Authors: B. V. Larson
Books by B. V. Larson:
STAR FORCE SERIES:
(In chronological order)
Army of One
(Novella published in
The Black Ship
ovella published in
Five by Five
OTHER SF BOOKS:
for more information.
Copyright © 2014 by the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places
, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
from the only Hegemony-approved civics textbook:
The Galactic Empire
– The greatest governmental system ever conceived. The Empire encompasses sixty-one percent of the star systems in our Milky Way Galaxy and lays valid claim to the rest. The Empire is an achievement all civilized species admire and it has persisted for many millennia. Every man, woman and child on Earth is proud to be a member of this immense society.
The Core Systems
– At the center of our Galaxy is a supermassive black hole. Orbiting this dense mass are the oldest of suns, clusters of stars in close proximity. Known as the Core Systems, all the elder races rose to power in this brilliantly lit region of space.
– The Core Systems are inhabited by an unknown number of superior species known as “Galactics.” Ancient and wise, these benevolent beings guide thousands of lesser civilizations in unimportant star systems. One of these minor civilizations developed upon
and calls itself
– Humanity’s modern government is called
, with Sector, District and Local sub-governments. Earth is managed locally by a political collective. Independent nations no longer exist on our world—and as everyone knows, that is a very good thing.
Earth’s Monetary System
– Due to Imperial benevolence, every world in the Empire is self-governing. Only interstellar interactions are Imperially governed—as they should be! Earth’s monetary system was established to promote commerce. Two-tiers of credit units exist: Hegemony credits and Galactic credits. Hegemony credits are valid for any interaction between humans in our star systems, while Galactic credits are valued for trade anywhere within the Empire. Typical exchange rates place the value of a single Galactic credit at well over a thousand Hegemony credits. Galactic credits are required to purchase alien-made trade goods.
– The Nairbs are alien bureaucrats who serve the Galactics with unswerving loyalty. Their bulbous bodies are deceptive; there’s no escape from their relentless pursuit of justice.
All potential wrong-doers are hereby forewarned: The faithful Nairbs exercise the will of the distant Galactics with zealotry. For them, no ruling is too unjust, no technicality too arcane. They prosecute the smallest infractions, following the letter of every law precisely as it was written.
– Our star system drifts within the boundaries of Frontier 921, an outlying province. It’s an unimportant backwater of the Empire located in the Orion Spur of the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Despite our insignificance, Humanity must strive to serve our betters with enthusiasm.
Battle Fleet 921
– Our local Battle Fleet is perhaps the most amazing of the many gifts our beloved Empire has bestowed upon us. Consisting of a thousand vast ships, the fleet has only visited Earth once—to our good fortune. On that thrilling day in the year 2051, the fleet silvered our skies as they do any planet they visit.
Provincial Battle Fleets are normally tasked with delivering ul
timatums of annexation to newly discovered civilizations—or charged with punishing those that fail to obey the Galactics. Both missions are necessary tasks to maintain order and expand the rule of law. Battle Fleet 921 possesses the weaponry to reduce any world in the province to ash, but to obedient beings, it represents a comforting, protective strength.
Recent Addendum: Unfortunately, Battle Fleet 921 has been recalled to the Core Systems to help resolve unspecified disturbances.
– As a level-two civilization within the glorious Empire, we’ve recently been awarded the title of “Local Enforcers” and tasked with maintaining order inside the borders of Frontier 921. The local Battle Fleet may no longer be available to support our efforts, but we will soldier on determinedly!
– Maintaining a century-old tradition, Earth’s spacefaring legions still march to the stars serving the highest bidder.
– The most notorious of all Earth’s legions, Varus is often maligned by the press and the rest of our military. It’s unknown exactly what purpose they serve, but it is understood that they perform missions no other legion would care to undertake.
I love honor more than I fear death.”
Julius Caesar, 51 BC
I was born on Earth, a craptastic planet in the middle of Frontier 921. We were about as far from the Core Systems at the center of our galaxy as you could get—and therefore we were about as unimportant as a civilization could be within the Galactic Empire.
When Galactics visited us—which they rarely did—they invariably complained about how cold and dark it was out here along the Perseus Arm. Our
solitary sun was dim and dull to them as they were creatures accustomed to the nearness of a thousand ancient stars. As far as they were concerned, we lived in a desert, lightyears from the next stellar source of heat and life.
I didn’t care what the Galactics thought about Earth. It was my home, and I loved her. The Imperial types always made a point of sneering at our relative poverty and pathetic tech as well, but that didn’t bother me. Throughout my short lifespan, my family and I had been carving out a low-wage living on our backwater world. It was only over the last year or so that we’d gathered enough hard-won credits to begin enjoying ourselves.
From my point of view, things were looking up.
My parents had managed to get real jobs again and new hope. As soon as they could manage it they took their scraped-together fortune and left Atlanta. They moved to the Georgia countryside, down around Waycross. They couldn’t afford much land but managed to find a free-standing place with a few overgrown acres around it. The house was more than a century old, and the scrubland looked like no one had farmed or even trimmed it for nearly that long.
