“What do you mean, ‘moon station’? We’re still working on the second space station.” His Majesty King Justin III of Glorious Repute was curious rather than shocked or annoyed. He was not surprised. It was almost thirty years ago that a teenage Justin was taken from his high school in San Diego and transported to Earth Prime as the Prince Royal of a dynasty he had known nothing about. On a planet he had never dreamed of. By this time, he did not shock easily.
Well, Bucephalus started, we are a long way from being finished. Both space stations are being expanded and developed and there may be other stations needed in the future.
There is a formidable menace developing and moving toward us from space. The moon station will provide a larger base, and room for labs and factories to develop the natural resources we’ll need for the coming contest; as well as training facilities for the Space Corps. Bucephalus was a familiar who had begun his career carrying Alexander the Great.
“Can you tell us more about this ‘menace’”, Colin, the Earl Martial and commander of the King’s military inquired with studied calm and great restraint. The Trollian War had taught him that waiting was a big part of the military game; but that did not mean he had to like it.
Bucephalus looked at James of Cooper, Magister of the Heavens and the driving force behind the development of the space program and the creation of the Royal Space Corps. He, with the assistance of the Astronomer Royal, had driven for the launch of the first space station equipped with a state of the art telescope and this station, HMS Insouciant, was currently in orbit around Earth Prime.
“No.” James of Cooper looked at the King and his Earl Martial with assured certainty. “At this moment in time, I must rely entirely upon my empathic abilities with only the smallest assist from technology. The threat is several years, at the very least, away. I’ve a sense of speed and direction. I’d guess ten years out, if pressed.
“At this moment in time, I feel that the threat is driven by intelligence; it is not a random cosmic earthquake, not a giant asteroid cloud, or any such thing waiting to strike us quite by accident.
“Just now, my sense is this force is some kind of hunter, seeking something, I do not know what nor do I sense evil or hostility, per se, but then the hunter does not usually harbor a sense of hostility or evil toward their prey. This does not alter the terminal nature of the hunter’s interest in his prey. This force is avaricious, and potentially deadly. We are being stalked.
“If you were to look into the night sky, I would tell you that this threat emanates from somewhere in the vicinity of the Pleiades, but that’s a vast amount of space and I can only get a vague sense of presence and approach. The threat is real, it is growing. Also, the threat is traveling faster than nature would allow. I do not yet know how.” James fell silent with a distant look in his eyes.
“Okay,” the King said into the silence of the meeting. “I’m not going to dispute anything, just now. Assuming that this threat is real, how do we pay for the extensive facilities you’re implying we need. A moon base? Factories? Labs? Training center? Space Navy? Ellendale is a wealthy country with a surplus in the exchequer, but it’s not a bottomless pit. Military budgets have destroyed more than one national economy on Earth as we all know.”
“Well,” Cheryll Spurgeon a Proctor of the Exchequer, and the Earl Martial’s mother, entered the discussion. “Basically it will pay for itself over time. We’ve already worked out a plan for selling some of the raw materials to Earth. We’ve identified a number of markets for raw materials that we can enter without overselling. We can deliver to the admiralty base in North America and they will introduce the products into the economy from there. As you know, James Wolsey and Gary Ashmore are already on-scene and have developed several sources of income for the anti-gun campaign. We can merge the two streams quite easily. There will be some initial expense and then it should quickly become self-supporting. By far the most important consideration is going to be personnel. That and careful planning. We need to keep our economy functioning smoothly.
“The Under Secretary for North America, des Rivières, is very capable and already has a trucking company set up, legal and operational. This is in addition to his shipping company which has ocean and riverine capability. This will be a great help. He needs to be fully in the loop and his suggestions should be solicited.”
“One thing that James neglected to mention,” the Astronomer Royal joined the talk. “I’ve helped myself to Earth’s radio detection technology and we now have one radio observatory up and running. I hope to add another on the moon as soon as possible. I mention this because I believe that we’ve detected some signals that are not random, that may very possibly be the result of intelligent activity. I’m not sure, but we’re working on it. There appear to be some coherent patterns, by which I mean there has been some repetition of signal, not the random aimlessness of the cosmos. I’ve no way of knowing what the patterns mean at this point. We’ll keep working on it of course. But this clearly supports Magister James’ position and it’s coming from the general area of the Pleiades.”
“What do you think,” the King smiled upon Colin, his Earl Martial, commander of his military and beloved partner.
