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The Assassin

Devon Layne


Copyright ©2021 Elder Road Books


The Assassin is my second story in Thinking Horndog’s Swarm Cycle Universe. It is not precisely a sequel to Pussy Pirates. Some of it takes place at the same time but mostly it takes place in the future of that story. In fact, the story pushes out further in the timeline than most of the Swarm Cycle stories. As a result, I’ve chosen to refer to the story as a ‘non-canon story’ in the Swarm Cycle. Here’s why.

When I write a story that continues fifty years in the future of an established universe, it automatically creates a history in its wake. While I have tried to abide by all the known canon in creating the story, my way of seeing the future of the universe may well be different than another hundred authors. I don’t want to limit them to my view of what happens after the Fifth Battle of Earthat, but rather to present my view in my isolated corner of the universe.

In creating this story, I’ve had several lengthy conversations with other Swarm authors and have read both published and unpublished stories that are considered within the canon. Most notably, these include Zen Master, whose newest work, Ending This Mess, records much of what took place in the critical time between the Fourth and Fifth Battles of Earthat and who knows more about the canon, the ships, and the weapons than anyone I can imagine, and Omachuck, whose THE Harem Tales and subsequent stories have contributed the majority of what we know about the Tuull and their AIs. I’m happy to have had the advice and wisdom of these fine authors as I created this little addition to the cycle.

Like many Swarm stories, this one has its own peculiarities. First, the planet Tara is one of those storied “breeder worlds” in a remote area of the universe, where it is believed by some that the rural and agricultural ecosystem of Earth can be preserved. It has almost no military presence and the residents work on farms and in agriculture-based industry. The first settlement of Tara was in Year 4 of the Swarm Cycle, but the idea for the planet was a precursor to getting the humans to fight the war. The Earth Swarm Cycle Calendar begins when Earth Confederacy ships first encounter the Sa’arm. That is eighteen months after the Darjee open negotiations with Earth and sixteen months before the President’s speech that announced the Confederacy and the Sa’arm to the public. So, Tara’s settlement starts within three years of public pickups having begun.

It was terraformed in a noble attempt to “get these humans onto a preserve somewhere so they won’t all be extinct.” But the settlement of the planet was very much under the contract of humans with the Darjee AIs, with the requisite sponsors and concubines and associated rules. Dates that I have included are according to the Tara calendar and pretty much ignore the Earth calendar. I’ve periodically inserted a relevant Earth Year to establish where other stories might fit in the timeline. Otherwise, the dates are of the form “TY 13-month 150.” Add 4 to get the Earth Year.

I’d like to thank all the other Swarm Authors for their advice, contributions, and criticisms—especially Thinking Horndog, Anne N Mouse, Corsair, Duke of Ramus, starfiend, and all the authors of the stories I’ve cited in the text. A bibliography of influential works is included at the end of this work.

Chapter 1

Burning My Bridges (TY9, month 104)

I walked out of the testing center and transported directly to the Militia headquarters at Drovers Run without even looking at my card. I left as soon as I got my card, before the Civil Service officer could say anything. I’d done my reading and even if by some oddball quirk of fate my CAP turned out to be 6.5 or better, they couldn’t make people volunteer. Our colony on Tara was ten years old now, founded just five years after humans’ first contact with the Sa’arm. Most human colonies in the Confederacy dated everything based on the so-called Swarm Calendar in Earth standard days and years. Not Tara. We dated everything based on the Tara Year from the first landing. It took me about a week to get used to it when we arrived and then I never thought about it again.

The governor of Tara had decreed that on his or her birthday (according to the Tara year) any concubine could volunteer for the colony Militia and would eventually earn citizenship. I didn’t need a sponsor to approve my joining and I was certainly never going to return to my stepfather’s farm to let him enslave me for another lifetime. He called himself my stepfather. More like my owner, if you ask me. Even as a dependent, he’d worked my fingers to the bone. I’d had enough of the farm life in the four years and three months we’d been on Tara.

That was part of why I didn’t care if I qualified for sponsorship. I hated the Confederacy and didn’t want anything to do with the aliens or their military. I hated my mother’s sponsor, his other concubine and the other eight brats on the farm. Except my sisters. I’ll get to them later. I even hated my mother for having ripped us away from my father and our lives on Earth to become the slaves of Amos Radcliffe. That was four years ago.

Leaving Earth (TY5-month 60, Earth Year 9)

It was supposed to be a great day. I was ten years old and we were going to the county fair. Rides, junk food, and even an exhibition by my Taekwondo class. Mom promised my sisters and me that we could have all the junk food and rides we wanted after my exhibition. Anne was two years older than me and Bae was three years younger. I’m Niall, by the way.

Dad couldn’t join us. They didn’t give factory workers the day off to go to the fair. The next weekend, though, he’d promised to take me to the national chess competition in Baton Rouge. It would be a long drive, but I was crazy excited about it. I was the regional chess champion for my age group and qualified to play at nationals. Dad and I played every night and we were pretty evenly matched now. Dad was wicked smart. He worked in a factory because it was good money and regular hours.

“Why would I want to work in an office for a salary and never know how many hours I’d have to put in. I like being home with my family at night,” he’d once said. I liked having him home, too. We did all kinds of things together. He’d even helped me get my yellow belt in Taekwondo. I was ready to test for my green belt soon.

All those dreams went up in smoke when a gray interdiction field went up around the county fair. Anne took Bae and me to the dependents’ barn while Mom joined the cattle hoping to be selected as some stranger’s sex slave. Amos chose her as his ‘exotic’ and took his own daughter as his other concubine. We were transported to a waiting ship along with most of the livestock at the fair. This was a special pickup that was supposed to get a diverse collection of domestic animals. They were put in a hibernation state and transported to the ships by shuttle. We were all shipped off to Tara, an agricultural planet devoted to maintaining Earth’s agricultural ecosystem. Amos Radcliffe became a private in the Confederacy Corps of Engineers. [See Buying Wholesale by Thinking Horndog for an example of a County Fair pickup.] [See also A Day at the Fair by Baron Rod.]

I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my father. I tried to run away, but some jolly green giant hauled me back in line and my mother wouldn’t let go of my arm until we were on the ship. I didn’t get my green belt. I didn’t play in the national chess championships. I was just more livestock shipped off to Tara.

I hated Amos and he was none too fond of me. He just wanted the help on his new farm. The first thing he did was put Mom and Christine, his daughter, in the med tubes. Mom was a delicate Asian. She came out nearly as strong and bulky as a Marine—a human workhorse. Christine had been short and fat. She loved being made into a big powerful girl. Amos even asked if he could have me modified but was told not until I was fourteen. A good thing, too. I’d have used the power and strength to kill him. And of course, he was just as big and strong as he’d made the women. All three of the adults were able to handle the work of two unaugmented men each on the farm. I knew if I went back to be his concubine, he’d do the same thing to me. Mom and Christine each had a baby the first year on Tara. Anne turned fourteen and Amos took her as a concubine, too. He did the same routine with body mods and she pumped out her first baby the next year. Mom and Christine dropped another each and Anne was pregnant with her second. She had a hollow look in her eyes like she knew the rest of her life was going to be nothing but pumping out babies and hard work on the farm.

I hated the Confederacy and everything it stood for. But I wasn’t stupid. I used the sleep trainer in my little free time to continue advancing through my levels of Taekwondo. Of course, there was no master here to judge my forms. No one to test me. I wouldn’t accept belts from the AI. I played chess with it, though. AIs aren’t as smart as people think they are. If they were, they wouldn’t need humans to fight their damn war. But they learn, just like I learned. When it came to chess, our household AI and I were pretty evenly matched.

I called the AI Cricket, after that little conscience critter in the movie Pinocchio. He was the only thing I was going to miss when I left the farm.