What surprised me the most was the structure itself which was built with actual
. I didn’t believe it until I went down into the basement and ran my hands over the bare splintery stuff myself.
The best part of moving out of the city and into the sticks was that I got my own room out of the deal. It wasn’t a bedroom—not exactly. It was more like a free-standing shed which had been converted into a living space at some point in the distant past.
It wasn’t a palace, mind you. Curling, faded, polymer strips were tacked to the walls as decorations and the floorboards creaked enough to wake the dead—but I really liked it. I moved in and made myself right at home.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a freeloading bandit. I’d chipped in plenty of my own cash, and my folks were glad to have me staying on with them. Like most enlisted legionnaires I didn’t want to be bothered with permanent housing on Earth. So far, I’d been deployed something like nine months out of every year
on average, and when I was left dirt-side by the legion for an extended shore leave with one-third pay, I didn’t have the credits or the gumption to set up a permanent residence of my own.
I knew that at any time the legion might muster out again and take me to the stars to work a new contract. We legionnaires never knew how long we had with our feet on the ground, so we didn’t bother to play house unless we had a family—and as of yet, I didn’t.
So, in late spring I lived with my folks and whiled away my free time. For me, vid games were now a thing of the past. I’d been spoiled by real life, real beer, and real women. Games couldn’t hold my attention like they used to.
In June, I became obsessed with constructing an unlicensed floater in my room. When the damn thing worked right, the floater was a lot of fun. It wasn’t much, just a surfboard with a simple gravity-repelling unit attached. The secondhand repeller had about a three hundred kilo lift-rating which was enough to get me almost a half-meter up off the ground. Repeller units were easy to come by these days as Earth had credits, and alien traders now visited our planet with regularity. They no longer treated us like third-rate losers. In the eyes of the traders, we’d risen to the status of first-class hicks.
I hugely enjoyed cruising around the back lot on my floater, taking it out over the local Satilla River with a drink in one hand and a steering wire in the other. It was fun, and the summer passed quickly.
Now and then I was even lucky enough to coax a few lady-friends into accompanying me back to my tiny shack. They always crossed my threshold diffidently, like housecats that suspected you were taking them to the vet. After a couple of strong drinks and a ride or two on my makeshift floater, they usually spent the night.
After three months of wasting time and money, I had to admit I was becoming a little bored. It was August, and anyone who’s spent much time in Georgia can tell you that hanging around in a converted garage in the last days of summer can get to be a little extreme.
I’d gotten into the habit of leaving the cooling unit blowing at night, but it had begun overheating and throwing breakers. I didn’t want to waste credits on a new one as it might be years before I’d use it again after this shore leave was over. Left with nothing better than a whirring fan, I made the best of it. I kept the windows open, the lights dim, and the fan aimed so it blew directly on my sweating skin. It was comfortable enough once you got used to it.
One Thursday night in August, a tapping sound began as someone rapped on my door. I was dozing, and it must have been around midnight. I startled awake, spilling fresh beer on my heavily stained carpet.
“Shit,” I muttered, hauling myself up. I shook my head and padded on bare feet to the door. I automatically assumed it was my mom, coming out to ask me something that could easily wait until morning—like whether or not I thought we needed more milk for breakfast.
Lifting a hand to the door, I paused. I could see through my half-assed window screens, and I noted with surprise that the tiny light over my parent’s backdoor was out. That wasn’t surprising in and of itself as lights in the country attracted more bugs than anything else. But if it
my mom on the other side of my door, tapping insistently, wouldn’t she have flipped on her porch light to guide her on her way across the yard?
Frowning, I put my hand on the rattling, worn-out doorknob—yeah, my shed had real, honest-to-god doorknobs, they must have been a century or more old—but I hesitated.
The tapping sound repeated itself. I considered ignoring it.
Tap, tap, tap.
I shrugged and
threw open the door. In the same sudden motion I flicked on the light. I don’t know who I’d expected to see standing outside, but I was surprised it was Natasha.
“Hi,” she said, looking nervous. She tried to smile, but it flickered out.
I’m not very good when I’m surprised. I don’t have an automatic, happy-time grin on my face when the unexpected happens. Maybe that’s because I’ve been killed a lot, I don’t know. The Legion psychs gave us a course on that kind of stuff before every deployment, droning on about the long-term effects of our chosen occupation—but I’d never listened to any of it.
Natasha took in the blank look on my face and my lack of a greeting and reacted in the worst possible way. Her smile vanished, and she did a U-turn.
“Sorry,” she snapped, “I shouldn’t have crashed your party.”
Head held high, she marched away into the dark. She took about three quick steps back toward the main road. I could see the dark hulk of her car out there, skids-down on the pavement.
“Hey, come back!” I called, half laughing. “You surprised me, that’s all.”
