Homecoming

Traveller fiction by Leslie Bates

It was a cold and wet Monday morning in September of 2317 when two men with short and neatly cut hair and wearing dull casual civilian attire stepped off the transit car at the Edison Station in old Northeast Minneapolis.
Ensign Ian Stuart felt well out of place as he stood and waited for the swarm of students on their way to morning classes at the old Edison High School, to clear the station.
Ian recalled, with a sense of embarrassment, that he once dressed in a similarly absurd and alien fashion, as the teenagers crowding the station. He would have felt even more out of place if he and his companion had worn their full naval uniforms.
Members of the Armed Forces, the Navy and Marine Corps of the former Terran Confederation, were not terribly popular on the home world these days, especially the commissioned officers.
To wear the uniform in public, without being escorted by at least of a squad of Marines, was virtually an engraved invitation to being physically assaulted or killed.
Ensign Ian Stuart saw that most of the students disembarking at the station wore buttons showing a red line superimposed over the capital letters "ROM," the meaning of the buttons was crystal clear to any civilian, soldier, or able spaceman.
Down with the Rule of Man.
Too bad, Ian thought, the stupid and greedy politicians of Terra, and the voters who put them into office, had clearly demonstrated that they were unfit to exercise any form of political authority.
A few of the students, most with shaved heads, wore buttons depicting the ancient astrological symbol for Earth, the cross within a circle. The symbol was used by those who believed in the racial supremacy of the Terrans over all other intelligent species. Including those humans, such as the Vilani, whose ancestors were dumped by an unknown power on other planets hundreds of millennia ago.
The Terran Supremacists, like the German National Socialists of the Early Twentieth Century, sought to treat the so-called lesser races as virtual slaves and felt oppressed when their wishes were thwarted.
To Hell with them, Ian thought, to Hell with all of them.
"We should have taken a g-carrier." Said the Ensign's companion. "And a full squad of Marines, sir."
"If we only had one stop to make here I would, Chief."
Chief Petty Officer Barenni stood almost a full head over the Ensign and was more than twice as old. He was also one of the growing number of ethnic Vilani allowed to join the navy of the Terran Confederation. During the final years of the war against the Ziru Sirka, the interstellar empire of the Vilani, CPO Barenni was a member of the SURFER teams, the elite Surface-Extravehicular Reconnaissance forces of the Terran Navy. The Chief was now the senior noncommissioned officer on the Ensign's military government team.
One of the students, a boy wearing a red silken sash and a grotesque and high maintenance style of hair, had apparently caught part of the conversation between the Ensign and the Chief. The boy turned around and quickly went down the stairs to the ground level. Both the Ensign and the Chief saw this.
"Let's use the staves on this one, Chief."
"Sir, are you aware of the fact that the other ranks really aren't impressed by displays of studliness?"
"No shit Chief, I'm still using the staff."
"Aye-aye, sir."
The Ensign and the Chief both carried a navy issued 11.43 mm automatic pistols with two spare seven-round magazines under their jackets. They also carried surfer-staves, a quarterstaff compressed into a compact unit the size of two D-cell batteries.
The Ensign and the Chief were met at the bottom the stairs by a dozen boys in red sashes and other absurd attire. The gang was posturing as if they were the lords of the transit station and were collectively taunting the two men with accusations of treason and maternal incest. The closest of the boys presented an open switchblade knife in his right hand.
Stupid punks, thought the Ensign.
Ensign Stuart thumbed the extend button on his staff. His first blow smashed the punk's right hand and knocked the knife to the ground. The second blow caused the punk to bend forward and explosively exhale. The last blow struck laterally across the jaw causing a spray blood and teeth. The unconscious punk spun around and landed on the pavement with a loud thud.
Ensign Stuart had knocked down a second punk when the remnants of the gang turned and fled from the ground level of the transit station. Ensign Stuart turned around and saw that CPO Barenni was reholstering his pistol.
"I'm sorry sir, but I heard a police siren."
The Ensign could now hear the sirens of the approaching police grav-speeders.
"No Chief, you were right on that." He replied as he pressed his thumb on the retract switch on the surfer-staff.
"Sir, red wasn't your high school's color, was it?"
"No." Replied the Ensign. "If I recall correctly, the school colors at Edison High were Blue and Gold."
Though there was a history teacher who wanted to change the school colors to Hot Pink and Army Green.
Ensign Stuart looked around and was shocked at what he saw.
The Terran Naval Academy, from which Ian recently graduated, was co-located with the headquarters of the Terran Grand Fleet on a world that was once a sector capital of the Vilani Empire. Ethnic Vilani as a rule were normally fastidious, even after their liberation by the Terrans. Whether he was on or off campus, Ian was used to living in a neat and clean environment. It was not until the Ensign and Chief stepped outside the perimeter fence at Ventura Barracks on Earth that Ian saw litter on the ground for the first time in over four years. It was a beer can.
The more Ian Stuart looked around, the more strange and alien the world of his birth would appear to him.
Trash was scattered all over the floor of the lower level of the transit station. The walls had been defiled by urine stains and graffiti. In addition to the crossed out letters "ROM," that were painted on the walls there were also the letters "DTT," which meant "Death to Traitors." There used to be buttons that read "DTT," but some of the individuals wearing those buttons came down with nasty cases of sudden lead poisoning. Marines and naval personnel who discharged their weapons in such incidents had the cost of the ammunition deducted from their pay and were quickly reassigned off of Terra or out of the Solar System.
The Ensign and the Chief had their navy identification cards out when the Minneapolis police arrived to clean up the mess.