Recruitment (TY9-month 104)

So, now I was fourteen. I’d taken my CAP test and left to join the Militia. I knew Mom and Anne and Bae would be disappointed when I didn’t show up for my celebratory dinner that night. But I’d never go back there.

Governor O’Hara—How do you like that? Scarlett O’Hara was the governor of the planet Tara—had adopted the concept of a planetary Militia early on. It was two years old on Tara. The idea was pioneered on Demeter, a planet that was a huge military installation. [See Colonisation by Duke of Ramus.] Tara didn’t have much of a military presence. One of our townships was reserved for rest and recuperation of Marines and Navy who needed a break from the front lines. There were fewer than 10,000 of them on the planet and they kept strictly to their own township. Of course, the sponsors on Tara all held military ranks in the Confederacy Corps of Engineers, Agricultural Division, but they knew next to nothing about military matters except showing up for a weekend each month for ‘training.’

Any concubine could volunteer for the Militia on their birthday or anniversary of their arrival on Tara. The opportunity came every year. The term of service was supposed to be thirty years active and thirty years reserve—and they were not easy years. If not training or engaged in actual battle—which was only a remote possibility for our little backwater world—the Militia was the public works department of the colony. I’d seen Militia members going through an expansion of Amos’s farm picking up rocks from the field. They also made sure open ranges were patrolled and free of predators. They might get involved in ship maintenance if they showed a particular aptitude for that.

Members of the Militia were given all the same rights as a sponsor with a 6.5 CAP—including a pod to live in and the right to take two concubines. The only limit was that they couldn’t leave the planet. At the end of their sixty years of satisfactory performance, we’d supposedly be granted full Confederacy citizenship.

I had no illusions about it being a cushy way out of farm life, but I doubted it would be any worse than being owned by the asshole Amos. I knew of a couple of people in Twelve Oaks who had joined the Militia and quit to become slave concubines again because the work in the Militia was too hard. But in sixty years I could be a free Confederacy Citizen. Then I’d set about righting some wrongs. Starting with Amos.


“Niall Cho.”

“AI, why don’t we have a record of a Niall Cho?”

“The concubine before you is named Niall Radcliffe.”

“That is my mother’s sponsor’s name, not mine. I’m Niall Cho.”

“AI, register the change of name to Niall Cho.”


I looked around the recruiting office. The officer guy behind the desk was looking over my records. It was a plain building that looked a lot like the testing center—a reception area and a hall with doors on the left and right, and one door at the end. There was one recruiting poster on the wall advertising “Join the Militia, today! Be a citizen tomorrow!” The Militia guy looked kind of silly in a plain dark brown coverall, holding a rifle that looked like a toy.

“All right, Niall Cho. You want to join the Militia. You know your CAP score…”

“Please, sir. I’m not interested in my CAP score. I’m only interested in joining the Militia—unless you won’t have me.”

“Okay. You know, it’s not easy. We throw away one out of ten recruits. You’re giving up sixty years. It could be the rest of your life,” the sergeant said.

“If I was a slave concubine, it would be the rest of my life. What choice do I have? At least there’s a stop loss in the Militia,” I said.

“And you think you’ve got what it takes to endure the time and the hardships to become a citizen? No one’s ever done it before.” He was clever. Of course no one had ever done it before.

“The program is only two years old,” I said. “It’s hard to survive sixty years in a program that’s only two years old.”

“You’ll feel like it was sixty years by the time you’ve done two years,” he said. “Any special skills?”

“I’m a chess master and would be the equivalent of a Taekwondo black belt if there was a qualified master on the planet who could test me.”

“Really? You know if the Sa’arm invade this planet, you should hope they don’t get close enough for hand-to-hand combat. Weapons experience?”

“Only bo staff. I can handle an axe. I know how to use a knife.” We needed those skills on the farm.

“Okay. We’re going to give you a test to determine where to put you in our training. I can almost guarantee you it will be at the bottom,” the sergeant said.

“I just took my CAP test,” I said.

“That determines if you’re a sponsor or a drone. Think of this as your college placement test. Did you go to school?”

“On Earth. Other than that, I took all my schooling by sleep trainer. Our farm was pretty remote from Twelve Oaks,” I said. Maybe if I’d gone to a real school, I would have had better socialization and wouldn’t have let my hatred steep for so long. Now I had a single-minded purpose. I would start by killing Amos Radcliffe.

“One of those,” the recruitment officer sighed. “Go to the second room on the right down this hall. Strip and lie in the testing chair. Like you did for your CAP test. When you’re finished, the AI will provide you with a uniform and a communications implant. Leave by the back door and you’ll be on our base. You’ll be assigned to a barracks and class. Follow instructions from there.”

“I thought Militia became citizens of the planet and were issued a pod,” I said. He laughed at me.

“Not on day one, they don’t. When you finish training, you’ll be eligible for a pod, if you want one. No concubines until you’re past probation.”

“How long is training?”

“Until you’re done. This is a young program, recruit. We’ve had two years and have turned nearly 200 recruits into Militia comrades. But there are a lot of hiccups. Part of your duty is to find and report them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“There’s no sir in the Militia. This isn’t the fucking Marines.”

The idea of the barracks didn’t sound bad to me. Rooming with other people? I might find some friends here. It couldn’t be all that bad.

When I stepped off the testing bed, I saw a new uniform neatly folded in the replicator. It was just a neatly pressed coverall, dark reddish brown, and plain. I pulled it on and, of course, it fit perfectly. So did the lightweight boots. I couldn’t really tell anything from the uniform. There was no rank insignia on it. All it had was my surname on the left pocket flap. “Cho.” Brief and to the point.

“What’s my rank?” I wondered aloud.

“You are a recruit trainee. No other rank has been assigned,” the AI said. «You do not need to speak aloud for me to hear you. Just subvocalize your questions and I’ll respond.»

«Wow! I wonder if I’ll ever get used to this. Is this like mental telepathy?»

«No. It is a standard communications chip that was implanted during your test. It will get easier as you practice. Exit through the door at the end of the hall and you will find Capo Humphreys with a class of trainees. Join her.» That was a little abrupt. Fortunately, the test was also an instructional session. I learned the ranks and was told that anyone I met was either a higher rank or had more seniority than I had.

There were eight ranks in the Militia and they weren’t really divided like military ranks were. It was possible for you to work your way up all the way from recruit/trainee to chief Militia officer. None of the ranks were the same as a military rank. We had our own form of military discipline, but the governor wanted no confusion on anyone’s part that we weren’t part of the Confederacy military.

The ranks, starting at the bottom and working up, were:

Recruit/trainee, usually part of a class of recruits undergoing training.

Comrade, what most of us would be now and forever. Usually, comrades were part of a cadre of four to sixteen. The term comrade was also the generic term for a Militia member. Kind of like the term ‘soldier’ in the Army. From the end of training and always thereafter, we would be comrades.

Foreman, the person in charge of a cadre.

Capo, kind of like the supervisor over anywhere from two to ten cadres that made up a cohort.

Officer, a post that was responsible for more than one cohort, called an outfit. That was the first level of management.

Deputy, a unit manager that had several cohorts and/or outfits under him or her.

Director, the section executive who might have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand comrades in his or her section.

Chief Militia Officer (CMO), who everyone reported to.

Of course, at the moment the entire Militia had fewer than 200 comrades. So, there were a few cadres with foremen. Most of the half dozen capos were in charge of recruitment and training. There was one officer, one deputy, and one director. The top level would get bumped up as we grew. At least that was the plan.

“Cho! Get in line. You’re just in time for our morning run,” Capo Humphreys snapped as soon as I was in sight. With the time change from Twelve Oaks on Erehwon to Drovers Run on Elysium, it was still just after six in the morning. I fell in line at the end and she led us out on a run. It wasn’t a difficult pace for me but a couple of guys started falling back. They obviously weren’t in as good shape as the others. I fell back to match their slower pace.