“I think we should proceed with the expansion of the Space Corps as well as the development of the moon station. With respect to money, you need to remember that a huge amount of the cost of Earth’s programs, were involved with the cost of fuel and the need to build for extreme acceleration. We don’t do that.
“Nonetheless, I need to know as much as possible about this threat and I need to know it sooner rather than later. I hope that’s clear.”
“Right,” the King moved to conclude the meeting, “there it is. Let’s move smoothly and as quickly as possible into high gear. We’ve done this sort of thing before. We know about this threat. We will defeat this threat.
“I’ve often been struck by the fact that I’ve always been burdened with the title ‘Second Magister of the Heavens’ and it seemed to mean that I was good at math and navigation. But there’s more to it than that, and I’m beginning to sense it. Cooper is right, there is a menace, it is real, and it is nearing. I have a sense of the absolute rightness of the course of action we are planning. When I think of other possibilities, I know in my heart of heart’s that those other options would be unequivocally, maybe even disastrously: wrong!
“I had thought that moving into exploration of our solar systems would provide us energy and a sense of adventure; I thought it would be an exciting challenge; a great national adventure for all of us to become involved with. I now fear that it is a necessity and I suspect that the idea came from the heavens. So much for ideas and whims. We must face necessity.”
The King rose and the meeting adjourned.
A royal salute thundered over Kingstown announcing the birth of a Prince Royal.
Their Majesties are pleased to announce the birth of a son: His Royal Highness the Prince Royal, Charles Henry Michael David Colin Winthrop ap Justin III.
Mother and Son are resting in comfort.
Lawrence, Physician Royal
And as soon as the Prince was old enough to be out and about, hostilities commenced. The object of the war was, in a word: playtime. The King and Queen agreed that their son was not to be raised exclusively in the oppressive atmosphere of royal rank and palace privilege. To that end, the King had asked his confidential footmen, Keisha and Taras to take Charlie for several hours a day. They were to undertake manly pursuits such as speeding joyously through the grounds in his perambulator; or playing naked in the grass and any convenient mud that might be found by the palace garden pool where Cameron or Minerva or one of the other familiars would play with and entertain the prince.
Charlie’s Nanny, Maud Hawkinge, considered this to be a gross violation of her rights and authority and that this violation must be stopped as instantly as possible; but of course, it had to be stopped without royal awareness.
“Mornin’ Maud,” the irrepressible Keisha greeted her cheerfully. “And is himself ready for play the now?”
“Sorry, dear, he’s a mite piqued today. I’ll have him to stay in today.” She smiled a grimly smile.
“Sorry, dear. I’m not sure what ‘a mite piqued’ means. Is he sick?”
“Well. No, not so much sick as fretted and not feelin’ well. So I’ll have him to be stayin’ inside today.”
Keisha paused for a long moment looking into the space between the words. He considered his options. Doing nothing would not work. He and Taras had quite specific instructions from the King. Young Charlie would frequently be wheeled by to see the King were he available and the King would certainly ask after Charlie at bath time if he had not been available at playtime. Were they to merely tell the King that his son had been “a mite piqued” and leave it at that, the full weight and majesty of the Physician Royal and the College of Surgeons would immediately be unleashed and the furor would be tremendous. There would be hell to pay for sure. Besides, Keisha was beginning to suspect that the Prince Royal was the objective here, but that his health was not an issue. Keisha was coming around to the suspicion that he did not much like Maud.
“Well,” Keisha drawled. “The Prince is to have his perambulation by the King’s order. If he’s sick, we can have a nurse swing by from the infirmary, or we can swing by the infirmary in his stroller. Did you ask for a nurse? If he’s sick the King’ll wanna know like right now.”
‘Damn and blast’ thought Maud. She’d have to yield this time. “No, it didn’t seem quite that bad. But I don’t want it to get any the worse neither. We’ll put a sweater on him and you’ll keep a close eye on him and swing by the infirmary if he seems to be getting any worse. Mind and yer responsible for this an I was wantin’ him to stay in.”
Keisha looked at her steadily, “You do know that the King likes to see him when we do playtime. Do you not?”
Keisha was in soccer shorts and a polo style shirt. He was dressed for playtime on a beautiful sunny day. He was increasingly certain that Maud was not a friend.
