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Space Force Grunts : A Science Fiction Novel

By Potsch, Ingo

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Book Id: WPLBN0003468521
Format Type: PDF eBook:
File Size: 2.53 MB
Reproduction Date: 1/15/2015

Title: Space Force Grunts : A Science Fiction Novel  
Author: Potsch, Ingo
Volume: Volume 1
Language: English
Subject: Fiction, Drama and Literature, Science Fiction
Collections: Authors Community, Science Fiction
Publication Date:
Publisher: Self-published
Member Page: Ingo Potsch


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Potsch, B. I. (2015). Space Force Grunts : A Science Fiction Novel. Retrieved from

Space Force Grunts is a Science Fiction novel playing several generations into the future. After the human race has invented hyperspace flight, thousands of planets are colonised. Those new societies maintain their independence until the human race encounters an alien civilisation that also masters space flight and hyperspace travel. Being so very different from the human race, those aliens are at first not even recognised as an eminent civilisation commanding over impressive, seemingly sheer unlimited means and a proficient use of advanced technologies. When the mistake is discovered, it is too late already for avoiding a clash of civilisations and a violent conflict has already started. The worlds settled by the human race gradually unite ever more under the leadership of a political movement. Conscription is introduced to provide for the military forces’ need for soldiers. People with sufficient means can purchase freedom from conscription and escape the draft. The funds obtained by the administration via that purchase of freedom are used to supply the military with materials means like weapons and to pay the soldiers who get drafted or join voluntarily. The majority of those soldiers come from less well-to-do backgrounds and Space Force Grunts tells about their perspective of that war.

Space Force Grunts tells the story of soldiers conscripted to defend the Human Alliance, a civilisation that has spread over thousands of worlds after the invention of hyperspace flight. They are fighting an enemy they don't understand in a war they did not choose. Space Grunts is told mainly from the perspective of the rank and file of the Human Alliance ground forces, who face an eminent foe, commanding over far superior means. Space Force Grunts tells about the feelings and thoughts of these soldiers, reports their talks and the trials and tribulations they have to go through, as well as the little pranks they play to each other and their superiors.

Base 18 on Planet DN-DU-144/5 was a place that could only be found on detailed military maps. This planet was circling a sun situated at the border between our Local Bubble of stars in the Milky Way and the much bigger Loop 1 Bubble, another assembly of suns and planets. DN-DU-144/5 was the fifth planet in outward direction, when counted from the local star as centre. Base 18 now consisted of a dozen bunkers, a few deep wells and a couple of cisterns appendant to them, a makeshift front-line spa, and most importantly a maintenance station for fighter robots and combat drones. Base 18 on planet DN-DU-144/5 was in principle a bleak place. Though at that moment it was officially day-time at the location of base 18, there was actually just a little twilight. The far sun, going by the less-than-poetic name of DN-DU-144, illuminated only the abundant clouds enfolding the planet decently. Little light ever made it through to the surface. ‘I just love it’ Master Sergeant Koon had sarcastically said when arriving at this place, together with all the other soldiers of the 5th company. They had taken this base over from a unit that had suffered such heavy casualties that I had to be withdrawn entirely. When the 5th company had arrived, the base was in terrible shape; even the important wells had to be made useable again. The previous troops did not even have enough stamina any more to take care of these. They immediately left with the same troop transporter that had brought the 5th company to Base 18. There was neither time nor vigour for any meaningful, extensive transfer of duty with all of the to-be-relieved soldiers wounded, sick, shell-shocked, and deeply demoralised as they were. The formalities were quickly dealt with; that was it. When the Army had finally decided to move them out they had been too weak to enjoy the news. With empty eyes they looked like ghosts into the faces of their relieving troops. Not, that these were fresh, either. The 5th company was equipped and trained for fire support, defence against armoured planetary tanks and basic anti-jet capabilities. They had come with their field artillery and were supplied with self-guided missiles and a new batch of war drones and fighter robots. Their previous set of bots and drones had all been used up. They came to a base that was in urgent need of repair and they had to restore even their sleeping quarters before they could lay down for a rest. Their travel to base 18 on planet DN-DU-144/5 had to been unpleasant; to say the least. The four inter planets of that solar system named DN-DU-144 were