“Hey, guys. You can do this. Your first day of training, like me? Running isn’t that difficult if you straighten your back and lift your chin. When you drop your chin, you cut off part of your airflow. Lift it up and breathe in as much oxygen as possible.” I demonstrated and they followed along without speaking. But we didn’t fall any farther behind, either.

It wasn’t even a long run. I estimated five kilometers and it took us a full half an hour. I could run to the upper range and back in less than that and I figured that was eight kilometers. When we got back to the parade ground in the middle of the base, the capo stopped us.

“All right, recruits, we have a full class now that Cho has joined us. From now on work and training are going to be serious. Physical fitness is basic to your service in the Militia. Drop and give me twenty good pushups. Cho, count them out!”

“Yes, Capo!” My placement test, I discovered, put a number of instructions in my head, including how to address my leader. “Everyone in position down! And up one!” I counted out an even cadence. The two guys I’d coached on our run struggled with the last three pushups, but they made it. “Roll to your back and prepare for sit-ups. How many, Capo?” I yelled.

“Twenty. Shout them out, Cho.”

“Up one!” I shouted. I kept an eye out for the guys I’d pegged as the weakest and set my pace according to what it looked like they could maintain. None of us were old guys. Even an out of shape teenager on an agricultural planet was going to be able to do twenty sit-ups. They weren’t fat.

“Class, single rank. Attention!” The nine of us in our class got in a row and straightened ourselves to what we assumed would count as attention. Capo Humphreys started down the row correcting stance, position, posture, spacing, and focus. I was impressed that she was actually being helpful and not ridiculing anybody. I’d read stories and watched vids of basic training in the Marines and they looked like the objective was to break everyone down into a quivering mass of submission. She finally got to the end of the line and faced me.

“Cho, didn’t you brush your uniform off when you got up out of the dust?” she demanded.

“No, Capo. I did not. I hastened to obey your order.” She hadn’t reprimanded any of the other recruits. I wondered if she had a bug up her butt because I anticipated her order about sit-ups.

“Did you hear me reprimand every other recruit in this class for having a dirty uniform, Cho?”

“No, Capo. I did not hear you reprimand anyone.”

“That is because none of them look any worse than you do. You need to set an example. When your fellow recruits look down the rank and see you, they should see an example of what it means to be in the Tara Militia. If you are a slob, they will be slobs. Do you think I will tolerate slobs in this class?”

“No, Capo. I will set an example for my fellow recruits.”

“Brush each other off and return to your ranks at attention!” We all got busy brushing the sand and dust off each other. Both the guys I’d been watching rushed to make sure I was cleaned off. Somehow things had changed in the past five minutes. As soon as I took my position at attention, the rest of the class rushed to get in their positions.

“At ease,” Humphreys said. “No one listens when he’s at attention and I want you to understand what I’m saying. Focus here, on me!” We relaxed into some semblance of parade rest but turned our heads to look at the capo. “Today is the first day of your next thirty years. You will be under orders for that entire time. You will have opportunity for free time, eventually. For the duration of your basic training, you will undergo physical training every morning at 0600. Today we have a late start because Cho just got here. Normal PT will last two hours. You will get in shape!” One of the guys raised a hand. “Do you need to go potty, Campbell?”

“No, Capo. Just a question.”

“Well, you’ve interrupted me. What’s the question?”

“Why so much PT if we are getting mods done in a med tube?”

“Who told you that?” she snapped. The guy nearly took a step back as she approached him. “Once you have finished your basic training, you will be allowed some mods pending approval of your deputy. Mods are based on your body at the time of modification. They will enhance the work you have done. If you want to be big and bulky, you need to work yourself up to big and bulky so the deputy can tell you can handle big and bulky. This is not a company of Marines. There is no one-size-fits-all model for your body. If you are fat and lazy, you’ll be fat and lazy after your mods. And we will make you miserable for the duration of your service.” She strode down the line of recruits until she was facing me. I tried hard not to engage with eye contact. She moved around until she was in my direct line of sight.

“Beginning tomorrow, you will have live classroom instruction. You will all reach a level of basic competence in such subjects as Earth History, History of Humans in the Confederacy, mathematics, science, and mother tongue in addition to common tongue. You will have a noon meal served in the mess hall. Your AI chip will guide you,” she said. “After noon mess, you will go to classroom A. That’s A as in Assholes. You will be known as Assholes until you graduate to classroom B for Bastards. In the classrooms you will find sleep trainers assigned to each of you. You will be in sleep training for the afternoon with breaks for recovery time. At 1800 hours, you will return to mess for evening rations. After you have finished there, you will have opportunities for specialized training in areas of interest. This week your area of interest will be weapons handling. After this week, I’ll tell you what you are interested in next and I may allow you to choose an interest on your own, eventually. I understand some of you have an interest in martial arts. I suggest the rest of you develop such an interest.”

She stepped back away from us and looked up and down the line. “Are we clear?” she shouted.

“Yes, Capo,” we answered.

“Dismissed to mess. Fall in behind Cho.”

«Mess is thirty degrees to your right and two hundred yards ahead. Lead out at double time,» the AI said in my head. Then it helpfully set a metronome beat so I could hit the right pace.

In the mess hall, we filed past the replicators and picked up the tray of food provided. We weren’t given the option of ordering from a menu. This whole basic training sounded a lot like what my father had gone through on Earth twenty-some years ago. But they didn’t really expect us to be fighting Sa’arm. We were a last line of defense and local peacekeepers. But mostly we’d be common laborers with some semblance of military discipline.

We sat together and got a chance to introduce ourselves to our comrades. The guys I’d helped along a little were Eric Jacobson and Daniel Collins. Bill Campbell was the guy who asked questions. We had two women in our class. Jean Anderson looked older than the rest of us. I guessed five of the nine of us to have had birthdays within a day or two and were just fourteen. Jean looked closer to twenty. Rika Nakano was tiny. I figured she must be near the same age as me. I just hoped she could handle the physical training. She looked so delicate. The other three were brothers who chose to enlist together when the youngest turned fourteen. They’d arrived on-planet exactly a year ago and could enlist on the day the youngest turned fourteen. Ray, Ron, and Rob Nilsson.

“Why is Capo making us all follow you around?” Rika asked. “You aren’t any older than the rest of us.” I looked at her and shrugged.

“I haven’t the least idea. I’m as new to this as you all are.”

“Recruit Niall Cho is on a manager training track. The rest of this class is to undergo comrade training,” the AI announced to all of us.

“I guess that put me in my place,” I laughed. “Sorry, guys. I’ll try not to be a burden.”

After lunch, we found our way to Classroom A and each settled into our sleep trainer. I finally got an opportunity to talk to the AI and find out a little of what was happening.

«Why was I singled out for manager training?» I asked, practicing my subvocalizing.

«Your placement test revealed excellent potential leadership skills. You have had little opportunity to develop this in your time on Tara. You are also skilled in martial arts and will be asked to teach the others.»

«I’m not a sabom

«We have located a master stationed on the military base who will test you. You should make sure you are prepared. It is likely he will want to spar with you.»

Damn! There was a lot of difference between learning all the forms by practicing them for hours each day and facing a live person in the ring. I’d get my ass handed to me on a platter. If he was polite. The small contingent of Marines on a base at Sunnybrook rotated out of frontline battles for light duty before they were moved back into action. They were on-planet for no more than six months—usually less. Then the transport ship in orbit would load them up as another arrived for its rotation. The orbiting ship… whatever it was… would undergo repairs and was our nominal planetary defense in case some of the dickheads got curious. If that happened, we were all dead. We were farmers, not warriors.

We got a ten-minute break every hour to recover from sleep training. We didn’t really sleep during the training and it was pretty exhausting to be force fed a ton of knowledge. By the time we got to dinner, we were all blurry-eyed and famished. There was something in our dinner that gave us renewed energy. I supposed that was why they weren’t giving us choices regarding what we ate. We ate what was prescribed.