And so they commenced. HRH the Prince Royal in his liveried stroller, complete with his initials in gold, dressed in a lovely scarlet playsuit with a white Alpaca sweater to complete the ensemble. Charlie was in fine spirits, waving and smiling, cooing at Minerva, rolling in the mud by the garden pool, and doing other things that babies do. When he rolled home, he was muddy. Maud was already planning how to let the Queen know that the Prince had been out and about in dirty diapers. But the diapers had been changed and he was happy and attentive. Maud dared not lie. Still, the alpaca sweater was a wreck. Alpaca was dear, perhaps something might be made of that.
Maud thought it odd that the sweater was muddy, but his play suit was not. Something would have to be done. She was in charge here!
Keisha told Taras all about his confrontation with Nanny Maud. “A nasty piece of work she is, what with naught to do all day but boss babies about.”
Ensign William Brownlees of the Guards Grenadiers was a young Bwca of military sense, bearing, and heritage. His father was a warrant gunner currently serving with the Ancient and Honourable Company of Artillerists and Infernal Device Artificers. One of his uncles was a sergeant gunner with the 2nd/4th Light Dragoons, and the other was a colour sergeant with the 34th Regiment of Foot. He had been raised for the Army. He and his family had been ecstatic when he was selected to attend the first class of the new military academy the King had recently founded. He’d done well there and was one of the five “distinguished graduates” of his class. The ecstasy of his family was complete when he was commissioned into the Guards Grenadiers, the premier infantry regiment of the Army. He was the first Bwca of his family to hold the King’s commission and that commission was in the Guards Grenadiers. It could be no better than that from the perspective of a military family. He had just settled himself into the life of this regiment when he was assigned to serve on the first space station of the new Royal Space Corps. He had been profoundly moved by his experience in space. He had barely settled back into regimental routine, when he was transferred to the Royal Space Corps and promoted to the rank of major.2 He was now the commanding officer of the combat arm of the Space Corps. He had recommended that this unit be referred to as the Space Grenadiers.
They had established themselves at Camp Farragut. Major Brownlees had selected his personnel carefully and the Bwca, Elven, and Trollian peoples were all equally represented in the other ranks. At present, there were two companies and they concentrated on physical training and education at Camp Farragut. Asked about his emphasis on education, he had responded that his regiment would be going into an entirely new environment and he wanted to have a regiment that would be able to adapt and think on its feet. The Earl Martial, who had been monitoring everything about the new unit agreed with Major Brownlees and felt they had made an excellent selection for this new arm. The King was pleased to agree and the unit was designated “Space Grenadiers” as a branch of the Royal Space Corps.
He had spent the best part of the last week working with a host of experts on the subject of the space armor he wanted for the Grenadiers. This had to be melded into a space suit that would be suitable for combat. They had agreed on all the necessary concepts and were working on prototypes. The problem was a suitable sidearm. The traditional projectile arms of the army were suspect: would they function properly in a vacuum or a completely alien atmosphere; there was also the issue of storage, magazines with explosives had been known to be dangerous. So there would need to be a weapon for use in space as well as a standard firearm for use in an atmospheric environment. Deciding on the weapon would be relatively easy and well within the normal scope of military decisions. But what to use in space? The weapon had to be reliable in all possible arenas and that posed a concern of the first order. The most recent suggestion was positively medieval. It was suggested that the men be alternated with one man having a crossbow and the next a mace3 with which to protect the crossbowman while he was reloading. It took years to train an archer so that was not an option. This presupposed combat in the style of Ancient Rome with opposing lines of infantry coming to blows. Major Brownlees thought this highly unlikely in space. Still a crossbow would work in all possible environments.
There were no ray guns or blasters on any drawing boards that anyone, familiars included, had heard of. But was a traditional explosive the answer? Clearly a rifle that would work in space, as well as in any atmosphere, would be just the ticket; many of the serving soldiers of the army could remember the single shot Enfield that had been carried for years. A well drilled unit was able to fire four rounds per minute with that rifle. There must be some way to get to at least that rate of fire in space, but the act of rewinding the crossbow made that seem unlikely. What other options might there be?
Caleb Knox was nervous. He had not met so many important people at one time since he was apprehended trying to sell a lost Van Gogh painting that he did not know was either lost or a Van Gogh. He had found it in an old storage room in Des Moines and was hoping to sell it for enough to help him and Charlie make ends meet in their new life in Vesontio.
