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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Roger slumped onto the pillow and nodded to Despreaux. The sergeant had arrived early, and she looked up from her own pillow to nod back. At least her stiff acknowledgment was no longer actively hostile, but it wasn't exactly brimming over with joyous welcome, either, he reflected. Sooner or later, they were going to have to sit down and iron out their problems . . . assuming they ever managed to find the time to.


His asi settled quietly behind him as Julian and Tratan entered. They were followed by the rest of the staff and senior commanders, until the spacious room was rather full. Fortunately, it had large windows open on two sides to the sea breezes, so it wasn't stuffy even with the gathered staff.


Pahner arrived last, accompanied by Rastar and Rus From, who quickly took their seats.


"All right, we have to make some decisions," the Marine CO said. "Or, rather, I have to make some decisions. But we all need to know the parameters, so I want everyone to present what they've learned as succinctly as possible. Then we'll decide what we're going to do.


"Poertena, you start."


"Si, Cap'n." The Pinopan checked his pad. "I'm gonna say t'is one more time: we don' wanna cross no blue water in t'ose tubs. We could convert one o' t'em to a schooner sail plan in about a mont', but it'd turn turtle in tee first good wind, no matter what we do."


"Can you explain that for us nonsailors?" Julian asked. "They sail them just fine now, right?"


"Sure, but t'ey only sail in t'is little millpond," Poertena replied, gesturing out the window at the K'Vaernian Sea, "an' t'ey don' get out o' sight o' land, either. T'ey can't, even if t'ey wanted to, 'cause t'ey gots no way to navigate. What t'ey gonna use for noon sights on t'is planet?" This time his gesture took in the solid gray overcast. "So t'eir ships're buil' for shoal water an' what t'ey calls 'Mediterranean conditions' back on Terra."


"Mediterranean?" Kosutic repeated, and the Pinopan shrugged.


"You see any surf on t'ose rocks?" he asked, pointing to the rocky coastline far below the citadel. "No? T'at's cause t'is little puddle of a K'Vaernian Sea ain't big enough for real swells to build—not wide enough for tee wind to build a good, heavy sea. Oh, shallow water like t'is, it can blow up nasty quick when a heavy wind does come 'long, but t'at's not what tee normal conditions are, an' if t'ey sees a blow comin' up, t'ey heads for shore or drops anchor an' lies to to ride it out. 'Cording to all t'eir hist'ries, t'at's how come K'Vaern's Cove ever got settled in tee first place, an' I believe it. But you ain't gonna be able to do t'at out on no ocean, Smaj."


"Um." The sergeant major nodded slowly, and Poertena shrugged again.


"T'ese ships is shoal built," he went on. "T'ey gots no depth of keel an' t'ey flat-floored as hell—t'at's partly so's t'ey can beach t'em jus' 'bout anywheres t'ey wants to—an' t'ey still figurin' out how sail plans work. Frankly, I surprised t'ey uses square sails an' not a lateen rig, and t'at's part o' tee problem."


" 'Lateen'?" Julian repeated plaintively, and O'Casey chuckled.


"Sailor technospeak is much older than your kind of jargon, Sergeant," she said, not unkindly but with a wicked glint in her eye. "Sailors have had thousands of years to develop it, so you're just going to have to ride it out."


"But what does it mean?" the intel NCO pressed, and the chief of staff glanced at Poertena.


"I don't know the nuts and bolts as well as you do, Poertena, but perhaps I can help establish a context for what you're telling us?" The Pinopan nodded for her to continue, and she turned her attention back to Julian.


"Back on Earth, two different types of ship designs evolved before the emergence of steam power and propellers. Think of them as the 'Mediterranean type' and the 'Atlantic type.' The Mediterranean is very much like the K'Vaernian: essentially landlocked, shallow, and with very moderate normal wind and wave conditions. The Atlantic is a much rougher body of water, and typical mid-Atlantic conditions would be extremely dangerous for a ship designed to survive only in Mediterranean conditions.


"So the Mediterranean powers developed galleys and, later, galleases—light, shoal-draft, low-freeboard vessels, very like the K'Vaernians'—and with sail plans which utilized what was called a lateen rig, a single, loose-footed sail on a yard set across the mast at a fairly sharp angle.


