Roll Call now out as book

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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TacAir
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Roll Call now out as book

Post by TacAir » Thu Apr 04, 2013 4:48 pm

This is a work of fiction, as are all the locations, characters and events.
All rights reserved, posted here for comment.

I looking for some feedback on this story. I'm trying to up my game, and critical feedback is welcome - PM is best so as to keep the thread 'clean'.
Thanks in advance.


7/22, started removal of prior chapter to protect copyright.

8/3 everything removed, the edited 1st chapter is up.
Last edited by TacAir on Sun May 19, 2013 1:30 pm, edited 27 times in total.
TacAir - I'd rather be a disappointed pessimist than a horrified optimist
**All my books ** some with a different view of the "PAW". Check 'em out.
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TacAir
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Re: Roll Call

Post by TacAir » Thu Apr 04, 2013 4:55 pm

Chapter One
One End



Nuevo Caledonia might have been called Paradise, if that moniker hadn't already been claimed by so many others. A large planet, poor in metals, it managed to have large, if shallow, seas with deep beaches. The days and nights were leisurely and as it orbited its star, it took more than a Standard year to finish even that routine journey. Located deep in the Periphery, that area between the Core of the Imperium and the Rim, it was finally developed as a low cost vacation world.

Boasting one large City, ringed by massive automated farms and a few small settlements, Nuevo Caledonia managed to quickly fade into the backwash of a turbulent Empire. As the tourist trade faded, food exports grew to be the primary source of what feeble economy existed. Things might have been good enough at that, except that the population kept growing, as it often does on Human controlled worlds.

When Tavin was born in the ordinary way on Nuevo Caledonia, nobody noticed. His mother, from off planet and unregistered, lived in a small taudis de vétérans far outside of the City among those she considered friends. As he grew, she nurtured him in every way she could. Each morning would begin with lessons, focusing on language, math and reading. After a light morning meal, they would work in her personal garden, spending the afternoon working in the large gardens of the landlord's compound. As he grew older, he worked on the surrounding truck farms.

Their apartment clung to the outside of a main compound wall like a barnacle. Small, even by City standards, it was all the space they really needed. A 'fresher, a pair of small sleeping rooms and a kitchen graced with a cool box surround the room she called the study. Their hot water came from the roof tank which squatted next to the power panels. Self contained and comfortable, the apartment gave them all the shelter required against a benign climate.

By choice, they owned very little. It was if Mother eschewed material possessions. Her bed was a hammock, his a sleeping pad. A small table and two chairs filled up the kitchen and pillows for the study made up nearly everything they owned other than the clothes on their backs. When one of the neighbors once asked if they needed any help, her reply was cryptic. "You truly own only that which you can carry in your hands at a dead run." The smile she added showed that they were both doing fine, so the neighbors didn't bother to ask further.

A few real books and a screen made up their study space. During the long days of the Wet, she and Tavin would spend hours exploring the Empire via her tiny horde of data cubes. They both enjoyed this simple but happy life, right up until she was murdered.
* * * * * *
Tavin was bright enough to know he'd never suffered true want. Fresh clean water always flowed from the tap, he even had hot water for bathing. Food from the garden was both plentiful and nutritious. Mother was careful not to dote over him. He studied in the mornings and worked afternoons in the gardens. During the long days of the Wet, they would use the data cubes to explore many of the different worlds in the Empire that were so distant as to be unknown by the mass of humanity that lived on Neuvo Caledonia. A distant Sector Governor, rarely glimpsed, was as close to the Empire as any got.

It was these electronic wanderings that exposed him to the wretched conditions and the existence lived by too many in the Core of the Empire of Man. Mother had never made a point out of any of it, answering all of his questions with an honesty seldom afforded to children. When he asked how Mother had come to live here, she would only smile and tell him it was simply luck. His father was a single picture that mostly remained folded inside of a small icon. Questions about Father were always met with silence and a pained expression, as though just thinking about the man were too much to bear, even for her.

This happy life ended just after Harvest on his sixteenth year. As he sat that horrible night in their apartment, the little home also seemed to have died. Without the joyful presence of Mother, it was simply a small block building full of...empty. Even the good memories seemed to have faded into the bricks. He spent the night alone, sitting on a cushion, remembering the effort to dig a grave in the sodden ground next to the line of untamed jungle.

Boaz and Mullins, the landlords who owned the compound and part of what he thought of as family, brought her body out to be interred. In death she was tiny. They had wrapped the body in her silk sheet, the one pretty thing he knew her to have ever owned, something kept in a small box under her hammock. The burly men laid her to rest, all three covered her remains.

Boaz had simply said, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Now she can be with..." stopping before he finished the sentence. Turning to Tavin he said, "Come on, Son, we've things to talk about today," and they returned to the compound. The grave would soon be swallowed by jungle flowers; the disturbed ground ensured at least that much.

On the walk back to the compound, he went over yesterdays attack, seeking how he might have made it different. The gang had come out from the city; pickings there must have gotten thin. Now that Harvest was over, maybe the city residents assumed that the rural population would be flush, good targets for thieves and thugs. They certainly must have assumed that the residents in the taudis de vétérans could be easily cowed by their thuggery, so many in the city were terrified of them by now.

Because she was out tending her garden by the gate, the gang members had grabbed Mother first. They'd cut her throat with the belief that the remaining residents of the small complex would give up their valuables without a fight. That was how it worked back in the city, after all. Make an example, the sheep will give up, hoping to spare themselves.
He'd been at the far side of the compound walls, working in his berry patch, helpless to stop the killing. Sprinting across the compound, he arrived in time only to see the last of her life leak from the savage wound the thugs had inflicted. He'd knelt beside his mother, holding her lifeless form in his arms and felt his anger rising. "You bastards are going to pay for this!" he'd whispered between clenched teeth.

