The muse wanted me to get this down, so…
Comments/recommendations appreciated, as always!
Ethan Fargo’s wrist comp went off with his alert tone, startling Canis and Cattus as they lay on the porch sunning themselves and luxuriating in the radiant heaters while he sat drinking one of his few cups of real coffee. Grumbling, he looked down. “Now what?”
MANDATORY COMPANY MUSTER 1500 LOCAL 08JAN2826 ENCLAVE.
What in the hell is… His wrist comp went off again. REQ U ATTEND PARADE AT GALPAT COMPOUND 1100 TOMORROW. CHG OF COMMAND/AWARDS CEREMONY. SHUTTLE WILL TAKE YOU AND CHSGT LEVESQUE TO ENCLAVE. S/KEADS Why is the colonel sending me this personally? That doesn’t make any…
A vid alert popped up from Nicole and he quickly acknowledged it. “Hi. What’s—”
“Did you get the alert for tomorrow?”
She interrupted again, “Did you also get a second alert to be at the compound at 1100?”
“Ah, yes I did, and I’m assuming you got one, too?” He saw her nod over the vid and asked, “Do you have any idea what is going on?”
“WO Boykin commed me. Colonel Keads is the new GalPat rep for Hunter and your favorite PITA is outbound. Palette is apparently bound for a…” she snickered, “Combat command.” She laughed loudly and finally got herself under control. “That’s going to be…special. Any bets on how long he survives?”
Fargo smiled. “No bet. I’ll come down early. Want to have breakfast?”
“Sure. Come to the Copper Pot, I’ll fix you breakfast if you’re good.”
He heard a bang in the background and Nicole started cussing. “Dammit, Hugh, you weren’t supposed to slam the oven.” She turned back to the vid and sighed. “Lemme go see what I can salvage of the cakes that were in the oven. Love you.”
She air-kissed the vid and he barely got out, “I love you,” before it disconnected. Well, I think Hugh is in trouble. Especially if the cakes fell…I really wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. He looked up to see Ton’Skel running from the far end of the meadow, high-stepping through the three feet of snow on the ground. How the hell he can stand to do that damn near naked is beyond me. Their bodies have to be…a lot more adaptable than ours.
Fargo, eighty-six and in prime shape, had medium brown hair, brown eyes and a smooth expression that belied the sense of inner strength you only saw if you looked him in the eye. At almost six feet tall and one hundred eighty pounds, he’d been genied for athletics and hand/eye coordination as a child, and it continued to serve him well. But as he watched Ton’Skel he couldn’t help but shiver. Ton’Skel was barely three years old and was already over six feet tall, well over two hundred pounds and he flashed back to the briefing embedded in his neural net- Dragoons- Bipedal, opposable thumbs, three fingered clawed forelegs, three toed clawed feet. Vestigial tails, vestigial wings. Prominent fangs. Multiple colorations, do not tie to specific clans or patriarchal lines. Cultural values include capture of worlds, minerals, battle to advance within society. Carnivorous, eat prisoners and dead, including their own. Males start training as warriors at three years of age. Females mainly breeders, administrators. Can live to four hundred years of age.
Ton’Skel hopped up on the porch and brushed snow from his shipsuit, causing Cattus to yowl as she was sprayed with snow. He growled something back at her, and she huffed then rolled on her back for him to scratch her belly. She play bit him and he got up fluidly. His GalTrans converted his growls into Galactic common, “So beautiful. Such nice weather! There is food?”
Ethan chuckled. “Growing boy again, Ton?” I swear you must eat your weight every week!” He’s grown six inches in, what, three months since we picked them up, and he’s put on probably fifty pounds! “Yes, there is food. You know how to use the autochef, and it was refilled yesterday…again.”
Ton had the grace to color an interesting shade of blue, nodded, and asked tentatively, “I hear…heard your…alert go off. Is work?”
Fargo got up and opened the door, only to knocked aside by Canis then Cattus as they bolted for the kitchen. “Yes, I have to…work tomorrow. It is military work for my…the company of militia I lead. I will have to leave early and won’t be back until late tomorrow evening.”
Ton wrinkled his lips, showing his fangs for a moment. “Is not about me?”
“No, it’s not about you. Nobody knows you are here. And you have given your parole, and you have…diplomatic immunity. No one will hurt you here.” At least not if I have anything to say about it. Fargo programmed his meager breakfast and watched in amazement at the amount of food Ton selected. His breakfast popped out and he carried it to the table, then refilled his coffee cup with the last of the pot.
Ton had to make two trips to get all the dishes to the table, and he started eating quickly. Fargo finally said quietly, “Manners. Eat slowly, not messily, please.” Hanging his head and coloring that shade of blue again, Ton’Skel slowed down and matched him bite for bite, until they were done.
