times as large as the transport's Navy crew. It also takes civilians to supply and service us; about 10 per cent of us are on R & R at any time; and a few of the very best of us are rotated to instruct at boot camps. While a few M. I. Are on desk jobs you will always find that they are shy an arm or leg, or some such. These are the ones -- the Sergeant Hos and the Colonel Nielssens -- who refuse to retire, and they really ought to count twice since they release able-bodied M. I. By filling jobs which require fighting spirit but not physical perfection. They do work that civilians can't do or we would hire civilians. Civilians are like beans; you buy `em as needed for any job which merely requires skill and savvy. But you can't buy fighting spirit. It's scarce. We use all of it, waste none. The M. I. Is the smallest army in history for the size of the population it guards. You can't buy an M. I. , you can't conscript him, you can't coerce him -- you can't even keep him if he wants to leave. He can quit thirty seconds before a drop, lose his nerve and not get into his capsule, and all that happens is that he is paid off and can never vote. At O. C. S. We studied armies in history that were driven like galley slaves. But the M. I. Is a free man; all that drives him comes from inside -- that self-respect and need for the respect of his mates and his pride in being one of them called morale, or esprit de corps. The root of our morale is: "Everybody works, everybody fights. " An M. I. Doesn't pull strings to get a soft, safe job; there aren't any. Oh, a trooper will get away with what he can; any private with enough savvy to mark time to music can think up reasons why he should not clean compartments or break out stores; this is a soldier's ancient right. But all "soft, safe" jobs are filled by civilians; that goldbricking private climbs into his capsule certain that everybody, from general to private, is doing it with him. Light-years away and on a different day, or maybe an hour or so later -- -no matter. What does matter is that everybody drops. This is why he enters the capsule, even though he may not be conscious of it. If we ever deviate from this, the M. I. Will go to pieces. All that holds us together is an idea-one that binds more strongly than steel but its magic power depends on keeping it intact. It is this "everybody fights" rule that lets the M. I. Get by with so few officers. I know more about this than I want to, because I asked a foolish question in Military History and got stuck with an assignment which forced me to dig up stuff ranging from De Bello Gallico to Tsing's classic Collapse of The Golden Hegemony. Consider an ideal M. I. Division -- on paper, because you won't find one elsewhere. How many officers does it require? Never mind units attached from other corps; they may not be present during a ruckus and they are not like M. I. -- the special talents attached to Logistics & Communications are all ranked as officers. If it will make a memory man, a telepath, a senser, or a lucky man happy to have me salute him, I'm glad to oblige; he is more valuable than I am and I could not replace him if I lived to be two hundred. Or take the K-9 Corps, which is 50 per cent "officers" but whose other 50 per cent are neodogs. None of these is in the line of command, so let's consider only us apes and what it takes to lead us. This imaginary division has 10, 800 men in 216 platoons, each with a lieutenant. Three platoons to a company calls for 72 captains; four companies to a battalion calls for 18 majors or lieutenant colonels. Six regiments with six colonels can form two or three brigades, each with a short general, plus a medium-tall general as top boss. You wind up with 317 officers out of a total, all ranks, of 11, 117. There are no blank files and every officer commands a team. Officers total 3 per cent -- which is what the M. I. Does have, but arranged somewhat differently. In fact a good many platoons are commanded by sergeants and many officers "wear more than one hat" in order to fill some utterly necessary staff jobs. Even a platoon leader should have "staff" -- his platoon sergeant. But he can get by without one and his sergeant can get by without him. But a general must have staff; the job is too big to carry in his hat. He needs a big planning staff and a small combat staff. Since there are never enough officers, the team commanders in his flag transport double as his planning staff and are picked from the M. I. 's best mathematical logicians then they drop with their own teams. The general drops with a small combat staff, plus a small team of the roughest, on-the-bounce troopers in the M. I. Their job is to keep the general from being bothered by rude strangers while he is managing the battle. Sometimes they succeed. Besides necessary staff billets, any team larger than a platoon ought to have a deputy commander. But there are never enough officers so we make do with what we've got. To fill each necessary combat billet, one job to one officer, would call for a 5 per cent ratio of officers -- but 3 per cent is all we've got. In place of that optimax of 5 per cent that the M. I. Never can reach, many armies in the past commissioned 10 per cent of their number, or even 15 per cent -- and sometimes a preposterous 20 per cent! This sounds like a fairy tale but it was a fact, especially during the XXth century. What kind of an army has more "officers" than corporals? (And more non-coms than privates!) An army organized to lose wars -- if history means anything. An army that is mostly organization, red tape, and overhead, most of whose "soldiers" never fight. But what do "officers" do who do not command fighting men? Fiddlework, apparently -- officers' club officer, morale officer, athletics officer, public information officer, recreation officer, PX officer, transportation officer, legal officer, chaplain, assistant chaplain, junior assistant chaplain, officer-in-charge of anything anybody can think of, even -- nursery officer! In the M. I. , such things are extra duty for combat officers or, if they are real jobs, they are done better and cheaper and without demoralizing a fighting outfit by hiring civilians. But the situation got so smelly in one of the XXth century major powers that real officers, ones who commanded fighting men, were given special insignia to distinguish them from the swarms of swivel-chair hussars. The scarcity of officers got steadily worse as the war wore on, because the casualty rate is always highest among officers . . . And the M. I. Never commissions a man simply to fill vacancy. In the long run, each boot regiment must supply its own share of officers and the percentage can't be raised without lowering the standards. The strike force in the Tours needed thirteen officers -- six platoon leaders, two company commanders and two deputies, and a strike force commander staffed by a deputy and an adjutant. What it had was six . . . And me. Table of Organization "Rump Battalion" Strike Force -- Cpt. Blackstone ("first hat") Fleet Sergeant
I would have been under Lieutenant Silva, but he left for hospital the day I reported, ill with some sort of twitching awfuls. But this did not necessarily mean that I would get his platoon. A temporary third lieutenant is not considered an asset; Captain Blackstone could place me under Lieutenant Bayonne and put a sergeant in charge of his own first platoon, or even "put on a third hat" and take the platoon himself. In fact, he did both and nevertheless assigned me as platoon leader of the first platoon of the Blackguards. He did this by borrowing the Wolverine's best buck sergeant to act as his battalion staffer, then he placed his fleet sergeant as platoon sergeant of his first platoon -- a job two grades below his chevrons. Then Captain Blackstone spelled it out for me in a head-shrinking lecture: I would appear on the T. O. As platoon leader, but Blackie himself and the fleet sergeant would run the platoon. As long as I behaved myself, I could go through the motions. I would even be allowed to drop as platoon leader -- but one word from my platoon sergeant to my company commander and the jaws of the nutcracker would close. It suited me. It was my platoon as long as I could swing it -- and if I couldn't, the sooner I was shoved aside the better for everybody. Besides, it was a lot less nerve-racking to get a platoon that way than by sudden catastrophe in battle. I took my job very seriously, for it was my platoon -- the T. O. Said so. But I had not yet learned to delegate authority and, for about a week, I was around troopers' country much more than is good for a team. Blackie called me into his stateroom. "Son, what in Ned do you think you are doing?" I answered stiffly that I was trying to get my platoon ready for action. "So? Well, that's not what you are accomplishing. You are stirring them like a nest of wild bees. Why the deuce do you think I turned over to you the best sergeant in the Fleet? If you will go to your stateroom, hang yourself on a hook, and stay there! . . . Until `Prepare for Action' is sounded, he'll hand that platoon over to you tuned like a violin. " "As the Captain pleases, sir, " I agreed glumly. "And that's another thing -- I can't stand an officer who acts like a confounded kaydet. Forget that silly third-person talk around me -- save it for generals and the Skipper. Quit bracing your shoulders and clicking your heels. Officers are supposed to look relaxed, son. " "Yes, sir. " "And let that be the last time you say `sir' to me for one solid week. Same for saluting. Get that grim kaydet look off your face and hang a smile on it. " "Yes, s -- Okay. " "That's better. Lean against the bulkhead. Scratch yourself. Yawn. Anything but that tin-soldier act. " I tried . . . And grinned sheepishly as I discovered that breaking a habit is not easy. Leaning was harder work than standing at attention. Captain Blackstone studied me. "Practice it, " he said. "An officer can't look scared or tense; it's contagious. Now tell me, Johnnie, what your platoon needs. Never mind the piddlin' stuff; I'm not interested in whether a man has the regulation number of socks in his locker. " I thought rapidly. "Uh . . . Do you happen to know if Lieutenant Silva intended to put Brumby up for sergeant?" "I do happen to know. What's your opinion?" "Well . . . The record shows that he has been acting section leader the past two months. His efficiency marks are good. " "I asked for your recommendation, Mister. " "Well, s -- Sorry. I've never seen him work on the ground, so I can't have a real opinion; anybody can soldier in the drop room. But the way I see it, he's been acting sergeant too long to bust him back to chaser and promote a squad leader over him. He ought to get that third chevron before we drop or he ought to be transferred when we get back. Sooner, if there's a chance for a spaceside transfer. " Blackie grunted. "You're pretty generous in giving away my Blackguards -- for a third lieutenant. " I turned red. "Just the same, it's a soft spot in my platoon. Brumby ought to be promoted, or transferred. I don't want him back in his old job with somebody promoted over his head; he'd likely turn sour and I'd have an even worse soft spot. If he can't have another chevron, he ought to go to repple-depple for cadre. Then he won't be humiliated and he gets a fair shake to make sergeant in another team -- instead of a dead end here. " "Really?" Blackie did not quite sneer. "After that masterly analysis, apply your powers of deduction and tell me why Lieutenant Silva failed to transfer him three weeks ago when we arrived around Sanctuary. " I had wondered about that. The time to transfer a man is the earliest possible instant after you decide to let him go -- and without warning; it's better for the man and the team -- so says the book. I said slowly, "Was Lieutenant Silva already ill at that time, Captain?" "No. " The pieces matched. "Captain, I recommended Brumby for immediate promotion. " His eyebrows shot up. "A minute ago you were about to dump him as useless. " "Uh, not quite. I said it had to be one or the other -- but I didn't know which. Now I know. " "Continue. " "Uh, this assumes that Lieutenant Silva is an efficient officer -- " "Hummmph! Mister, for your information, `Quick' Silva has an unbroken string of `Excellent -- Recommended for Promotion' on his Form Thirty- One. " "But