occupied by the enemy. That enemy made the approach difficult. The transport vessel had sustained a number of cracks from shells exploding nearby and a few punctures from debris and needle guns. It had escaped destruction but the men had to wear their protective space suits due to loss of atmospheric pressure. The cargo bay of the transport craft was only rudimentary armoured. Space grunts were considered cargo, like their weapons, drones and war bots. Engines and control units were better protected, though, and that’s why anyone could reach base 18 at all. They all had received a uncomfortable extra dose of radiation, though, and were handed out corresponding medication like apoptosis inhibitors, absorbents of reactive oxygen, and a spectrum of protective or regenerative cytokines. All were to come with their own specific side effects, contributing to the other inconveniences of surviving that bloody war. After a few days, the 5th company had restored base 18 to working conditions. Planet DN-DU-144/5 was cold, rocky, with a gravity of about 1,12 g – just about an eighth more than Mother Earth - and a far-reaching nitrogen atmosphere crowned with a thick layer of methane clouds. The atmospheric pressure at ground surface near base 18 was in average 431 kPa, approximately 4,3 times more than at sea level back home on Terra. Methane, with its much lower density, formed the upper layers while nitrogen was found closer to the ground. Both gases were non-toxic but asphyxiant, thus warranting oxygen masks. The low temperatures as well as the frequent dust and sand storms also made wearing masks advisable. Without a mask, a human could survive for a few minutes, till oxygen would run out in the lungs and blood. Both other hazards, freezing cold and grinding sandstorms would take a bit longer to introduce exitus. Over all, planet DN-DU-144/5 was not a nice place but a location where a well-trained, decently equipped, and very tough space grunt could survive for a significant time. Like nearly all planets of similar size, DN-DU-144/5 had a hot core. You just need to drill deep enough and it gets warm, no matter on what planet you are. Likewise, the rock contained water and hydrocarbons. Later were currently of little use, though, but the water was good for many purposes. The most immediate use of water was of course for drinking and then for personal and subsequently for domestic hygiene. Other applications were as coolant, for geothermal power units, for heating up the facilities of base 18 and other technical and chemical processes. After the 5th company had restored all of base 18 to working order, it again contained a kitchen, the field office, a functional spa, a infirmary with both a couple of medical robots and the chief paramedic. There was no medical doctor with the 5th company currently. Given the situation, the paramedics with the aid of medical bots achieved about eight to nine tenth of what a physician could have done. That was better than nothing or reliance on fast-learned first-aid capabilities. Master Sergeant Koon had erected his throne in the field office. There, all official data concerning the fate of two hundred soldiers was bundled, coming together in the hands of Master Sergeant Koon. The vacations forms were handled here, all the correspondence was going through here, the promotions were registered here, the reports were filed here and then handed over to communications, all listings of weapons, ammunitions, war bots and drones, spare parts and kitchen supplies, anything at all. And Master Sergeant Koon was the undisputed lord of that realm; at least when First Lieutenant Blacksmith was not present. First Lieutenant Blacksmith mainly appeared in the field office when a human loss notice and corresponding condolence message had to be sent. Immediately after landing, the war robots of the 5th company had taken up position and the war drones moved to their positions. Most, actually almost all, of the fighting was done by machines. Humans were too frail and too slow to be effective in most situations. Humans came into action when the machines had to be maintained and repaired. There were robots for those purposes, too, but often they turned out to be too inflexible, both mentally and physically, for the job. Humans have enough capability to improvise and can botch something together so that it still serves some purpose. Computers can’t do these considerations. Some thought like: ‘It’s not good for A anymore but we can still use it as a kind of temporary fix for B as a replacement for C under the prevalent conditions’ were out of computers’ grasp. The same held true for tactics and especially strategies. The fuzzier, non-standard, unprecedented, un-expectable a situation turns, the better were humans in comparison to robots and computers. Humans would still be surprised but could often somehow make sense out of it while a computer would simply crash or do nothing. Even though actual fighting was a business mainly left to the purpose-built brutes - the war machines these were - humans were by no means un-affected by the war. They would be shot at and bombed, too. They were suffering from all the unhospitable environmental conditions, too. Sometimes, humans