The laughter from her attackers was cruel. "Yeah, little man. You and who else? In case you missed it, there's fifteen of us and only one of you. Want to run your mouth? Then
you're next." The men crowded around him, everyone jeering.

One hoodlum grabbed for Tavin, only to start screaming as his arm fell to the cobblestones, blood jetting across the garden. His bolo knife had passed through both flesh and bone seemingly unhindered by either. He'd whirled and the bolo cut a second time, slashing open a thug's windpipe without slowing down. Before he could take on the others in the gang, they were mown down moments later in a hail of nearly silent gunfire. Boaz and Mullins had come outside on hearing the disturbance, ready for anything.

Once back at Boaz's house, the man had made it simple, "You've got to get your ass off this rock, Tavin." The tone from Boaz brooked no argument. "Those thugs will have friends or bosses who'll want to know what happened, and they'll come looking. You can count on it."
Mullins added, "Look, Boaz is right. We've got it covered if the rest of the gang shows again.

As far as the local flatfoots are concerned, you and your mother have never really existed, so they damn sure aren't going to do anything." He didn't bother to hide his disgust. Crime had gotten so bad that even this far out from the City it touched people with deadly fingers. The local authorities now worried mostly about the beach areas, trying to keep what tourists that did still arrive alive and happy. The slums could look out for themselves.
"I don't know where I would go; this is the only place I really know. Mother never mentioned any family. I don't even have a family name." He struggled with tears of frustration, "Who would have me?"

The two men looked at each other and then back to Tavin. "The Imperial Marines are always looking for recruits. Or at least, they have been. We were discharged before you were born, but I doubt things have changed all that much." Boaz waved his hand, "We can help with that. You have a lot more going for you than you might think."

"What could I offer to the Imperium? I doubt they want farmers." Tavin couldn't hide the bitterness in his voice. He was perfectly prepared to continue to live on Neuvo Caledonia; it was hard for him to imagine what life would be like elsewhere.

"Bullshit, Tavin. You read, write and speak nearly perfect Standard, outside of the Core, you just don't see that. You speak French, Kudo, and can do math in your head. You'll have to take our word for it, not many can do even that much. The IM is always looking for smart people."

"How smart do you have to be to kill someone?" He'd jumped up and spoken without thinking, now he was regretting his outburst.

Mullins didn't raise his voice, instead he calmly said, "Sit down, Tavin. We need to explain a few things to you." Once they were seated around the table, he started again. "You can be stupid and kill people. Those thugs we took out and fed to the pigs proves that much. The trick is to kill the right people...thugs, crooks, slavers. The bastards that make life horrible for everyone and then live long enough to do it again. I know your mother took the time to show you the dark side of Empire. Let me ask you this, how much worse would it be if there was no Empire to try and keep civilization going?"

Boaz spoke up, "Make no mistake, there's no love lost for the Emperor. Even if he's damn near a lunatic, the alternative is a lot worse. Anyone with enough force could and will try to make their own little Empire. At least with what we have now, there are laws. Not always enforced, but once discovered..." He looked at Mullins, then back to Tavin, "We spent most of our adult lives trying to prop up civilization, because if the Empire falls apart..." He shook his head, "I was out on the Rim once, a planet there had become enough of a cancer that the Marines were sent in to clean it out. No matter you've seen in your studies, it was nothing compared to what we found there. It might have been more merciful just to glass the entire place over from orbit."

"Why did my mother come here? You've both known her forever, why wouldn't she tell me about..." He stopped when Boaz help up his hand.

"You'll get nothing from us; we both swore an oath on that. I will say she came here because we were here. Let that go, nothing good can come from it. You need to focus on your immediate future and how to ensure you can even have one."

"How will you help me with the IM?"

As they had many times before in the Wet, the three spent the rest of the day in talking; before he'd gone back to the empty apartment for one last night.
* * * * * *
The bag on his shoulder weighed little. It held the few possessions he could afford to carry. The icon with the photos of his father and a much younger mother, the field canteen gifted to him by Boaz/ A net hammock and a change of clothes were wrapped around his bolo knife. These things and a couple of hard rolls were all that he now owned in the world. He'd been careful in what he'd taken, if he was accepted by the Imperial Marines, he would not need even this little bundle of things. If rejected, he would travel as far as he possibly could from the City and try to find a place to live.

Walking along the lane leading to the rest of the universe gave him time to consider his life or rather what he wanted to do with it. He'd never given it any real thought, as most youngsters tend to do. Going along with the day to day routine had been...comfortable. Now forced out of that existence, however comfortable, was less a shock than a revelation. He'd viewed many, many worlds, the color and cultures spilling out of his mother's data cubes, often wondering what it would be like to actually experience that same world. Now, it would seem, fate had intervened to give him that opportunity.

He hefted his bag again. The weight of his knife brought the memory of the day his mother had given it to him. Just ten years old, she'd made a special breakfast to help him celebrate his birthday. As it was raining, they'd gone into the study and sat. Before he could ask what lesson she'd planned for the day, she moved a pillow, revealing a box. In the box was his blade.

Fighting back tears, she would only say, "Your father made me promise that you would receive this on your tenth birthday." Hand held to her mouth, she finished with "Please, don't ask. Just be happy you've something of your father's." She fled the room before he'd opened the box. The blade itself was encased in a sheath made of some not quite shiny material. Years later, he'd tried to cut that material with the blade, only to have it slide off with no effect. Not knowing anything about the purpose of the tool, he used it as he gardened, later on the farm. It remained sharp no matter how used, and even the Wet had no effect on it.