I knew that he was good, " I plowed on, "because I inherited a good platoon. A good officer might not promote a man for oh, for many reasons -- and still not put his misgivings in writing. But in this case, if he could not recommend him for sergeant, then he wouldn't keep him with the team -- so he would get him out of the ship at the first opportunity. But he didn't. Therefore I know he intended to promote Brumby. " I added, "But I can't see why he didn't push it through three weeks ago, so that Brumby could have worn his third chevron on R & R. " Captain Blackstone grinned. "That's because you don't credit me with being efficient. " "S -- I beg pardon?" "Never mind. You've proved who killed Cock Robin and I don't expect a still-moist kaydet to know all the tricks. But listen and learn, son. As long as this war goes on, don't ever promote a man just before you return to Base. " "Uh . . . Why not, Captain?" "You mentioned sending Brumby to Replacement Depot if he was not to be promoted. But that's just where he would have gone if we had promoted him three weeks ago. You don't know how hungry that non-com desk at repple-depple is. Paw through the dispatch file and you'll find a demand that we supply two sergeants for cadre. With a platoon sergeant being detached for O. C. S. And a buck sergeant spot vacant, I was under complement and able to refuse. " He grinned savagely. "It's a rough war, son, and your own people will steal your best men if you don't watch `em. " He took two sheets of paper out of a drawer. "There -- " One was a letter from Silva to Cap'n Blackie, recommending Brumby for sergeant; it was dated over a month ago. The other was Brumby's warrant for sergeant dated the day after we left Sanctuary. "That suit you?" he asked. "Huh? Oh, yes indeed!" "I've been waiting for you to spot the weak place in your team, and tell me what had to be done. I'm pleased that you figured it out -- but only middlin' pleased because an experienced officer would have analyzed it at once from the T. O. And the service records. Never mind, that's how you gain experience. Now here's what you do. Write me a letter like Silva's; date it yesterday. Tell your platoon sergeant to tell Brumby that you have put him up for a third stripe -- and don't mention that Silva did so. You didn't know that when you made the recommendation, so we'll keep it that way. When I swear Brumby in, I'll let him know that both his officers recommended him independently -- which will make him feel good. Okay, anything more?" "Uh . . . Not in organization -- unless Lieutenant Silva planned to promote Naidi, vice Brumby. In which case we could promote one PFC to lance . . . And that would allow us to promote four privates to PFC, including three vacancies now existing. I don't know whether it's your policy to keep the T. O. Filled up tight or not?" "Might as well, " Blackie said gently, "as you and I know that some of those lads aren't going to have many days in which to enjoy it. Just remember that we don't make a man a PFC until after he has been in combat -- not in Blackie's Blackguards we don't. Figure it out with your platoon sergeant and let me know. No hurry . . . Any time before bedtime tonight. Now . . . Anything else?" "Well -- Captain, I'm worried about the suits. " "So am I. All platoons. " "I don't know about the other platoons, but with five recruits to fit, plus four suits damaged and exchanged, and two more downchecked this past week and replaced from stores -- well, I don't see how Cunha and Navarre can warm up that many and run routine tests on forty-one others and get it all done by our calculated date. Even if no trouble develops -- " "Trouble always develops. " "Yes, Captain. But that's two hundred and eighty-six man-hours just for warm & fit, plus a hundred and twenty-three hours of routine checks. And it always takes longer. " "Well, what do you think can be done? The other platoons will lend you help if they finish their own suits ahead of time. Which I doubt. Don't ask to borrow help from the Wolverines; we're more likely to lend them help. " "Uh . . . Captain, I don't know what you'll think of this, since you told me to stay out of troopers' country. But when I was a corporal, I was assistant to the Ordnance & Armor sergeant. " "Keep talking. " "Well, right at the last I was the O & A sergeant. But I was just standing in another man's shoes -- I'm not a finished O & A mechanic. But I'm a pretty darn good assistant and if I was allowed to, well, I can either warm new suits, or run routine checks -- and give Cunha and Navarre that much more time for trouble. " Blackie leaned back and grinned. "Mister, I have searched the regs carefully . . . And I can't find the one that says an officer mustn't get his hands dirty. " He added, "I mention that because some `young gentlemen' who have been assigned to me apparently had read such a regulation. All right, draw some dungarees -- no need to get your uniform dirty along with your hands. Go aft and find your platoon sergeant, tell him about Brumby and order him to prepare recommendations to close the gaps in the T. O. In case I should decide to confirm your recommendation for Brumby. Then tell him that you are going to put in all your time on ordnance and armor -- and that you want him to handle everything else. Tell him that if he has any problems to look you up in the armory. Don't tell him you consulted me -- just give him orders. Follow me?" "Yes, s -- Yes, I do. " "Okay, get on it. As you pass through the cardroom, please give my compliments to Rusty and tell him to drag his lazy carcass in here. "
For the next two weeks I was never so busy -- not even in boot camp. Working as an ordnance & armor mech about ten hours a day was not all that I did. Math, of course -- and no way to duck it with the Skipper tutoring me. Meals -- say an hour and a half a day. Plus the mechanics of staying alive -- shaving, showering, putting buttons in uniforms and trying to chase down the Navy master-at-arms, get him to unlock the laundry to locate clean uniforms ten minutes before inspection. (It is an unwritten law of the Navy that facilities must always be locked when they are most needed. ) Guard mount, parade, inspections, a minimum of platoon routine, took another hour a day. But besides, I was "George. " Every outfit has a "George. " He's the most junior officer and has the extra jobs -- athletics officer, mail censor, referee for competitions, school officer, correspondence courses officer, prosecutor courts-martial, treasurer of the welfare mutual loan fund, custodian of registered publications, stores officer, troopers' mess officer, et cetera ad endless nauseam. Rusty Graham had been "George" until he happily turned it over to me. He wasn't so happy when I insisted on a sight inventory on everything for which I had to sign. He suggested that if I didn't have sense enough to accept a commissioned officer's signed inventory then perhaps a direct order would change my tune. So I got sullen and told him to put his orders in writing -- with a certified copy so that I could keep the original and endorse the copy over to the team commander. Rusty angrily backed down -- even a second lieutenant isn't stupid enough to put such orders in writing. I wasn't happy either as Rusty was my roommate and was then still my tutor in math, but we held the sight inventory. I got chewed out by Lieutenant Warren for being stupidly officious but he opened his safe and let me check his registered publications. Captain Blackstone opened his with no comment and I couldn't tell whether he approved of my sight inventory or not. Publications were okay but accountable property was not. Poor Rusty! He had accepted his predecessor's count and now the count was short -- and the other officer was not merely gone, he was dead. Rusty spent a restless night (and so did I!), then went to Blackie and told him the truth. Blackie chewed him out, then went over the missing items, found ways to expend most of them as "lost in combat. " It reduced Rusty's shortages to a few days' pay -- but Blackie had him keep the job, thereby postponing the cash reckoning indefinitely. Not all "George" jobs caused that much headache. There were no courts-martial; good combat teams don't have them. There was no mail to censor as the ship was in Cherenkov drive. Same for welfare loans for similar reasons. Athletics I delegated to Brumby; referee was "if and when. " The troopers' mess was excellent; I initialed menus and sometimes inspected the galley, i. E. , I scrounged a sandwich without getting out of dungarees when working late in the armory. Correspondence courses meant a lot of paperwork since quite a few were continuing their educations, war or no war -- but I delegated my platoon sergeant and the records were kept by the PFC who was his clerk. Nevertheless "George" jobs soaked up about two hours every day -- there were so many. You see where this left me -- ten hours O & A, three hours math, meals an hour and a half, personal one hour, military fiddlework one hour, "George" two hours, sleep eight hours total, twenty-six and a half hours. The ship wasn't even on the twenty-five-hour Sanctuary day; once we left we went on Greenwich standard and the universal calendar. The only slack was in my sleeping time. I was sitting in the cardroom about one o'clock one morning, plugging away at math, when Captain Blackstone came in. I said, "Good evening, Captain. " "Morning, you mean. What the deuce ails you, son? Insomnia?" "Uh, not exactly. " He picked up a stack of sheets, remarking, "Can't your sergeant handle your paperwork? Oh, I see. Go to bed. " "But, Captain -- " "Sit back down. Johnnie, I've been meaning to talk to you. I never see you here in the cardroom, evenings. I walk past your room, you're at your desk. When your bunkie goes to bed, you move out here. What's the trouble?" "Well . . . I just never seem to get caught up. " "Nobody ever does. How's the work going in the armory?" "Pretty well. I think we'll make it. " "I think so, too. Look, son, you've got to keep a sense of proportion. You have two prime duties. First is to see that your platoon's equipment is ready -- you're doing that. You don't have to worry about the platoon itself, I told you that. The second -- and just as important -- you've got to be ready to fight. You're muffing that. " "I'll be ready, Captain. " "Nonsense and other comments. You're getting no exercise and losing sleep. Is that how to train for a drop? When you lead a platoon, son, you've got to be on the bounce. From here on you will exercise from sixteen- thirty to eighteen hundred each day. You will be in your sack with lights out at twenty-three hundred -- and if you lie awake fifteen minutes two nights in a row, you will report to the Surgeon for treatment. Orders. " "Yes, sir. " I felt the bulkheads closing in on me and added desperately, "Captain, I don't see how I can get to bed by twenty- three -- and still get everything done. " "Then you won't. As I said, son, you must have a sense of proportion. Tell me how you spend your time. " So I did. He nodded. "Just as I thought. " He picked up my math "homework, " tossed it in front of me. "Take this. Sure, you want to work on it. But why work so hard before we go into action?" "Well, I thought -- " " `Think' is what you didn't do. There are four possibilities, and only one calls for finishing these assignments. First, you might buy a farm. Second, you might buy a small piece and be retired with an honorary commission. Third, you might come through all right . . . But get a downcheck on your Form Thirty-One from your examiner, namely me. Which is just what you're aching for at the present time -- why, son, I won't even let you drop if you show up with eyes red from no sleep and muscles flabby from too much chair parade. The fourth possibility is that you take a grip on yourself . . . In which case I might let you take a swing at leading a platoon. So let's assume that you do and put on the finest show since Achilles slew Hector and I pass you. In that case only -- you'll need to finish these math assignments. So do them on the trip back. "That takes care of that -- I'll tell the Skipper. The rest of those jobs you are relieved of, right now. On our way home you can spend your time on math. If we get home. But you'll never get anywhere if you don't learn to keep first things first. Go to bed!"