"The Atlantic type evolved as a much deeper-hulled ship, to provide the sort of stability a vessel would require under typical conditions there, with more freeboard to move the deck higher to keep it clear of normal wave conditions. And unlike the Mediterranean sail plans, the Atlantic type gradually evolved a multimasted rig with two or three square sails on each mast and triangular fore-and-aft headsails—the 'jibs' Poertena and Roger keep talking about. It was a much more powerful arrangement, allowing the Atlantic type to depend primarily upon wind power rather than muscle power delivered by way of the oars, which also meant that they could be built bigger, heavier, and sturdier. Not to mention freeing up the sides of the ships to mount heavy batteries of cannon once the oar banks were out of the way."


She considered what she'd just said for a moment, then shrugged.


"It's not really my area of expertise, so I'm sure I didn't get it all right, and I've probably left out a good bit, but that may give you some idea of the kind of design incompatibilities Poertena has to overcome."


"Yep," the diminutive armorer agreed. "Even t'eir merchies, t'ey too shallow draf' for blue-water conditions, an' as for t'eir warships—!" He rolled his eyes. "Forget it. You gets a good blow, an' t'ey goin' over, no matter what you do. An' t'ey ain't never heard o' jibs or foresails—all t'ey gots is t'ose big pock—I mean, all t'ey gots is t'ose square spritsails t'ey sets under tee bowsprit. T'ose help some beatin' to windward, but not a lot. An' t'ey gots no drivers—no fore-and-aft sails on tee stern to help t'ere, neither. Nope, t'eir sail plans, t'ey suck for blue-water. T'at's why t'is design go 'way on Eart' after t'ey learn tee jib sail."


"So we teach them." Julian shrugged.


"Mebbe," Poertena conceded. "But we gots to do it pretty quick if we gonna get t'ese ships built. An' even if we do, I been down to tee local museum and took a look at tee log from t'at one ship t'ey say crossed tee ocean from tee ot'er side. We not only gots to worry 'bout building somet'ing can handle blue-water, we gots to build somet'ing can stand up to whatever ripped up t'at ship, too."


"Ripped it up with what?" Roger asked. "Tentacles? Claws?"


"Seem like a big fish, You' Highness," Poertena said. "You gotta remember, I didn' read it direct, only tee partial translation tee locals worked out, an' tee guy writin' tee log was half outta his mind even t'en."


"Great," Julian said. "So even if we make the ships in time, we have to fight sea monsters?"


"More arguments for a fast ship," Roger said with a crooked smile. "But was this sailor sure it wasn't a submerged reef, Poertena? You can get those in what looks like open water."


"I know, You' Highness, but it real specific. 'As a grea' jaw, tearin' tee craft asunder, a demon o' tee dept's,' an' like t'at."


"Bloody hell," Kosutic said mildly. "And I thought atul-grak were interesting."


"So we'll have to build," Pahner said, pulling the conversation firmly back into focus. "And that's going to take at least three months. Where does that put us in terms of rations and supplements?"


"It puts us in trouble, Captain," Matsugae replied quietly, and all eyes turned to the valet. "The apsimons are helping a lot, but we're still running shorter and shorter. Warrant Officer Dobrescu is checking everything we come across in hopes of finding additional substitutes, but if he can't, we've got about four months, four and a half at the most, before we begin facing very serious dietary deficiencies."


"Time to cross the ocean once we get the ships built?" Pahner asked, turning back to Poertena.


"Hard to say for sure," the Pinopan replied. "I t'ink we prob'ly lookin' at at least a mont', t'ough, Sir."


There was complete silence as everyone in the room digested those figures. Assuming that Poertena's estimates were as accurate as everyone there knew they were, then even if everything went perfectly, with no delays at all, their supplies would run out the moment they reached their final objective. And the one thing they'd all learned here on Marduk was that things were not going to go perfectly.


"Okay," Pahner said after a moment, "we have a look at our transportation and supplements constraints. I think the term to use is 'narrow.' Rus, how do the K'Vaernians look from the point of view of large-scale weapons production?"


"There's good news and bad," the Diaspran bishop told the humans. "The good news is that the K'Vaernians are much more capable metalworkers than we of Diaspra. Much of that may be due to their worship of Krin, for just as we've learned to work with the God's water, they've learned to cast the bells which give Krin his voice. Also, their reliance upon seapower has inclined them in different directions. We of Diaspra use bombards and arquebuses mainly as defensive weapons from our fortifications, but their heavier warships rely upon artillery, and even their light galleys carry many arquebusiers and light, swivel-mounted bombards along their rails, because they use the fire from those weapons to decimate enemy crews before they board. Thus, even though the K'Vaernian Guard isn't huge, the city has great store of arquebuses aboard its ships, and great experience in the casting of naval artillery.