Getting up, Fargo shoved his dishes into the recycler, then got out Canis and Cattus portions dropping them in their respective bowls. Ton did the same with his dishes and followed him into the living room. “Use the e-tainment? Please?”
Fargo nodded. “You may. I do not need to use it any time this morning. But first, we need to talk.”
Ton sat on the couch and fiddled nervously with the e-tainment controller, showing just how mobile his three fingers and thumb were. “Ton, I need you to not go anywhere tomorrow. I know you like to run and wander outside, but with me being gone, I’d prefer you stay inside or at least on the porch tomorrow. The animals will need to go out regularly. You can use the e-tainment, but as we’ve agreed, no messaging to anyone, not even your uncle. He knows you are here and safe, Captain Jace has passed that word. You have eight more weeks here before the next steps are decided.”
“Captain, do you know what the next steps are,” Ton asked plaintively.
Shaking his head, Fargo replied. “No idea. That is…up to your uncle and whomever he is in contact with.” Ton slumped back and clicked the e-tainment system on, then flipped through the guide to the early days of the original battles with the Consolidated Union. Fargo asked curiously, “Why are you so intrigued with that stuff? That’s…four hundred years ago!”
Distractedly, Ton said, “Is not the same…history the Traders have. Many things do not make sense. There is…nothing like this showing actual battle. They…only show…repro…Ah, I not know word.”
“Reproductions? Like with actors?”
Ton nodded. “Actors. Repro…reproduction…is…fake?”
“Not necessarily. It depends on how…accurate…true to life the reproduction is.”
“What I see here is…actual…not reproduction. But not the same as what Traders say.”
Fargo grimaced and shrugged. “Could be the different perspective on the battles.”
“I go watch more.” Ton selected the last battle for the CU yards in Mars orbit, where the whole mess had started with Ortega and his minions taking over the yards and ships, then declaring them a free republic. Fargo remembered watching that set in school as a part of the history of the war and the final end of Ortega. Smiling grimly, he went into his bedroom trailed by the animals and started laying out the uniform he would need for tomorrow. He sent a thought to them. “Cattus, Canis stay off the bed. Do not mess up uniforms.” Cattus yawned and sprawled in the sun coming through the window as Canis huffed and curled up on the far side of the bed, as she usually did.
Dragging the liteflyer out of storage shed he unfolded it, reached in and configured it for cargo, then started the Built In Test (BIT). Yawning in the predawn twilight, he sniffed and was rewarded with the smell of the pines above the cabin and he smiled at the stillness of the air. Going to be a smooth ride to Rushing River this morning! He went back in the cabin, picked up his bag with his uniform and a change of clothes in case he couldn’t get back in if the weather changed, and bit his lip as he looked around. Ton came out of the spare bedroom and yawned. “I let animals out now?”
“Sure. I’m out of here in a couple of segs. I’m hoping to be back by eighteen or nineteen, if things go smoothly.”
“So, fourteen divs?”
Nodding, Fargo replied, “Probably. If the weather gets bad, I’ll…be back as soon as I can tomorrow. There is plenty of food for the animals in the cold box.” He sent a though to the animals, “You two obey Ton’Skel and guard the place.” They both nodded, startling him. That’s…a new behavior. Almost as if they…I need to talk to MobyDineah.
He strapped on his 6mm pistol, checking to make sure he had a full charge, and that the safety was on. Slapping his pockets, he verified he had his vibro knife, light, and locator in their usual places, then pulled his heavy weight uniform jacket from the coat rack next to the door. Slipping it on, he followed Ton and the animals out the door, shaking his head at Ton being out with only a light shipsuit on. Getting into the liteflyer quickly, he checked that everything was in the green and looked to make sure Ton and the animals were clear. With a wave, he lifted on the anti-grav and eased forward then picked up speed and altitude. He set high cruise and let the liteflyer carry him to Rushing River, the spaceport cum village, as his thoughts drifted through what might happen during the day.
Taxiing in, he saw Nicole’s runabout parked beside the administration building and smiled. He quickly parked and secured it, after he pulled his bag out of the other seat. He went over and opened the door with a smile and said, “Hi, going my way?”
“Shut up and get in, the damn heater quit again. I’m freezing my ass off,” Nicole snarled. He hadn’t even gotten the door shut when she stomped on the throttle, sliding the runabout around and pointing it at the gate. He hung on for dear life as she slalomed through the village, slid to a stop in front of the Copper Pot and ran up the steps, waited impatiently for the door to dilate, and disappeared inside before Fargo even got to the top of the steps.