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The Reluctant Hero


George H. Lafferty

I donít care what the colony newspapers say, Iím no hero. I have never done anything anyone else wouldnít do in the same circumstances. Look, I donít go around being Mr. Good Guy or looking for situations where I can save a life or rescue anyone. I am sure no knight in shining armour. I drink, occasionally, smoke, curse more than I should, in short an ordinary guy. I avoid trouble whenever and wherever I can. I am no big hit with the ladies or small children either, for that matter.

I canít help it if I am six-three and built like a triangle. By that I mean I have broad shoulders and a small waist with narrow hips. Because of my build I donít look as if I weigh as much as I do, at two-hundred and ten pounds. I canít help it because I have blond hair and blue eyes either. My muscles I came by honestly, Iíve never had much so I have had to work hard all my life. I can blame my looks, more rugged than handsome, on my parents, whoever they were. I never knew them, so I guess I can blame their genes for what I look like, canít I.

I was raised in a Catholic orphanage on one of the colony worlds, it really doesnít matter much which one. No one would remember me there anyway, as I left it as soon as I was able to catch a tramp spacer for anywhere. The only passage I could book was as Gunners Mate Third Class. I served in the colony militia and was trained in all fields of combat and planetary defense. Iím good at it because I like it and I practice a lot. Any kind of shooting with any kind of weapon, or hand to hand, armed or unarmed with most any weapon you care to name, including bare hands, because if you know what you are doing, they are the best weapons.

All being a low ranking soldier ever got me was a lot of hard work and usually the dirty end of the stick. Besides I have always had a yearning to see things, travel around the planets, wherever I can catch a ship going far, thatís where I want to go.

I guess thatís why at only twenty-six years old, I have been so many places and done so much. The rest of it is only the luck of the draw, as far as Iím concerned. I have been luckier than most, I guess, like the time the ship was holed by a meteor, while landing on Regulus Three. A rare thing in space, as the proximity detectors warn of any objects in your trajectory. A pure freak in atmosphere, upon a landing course but still high enough to be hit before the darned thing could burn up in the thicker air closer in.

The three men in the navigation crew and the two pilots as well as the captain survived because they were sealed up in the control room, a CTC rule for all powered manoeuvres. Out of the rest of the crew, myself and a junior steward's mate, who just happened to be near me and whom I grabbed and pulled into the emergency suit locker, were the only survivors. If I hadnít been able to seal the hatch in the suit locker in time, we wouldnít be here either. I donít see where that makes me a hero. 

Then there was the time out on that mining planet, called Foolís Gold, you know, Wolf VI, when a little girl hooked her boot toe on one rail of the mining spur leading from the shaft down to the colony proper. She fell, of course, and knocked herself out cold on the other rail. There she was lying across the tracks, unconscious, with a mine engine headed down the tracks toward her. What can I say? I saw her first and ran to jerk her off the tracks. Wouldnít anyone? Why does that make me such a big hero?

Oh sure, I will stand up for a buddy, like when those three regular space navy pukes jumped Benny Lagood in that bar on Lagosa III but hell that was just a brawl till one idiot had to go and pull a switchblade.

He took me by surprise and I had to move a little too quick for his health, still it was ruled justifiable homicide. We were just defending ourselves, after all.

Yeah, I did get that medal from the skipper for saving those two unfortunate guys on Capella IX.

See, it was like this, those aborigines were so primitive and so scared they hid in the mountains and the colony was already established before anyone knew they were there. It caused a big stink because inhabited planets are to be quarantined and left alone, and here was a fully established colony on a planet with an indigenous intelligent species.

Anyway, that was no concern of mine, we just landed to bring in more supplies to the new colony. All of a sudden there they were, attacking the colony and our ship. Some of us had gone into the colony on business and had to make a run for the ship. We always go armed on green (New) colony planets but only with side arms and there were a hell of a lot of those people, or whatever you want to call them, attacking with spears and bows and arrows.