"Their navy depends upon privately owned merchant ships to serve as auxiliaries and to support their regular warships in battle, and so many of those merchant vessels also carry artillery and arquebuses. The bombards and arquebuses of their warships, however, are all provided by the city government, and all are built to common calibers, which isn't true of the privately purchased small arms aboard the merchantmen.


"According to the figures Bistem Kar has been able to provide to us, there are some eleven thousand arquebuses between the Navy and the Guard. All of these are of the same caliber, and 'rifling' them as you've shown us wouldn't be difficult. There are more than sufficient skilled craftsmen in the city to deal with that part of the problem. There's a large stock of wrought iron and steel on hand, as well, and although much of it has already been made into weapons and armor, it could be handily converted by the city's foundries.


"Spring steel for the mechanisms will be somewhat more difficult to produce, but not impossibly so. The breech mechanisms which you've described to us will present much graver difficulties, however. Producing them in quantity shouldn't be overly complicated, but it will take time to develop a design suited to our capabilities, to produce the machine tools required to manufacture them, and to turn them out in large numbers.


"I've discussed the problem with some of the local artisans, and in particular with Dell Mir, however, and I believe an alternative solution can be worked out. Manufacture of 'percussion caps' will actually be much simpler than the production of a suitable breech mechanism. The city's alchemists are quite familiar with quicksilver, which is also used by some of the local physicians, and there's rather more of it in K'Vaern's Cove than I'd feared would be the case. No one here fully understands the production of the 'fulminate of mercury' you've described, but Sergeant Despreaux assures us that she can teach us how to make it, and the local mint will be able to produce the caps in very large numbers, although much care will be required in actually making them.


"Frankly, the greatest problem lies in the provision of rifle ammunition. We must design new bullet dies and get them into production, but that's only a part of the problem. If we're able to put eleven thousand rifles into the true-hands of our soldiers, and if we issue sixty rounds of ammunition to each, that will require us to provide six hundred and sixty thousand rounds of ammunition, and I see no way we can produce that many 'cartridges' in the time available to us. I'm considering possible ways around the problem, but so far I've been unable to think of one. Of course, we could always issue muzzle-loading rifles, which would both avoid the problems of machining breech mechanisms and alleviate much of the pressure in the area of cartridge production, but it would also cost us much of the advantage in rate of fire which we'll require to face the Boman's numbers in the field.


"There's also the question of gunpowder supplies. Because the K'Vaernian Navy uses bombards and arquebuses in such quantity, and because the shore batteries use such heavy bombards, there are much greater stores of powder in K'Vaern's Cove than there were in Diaspra. Unfortunately, no one in the known world has ever contemplated the expenditures of ammunition which would be required by an army like the one we propose to build. Bistem Kar is still inventorying the contents of the city's magazines, but it seems likely that we'll be unable to meet all of our needs out of current supplies. The powder mills stand ready, and, in fact, continue to produce small additional quantities of powder even as we speak, but the raw materials—in particular the sulfur—are all imported, and the Boman have already overrun the customary sources of supply. Alternative sources exist, but it will take time to develop them and transport the needed resources to the city.


"The best news may well be that because their metalsmiths already understand the casting of bombards—and bells—they will be able to produce your new 'horse artillery' much more rapidly than I'd believed would be possible. Their gun foundries already understand the mysteries of sandcasting and other techniques you described to me, and they have much more capacity than I'd dreamed, primarily because the Cove has long since become the major supplier of artillery to all of the navies of the K'Vaernian. None of them have ever considered the innovations you've suggested, however, and their master gunsmith had something very like a religious experience when my sketches demonstrated the idea of trunnions to him. That innovation by itself would have completely transformed the use of bombards, but the addition of percussion locks for the guns and the idea of mobile land artillery has thrown the entire gun casting industry of K'Vaern's Cove into a furor. My best estimate is that there is sufficient metal already here in the city to produce two hundred bronze and iron pieces to throw six to twelve-sedant shot—say three to six of your 'kilos'—although doing so will require the navy to sacrifice many of its existing larger bombards to provide the required metal.


"Once again, however, the problem is time. Not so much for the Cove, as for your own timetable. The actual casting of the pieces could be accomplished within one and a half or two of your months, but boring and reaming them will take considerably longer. They have the technology, but they don't normally produce weapons in the caliber ranges we need, nor do they normally have to work under such tight time constraints, and boring a gun is a long, painstaking process."