A week later we made rendezvous, coming out of drive and coasting short of the speed of light while the fleet exchanged signals. We were sent Briefing, Battle Plan, our Mission & Orders -- a stack of words as long as a novel -- and were told not to drop. Oh, we were to be in the operation but we would ride down like gentlemen, cushioned in retrieval boats. This we could do because the Federation already held the surface; Second, Third, and Fifth M. I. Divisions had taken it -- and paid cash. The described real estate didn't seem worth the price. Planet P is smaller than Terra, with a surface gravity of 0. 7, is mostly arctic-cold ocean and rock, with lichenous flora and no fauna of interest. Its air is not breathable for long, being contaminated with nitrous oxide and too much ozone. Its one continent is about half the size of Australia, plus many worthless islands; it would probably require as much terra-forming as Venus before we could use it. However we were not buying real estate to live on; we went there because Bugs were there -- and they were there on our account, so Staff thought. Staff told us that Planet P was an uncompleted advance base (prob. 87+-6 per cent) to be used against us. Since the planet was no prize, the routine way to get rid of this Bug base would be for the Navy to stand off at a safe distance and render this ugly spheroid uninhabitable by Man or Bug. But the C-in-C had other ideas. The operation was a raid. It sounds incredible to call a battle involving hundreds of ships and thousands of casualties a "raid, " especially as, in the meantime, the Navy and a lot of other cap troopers were keeping things stirred up many light-years into Bug space in order to divert them from reinforcing Planet P. But the C-in-C was not wasting men; this giant raid could determine who won the war, whether next year or thirty years hence. We needed to learn more about Bug psychology. Must we wipe out every Bug in the Galaxy? Or was it possible to trounce them and impose a peace? We did not know; we understood them as little as we understand termites. To learn their psychology we had to communicate with them, learn their motivations, find out why they fought and under what conditions they would stop; for these, the Psychological Warfare Corps needed prisoners. Workers are easy to capture. But a Bug worker is hardly more than animate machinery. Warriors can be captured by burning off enough limbs to make them helpless -- but they are almost as stupid without a director as workers. From such prisoners our own professor types had learned important matters -- the development of that oily gas that killed them but not us came from analyzing the biochemistries of workers and warriors, and we had had other new weapons from such research even in the short time I had been a cap trooper. But to discover why Bugs fight we needed to study members of their brain caste. Also, we hoped to exchange prisoners. So far, we had never taken a brain Bug alive. We had either cleaned out colonies from the surface, as on Sheol, or (as had too often been the case) raiders had gone down their holes and not come back. A lot of brave men had been lost this way. Still more had been lost through retrieval failure. Sometimes a team on the ground had its ship or ships knocked out of the sky. What happens to such a team? Possibly it dies to the last man. More probably it fights until power and ammo are gone, then survivors are captured as easily as so many beetles on their backs. From our co belligerents the Skinnies we knew that many missing troopers were alive as prisoners -- thousands we hoped, hundreds we were sure. Intelligence believed that prisoners were always taken to Klendathu; the Bugs are as curious about us as we are about them -- a race of individuals able to build cities, starships, armies, may be even more mysterious to a hive entity than a hive entity is to us. As may be, we wanted those prisoners back! In the grim logic of the universe this may be a weakness. Perhaps some race that never bothers to rescue an individual may exploit this human trait to wipe us out. The Skinnies have such a trait only slightly and the Bugs don't seem to have it at all -- nobody ever saw a Bug come to the aid of another because he was wounded; they cooperate perfectly in fighting but units are abandoned the instant they are no longer useful. Our behavior is different. How often have you seen a headline like this? -- TWO DIE ATTEMPTING RESCUE OF DROWNING CHILD. If a man gets lost in the mountains, hundreds will search and often two or three searchers are killed. But the next time somebody gets lost just as many volunteers turn out. Poor arithmetic . . . But very human. It runs through all our folklore, all human religions, all our literature a racial conviction that when one human needs rescue, others should not count the price. Weakness? It might be the unique strength that wins us a Galaxy. Weakness or strength, Bugs don't have it; there was no prospect of trading fighters for fighters. But in a hive polyarchy, some castes are valuable or so our Psych Warfare people hoped. If we could capture brain Bugs, alive and undamaged, we might be able to trade on good terms. And suppose we captured a queen! What is a queen's trading value? A regiment of troopers? Nobody knew, but Battle Plan ordered us to capture Bug "royalty, " brains and queens, at any cost, on the gamble that we could trade them for human beings. The third purpose of Operation Royalty was to develop methods: how to go down, how to dig them out, how to win with less than total weapons. Trooper for warrior, we could now defeat them above ground; ship for ship, our Navy was better; but, so far, we had had no luck when we tried to go down their holes. If we failed to exchange prisoners on any terms, then we still had to: (a) win the war, (b) do so in a way that gave us a fighting chance to rescue our own people, or (c) -- might as well admit it -- die trying and lose. Planet P was a field test to determine whether we could learn how to root them out. Briefing was read to every trooper and he heard it again in his sleep during hypno preparation. So, while we all knew that Operation Royalty was laying the groundwork toward eventual rescue of our mates, we also knew that Planet P held no human prisoners -- it had never been raided. So there was no reason to buck for medals in a wild hope of being personally in on a rescue; it was just another Bug hunt, but conducted with massive force and new techniques. We were going to peel that planet like an onion, until we knew that every Bug had been dug out. The Navy had plastered the islands and that unoccupied part of the continent until they were radioactive glaze; we could tackle Bugs with no worries about our rear. The Navy also maintained a ball-of-yarn patrol in tight orbits around the planet, guarding us, escorting transports, keeping a spy watch on the surface to make sure that Bugs did not break out behind us despite that plastering. Under the Battle Plan, the orders for Blackie's Blackguards charged us with supporting the prime Mission when ordered or as opportunity presented, relieving another company in a captured area, protecting units of other corps in that area, maintaining contact with M. I. Units around us - - and smacking down any Bugs that showed their ugly heads.
So we rode down in comfort to an unopposed landing. I took my platoon out at a powered-armor trot. Blackie went ahead to meet the company commander he was relieving, get the situation and size up the terrain. He headed for the horizon like a scared jack rabbit. I had Cunha send his first section's scouts out to locate the forward corners of my patrol area and I sent my platoon sergeant off to my left to make contact with a patrol from the Fifth Regiment. We, the Third Regiment, had a grid three hundred miles wide and eighty miles deep to hold; my piece was a rectangle forty miles deep and seventeen wide in the extreme left flank forward corner. The Wolverines were behind us, Lieutenant Khoroshen's platoon on the right and Rusty beyond him. Our First Regiment had already relieved a Vth Div. Regiment ahead of us, with a "brick wall" overlap which placed them on my corner as well as ahead. "Ahead" and "rear, " "right flank" and "left, " referred to orientation set up in deadreckoning tracers in each command suit to match the grid of the Battle Plan. We had no true front, simply an area, and the only fighting at the moment was going on several hundred miles away, to our arbitrary right and rear. Somewhere off that way, probably two hundred miles, should be 2nd platoon, G Co, 2nd Batt, 3rd Reg -- commonly known as "The Roughnecks. " Or the Roughnecks might be forty light-years away. Tactical organization never matches the Table of Organization; all I knew from Plan was that something called the "2nd Batt" was on our right flank beyond the boys from the Normandy Beach. But that battalion could have been borrowed from another division. The Sky Marshal plays his chess without consulting the pieces. Anyhow, I should not be thinking about the Roughnecks; I had all I could do as a Blackguard. My platoon was okay for the moment -- safe as you can be on a hostile planet -- but I had plenty to do before Cunha's first squad reached the far corner. I needed to: 1. Locate the platoon leader who had been holding my area. 2. Establish corners and identify them to section and squad leaders. 3. Make contact liaison with eight platoon leaders on my sides and corners, five of whom should already be in position (those from Fifth and First Regiments) and three (Khoroshen of the Blackguards and Bayonne and Sukarno of the Wolverines) who were now moving into position. 