We found a rocky area about half way to the ship and we were able to hold them off but we needed more firepower to back them off and get back to the ship. Someone was going to have to get back to the ship, while the others held off the natives. I drew the short straw and made a run for the ship and I barely made it in time; a bunch of those aborigines were right behind me. We fought them off but the boys I left behind were still surrounded. After I got some rifles wasnít I supposed to go back and help the other guys? Exactly, thatís what I came back to the ship for, so what makes me a hero for taking them the rifles to fight their way back to the ship?

Okay, so maybe I left out a couple of other instances but it was all the same kind of thing. I just did what had to be done at the time. Let me tell you, there were a couple of times there, I was so scared I thought I was going to pee my pants. Now, does that sound like a hero to you?

Just the same, I have taken a lot of guff about being the ship's hero, ever since the new Exec let it out that my records are so full of commendations it reads like an action hero comic book.

It doesnít help that the priest at the orphanage had a sense of humor and named the baby left there Tommy Tiger, either, because they have started calling me the Terrible Tiger. Now, whenever some of the crew lands in some dirt-side tavern and gets into it with the locals, they always tell them, just wait till the Terrible Tiger gets here, then you wonít be so brave.

Let me tell you, it not only gets old, it gets me in a lot of trouble I donít want. I am a peaceful type, I just want to avoid trouble.

It is about like that with women too; I can talk as good as anyone else but let me get near a pretty girl and I am so tongue tied, I actually stutter. I canít help it, thatís just how I am. No matter how hard I try, I stutter so badly they avoid being around me. Also, I blush real easy.  If I think one is speaking to me, or even smiles at me, I turn a beet red. If there is one thing that puts fear in my heart, it is a pretty girl. I think some of them feel sorry for me but not sorry enough to go out with me.

So, you see, I am no kind of hero at all. Oh, I have my pride, if I canít avoid trouble, I wonít back down and I wonít run. Win or lose, live or die, I will bull straight ahead until whatever it is, is finished but that doesnít make me a hero, it just makes me bull headed and stubborn.

Now this offer comes up, and I canít make up my mind what to do. See, I have just been offered a CTC (Confederation of Terran Colonies) Space Marine Commission. Me a Lieutenant?

Oh, I would have to take a basic training refresher course and go ninety days to OCS (Officerís Candidate School) but if I graduate I would not be a butter bar (a green second lieutenant) but a commissioned first lieutenant. This because of my time in the militia and my civilian records in the merchant ships I have served on. Me, an officer, and a marine at that, wow.

It sounds real good on the face of it, but those boys are nearly all out at the front lines fighting the Hageese. Hell, the Hageese are trying to kill people like us out there and I'm too young to die.

Sure, we have superior, faster and better armed ships. Smarter and better fighting troops, and seldom ever have to retreat, we have proven that time and again but for sheer strength of numbers the Hageese have got us beat and have fought us to a standstill out there, on the battle front.

They have ships with guns and missiles and torpedoes too and can still hurt us, which means to say I could get killed out there.

All I ever got out of being in the militia back home was grief, hard work and the dirty end of the stick. The fact that they need officers that badly out there says something to me that I really donít want to hear.

The fighting in space is being done by the CTC Navy, of course, but just like in any other war there are planets there (territory) that has been taken and retaken only to be taken again by an attack in overwhelming numbers by the Hageese. This means they have to be taken back by the old-fashioned ground-pounder, namely the CTC Marines. If we are ever to push the Hageese back, we have to route them off the planets they have taken first.

The war department is planning a big push by the navy, to isolate some of these planets and then the marines are to go down and take them back, for good this time, it is hoped.

Even old Earth itself is trying to get in on the act. The United World Government of Earth has begun a new colonization and exploration program of its own. Earth is dangerously overcrowded in population and simply must expand and send colonies out once again. By the treaty with the CTC, however, her space navy and space programs have been severely limited. Though the CTC has no problem with Earth sending out colonists once again, it must be planets of their own discovery and not planets already found and claimed by the CTC. If those Earth ships ever stumble into the Hageese out there, then God help them, as they are certainly no match for the CTC, or the Hageese.