Reaching into the bag, he touched the pommel, cool to his touch. Perhaps in the future, he would discover what the blade was really used for in his travels. Boaz had cautioned him to leave it outside of the dépôt de recrutement. He wouldn't say why, just offered the advice. It would take him a full day and more to reach the village located on the main road where the the dépôt de recrutement resided.

As darkness made walking impossible, he stepped into the jungle lining the road, hanging the hammock up between two trees. Sleep came quickly after he'd finished his rolls and swallowed some of the water from his new canteen. The jungle posed to threat to humans, so he had an untroubled sleep. If the jungle posed no threat, it also offered no help. There was nothing a human could find worth eating that would grow naturally in the mass of vegetation. Morning came suddenly as it did this time of season and he was soon walking on the lane again.

The rumble of heavy trucks in the distance caused him to pause.
Putting on his sandals was necessary; the hard surface road ahead meant that things were in the soil that could hurt his feet. Civilization and the trash that accompanied it were the clearest of the many lines of demarcation between his new world and the one he'd just been forced to leave.

Sitting by itself, the dépôt was a squat, square box of cement. It was some distance from the rest of the dusty buildings comprising a no-name village on the edge of nowhere. The structures huddled in a ragged row, lining the road used by the massive Corporate owned semi-automated farms. Traffic was mostly the driverless six wheeled trucks, massive hulks scurrying up and down the road on unknown tasks. The ramshackle village along the roadway was surprisingly close to the unmarked junction where the sunlight could finally beat on him as the jungle had been forced back decades before.

It took just a moment to determine the dépôt was in fact, closed, with no indication of when it might have an occupant. As few on the planet owned any kind of timepiece, it was of no real matter, he was used to waiting. He was happy to see an umbrella tree had chosen to grow within sight of the building, so he found a spot in the shade and took up residence.
Impassive in the shade under the umbrella tree, Tavin made a slight figure that gave no hint as to his status or origin. Looking back at the junction from time to time and the community he knew to be there, he could only think of it in the past tense, "Used to be home, now, it's just someplace I had to leave." He didn't bother to sigh. He was well past all regret; facing only an uncertain future.

Sitting in the shade wasn't bad; it gave him a chance to play back in his mind all of the many stories both of the older men had shared with him over the years. He found it odd they'd never said just why they'd left the Marines or why they'd picked Neuvo Caledonia to settle on. The easygoing people, the mild climate, even the relative remoteness of this world all suggested it might be a good place to live, but recent events and the discussion before he left the compound now made that assumption impossible. As he did with most things he couldn't change, he put aside any more thought about it. Perhaps at some far off time, he could return. Older and perhaps more experienced, he could then ask the two men if they would tell him the whole story of his mother.

That night, he hung his hammock in the tree, listening to his belly complain about being empty. Rather than worry, he just used a couple of the simple songs his mother had taught him to fall asleep. Tomorrow would be another day; he could worry about eating then.
The groundcar that pulled up to the dépôt was old, but reflected the harsh sun as though it were a mirror. A large uniformed man got out, looking around. On spotting Tavin, he shook his head before going inside. Tavin gave him a full hour; Boaz has been quite specific about that. "Don't get between the man and his first cup of coffee. You'd be starting out on the wrong foot." Tavin stood, dusting himself off very carefully. After picking up his grip, he walked across the roadway to the dépôt entrance.

The door was oddly shaped, but opened easily at his touch. He left his grip in the door entryway, outside. Inside of the building, it was noticeably cooler and darker. The windows were both tinted and very thick for some reason. Tavin walked up to the desk and stood there, silent, both hands in view.

The man behind the desk looked at him before digging back through a pile of papers on the desk. Finally, he finished his cup of coffee and looked up at Tavin. Tavin looked back at him, silent, as he had been coached. He knew better than to speak unless asked a question, the Imperial Marines had to be aware that he had little to offer past his own soul.

"What do you want, Maggot?" came as a grumble, deep within the speakers chest.

"I want to enlist, Sergeant Major." He would wait for the man behind the desk to speak; such were the rules as explained to him.

The man behind the desk sat back, looking Tavin over as one might examine a piece of misplaced livestock. The kid was clean enough, though his clothes were obviously hand made. That could have been a matter of personal choice, many of the small communities around here made high quality cloth goods. In a surprisingly mild voice he asked, "And just why do you want to enlist in my Corps, Maggot?" He was a bit surprised at this kids perfect Standard.

"It's the only honest way I know of to become an Imperial Marine, Sergeant Major." It was the simple truth, despite a good education; he was ignorant of how the greater Universe really worked outside of his little and remote world. He was bound to find out, one way or the other, and he'd rather do that finding as a Marine.

Sergeant Major Dupree had to give the little maggot some credit. He knew his rank and most importantly, he knew how to keep his mouth shut. That in and of itself was unusual for potential new recruits, most couldn't keep their piehole closed. "Well, Maggot, that's interesting. Care to tell me just why I would have you as a recruit?"

Reaching slowly into his pocket, Tavin pulled out a data cube. Placing the cube on the desk, he pushed it toward the seated man without a word. Boaz and Mullins had given him the cube the morning he left. At his a questioning look, Boaz said "This is a letter from us to any Imperial Marine recruiter. Hand them this and you're in. If they allow it, ask for assignment to the Fifth Imperial Marine Regiment, it's our old outfit. Do the best you can; stay out of trouble and the Corps will take care of you."