4. Get my own boys spread out to their initial points as fast as possible by shortest routes. The last had to be set up first, as the open column in which we disembarked would not do it. Brumby's last squad needed to deploy to the left flank; Cunha's leading squad needed to spread from dead ahead to left oblique; the other four squads must fan out in between. This is a standard square deployment and we had simulated how to reach it quickly in the drop room; I called out: "Cunha! Brumby! Time to spread `em out, " using the non-com circuit. "Roger sec one!" -- "Roger sec two!" "Section leaders take charge . . . And caution each recruit. You'll be passing a lot of Cherubs. I don't want `em shot at by mistake!" I bit down for my private circuit and said, "Sarge, you got contact on the left?" "Yes, sir. They see me, they see you. " "Good. I don't see a beacon on our anchor corner -- " "Missing. " " -- so you coach Cunha by D. R. Same for the lead scout -- that's Hughes -- and have Hughes set a new beacon. " I wondered why the Third or Fifth hadn't replaced that anchor beacon -- my forward left corner where three regiments came together. No use talking. I went on: "D. R. Check. You bear two seven five, miles twelve. " "Sir, reverse is nine six, miles twelve scant. " "Close enough. I haven't found my opposite number yet, so I'm cutting out forward at max. Mind the shop. " "Got `em, Mr. Rico. " I advanced at max speed while clicking over to officers' circuit: "Square Black One, answer. Black One, Chang's Cherubs -- do you read me? Answer. " I wanted to talk with the leader of the platoon we were relieving -- and not for any perfunctory I-relieve-you-sir: I wanted the ungarnished word. I didn't like what I had seen. Either the top brass had been optimistic in believing that we had mounted overwhelming force against a small, not fully developed Bug base -- or the Blackguards had been awarded the spot where the roof fell in. In the few moments I had been out of the boat I had spotted half a dozen armored suits on the ground -- empty I hoped, dead men possibly, but `way too many any way you looked at it. Besides that, my tactical radar display showed a full platoon (my own) moving into position but only a scattering moving back toward retrieval or still on station. Nor could I see any system to their movements. I was responsible for 680 square miles of hostile terrain and I wanted very badly to find out all I could before my own squads were deep into it. Battle Plan had ordered a new tactical doctrine which I found dismaying: Do not close the Bugs tunnels. Blackie had explained this as if it had been his own happy thought, but I doubt if he liked it. The strategy was simple, and, I guess, logical . . . If we could afford the losses. Let the Bugs come up. Meet them and kill them on the surface. Let them keep on coming up. Don't bomb their holes, don't gas their holes -- let them out. After a while -- a day, two days, a week if we really did have overwhelming force, they would stop coming up. Planning Staff estimated (don't ask me how!) that the Bugs would expend 70 per cent to 90 per cent of their warriors before they stopped trying to drive us off the surface. Then we would start the unpeeling, killing surviving warriors as we went down and trying to capture "royalty" alive. We knew what the brain caste looked like; we had seen them dead (in photographs) and we knew they could not run -- barely functional legs, bloated bodies that were mostly nervous system. Queens no human had ever seen, but Bio War Corps had prepared sketches of what they should look like -- obscene monsters larger than a horse and utterly immobile. Besides brains and queens there might be other "royalty" castes. As might be -- encourage their warriors to come out and die, then capture alive anything but warriors and workers. A necessary plan and very pretty, on paper. What it meant to me was that I had an area 17 x 40 miles which might be riddled with unstopped Bug holes. I wanted co-ordinates on each one. If there were too many . . . Well, I might accidentally plug a few and let my boys concentrate on watching the rest. A private in a marauder suit can cover a lot of terrain, but he can look at only one thing at a time; he is not superhuman. I bounced several miles ahead of the first squad, still calling the Cherub platoon leader, varying it by calling any Cherub officer and describing the pattern of my transponder beacon (dah-di-dah-dah). No answer -- At last I got a reply from my boss: "Johnnie! Knock off the noise. Answer me on conference circuit. " So I did, and Blackie told me crisply to quit trying to find the Cherub leader for Square Black One; there wasn't one. Oh, there might be a non-com alive somewhere but the chain of command had broken. By the book, somebody always moves up. But it does happen if too many links are knocked out. As Colonel Nielssen had once warned me, in the dim past . . . Almost a month ago. Captain Chang had gone into action with three officers besides himself; there was one left now (my classmate, Abe Moise) and Blackie was trying to find out from him the situation. Abe wasn't much help. When I joined the conference and identified myself, Abe thought I was his battalion commander and made a report almost heartbreakingly precise, especially as it made no sense at all. Blackie interrupted and told me to carry on. "Forget about a relief briefing. The situation is whatever you see that it is -- so stir around and see. " "Right, Boss!" I slashed across my own area toward the far corner, the anchor corner, as fast as I could move, switching circuits on my first bounce. "Sarge! How about that beacon?" "No place on that corner to put it, sir. A fresh crater there, about scale six. " I whistled to myself. You could drop the Tours into a size six crater. One of the dodges the Bugs used on us when we were sparring, ourselves on the surface, Bugs underground, was land mines. (They never seemed to use missiles, except from ships in space. ) If you were near the spot, the ground shock got you; if you were in the air when one went off, the concussion wave could tumble your gyros and throw your suit out of control. I had never seen larger than a scale-four crater. The theory was that they didn't dare use too big an explosion because of damage to their troglodyte habitats, even if they cofferdammed around it. "Place an offset beacon, " I told him. "Tell section and squad leaders. " "I have, sir. Angle one one oh, miles one point three. Da-di- dit. You should be able to read it, bearing about three threezfive from where you are. " He sounded as calm as a sergeant-instructor at drill and I wondered if I were letting my voice get shrill. I found it in my display, above my left eyebrow -- long and two shorts. "Okay. I see Cunha's first squad is nearly in position. Break off that squad, have it patrol the crater. Equalize the areas -- Brumby will have to take four more miles of depth. " I thought with annoyance that each man already had to patrol fourteen square miles; spreading the butter so thin meant seventeen square miles per man -- and a Bug can come out of a hole less that five feet wide. I added, "How `hot' is that crater?" "Amber-red at the edge. I haven't been in it, sir. " "Stay out of it. I'll check it later. " Amber-red would kill an unprotected human but a trooper in armor can take it for quite a time. If there was that much radiation at the edge, the bottom would no doubt fry your eyeballs. "Tell Naidi to pull Malan and Bjork back to amber zone, and have them set up ground listeners. " Two of my five recruits were in that first squad -- and recruits are like puppies; they stick their noses into things. "Tell Naidi that I am interested in two things: movement inside the crater . . . And noises in the ground around it. " We wouldn't send troopers out through a hole so radioactive that mere exit would kill them. But Bugs would, if they could reach us that way. "Have Naidi report to me. To you and me. I mean. " "Yes, sir. " My platoon sergeant added, "May I make a suggestion?" "Of course. And don't stop to ask permission next time. " "Navarre can handle the rest of the first section. Sergeant Cunha could take the squad at the crater and leave Naidi free to supervise the ground-listening watch. " I know what he was thinking. Naidi, so newly a corporal that he had never before had a squad on the ground, was hardly the man to cover what looked like the worst danger point in Square Black One; he wanted to pull Naidi back for the same reasons I had pulled the recruits back. I wonder if he knew what I was thinking? That "nut-cracker" -- he was using the suit he had worn as Blackie's battalion staffer, he had one more circuit than I had, a private one to Captain Blackstone. Blackie was probably patched in and listening via that extra circuit. Obviously my platoon sergeant did not agree with my disposition of the platoon. If I didn't take his advice, the next thing I heard might be Blackie's voice cutting in: "Sergeant, take charge. Mr. Rico, you're relieved. " But -- Confound it, a corporal who wasn't allowed to boss his squad wasn't a corporal . . . And a platoon leader who was just a ventriloquist's dummy for his platoon sergeant was an empty suit! I didn't mull this. It flashed through my head and I answered at once. "I can't spare a corporal to baby-sit with two recruits. Nor a sergeant to boss four privates and a lance. " "But -- " "Hold it. I want the crater watch relieved every hour. I want our first patrol sweep made rapidly. Squad leaders will check any hole reported and get beacon bearings so that section leaders, platoon sergeant and platoon leader can check them as they reach them. If there aren't too many, we'll put a watch on each -- I'll decide later. " "Yes, sir. " "Second time around, I want a slow patrol, as tight as possible, to catch holes we miss on the first sweep. Assistant squad leaders will use snoopers on that pass. Squad leaders will get bearings on any troopers -- or suits -- on the ground; the Cherubs may have left some live wounded. But no one is to stop even to check physicals until I order it. We've got to know the Bug situation first. " "Yes, sir. " "Suggestions?" "Just one, " he answered. "I think the squad chasers should use their snoopers on that first fast pass. " "Very well, do it that way. " His suggestion made sense as the surface air temperature was much lower than the Bugs use in their tunnels; a camouflaged vent hole should show a plume like a geyser by infrared vision. I glanced at my display. "Cunha's boys are almost at limit. Start your parade. ' "Very well, sir!" "Off. " I clicked over to the wide circuit and continued to make tracks for the crater while I listened to everybody at once as my platoon sergeant revised the pre-plan -- cutting out one squad, heading it for the crater, starting the rest of the first section in a two-squad countermarch while keeping the second section in a rotational sweep as pre-planned but with four miles increased depth; got the sections moving, dropped them and caught the first squad as it converged on the anchor corner crater, gave it its instructions; cut back to the section leaders in plenty of time to give them new beacon bearings at which to make their turns. He did it with the smart precision of a drum major on parade and he did it faster and in fewer words than I could have done it. Extended- order powered-suit drill, with a platoon spread over many miles of countryside, is much more difficult than the strutting precision of parade -- but it has to be exact, or you'll blow the head off your mate in action . . . Or, as in this case, you sweep part of the terrain twice and miss another part. But the drillmaster has only a radar display of his formation; he can see with his eyes only those near him. While I listened, I watched it in my own display -- glowworms crawling past my face in precise lines, "crawling" because even forty miles an hour is a slow crawl when you compress a formation twenty miles across into a display a man can see. I listened to everybody at once because I wanted to hear the chatter inside the squads. There wasn't any. Cunha and Brumby gave their secondary commands - - and shut up. The corporals sang out only as squad changes were necessary; section and squad chasers called out occasional corrections of interval or alignment -- and privates said nothing at all. I heard the breathing of fifty men like muted sibilance of surf, broken only by necessary orders in the fewest possible words. Blackie had been right; the platoon had been handed over to me "tuned like a violin. " They didn't need me! I could go home and my platoon would get along just as well. Maybe better -- I wasn't sure I had been right in refusing to cut Cunha out to guard the crater; if trouble broke there and those boys couldn't be reached in time, the excuse that I had done it "by the book" was worthless. If you get killed, or let some- body else get killed, "by the book" it's just as permanent as any other way. I wondered if the Roughnecks had a spot open for a buck sergeant.