would survive longer. Radioactivity could often obfuscate optical lenses of cameras fast then it destroyed the human eye and electronic equipment can suffer from the same fate. Dust and sand are much better endured by humans than by many machines and the same holds true for humidity and a range of other conditions. Rarely, such conditions were healthy or pleasant and the troops faced heavy casualties. Of course, the enemy also understood the importance of the human factor. Finally, the enemy was not fighting against mindless metal but against the human masters of these war machines. Thus, the enemy usually aimed at the humans first; if possible. To make that very aiming at humans impossible and minimise the risk of any direct hit, those humans preferred cloudy planets for their bases, kept surface structures to a minimum, spread decoys wide and far, and dug themselves in as deep as only possible. Life in bunkers had its own risk and adverse effects, claustrophobia and bunker paddy among them. The cloudier the planet, the more likely were the space grunts to see the sky with their own eyes, though, of course then no blue heaven. One way or the other, it was a mirthless existence; basically at least and for most people. Some folks, though, had come up with their own private pleasures. One such private pleasure hung around the wrist of Master Sergeant Koon. It was a most sophisticated and incredibly tough mechanical watch. Made from skin-friendly titanium, its hands slowly moved under sapphire glass. The hands of that wrist-watch, the hours and minute marks, the date and some other gauges displayed strong phosphorescence in the dark. All worked without any battery or other external source of energy other than the occasional winding of the crown. Usually, though, the movements of the arm would be enough to wind up the spring of that beautiful automatic watch. The elaborate, damn expensive wristwatch with its anachronistic technology was a sweet reminder of Zhū Lìyè, a beautiful young lady who had donated this timepiece to Master Sergeant Koon. Zhū Lìyè probably really loved Master Sergeant Koon but that emotion was not reciprocated. Koon had enjoyed his time with the young lady to the maximum but felt relieved when his unit was ordered to move. He had to leave Zhū Lìyè; nothing could be done about it. He made a sad face when the day of departure approached; or what he considered a doleful expression. Zhū Lìyè did not act. She cried like a chained dog left alone would howl to the moon. The direction was somehow appropriate, at Master Sergeant Koon would not go to the moon but to the stars; kind of. Being with the ground troops, he did not have to navigate around in outer space but could hide himself in the deepest hole mining robots could dig in reasonable time on some piece of rock. At least, the piece of rock was circling a star; so he was among the stars and the young lady could look at one of those blinking heavenly lights and imagine Koon to be there, looking back; or maybe not. We don’t know if some other person, a true gentleman maybe with honest intentions, came to the rescue of Zhū Lìyè and saved her from mourning. What we can know is that Master Sergeant Koon smiled when he looked at the expensive and very precise wrist watch. It was a very robust example of the craft and could stand much that electronic parts would succumb to. It was not a nice, friendly smile. It was a sardonic smile. Master Sergeant Koon was proud of himself for having ditched that wonderful lady in such a painless way; painless for him, of course. He remembered with joy the pleasures he had with Zhū Lìyè. After some time, his heart – or that other body part he used for thinking – required some change. Wonderful as Zhū Lìyè was, she always was the same old girl. Being a real man, in his own consideration, he was bound to get bored and she was sticky like a barnacle. She even wanted to marry. Had Zhū Lìyè wanted to marry somebody else, then Koon would have felt a pinch to his ego. As she wanted to marry him, it was an emotion closer to flight instinct that took charge of him. Anyway, luck came his way and sent him far off to the edge of the Local Bubble, where it bordered the Loop 1 Bubble, collections of stars both of them. The 5th company had been deployed previously to some nice planet with pleasant climate and open-hearted young ladies for protection. There was not too much protection required as this former station lay rather close to old Mother Earth, the centre of the Human Alliance. It was already well protected by the space fleet. The 5th company did not see any hostile activity there. Nobody saw any hostility there. Life went on as if hardly anything had happened, as if there were no enemies. But with the conflict going on, the media reporting, people talking, and the general spirit that prevailed, men in uniform enjoyed a heroic status and the ladies, young and old, flocked to them. The older ladies did not enjoy an equal amount of welcoming reception as the younger ones did. Master Sergeant Koon had loved his status. Being a hero in uniform endowed him with the chivalrous aura of a white knight, coming to the rescue of the ladies. In fact, the ladies came to him for