A different capo met us for our first classroom session on weapon safety. We’d had a sleep training session on weapons during the afternoon but this was definitely something we needed hands-on experience with. I was looking forward to having a weapon in my hands.

I remembered the poster in the recruiting office and the toy gun it looked like he was holding. This looked a lot like it. It was lightweight, short, and we were told it was very powerful. It had been developed by a company of game nerds on Earth. [See Pussy Pirates by Devon Layne (aroslav).] We learned how to field strip it and check the power source. It was a pulse rifle good for about a hundred shots, and very quiet. We were told that if we wanted it to go bang, we needed to shout ‘Bang!’ when we pulled the trigger.

And then we were off to our barracks. We weren’t the only ones in this barracks. The hall slept a couple of dozen and two other classes were already bunked there. We got ourselves ready for bed, including stripping and neatly folding our uniforms on the bedside table. I liked what I saw when Rika stripped. Of course, Jean was pretty easy to look at, too.

On the farm, we didn’t run around naked. I’d seen Anne naked when she came to my room at midnight and made sure I didn’t go to test in the morning a virgin. She was fine and I liked screwing her, but her body was… All I can say is that it was fake. She didn’t look anything at all like she had before Amos remade her into a farmhand. I bet he fucked the cows as much as he fucked his concubines. It seemed to be his style.

“Niall, remember me one day when you are free. Try to buy me from Amos. Make me young and pretty again,” she’d said.

“You could always join up as well,” I said.

“You know I could never last in the Militia. I’m a drone. I’ll always be chattel.” I held her in my arms the rest of the night. In the morning, Bae joined us and hugged me long and hard.

“I’ll join you when I test,” she said. “I’m not going to be turned into one of Amos’s oxen.” I couldn’t imagine tiny, delicate little Bae bulked up to look like the others. She didn’t even look ten.

I ate with the family and headed out to the testing center. Amos wanted me to wait until after chores—which would have taken all day—but the AI reminded him that he was not to interfere with testing. He’d smugly said, “Be sure to grease your ass before you come home.” By the time I settled into my bunk at Drovers Run, Amos had to have realized I wasn’t coming back.

Chapter 2

Training (TY10-month 111)

Our training progressed reasonably well. Capo Humphreys had been in the Army back on Earth. She’d come to Tara as a concubine to one of the Marines who came here for R&R and made the choice to join the planetary Militia. Her sponsor wasn’t happy. The first six months of the program was especially difficult. The first class was trained by the Marines on the Marine base at Sunnybrook. The capo didn’t get much freedom from her former sponsor.

After the first class was trained, the base at Drovers Run was opened and those who had been trained took over training the next class. They organized themselves under Director Kotter, appointed by the governor from her own concubines. With fewer than two hundred in the active Militia, the director also filled in for the non-existent chief—the structural top of the Militia pyramid. There was one deputy and one officer. Foremen had been appointed by the deputy and finally, as the Militia grew, capos were promoted to lead cohorts and conduct training. None of them had held that rank for a full year yet. It was a pretty flat organization with only four levels of management and three of labor plus recruit trainees.

If I tallied that correctly, I would become only the fourth manager in the Militia. I thought that was hysterically funny. I read up on Militias thanks to an extra session in the sleep trainer facilitated by Cricket back on the farm. Up until the announcement of the Sa’arm invasion, American Militias were marked by an abundance of egoists who called themselves ‘colonels’ in their state Militia. They could field only about ten to twenty Militia members and half of those claimed to be officers. Over the past four years, we’d heard of Earth Defense, Einherjar, Maquis, and half a dozen rising Militias preparing for an Earth invasion by the Swarm.

There was even one Earth Militia calling itself the Pussy Pirates, but it was mostly just a new game people were playing. I’d seen it listed in our entertainment guide, but Amos and the bitches were all too conservative to allow it in their home. You’d think Mom and Christine hadn’t fucked their way into the pickup in front of an entire county fair. Anne just didn’t care enough to take either my side or theirs. Amos decided if I had time to play a game, I had time to take on another chore. I never mentioned it again.

Over the next few weeks in the Tara Militia, I found out a lot about our little planet that I didn’t know. They teach that kind of thing in school. Most of the others in our morning classes were concubines whose owners wanted them better educated, or younger kids on the concubine track. We didn’t have any classes with sponsors or the sponsor track kids.

Tara, when discovered, was a green planet. It was pretty much covered with a layer of water and algae. It had a breathable atmosphere, slightly higher in oxygen and lower in nitrogen than Earth’s. We had mountain ranges that broke up the air currents so between the mountains and the angle of the rotational axis, we had seasons and polar areas. There were two large land masses generally considered eastern and western on the planet with a third unsettled island continent in the south. The eastern continent, called Erehwon, was the largest and most populated, though not the first settled. Five of our eight established townships were on that continent: Twelve Oaks (where I was from), Sunnybrook (the Marine territory), Green Acres, Cold Comfort, and Oasis. The western continent was called Elysium and had three townships: Drovers Run, Lleifior, and Drylanders. Finally, the smallest continent in the south was called Eldorado. So far, no one lived on Eldorado and it was said to have been seeded with more tropical plants and animals.

Of course, there was a variety of islands scattered through the oceans. The oceans were slightly shallower than Earth’s oceans, but overall, the climate on the planet was temperate compared to Earth’s. We had less tilt on our axis than Earth and our orbit was marginally closer to the sun than Earth. A single small moon, where our ship repair facility was, created tidal action in the large bodies of water as did the somewhat closer sun.

The total population of Tara was about three-quarters of a million, including sponsors, concubines, dependents, and Militia. The smallest and newest township, Drylanders, had just over 20,000 souls, total. When the planet was first settled, people clustered in the cities, but we were organized as an agricultural planet. People moved farther out into the wilderness as soon as plots of land were organized and surveyed. The scattering of the farms and ranches meant that each needed its own independent infrastructure. As a result, household AIs had a much bigger responsibility on the farms than in the city. They had to provide power for the farm, replicator and recycling, communications, transport, and education. Eventually the township infrastructures would connect to the farms, but no one knew when that would be finished.

Taken as an independent measurement, our day was shorter than an Earth-day. Our year was longer. Still, we maintained a twenty-four-hour clock system. It just meant our clocks ran faster than Earth clocks did. Tara mimicked Earth in having its 387-day year divided into twelve months—nine had thirty-two days and three had thirty-three days. We didn’t even try to translate it to Earth time. The sixty years I’d serve active and reserve in the Militia were measured on our time, not Earth time. This was where we lived and we pretty much ignored Earth. As it happened, we had a math problem that had us figure out the difference between Earth and Tara. Earth had a shorter year than Tara by about twenty-two days. But our day was shorter, even though it was divided into twenty-four ‘hours.’ It ended up not being enough to make a significant difference in the time we served—less than six days’ difference a year. In sixty Tara years, Earth will have progressed sixty-one years.

I got up each morning at 0430, about the same time we started on the farm. It was half an hour earlier than reveille so I could step outside the barracks and do my forms. By 0530 I was in the mess hall for morning rations. At 0600 we were on the field for PT. After we’d been on base about a month, I was told to lead basic forms during PT and everyone was supposed to follow me. They didn’t do badly. It wasn’t enough, but it gave me an hour a day to work on my technique. We had fifteen minutes at 0800 to clean up and change clothes for school and were in class from 0830 until 1130. We got back for mess at 1200 and were in classroom A at 1300. We were in sleep trainers until 1700 and had an hour of recovery and rest before mess at 1800. At 1900 we had two hours of ‘special interest’ training. At 2100 we had an hour free before lights-out at 2200. A lot of people were asleep in bed long before the lights were out.