Mullins had added, "It ain't going to be easy, you may not last all that long, but you'll at least have the brothers you missed growing up." Mullins had to turn away before the tears came.

Dupree looked at the cube. His desk commo suite showed it was encrypted, fairly low level stuff but something the locals normally didn't have access to on their data net. Now he was intrigued. "There's something more going here," he thought, "and I hate surprises."

Tavin watched as he looked down at his desk before picking up the cube and dropping it into the slot for the desk reader. At the change in his expression, Tavin could only assume there must have been some surprise. The Sergeant Major opened a desk drawer, and after rummaging around a bit took out a small paper notebook. Flipping through the book, he stopped at a page and laboriously entered a string of data into his desk comm, then performed the task twice again. A small chime sounded and a screen abruptly popped up out of the desk.

"Damn!" Dupree thought, "This cube has an old Imperial Family code." Not terribly sophisticated, but encoded just the same. He dug out an old passkey book and entered what should have been the proper key. No luck. It took three tries as the code was that old and outdated. His desk screen popped out. When reading any Imperial Household data it was forbidden to use a holo display.

Tavin watched him read whatever the screen displayed, stopping twice to look at him before reading on. After about twenty minutes, he tapped the desktop, the screen dropped and the
cube popped out.

Dupree looked closely at the young man standing in front of his desk, as if seeing him for the first time. "Okay, Maggot. You got a name?" The tone of his voice wasn't hard but booked no nonsense at the same time.

"Tavin, Sergeant Major."

Dupree pointed over to the corner of the wall holding the door. "Grab a seat, Maggot. I think we need to talk."

"Thank you, Sergeant Major." Tavin did just as instructed.

"So you want to join up with the Imperial Marines, eh, Maggot?"

"No, Sergeant Major. I want to become an Imperial Marine. I don't want to sound like a smartass, but there's a difference." He saw the change in expression in the recruiter's face. He hoped it was for the good.

"Are you old enough to enlist, Maggot?"

Tavin sighed; he knew this would come up. "My mother came from off-planet. She had her reasons for not registering locally." He paused, "That means I'm not registered." He held up his empty hands, not quite a shrug. "Will that be a problem, Sergeant Major?" Being unregistered meant they never had access to anything like schools or a doctor, not that a slum dweller would anyway.

"That depends, Maggot, depends on several things. Says here in this letter," he tapped the data cube, "there was some problem with a gang? Tell me about it."
Tavin took a deep breath. "There was no problem with the gang, Sergeant Major. They killed my mother, I killed two of them." At Dupree's look, he went on, "I had help with the rest. I've found in my short life that it's not real smart to anger IM combat vets." Tavin wasn't sure how to take the expression on the Sergeant Major's face. Holding up his hand, he went outside to his grip, there he pulled out the bolo knife and walked back to the desk. He sat the bolo knife on the edge of the desk. "I used this to kill those...people." This said as a simple statement of fact.

Dupree looked at the blade, then at his internal desktop telltales. Tapping a couple of buttons, he looked at the knife again. "Just how did you happen come by this," he said pointing to the blade, "if you don't mind my asking?" Hull metal knives were not common in the Core, out here; rare would be a good choice to describe their availability. Made of atomically collapsed alloy, hull metal was the hardest thing made by Man.

Tavin couldn't miss how the question was put to him. He'd have to think about that later. "It was an honest gift, Sergeant Major." Tavin sat and looked at the man across the desk, clearly not willing to offer any more than those few words.

Making some internal decision Dupree stood and said, "Stand up, raise your right hand, repeat after me." He had Tavin place his hand on a box, which proceeded to give his palm a small prick. When he removed his hand, a tiny drop of blood formed on his skin. Two minutes later, Dupree offered his hand. "Welcome aboard, Recruit. By the way, when did you last eat?"

"Two days ago, Sergeant Major."

"I thought as much." Sitting down, Dupree searched through his desk. Counting out some coins, he slid them across the desk. "Here's an advance, two days pay for a Recruit. Go get something to eat. I'll have everything you need by the time you get back. Wait one." He punched a button and a small disk slid out of a box behind his desk.

"Here," he said tossing the disk to Tavin, "funny thing about Imperial Marine identification chits. Nobody is going to ask about you or your business. Now, go eat." As Tavin walked out the door, Dupree had to shake his head. "Kid, I don't know who you really are, I don't think even you know. I'm sure as shit not going to do anything to upset you," he thought. Dupree was still studying the readout on the knife and the blood sample as the door sighed shut.

Pocketing the chit, picking up the coins and his blade, Tavin left without a word. By afternoon, he was sitting at the spaceport, three hours later he was on his way to see about becoming an Imperial Marine, or to die trying...
* * * * * *
He was carried on a freighter. Like most things Corporate; it had a minimum crew, this one had only two. They pointed him to a small space that held a sleeping mat, fresher and a screen before shutting him in. Not quite a prison cell, he was released to eat twice a cycle. By the second cycle of Transit, he determined what data the screen could access was, charitably, trash. He risked breaking the silence of his meal to ask a simple question.

"Is there any other data for the screen?" That earned him a foul look from the crewman on shift.

"This ain't no passenger liner, you get what you see."

He tried on the next cycle with the other crewman. This time, the man reached under cabinet to remove a box. "Here's everything that's been left behind, help yourself. You know how to read?"

Tavin had been cautioned by Boaz about sharing any personal information with pouges - Personnel Other than Grunt. So he shaded his reply, "Some. Thanks." Box in hand, he scurried back to his berth, shutting the hatch to his space and locking it from the inside. Most of the data cubes in the box were worse than trash, however, two held extensive libraries of books, some in the original French. He was careful to hand the box back to the crewman who'd first offered it to him with a simple negative headshake.