Most of Square Black One was as flat as the prairie around Camp Currie and much more barren. For this I was thankful; it gave us our only chance of spotting a Bug coming up from below and getting him first. We were spread so widely that four-mile intervals between men and about six minutes between waves of a fast sweep was as tight a patrol as we could manage. This isn't tight enough; any one spot would remain free of observation for at least three or four minutes between patrol waves -- and a lot of Bugs can come out of a very small hole in three to four minutes. Radar can see farther than eye, of course, but it cannot see as accurately. In addition we did not dare use anything but short-range selective weapons -- our own mates were spread around us in all directions. If a Bug popped up and you let fly with something lethal, it was certain that not too far beyond that Bug was a cap trooper; this sharply limits the range and force of the frightfulness you dare use. On this operation only officers and platoon sergeants were armed with rockets and, even so, we did not expect to use them. If a rocket fails to find its target, it has a nasty habit of continuing to search until it finds one . . . And it cannot tell friend from foe; a brain that can be stuffed into a small rocket is fairly stupid. I would happily have swapped that area patrol, with thousands of M. I. Around us, for a simple one-platoon strike in which you know where your own people are and anything else is an enemy target. I didn't waste time moaning; I never stopped bouncing toward that anchor-corner crater while watching the ground and trying to watch the radar picture as well. I didn't find any Bug holes but I did jump over a dry wash, almost a canyon, which could conceal quite a few. I didn't stop to see; I simply gave its co ordinates to my platoon sergeant and told him to have somebody check it. That crater was even bigger than I had visualized; the Tours would have been lost in it. I shifted my radiation counter to directional cascade, took readings on floor and sides -- red to multiple red right off the scale, very unhealthy for long exposure even to a man in armor; I estimated its width and depth by helmet range finder, then prowled around and tried to spot openings leading underground. I did not find any but I did run into crater watches set out by adjacent platoons of the Fifth and First Regiments, so I arranged to split up the watch by sectors such that the combined watch could yell for help from all three platoons, the patch-in to do this being made through First Lieutenant Do Campo of the "Head Hunters" on our left. Then I pulled out Naidi's lance and half his squad (including the recruits) and sent them back to platoon, reporting all this to my boss, and to my platoon sergeant. "Captain, " I told Blackie, "we aren't getting any ground vibrations I'm going down inside and check for holes. The readings show that I won't get too much dosage if I -- " "Youngster, stay out of that crater. " "But Captain, I just meant to -- " "Shut up. You can't learn anything useful. Stay out. " "Yes, sir. " The next nine hours were tedious. We had been preconditioned for forty hours of duty (two revolutions of Planet P) through forced sleep, elevated blood sugar count, and hypno indoctrination, and of course the suits are self-contained for personal needs. The suits can't last that long, but each man was carrying extra power units and super H. P. Air cartridges for recharging. But a patrol with no action is dull, it is easy to goof off. I did what I could think of, having Cunha and Brumby take turns as drill sergeant (thus leaving platoon sergeant and leader free to rove around): I gave orders that no sweeps were to repeat in pattern so that each man would always check terrain that was new to him. There are endless patterns to cover a given area, by combining the combinations. Besides that, I consulted my platoon sergeant and announced bonus points toward honor squad for first verified hole, first Bug destroyed, etc. -- boot camp tricks, but staying alert means staying alive, so anything to avoid boredom. Finally we had a visit from a special unit, three combat engineers in a utility air car, escorting a talent -- a spatial senser. Blackie warned me to expect them. "Protect them and give them what they want. " "Yes, sir. What will they need?" "How should I know? If Major Landry wants you to take off your skin and dance in your bones, do it!" "Yes, sir. Major Landry. " I relayed the word and set up a bodyguard by sub-areas. Then I met them as they arrived because I was curious; I had never seen a special talent at work. They landed inside my right flank rear and got out. Major Landry and two officers were wearing armor and hand flamers but the talent had no armor and no weapons -- just an oxygen mask. He was dressed in a fatigue uniform without insignia and he seemed terribly bored by everything. I was not introduced to him. He looked like a sixteen-year old boy . . . Until I got close and saw a network of wrinkles around his weary eyes. As he got out he took off his breathing mask. I was horrified, so I spoke to Major Landry, helmet to helmet without radio. "Major -- the air around here is `hot. ' Besides that, we've been warned that -- " "Pipe down, " said the Major. "He knows it. " I shut up. The talent strolled a short distance, turned and pulled his lower lip. His eyes were closed and he seemed lost in thought. He opened them and said fretfully, "How can one be expected to work with all those silly people jumping around?" Major Landry said crisply, "Ground your platoon. " I gulped and started to argue -- then cut in the all-hands circuit: "First Platoon Blackguards -- ground and freeze!" It speaks well for Lieutenant Silva that all I heard was a double echo of my order, as it was repeated down to squad. I said, "Major, can I let them move around on the ground?" "No. And shut up. " Presently the senser got back in the car, put his mask on. There wasn't room for me, but I was allowed -- ordered, really -- to grab on and be towed; we shifted a couple of miles. Again the senser took off his mask and walked around. This time he spoke to one of the other combat engineers, who kept nodding and sketching on a pad. The special-mission unit landed about a dozen times in my area, each time going through the same apparently pointless routine; then they moved on into the Fifth Regiment's grid. Just before they left, the officer who had been sketching pulled a sheet out of the bottom of his sketch box and handed it to me. "Here's your sub map. The wide red band is the only Bug boulevard in your area. It is nearly a thousand feet down where it enters but it climbs steadily toward your left rear and leaves at about minus four hundred fifty. The light blue net-work joining it is a big Bug colony; the only places where it comes within a hundred feet of the surface I have marked. You might put some listeners there until we can get over here and handle it. " I stared at it. "Is this map reliable?" The engineer officer glanced at the senser, then said very quietly to me, "Of course it is, you idiot! What are you trying to do? Upset him?" They left while I was studying it. The artist-engineer had done double sketching and the box had combined them into a stereo picture of the first thousand feet under the surface. I was so bemused by it that I had to be reminded to take the platoon out of "freeze" -- then I withdrew the ground listeners from the crater, pulled two men from each squad and gave them bearings from that infernal map to have them listen along the Bug highway and over the town. I reported it to Blackie. He cut me off as I started to describe the Bug tunnels by co-ordinates. "Major Landry relayed a facsimile to me. Just give me co-ordinates of your listening posts. " I did so. He said, "Not bad, Johnnie. But not quite what I want, either. You've placed more listeners than you need over their mapped tunnels. String four of them along that Bug race track, place four more in a diamond around their town. That leaves you four. Place one in the triangle formed by your right rear corner and the main tunnel; the other three go in the larger area on the other side of the tunnel. " "Yes, sir. " I added, "Captain, can we depend on this map?" "What's troubling you?" "Well . . . It seems like magic. Uh, black magic. " "Oh. Look, son, I've got a special message from the Sky Marshal to you. He says to tell you that map is official . . . And that he will worry about everything else so that you can give full time to your platoon. Follow me?" "Uh, yes, Captain. " "But the Bugs can burrow mighty fast, so you give special attention to the listening posts outside the area of the tunnels. Any noise from those four outside posts louder than a butterfly's roar is to be reported at once, regardless of its nature. " "Yes, sir. " "When they burrow, it makes a noise like frying bacon -- in case you've never heard it. Stop your patrol sweeps. Leave one man on visual observation of the crater. Let half your platoon sleep for two hours, while the other half pairs off to take turns listening. " "Yes, sir. " "You may see some more combat engineers. Here's the revised plan. A sapper company will blast down and cork that main tunnel where it comes nearest the surface, either at your left flank, or beyond in `Head Hunter' territory. At the same time another engineer company will do the same where that tunnel branches about thirty miles off to your right in the First Regiment's bailiwick. When the corks are in, a long chunk of their main street and a biggish settlement will be cut off. Meanwhile, the same sort of thing will be going on a lot of other places. Thereafter -- we'll see. Either the Bugs break through to the surface and we have a pitched battle, or they sit tight and we go down after them, a sector at a time. " "I see. " I wasn't sure that I did, but I understood my part: rearrange my listening posts; let half my platoon sleep. Then a Bug hunt -- on the surface if we were lucky, underground if we had to. "Have your flank make contact with that sapper company when it arrives. Help `em if they want help. " "Right, Cap'n, " I agreed heartily. Combat engineers are almost as good an outfit as the infantry; it's a pleasure to work with them. In a pinch they fight, maybe not expertly but bravely. Or they go ahead with their work, not even lifting their heads, while a battle rages around them. They have an unofficial, very cynical and very ancient motto: "First we dig `em, then we die in `em, " to supplement their official motto: "Can do!" Both mottoes are literal truth. "Get on it, son. " Twelve listening posts meant that I could put a half squad at each post, either a corporal or his lance, plus three privates, then allow two of each group of four to sleep while the other two took turns listening. Navarre and the other section chaser could watch the crater and sleep, turn about, while section sergeants could take turns in charge of the platoon. The redisposition took no more than ten minutes once I had detailed the plan and given out bearings to the sergeants; nobody had to move very far. I warned everybody to keep eyes open for a company of engineers. As soon as each section reported its listening posts in operation I clicked to the wide circuit: "Odd numbers! Lie down, prepare to sleep . . . One . . . Two ... Three . . . Four . . . Five -- sleep!" A suit is not a bed, but it will do. One good thing about hypno preparation for combat is that, in the unlikely event of a chance to rest, a man can be put to sleep instantly by post hypnotic command triggered by someone who is not a hypnotist -- and awakened just as instantly, alert and ready to fight. It is a life-saver, because a man can get so exhausted In battle that he shoots at things that aren't there and can't see what he should be fighting. But I had no intention of sleeping. I had not been told to and I had not asked. The very thought of sleeping when I knew that perhaps many thousands of Bugs were only a few hundred feet away made my stomach jump. Maybe that senser was infallible, perhaps the Bugs could not reach us without alerting our listening posts. Maybe -- But I didn't want to chance it. I clicked to my private circuit. "Sarge -- " "Yes, sir?" "You might as well get a nap. I'll be on watch. Lie down and prepare to sleep . . . One . . . Two -- " "Excuse me, sir. I have a suggestion. " "Yes?" "If I understand the revised plan, no action is expected for the next four hours. You could take a nap now, and then -- " "Forget it, Sarge! I am not going to sleep; I am going to make the rounds of the listening posts and watch for that sapper company. " "Very well, sir. " "I'll check number three while I'm here. You stay there with Brumby and catch some rest while I -- " "Johnnie!" I broke off. "Yes, Captain?" Had the Old Man been listening? "Are your posts all set?" "Yes, Captain, and my odd numbers are sleeping. I am about to inspect each post. Then -- " "Let your sergeant do it. I want you to rest. " "But, Captain -- " "Lie down. That's a direct order. Prepare to sleep . . . One . . . Two . . . Three -- Johnnie!" "Captain, with your permission, I would like to inspect my posts first. Then I'll rest, if you say so, but I would rather remain awake. I -- " Blackie guffawed in my ear. "Look, son, you've slept for an