There had been princes and viscounts and royal dukes and familiars and all sorts of important people at that meeting. He and Charlie were there with all of the things he’d brought back from Des Moines. All of them were valuable. What he’d thought was a brass candlestick turned out to be solid gold. Who knew? For most of the meeting he and Charlie had sat quietly while plans were made. There was a brief moment of alarm when he thought he was going to be sent away from Charlie. But once everything was understood that idea lapsed; he and Charlie were allowed to remain together and he ultimately moved to Kingstown. He attended the Wizard’s Guild Academy and Charlie was promoted to driving a locomotive on the Prince Royal’s Own Express.
They were young and in love, doing things they loved to do. What could be better than that?
When Cal achieved Journeyman status in the Wizard’s Guild, they were assigned to the Marine Commando. Charlie went with him, the two had become virtually inseparable and Caleb actually needed the support and love of Charlie to perform at his peak ability. They enjoyed working with the whales and dolphins and Charlie was at home in the engine room if no business pressed. They cut the props off whaleships; they destroyed thousands of miles of nets that did not respect the sea; they disapproved of sealers and pirate fishermen and, sometimes, when the people just would not take a hint, they sank a ship.
They spent several months at Camp Farragut attending to some situations that required magic, and then they’d been recalled to Kingstown and informed that they should prepare for a new assignment.
Today was the day. There had been an Honours Reception at the palace. There had been a number of people who’d been honored in one way or another. Both Cal and Charlie had been appointed Officers of the Golden Dragon. But it was after the formal reception, when they’d been asked to stay for tea, that the really interesting things happened.
One of the footmen entered bearing an infant in a stylized sailor suit. The baby was waving happily and was placed in the King’s arms with every appearance of enthusiasm and glee.
“Charles, Caleb, I’d like you to meet my son.” The Prince Royal seemed to nestle into his father and looked at Charles and Caleb with calm appreciation. “He has quite a handful of names, but just now, we’re calling him ‘Winnie’. Taras and Keisha landed that on him and he seems to like it. So does his grandfather.” The King smiled.
“I’m hoping, Cal, that you will accept the appointment as First Wizard to my son. That will also mean an appointment as Personal Counselor. However, I’m not going to saddle you with being his steward, too. Poor Humphrey always seemed to run into trouble because of that office, and we don’t even need to worry about that for a few years anyway. So, what do you think?”
“But Majesty,” Cal was flustered and blushing. He had a way of blushing at emotional moments. “I’m not sure I’m able. There must be someone better able. More qualified. You know.”
The King let him wind down and then cocked an eyebrow at Cal.
“Yes. Yes, Your Majesty, if you wish it.”
“Splendid. That’s that, then. You and Charlie will have a suite of rooms. You need not be in constant attendance, but you’ll know how to handle all of that I’m sure. Now, Charlie, I suspect you thought you were going to slide along with nothing to do but watch over Cal. But I’ve a project for you, too.
“Did you have a model railroad to run around the Christmas tree when you were a kid?”
Charlie, a child of Ellendale, looked at the King blankly. “Christmas tree?” He hazarded.
“Sorry. Forgot. On Earth we have a birthday celebration that closely coincides with the Winter Solstice. We bring an evergreen tree into the house, decorate it, and then put presents all around it and then we have a morning opening of gifts. In my home, the tradition was to have an electric train running around the tree. It’s something I always think of when I think of a Christmas tree. So I’ll get him one in a couple years. Anyway, the kids all love it. So we’re going to do it here. But what I want is a railroad. I’d like you to touch bases with the Railroad Regiment and then let’s build a little railroad all around the palace grounds, through the home farm, and wherever else the spirit takes us. I’m thinking a two foot gauge should do it; I want engine cabs and cars that people can fit in. No sitting on top of locomotives or cars. Particularly kids. Let me know what rolling stock you’re interested in before you order. I want steam locomotives and handsome cars. What do you think?”
“Oh that’ll be grand Your Majesty. I’ll start tomorrow. It’ll be the Prince Royals Own Express II. Neat. Or should I call it ‘Limited’? You know, I’m thinking ‘Prince Royals Limited’ would be just the ticket.”
At this moment Keisha and Taras appeared with the Royal stroller. “We’re going to the mews today, Sir,” Taras smiled at the King. “He’ll surely like that, he always pays attention to any animals we see, and he’s a great fan of that great lumbersome Surus.”
“Perhaps we should go along,” Charlie suggested. “You know, so he starts getting’ used to us. Unless you needed us further, of course, Your Majesty?”