[...]

"Sergeant," Ensign Stuart addressed the senior police officer present. "I would strongly suggest that you remind this garbage," the Ensign pointed the two handcuffed punks, "that even under the present state of Martial Law they still have the right to remain silent."

[...]

Ian mocked him in a whiny voice.
"_Aber ich erteilte Auftrag!_"
Ensign Stuart switched to a drill instructor tone of voice.
"Sergeant, you of all people should know that an order to commit a crime is NEVER a valid order. The Navy is not a band of looters and we do not take orders from looters, regardless of how many votes they received in the last election. Have I made myself clear?"

[...]

[Talk about the historic preservation mafia.]

[...]

Ian saw that the old bakery building at 22nd Avenue and Washington Street was boarded up again, another attempt to redevelop the property without demolishing the original single storey brick structure had failed.
Plastered all over the structure were posters showing a black and white photograph of a sixty-ish woman, with short fake blonde hair, a standard nine-millimeter service pistol was aimed at her head. The hammer of the pistol in the photograph was blurred as though it were falling on the firing pin.
Over the photograph on the poster in all capital letters was the one word, REMEMBER.
"I'm sorry sir," said the Chief as he pointed to the posters, "but I'm not fully familiar with that bit of Terran history."
"Well," Ian replied, "That's Saint Hillary, a martyr for the holy cause of Democracy. She was just a stupid old bitch who believed that being democratically elected somehow constituted an excuse for abusive and destructive behavior."

[...]

A long deceased cynic from Baltimore once described a democratic election as an advanced auction of stolen goods. The ghost of that cynic would not have been the slightest bit surprised by the results of the Terran election of 2314.

[...]

"Hello Mother." He said.

[...]

She still had her shrine to Saint Elvis.

[...]

"Usually assignments to newly commissioned Ensigns are handed out by staff pukes who really love their mothers."

[...]

"We can't even replace a burned out coffee pot on an aging missile frigate without some mob of Terran parasites screaming as if they were mortally wounded!" Ian had spoken in what he called the drill instructor voice. "The representatives, that pack of losers who couldn't hold a REAL JOB in the real world, that YOU and YOUR fellow voters sent to the General Assembly were too busy spending the tax revenues of this planet to buy votes for themselves while the Colonies and the worlds that WE liberated from the Ziru Sirka carried the burden of the wars."

[...]

The red sash gang was back. Seven of them were hiding in the boarded-up shell of the old municipal garage at Eighteenth and Washington. They poured out of the old building with their knives out and were attempting to surround the Ensign. Their apparent leader openly declared his intent to kill Stuart and reaffirmed his belief that the Ensign was a practitioner of maternal incest.
Ensign Stuart drew his pistol and placed a nonregulation 11.43 mm hollow-point round through the leader's chest. Stuart dropped three more of the junior thugs before the others could turn and flee. Two more gang members were hit and fell as they were running away. The last one ducked around the corner of the old city garage.
Stuart quickly switched to a fresh magazine and waited for the local police to arrive. He held his weapon in his right hand and pulled out his navy I.D. card with the left hand when the first police speeder came into view.