After a week in Transit, he arrived. The crewman on duty turned him out with a single grunt, kicking his bag across the deck to his feet. Bag in hand and richer by a pair of data cubes, he made his way across the port. Almost overwhelmed by the noise, light, smells and sheer amount of activity, he still managed to find the small port office marked for incoming Imperial Marines. He spent another full cycle in the office before being collected.
* * * * * *
On arrival at the training station, he was shuttled to the far side of the massive complex, there to meet a single man, cut very much in the mold of Sergeant Major Dupree. He silently offered his ID chit and waited to see what would unfold.

His chit was put into some kind of reader, and then returned. The man scanned the display, frown deepening. "You got a wait coming before the next training platoon is rostered." He handed Tavin a small sheet. "You'll do the full test set tomorrow; then go to casual duty. You eat today?" At Tavin's negative head shake, a combat ration pac was tossed his way. "What baggage you got?" Tavin handed over his bag, leaving the data cubes in his pocket. His bag went into a bin, which sealed by itself as he watched.

The man handed him a wand, "Follow this to your space; it will direct you everywhere you need to go." Looking at the display one last time he asked, "Got any questions?"
Tavin kept to the point, "Where am I permitted to eat?" he held up the ration pac as part of his question.

Putting his thumb over his shoulder, the reply was as short, "Space at the end of the hall, trash goes in the wall slot." He waited, but the newbie didn't move. "Smart kid," he thought. "Haul ass, Recruit. You got places to be." As Tavin trotted down the hall, the Sergeant made two entries into the data record. From now until he left, everything he did or didn't do would be recorded and judged.
* * * * * *
He failed the zero G test, loudly. Forewarned by Boaz, he'd skipped eating breakfast. Given the smell and look of the slop offered as food, it wasn't hard to do. He'd been careful to eat only part of the ration pac, artfully hiding the rest inside his pillow cover. Once he recovered from the zero G test, he was directed to a room full of screens. He sat and tried his best to answer a mind-numbing number of questions, some in languages he hadn't clue about.

Eventually, the screen flashed "DONE". The wand took him back to the feeding station; there the slop had changed color, but the rest remained the same. He was able to round up some crackers or perhaps just very stale bread and some kind of nut spread, calling that good enough for the night.

The next day his wand took him back to the feeding station where he was to report for 'casual duty'. Run by a contractor, the head of the operation simply pointed to a corner and said, "Get comfortable." That cycle was an education in corruption. Food that arrived by surface transport was partially rotted; meat that arrived in large bins carried the smell of rot. No wonder the food was reduced to a pulp. He watched the dance as the staff and machinery turned what arrived into 'food'.

Given all the activity, it was nothing for him to walk away, finding a series of storerooms off of the back of the preparation space. He refused to call what he'd just left a kitchen. Most were empty save for bare shelves, the goo on the deck and a lingering odor of spoilage. The last of the doors was simply marked - Authorized Personnel Only. The door was unlocked, so he went in. Here the shelves were full of packets. In the dim light of the overhead glow strip he could see these were marked as "Ration, Combat, Space."

Each had a label with print so fine he couldn't make out what information might be had, so he opened up a single packet. Filled with a doughy substance, he tried a bite. It was completely without flavor. It only took a minute for him to consume the contents. The 'bottom' of the packet turned out to hold some water, obtained via a straw that could be teased out of the wrapper. Flattening the wrapper, he ventured back to his original corner. The wand eventually summoned him to the front of the feeding station, now filled with other people. He took the nut butter and bread route again, before returning to his space. This repeated itself for several cycles, until one morning, following his guide wand; he arrived to find himself in a new space, one with people that had to be other recruits.

After that, everything was a blur. Few things stood out in his memory, the actinic flash as a recruit managed to somehow incorrectly insert a power pack into a pulser weapon and the smell as it fried him and the men on each side of his firing position. The memory of the acrid odor from spent propellant on the rifle range. The almost-home smell and sound of rain and mud as they squished around the training area following incomprehensible orders was his most vivid memory. Most of his training was outside and in the weather. He did fine in the heat and wet but in the mountains, he could never seem to get warm.

The blur finally stopped when the survivors were marched into an open field to be welcomed for their last training session. They would be lifted to a nearby system still undergoing pacification. In other words, they were being tasked to clear out a slum where Imperial or any authority, had ceased to exist.
* * * * * *
They would lift in two sections. One section would be Fleet Marines, the other was filled with recruits with a single Lance Corporal to lead the section. The Staff Sergeant leading the group had been a bit vague on what they were supposed to do once dirtside. Tavin had assumed that was normal as Boaz often made the comment about Situation Normal, All Fucked Up. They lifted to orbit via a commercial contract shuttle and would land using assault boats. Transit lasted less than a day, just enough time to be issued weapons, rations and perform the bare minimum of preparation.

Boaz had spun many a war story, as he called them, but had very specific about the Landing Ship, Assault. "The damn things are a bullet magnet. Fuckers come down with a plasma drive flare you can see to the horizon. You ever ride in one of those, Son, you unass the POS as soon as the ramp opens. Fuck waiting for the ramp to hit dirt, you be up and out as soon as you can stand up." Over the years, he spent many a day in the Wet listening to the two Vets share their combined wisdom. Tavin was more than willing to believe their tales for one good reason. They were both still alive.