rescue; from boredom some and from insecurity others. A certain income for life, be it his own or that of his wife, made him look even more like a great match. The military would pay the spouse a certain percentage of any married fallen soldier’s guerdon. The prospects of nubile age knew that and the soldiers knew that their admirers knew. It was a mouse and cat game; or cat and dog, or dog and mountain lion. However, Master Sergeant Koon had made sure he did not fall prey to the seductions and remained agile, swift, not bound and curtailed. When the order was received at the 5th company for relocation to DN-DU-144/5, Koon thought himself lucky again. First, he got away from beginning boredom and then he was moved to a place he considered decently safe again. Master Sergeant Koon did not think of himself as a big strategist. He considered himself a serious, down-to-earth person of sound practical rationality. For him, strategists were those aloof dreamers who would comfortably remain in the enclosure of their study rooms and make plans that have to be changed upon the first contact with reality. Everybody assumed that the great attack would come through the Lupus Tunnel, an area of low matter density connecting the Local Bubble and the Loop 1 Bubble. Matter disturbed hyper space travel. How it did, Master Sergeant Koon would not know; actually, nobody really understood how it did. That it did, everybody knew. Because matter had such an effect on hyper space travel, routes led ‘hyper’ areas of low matter density. Thus, the general assumption was that the assault would come through that very stretch of low matter density that connected those two bubbles, where matter density was also low. Master Sergeant Koon, on the other hand, firmly believed that no assault would ever come where it was expected with such certainty. He anticipated the great attack to come swinging around the high density areas in a path shaped like a sickle, with the enemy’s grand fleet swinging around from their starting bases well above the galactic plane and then thrusting down right into the heart of the Human Alliance. Wasn’t the famous Maginot Line circumvented? Wasn’t it long and established practice of every thinking being to avoid running right into the fire spilled out by deeply entrenched defenders? The enemies must have had some intelligence or else they could not give the Human Alliance that much trouble. Thus, it was clear to Master Sergeant Koon that the great assault would bypass him by far. He’d be a hero for the time being, holding out right in the heart of danger, on planet DN-DU-144/5, just opposite the enemy occupied planet DN-DU-144/4. Once the great attach came, the space fleet would have to take care of it. Furthermore, wasn’t it clear that the enemy had a disagreement with the Human Alliance? Would the enemy not want to destroy the Human Alliance rather than reducing innocent, harmless, innocuous planets to rubble? Just a few small bases would not be worth the trouble of expending lots of ammunitions, losing space crafts, all that effort just to go after a few little space grunts. With all that in mind, Master Sergeant Koon had felt save to go to his new assignment and he had felt still fairly safe before seeing the situation of base 18 and the troops whom the 5th company relieved. These troops were very few and in bad shape. Hardly a platoon was left of their whole company and not enough soldiers fit for operation for a squat. Their equipment had practically vanished and what remained was more rubble than trash. To some degree, Master Sergeant Koon had attributed that bad situation to a lack of discipline and order. Koon was a control freak, a pedant of extreme magnitude; and he knew it, was proud of it. He considered it is primary strength. For him, it was his unfaltering, unyielding attitude to discipline and order that kept the company going; and kept it going as a perfectly honed, well-oiled war machine. It was him – in his own view at least – who took care that the 5th company way a model example of a company, a perfect tool at the disposal of his respective master. Whatever the commanding officers would demand from 5th company, it would be delivered, the mission would be accomplished because of excellent discipline and exemplary order. For Koon, that outstanding discipline would start with perfectly groomed uniforms, polished boots, shaved faces, and even personal hygiene. He would not tolerate soldiers to fall sick because of parasites, fungus, mould and whatever other nonsense. The use of disinfectants was frequent and so were inspections of all weapon systems. Maintenance was excellent and drill was severe. Koon was fiercely no-nonsense. He made sure stocks of ammunitions and spare parts were kept at the best possible level, and all was documented according to peace time standards. He did not tolerate idleness and would plan exercises for any foreseeable free time. Every drop of sweat – of his soldiers - would save a drop of blood – of himself. Koon did not do that all for charity. He was a fully convicted pedant; and proud of it. He was an egoist, too. His chances of surviving that war were improved with the quality of his company. Master Sergeant Koon had