“That’s a great idea. And you can join us for dinner tonight, too. It’ll be informal. Splendid. We’ll see you then.”
And so an expedition left the palace for a short stroll down to the mews. Winnie was having great sport waving at various birds and animals and making all the varied and unusual sounds of infant approval. Moving down the stable they’d stop to admire some of the horses, several of the stable cats, and there was one very senior beagle, Cappie, who had created a comfortable retirement for himself in the mews and considered escorting the Prince to be a part of that retirement. They looked into an open door where a young man continued grooming a donkey as if she was herself royalty. Her coat glistened with the glow of health and regular brushing; her hooves glistened; she was meticulously trimmed and clipped where appropriate. She and her groom looked up, and the donkey stepped right up to the stroller with her ears pointed toward the Prince as though she knew him.
Winnie looked at her, calm and quiet. Then he reached slowly up and placed one hand on her nose. They were silent looking at one another. Winnie was smiling and Miss Judith seemed to be smiling too. Come everyone, Surus called from the aisle. Let’s walk through the garden and around the pool.
And so a royal procession moved forward. It was led by Surus who had commanded armies when he carried Hannibal; there were two Bwca footmen whose ancestors had warned miners of impending mine disaster but who now served their King; a young convict in Mews overalls followed along because his donkey was going and he knew not what else to do; a ginger barn cat known as Gordo came along to ensure that all of the proprieties were observed; Miss Judith stayed close beside the perambulator containing the Prince Royal, she had done a service in Jerusalem and her likeness graced many churches; and the aged beagle, known as Cappie, was in attendance just in case any danger might be lurking. It was the Prince Royal Charles Henry Michael David Colin Winthrop ap Justin III’s first procession.
The Army wishes to extend its earnest congratulation to His Serene Highness the Earl Martial and his wife Her Serene Highness the Princess Martial, Countess of the Marches on the birth of a son, yesterday at 0331 hours in Kingstown.
Mother and son are resting, well and comfortably.
May we all rejoice and bless the Prince Military His Serene Highness Robert Ranald Albert, Justin, George, ap Colin.
In the King’s service.
It had been a very busy year for Queen Cecilie and Princess Nancy.
The engagement had gone well. Indeed, there was a sort of unspoken agreement, right from the start, that this was the best thing for them as well as the best thing for their Kingdom. Cecilie and Nancy remained in close communication with one another, just as Justin and Colin did.
“You know,” Colin commented as he lay entwined with Justin on their great bed. “I like Nancy. I mean, you know, as a friend. She’s witty and clever. Fun to be around.”
“Yeah. I like Cecilie, too, but I love you.”
“Oh sweetheart, that goes without saying, but this love business is way more complex than I used to think. I know I love Winnie, and I think I love Nancy when you think about it. After all, there are only two people in the world I’ve made love to, you and her. And like it wasn’t really voluntary with her. I mean, you know, the dating and everything was all arranged.”
It was true. The familiars had been busy arranging everything from behind the scenes. The first tentative dates, the hoping that their boys would come to like these girls; but the knowledge that it might not work, so the canvassing for available ladies continued just in case. There were double dates: riding, sailing, dining and dancing. And then the more rarified and potentially dangerous single dates commenced.
It had been difficult to corral Colin into some of these dates as he had his military duties that he would bring up at the drop of a dating hint. Colin thought he was winning little victories in the campaign. He would have been disappointed to know that this was actually falling right into the familiars plan. They needed to get Justin married first as this was a matter of state. Then it was believed, quite correctly, that Colin would follow his lovers lead.
And finally there was a lovely horseback ride and Cecilie seized the initiative and told Justin that she’d marry him just before he finally worked the courage up to ask her.
There was a grand reception at the palace to celebrate the engagement. Cecilie demonstrated that she was entirely capable of handling this sort of lengthy royal event. Calm and regal at all times, she was never at a loss, pleasant and well-spoken but never chatty. She smiled with sincerity but was never so vulgar as to laugh.
The wedding followed the engagement after six months of dating and public appearances at civic affairs, military presentations, and a zeppelin launching.
The King and Queen were in a royal carriage. There were bands, and pipers; there were infantry and cavalry honor guards preceding and following the carriage. There were crowds in abundance many of them waving the swallow tailed banner the King had adopted. A closed carriage was used as the weather threatened, but it proved unnecessary though, as the Dodger commented, “Sure as we’d used a landau or phaeton, the rain she’d a come siling5 down in torrents. Was a great ride, all my beauties knew we was a Royal deal. Done us proud they did.”