hour and ten minutes. " "Sir?" "Check the time. " I did so and felt foolish. "You wide awake, son?" "Yes, sir. I think so. " "Things have speeded up. Call your odd numbers and put your even numbers to sleep. With luck, they may get an hour. So swap `em around, inspect your posts, and call me back. " I did so and started my rounds without a word to my platoon sergeant. I was annoyed at both him and Blackie -- at my company commander because I resented being put to sleep against my wishes; and as for my platoon sergeant, I had a dirty hunch that it wouldn't have been done if he weren't the real boss and myself just a figurehead. But after I had checked posts number three and one (no sounds of any sort, both were forward of the Bug area), I cooled down. After all, blaming a sergeant, even a fleet sergeant, for something a captain did was silly. "Sarge-" "Yes, Mr. Rico?" "Do you want to catch a nap with the even numbers? I'll wake you a minute or two before I wake them. " He hesitated slightly. "Sir, I'd like to inspect the listening posts myself. " "Haven't you already?" "No, sir. I've been asleep the past hour. " "Huh?" He sounded embarrassed. "The Captain required me to do so. He placed Brumby temporarily in charge and put me to sleep immediately after he relieved you. " I started to answer, then laughed helplessly. "Sarge? Let's you and I go off somewhere and go back to sleep. We're wasting our time; Cap'n Blackie is running this platoon. " "I have found, sir, " he answered stiffly, "that Captain Blackstone invariably has a reason for anything he does. " I nodded thoughtfully, forgetting that I was ten miles from my listener. "Yes. You're right, he always has a reason. Mmm . . . Since he had us both sleep, he must want us both awake and alert now. " "I think that must be true. " "Mmm . . . Any idea why?" He was rather long in answering. "Mr. Rico, " he said slowly, "if the Captain knew he would tell us; I've never known him to hold back information. But sometimes he does things a certain way without being able to explain why. The Captain's hunches -- well, I've learned to respect them. " "So? Squad leaders are all even numbers; they're asleep. " "Yes, sir. " "Alert the lance of each squad. We won't wake anybody . . . But when we do, seconds may be important. " "Right away. " I checked the remaining forward post, then covered the four posts bracketing the Bug village, jacking my phones in parallel with each listener. I had to force myself to listen, because you could hear them, down there below, chittering to each other. I wanted to run and it was all I could do not to let it show. I wondered if that "special talent" was simply a man with incredibly acute hearing. Well, no matter how he did it, the Bugs were where he said they were. Back at O. C. S. We had received demonstrations of recorded Bug noises; these four posts were picking up typical nest noises of a large Bug town -- that chittering which may be their speech (though why should they need to talk if they are all remotely controlled by the brain caste?), a rustling like sticks and dry leaves, a high background whine which is always heard at a settlement and which had to be machinery -- their air conditioning perhaps. I did not hear the hissing, crackling noise they make in cutting through rock. The sounds along the Bug boulevard were unlike the settlement sounds -- a low background rumble which increased to a roar every few moments, as if heavy traffic were passing. I listened at post number five, then got an idea -- checked it by having the stand-by man at each of the four posts along the tunnel call out "Mark!" to me each time the roaring got loudest. Presently I reported. "Captain -- " "Yeah, Johnnie?" "The traffic along this Bug race is all moving one way, from me toward you. Speed is approximately a hundred and ten miles per hour, a load goes past about once a minute. " "Close enough, " he agreed. "I make it one-oh-eight with a headway of fifty-eight seconds. " "Oh. " I felt dashed, and changed the subject. "I haven't seen that sapper company. " "You won't. They picked a spot in the middle rear of `Head Hunter' area. Sorry, I should have told you. Anything more?" "No, sir. " We clicked off and I felt better. Even Blackie could forget . . . And there hadn't been anything wrong with my idea. I left the tunnel zone to inspect the listening post to right and rear of the Bug area, post twelve. As with the others, there were two men asleep, one listening, one stand-by. I said to the stand-by, "Getting anythin?" "No, sir. " The man listening, one of my five recruits, looked up and said, "Mr. Rico, I think this pickup has just gone sour. " "I'll check it, " I said. He moved to let me jack in with him. "Frying bacon" so loud you could smell it! I hit the all-hands circuit. "First platoon up! Wake up, call off, and report!" -- And clicked over to officers' circuit. "Captain! Captain Blackstone! Urgent!" "Slow down, Johnnie. Report. " " `Frying bacon' sounds, sir, " I answered, trying desperately to keep my voice steady. "Post twelve at co-ordinates Easter Nine, Square Black One. " "Easter Nine, " he agreed. "Decibels?" I looked hastily at the meter on the pickup. "I don't know, Captain. Off the scale at the max end. It sounds like they're right under my feet!" "Good!" he applauded -- and I wondered how he could feel that way. "Best news we've had today! Now listen, son. Get your lads awake -- " "They are, sir!" "Very well. Pull back two listeners, have them spot-check around post twelve. Try to figure where the Bugs are going to break out. And stay away from that spot! Understand me?" "I hear you, sir, " I said carefully. "But I do not understand. " He sighed. "Johnnie, you'll turn my hair gray yet. Look, son, we want them to come out, the more the better. You don't have the firepower to handle them other than by blowing up their tunnel as they reach the surface -- and that is the one thing you must not do! If they come out in force, a regiment can't handle them. But that's just what the General wants, and he's got a brigade of heavy weapons in orbit, waiting for it. So you spot that breakthrough, fall back, and keep it under observation. If you are lucky enough to have a major breakthrough in your area, your reconnaissance will be patched through all the way to the top. So stay lucky and stay alive! Got it?" "Yes, sir. Spot the breakthrough. Fall back and avoid contact. Observe and report. " "Get on it!" I pulled back listeners nine and ten from the middle stretch of "Bug Boulevard" and had them close in on co-ordinates Easter Nine from right and left, stopping every half mile to listen for "frying bacon. " At the same time I lifted post twelve and moved it toward our rear, while checking for a dying away of the sound. In the meantime my platoon sergeant was regrouping the platoon in the forward area between the Bug settlement and the crater -- all but twelve men who were ground-listening. Since we were under orders not to attack, we both worried over the prospect of having the platoon spread too widely for mutual support. So he rearranged them in a compact line five miles long, with Brumby's section on the left, nearer the Bug settlement. This placed the men less than three hundred yards apart (almost shoulder to shoulder for cap troopers), and put nine of the men still on listening stations within support distance of one flank or the other. Only the three listeners working with me were out of reach of ready help. I told Bayonne of the Wolverines and Do Campo of the Head Hunters that I was no longer patrolling and why, and I reported our regrouping to Captain Blackstone. He grunted. "Suit yourself. Got a prediction on that breakthrough?" "It seems to center about Easter Ten, Captain, but it is hard to pin down. The sounds are very loud in an area about three miles across and it seems to get wider. I'm trying to circle it at an intensity level just barely on scale. " I added, "Could they be driving a new horizontal tunnel just under the surface?" He seemed surprised. "That's possible. I hope not -- we want them to come up. " He added, "Let me know if the center of noise moves. Check on it. " "Yes, sir. Captain -- " "Huh? Speak up. " "You told us not to attack when they break out. If they break out. What are we to do? Are we just spectators?" There was a longish delay, fifteen or twenty seconds, and he may have consulted "upstairs. " At last he said, "Mr. Rico, you are not to attack at or near Easter Ten. Anywhere else -- the idea is to hunt Bugs. " "Yes, sir. " I agreed happily. "We hunt Bugs. " "Johnnie!" he said sharply. "If you go hunting medals instead of Bugs -- and I find out -- you're going to have a mighty sad-looking Form Thirty-One!" "Captain, " I said earnestly, "I don't ever want to win a medal. The idea is to hunt Bugs. " "Right. Now quit bothering me. " I called my platoon sergeant, explained the new limits under which we would work, told him to pass the word along and to make sure that each man's suit was freshly charged, air and power. "We've just finished that, sir. I suggest that we relieve the men with you. " He named three reliefs. This was reasonable, as my ground listeners had had no time to recharge. But the reliefs he named were all scouts. Silently I cussed myself for utter stupidity. A scout's suit is as fast as a command suit, twice the speed of a marauder. I had been having a nagging feeling of something left undone, and had checked it off to the nervousness I always feel around Bugs. Now I knew. Here I was, ten miles away from my platoon with a party of three men each in a marauder suit. When the Bugs broke through, I was going to be faced with an impossible decision . . . Unless the men with me could rejoin as fast as I could. "That's good, " I agreed, "but I no longer need three men. Send Hughes, right away. Have him relieve Nyberg. Use the other three scouts to relieve the listening posts farthest forward. " "Just Hughes?" he said doubtfully. "Hughes is enough. I'm going to man one listener myself. Two of us can straddle the area; we know where they are now. " I added, "Get Hughes down here on the bounce. " For the next thirty-seven minutes nothing happened. Hughes and I swung back and forth along the forward and rear arcs of the area around Easter Ten, listening five seconds at a time, then moving on. It was no longer necessary to seat the microphone in rock; it was enough to touch it to the ground to get the sound of "frying bacon" strong and clear. The noise area expanded but its center did not change. Once I called Captain Blackstone to tell him that the sound had abruptly stopped, and again three minutes later to tell him it had resumed; otherwise I used the scouts' circuit and let my platoon sergeant take care of the platoon and the listening posts near the platoon. At the end of this time everything happened at once.
A voice called out on the scouts' circuit, " `Bacon Fry'! Albert Two!" I clicked over and called out, "Captain! `Bacon Fry' at Albert Two, Black One!" -- clicked over to liaison with the platoons surrounding me: "Liaison flash! `Bacon frying' at Albert Two, Square Black One" - - and immediately heard Do Campo reporting: " `Frying Bacon' sounds at Adolf Three, Green Twelve. " I relayed that to Blackie and cut back to my own scouts' circuit, heard: "Bugs! Bugs! HELP!" "Where?" No answer. I clicked over. "Sarge! Who reported Bugs?" He rapped back, "Coming up out of their town -- about Bangkok Six. " "Hit `em!" I clicked over to Blackie. "Bugs at Bangkok Six, Black One -- I am attacking!" "I heard you order it, " he answered calmly. "How about Easter Ten?" "Easter Ten is -- " The ground fell away under me and I was engulfed in Bugs. I didn't know what had happened to me. I wasn't hurt; it was a bit like falling into the branches of a tree -- but these branches were alive and kept jostling me while my gyros complained and tried to keep me upright. I fell ten or fifteen feet, deep enough to be out of the daylight. Then a surge of living monsters carried me back up into the light -- and training paid off; I landed on my feet, talking and fighting: "Breakthrough at Easter Ten -- no, Easter Eleven, where I am now. Big hole and they're pouring up. Hundreds. More than that. " I had a hand flamer in each hand and was burning them down as I reported. "Get out of there, Johnnie!" "Wilco!" -- and I started to jump. And stopped. Checked the jump in time, stopped flaming, and really looked -- for I suddenly realized that I ought to be dead. "Correction, " I said, looking and hardly believing. "Breakthrough at Easter Eleven is a feint. No warriors. " "Repeat. " "Easter Eleven, Black One. Breakthrough here is entirely by workers so far. No warriors. I am surrounded by Bugs and they are still pouring out, but not a one of them is armed and those nearest me all have typical worker features. I have not been attacked. " I added, "Captain, do you think this could be just a diversion? With their real breakthrough to come somewhere else?" "Could be, " he admitted. "Your report is patched through right to Division, so let them do the thinking. Stir around and check what you've reported. Don't assume that they are all workers -- you may find out the hard way. " "Right, Captain. " I jumped high and wide, intending to get outside that mass of harmless but loathsome monsters. That rocky plain was covered with