"We can help there," Julian grunted. The Diaspran looked at him and wrinkled the skin above one eye, and the intel sergeant chuckled. "All we need is to set up a 'Field Expedient Post Hole Cutter,'" he said, and Kosutic and Pahner startled everyone else present by bursting into laughter.


"Satan, yes!" the sergeant major chortled, and laughed even harder when Roger and O'Casey stared at her in obvious perplexity. She managed to get herself under control relatively quickly, however, and shook her head as she wiped her eyes.


"Sorry, Your Highness. It's just that Julian's absolutely right. All we need is our bayonets, and we've got plenty of those."


"Bayonets?" Roger blinked, and Kosutic nodded.


"Sure, Sir. They issue us with those nice memory plastic bayonets . . . you know, the ones with the same molecular edge they put on the boma knives."


"Oh." Roger sat back on his cushion, his eyes suddenly thoughtful, and Kosutic nodded again, harder.


"Absolutely, Sir. Those things'll cut anything, which is damned handy, since we use them a lot more for tools around camp than we do for sticking people close up and personal. But the point Julian's making is that the field manuals tell us exactly how to build 'post hole cutters' that'll cut nice, perfectly circular post holes in anything from clay and dirt to polished obsidian. We can sure as Satan set them up to bore and cut anything the locals can cast, and they'll do the job in hours, not days or weeks."


"Smaj's right, Sir," Julian said. "Give us a couple of days to get set up, and we can bore out the barrels one hell of a lot faster than the foundries can cast them!"


"That would be wonderful news," From said enthusiastically. "It would allow us to build up a much heavier artillery train than I'd believed possible, and that should help enormously. But even if that's possible, we still aren't going to be able to field the sort of rifles-only army you want, Captain Pahner. Not in the time available. Because we can't supply the quantities of ammunition required in the time available, Bogess and I have discussed with Bistem Kar the necessity of raising additional pike regiments to make up the required fighting force. There are more than sufficient metalworkers here in the city to manufacture pikeheads and javelins in very large numbers. Indeed, from what Bistem Kar has told us, it seems very likely that we'll run out of able-bodied soldiers well before we run out of the ability to equip them with pikes, assegais, javelins, and the new shields.


"Taking everything together, then, I believe that given two months with which to work—and the sergeant's 'post hole cutter'—the foundries and artisans of K'Vaern's Cove could equip a field army with some four to five thousand breech-loading rifles, assuming that we use Dell Mir's suggested design alternative, with sufficient ammunition, supported by two hundred pieces of artillery and ten to fifteen thousand pikemen and spearmen. Allowing for gunners, engineers, and other support troops, that would come to something on the order of thirty-six thousand troops. K'Vaern's Cove is a large and populous city, but that number probably represents the maximum force which the city can muster, even assuming that the entire manpower of the Navy is brought ashore and pressed into service with the Guard and that all of the refugees here in the city capable of military service are also placed under arms. There might be a few more able-bodied men available, but larger numbers cannot realistically be removed from the city labor force without catastrophic dislocation."


"Good God," Roger said, turning to Pahner. "Did you come up with all of that?"


"Yes," the Marine said. "If we have to stay and fight, I want to do it with the best possible equipment and the best possible field force. I'd hoped that we could put more riflemen and fewer pikemen into the field, but it sounds to me as if Rus, Bogess, and Bistem Kar have probably come up with the best practical mix of weapons and manpower numbers."


"How do you intend to train anyone on all those new weapons when none of them even exist yet?" O'Casey asked.


"I still don't intend to train them," Pahner said. "But the way it would be done if we ended up with no choice but to do it would be with simple wooden mock-ups until the real thing became available. Again, from the grunt's eye view, it would be primarily a matter of instilling the discipline the troops need and giving them confidence in their new equipment. For the officers, it would be a matter of a lot of sand table exercises to make them familiar with the capabilities—and weaknesses—of their new army. The real problem is that this would be a much larger battle to administer than Diaspra was, which means we'd be spread accordingly thinner and that a more comprehensive organizational infrastructure would be required."


"I'm very impressed with Kar," Rastar said. "And with Bogess, of course. But I'm not sure that they can both develop an understanding of the tactics and simultaneously manage the training, particularly in the time available. For that matter, this whole concept of a 'staff' is very odd."


