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Colonel Keads lounged across two of the seats in the cargo bay as they took off from Rushing River. “Major Santos is a logistics type. He’s been on back to back field tours, and this is his first planetside duty. And he actually scammed GalPat to bring his wife along. She’s my GP secretary, and a damn good one from what I’ve seen so far, so he’s in my good graces…for now.” Fargo felt a tinge of pride from Santos and a thread of worry. He’s gotta be nervous. First time on the road with a new boss is…always hard.
Santos had the grace to color slightly, then nodded. Fargo said, “Welcome to the nut house.”
Keads held up his hand. “Don’t disabuse him of how good he has it just yet, Captain. We started early this morning, so you are actually the fourth stop. We’ve also been inspecting the militia units.”
Santos snorted. “Barely capable, minimally to completely untrained, no standardized equipment—” Oh, that got him going! Apparently he’s as unimpressed with the other companies as we are. Maybe there is hope for him. And he’s gotta be better than Palette.
Keads smiled. “Courtesy of the person you relieved. You’re going to get to fix it.” He pointed to Nicole, “The chief sergeant there is worth her weight in gold. I’d put her back on active duty in a heartbeat, if I thought either she or the good captain wouldn’t slit my throat for doing it. She’s better than our entire intel section. You have questions, you call her.”
Startled, Santos almost came to attention. “Yes, Sir!”
Nicole smiled and touched her wrist comp, “Just squirted my info to you, sir.”
Smiling, the colonel said, “OneSvel, the only Taurasian symbiote pair on Hunter, is an excellent medic and he’s been treating the folks in the Enclave since he got here. Most of the time, Taurasians are sifters, but some of them do go into the medical side.”
OneSvel’s GalTrans twittered, “Actually, there are two of us here now Colonel. NasTess is a doctor and was headed to its residency when their ship was taken. They functioned as the sole medical provider on Eros.”
“Oh, they stayed? I wasn’t aware of that. Do they have plans to take up their residency?”
“They are discussing that with Doc Grant. He is, as you know, fully qualified to proctor them and may take them as a field residency, which would meet their training requirements.”
“Interesting. That could be a benefit to Hunter in the long run.”
Boykin came over the PA. “Five segs out. Fasten your seatbelts, stow your tray tables, and raise your seatbacks.” Santos looked up at the overhead as the others snickered. “And somebody wake up Grayson.”
OneSvel extended a pseudopod and tapped Grayson’s boot, startling him awake. “Whut?” He yawned. “Are we there yet?” He stretched and sat up straight, fastened his seatbelt and looked around.
Fargo shook his head. “I swear, if I tried to sleep like that, I’d need a crane to get up.” The shuttle started bumping in the local turbulence and Fargo reached over, taking Nicole’s hand. “Almost there.”
Santos eyebrows went up at that, but he didn’t say anything. Purposely looking anywhere but at the two of them. Boykin brought them to a soft landing and deployed the aft hatch as the colonel and major led them off the shuttle.
Keads started chuckling as they got to the bottom of the ramp. “Captain, I think somebody wants to report to you.” He gestured at the company formed up next to the pad, Jiri standing at attention in front of the men.
Fargo stepped off the ramp and Nicole followed him as he marched up to Jiri. “Captain, the company is formed. We are standing by for inspection.” He saluted and Fargo returned it.
“Thank you. Take your position.” Turning, he faced the colonel and saluted. “Sir, the company is formed and awaits your inspection.”
Keads stepped off the ramp, followed by Santos and said, “Tell those clowns to drop their stealth. They’re good, but I can still see the heat waves.”
Fargo stifled a laugh. “Honor guard, drop stealth and return to formation!” Eight sets of armor dropped stealth and jumped simultaneously, landing at the rear of the formation as Santos goggled at the whole proceeding.
Colonel Keads walked up to him and projected his voice. “I don’t need to troop the line. It’s too damn cold and I don’t need to be dressed down. Let’s go somewhere warm. Dismiss the company.”
Fargo saluted and did an about face. “Dismissed!” Muster in the training spaces in five segs.”