Earth diplomats are trying to establish a mutual aid pact with the CTC but right now it would only really benefit Earth and her three new colonies and the CTC has its hands too full with the Hageese, to come to the aid of struggling Earth colonists. You never know what politicians are likely to do though, so who can tell?

Whatever the situation really is, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. When I get out of the CTC as an honourably discharged officer, I can about write my own ticket in most any ship. This would mean better pay, better quarters and not having to put up with mouthy first mates.

So, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. Duly signed and with my orders in hand, Iím off to basic for refresher training on the next ship.

Landing on Sirius VII was a typical one and gave no idea of the planet's drawbacks until the port was opened.

If ever there was a planet better suited to hardship and downright nastiness, Sirius VII has got to be worse. Training here is going to be hell without all the hard assed instructors and their murderous attack and defense training courses. Well, I thought seeing as how I was militia trained and a ďbona fide hero?Ē I should be at least an acting corporal and a squad leader, right?

So, I got off to a bad start with the TI (Training Instructor) right away, it seems anyone who has served in a colony militia is a ďwant to be soldier.Ē One who learned all the wrong things and must now be brain washed blank, retrained to do everything right and therefore is twice the pain in the ass as a raw recruit.

The pampered, unwashed, uneducated apron string holding recruit is a blank slate, ready to be trained. I, however, am an opinionated, wrong-headed troop, who thinks he is already a trained soldier (not good).

Then, to make matters worse, the TI lined us all up at ĎO Dark Thirty AMí and commenced to tell us all our genetic make-up, heritage, family history and standing IQ, only because we proved we could stand by doing so, and none of it was in printable language. Then he asked if there were any real men in the group who thought they could whip him. I let a couple of the bigger, tougher ones try first and after he had quickly disposed of them and sent them to sick bay, he started to go on with his harangue. He seemed sort of surprised when I stepped out and said those boys were doing it all wrong and I could show him why.

Now, the one thing I am very good at is hand to hand, I think I said that earlier, and that includes any marine I ever met. The sergeant was no exception and after a couple of quick manoeuvres, he was flat on his back and wondering why.

It didnít win me any brownie points but in a way, I guess it did improve my deteriorating view of the marines, as he immediately made me an honorary instructor, only in the one field, and in addition to all my other duties as trainee.

The typical routine is up at can see, to bed at canít see (subject to night training, alerts, fire and air raid responses, night hikes and any other whim of the TI). Days are for classes, field training, marches (long hikes), hikes (five miles or less), obstacle courses, firing at the various ranges and, of course, endless callisthenics and close order drill.

Weekends are the same with the exception of Ďliberties and G I Parties,í which consist of G I Parties first, of course, then the Ďliberties.í In case you have never had the pleasure of attending a G I Party, it has no music, none of the opposite sex and no beverages of any kind. It consists of scrub brushes, soap, water, wax and weighted hand buffers. When the party is over, hopefully, you are prepared for the TIíS and possibly, the COís (Commanding Officer's) white glove inspection.

Given the unlikely event that you pass the inspection, you are then eligible for the liberties. This is usually barracks liberty, which means you can press your uniforms, shine your boots, study, write letters, read or, best of all, sleep. This, of course, is subject to all the alerts and other whims of the TI. Twice during the twelve-week course, you are eligible for base liberty, which means all the attractions on base. This includes the service club, base theatre and enlisted menís club.

Once, if you are very lucky indeed and all your training is up to the high standards of the TI, you may even get a town liberty. There is a colony town on Sirius VII, with all the bars, brothels, gambling, shops, restaurants and other places designed to painlessly separate the recruit from his pay.

Though there were instances in other training companies, our company was elite, in that we had no instances of disciplinary punishments. At least no major ones, in company minor punishments do not go on oneís records. We had no punitive Article fifteenís, and no violations of the thirty-one articles of conduct as per the UCMJ (Uniform Code Of Military Justice).

Graduation from Basic Training, was to me, similar to what I think a prisoner on the CTC prison planet must feel upon his release. After thirty glorious days of doing practically what I pleased, though, it was off to ninety days of OCS.