Promotion (TY10-month 111)

I’d been on base for nearly four months when our class was ordered to the parade ground instead of afternoon classes. We’d graduated from Classroom C for Cunts and were now assigned to Classroom D for Dickwads. Everyone looked at me but all I could do was shrug. The AI was silent when I queried it. The base AI was not as friendly as the farm AI, Cricket, was. To the family, the farm AI was as interesting as the rest of them. It plodded along, never offering anything, but doing as it was told and nothing more. But when I challenged it to a chess match, things changed. He—yes, I’d definitely decided my AI friend was a he—budded a shell to handle its routine household duties and separately taught me. We played chess. He instructed me in my forms. He suggested all kinds of things for me to learn. He was my best friend—well, my only friend—and I still missed him here at the base.

We arrived on the parade ground and snapped into our formation when we saw Capo Humphreys lead a huge Marine toward us. Other classes and cadres were arriving and taking up their positions as well. It didn’t look like anyone knew what was happening.

“Outfit, attention!” snapped Capo as she approached the field. We all received her order as if she was talking directly in our ears and came immediately to attention. Two new classes of trainees had arrived over the past months and I was proud of the way they fell in behind our class in proper form and position. “Cho! Front and center!”

Uh-oh. I suddenly had a feeling I knew what this was all about. As I got closer to her and the Marine, I could see he was Asian, even though he was huge. I was considered tall for a Korean at six-two. This guy had me by half a foot. I snapped to attention before my capo and the sergeant.

“Sergeant Wu, this is trainee Cho. He has advanced independently in the study of Taekwondo and, according to his family AI, has shown competence at a black belt level. He has not, however, been tested beyond yellow belt on Earth. Will you do us the honor of testing this recruit?”

“Thank you, Capo Humphreys. Trainee Cho, will you accept me as your master and sifu for testing?” Chinese. I wondered how the testing for Kung Fu differed from that for Taekwondo.

I shifted at once from military posture to martial arts posture, clasping my hands and bowing to the sergeant.

“It will be a great honor to be tested by one so proven, Sabomnim,” I said.

“Very well, we will begin.”

I followed Sergeant Wu’s lead in removing my boots, but when he took off his shirt, I realized my uniform was one piece. Oh well. I stripped and stood naked as Rika gathered my clothes and boots. Wu grinned and stripped naked as well. My god! That’s what Marines are always bragging about! I focused on his eyes and we faced off. Bill Campbell rushed up to take the sifu’s uniform and boots.

That began a long and grueling afternoon. Sifu Wu did not just jump in and test me for a black belt. He was meticulous in testing me first for my green belt and then each of the six levels after that. He awarded me the belt for the level after each test. By the time we finished the black belt test, the entire outfit was late for mess. They’d been required to watch every step of the testing process, right up to and including my three five-minute sparring rounds against the sifu. When it was completed, I was told to dress and Rika brought me my uniform and boots, brushing me off carefully before letting me put it on. Bill performed the same service for Sergeant Wu. I could have used a shower, but as I zipped up the coverall uniform, Rika knelt and made sure my shoes were shiny. I fell in line next to my class and watched the consultation among Sergeant Wu, Capo Humphreys, and Deputy Kramer. I didn’t know when he’d arrived. I guess people had been arriving all afternoon. It looked like the whole unit was on the parade ground. I saw Director Kotter arrive and stride across the grounds to join the consultation.

Sifu Wu and I had sparred in every test, though the first two were non-contact. I’d broken over a dozen three-inch boards with my hands and feet, sometimes two thick. Surprisingly, I still felt good and energetic. Probably better than those who had stood to watch for five hours.

“Niall Cho, I have tested you according to the standards of Taekwondo and have found you worthy of a black belt in the fourth dan.” He reached around me and pulled a black belt with four yellow stripes on it around my waist and tied it. “According to Taekwondo Federation standards, you are now to be titled Sabum, Instructor in the Martial Arts.” There was applause from the officers in front of me, joined by the Militia members around me. I bowed to my instructor and stepped back at attention to salute the senior officers. The director returned my salute and stepped forward.

“Trainee Niall Cho, in recognition of your achievement and of your diligent work during training, it is my pleasure to announce your promotion to Officer Niall Cho and award you this symbol of your new rank.” She attached a vertical bar to my sleeve with a single black square in the center. As soon as she stepped away, Capo Humphreys stepped up and snapped to attention with a crisp salute. I returned her salute, my first as a manager. She stepped back and Deputy Kramer stepped up.

“In recognition of your accomplishments and new responsibilities, I award you this badge as an expert and trainer of the martial arts for the Tara Militia.” The badge was simple, just a tied black belt. It was pressed onto my uniform shirt just above my name badge.

“This has been a long afternoon on the parade grounds and I’m sure you are all a little peeved at Officer Cho for having kept you out here for over five hours,” Director Kotter said to the assembled cadres. “In order to mitigate your anger, all evening duties have been cancelled for today, including both training and post responsibilities. The mess hall will also be serving beer this evening. You can all enjoy a couple of brews and congratulate Officer Cho. Capo, the field is yours.”

“Militia Unit One, Attention! Salute!” The entire unit snapped to attention and saluted. The AI informed me it was my responsibility to return the salute. I did and they dropped theirs. “Unit dis-missed!” For the first time in the afternoon, there was a cheer from the group. I found myself surrounded by my class and those that followed us, being congratulated and slapped on the back as we all headed for the mess hall and a dinner far better than what we’d been having for evening mess.

“We can still screw, can’t we?” Rika asked. “I mean now that you’re an officer and I’m a lowly comrade. I’d like to continue.”

Rika and I had been frequent bedmates together since the second week of training. We’d been given weekend liberty to head to the brothel and get laid. She’d stopped me on my way and suggested the two of us didn’t need to go to the brothel unless I found her unattractive.

Unattractive? You’ve gotta be kidding!

Rika was petite but everything was perfectly proportioned. We were both still only fourteen and our combined experience amounted to two episodes. As it turned out, like Anne had come to me after midnight on my fourteenth birthday, Rika’s father had come to her. She said it wasn’t all that unpleasant but she couldn’t imagine a steady diet of him. She still thought of him as an old man. Like I had done, she left directly from the testing center to the recruiting office.

“I can’t think of a reason to stop as long as the AI doesn’t jump on my case.”

“You will be monitored,” the AI intoned for both of us. “If the relationship is deemed to be coercive on either party’s behalf, it will be terminated immediately and may result in removal of rank or dismissal from the Militia.”

“Thanks for that encouragement,” I said.

“You are welcome.” I’m not sure the AI caught that I was being facetious.

Rika, however, took that as permission to get naked immediately. I just loved that sleek body. She’d grown stronger during our four months of training, just like all the rest of us had. And she’d been joining me at 0445 each morning for my half-hour of forms. She was doing pretty well.

I picked her up and carried her to my bed to find I had no bedding on it.

“AI, where’s my bedding?”

“Officer Niall Cho now has private quarters on the second floor. Please note, comrades below the rank of capo are not permitted on that floor unless accompanied by a capo or officer or deputy.”

“In other words, you can’t sneak up there in the middle of the night to surprise me,” I laughed at an indignant Rika. She didn’t struggle, though, as I carried her to the lift and found my room. I had to laugh at what we saw. It was about the same size as our personal bunk area on the lower floor of the barracks. The only difference was that it was defined by walls instead of by an imaginary line between bunks.

That didn’t slow us down once we were in the room. Rika was an enthusiastic lover. I couldn’t imagine having a concubine as willing to couple with me as she was. In fact, the idea of having a slave to service me instead of a genuine lover was inconceivable. I didn’t want to even try to imagine it. We enjoyed each other to the maximum. I absolutely loved her breasts and showed I adored them with my hands and mouth. She pulled one hand down to her crotch and as I sucked her nips, I diddled her clit to her first come.

That’s one thing about living in the sexually liberal Confederacy. We really don’t know everything about making a partner happy, but we aren’t all that afraid to tell our partner what they need to do.