"All right," the captain said. "There's sufficient production to create the weaponry to equip a small field army. We don't have a fixed number on the enemy at this time. The time required to create the weapons would be approximately the same as the time to train the individuals in their use, but doing either or both of those things would narrow our window to reach the spaceport before the supplements run out. Sergeant Julian, could you give us your report on the political situation in K'Vaern's Cove?"


Julian pulled out his own pad, keyed it alive, and scratched his chin.


"It's a pretty open democracy, so the political situation is complex, Sir. There are about fourteen major positions on the matrix, and most have a party of adherents prepared to support them at the expense of their competitors. However, the majority parties are pretty well represented by Wes Til and Turl Kam. Til represents old money, shipyards, and land-based mercantile interests in general, while Kam represents the labor groups and the actual sailing community.


"Tratan," the intel NCO continued, nodding at the Mardukan, "has spent some time on the streets, feeling out the attitudes and opinions here in the city. I'll let him talk about it."


"It's amazing what people talk about around a dumb barb," Cord's nephew said. "My only problem has been keeping up with the local dialects. You humans aren't able to really hear it because of however those 'toots' of yours do the translating, or so I understand from Julian, but the locals speak a very fast pidgin of several of the coastal languages. I didn't know any of them before we arrived in Diaspra, and I only speak one of them with any real fluency, even now, so talking to these people has been . . . interesting.


"In the long run, though, I think that the fact that I don't speak the local language very well probably helped, because it contributed to the 'dumb barb' image and let me eavesdrop on a lot of conversations without anyone really thinking about the fact that I was there.


"What I can tell you is that the city is very worried. In the abstract, everyone is hostile towards the notion of taking in all the refugees from the mainland, too. The reason I say in the abstract, is that most of the refugees are staying with distant relatives, acquaintances, or what have you, and everyone thinks that their refugees are just fine. It's all the other refugees they want to run out of town."


"It's a branch of Turl Kam's party that's agitating against the refugees," Julian said. "A splinter party, really; I haven't seen any sign that he personally supports the agitation."


"True, but everyone is also extremely worried about the Boman," Tratan continued. "Because of the stories from all the refugees, they have a clear picture of what having the Boman come over the wall will mean, and no one wants to see that here in K'Vaern's Cove. Most people aren't willing to admit that they don't really buy into the idea that the Cove isn't an impregnable fortress, but the nervousness is growing, and when the food begins to run out, I think it's likely to turn into panic. At the same time, though, there's a significant voice—a very quiet one, but persistent and very widespread—that wants full-scale war against the Boman as the best way to keep them away from the city walls in the first place."


"Does it have any spokespeople?" Kosutic asked intently.


"No," Julian and Tratan replied simultaneously, and the Mardukan shrugged and gestured for Julian to continue.


"None of the arguments in favor of all-out war have a spokesperson because the idea itself seems to cross party lines," the sergeant said. "It's like an undercurrent, a strong one, that keeps turning up in all discussions of the Boman crisis. 'If only someone would face them . . . We can face them . . . We could use our might to destroy them, but . . .' That sort of thing. Anytime you discuss the Boman, it comes up, and the few who I've talked to who were against taking the offense were pretty defensive about their opposition."


"Same here," Tratan agreed. "This land blockade is strangling the city, and everyone knows it. They're blaming the refugees for their problems, but they really know it's the Boman."


"Also, D'Sley might or might not have the resources we need to build the ships," Julian noted. "There were significant stockpiles of raw materials there that hadn't been shipped at the beginning of the war, including seasoned wood and masts. No one's positive that the Boman haven't destroyed them since, but the consensus seems to be that they haven't because they recognize the value the stockpiles represent."


"We got that, too," Roger said.


"Tor Flain and Wes Til were very careful to point it out," Despreaux added.


"Yes," O'Casey said. "Our couple were careful to make the point, too. But they were also careful to point out that getting access to those supplies would require more than a raid."


"That depends on your definition of 'raid,' " Pahner said, "but I agree in general."


"And if there aren't sufficient materials here in K'Vaern's Cove," Roger added, "cutting the needed timber upriver from the city would require a military covering force to keep the Boman off the woodcutters, and managing that would be almost as difficult as taking and holding D'Sley in the first place."


"Let me make one thing clear," Pahner said. "In my opinion, there's no way to face the Boman with Marines and Northern cavalry alone. Any kind of confrontation in the field would require the backing, at the absolute minimum, of the K'Vaern's Cove Guard and everyone we could pry loose from their Navy, and that would be a dangerously slim field army, with virtually no margin for any sort of losses. It would take a fully mobilized citizenry to field the much larger army Rus is talking about building, and, frankly, even that would be none too heavy a force to go up against someone as tough as the main Boman horde sounds to be."