There were many differences from basic; you were not expected to keep learning the same things you had as a lowly private. We had house stewards to shine our boots, make our beds and clean up after us. This was not to pamper us, my new OCS TI, another sergeant, explained it for me, he said, ďhere you donít call me sir, I call you sir but I guarantee you arenít going to like it.Ē

As a cadet, we needed the time saved us by the house stewards, for more and much harder classes and training. Strategy and Tactics, map and terrain reading, command and control, in space capsule firing, for drops on enemy held planets and their positions there and, of course, we had to stay in shape, so endless callisthenics, hikes and more obstacle courses.

I have not even mentioned weather in all this, very important to a ground troop, but just throw in rain, mud, clear days, hot steamy and muggy and once even snow and intersperse it throughout the training and you about have it covered.

It wasnít long before graduation, when it finally registered in my brain that the sergeants were not sadists, sadists are too apt to tire of their sport. A good TI must be constantly on his guard to be hard but scrupulously fair and even in their treatment and have no pets or be a bully to anyone. Their purpose, is to mold and train and instil discipline and at OCS, I had to learn some of those self-same things and found there is nothing easy about it.

Upon graduation from OCS, most were butter bars and were assigned, wherever possible, to seasoned lieutenants for further, in the field, training. What with the war, though, all too often a butter bar was assigned as platoon CO, a situation likely to place fear in the bravest of troops.

I was ďcommissionedĒ prior to OCS and therefore graduated with bright shiny new silver bars and sent to the front as a platoon CO right from the first.

My company commander, Captain (up for major) Ronald Durite (Dudley Do-Right to his men, behind his back of course), advised me to keep my recent graduation quiet. This would allow me to assume command without the destruction of morale a butter bar might cause.

I called a staff meeting with my squad sergeants and informed them that while their advice might not be taken every time, it would most definitely be thoroughly considered. That I prized their experience and advice and it was to be offered, in private if possible, but offered any time they had a better idea, a safer plan or any good advice to implement any orders I might give.

While command and the decisions which must be made, were my responsibility and my responsibility alone, I wanted the best Intel and input I could get from my sergeants.

Our first two drops into enemy held positions, both on small moons, while inherently dangerous combat situations, due to fierce pockets of resistance, were basically mop up operations. They did two things for me, though; first, I had my first encounter with Hageese troops and secondly, it convinced my men I was no stranger to a fire-fight and was indeed a seasoned vet. After that, there was no doubt or fear about the new CO, namely me.

My opportunity to develop a strong camaraderie with my troops was cut short, though, when I was summoned to battalion headquarters.

I reported to the Battalion Commanderís office, Col. Rodger Spalding, where I was informed of a new Mutual Aid Defence Pact with old Earth and the role I was to be assigned to play.

My new orders were to be Commanding Officer of three new platoons, inboard troop transport Isaac Hayes and escorted by Heavy Missile Destroyer Mercedes. Our job would be to cruise the three Earth Colonies and their star system, for support in the event of Hageese intervention.

While it was a safe sounding, if somewhat boring assignment, much better for my projected life span, I was upset to be taken off the front and lose my present command.

It also had the unappetizing compliment of two new butter bars to command the other two platoons, reporting to me as CO. The colonel informed me that as one of his least experienced new first lieutenants, especially one with combat experience, I was the man he had personally chosen for this assignment and I would depart within seventy-two hours to assume my new command.

The one thing I learned a long time ago, even in the militia was, you donít argue with the brass. It was time to soldier up, follow orders and pack for my new assignment.

The first thing I did as a new Ďshortí company commander was check out the dossiers of my new command. While almost all of our troops were green, fresh out of advanced combat school, the colonel had seen to it that I had one highly recommended and seasoned veteran squad sergeant in each platoon, bless his military minded heart for that, at least.