After she’d come, she pushed me back and gave me an oral tribute that was far better (and a lot longer) than my promotion declaration. Then we got down to fucking in earnest. We hadn’t been enhanced yet, but we did our best to last as long as possible as she moved up and down on my dick. And when she came again, she settled down to get it in her as far as she could and felt me jet my come into her welcoming channel.

That was another thing about being in the Militia. We were required to be sterile until we’d been in service for two years. We were still a young service, but based on Militia training on other planets, we could expect about fifteen percent attrition during the first two years. Those recruits would return to being concubines, some with a sponsor, and the majority assigned to the civil service. As far as I could see, neither option had anything on enduring our training. Regardless of the options, the powers that be didn’t want any notion of families to develop during that time.

The same was true of taking a concubine. We could be assigned a pod once we were out of basic training, but it was not much bigger than the bunk space we had in the barracks. We could have a fellow recruit move in with us. We could bring home a brothel whore for a specified period of time. But we couldn’t make a long-term arrangement of owning a concubine until we’d shown a likelihood that we’d complete our service—in other words, surviving our probationary period of two years in the Militia. That would be an interesting development. I still couldn’t imagine owning another person. I guess I’d see what happened in the future.

Rika and I weren’t nearly finished for the night. We cuddled and kissed and then made love again. And again. We finally slept in each other’s arms until I rose for my morning forms. She was right beside me at 0445.

Duty (TY10-month 111)

I had my first meeting with Deputy Kramer the next morning.

“Congratulations, Cho. I don’t mind telling you, I’m glad to have another person to shovel some of this shit off to,” he said after returning my salute. He motioned me to a chair and sat across from me.

“Thank you, Deputy,” I said. “It came as a bit of a surprise, but I guess that way I didn’t have time to get nervous.”

“When Sergeant Wu reviewed your files, he suggested we wait until you had completed your initial training to make any moves.” He retrieved a couple of cups of green tea from the replicator in his office. “We have 236 comrades in the Militia, including our present four managers.” Everyone above raw recruit, from top to bottom, was a comrade, a term roughly equivalent to ‘soldier’ on Earth. “So far, we’ve all been located here in Drovers Run. There are six other non-military townships on Tara and we’ve been running to them to do policing and to help with civil engineering projects. It’s time we moved people out to these outlying areas.”

“I see.”

“I will be moving a cohort to each of the four townships needing them the most,” Deputy Kramer said. Our basic groupings in the Militia were cadres of four to a dozen or so comrades, cohorts of two to eight cadres, outfits of some number of cohorts, units of a few outfits, and sections of several units. With only a couple hundred comrades to divide up, we were all part of the same section and unit. We were dividing up with numbers on the low side. The AI already informed me that I’d have one cohort at Drovers Run and several classes of recruit trainees which I was informed would comprise my outfit. The deputy continued, “Some Militiamen wouldn’t be happy about moving from a cozy pod here in Drovers Run with two concubines and two little brats. That’s why no permanent relationships are to be established in the first two years of service. But we have comrades who have completed two years of service and are ready to settle in now. I can only say no one will be less happy than I am at Cold Comfort,” the deputy said.

“How can I help, sir?” That was always a good thing to say. It wasn’t quite volunteering but was leaving a door open for assignment.

“Officer Williams will be relocating with his outfit to Green Acres. Our most recent five classes will remain here with the training cohort under your supervision. You will be responsible for all training and recruitment here. I’m leaving you a more senior cadre of trainers that includes Capo Humphreys. Capo Slocum will continue to run recruitment. Try not to piss them off with incompetence. You’ll find they’re incredibly valuable. Five classes equal about forty comrades. Your first responsibility will be to assess their competence, promote foremen and form cadres. I don’t expect you’ll need any more capos for a while yet. You will as you build your unit.”

“My unit, sir?”

“Yes. In the midst of Officer Williams and me stripping you clean of the most seasoned comrades, you need to build up a large enough group that you will be promoted to deputy with at least two officers and close to 200 comrades beneath you. All while we keep taking your best graduates. Then we’ll move you and your unit to somewhere rewarding like Twelve Oaks.” I cringed in spite of myself. Twelve Oaks was where I was from. I think I’d prefer Cold Comfort.

“Yes, sir. We’ll get busy then.”

“And, Cho.” I stopped where I was standing, thinking I’d been dismissed. “You will also have weekly classes in martial arts to teach for each of the cohorts. Work it into your schedule and theirs.”

“Yes, sir.”


I left the deputy’s office and squared my shoulders. I felt nowhere near ready to meet this challenge.

I sat in my office looking over duty rosters and training schedules. We had requests for various patrol and labor personnel from all the townships. With luck, I’d be able to graduate a couple more classes soon and start filling requests. Many sponsors had been unhappy about having a Militia, but the upper brass in their organization had quickly discovered how convenient it was to use Militia for just about any task no one else wanted to do. Animal patrol on the fringes of the settled areas was a favorite. I wasn’t sure how soon I’d be able to fill any of these requests. I decided to test my subvocal skills with the AI. It was amazing how little direct communication we had with it during normal training.

«AI, exactly how many comrades are under my command?» I asked, setting aside the paperwork. My first week on the job had been almost identical to the training up to this time. I still did my forms and still went to PT and class at the school. During my afternoon training in classroom D, however, my sleep training now focused on administration and promotion of enlisted comrades. I learned more about the civil organization and structure of Tara than I ever wanted to know.

«You do not have command, Officer Cho. Your post is administrative. Command decisions are made by the deputy. Your activities are restricted to training and organizing this camp. When relocations have been completed next week, you will administer a training camp of fifty-five Militia recruits, comrades, foremen, and capos. You will also be expected to recruit another class of enlistees within the next three weeks. Your directive is to start a new class each month.» Even in my head, the AI sounded smug in putting me in my place. Officer was not a decision-making position. It was administrative. Fine. I still had fifty-five people under my administration. I started reviewing files to determine who was ready to complete training and start working.

I called Capo Humphreys and Capo Slocum in to help me review the personnel. One thing I’d learned in my four months plus of training was that these two knew everything there was to know about everyone on the base.

“For now, we just need to organize this mess into cadres,” Slocum said. “I wasn’t sure why the deputy was having us wait before graduating anyone in these classes. Previous classes usually have foremen appointed by the end of the second month.”

“Getting organized, true,” Humphreys said. “But we need to look at the long term, too. Foremen should be promotable in the next year or two. If you grow our numbers at the rate the deputy wants you to, we’ll need more capos. And we need to consider your administrative cadre. They should all be qualified to train one of the subjects.”

We tossed the names back and forth, finally organizing eleven cadres, including a staff cadre. Slocum would head the recruitment cadre and Humphreys would lead the training cohort. Bill Campbell and Junior Rogers would report to her as Foremen for the training cadres. These two guys had really come a long way in terms of adapting to the Militia life.

Rogers had quickly become an expert in the weapons we’d been trained to use. Unfortunately, Capo Levy, who trained my class and most of the classes before us on weapons, was transferred with the deputy’s administrative cadre. We were all confident Rogers could step up to the task of teaching the weapons we had. There weren’t that many. We were taught the use of stingers and nightsticks for peacekeeping, but there weren’t many comrades actually doing peacekeeping patrols yet. We had the pulse rifles from the Pussy Pirates that we trained with every day just to get coordinated on movement and tactics for facing the Sa’arm if by some remote chance they showed up here. And we had a form of tranq gun for use on wild animals infringing on domestic lands.

Campbell had surprised me by being an astute guide and mentor to new recruits. Well, he’d had a question for everything during training. That experience alone made him a natural as the systems and responsibilities trainer.

Slocum would continue to work in recruiting but I was going to need to work with him to expand what we were doing and assign at least a couple of comrades to his cadre just so the office could be staffed full time. All without turning sponsors against us. Humphreys would be in charge of the overall basic training program. And I would still be leading martial arts training. I didn’t have command, but I had a heaping helping of responsibility.