There was a final act to complete the event. Nancy coached and warmed Cecilie as she helped her into a diaphanous night gown that was selected for the ability to discard it almost instantly. The pending event was contrary to everyone’s nature, so it was thought best to get it on and over with as soon as possible.
Colin helped to steel Justin for the task ahead.
Then Justin and Cecilie did it.
The wedding for Colin and Nancy had been a much more relaxed affair. It was not a ‘Royal’ affair and the guest list was much smaller. Nancy’s tiara was magnificent, but lacked a parade of emeralds or pearls and so could be described as more modest.
Basically just family and close friends were in attendance. The ceremony was conducted in the newly completed Alexander the Great wing of the Great Library of Kingstown.6 Alexander and Hephaistion7 looked down with approval on the wedding party. Or so it seemed to all in attendance.
There was no procession, but four matched Clydesdales, with an escort of Guards Dragoons drove the newlyweds from the Library, on a circuitous route to the palace.
There it was the turn of Justin and Cecilie to coach their lovers to their duty. Nancy ignored the night gown all together. Justin hardened Colin for his work and, again, the deed was successfully done. Colin later admitted to Justin that he pretended that Nancy was Justin in order to remain firm and upright and so complete his task.
Later, the four of them agreed that they’d be able to do it again: for King and Country: as they say.
Major Bownlees commanding officer of the Space Grenadiers had been surprised and he wasn’t happy about it. He looked at the message again. Commanding officers never like to be surprised.
|To:||Brownlees, Major, Commanding, Space Grenadiers|
|From:||HRH the Count Michael KGCGD, Space Command|
|Subject:||Yelland, Cornet, 1st Mississippi Yeomanry|
/s/ Michael C
“Major Cyffylog,” he called to the next office.
“Sir,” Sergeant Major Cyffylog replied instantly appearing beside his desk mere seconds later.
“Who is this Cornet Yelland? What is the Mississippi Yeomanry? Where did this Cornet come from? Should I have known about him? Get him here like right now.”
“Orderly,” called the Sergeant Major
“Sir,” replied Lance Corporal Ackroyd.
“Major Brownlees’ compliments to Cornet Yelland and he’s to report to the Major forthwith.”
“Sorry, Sir, but he left for Kingstown with a familiar several hours ago. His orders are in the Under Secretary’s in-basket.”
“Otherwise: Cornet Yelland is the only officer in the new Yeomanry Regiment that they’re organizing. Supposed to be a bright light. He was rescued by the Commando, Corporal Young in point of fact.
“The unit only has about a dozen lads, they’re all local rescues; they’re all in training and not operational so their paper wouldn’t cross your desk, Sir.”
Major Brownlees digested all this information and remembered Corporal Cadet Major Winn’s style. He liked Cyffylog so thought he’d give him a little pat on the back.
“Well, how is it that you know all about this, then?”
“I’m a Sergeant Major, Sir.” He said this with just the tiniest, scarcely discernible hint of a smile.
“Okay, let’s seize the initiative. The bureaucratic initiative anyway. Get your pad.
“Take a memo: to His Sheer Holiness, etc, the Space Command. From: me, of course. Subject: first Mississippi whatever.
“Text: Great care has been taken to select personnel for the Space Grenadiers to ensure that there were roughly equal numbers of Elven, Bwca, and Trollian personnel. Somehow, we’ve neglected to include Earth folk. I respectfully request the first Mississippi etc be transferred to the Space Grenadiers, that the name be retained for a battalion within the Space Gren, and that additional Earth folk be recruited for the Space Gren, to bring them to parity with the rest of the folk.
“Respectfully yadda yadda.
“Make it nice and let’s get that off right away. Hopefully we can get this Cornet back when he’s done with his gun thing and see what we can make of it.
“And get Corporal Young up here like yesterday.”
But Corporal Young, DCM, was on assignment.