Upon learning this, first, I called a staff meeting consisting of my two new junior officers. I gave them orders to hold platoon staff meetings of their own, with their squad sergeants and tell them what I had told my new squad sergeants back on the front. I warned them that an indecisive officer was sudden death to the morale of the men and to make their decisions quickly and issue their orders in a clear and firm voice. They might not always be right but they must be decisive. If they would listen to their combat vets and take their advice seriously, they would fare much better than they would if they tried to shoulder the whole burden themselves. Two minds are almost always better than one, especially when one of those minds has been in hot situations before.

Pieced together from Intel gathered throughout the war with Hageese, it was fairly clear that their strategy was to attack a colony, once one was discovered, and fight fiercely to take it. If they succeeded, they would immediately try to reinforce the troops there in order to hold the planet. If they failed in the first attempt, they would usually go on to try to find a newer, less defended colony to attack. Only if, for some reason known only to the Hageese, they decided it was a valuable piece of real estate in their plans, would any second or concerted attack be made.

Unfortunately for the colonists, if the Hageese did indeed succeed in taking the planet, they would kill off any humans there. Oh, there are instances of humans who escaped into the wilderness and were able to evade subsequent Hageese search and destroy patrols. These survivors would emerge once, and if, the CTC had retaken the planet and were usually few and in pretty bad shape.

Our troops, understandably I guess, were unhappy to be being sent to safeguard the colonies of Earth. They had enlisted, or been drafted, to fight for the CTC, not the Earth their forefathers had fought so bitterly to win their independence from.

Even after hundreds of years, there still seems to be bitterness and hatred for the earthmen, and I canít help having similar thoughts myself. This is going to make it hard for me to control the morale problem my men are developing towards risking their lives to save earth colonists. Especially when the Mutual Aid part of this Defence Pact is pure hogwash. Earth has neither the ships nor the troops to come to her own aid, much less ours.

Hundreds of years ago, when the then new Confederation Of Terran Colonies defeated the Earth Space Navy, they confiscated or destroyed all remaining Earth war vessels. By treaty, Earth was allowed no ships of war, though there never was any prohibition of Earthís developing new colonies of her own. However, the Earth Government of the time was under siege from the League of Earth First, and under strong compulsion to ban space travel and colonization altogether, for Earthís citizens.

Now, there is the huge question in a lot of minds, will this new Defence Pact allow Earth to start building a new space navy and manning their ships with ground assault troops?

I am trying to convince my troops that we are all brothers under the skin, at least we are all humans and must fight together against the Hageese. Even if it means fighting the Hageese to save Earth colonist's lives. 

Being aboard the troop ship with not much chance of dropping for invasion by hostiles tends to wear on morale enough without worrying about who you are there to fight for. I instituted heavy and rigorous training schedules and competitions for best squad in several categories to try to keep the menís attention from their boredom but this kind of thing only works for so long.

It was almost a relief to receive word to report to the Captain of the ship for mission briefing. The Hageese had definitely found one of the colonies and was attacking. The colonists were holding their own for the time being but were screaming for help as soon as possible, as they felt they couldnít hold out for much longer.

I briefed my platoon leaders and their sergeants and told them they were now going to get a chance to put all their training to the test. I wanted everything to go by the numbers and on the jump. I kept my third platoon aboard ship for reserves and issued orders for the other two to prepare to drop. Then I told them to man their drop capsules by squads, report platoons ready for drop, by the numbers and on the bounce. Move! Move! Move!

As soon as it was relayed to me that the Mercedes had the enemy ships, two of them, under fire, I gave the word to the Captain of the Isaac Hayes that we were ready and to drop when he had established position. It wasnít long before we were fired as a salvo and were on our way down. As soon as the capsules reached solid atmosphere, the shells broke away and we were parachuting to the surface. I radioed the word to my opposite, commander of the second platoon, to lock and load and hit the ground going to skirmish positions.