"We actually put it that way in our conversation with Sam Tre and Fullea Li'it," O'Casey said. "No support without a fully mobilized citizenry."


"You think we could take them . . . if we had to, that is?" Roger asked.


"With artillery and breech-loading percussion cap rifles added to the pike and assegai regiments?" Pahner nodded. "Yes."


"Excuse me, Sir," Kosutic said, "but are you suggesting that we stay and fight?"


"I'm suggesting that we consider it," the CO said. "Tratan, what do you think?"


"Fight." The Mardukan shrugged. "You need the willing support of the K'Vaernians to build your ships, and their construction requires materials that are on the other side of the Bay, underneath the Boman. Also, I think kicking their barb asses would be a good idea on general principles."


"Poertena?"


"Fight, Sir," the Pinopan said. "We need tee pocking timber."


"Sergeant Despreaux?"


"Fight, Sir," the NCO responded. "We're going to be here, either way you look at it, when the Cove goes head-to-head with them. However it looks now, I don't think we'd get away with sailing off into the sunset then."


"Julian?"


"Fight, Sir. All the other reasons, and I've developed a real case of the ass about barbs, Sir."


"Let's cut this short. Anyone against?"


"Not against, really," Kosutic said, "but the troops are getting worn close to the ragged, Captain. Nothing against the boys and girls, but we saw a lot of overreaction in Diaspra. It's something to keep an eye on."


"Noted," the CO said. "But that's not an objection?"


"No, Sir," the sergeant major said, and the captain leaned back on his pillows and looked around.


"All right. If the Council can build a consensus for all-out war against the Boman, elements of the Empress' Own will participate as cadre trainers and advisers in return for full-scale support in building a fleet of fast, blue-water ships. Preproduction of the ships should begin at the earliest possible moment."


"We need intel," Roger said. "We don't really know what the barbs' main force is doing. We think it's sitting in Sindi, but we don't really know that for sure."


"Absolutely," Pahner agreed. "And when we know where it is, we'll start to plan. Right now, however, the basic plan is to start from D'Sley. Retaking that will be the first step however the intel stacks up; after that we can work the rest out."


"Recon teams?" the sergeant major asked.


"Yes. Use Second Squad and send Gunny Jin out to coordinate it. Keep Despreaux here, though; we need her to work with the alchemists." Pahner leaned back and his eyes went unfocused. "And add shovels to that list of vital materials."


"And maps," Roger said. "And axes. And we probably need to get Poertena or Julian involved with Rus and Bistem Kar to be sure their projected numbers for raw materials are accurate. No offense, Rus, but we're talking about a production scale like nothing that's ever been done around here before."


"No offense taken, Your Highness," the Diaspran assured him. "Having someone double-check our estimates would make both of us feel much better, actually."


"A thousand and one questions, people," Pahner said, picking up his pad. "Including how to get the K'Vaernian in the street solidly behind the war. We need them all answered. Sergeant Major, get the reconnaissance out. Don't just use the squad. There's too much area to cover, so use local woodsmen and some of Rastar's cavalry, too, and pass out all the communicators you can scrounge. Eleanora, get to work on a propaganda program to get these K'Vaern's Cove people fighting mad. Poertena, we need you on the ships, so that leaves you, Julian, as our premier armorer."


"Joy," the NCO said with a grin.


"That's 'Joy, Sir,' " the captain told him, eyes on his pad as he entered notes. "Look over the materials numbers and production estimates with Rus, then work with Rus and this Dell Mir on designs. I suggest that you get His Highness involved in that, as well, and I'll be looking over both of your shoulders."


He made another entry on his pad, then looked up and raised an eyebrow.


"Why are you all still sitting here?" he asked mildly, and various people found themselves pushing to their feet almost before they realized they were moving. The Marine smiled wryly as they began filing out, but then he raised one hand.


"Stay a moment, Roger," he said.


"Have you been naughty again?" Julian whispered as he passed the prince on his way to the door. Roger only smiled and shook his head, then walked back to the company commander.


"Yes, Captain?"


"Sit down," Pahner said, pouring a cup of wine. "I want to discuss a couple of things with you."


Roger accepted the wine warily.


"I made up with Despreaux . . . sort of," he said. "Or, I think I have, at least. In a way. Kind of."