developed slight doubts concerning his safety on planet DN-DU-144/5, though, when going through the paperwork the previous company had left in the field office. There was a lot of paperwork. It was far less than it would if Koon had stayed here for the same duration but it still was tremendous. The master sergeant, being a pedant and also highly determined to survive, worked himself through all those pieces of information. He ordered them, filed them, took care the information could be found again if required, summarized the info, checked what needed to be checked, integrated it into his own paperwork and acted on things that had apparently gone wrong. That meant a lot of additional work for the grunts and a much better feeling for Koon, as he felt better when all was in order and under control. Still, some little doubt about his previous assumptions concerning safety and the likely further course of the war remained. The previous company had faced massive attacks by the enemy. The assaults had been far more violent, sustained, and aggressive than Koon had expected. Especially, the master sergeant was surprised at the amount if ordinance the enemy could expend. The enemy had relentlessly pounded the moon of DN-DU-144/5 with thermonuclear bombs of 203 megatons explosive force each. Most of them had been destroyed in their approach by the defensive artillery or missiles but many still had come through. There had been some few manned stations on that moon; DN-DU-144/5/1 by name. All of them had to be given up with only a handful of survivors. Robotized stations were destroyed so often that half of the previous set of equipment – including war bots and fighter drones - and put at the disposal of base 18 had been lost in action there. That moon had no atmosphere to speak of, aiming was easier and less ammunition would be wasted, judged the master sergeant. Even the enemy must have his limits, he thought. But these limits were obviously at a much higher level than estimated previously. According to the documents Koon went through in the field office, most of the other equipment was lost fending off attacks to the planet itself. Those had been more targeted, had involved enemy fighter drones, apparently on scouting missions as fewer mighty nukes had been used. Even with a 203 megaton thermonuclear bomb hitting the ground 100 kilometres away from a fortified bunker that is 5 kilometres below the surface might not yield much result. A reconnaissance drone sent to find indications of Human Alliance facilities on DN-DU-144/5 was probably still cheaper than a big nuke. But when the enemy had found traces of the human military – or had believed in having found them – it was the same big 203 megaton bombs that were sent over. The thus heightened level of radioactivity had demanded a certain number of casualties. Koon found, though, that the enemy used astonishingly clean bombs, producing much less long term, ‘dirty’ fall-out that nukes used by the Human Alliance would probably. What that meant, though, he did comprehend. But he felt that it should mean something to him; and to every other military man, too. He just did not know what that may be. Not bothering much about any theoretic questions, Koon preferred to consider the professional challenges posed by the sustained hostilities from the enemy’s side. The manned lunar bases had been given up. Maintaining a robotic presence there was a big drain on material. As a moon, DN-DU-144/5/1 was useful for planetary defence. Stationing missiles and anti-spacecraft guns there made sense. Keeping it occupied to prevent the enemy from taking it over for use as a convenient attack base was also reasonable. Anyway, the military had a tendency of keeping on doing what it was doing, so most likely it would follow suit with it in this case, too. Having arrived at this conclusion, the master sergeant calculated the requirements for different supplies. He expected losing about one fifth of the 5th company’s drones and robots within two weeks. Placing such a request already now would hardly be accepted, though. Koon had found that missiles also had been used up at a very high rate as interplanetary attacks originating from the four inner planets of the system had been frequent. Not to run out of stock prematurely, it might be wise to try using laser and needle guns instead more frequently, the master sergeant calculated; not just press the button and shoot a missile after anything. Fire and forget was an exhaustive approach when there was a lot to fire at and little to fire with. Having made up his mind on material demands, Master Sergeant Koon went on to consider human losses. The previous company had sustained about half of their fatalities on the lunar route, with the majority of casualties on the way back from DN-DU-144/5/1 to the planet. The course of events used to be that the enemy had shelled the facilities on the moon. The company then had sent soldiers for maintenance work and to get new facilities operational. On their return way the soldiers’ vessels had come under fire. Not many soldiers got injured during those attacks; most had immediately expired. Koon reckoned that he’d need Beryllium, lots of it. He’d need Beryllium re-enforced