The landing went without a hitch, as the Hageese were too busy fighting, both in space and on the surface, to give us any trouble. We advanced over the terrain as quickly as was safe and came up to the side and behind the Hageese ground forces. It was a rout within minutes, as the Hageese had no support to throw at us. Between the Earth defenders on one side and my attack from their flank, they quickly retreated, in good order I must admit, and regrouped on their landing vessel. (Unlike us, the Hageese use landing craft, rather than drop capsules.) They took off for rendezvous with their mother ship and later word, on the ship to ground radio, said the Mercedes blew them out of space before they were able to dock with their troop ship. In fact, only their escort, a light Hageese destroyer, who exchanged only a token salvo with Mercedes before jumping to light speed, escaped, as the troop ship was destroyed right after the landing craft.

With Mercedes on station above, we were granted twenty-four hours dirt leave to accept the thanks of the Earth Colonists and see the colony we had rescued. After strong warnings of military punishments for anyone starting an incident with any colonist, I released my troops to mingle and maybe get acquainted a little, hoping to reduce the morale problem, when they saw Earthmen are just people too. Although I canít say the hearts of all my troops were won over, they were received in the grand manor, with profuse thanks and a friendly welcome. I know of only one person who might have been won over for sure and that was myself. I was introduced to many people, of course, but there was one who I wanted to see more of. She was part of the colony admin staff and to say the least she is beautiful. I managed to find out her name is Angela Stone, that she is single, that is unattached, and I did get to spend a little time with her. To my surprise, I could talk to her without stuttering or otherwise making a fool of myself. We seemed to hit it off pretty well and both said we hoped to see each other again before long, providing it didnít take an attack by the Hageese to warrant it.

In reality I figured my chances to see much of Angela were slim to none but I was fooled again. It seems the orders of the Navy read to attempt to establish a base of operations on one of the colony planets, from which to operate in this area for an extended period of time. As senior commander on scene, Captain Lahey, of the Mercedes, decided our first contact with the Earth colonists on this planet was a fortunate way to bring up negotiations for this base of operations.

The colonists were more than willing to have semi-permanent friendly troops in the area and welcomed us with open arms. Thus, we began landing here frequently, and giving shore leave to all, in rotation.

Despite a few altercations, caused by hard heads who never like people from another life style, we got along pretty good and best of all I got to see Angela fairly often.

Before long, I realized I was falling in love with her and when I screwed up the courage to tell her so, she just laughed. She said that didnít come as any surprise, because she was in love with me too and thought it was obvious to everyone.

When you are in love and separated by frequent patrols through the system to protect the other colonies, that love, or so it seems to me, blossoms faster than normal. Before long, I found myself thinking of marriage and maybe some little Tigers running around.

The snag came when I asked Angela and she readily agreed, only to find out there are absolutely no provisions for intermarriage between Earth natives, not even colonists, and Terrans of the CTC, especially a CTC Space Marine Lieutenant.

What ensued was probably the longest paper war since the original treaty between the two, then hostile, governments. I have no idea what political repercussions I caused and I could really care less. If I am one thing, it is bull headed and now I was completely determined to marry the woman I had fallen in love with, come hell or high water.

Angela was just as determined and submitted her share of paper work to her government as well. We did everything possible without much in the way of results until my three mandatory years were served in the Marines and I then threatened to resign my commission for discharge on New Madrid, Angelaís colony world. This too was against the treaty, it seems, and caused yet more headaches in politics on high.

I found out what a true hero really is when Angela renounced her citizenship on Earth and became a CTC citizen. This too caused some political problems but was allowed when we paid for a stake as a married couple on Tango III, circling Procyon. This being a "Dead End" ticket, it was somewhere they could stash us and forget us. We had a rather large wedding ceremony on New Madrid, considering we had all of Angela's friends and what little family she had there, her father, and all of my troops augmented by some of the navy from the ships. As soon as my discharge came through, we managed to ship out for Sirius, where we could catch a transport for Tango III.

When we arrived there it turned out to be a beautiful planet and we soon met our nearest, (only?) neighbours. Abe and Grace Fargo welcomed us to Tango III and Abe helped me get our new home started. Grace inspired the name of our new stake. We named it the Tiger's Den Stake and soon there will be a new, little Tiger running around here.

The End

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