Corporal Young DCM, in synchrony with the natural order of the universe, was immaculate. He was in the prescribed summer uniform. His khaki shirt was starched to the degree that it simply declined to wrinkle; his shorts, likewise, were creased so sharply that they ought to be able to slice through more than just air. Every surface upon his person, that could be shined, gleamed. If an inspecting officer were to wave his hand over the corporal’s shoes while conducting an inspection, he would be able to clearly see his individual fingers in the mirror-like surface of the shoes. The ribbons of the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Expeditionary Medal with bar glittered above his left pocket and the Commando Badge was centered precisely in the center of that same left pocket. Corporal Young was wearing a holstered pistol on a Sam Browne belt. The belt and holster were brown leather and glowed. This was unusual. It was not the issue pistol of the Guards Fusiliers; it was a pistol he had taken from an armed suspect in close combat when he was unarmed. King’s regulations awarded the wearing of such a trophy to the victor as a distinction of the first order. The pistol was old and was from Earth. It was a Colt Trooper with a four inch barrel; as it was a Colt, it worked smoothly, and wore a thin film of oil to protect it from the humidity. The lanyard that connected it to the Corporal was several orders of quality above the standard issue lanyard. It was loaded, of course, and Corporal Young was practiced in its use.
Corporal Young was standing in an alcove in the hallway of the local high school. His mission was threefold today. There was a thirteen year old orphan girl who was being sexually abused by her foster father. They had just removed her from the school and Carlos had taken her to Earth Prime where she would get some medical care, some emotional support, and he hoped ultimately, some love in her life. When Carlos returned they’d confront the high school coach of this school who was a most unhappy man. This was the second of their three jobs for today. This coach was regularly a failure, he was incompetent as a physical education teacher, and not surprisingly, he coached consistently losing teams. He was homophobic and a racist; sneering and vicious in his language to his students; abusive to his wife and rude to other women he encountered and to all men he perceived as physically weaker than himself. Happily, at least for them, he had no children and was impotent; he blamed his wife for this condition. A potentially dangerous and explosive man he was unconsciously searching for a target. Carlos was with the girl now, when he returned they’d confront the coach.
Corporal Young intended to confront the man and warn him about his conduct; then he would soundly and thoroughly beat the coach to a point where he would need medical attention, but not quite to the extent of hospitalization. This would be in the gym so it would be a public humiliation. This should do the trick. Corporal Young was Bwca and appeared to be a young fifteen though he was actually older than that. He was very well trained, in prime physical condition, and did not need a firearm to terminate. It was thought by the Elven medical types that this sort of humiliation would give the coach an opportunity to rethink his life, review his prejudices, and change his life’s course. Corporal Young, less academic, did not think so; but he was a Corporal of the Guards Fusiliers and the doctors were officers in the Medical Service. So there it was. Orders.
Once finished with the coach, they would go and arrest the girl’s father and turn him over to the King’s Justice. He was a real piece of work and it amused Corporal Young to think about how surprised this abuser would be when he discovered just how much trouble he was really in.
Corporal Young heard a muffled clattering from down the hall. It sounded like gunfire to Corporal Young. Specifically, it sounded like machine gun fire.
Shots fired Carlos, Corporal Young called as he drew his revolver and sprinted down the hall toward the sound of a machine gun.
As he ran he saw a number of students coming in the other direction. “Keep running! Get out through the gym! Keep running!” He tried to pitch his voice low and sound calm and in command, but the rattle of the machine gun continued and lent urgency to his words.
He approached the entry foyer and sought to slow his approach. The floor of the foyer, however, was highly polished linoleum. He wanted to stop, but his hobnailed boots weren’t built for sudden stops on polished linoleum so he slid into the center of the foyer and a hailstorm of glass and bullet fragments.
The foyer was a shambles. There’d been a trophy case on the wall behind him and the glass lay in shards and fragments on the floor. Several of the trophies were on the floor and some of them were bullet riddled.
There was a student sitting on the floor on the far side of the foyer. She was screaming and had a lot of blood on her side and clothes. Corporal Young dug in with his hobnails, crossed the foyer as if he were ice skating, and dragged her out of the foyer, into the hall. There she was out of the line of fire. Several students were standing in the hallway with shocked expressions on their faces. “Here you lads, come get her and then all a yer get outta here through the cafeteria. Move it!”
Two boys came forward and the Corporal turned and slid back across the foyer firing one round at the shooter as he went. He felt a thump on his thigh as he went. Sweet Mother! Carlos, he called again. From his place in the shelter of the hall, he could see the reflection of the shooter in a portion of the mirrored back of the trophy case that had not yet fallen. The shooter started firing again at the door.