Now, as he sat strapped into the LSA, slamming around in the atmosphere, he had to wonder. Why had this slum become so dangerous that they needed to make a combat insertion? Training? His musing was interrupted when the landing alarm blasted through the troop bay. Moments later the planet slammed into the craft hard enough to kick dust loose from the overhead.

Tavin was out of the ship and at a dead run before the rest of the section had finished unstrapping. Three hundred meters from the still glowing ship, he threw himself to the ground, weapon out and scanning. The LZ appeared to be a badly overgrown park surrounded by towering residential towers. He'd seen these kinds of towers in Mother's cube data. Nothing more than massive vertical slums holding what she'd called 'industrial workers'. If the industry left, the slum stayed.

He didn't bother to track the time, what would happen, would happen. The kick to his boot cause him to look around. The rest of the section was standing around, looking at him. It was obvious that they'd taken their time to exit, as he looked back, the LSA boosted back toward its berth in orbit.

The Lance spoke first. "Good job, if this was a hot LZ, I'd be impressed. It's not and since you seem to be so hot to trot, you take point. Let's go." They formed up in a ragged patrol column, heading deeper into the slum. The Lance continued with, "This isn't a hot LZ because most of the workers were transported to another...work area." Human labor was hard to come by, that much made sense.

Tavin stopped at the edge of the park. The visor map he had up didn't match what he saw in front of him and as a result his and everyone else's position pipper was absent. He zoomed up several scales and still couldn't get a match. It was as though the wrong map had been loaded on board the transport. He keyed his mike, "Ah. Lance. Recruit Tavin. My map display doesn't match this...area. Did I get a bad download?"

The answer he got was a string of curses. This was followed by a curt, "Take defensive positions, now!" Better than twenty minutes Standard went by before the Lance spoke again. "Fucking fuckers, sooo fucked up." He drew a breath, "We got dropped off outside of our sector." After more muttered curses featuring the parentage of the Navy in general and the LSA pilot specifically, he finished with, "Stand by, I'm going to send you an update.

Tavin's display rolled several times, when it settled, his location pipper was visible and the icons on the display matched, more or less, the buildings he could see. Rather than thank the NCO for the new data, he held his peace. He'd no idea what this meant, but the both volume and intensity of the NCOs cursing didn't bode well. He switched his visor over to see if any heat sources were nearby and was relived to see it looked like they were still alone. For now.

"Listen up. We got dumped well outside of our progged LZ. I can't raise anyone on the comms I have and we're too far from the other section to make climbing up on one of those...buildings worth the effort. He's your new ROE. We're cleared guns hot for hostiles, so report any movement. If your scanner shows them carrying any metal or you get an energy signature, shoot them, and then tell me about it. Questions?"

The comm channel spilled a dead hiss into his headphones. The mention of energy signature was bad news. It meant the hostiles could be armed with at least pulsers. At a minimum, it was bad news, that a slum dweller had access to something that powerful was another story altogether. His name spilled from the headphones in his helmet.

"Tavin. Here's your route. We want to pass through this section of towers to the big park next to the river. Once there, and across the river, I think we'll be close enough that calling from the top of a tower will give us the range to contact the other section. From there, we can sort out this fuckup. Everyone. Stay sharp and keep your eyes open. Call out on any heat signatures. Saddle up."

Tavin's map display had updated with a thin line showing the route that the Lance thought best. He waited until everyone was on their feet and set off. He scanned in all directions, and each time he left cover or concealment, he made an effort to look up. Nobody ever looked up; Boaz had made that point more than once, something his new instructors had failed to stress.

Making a mental inventory of his gear didn't take long. His Individual Weapon had been issued on board, made to take caseless ammunition. He was pissed they hadn't had a chance to sight in the weapons. Blindly trusting the linked holo sight was something he wasn't willing to do. If his helmet visor packed it in, he would be forced to fire blindly. He carried two ration pacs and a field canteen. Food for two days and the canteen would refill itself from the humidity it seined out of the air. The basic load of ammo would last as long as it lasted. From the cursing, he had to assume the Lance knew resupply was not going to happen or at least not planned for. "Sounds like a real fun and games training session, all right," he thought as the cracked pavement passed under his feet.

He stopped at the roadway. This one was broad, sporting a strip of dead vegetation running down the center. Using the weapon sight, he scanned up and down the roadway, taking the time to scan the front of the buildings he could see from his position. The trouble was he couldn't really scan the buildings on his side of the roadway.

"Lance, Recruit Tavin. This looks good on one side, but I can't scan the buildings on our side. If I can have a couple of guys, we can run across and scan from the far side." He paused, "We're all going to have to cross anyway, I just thought..."

"Good-o, Tavin. Take Musker and Spivey with you. Once across, check behind the building, then let me know if it's hot or clear."

"Got it." The three of them sprinted across the roadway, stopping only after they were well behind the building fronting the road. "You guys scan the fronts of the buildings on the far side, I'll check the rear." He trotted to the back of the structure, then down what appeared to be an alley or delivery access route, now littered with trash. He was almost back to the road when he heard the other two recruits call out the all clear.

Having his visor down saved his eyesight. The Lance, carrying their pulser, was caught by a bolt of raw energy that set off his reload and the cell already in the weapon. He and his equipment load all converted into plasma in an instant. The pavement gouted up in several other places as the rest of the burst passed through the growing cloud of hot gas that had been the Lance and their crew-served weapon.

Musker and Spivey were screaming as the actinic light burned out their optic nerves and fried as the gas touched any exposed skin. They were both dead when he reached them. He couldn't raise anyone else on the comm channel; the aftereffects of the plasma would make a hash of the RF links for some time to come. So, he shouted. "Who's left?"