Santos said wonderingly, “They’ve…they’ve got armor. But…how?”
As they walked toward the training spaces the colonel chuckled. “A bit more, shall we say, ready for inspection than the other companies aren’t they?”
Santos shook his head. “I…have trouble believing what I’m seeing. They…oh my deity…they’re all Ghorkas!”
Keads laugh started in his belly and erupted, startling Santos, Fargo, and Nicole. “You just now noticed that?” Kulbir came trotting up and Keads bear hugged him. “Kulbir was that stealthed armor your idea?”
“Just wanted to see if you were paying attention, Colonel. And congratulations on your promotion.”
Keads snorted. “Why did I even bother coming. I swear y’all get information before—”
A voice interrupted them from behind. “Well, well, if it isn’t Mr. Cesar Augustus Santos in the flesh.” Santos literally cringed and drew up his shoulders to protect his head as the voice continued, “Looks like he’s all grown up. Did you ever learn how to supply a company, Mr. Santos?”
Fargo glanced back to see Ganju smiling broadly as he walked up to them. Santos turned slowly and said, “CSM, I…think I learned from your lessons.”
Keads and Kulbir were smiling as Ganju stuck out his hand. “Glad to hear that, Mr. Santos. I always thought you had more potential than most pork chops.”
Kulbir and Fargo laughed as Keads and Nicole looked at them like they were crazy. Nicole asked, “Pork chops?”
Ganju nodded to Fargo, “Ekavir, would you explain?”
Fargo laughed again. “Ancient history. In the Navy and Marines, the logistics officer was called the supply officer. The archaic symbol for them looked like a pork chop, hence the appellation of pork chop. And since the Ghorka’s service goes back to those times, they have…shall we say, continued that tradition, albeit privately in most cases.”
The colonel smiled. “I like it. Now that actually makes me want a pork chop. A real pork chop.” He turned to the major. “Oh, and we will be supporting these troops. They are actually Gray Lady contracted, so we can officially provide them anything they need, including ammunition.”
“Where did they get armor?” Santos asked plaintively. “It looks newer than the fleet armor I’m used to seeing.”
“It is, and more advanced too,” Fargo said. “Gray Lady is contracted to do test and evaluation and what better place to test and evaluate than a company with Deity knows how many years of combat experience in actual field environments.”
“And actual combat…Captain Fargo ended up deep under Eros moon rescuing slaves with a platoon of troopers. He…slightly overstressed a set of armor hauling another set of armor to safety.” Keads smiled at him. “You seem to make a habit of that, Captain. That’s why you got another Bronze Star.”
Fargo grimaced. “I don’t like leaving folks behind. And the CSM had a bit of a problem…She…was dying.” Nicole reached over a touched his arm, causing him to glance at her, then pulled her close. Santos’ eyebrows rose and Fargo said, “Yes, we’re a couple. Everyone here knows it, we just don’t advertise it around the regular troops.”
Santos shook his head. “I know nothing, I saw nothing, I heard—”
Ganju crowed, “By the gods, he has learned!”
Grayson and OneSvel came off the shuttle carrying medkits, and Grayson smirked. “PDA, PDA! I’m going to tell!”
Ganju turned and drew his Kukri as he muttered, “One will turn this one into a eunuch, then there will be no worry about sex.” Grayson swung his medkit in front of his family jewels as Nicole said something that made Ganju and the other Ghorka smile.
OneSvel’s GalTrans twittered, “The testes can be regenerated, but don’t always function after regeneration. Humans seem to have problems with that for unknown reasons.”
Colonel Keads smothered a laugh as he said, “They are militia, they…GalPat rules do not apply in this case.”
Ganju looked over at Fargo. “Ekavir? Shall I?”
Fargo smiled. “No, don’t turn him into a eunuch. I don’t want to listen to him bitch.”
“Not even the tip, as Chief Sergeant has recommended?”
He cocked his head at Nicole. “Really? You went there?”