crawly black shapes in all directions. I overrode my jet controls and increased the jump, calling out, "Hughes! Report!" "Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions of `em! I'm a-burnin' `em down!" "Hughes, take a close look at those Bugs. Any of them fighting back? Aren't they all workers?" "Uh -- " I hit the ground and bounced again. He went on, "Hey! You're right, sir! How did you know?" "Rejoin your squad, Hughes. " I clicked over. "Captain, several thousand Bugs have exited near here from an unestimated number of holes. I have not been attacked. Repeat, I have not been attacked at all. If there are any warriors among them, they must be holding their fire and using workers as camouflage. " He did not answer. There was an extremely brilliant flash far off to my left, followed at once by one just like it but farther away to my right front; automatically I noted time and bearings. "Captain Blackstone answer!" At the top of my jump I tried to pick out his beacon, but that horizon was cluttered by low hills in Square Black Two. I clicked over and called out, "Sarge! Can you relay to the Captain for me?" At that very instant my platoon sergeant's beacon blinked out. I headed on that bearing as fast as I could push my suit. I had not been watching my display closely; my platoon sergeant had the platoon and I had been busy, first with ground-listening and, most lately, with a few hundred Bugs. I had suppressed all but the non-com's beacons to allow me to see better. I studied the skeleton display, picked out Brumby and Cunha, their squad leaders and section chasers. "Cunha! Where's the platoon sergeant?" "He's reconnoitering a hole, sir. " "Tell him I'm on my way, rejoining. " I shifted circuits without waiting. "First platoon Blackguards to second platoon -- answer!" "What do you want?" Lieutenant Khoroshen growled. "I can't raise the Captain. " "You won't, he's out. " "Dead?" "No. But he's lost power -- so he's out. " "Oh. Then you're company commander?" "All right, all right, so what? Do you want help?" "Uh . . . No. No, sir. " "Then shut up, " Khoroshen told me, "until you do need help. We've got more than we can handle here. " "Okay. " I suddenly found that I had more than I could handle. While reporting to Khoroshen, I shifted to full display and short range, as I was almost closed with my platoon -- and now I saw my first section disappear one by one, Brumby's beacon disappearing first. "Cunha! What's happening to the first section?" His voice sounded strained. "They are following the platoon sergeant down. " If there's anything in the book that covers this, I don't know what it is. Had Brumby acted without orders? Or had he been given orders I hadn't heard? Look, the man was already down a Bug hole, out of sight and hearing -- is this a time to go legal? We would sort such things out tomorrow. If any of us had a tomorrow -- "Very well, " I said. "I'm back now. Report. " My last jump brought me among them; I saw a Bug off to my right and I got him before I hit. No worker, this -- it had been firing as it moved. "I've lost three men, " Cunha answered, gasping. "I don't know what Brumby lost. They broke out three places at once -- that's when we took the casualties. But we're mopping them -- " A tremendous shock wave slammed me just as I bounced again, slapped me sideways. Three minutes thirty-seven seconds -- call it thirty miles. Was that our sappers "putting down their corks"? "First section! Brace yourselves for another shock wave!" I landed sloppily, almost on top of a group of three or four Bugs. They weren't dead but they weren't fighting; they just twitched. I donated them a grenade and bounced again. "Hit `em now!" I called out. "They're groggy. And mind that next -- " The second blast hit as I was saying it. It wasn't as violent. "Cunha! Call off your section. And everybody stay on the bounce and mop up. " The call-off was ragged and slow -- too many missing files as I could see from my physicals display. But the mop-up was precise and fast. I ranged around the edge and got half a dozen Bugs myself -- the last of them suddenly became active just before I flamed it. Why did concussion daze them more than it did us? Because they were unarmored? Or was it their brain Bug, somewhere down below, that was dazed? The call-off showed nineteen effectives, plus two dead, two hurt, and three out of action through suit failure -- and two of these latter Navarre was repairing by vandalizing power units from suits of dead and wounded. The third suit failure was in radio & radar and could not be repaired, so Navarre assigned the man to guard the wounded, the nearest thing to pickup we could manage until we were relieved. In the meantime I was inspecting, with Sergeant Cunha, the three places where the Bugs had broken through from their nest below. Comparison with the sub map showed, as one could have guessed, that they had cut exits at the places where their tunnels were closest to the surface. One hole had closed; it was a heap of loose rock. The second one did not show Bug activity; I told Cunha to post a lance and a private there with orders to kill single Bugs, close the hole with a bomb if they started to pour out it's all very well for the Sky Marshal to sit up there and decide that holes must not be closed, but I had a situation, not a theory. Then I looked at the third hole, the one that had swallowed up my platoon sergeant and half my platoon. Here a Bug corridor came within twenty feet of the surface and they had simply removed the roof for about fifty feet. Where the rock went, what caused that "frying bacon" noise while they did it, I could not say. The rocky roof was gone and the sides of the hole were sloped and grooved. The map showed what must have happened; the other two holes came up from small side tunnels, this tunnel was part of their main labyrinth -- so the other two had been diversions and their main attack had come from here. Can those Bugs see through solid rock? Nothing was in sight down that hole, neither Bug nor human. Cunha pointed out the direction the second section had gone. It had been seven minutes and forty seconds since the platoon sergeant had gone down, slightly over seven since Brumby had gone after him. I peered into the darkness, gulped and swallowed my stomach. "Sergeant, take charge of your section, " I said, trying to make it sound cheerful. "If you need help, call Lieutenant Khoroshen. " "Orders, sir?" "None. Unless some come down from above. I'm going down and find the second section -- so I may be out of touch for a while. " Then I jumped down into the hole at once, because my nerve was slipping. Behind me I heard: "Section!" "First squad!" -- "Second squad!" -- "Third squad!" "By squads! Follow me!" -- and Cunha jumped down, too. It's not nearly so lonely that way.
I had Cunha leave two men at the hole to cover our rear, one on the floor of the tunnel, one at surface level. Then I led them down the tunnel the second section had followed, moving as fast as possible -- which wasn't fast as the roof of the tunnel was right over our heads. A man can move in sort of a skating motion in a powered suit without lifting his feet, but it is neither easy nor natural; we could have trotted without armor faster. Snoopers were needed at once -- whereupon we confirmed something that had been theorized: Bugs see by infrared. That dark tunnel was well lighted when seen by snoopers. So far it had no special features, simply glazed rock walls arching over a smooth, level door. We came to a tunnel crossing the one we were in and I stopped short of it. There are doctrines for how you should dispose a strike force underground -- but what good are they? The only certainty was that the man who had written the doctrines had never himself tried them . . . Because, before Operation Royalty, nobody had come back up to tell what had worked and what had not. One doctrine called for guarding every intersection such as this one. But I had already used two men to guard our escape hole; if I left l0 per cent of my force at each intersection, mighty soon I would be ten- percented to death. I decided to keep us together . . . And decided, too, that none of us would be captured. Not by Bugs. Far better a nice, clean real estate deal . . . And with that decision a load was lifted from my mind and I was no longer worried. I peered cautiously into the intersection, looked both ways. No Bugs. So I called out over the non-coms' circuit: "Brumby!" The result was startling. You hardly hear your own voice when using suit radio, as you are shielded from your output. But here, underground in a network of smooth corridors, my output came back to me as if the whole complex were one enormous wave guide: "BRRRRUMMBY!" My ears rang with it. And then rang again: "MR. RRRICCCO!" "Not so loud, " I said, trying to talk very softly myself. "Where are you?" Brumby answered, not quite so deafeningly, "Sir, I don't know. We're lost. " "Well, take it easy. We're coming to get you. You can't be far away. Is the platoon sergeant with you?" "No, sir. We never -- " "Hold it. " I clicked in my private circuit. "Sarge -- " "I read you, sir. " His voice sounded calm and he was holding the volume down. "Brumby and I are in radio contact but we have not been able to make rendezvous. " "Where are you?" He hesitated slightly. "Sir, my advice is to make rendezvous with Brumby's section -- then return to the surface. " "Answer my question. " "Mr. Rico, you could spend a week down here and not find me . . . And I am not able to move. You must -- " "Cut it, Sarge! Are you wounded?" "No, sir, but -- " "Then why can't you move? Bug trouble?" "Lots of it. They can't reach me now . . . But I can't come out. So I think you had better -- " "Sarge, you're wasting time! I am certain you know exactly what turns you took. Now tell me, while I look at the map. And give me a vernier reading on your D. R. Tracer. That's a direct order. Report. " He did so, precisely and concisely. I switched on my head lamp, flipped up the snoopers, and followed it on the map. "All right, " I said presently. "You're almost directly under us and two levels down -- and I know what turns to take. We'll be there as soon as we pick up the second section. Hang on. " I clicked over. "Brumby -- " "Here, sir. " "When you came to the first tunnel intersection, did you go right, left, or straight ahead?" "Straight ahead, sir. " "Okay. Cunha, bring `em along. Brumby, have you got Bug trouble?" "Not now, sir. But that's how we got lost. We tangled with a bunch of them . . . And when it was over, we were turned around. " I started to ask about casualties, then decided that bad news could wait; I wanted to get my platoon together and get out of there. A Bug town with no Bugs in sight was somehow more upsetting than the Bugs we had expected to encounter. Brumby coached us through the next two choices and I tossed tanglefoot bombs down each corridor we did not use. "Tanglefoot" is a derivative of the nerve gas we had been using on Bugs in the past -- instead of killing, it gives any Bug that trots through it a sort of shaking palsy. We had been equipped with it for this one operation, and I would have swapped a ton of it for a few pounds of the real stuff. Still, it might protect our flanks. In one long stretch of tunnel I lost touch with Brumby -- some oddity in reflection of radio waves, I guess, for I picked him up at the next intersection. But there he could not tell me which way to turn. This was the place, or near the place, where the Bugs had hit them. And here the Bugs hit us. I don't know where they came from. One instant everything was quiet. Then I heard the cry of "Bugs! Bugs!" from back of me in the column, I turned -- and suddenly Bugs were everywhere. I suspect that those smooth walls are not as solid as they look; that's the only way I can account for the way they were suddenly all around us and among us. We couldn't use flamers, we couldn't use bombs; we were too likely to hit each other. But the Bugs didn't have any such compunctions among themselves if they could get one of us. But we had hands and we had feet -- It couldn't have lasted more than a minute, then there were no more Bugs, just broken pieces of them on the door . . . And four cap troopers down. One was Sergeant Brumby, dead. During the ruckus the second section had rejoined. They had been not far away, sticking together to keep from getting further lost in that maze, and had heard the fight. Hearing it, they had been able to trace it by sound, where they had not been able to locate us by radio. Cunha and I made certain that our casualties were actually dead, then consolidated the two sections into one of four squads and down we went -- and found the Bugs that had our platoon sergeant besieged. That fight didn't last any time at all, because he had warned me what to expect. He had captured a brain Bug and was using its bloated body as a shield. He could not get out, but they could not attack him without (quite literally) committing suicide by hitting their own brain. We were under no such handicap; we hit them from behind. Then I was looking at the horrid thing he was holding and I was feeling exultant despite our losses, when suddenly I heard close up that "frying bacon" noise. A big piece of roof fell on me and Operation Royalty was over as far as I was concerned.