body armour and Beryllium cladding for all light vessels. He decided that he’d file requests for as much as he could get in supply and have his soldiers scavenge from the trash hoardings. The enemy used nuclear weapons that dealt heavy neutron blows and Beryllium is a good protection against neutrons. The master sergeant also determined that he’d better stock up on certain medications and would make sure all his soldiers assiduously kept taking their Iodine pills. In all out-bound missions, even inside space crafts, he’d have them wear pressure suits. There had apparently been some avoidable fatalities due to loss of pressure in personnel carriers, ferries. In short, more drills would be required and a painstaking attitude toward discipline to avoid the pain of succumbing to enemy action. Having thought through all these matters, Master Sergeant Koon glanced again around, over all that now nicely arranged paperwork in his field office. The military produced a lot of paperwork. It did so with a purpose. Computers could crash, suffer from power outages, contract viruses, worms, Trojans, fall prey to electro-magnetic pulses, solar flares, high radiation, bleak out when exposed to both deep and high temperatures, humidity, faced all sorts of dangers. Paper remained. It was readily available, sustained about anything – very tough paper, thin and light-weight but incredibly resistant was used – could not that easily be manipulated; in short, avoided all those shortcomings of modern day information technology. Master Sergeant Koon loved paper and paperwork. That was his natural habitat, here he could thrive. Koon left the field office – actually a bunker room very deep below the surface of planet DN-DU-144/5, passed massive doors and moved over to the communications room. ‘Nothing yet from the battalion command?’ he asked. ‘Sir, no, sir!’ answered the communications specialist, straightening up. First Lieutenant Blacksmith was content with a simple ‘no, sir’ and in combat situations even the most basis ‘no’; if the correct as appropriate was negative, of course. Not so Master Sergeant Koon. For him, it was about the principle. Things had to be done right, always and under all conditions. Exceptions were not tolerated. If one exception is tolerated once, ever more reasons for ever more exceptions will be found. Finally, all order will break down. ‘It’s war, we’re at the front’, the lieutenant would settle the matter. Koon would think that it’s precisely because they’re at the front in a war that perfect order has to be kept. The 5th company had been deployed to front-line positions before. Only lately, there had been some time, about half a year, where they had this calm, peaceful assignment near the heart of the Human Alliance’s space; near Good Old Mother Earth. Those were six months to relax, enjoy the status, live through the good sides of the military life. There, the 5th company had been posted to defend a densely populated planet. Scientific institutions were there, laboratories, industries important for the war. It had been assumed that the enemy might not want to nuke them out but could try to get the information contained in them. Thus, space grunts had been stationed there, too. The enemy did not come. The high command changed its mind. Some new need arose. Whatever it was, now the 5th company was in base 18 on planet DN-DU-144/5, circling a star situated right in the middle of the Lupus Tunnel. Master Sergeant Koon focused on the communication specialist’s face. There were beard stubbles. Koon got angry. He reprimanded the soldier. A soldier had to be clear shaved. Koon locked at the neck of the man. The hairline wasn’t exactly trimmed either. That was another reason to trounce the soldier. Such hair could prevent gas masks to fit perfectly tight. A gas mask that was not fitting perfectly tight could endanger the life of the soldier. Furthermore, and that was of even higher importance for the master sergeant, it was a matter of principle. Soldiers had to be groomed flawlessly. Koon looked at the boots of the man. They were shining with not even the smallest speck or grain of dust on them. The soldier wore his helmet strapped, too. The master sergeant insisted on his troops wearing helmet even in bunkers. Especially in bunkers, he would say, it was necessary to wear helmets because with so much rock above, some of I could fall down. Pressure waves from the enemy’s 203 megaton bombs could any time hit and shake out pieces of debris from the ceiling. At least those things the specialist had kept in mind. The specialist cursed Master Sergeant Koon silently. He had shaved before reporting for duty and taking over from the previous watch. He just had very strong hair growth and even after just a couple of hours, the stubbles would pop out of his skin again. Even directly after shaving, his face would never look perfectly clean, so dense and thick were his hairs. They shone through the upper layer of the skin and formed beard-like shade. Master Sergeant Koon was expecting a certain message from the battalion headquarters. The 5th company had been at base 18 now for about two weeks. The time had been astonishingly calm. Practically nothing had happened. It was, as