"That's not the point of this discussion," Pahner told him with a frown, "although we do need to discuss that sometime, too. But this is a 'professional development' counseling session."


"Professional development as a prince?" Roger asked with a grin. "Or as a Marine."


"Both," the captain said, and Roger's grin faded as the Marine's somber expression registered. "I want to talk you about your actions since . . . Marshad, basically."


"I've been holding up my end," Roger said in a quieter voice. "I . . . think I've even gotten most of the troops to like me."


"Oh, you've done that, all right," Pahner said. "In fact, you're a fine leader, from an officer point of view. You don't undercut your NCOs, you lead from the front, all that stuff. But one of those good qualities is also a hell of a problem."


"Would that be leading from the front?" Roger asked.


"In a way." Pahner took a sip of his wine. "Let me tell you a little story. Call it 'This Is No Shit,' since it's a space story. Once upon a time, there was a Marine sergeant. He'd seen a few engagements, but one day he did a drop on a planet after a pirate raid had been through."


The captain took another, much deeper sip of wine, and Roger suddenly realized he'd never seen the Marine really drink. Until today.


"It wasn't pleasant. I think Despreaux talked to you once about coming in behind pirates. We seem to do it too often, and you only have to do it once to get real excited about pirate hunting.


"So, after that, the sergeant in our little story did just that—he got real excited about pirate hunting. In fact, the sergeant got so excited that one time he took a bunch of buddies and raided a ship that they just knew was a pirate at a neutral station.


"And it was one—a pirate, that is. But so, it turned out, were about half the spacestation's permanent personnel, and the cruiser the sergeant and his buddies were assigned to ended up having to fight its way off the station and nearly took a shitload of casualties. All because a sergeant couldn't figure out when it was appropriate to go hunting pirates, and when it wasn't."


Roger watched the captain take yet another drink of wine.


"What happened to the sergeant?"


"Well, all sorts of things went wrong at that spacestation. Among other things, the commander of the cruiser hadn't really been supposed to dock there in the first place. So nothing, officially, happened to the sergeant. But it took him a while to make gunny. Quite a while. And even longer to make captain."


"So I should quit chasing barbs," Roger said flatly.


"Yep," the captain said. "There's too many of them for the few you kill to matter a hill of beans. And when you're killing barbs, Cord and the platoon are trying to keep you alive . . . and having a damned hard time of it.


"But that's not all I'm getting at, either. Another reason that sergeant went on a private expedition was that he'd been on combat ops too long. After a point, you start trying too hard, not caring about what happens, whether you live or die. I think most of the platoon is there right now, Roger. That's what the Smaj was getting at a few minutes ago. But, frankly, son, you're showing the worst signs of all."


"And I'm the worst one to be showing them," Roger said very quietly.


"Yep," the Marine said again. "Want to talk about it?"


"Not if I can avoid it." Roger sipped his own wine and was silent for several seconds. Then he shrugged minutely. "Let's just say that I feel somewhat responsible for the entire situation."


"Let's just say that you feel very responsible for the situation," the captain told him. "Which is bullshit, but telling you that doesn't help, does it? And now you see the Marines as people—your people—and even the new, native troops to an extent, and every one of them you lose is like a piece of skin ripped off your body."


"Yeah," Roger half-whispered, peering down into his wine.


"Didn't they have a class about that—several, actually—at the Academy?"


"Yes, Captain, they did. But I'm afraid I didn't pay as much attention as I should have," the prince answered, "and I'm having a difficult time applying the lessons."


"I'm not surprised," the Marine told him almost gently, and Roger looked up quickly. Pahner smiled at him. "Roger, don't take this wrong, but part of the problem is that at heart, you're a barbarian yourself."


"I'm what?" Roger blinked in surprise.