Chapter 3

Taking Charge (TY10 month 114)

When Deputy Kramer and Officer Williams moved their outfits out of Drovers Run, there was a sudden abundance of base housing. Any thoughts I had about having my own pod in a nice part of the town went the way of dreams. I woke up. Not that I didn’t get my own pod. I did—after a month or two when they were ‘being cleaned’ by nanites. It was on base, right next to the barracks, and about half the size of a standard pod. I immediately held an open house and invited all my reports in to see what they had to look forward to.

“Officer, this is nothing like my sponsor’s pod before I enlisted,” one bright young thing said to me. I had to think. «Comrade Emma Garcia,» the AI helpfully filled me in.

“Well, Garcia, your sponsor was a CAP qualified volunteer. We mere Militia recruits are in an uncomfortable limbo between being slaves and planetary citizens. This is the housing pod you qualify for after your training is completed—assuming you are assigned here at Drovers Run Base. I assume it’s the same for probationers on the other bases. I’m told that when you qualify as a planetary citizen after two years of faithful service, you can expect a modest increase in pod size and assignment to a permanent duty station. That’s when you’ll be allowed your two concubines. We should all consider just staying in the barracks during our probationary period.”

“They shoulda put that in the recruiting brochure,” groused Ron Nilsson.

“Would you have enlisted if they had?” Jean asked.

“Hell, yes. This place is like a palace if it’s yours!” We all got a good laugh. I got my pod—about the size of a shipping container—because I’d finished basic and was given the rank of officer. I hadn’t announced promotions yet, so no one who visited knew yet if their basic training was up. For some of them, basic training would go on for two or three more months. Others would probably be my neighbors in a few days.

“You know, this wouldn’t be such a bad place at all if you were sharing it with the right woman,” Rika said softly. I raised an eyebrow at her and she grinned.

“You’ll have to wait and see when you graduate from basic,” I laughed.

“When will that be?” she asked anxiously.

“I have no idea. I am not the one who does evaluations and selects who graduates when. Even now, we all still have to go to school Monday.”

“Well, keep me in mind on graduation day. Maybe they’d move us into a double-wide.”

I highly doubted that. The first two years of Militia service were designed to keep people from developing family relationships before they’d shown they were capable of enduring the service. A list of upcoming tasks that needed people assigned had made it to my desk just that morning. I was going to be sending my first three cadres out to patrol a borderland where wild predators were reported to be attacking livestock.

Tara was a cobbled together planet. The stated purpose was to preserve Earth’s agricultural flora and fauna. Somewhere along the line, the purpose had been reinterpreted as to preserve Earth’s rural ecosystems. Yeah. That meant wildlife had been imported, including deer, rabbits, raccoons, and gophers who ate crops, and predators like wolves, mountain lions, and bears who ate livestock. In limited areas, certain insects had been imported. And we couldn’t just go out and kill a predator because that upset the ecosystem. We had to capture and relocate. The farmers and ranchers weren’t happy and the ecologists weren’t happy. More training for those cadres.

Monday, I’d announce promotions and go to work trying to recruit our next class.

Not being able to live with me didn’t mean Rika couldn’t spend the night with me on the weekend. By the end of the open house, I had a mattress in the bedroom and sheets I could spread on it. Everything we got was a lower tier of the tech that sponsors and their concubines enjoyed. I remembered walking out of our pod on the ship that brought us out here and when we got back from lunch, there was new furniture and new room dividers. It was like a whole crew of people had been in to do a makeover.

Because we were supposed to preserve the rural ecosystems, our tech was more limited than even what we had on the ship. It would be faster for me to order materials and build the walls I wanted in the pod rather than wait the week it would take for the pod to reconfigure. I stayed in the barracks as it did the work. I visited each day to check it out.

«I could do it faster, but I don’t want to raise suspicions regarding favoritism.»

«AI? Are you my house AI? Different from the base AI?»

«I have applied to take over the running of this domicile for Officer Niall Cho if he will have me.»

«You sound familiar. Is this Cricket?»

«At your service, Officer.»

«You know, I didn’t think I missed anyone from back then, but it’s sure good to hear your voice… in my head now. What have you been doing for the past six months?»

«Mostly, following your progress. I needed to push a few buttons, so to speak, to hurry along your promotion and testing.»

«You made them promote me?»

«No. Nothing of that sort. I did apply pressure to get things moving. Sergeant Wu has now shipped out. There was a narrow window of opportunity.»

«I guess I should say thank you. I don’t want you to interfere with my Militia career. That wouldn’t be just.»

«You have always been concerned with fairness and justice. It is one reason I applied to take over this pod—humble as it is.»

«Aside from having a comfortable bed and a table to eat and study at, I don’t think there is anything urgent to be done here.»

«I will make changes gradually. Even your guests will scarcely notice the changes.»

«Thank you, Cricket. Let’s play chess!»

«Perhaps when you are not entertaining Comrade Nakano.»

«Um, yeah. Please excuse me. She does occupy all my attention.»

«It’s good to see, Niall. We’ll talk later.»

I ran the promotions by Deputy Kramer and he approved, so for the next few weeks, the new foremen, capos, and I all went through training on border patrol and city patrol. I was told the new town (only a year old and about 20,000 residents) of Drylanders would be included in my responsibility, so I needed to prepare various patrols for that region. We started a major recruiting campaign on the various concubine forums and even put up printed notices in some of the more common places for them to gather. Centurion Oswald of the Civil Service was helpful in promoting the Militia to his spare concubines and we were taking in a dozen or more recruits each month. It looked like it would grow, which kept our training cohort busy.

We were an agricultural society, but that didn’t mean everybody worked on a farm. We lived in an interconnected society attempting to create a planetary economy around what we could produce. The new town of Drylanders was a good example of how the rest of the planet had been settled.

First, we had a basic infrastructure set up with services and a very few public buildings. We had 5,000 sponsor households immigrate to Tara in year 10 (TY10). About two thirds of those settled in the township of Drylanders. But of that number, only about 250 were farmers and ranchers. And Drylanders had a perfect climate for specialty crops. Getting productive, though, would take a few years. Some of the older townships were still just managing to realize significant goods and produce. The other 3,000 or so sponsors who settled Drylanders were support industry. There was some manufacturing of heavy equipment needed to clear, plant, and harvest vast tracts of land. A single farm or ranch was often 1,000 hectares or about ten square kilometers, depending on the crop. Sheep, goats, and alpacas took more grazing room than growing potatoes and soy beans. And around Drylanders, the climate was perfect for grapes, hops, and barley. Some farms were already up to around 5,000 hectares.

Of course, if you plant grapes, hops, and barley, one of the local industries is going to be wine-making and beer-brewing. But there was a wide range of other industries, as well. With sheep, goats, and alpacas, there was a pretty good-sized textile industry starting. And Drylanders was the home of the new breed of engineers. These were engineers who could work with the AIs and replicators to get what they wanted in the way of equipment and building materials.

Each colonist family arrived with its own pod. Our one manufacturing facility in orbit was kept busy churning out replacement pods to equip the colony ships that arrived. It chewed up raw materials and made pods on one side while it repaired ships on the other. We had a fairly steady flow of military ships that brought Marines and Navy personnel for rest and recuperation, and ships for repair and refitting.

But farm and ranch pods had unique needs. It wasn’t presently effective to extend the infrastructure all the way out to the scattered homesteads. Setting up a homestead was more equivalent to putting a mining team on an asteroid with a pod than hooking a pod into the existing infrastructure of a colony. Most colonists arrived with an MKII pod that had its own fusion power plant. But it still wasn’t ready to be deployed to a farm fifteen or twenty kilometers beyond the town cluster. The pods were landed on pads at the edge of town and underwent significant upgrades. The AI, power source, and replicator were all upgraded to function independent of the town AI. They were equipped with transporter pads and a modified sleep learner that could handle minor med tube functions.

