No killing yet… how much killing can this little 8+4 man team do? Still, we all learn a little more about the generation after American Imperium. I think that for a seventeen-year-old, Robert is holding up very well. It will be nice to see him under pressure in a few installments. I’m trying to see a scene which will be a moral test rather than one of imperial law, as the latter would dictate a pre-programmed response.
Even though only a small fort in the old Depot, it had been around long enough to be upgraded to masonry and steel. Electronic eyes and ears were along the tops of the wall to continually survey the surrounding land, which had been cleared of all trees and brush for a mile in all directions any higher than three feet. The local commander, Centurion Bilk, was out front of the main gate, waving as they drew up.
Hill again jumped down and was prompt to salute first. While of equal rank, Bilk had seniority and, more importantly, full command of a century, not a scouting band. In the imperial army, assignment was what mattered, not so much rank.
“Brad!” Panck Hill said, taking the other’s hand after the salute was returned. “Not seen you since we’s was in Basic! Things here look great!”
“Thanks, Panck,” Bilk replied, also with a smile. “The last CO here let things go to seed a bit. I’ve tried to tighten up – some of the men, especially the non-combatants, think I’m a jerk – what with longer-ranged patrols and better maintenance of the fort. Was surprised that the legate of Tenth called me last week, personally, that you were coming this way.”
“I think this is a wild goose chase… oh, here’s my second, Bob Hardt, whose brief is to gather intel for this little joyride of ours.” Hill introduced Robert as he walked into their conversation. “Orders are for us to make a sweep from east to west, Morehead to Louisville and maybe beyond, to see how the locals are about the new government across the Ohio River.”
Bilk first glanced at the sky, noting the mid-afternoon sun before giving a nod to Hill’s intel analyst.
“It’s a little early for dinner,” he acknowledged, “so let’s take a walk about so I can tell you what I have heard hereabouts and from the tradesmen passing through.”
Robert followed a polite two paces back, listening. As Mitch had heard, Bilk confirmed that there was almost a line of local girls at the fort’s gate to date and marry a legionary. “16/16” was the recruiting tool and the promise of a man with skills, a land grant, and a pension was a huge magnet to those on the fringe of the imperium. The problem was, if you got a girl pregnant, you were discharged, at which point a legionary was no longer the catch a girl thought he was. It focused the heads – both of them – of the imperial soldiers to take care in their sexual relations, especially with the Empress frowning upon contraception and the imperium’s ban on abortion.
“But the line’s there, even so!” Bilk laughed. He went on to say that while Lexington was only a tiny crossroads trading post, as it had no good local access to water, Frankfort was now the center of gravity of what had been the former State. “And so far as anything I have heard, while folks are glad for the new immigrants settling along the north of the river, I’ve certainly not heard anything political about switching sides.”
“It would not, technically, be switching sides, sir,” Robert finally spoke up. “Kentucky is in a legal gray zone: it is not a part of the imperium but still is regarded by Her Majesty as a part of her hegemony. Even to the far west, Evanston and Paducah never were a part of the Black Muslim Brotherhood in St. Louis. So, for the locals here, we hope to, ah, reinforce their preference to look south rather than north.”
The three stopped and Bilk regarded the young man.
“After all, the imperium levies no local taxes right now. The Canadians brought their socialist schemes south with themselves,” Robert concluded.
“You are,” the local centurion noted with narrowed eyes, “remarkably well informed about local conditions. For a G-2 just out of Basic and MOS school.”
“I joined the legions because I want to help my country, sir. Being informed seemed to me a good way to do that, too,” Robert countered with no guile.
“Uh, huh.” Bilk obviously didn’t buy all of that. Just enough. “Anyway. Do you plan to go all the way up to Florence, Panck? I’d guess if there is any interest in the Canadians, it would mostly be there, even more than over in Louisville.”
“I don’t plan to go that far north right now,” Hill agreed. “But if we hear anything worth pursuing, I also don’t rule it out. ‘Flexibility,’ as you well know!”
That was something all legionaries were expected to demonstrate, centurions more so.
“What’s the population of Louisville these days?” Hill continued.
“No hard numbers of course,” Bilk said as they rounded their last turn and were headed back to the main gate. “I’d guess twenty-five thousand; same as Frankfort. With the, ah, problems of exporting downriver cleared a decade ago, nearly a third of the whiskey produced around here now goes out over the water than south over roads.”
He glanced back at Robert.
“That will have long-term impact on trade, meaning people’s livelihoods, little G-2 genius. Something to keep in mind!”
“Of course, Centurion,” Robert replied, ignoring the slight. He turned to Hill. “Permission to return to the men, sir?”
“Sure, Bob. Let everyone know we’ll be pullin’ out at oh-seven-hundred for Mount Sterling tomorrow.” He waved a return to Robert’s proper salute and went on with Bilk.
“Odd kid to have on a mission like this, Panck,” Bilk mused once the lad was out of sight.
“Somebody in the legate’s office thought it was a good idea, so what can you do?” Hill shrugged. Tenth Legion was nominally responsible for security in all but the most westerly parts of former Kentucky. Being peacetime, only half of their cohorts were active and they scattered over an area two hundred miles long by one hundred miles deep. Compared to duty on the imperium’s northeast and northwest frontiers, it was easy work. “He does his job and doesn’t strike me as a prig.”
Bilk gave another shrug and turned the topic to his recent changes at the Bluegrass Depot fort.
With the trucks squared away and the sun getting close to the horizon, Robert found the rest of his mates buying some crusty bread from the little PX. After explaining where he had been, Mitch laughed and pointed to where their bivouac was. The drivers of the trucks, the only non-combatants on their team, were already getting a fire going for their dinner.
“Seems a little early for dinner,” he noted, walking back with them to the campfire.
“That’s because…!” Mitch said in the voice of a showman drawing a curtain back while gesturing at Rockford, carrying two bags. Their fellow legionary set his bags down and took out the two six-packs of local ale inside. Everyone laughed.
“But wait! There’s more!” Mitch continued in character. Now setting the beer down, their scrounger-in-chief reached into an interior pocket of his jacket, paused for dramatic effect, then let a roll of ten packaged condoms unfurl from his hand.
“We are here on an important intelligence mission for the empire!” Mitch was now playing serious and not well at all. “What’s the best sort of intel, brothers? Local women! This is for the service of our Empress, brothers!”
Out of training they immediately echoed the title.
“Our Empress!” the eight young men called, just before grinning at one another.
Crown Prince or not, Robert thought, I am not letting any chance like this out of my grasp! He recalled his first experience, just over eighteen months ago with a girl five years his senior. There had only been one other since that time and Robert thought it high time to use the marches to make up for what he thought he deserved!
He did note, being issued his condom – Mitch and Rockford got two – was made in Canada. Socialists. And counter to imperial policy. Then again, knocking up a local girl and getting exposed as to who he was, was also very much against imperial policy and would result in punishment far worse than a dishonorable discharge. Robert suppressed his shudder and the memory of seeing older brother Edward when their mother was through with him after nearly accidentally killing Aunt Ryland. “Let’s get dinner over, brothers!” he called, tearing off a hunk of bread while the soup was almost ready. “I’m looking forward to dessert!”