[...]

"Put that weapon down Sergeant."

[...]

"If you pull that trigger you will be hunted down and killed and what's left of your family will be shipped off to an airless rock in the Outback!"

[...]

"And your mother is probably doing whatever it was that you were afraid she would be doing, sir."
"We'll deal with her later, Chief."
The Ensign waited with the Chief for the Marine M.P.'s

[...]

There was one more stop that Ensign Stuart had to make before leaving Earth. He could have skipped the visit to his mother's house, but there was never any point in returning to Earth without seeing Beth.
On the day of his graduation from the Naval Academy, Ensign Ian Stuart had received a summons from the Shogun.
At 1030 hours the next morning Ensign Stuart stepped into the office of Hiroshi Estigarribia, the former Grand Admiral of the Terran Confederation Navy, who was now the self-proclaimed Regent of the Vilani Empire and the Protector of Terra.
"Ensign Ian Stuart reporting as ordered. Sir!"

[...]

"I have some news for you Ensign. Any damned fool can fly a frigate or a cruiser into harm's way, God knows we have no shortage of those." Said the Shogun. "But all those frigates and cruisers need to be maintained and ultimately replaced. And that requires naval stations, shipyards, and worlds with a civil industrial base to support them. And those worlds require proper government."

[...]

"You will be replacing a female civilian appointed by the Terran Secretariat, God only knows what damage she's already done out there."
"In effect, what you're saying sir, is that I may have to rebuild the local civil government in its entirety."
"That son, is a possible worst case scenario, but she should already have been removed from the office by the system commander by the time you get out there."
The Shogun paused to catch his breath.
"There's one other thing Mister Stuart, do you have a girlfriend or a fiancee?"
"Yes I do, sir." Ian replied. "I have a fiancee back home on Earth. I haven't heard from her since the coup."
"Mister Stuart," the Shogun looked at Ian straight in the eyes, "what would you do if I told you that you had to dump your Terran fiancee in order to stay in the navy?"
"I would have to hand you my bars," the small gold bars that were the Ensign's insignia of rank on the dirt side uniform, "and I would have to tell you to go to Hell, sir."
If the Shogun was impressed, he didn't show it.
"There was a wet navy admiral in the mid-twentieth century who used to eliminate spineless wimps with that question. Admiral Hyman Rickover of the American Navy if I recall correctly, sir."
The Shogun let out a slight chuckle.
"But you really would do that?"
"Yes sir, I would."
"Good." Said the Shogun. "It could be possible that your fiancee may be in agreement with the majority of Terran voters."
Ian shook his head at the Shogun's suggestion.
Of all the people on Terra, only Beth was there at the landing pad at Ventura Barracks to see Ian off when he left Earth to attend the Naval Academy. Her last kiss had virtually suffocated him.
"I would very strongly doubt that, sir."
"My staff also has grounds to believe that the civilian postal service on Terran is simply refusing to complete their appointed rounds with respect to letters to and from naval personnel. I have no idea how many casualties we may end up taking in attempting to clean up that particular mess."
"In any case Mister Stuart," the Shogun continued, "there's only one way for you to be certain about your fiancee."
"Yes sir, I'll have to go home to Terra."
Eight weeks and three transits through jumpspace later Ensign Ian Stuart stood before the front door of Beth's home.
It was a two-storey white frame house on the north side of 17th Avenue between Adams and Jefferson Streets.
One of the younger sisters opened the door.
"Ian...you shouldn't..."
"I'm here to see Beth." Ian told her. "I will not leave until I do."

[...]

Ensign Ian Stuart reeked of blood, sweat, and smokeless gunpowder, and he wasn't about to take any more nonsense from anyone else.
"I've had a bad day. Do not make it worse sir."

[...]

"I will see Beth. Now." He said in the drill instructor voice. "If I have to go over your dead body, sir, I will do so. Do you understand?"

[...]

"Hello Beth." He said.
"Hello Ian."
They embraced, and they kissed.
"I've been assigned as the military governor of a world that's about two-thirds of the way between here and Vland." Said Ian. "I want you to come with me."

[...]

"It's called Sylea."


© Copyright 2008 Leslie Bates

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