This school was far older than any of its students and most of its faculty and staff. The door to the main entrance of the school reflected that age; it was massive and ornate in the Art Deco style. There was nothing modern, cheap, or synthetic about it; the bronzed steel frame was not impressed by bullet strikes and several years ago, the principal, concerned for her students, ordered the glass to be replaced with heavy panes that were reinforced with wire. The door was always locked five minutes after the start of classes. Visitors had to be buzzed in via intercom.
The glass continued to break in place and some of the wire parted, but it threw bullets off their intended path, and caused others to fragment. The shooter was still on the wrong side of the door though he’d fired several magazines at the door. But the glass and wire was giving way slowly. It was a mass of fragments held together by the wire and the shooter had broken a hole through the wire by striking the wreckage with the butt of his assault rifle and was rapidly making a large enough opening to enter. The shooter stepped back, and fired several more bursts at the offending wire.
“Well that cuts it,” Corporal Young observed to himself. Please Carlos I need you, he called again. He was right handed. He had to step forward to aim at the shooter and as he did so he profiled his body to make himself the smallest possible target. The shooter saw him. Pointing his rifle he fired three rounds before his magazine went empty. Corporal Young felt two whacks as he steadied himself and aimed. He took aim through the hole the shooter had made in the door and fired one round. The shooter was struck in the left eye and went instantly limp, collapsing in a clatter of guns and equipment on the granite front steps of the school. Blood leaked copiously down the quarried granite; granite smoothed by generations of high school footwear.
Corporal Young had now been hit three times. He felt himself going weak and he sagged to his knees on the floor. He noted that his cap lay in the center of the foyer. He looked up and saw two school boys looking at him with wide eyes. He tried to smile encouragement at them as he holstered his pistol. Then he was in hospital, Carlos had come. The medical types bustled with treatment. He knew he was home and relaxed into sleep.
1 Aficionados of military display will have immediately recognized the striking resemblance of the King’s Troop of Horse Artillery of the Kingdom of Ellendale, with that of the United Kingdom. The only differences between the two are those of regimental insignia and of buttons. In Ellendale, the guns, tack, and equipment had been manufactured to original British specs. It is impossible not to be impressed by the King’s Troop and King Justin III certainly was, as his father had been before him.
2 There is frequently a difference between Army rank and Regimental rank. Ensign Brownlees retains his rank and commission in the Grenadiers, but serves as a Major in the Space Corps until he is further promoted or he returns to regimental duty with the Grenadiers in which case, he’d be serving in this regimental rank. He will receive promotion in the Grenadiers based on seniority or recognition alone. It seemed likely, but would be virtually impossible to prove, that snobbery might have seen him off to the Space Corps; but this is difficult to argue, he was selected for the space station at the very highest level of government and the Space Corps assignment followed logically.
3 Not a chemical spray, the classic weapon.
4 This, of course, is the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara currently the property of HM Queen Elizabeth II. It had an interesting history. It was left locked in a secret vault in the Vladimir Palace when the family fled the murderous bolsheviks. The family fled south and joined the White Armies until their defeat became certain whereupon the Grand Duchess went into exile in Switzerland. The Grand Duchess could pull strings when necessary, so it was a British Secret Service agent sent to St Petersburg who entered the Vladimir Palace and recovered the Grand Duchesses jewels from the vault. These were smuggled out of Russia via diplomatic pouch and restored to the Grand Duchess. This tiara was ultimately purchased by Queen Mary and remains the personal property of HM the Queen. What is not generally known, is that the Secret Service agent in question was led by a familiar. Thinking that such a tiara might someday grace a queen of Ellendale, a duplicate was made. It also has pearl pendants, but when Queen Mary added the emeralds, it was thought proper to obtain emeralds for the Ellendale tiara. Queen Cecilie wears it regularly at formal occasions. The King’s Own Wizard feels that the tiara should also have ruby, or spinel, drops and has suggested this repeatedly though no action has yet been taken.
5 A Yorkshire term.
6 This was now the greatest library on Earth Prime, or Earth for that matter. It contained all of the contents of the Great Library of Alexandria that had earlier been rescued from destruction at the hands of religious fanatics. It also had huge contemporary collections and is a repository of record and a national archive.
7 Hephaistion was Alexander’s other half. All things considered, it would seem to press credulity to deny him the status of lover. People can argue that if they want. I without hesitation recommend Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy. I believe her interpretation of Alexander and Hephaistion is spot on.