It took more than a few minutes, but he finally determined that there were ten others in the section still alive, though one was blind. If that blindness was a temporary condition had yet to be determined. They still had to get everyone across the roadway to make their target, but it was now more than obvious that a pulser crew had control of the roadway. No wonder the Lance had cursed, it was also now very obvious they'd not gotten a full brief.

After much shouting back and forth, the larger group tried to lob a pair of grenades onto the median, hoping the soil would make enough of a dust screen to disrupt the pulser. They only managed to make a shallow hole in the soil, years of urban filth apparently made for quite a soil binder.

The voice from the unknown recruit was sounding desperate, "That's all we got. How about you?"

Tavin had been thinking furiously since the loss of their NCO. Finally he shouted back, "I'm going to the next building up, maybe I can knock down enough of the facade to make a screen. Wait one."

He cringed at the "What the fuck else can we do?" he got as an answer.

He pulled the bodies of the two men back from where they had fallen. Taking some time, he stripped off their load of grenades and magazines of ammo. Since everyone also carried at least one pulser reload, he added those to growing pile of goodies. How they had not gone off when the Lance bought it...

Using tape from the dead men's aid kits, he made a bundle of the ammo magazines, before taping the three energy cells together. Hands full, he went back down the alleyway, then cut back toward the roadway. This building was old enough to have block construction. He called on the commo channel, "I'm to pop off a couple of grenades and then you should hear a really big explosion, that's when you'll need to haul ass across..." Happily, he got a reply acknowledging his message.

Setting his bundle down at the alley, he walked up to the front edge of the building. Thankfully, there was a vent or at least a small hole in the side facing this walkway. Setting the grenade fuse to max, he pulled the pin and slid it into the vent, he was safely in the alley when a muted crump announced that the fuse worked as designed. Now he had a large hole, one which he filled with his mass of munitions, topping it off with another grenade with a maxed out fuse setting. He took the time to shove as much rubble in the hole as he thought time allowed, then sprinted back to the alleyway. He'd made it just past the corner when the blast wave slammed him to the ground.
The rest of the section had no problem crossing; the roadway was blocked by the collapsed building...
* * * * * *
The two officers sat behind the desk, their faces impassive. He'd made his after action report, as had the others that lived to make pickup. Now called before a formal, if small, Board of Inquiry made him fear for his life. He knew the Imperial Marines hated failures that got people killed. Tavin had no idea if this inquiry was to make him a scapegoat...

The older man, a full Captain, spoke first. "We've reviewed your report, very complete. We only had a couple of questions, as you can imagine, about your training." At Tavin's nervous head bob, he went on, "You indicated that you were the first to note a problem with the mapping download. This was because your location pipper was off-display. Was this condition covered in your training?"

"No. Sir. It was covered in the helmet display operating instructions." Once he'd discovered his helmet display electronics package included a data reader, he read everything he could get his hands on about the functioning of his issue equipment. Or at least what the manufacturer claimed it would do. Both failed to match more than once. The cubes he'd scored on the trip out had filled the little off time given to the recruits. He'd had no interest in the card games or other 'activities' enjoyed by his section mates.

"I see. I've noted where that may be worth adding to the training materials. About your...improvised demo charge. Was that covered in training?"

Tavin cringed, "Ah. No. Sir."

"You're in no trouble, in fact, we were most impressed with your...inventiveness. Our inquiry is solely to determine if the training you received was in anyway different than that received by the rest of your section." He actually smiled, "Do you see?"

He didn't, of course, but just the same said, "Yes. Sir." He wasn't going to offer any more than asked, and give as little as he could at that. Being up front with a platoon Sergeant was one thing, but talking with officers...Imperial Navy officers at that, no way. Mother had not raised him to be the fool.

During the entire interview, the other officer had merely looked at some display or another embedded in the desktop before him, occasionally shaking his head. It took less than another hour, but the interviewed ended and Tavin was relived to leave with a whole skin.

Once the hatch irised shut, the senior officer asked, "Well, what did you get?"

"Nothing, the Private was honest, in as much as I didn't see indicator of deception." Now it was his turn to smile, "It was also obvious he wasn't going to say shit to a couple of Naval foghats. Doesn't matter, I doubt he knows the helmets are rigged to records everything the recruits do. Now the question is, what will you do?"

"Since this entire mess was caused by sending Land Force troops back the very slum they were recruited from, this will have to be both classified and buried. I will find out who made that decision, and if I'm able, get him or her cashiered. For now, the only reward we can give this trooper is to grant his two requests."

"I missed that, Sir. What did he request?"

"When they finally got picked up, the relieving force Lieutenant asked what he wanted. The first was to be assigned to the Fifth Imperial Marine Regiment, something they will both benefit from, I'm happy to say. I've already issued the orders."

"What was the other?"

"He asked if he could somehow get a fresh apple..." They both chuckled as they left the space. Another small crack in the fabric of the Imperium had been pasted over, and life would go on. Neither of the men really wanted to consider what would happen if all those little cracks started growing and merging.
* * * * * *
The recruit graduation ceremony was muted owing their losses of troops on this last exercise. Once the formation broke up, the sections gathered to receive their assignments. The section Staff Sergeant called Tavin's name first.

"Here's your order chit. You're shipping out to the Fifth Imperial, good outfit, solid Commander. They're halfway out toward nowhere, in the Periphery. Likely you'll be in Transit for more than a week Standard. Your shuttle lifts in a couple of hours, so get moving."

