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The Regiment - A Trilogy
By John Dalmas
Baen BooksCopyright © 2004 John Dalmas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFeature Editor Gard Fendel's index finger, stout and hairy, touched refile, and the personnel summary for Varlik 681 Lormagen disappeared from the screen. Not that Fendel didn't know the young man personally and professionally, but it had seemed wise to examine the background data.
Lormagen had been in athletics as a boy and youth, and ran and used a health club as assignments permitted. At age thirty he looked physically rather fit. More important, and Fendel hadn't known this, he'd served a three-year enlistment in the military a decade earlier. No combat, but he'd know his way around. The question left was how much stomach young Lormagen had for discomfort and possible danger.
Fendel's finger moved to his intercom. "Derin," he said, "send Lormagen in."
The voice quality of the intercom system was excellent. The slightly metallic timbre had been designed in deliberately, for warships and privateers. It enabled a crewman or officer, intent on something else, to know without looking that the speaker was not someone in the same compartment, and should be acknowledged at once if possible. It also made the words sharper and clearer, helping to ensure they'd be understood.
That had been very long ago, very long forgotten. Now an intercom was just an intercom, made the way intercoms had always been made. They worked very well.
Varlik 681 Lormagen came in, the door sliding smoothly shut behind him. Gard Fendel motioned him to a chair.
"Thank you, sir."
Leaning his forearms on the desk, Fendel waited until the younger man was seated.
"You did a very professional, may I say very Standard, job in covering the Carlad kidnapping."
Varlik darkened just slightly at the compliment. In the context of journalism, to have one's work called Standard was highly complimentary, if somewhat inappropriate. "Thank you, sir. You honor me."
"I'm considering giving you a new assignment that's even bigger. One that can make your byline one of the majors among our subscribers."
Varlik's alertness level rose. He nodded.
"You're aware of the insurrection on Kettle, of course," Fendel went on, "and that it's continuing. Beast of a place for a civilized man to fight a war, but there it is. Well, it seems now that T'swa mercenaries are being sent there to break its back. That tells me it's worth having someone there to cover it.
"Two regiments of T'swa, actually, which really catches my interest. I'll certainly want at least one feature on them."
T'swa mercenaries. Varlik had seen a T'swi once, up close: a heavyset elderly man with skin incredibly dark, the color of a blued gun barrel; straight, close-cropped hair gone white; nose bold, hawklike; wide, thin-lipped mouth; unnaturally large eyes shaded by bushy, jutting brows. Despite his white business suit he'd looked so different, so striking, that the image, long unlooked at, was easily recalled.
When Varlik had commented on the man's appearance, someone had told him he was the T'swa ambassador to the Confederation. Tyss was the only gook world allowed diplomatic representation. The ambassador had a staff of two or three, housed in a cubbyhole somewhere in one of the peripheral government complexes. It was doubtful that they did anything. The T'swa had been granted the privilege centuries earlier by one of the Consars, probably Consar XVII, "the Generous," acting as suzerain and administrator general for the Confederation.
"The Department of Armed Forces," Fendel was saying, "admits that this is only the second time in well over a century they've contracted for a T'swa regiment. The last time was in the Drezhtkom Uprising, some eighty years ago."
His eyes stayed on the younger man's face, watching for any sign of reluctance or even tentativeness. He didn't want to send a reporter who'd spend his time there in an air-conditioned, safe-area headquarters.
Lormagen's eyes were steady as he nodded.
"If you're interested," Fendel continued, still testing, "and if I decide to send you, I'll want you to leave day after tomorrow on a military supply ship. It's a twenty-six-day trip, and I'll want you there while the fighting's still going strong. Those T'swa are likely to finish off the local gooks pretty quickly when they arrive."
"Yes, sir. Day after tomorrow, no difficulty. I'd like very much to have the assignment."
Fendel sat back then, decision made. "Fine. It's yours. Call Captain Benglet at the Army's Media Liaison Office and find out the departure details. The supply ship leaves sometime in the afternoon. And while I'm not expecting full-length video features, of course, take plenty of cubes. This assignment has strong visual potential."
He dismissed the young man then and watched him leave. There'd been no trace of unwillingness. They'd said they wanted someone with energy and imagination; Lormagen definitely had the energy.
Imagination! Fendel returned to his screen. An odd thing to want in a newsman, or in anyone for that matter. But there were those whose position put them beyond argument, or nearly enough for any practical purpose.
Excerpted from The Regiment - A Trilogy by John Dalmas Copyright © 2004 by John Dalmas. Excerpted by permission.
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