if the 5th company had brought quietness long. These past two weeks had been busy with cleaning up the base and restoring it to working conditions. A few new bunkers and tunnels had been dug; mainly as replacements for old, destroyed ones. The bad shape of base 18 had not so much been the direct effect of hostile action but had come about more indirectly, because the previous company had suffered so many casualties that the few remaining soldiers could not maintain it any more. But Koon reckoned that this calm would not last for ever. The big offensive may come along other ways, cutting like a sickle around the clouds if interstellar matter. Smaller scale aggressions, though, were to be expected here, too. Be it as diversionary tactics to mask the main thrust of the attack or because the enemy was just around the corner, sitting – or rather equally dig in – on the four inner planets of the system. Koon was waiting for two of his soldiers to come back to his unit. They had been on leave and were due to return to the 5th company. The master sergeant wanted them here before the calm would end. If the quiet days never ended: good! If they ended, he’d prefer to have those two chaps among the troops here. The two soldiers the master sergeant was waiting for were Sergeant Fred Leblanc and specialist Tomas Strackman. Leblanc had been on vacation while Strackman would return from an extended hospital term. He had sustained severe gamma ray burnings in action and had missed out all those good six months of calm stationing at the Human Alliance’s core areas. Even a strong, otherwise healthy, huge and incredibly robust guy like Strackman took time to recover from what he had been through. For Master Sergeant Koon’s taste the medical officers had awarded Strackman far too much time to relax and get well, though. Soldiers should not rest idle, he was convinced. That it has taken Strackman a good deal of time to recover from two month bed rest in an intensive care unit and build up his physique again was something Koon considered in vain. He could have done that here in base 18, too. The appropriate drills the master sergeant would have procured. Leblanc on the other hand had been awarded two weeks of vacation just like this; more or less. ‘It was due’, the 5th company’s commander had said and advocated it at the battalion level. Some long past acts of bravery where taken as supporting evidence of the man being worthy the vacation. With so much support, it had been granted and Leblanc had parted with the 5th company even before the transfer to base 18 on planet DN-U-144/5. As there were no news yet and everything else had been taken care of already, Master Sergeant Koon left the communications room; to the great delight of the communications guy who deeply loathed the self-righteous control freak. Koon walked through the tunnels to the kitchen bunker. He loved to have an eye on the kitchen and especially on Staff Sergeant Meunier, the chef. Koon did not like Meunier. Meunier did not like Koon. They did not like each other. Unfortunately for them, they had to live with each other. The alternative, dying – together or alone – was much more inconvenient. Koon somehow felt that he should be entitled to some special rations and Meunier kept stubbornly treating the master sergeant like anybody else in the 5th company. Meunier had developed into a kind of selective control freak, too. When it came to anything edible, he checked and double checked and triple checked again and kept on checking in between. He reviewed the requests to the battalion headquarters and compared it with the deliveries to the last gram while keeping a second set of papers as back-up. While Meunier was busy preparing food for all the 5th company, Koon sniffed around in the kitchen bunker and tried to find something he could complain about. He did not find it. He enjoyed his ability to cause at least some little discomfort to the chef by his sheer presence. The wisdom of being at odds with the company’s chef may be questioned and it was a very rare behaviour. If served even decent food in quantities approaching sufficiency, they tended to befriend the chef. Anyway, Koon wasn’t a man for deep thoughts and thus questioning his wisdom might not yield too much; other than trouble, possibly. Having enjoyed his power of being a nuisance for some time, the master sergeant decided to leave the kitchen again. That Meunier had made his kitchen robot cut onions – lots of onions – might have contributed to Koon’s decision to resort on a tactical fallback. The master sergeant went on with his tour of the base. Actually, he rode on. His next destination was a bit far to walk, so he took a ride with one of the logistics lorries. His way led Koon through one of the many long tunnels that connected the different bunkers of base 18 with each other. The lorry brought Koon to a location quite close to the surface of planet DN-DU-144/5. It was what the soldiers called a maintenance pit. In fact, it was a bunker, too, with a covered access and well-hidden from plain sight. The upper gate, lying flat, closed up with the natural surface of the planet and had a cover layer of the same rock that made up the surrounding area. Even an