She smiled, if you could call it that. “It would teach him a lesson I don’t think he’d forget.” Head high, she continued toward the training spaces. “Besides, I’m freezing! You boys can stay out here and play all you want.”
OneSvel, with Grayson scuttling around to be on the offside from Ganju, headed toward the small clinic muttering to himself. Fargo and the other Ghorka picked up the pace, with the colonel and major lagging behind. Santos asked quietly, “Why do they call Fargo Ekavir? And why do they follow him? He’s…never commanded in GalPat that I’m aware of.”
Keads shook his head. “Captain Fargo is a former Terran Marine. He…and five of his troops were the only survivors of a bad intel dump during the Cluster Skirmish almost sixty years ago. He personally carried five sets of armor from the field to the LZ. Once they were back, he…went after the intel colonel who gave them bad data. He was brought up on charges, court martialed, and drummed out of the Corps. He did almost thirty years in the GalScouts before retiring here. And as far as his Ghorka name, Ekavir means bravest of the brave. Apparently he very calmly went prone and shot a slashgator that was charging three of them, finally stopping it less than five feet from his head.”
Santos said, “So he’s as crazy as they are.”
“Pretty much. And not only the Ghorka will follow him, apparently the Herm company at Rushing River will follow him to the gates of hell and through it.” They were almost to the training room and he added, “I’ll give you the AARs on the Endine and Eros moon clusterfucks. That will explain a lot of things.”
“Yes, sir. I’d appreciate it, since I’m obviously in way over my head here.”
Chuckling, the colonel said, “Don’t feel bad. I’m…not going to say anything about the previous leadership. Let’s just leave it at that.”
OneSvel caught up with Fargo as he stood outside the training office. “We need to talk now, if you can get away.”
Fargo projected, “Armory in five segs. It should be empty.” He stepped back into the training office, saw Lal, Jiri, Horse, Santos, and the colonel deep in discussions over support and supplies and slipped quietly away. He stopped by the break room, grabbed a bulb of ersatz coffee, and casually strolled down to the armory.
Stepping inside, he almost dropped the bulb as OneSvel loomed out of the dimness. Damn, he can move quietly…
He heard OneSvel’s chuckle in his mind, then they linked. “There is major conflict inside the Dragoon hierarchy, according to intelligence reports. Word has come out that the heir is missing, possibly captive of a rival dynasty. Also, there is a fresh set of incursions in Orillian Sector, at least four worlds have been violently subsumed by the Dragoons. GalPat was pushed out in one low level battle in the vicinity of Corilian, with the loss of six destroyers and one cruiser. No landings were attempted. GalScout HQ wants you to make a trip to Epsilon, specifically to Myoto. HQ believes they may be the next world to be taken. Myoto is about the same shape as Hunter, but with no militia and only a small GalPat detachment. They are having problems with large predators and have no defensive measures or guns of any type. They renounce all forms of violence. It is a fourteen day trip each way. Also, congratulations from HQ for breaking up the ice mining on Eros moon. GalPat has authorized Endine to take over mining operation, as this is the closest ice available in the Rimworlds. Also, GalScout has put out an alert to watch for hydrocarbons being mined anywhere. A distinctly different compound has been observed being used by Trader ships transiting Berlin and Al Misra.”
Fargo replied, “I…can’t leave for another couple of months. I have something I have to do here first.” He threw up a hasty block on his memories of Ton’Skel, then decided in for a credit, in for a million credits. “You remember the…young Dragoon I told you about that we rescued from the Star Lines shuttle?”
“He is here.”
OneSvel’s skin flashed through multiple colors and a forest of small pseudopods erupted from his body. “Here! Why?”
“His…relative needed to get him off Star Center. He has…diplomatic immunity, plus he is…barely three years old, so technically a child.”
“Dragoons are not children at age three, they are starting combat training. Where is he?”
“At my cabin. I have the animals watching/protecting him.”
He inadvertently saw a deeper portion of OneSvel’s mind, which told him they were deep in thought. Suddenly OneSvel’s attitude change. “This…there is a chance…I must talk to NasTess. Do not do anything further until I can contact you. I need…you must come back to Rushing River within two days.”