Tavin took the chit without comment. He went back for his duffle; checking his locker for anything he might have missed. The bag itself was miniscule, the Fifth would issue everything he needed, and outside of the travel uniform he wore and some unisuits to wear under his uniform, the duffle was nearly empty, save for a few data cubes. He stopped by and retrieved his civilian bag from the sealed bin where he'd left it a lifetime ago. It only took seconds to move those few items into his duffle before he tossed the worn out bag into the disposal slot. His last stop was the food preparation section where he'd spent his casual time. The look on his face and the uniform ensured that his passage was unblocked. He left with his duffle now looking much fuller. He hated not knowing where his next meal would come from while traveling...compared to slop, space combat rations were pretty tasty.
Last edited by TacAir on Sun May 19, 2013 2:03 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Roll Call

Post by DTyra » Thu Apr 04, 2013 6:37 pm

Sounds very interesting.
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Re: Roll Call

Post by Murphman » Thu Apr 04, 2013 7:05 pm

tagged
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Re: Roll Call

Post by Nancy1340 » Thu Apr 04, 2013 9:47 pm

Good start. Thanks

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Re: Roll Call

Post by 223shootersc » Thu Apr 04, 2013 10:19 pm

Tac great start, interesting character being built already

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Re: Roll Call

Post by TacAir » Fri Apr 05, 2013 2:47 pm

**
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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by dumb blonde » Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:03 pm

I like it. :clap: It fills in a couple of gaps in young Tavin's background.
Moar please?
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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by DTyra » Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:34 pm

Much more interesting. Apparently the boy is a part of the imperial family though a part that seems to think it is better left unknown. Yeah, I'm liking this a lot.
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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by TacAir » Fri Apr 05, 2013 4:42 pm

DTyra wrote:Much more interesting. Apparently the boy is a part of the imperial family though a part that seems to think it is better left unknown. Yeah, I'm liking this a lot.
Thank you for the kind words. Hopefully you'll enjoy how this unfolds.
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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by Nancy1340 » Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:03 pm

Much more polished. I got the Imperal Family thing but I like this version a bit better.

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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by Manliest » Sat Apr 06, 2013 10:26 am

Oh no. You're at it again. There goes my productivity. I'm just gonna lay around waiting for you to post again until the story's finished. :lol:

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Re: Roll Call (4/5 update)

Post by TacAir » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:46 pm

**
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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by Nancy1340 » Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:51 pm

I'm enjoying this story very much. Thank you. :clap:

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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by Barr » Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:04 pm

I enjoyed the original version of this story, I'm happy to see it back.
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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by Manliest » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:04 pm

What's a cycle? You use both cycle and day, so I'm a bit confused.

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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by TacAir » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:33 pm

Manliest wrote:What's a cycle? You use both cycle and day, so I'm a bit confused.
Outside, you see the sun (local star) rise and set, on board ship or inside, you have a time cycle. Trying to differentiate between inside/outside and dirtside and in space. Looks like I need to work on that a bit more - thanks! These questions are exactly why I post here.

Thanks for reading!
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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by Mister Dark » Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:43 pm

Another fantastic story. Will be following this with interest.

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Re: Roll Call - Ehd of Chapter one now up 7/5

Post by TacAir » Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:07 pm

**
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Re: Roll Call - Moar now up 7/6

Post by Murphman » Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:29 pm

Reminds me a bit of Ender's Game in that our hero doesn't realize how extraordinary his "common sense" actions are. Good Stuff.
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Re: Roll Call - Moar now up 7/6

Post by Manliest » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:15 am

It's good enough for a full novel...or even a trilogy. Or, even better, a series that never ends.
Where does this fit, timewise, with the IM story in Many Universes? Or are you not sure yet?

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Re: Roll Call - Moar now up 7/6

Post by TacAir » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:27 am

Manliest wrote:It's good enough for a full novel...or even a trilogy. Or, even better, a series that never ends.
Where does this fit, timewise, with the IM story in Many Universes? Or are you not sure yet?

Sent from my Galaxy Nexus using Tapatalk 2
I guess a bit of an explanation is in order.

I get a story idea and then write what might be called a super synopsis - this sets up the 'Universe' in the off chance I ever get any requests from folks that want to borrow my created universe for their own story.

Then I block out what will turn into 'books' - those are roughly outlined - I may even follow the outline as the story evolves, and then write chunks of text. You might call these vital scenes. Usually one scene per chapter, then do the fill in. The chapter in The Many Universes of D.K. Richardson is a bit I worked up as a transition between two major areas. You'll see most or all of that in this upcoming book.

My hope is to build a Universe where Tavin and his Vet buddies will have both novel length stories and a series of shorts. Someone noted the idea of following Veterans that come from what seems like an endless war had some potential.

The Roman Republic lasted 500 years before it transitioned into the Roman Empire. After the Western Roman Empire fragmented and collapsed in the 5th century, the eastern half continued to thrive, existing for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Even with 'future science' that is still hundreds of human lifetimes.

So, if you want to carry that forward - not a unique idea BTW, I can assume a human civilization/Empire of at least 1500 years of existence - an existence full of expansion, contraction, civil war/uprisings/revolts and all the 'little things' in between. All seen from the view of one (or more) Vets who were "Been there, done that, got the tshirt".

The reality is that the Emperor/General/Politician can make make all the rules or policies they want, it's the Grunt walking point that makes the final decision....

This starts in the middle age of the Empire of Man.

Sorry for the long answer, but I thought folks would want to know... After all, I haven't seen a single Zombie, yet.
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Re: Roll Call - Moar now up 7/6

Post by TacAir » Tue Apr 09, 2013 3:45 pm

**
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Re: Roll Call - More Moar now up 7/9

Post by 223shootersc » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:01 pm

good chapter, thanks

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