"A barbarian," Pahner told him. "Mind you, being a barbarian isn't always such a terrible thing. There are barbarians . . . and barbarians, you know, and you don't have to be a butchering maniac like the Kranolta or the Boman to have what the Empire thinks of as 'barbarian' qualities. Just like some of the most 'civilized' people you're ever going to meet would cut your throat for a decicred if they thought they could get away with it. The thing is, the Empire has gone all civilized these days, and the qualities of a barbarian warrior aren't exactly the ones your lady mother's better classes of subjects want to see when they invite someone over for a high tea. But the qualities the people at those teas denigrate as barbaric are the ones the soldiers who keep them safe have to have. Courage, determination, discipline, loyalty, passion for your beliefs, and the willingness to lay it all on the line—and lose it, if you have to—out of a concept of honor and responsibility, rather than looking for compromise and consensus because 'violence never settled anything.' The military has always been out of step with the mainstream culture in most wealthy societies which enshrine individual liberty and freedom, Roger. It has to be, because those sorts of societies don't have the natural 'antibodies' against foreign and domestic enemies that more militaristic ones do. By and large, I think that's a very good thing, even if I do sometimes wind up thinking that most civilians are over-protected, under-educated drones. But the reason I think of them that way is that I'm a barbarian by their standards, and they keep me around because they need someone with barbaric qualities to keep them safe in their beds at night. I don't imagine you ever really realized that you had those qualities, too, before we hit Marduk, and I hope you won't be offended if I say that no one else realized that either. Except for Cord, maybe."


The captain sipped from his cup once again, his expression thoughtful.


"I hadn't really thought about it before, but you and he are almost mirror images, in a way. You come from the most protected place in the most powerful and civilized empire in the known galaxy, and at the moment you find yourself on a barbarian planet at the ass end of nowhere, and in some ways it's like you were born to be here. Cord comes from a bunch of ragged ass barbarians in the middle of a godforsaken jungle full of flar-ke, atul-grak, and killerpillars, but he was educated at Voitan, and there's a sage and a philosopher down inside him, as well. There's some sort of weird resonance there, one I don't imagine anyone outside the two of you really understands, but it's certainly real. Maybe that resonance is why he slipped so easily into the mentor role for you. Or maybe it was just that, unlike any of the rest of us, he had no preconceptions where you were concerned, which let him see you more clearly than the rest of us did.


"But whatever it is, Roger, you need to be aware of what you really are. You can't afford not to be, because of who you are. I'm not just talking about the situation we're in here on Marduk and your place in the chain of command, either. You're the Heir Tertiary to the Throne, and somehow I don't think you're just going to fade into the woodwork again when we get you home. But you're going to be up against some operators who are used to manipulating people with a lot more life experience than you have, and if they have a better read than you do on who you are and how you think, you're screwed."


"I don't guess I ever thought that far ahead," Roger said slowly.


"I'd be surprised if you had. However you got here, you're in the position that every junior officer worth a flying fuck finds himself in sooner or later, Roger. To work with your troops, you almost have to love them. If you don't give a damn about them, that comes across, and not caring is like an acid that corrodes whatever you have inside that's worth keeping. But you also have to be willing to let them go. People die, son. Especially Marines, because we're the ones who volunteer to be at the sharp end of the stick. That's what we do, and sometimes we crap out, and sometimes the mission means that we have to die or, worse, we have to let our people die . . . or choose which of them are going someplace we know some of them won't be coming back from and which of them aren't buying a ticket this time. Either way, Roger, when it's time, it's time."


Roger crossed his arms and looked away, his mouth a stubborn line, and despite his own sincerity the captain almost laughed at how hard the onetime royal brat was fighting against accepting what he knew was true. There was nothing at all humorous about it of course, and Roger would never have forgiven him for even the driest chuckle, yet the irony was almost overwhelming as the captain reflected on how the mighty had fallen . . . and how much Roger had discovered that losing his people hurt.


"Roger, here's the bottom line. If you stick yourself out on a limb, everybody else climbs out there with you, and now it's less because they have to than because they want to follow you into whatever desperate situation you've managed to find. There are times when that's good, but only when things are already desperate. So quit climbing out on the limb, okay? It might make you feel a little better, because you're sharing the danger, but it just gets more troops killed in the end."


"Okay."


"For what it's worth, you seem to be a natural born leader, and it's not just your hair. The Marines are bad enough, but the Diasprans seem to think you shit gold. It's an unusual commander who can cross species like that. I can't. They respect my judgment, but they don't think I walk on water."


Roger inhaled deeply, then nodded.


"So what you're saying is that if I go out and do something stupid, it's not just the Marines I'll imperil."


"No, it isn't," the captain agreed. "So start letting other people take point, all right? We all know you care, so put down the rifle."


"Okay," the prince said again, then met the Marine's eye. "How does this affect my command?"


"Like I said before, it's going to be a reserve. If I need you, I'll use you, and you'll go out with the scouts if everything works out right. But behind the scouts, right?"


"Right," Roger said. "Behind the scouts."


"Take care, Your Highness," Pahner said, nodding in dismissal, and Roger set aside his wine and rose.


"Good night, Captain."


 


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