observer very particular in his search could be misled by the elaborate camouflage. In that so-called maintenance pit that actually was more like a hangar, three soldiers were busy repairing a terrestrial construction robot. The one they were working on was of a type used for surface construction work. Currently, much of that work consisted in erecting fake structures as decoys to distract the enemy. Despite severe counter measures, at times enemy reconnaissance made it over from the inner four planets and through the clouds of DN-DU-144/5. Whatever they should find there was better a decoy. As DN-DU-144/5 was very cold place, water, sand, and rocks would do for most of these construction jobs. Water was obtained from deeps wells reaching far down into the warmer zones of the planet. The rest of the building material just lay around everywhere. For the usual maintenance work on robots, other – specialised –robots could be used. This one, though, had taken a hit from enemy fire. Such individual, non-standard damage was frequently beyond the capabilities of machines to cope with. Master Sergeant Koon could not help reprehending the soldiers. In his view, three men were not required for that kind of work they were doing. Also, the men only wore oxygen masks and their usual padded cold-weather uniforms, not completely air-tight body suits. ‘What do we have all our equipment for’, Koon bawled them out. The level of radioactivity in the planet’s surface was somewhat elevated. Though not immediately deadly, it could still have long-term negative effects on the soldiers. Also, they’d bring contaminated dust in from the maintenance pit to the living quarters of the base, if not showered thoroughly. Expenses for washing and medications increased. Koon did not like that. He did not want soldiers to fall sick and he did not like having to use more medications. ‘It’s a soldier’s duty to stay healthy’, he reminded them. Sick soldiers don’t fight. The more operational soldiers the 5th company had, the higher Koon’s own chances of survival. Thus, taking charge of his subordinates’ physical well-being was also in his own very personal interest. As any reasonable being, the master sergeant considered his own life valuable. And he thought of himself as a very reasonable person, concluding logically the value of his own life. Furthermore, he just loved reprimanding other people. To find more opportunity for this beloved hobby of his – and because order in itself was a supreme value for him – he thoroughly inspected the hangar. Nothing wrong could be found, though, not even wrong in his very discerning eyes. Thus, he left again, satisfied that all other things were in such good shape and only slightly disappointed that he could not tell his subordinates some more mistakes. Koon did not like the war. There was this disconcerting risk of getting killed. There was the looming discomfort of potential injuries. There was all this inconvenience. And most importantly, there was this disturbing disorder. The Koon thought back to his days as drill sergeant. Then and there, order was much better. War in itself had this chaotic component the master sergeant abhorred. And then there was this unsettling tendency of soldiers to be less obedient to procedures and peace-time routine. ‘People at war have survival in their mind’, First Lieutenant Blacksmith had explained to Koon. The master sergeant was not convinced. They just could not understand that the key to their survival was order, he thought by himself. He did not contradict his commander, though. Contradicting his commander was a contravention against the very same regime that Koon cherished so much. Furthermore, contradiction in itself was nothing that formed part of the master sergeants character. He would not contradict a woman either. He might take care that he gets posted far out of her reach but he would not openly object to anything she claims or tells him to do. Not doing the demanded was one thing, answering back was another issue; entirely different. When Koon had been drill sergeant, nobody ever answered back to him either; at least nobody below his rank. And people with higher rank were painstakingly denied the opportunity to answer back to him. Koon did not think of himself as creepy. He just perfectly fitted into the system. Being a little ratchet in a big machine was an ideal position for him. No need to think too deeply about philosophical questions that can anyway never be solves and just cause headache; and not unnecessary responsibility either for matters beyond his control. He preferred being responsible for matters entirely under his control, like shining boots and clear shaven faces, ammunition stock piles and especially paper work. The pen was Koon’s sceptre and holding it in his hand was taking over the reins of his bureaucratic realm. Everything could be so wonderful in the military were there not that bloody war. Why could not drill sergeants just continue to chase around their troops on the barracks’ parade grounds, enlisted soldiers continue being subjected to bum-boiling drills, proud officers continue talking to elegant ladies in spotlessly clean casinos?

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