Read an Excerpt
"Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man." The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn't look five years older than me. So if he'd ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he'd done it as an infant.
I already knew eighty ways to kill people, but most of them were pretty noisy. I sat up straight in my chair and assumed a look of polite attention and fell asleep with my eyes open. So did most everybody else. We'd learned that they never scheduled anything important for these after-chop classes.
The projector woke me up and I sat through a short tape showing the "eight silent ways." Some of the actors must have been brainwipes, since they were actually killed.
After the tape a girl in the front row raised her hand. The sergeant nodded at her and she rose to parade rest. Not bad looking, but kind of chunky about the neck and shoulders. Everybody gets that way after carrying a heavy pack around for a couple of months.
"Sir"- we had to call sergeants "sir" until graduation- "most of those methods, really, they looked . . . kind of silly."
"Like killing a man with a blow to the kidneys, from an entrenching tool. I mean, when would you actually have only an entrenching tool, and no gun or knife? And why not just bash him over the head with it?"
"He might have a helmet on," he said reasonably.
"Besides, Taurans probably don't even have kidneys!"
He shrugged. "Probably they don't." This was 1997, and nobody had ever seen a Tauran; hadn't even found any pieces of Taurans bigger than a scorched chromosome. "But their body chemistry is similar to ours, and we have to assume they're similarly complex creatures. Theymust have weaknesses, vulnerable spots. You have to find out where they are.
"That's the important thing.'' He stabbed a finger at the screen. "Those eight convicts got caulked for your benefit because you've got to find out how to kill Taurans, and be able to do it whether you have a megawatt laser or an emery board."
She sat back down, not looking too convinced.
"Any more questions?" Nobody raised a hand.
"OK. Tench-hut!" We staggered upright and he looked at us expectantly.
"Fuck you, sir," came the familiar tired chorus.
"FUCK YOU, SIR!" One of the army's less-inspired morale devices.
"That's better. Don't forget, pre-dawn maneuvers tomorrow. Chop at 0330, first formation, 0400. Anybody sacked after 0340 owes one stripe. Dismissed."
I zipped up my coverall and went across the snow to the lounge for a cup of soya and a joint. I'd always been able to get by on five or six hours of sleep, and this was the only time I could be by myself, out of the army for a while. Looked at the newsfax for a few minutes. Another ship got caulked, out by Aldebaran sector. That was four years ago. They were mounting a reprisal fleet, but it'll take four years more for them to get out there. By then, the Taurans would have every portal planet sewed up tight.
Back at the billet, everybody else was sacked and the main lights were out. The whole company's been dragging ever since we got back from the two-week lunar training. I dumped my clothes in the locker, checked the roster and found out I was in bunk 31. Goddammit, right under the heater.
I slipped through the curtain as quietly as possible so as not to wake up the person next to me. Couldn't see who it was, but I couldn't have cared less. I slipped under the blanket. "You're late, Mandella," a voice yawned. It was Rogers.
"Sorry I woke you up," I whispered.
"'Sallright." She snuggled over and clasped me spoon fashion. She was warm and reasonably soft.
I patted her hip in what I hoped was a brotherly fashion. "Night, Rogers."
"G'night, Stallion." She returned the gesture more pointedly.
Why do you always get the tired ones when you're ready and the randy ones when you're tired? I bowed to the inevitable.
Copyright ) 1974, 1975 by Joe W. Haldeman