Fargo huffed out a breath. Well, this is…odd. I’ve never seen him pausing in thought. Something has him…not upset, but… “How about I come in for a physical. Knee pain again. The sumbitch actually does hurt in the cold.”
“That would be acceptable. We must…come up with a plan.” Both of them sensed someone coming and Fargo said, “And this is where the suits are kept on low charge.” The door opened and Jiri led the colonel and major in.
“Ah, Ekavir, I was just going to show them how we maintain and document the use of the armor. The Chief Sergeant is ready to go, if you are finished with the medical reviews.”
OneSvel chittered, “Yes, all are in good health, and Tsiring is fully recovered. She may now resume all normal activities that children do.”
Jiri laughed. “She did that two days after you healed her. She has driven Sushma crazy with her…actions.”
Boykin laughed as she climbed down out of the cockpit at Rushing River. “Take your bags, boxes, and stray things in a sack and get off my shuttle! One fresher stop and a pickup and it’s riki-tik to home I go!”
Fargo cocked an eye at her as Nicole laughed. “Bit of a long day, eh, Warrant?”
The warrant smiled and replied, “Long, boring, my butt hurts, and I’ve had way too many cups of…stuff. But I do have to admit the takedown of Grayson was one for the ages!” She sidled over to Nicole, “So, what did you really say? The GalTrans didn’t pick up enough to translate due to the wind noise.” Nicole, grinning evilly, whispered in her ear. The warrant’s eyes got big, she barked a laugh, and clapped her hands delightedly. “Oh, that is so perfect! I’ve got to remember that!” The two hugged quickly as Fargo and OneSvel made their way down the ramp, to be met by Sergeant Omar.
“Ho, Lieutenant of the retired. Ride you need?”
Fargo smiled. “Ride we do not. For OneSvel, ride is needed to clinic.”
“Ride I will give.” He looked up to see the women coming down the ramp and asked, “Rides you need?”
“Ride not, Sergeant. Walk I will, fresher I need, then depart I will.” Omar saluted her as he recognized Nicole.
“Ride not needed, Sergeant. Walk to admin we will. Runabout is there.”
OneSvel’s GalTrans twittered, “Ride I would appreciate, Sergeant.” Omar took OneSvel’s medkit and put it in the front of the runabout as he clambered into the back of the vehicle. Fargo shook his head, then picked up his and Nicole’s bags and went after her and the warrant.
A half div later, the two of them sat at the dining table with Mikhail, Luann, Ian, and Inga. Luann was, as usual, prattling on about the store, what the kids had done lately, and why he never came to dinner. But his mental probe told him she was basically happy, the store was making credits, and the kids had been good. He relaxed and just enjoyed the byplay between Ian and Inga, and Nicole and Luann. After dinner, Mikhail nodded toward the back patio and the two of them stepped out on the patio after they got their jackets and bulbs of coffee.
Mikhail said, “Ready to go back to work?”
“Sure. What’s going on? Is it at least on planet this time?” Sipping his bulb he asked plaintively, “Somewhere warm?”
Laughing, Mikhail replied, “It’s a couple of months out, so yes, it will be warm. It’s down southwest of White Beach. An expansion for a new township a six hundred miles southwest, actually.”
“Probably number three. It’s…a bit of a reach, but doable. We’ll need to put in,” Mikhail thought for a few seconds, “Probably three or four links to get to the actual feeder.”
Curious, Fargo asked, “How many…miles from the Terraformer?”
“Right at a thousand miles. There are at least three good peaks we can site the links on, and the actual feeder site will be within ten miles of the new township. They’re going to start dropping modules in two months, and we can’t do anything prior to all of them being in place.”
“So, not even the links?”
Mikhail shook his head, “Nope. Safety issue, according to Klynton’s minions. But surveys show a good bit of animal activity in the region, so you’re probably going to need to go in early and see what’s there.”
“Good. I’m tired of people. And I’d like to get a few more Silverbacks. They seem to like higher altitudes and a lot of animal activity.