She looked over her shoulder, and paused. “You’ve got someone in there, don’t you?”
“Nope. Not even that damned tomcat that keeps coming around.”
Frowning slightly, she came back to my door and craned her neck to look past me.
“It’s awfully dark in there. Don’t you have any lights?”
“The cooler is broken,” I said. “Lights make heat—and besides, I was just falling asleep.”
She looked into my eyes again. “Maybe I should come back in the morning.”
I reached out and touched her arm. I didn’t
her, I just rested my hand on her elbow.
Beckoning with my other hand, I gestured toward my couch. “Come on in.”
Natasha stood still, but her eyes were running over me and everything else. I was a mess, and so was my place. I’m the kind of guy who shoves everything into the closet when a girl comes over, but I hadn’t expected one tonight.
I let go of her arm, heaved a deep breath and walked to my crappy little box-fridge. I’d gotten it from a Legion surplus shop for cheap. I grabbed out a beer and cracked it open. I didn’t even bother to look at Natasha. Maybe it was the heat or the time of night, but I was done feeding this park squirrel peanuts. She could come in or go.
She finally came in. I handed her a fresh brew, and found her a place on my couch to sit down. The first thing she did was notice my floater which I was using for a coffee table.
“There aren’t any legs on your table,” she said.
“Yeah. Cool, isn’t it?”
“You spent money on repellers just to build a
I laughed. “No. It’s a vehicle. I fly it everywhere. It’s great fun. If you’re around tomorrow, I’ll give you a ride to the lake.”
Natasha gave me a reproachful glance at the mention of her being around in the morning, but I pretended not to notice. She and I had had a thing going for years now. We’d never been in a really tight relationship, but we’d enjoyed a number of fine nights.
“You’re place smells a little moldy,” she commented.
“Sorry. Hey, you want to tell me why you came all the way out here to see me?”
“I wanted to know how you’re
going to vote.”
I frowned, having no idea what she was talking about. “I’m not much into politics. Is there a District election I should know about?”
She laughed. I liked her best when she laughed. Her face lost all caution and worries during those few seconds, and that made me smile.
“I’m talking about the Legion vote,” she said. “You must have made your decision by now.”
“You’re kidding me!” she exclaimed, setting aside her beer. “You turned off your tapper again, didn’t you? What if they summon us to the Hall?”
I lifted my arm so she could see the tapper embedded there. I poked at it, and it came reluctantly to life, making my skin glow with organic subcutaneous molecular shifts.
“I did some mods,” I admitted. “You’re the tech. Check it out.”
I showed her my custom settings. I’d blocked out all non-critical spam from the Legion—and from everyone else.
“That’s against regulations,” she complained.
shore leave,” I said. “You techs should appreciate that. If the Legion really wants me, they can get me with a priority message. In the meantime, anything non-critical gets dumped.”
Natasha shook her head and made clucking noises with her tongue as she tapped at my arm.
“Hey,” I complained, “don’t mess up my settings.”
“I didn’t touch your settings,” she said. “I just brought up today’s report. Check it out, top of the list.”
I sighed and grumbled as I scrolled around with my index finger on the inside of my forearm. I tapped at a legion-wide announcement and read what it said aloud. “Friday night, eight pm, is the deadline for voting. As a Specialist, you’re allowed two votes as per Legion bylaws. If you’ve abdicated your—”
I frowned and stopped reading. I looked at Natasha. “What the hell are we voting on?”
“To join Hegemony,” she said in exasperation.
“All of us?”
“Yeah,” she said. “All of us. All the Legions have been given the option. We can either stay independent, or we can sign on with Earth’s Central Command.”
“What brought this on?”
She laughed, but this time I thought her laugh was tinged with bitterness. “If I had to guess, I’d say
brought it on, James McGill. You talked the Nairbs into making us Enforcers, remember?”
“Yeah sure,” I said. “But what’s that got to do with folding Legion Varus into Hegemony?”
She shrugged. “I guess as Enforcers Earth has a new source of credits, a new service we provide to the Empire. We don’t all have to play mercenaries to the stars anymore. And Hegemony expects to be called upon to do some ‘enforcing’ at some point by the Nairbs or maybe even by the Core Systems. Hegemony needs experienced troops.”
“Experienced troops…” I echoed. “That’s us. The independent legions. There’s no one else who’s been out there.”
I thought about the situation for a time. The more I thought about it, the less happy I was. I didn’t want to join up with Hegemony. Those guys were self-important pukes.
“What if we say no?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “No one does. They might disband us. Or they might hire us and send us out anyway. No one really knows how this is all going to go down.”
“One thing’s for sure,” I said, beginning to work my tapper. “Earth isn’t getting all these credits from the Galactics for us to sit on our hands. They’ll want us to do something soon.”
Natasha nodded then frowned as I kept working my tapper steadily. She scooted her butt over the couch to see what I was doing, and I let her.