I woke up in bed and thought that I was back at O. C. S. And had just had a particularly long and complicated Bug nightmare. But I was not at O. C. S. ; I was in a temporary sickbay of the transport Argonne, and I really had had a platoon of my own for nearly twelve hours. But now I was just one more patient, suffering from nitrous oxide poisoning and overexposure to radiation through being out of armor for over an hour before being retrieved, plus broken ribs and a knock in the head which had put me out of action. It was a long time before I got everything straight about Operation Royalty and some of it I'll never know. Why Brumby took his section underground, for example. Brumby is dead and Naidi bought the farm next to his and I'm simply glad that they both got their chevrons and were wearing them that day on Planet P when nothing went according to plan. I did learn, eventually, why my platoon sergeant decided to go down into that Bug town. He had heard my report to Captain Blackstone that the "major breakthrough" was actually a feint, made with workers sent up to be slaughtered. When real warrior Bugs broke out where he was, he had concluded (correctly and minutes sooner than Staff reached the same conclusion) that the Bugs were making a desperation push, or they would not expend their workers simply to draw our fire. He saw that their counterattack made from Bug town was not in sufficient force, and concluded that the enemy did not have many reserves -- and decided that, at this one golden moment, one man acting alone might have a chance of raiding, finding "royalty" and capturing it. Remember, that was the whole purpose of the operation; we had plenty of force simply to sterilize Planet P, but our object was to capture royalty castes and to learn how to go down in. So he tried it, snatched that one moment - - and succeeded on both counts. It made it "mission accomplished" for the First Platoon of the Blackguards. Not very many other platoons, out of many, many hundreds, could say that; no queens were captured (the Bugs killed them first) and only six brains. None of the six were ever exchanged, they didn't live long enough. But the Psych Warfare boys did get live specimens, so I suppose Operation Royalty was a success. My platoon sergeant got a field commission. I was not offered one (and would not have accepted) -- but I was not surprised when I learned that he had been commissioned. Cap'n Blackie had told me that I was getting "the best sergeant in the fleet" and I had never had any doubt that Blackie's opinion was correct. I had met my platoon sergeant before. I don't think any other Blackguard knew this -- not from me and certainly not from him. I doubt if Blackie himself knew it. But I had known my platoon sergeant since my first day as a boot. His name is Zim.
My part in Operation Royalty did not seem a success to me. I was in the Argonne more than a month, first as a patient, then as an unattached casual, before they got around to delivering me and a few dozen others to Sanctuary; it gave me too much time to think -- mostly about casualties, and what a generally messed-up job I had made of my one short time on the ground as platoon leader. I knew I hadn't kept everything juggled the way the Lieutenant used to why, I hadn't even managed to get wounded still swinging; I had let a chunk of rock fall on me. And casualties -- I didn't know how many there were; I just knew that when I closed ranks there were only four squads where I had started with six. I didn't know how many more there might have been before Zim got them to the surface, before the Blackguards were relieved and retrieved. I didn't even know whether Captain Blackstone was still alive (he was -- in fact he was back in command about the time I went underground) and I had no idea what the procedure was if a candidate was alive and his examiner was dead. But I felt that my Form Thirty-One was sure to make me a buck sergeant again. It really didn't seem important that my math books were in another ship. Nevertheless, when I was let out of bed the first week I was in the Argonne, after loafing and brooding a day I borrowed some books from one of the junior officers and got to work. Math is hard work and it occupies your mind -- and it doesn't hurt to learn all you can of it, no matter what rank you are; everything of any importance is founded on mathematics. When I finally checked in at O. C. S. And turned in my pips, I learned that I was a cadet again instead of a sergeant. I guess Blackie gave me the benefit of the doubt. My roommate, Angel, was in our room with his feet on the desk -- and in front of his feet was a package, my math books. He looked up and looked surprised. "Hi, Juan! We thought you had bought it!" "Me? The Bugs don't like me that well. When do you go out?" "Why, I've been out, " Angel protested. "Left the day after you did, made three drops and been back a week. What took you so long?" "Took the long way home. Spent a month as a passenger. " "Some people are lucky. What drops did you make?" "Didn't make any, " I admitted. He stared. "Some people have all the luck!"
Perhaps Angel was right; eventually I graduated. But he supplied some of the luck himself, in patient tutoring. I guess my "luck" has usually been people -- Angel and Jelly and the Lieutenant and Carl and Lieutenant Colonel Dubois, yes and my father, and Blackie . . . And Brumby . . . And Ace - - and always Sergeant Zim. Brevet Captain Zim, now, with permanent rank of First Lieutenant. It wouldn't have been right for me to have wound up senior to him. Bennie Montez, a classmate of mine, and I were at the Fleet landing field the day after graduation, waiting to go up to our ships. We were still such brand-new second lieutenants that being saluted made us nervous and I was covering it by reading the list of ships in orbit around Sanctuary -- a list so long that it was clear that something big was stirring, even though they hadn't seen fit to mention it to me. I felt excited. I had my two dearest wishes, in one package -- posted to my old outfit and while my father was still there, too. And now this, whatever it was, meant that I was about to have the polish put on me by "makee-learnee" under Lieutenant Jelal, with some important drop coming up. I was so full of it all that I couldn't talk about it, so I studied the lists. Whew, what a lot of ships! They were posted by types, too many to locate otherwise. I started reading off the troop carriers, the only ones that matter to an M. I. There was the Mennerheim! Any chance of seeing Carmen? Probably not, but I could send a dispatch and find out. Big ships -- the new Valley Forge and the new Ypres, Merathon, El Alamein, Iwo, Gallipoli, Leyte, Marne, Tours, Gettysburg, Hastings, Alamo, Waterloo -- all places where mud feet had made their names to shine. Little ships, the ones named for foot sloggers: Horatius, Alvin York, Swamp Fox, the Rog herself, bless her heart, Colonel Bowie, Devereux, Vercingetorix, Sandino, Aubrey Cousens, Kamehameha, Audie Murphy, Xenophon, Aguinaldo -- I said, "There ought to be one named Magsaysay. " Bennie said, "What?" "Ramon Magsaysay, " I explained. "Great man, great soldier -- probably be chief of psychological warfare if he were alive today. Didn't you ever study any history?" "Well, " admitted Bennie, "I learned that Simon Bolivar built the Pyramids, licked the Armada, and made the first trip to the Moon. " "You left out marrying Cleopatra. " "Oh, that. Yup. Well, I guess every country has its own version of history. " "I'm sure of it. " I added something to myself and Bennie said, "What did you say?" "Sorry, Bernardo. Just an old saying in my own language. I suppose you could translate it, more or less, as: `Home is where the heart is. ' " "But what language was it?" "Tagalog. My native language. " "Don't they talk Standard English where you come from?" "Oh, certainly. For business and school and so forth. We just talk the old speech around home a little. Traditions. You know. " "Yeah, I know. My folks chatter in Espanol the same way. But where do you -- " The speaker started playing "Meadowland"; Bennie broke into a grin. "Got a date with a ship! Watch yourself, fellow! See you. " "Mind the Bugs. " I turned back and went on reading ships' names: Pal Maleter, Montgomery, Tchaka, Geronimo -- Then came the sweetest sound in the world: " -- shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young!" I grabbed my kit and hurried. "Home is where the heart is" -- I was going home.
Am I my brother's keeper? -- Genesis IV:9 How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? -- Matthew XII:12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? -- Matthew XII:12 In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful . . . Whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. -- The Koran, Surah V, 32 Each year we gain a little. You have to keep a sense of proportion. "Time, sir. " My j. O. Under instruction, Candidate or "Third Lieutenant" Bearpaw, stood just outside my door. He looked and sounded awfully young, and was about as harmless as one of his scalp- hunting ancestors. "Right, Jimmie. " I was already in armor. We walked aft to the drop room. I said, as we went, "One word, Jimmie. Stick with me and keep out of my way. Have fun and use up your ammo. If by any chance I buy it, you're the boss -- but if you're smart, you'll let your platoon sergeant call the signals. " "Yes, sir. " As we came in, the platoon sergeant called them to attention and saluted. I returned it, said, "At ease, " and started down the first section while Jimmie looked over the second. Then I inspected the second section, too, checking everything on every man. My platoon sergeant is much more careful than I am, so I didn't find anything, I never do. But it makes the men feel better if their Old Man scrutinizes everything -- besides, it's my job. Then I stepped out in the middle. "Another Bug hunt, boys. This one is a little different, as you know. Since they still hold prisoners of ours, we can't use a nova bomb on Klendathu -- so this time we go down, stand on it, hold it, take it away from them. The boat won't be down to retrieve us; instead it'll fetch more ammo and rations. If you're taken prisoner, keep your chin up and follow the rules -- because you've got the whole outfit behind you, you've got the whole Federation behind you; we'll come and get you. That's what the boys from the Swamp Fox and the Montgomery have been depending on. Those who are still alive are waiting, knowing that we will show up. And here we are. Now we go get `em. "Don't forget that we'll have help all around us, lots of help above us. All we have to worry about is our one little piece, just the way we rehearsed it. "One last thing. I had a letter from Captain Jelal just before we left. He says that his new legs work fine. But he also told me to tell you that he's got you in mind . . . And he expects your names to shine! "And so do I. Five minutes for the Padre. " I felt myself beginning to shake. It was a relief when I could call them to attention again and add: "By sections . . . Port and starboard ... Prepare for drop!" I was all right then while I inspected each man into his cocoon down one side, with Jimmie and the platoon sergeant taking the other. Then we buttoned Jimmie into the No. 3 center-line capsule. Once his face was covered up, the shakes really hit me. My platoon sergeant put his arm around my armored shoulders. "Just like a drill, Son. " "I know it, Father. " I stopped shaking at once. "It's the waiting, that's all. " "I know. Four minutes. Shall we get buttoned up, sir?" "Right away, Father. " I gave him a quick hug, let the Navy drop crew seal us in. The shakes didn't start up again. Shortly I was able to report: "Bridge! Rico's Roughnecks . . . Ready for drop!" "Thirty-one seconds, Lieutenant. " She added, "Good luck, boys! This time we take `em !" "Right, Captain. " "Check. Now some music while you wait?" She switched it on: "To the everlasting glory of the Infantry -- "
YOUNG, RODGER W. , Private, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division (the Ohio Buckeyes); born Tiffin, Ohio, 28 April 1918; died 31 July 1943, on the island New Georgia, Solomons, South Pacific, while single-handedly attacking and destroying an enemy machine-gun pillbox. His platoon had been pinned down by intense fire from this pillbox; Private Young was wounded in the first burst. He crawled toward the pillbox, was wounded a second time but continued to advance, firing his rifle as he did so. He closed on the pillbox, attacked and destroyed it with hand grenades, but in so doing he was wounded a third time and killed. His bold and gallant action in the face of overwhelming odds enabled his teammates to escape without loss; he was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor.
Last-modified: Fri, 09 Jul 1999 15:19:31 GMT