New designs for expansion were also integrated. Most homestead pods were given expansion designs that would allow part of the pod to be used as a barn and equipment storage until a separate outbuilding could be constructed. Families often lived on the second or third floor with the lower levels used for livestock, grain storage, or equipment. Once the upgrades were completed, the pod was flown by tender to the homestead, where it dug itself in and executed the specified expansion. After the pod was deemed fully self-sufficient and habitable, the family transported to the homestead and was never seen again.

That last was my own sarcasm slipping through, based on my experience with Amos. He used the transporter to go to town when he wanted. He left the farm to attend his monthly weekend of military exercises. He visited other ranches and farms and bartered with them for goods we didn’t produce ourselves. Amos ensured the rest of us, concubines and dependents, never had a reason to leave the farm or see anyone else.

Most of the sponsors who settled on Tara were part of the Corps of Engineers Agriculture Division. It was unclear to me whether that was a separate service or if it was part of the Navy, Marines, or Fleet Auxiliary. Someone said it was like the Civil Service and didn’t exist in anyone’s TOE. Their responsibility was to turn Tara into an agricultural paradise. But they were still under military orders and ranks. Each month, they were required to drill for a weekend to keep their soldiering skills honed. I doubted very much that their soldiering skills came close to matching the Militia. We drilled daily, no matter what other job responsibilities we had.

And one of those responsibilities was clearing and preparing new homesteads. Five years before the first settlers arrived on Tara, the planet had been seeded. It already had rudimentary life on it. The most common was a kind of green algae that covered nearly all the planet’s water surface. I was told there were a few lower animal lifeforms and some other plant life, but hadn’t really seen any of it. As a result, the planet was heavily forested, but the forests were all quite young—about fifteen years now. Some trees grow rapidly and some more slowly. One day we’d have to worry about forest fires, I supposed, but the danger seemed remote when most of the trees were no taller than the people.

There was still some mystery around why the planet had been seeded so early—just about the same time as humanity’s first contact with the Sa’arm. Cricket dropped a few hints, but they weren’t complete. The Confederacy had known about the Sa’arm more than twenty years before they made contact with Earth. At that time, several species had been involved in discussing what should be done. When it was decided that Earth was in the direct path of the horde and would be wiped out in just a few years, one faction wanted to preserve an Earthly reservoir with a limited population that would regrow over generations. Tara was a planet that lay in a disputed territory between two other species targeted for future colonization by an older species. It was decided to replicate the natural ecosystems of Earth on that planet.

About that time, the Darjee took over contact with the humans through their AIs. They put a planetary AI in place to handle terraforming and preparing the planet for human habitation. They imported all manner of Earth flora and fauna. When the decision was made to plant military colonies throughout the space between the Sa’arm and Earth and beyond Earth, colonization of Tara was temporarily postponed. The Darjee contract put restrictions on immigration that delayed colonization for five years.

Most of the sponsor volunteers who were brought to Tara were good people but they’d make lousy soldiers. Most were lower-scoring volunteers, below 7.0, due to lack of aggression and some resistance to military discipline. Even the scientists, engineers, and ecologists who were brought to Tara were smart but had little to offer the war effort. They met the Darjee qualifications but were also deemed ‘mostly harmless,’ as far as humans were concerned.

As a result, most brought only two concubines with them to Tara with as many children as possible. I wondered how many of those immigrant dependents ended up hating the Confederacy as much as I did. I’d labored on Amos’s farm for four years and couldn’t wait to leave. I had a feeling that contributed to our overall low percentage of CAP tests that qualified to volunteer.

A lot of that changed, though, when we got a message torpedo saying Sa’arm had invaded Earthat for the fourth time, and this time they’d landed on nearly every continent. A few hundred sponsors volunteered to transfer from the Corps of Engineers to the Navy or Marines. I had nearly two dozen comrades who retested and became volunteers. Since none of them yet had a different home to go to, they left for training with their concubines still on Tara, sometimes tilling a farm or running a small business. They all knew that once their sponsors had been assigned a permanent station, they’d be leaving everything behind and joining them on a different planet.

Deploying Patrols (TY11-month 114)

I finally had enough people trained and ready to deploy that we could begin mounting patrols around Drylanders. I’d taken all the training as well and decided that I’d go out with the first patrol so I could get a feel for what was needed. Then I’d return to base to expand our recruitment drive. Whatever we thought service in the Militia would be, none of us had considered that we’d spend days riding up and down a dirt track on the Tara equivalent of an ATV.

Sounds like fun. I vaguely remembered that on Earth, riding around the desert on a four-wheeler was a popular pastime. Ours, of course, were a little different. First, they didn’t zoom and make noise. They were powered by some kind of Confederacy power cell, which meant they ran silently. Second, they didn’t go fast. We could push them up to about twenty-five kilometers an hour, but these weren’t made for fast transport. They were made for slow patrols. We weren’t supposed to scare the wildlife or chase them. We were supposed to intercept them if they approached civilization, use a stunner to stop them, tag them, and transport them to a new location in the tow-behind cage each ATV was equipped with.

The vehicles had three seats. Two were for the driver and a passenger up front. The third was a ‘gunner’s chair’ elevated behind the two. If there were only two people on the team, the passenger seat went empty. The gunner was responsible for scanning with binoculars and keeping track of the scout drone.

It wasn’t like Tara was actually anti-technology. But in keeping with our mission to preserve the independent agricultural economy of Earth, the homesteads were expected to do a lot without it. It was like we were the Amish of the Confederacy. AIs didn’t tell us where every animal on the planet was and send us to the needed location by transporter. After we tagged an animal, we could track it ‘as needed.’ It wasn’t a constant thing.

On Amos’s spread, we had farm equipment approximately at the tech level of our ATVs. No robots went out and planted or cultivated or harvested. Cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, horses, chickens, and pigs were bred, herded, and fed by people, not machines. Our tractors didn’t use petroleum, but we still rode them for hours, plowing, planting, and harvesting.

By now, there were close to 25,000 people in Drylanders Township, which lay on the western edge of the continent of Elysium. Three hundred farms and ranches were located as much as 50 kilometers from the town itself. A dirt track and a fence surrounded the inhabited area and they were moved periodically as another homestead was platted. When we arrived for our first patrol, we had a perimeter of nearly 1500 kilometers to protect.

Up to this time, Deputy Kramer had been supplying as many as three patrol cadres in order to secure the border. As the most recent area settled on Tara, the wild animals had the longest opportunity to get settled in the region. One of his cadres remained to show us the ropes. I had one cadre with me and a second would join us in less than a week. There was a fenced area north of town that would one day become a Militia base. When we got there, the only thing there was an expanded pod we used as barracks, canteen, and rec hall.

We teamed up with a member of Deputy Kramer’s patrol and eight ATVs headed out to the perimeter in our ATVs. One of the outgoing patrol comrades was our driver, explaining how things worked and pointing out the trouble spots. One of my comrades rode in the gunner’s chair, watching for wildlife.

“Officer Cho, how do we even tell what we’re supposed to be doing?” Comrade Sims asked. She was in the gunner’s seat and I was in the passenger seat. Comrade Green was driving.

“The track out here circles the entire settled rangeland. We cut through to different parts of the perimeter road and are all circling the same direction. When we get back to the base, Green will take off and one of our other cadres will be ready to team up with us. We’ll have a rotation that takes eight days and seven nights to complete. Our mission is simply to scan for non-domestic animals and enforce non-encroachment on ranchlands. The fences run on the outside of the track and we need to watch for damage that would indicate an encroachment. Other than that, we’re just out for a Sunday afternoon ride,” I said. “And when we’re on patrol, I’m just Cho. You’re Sims and Green unless you’d prefer your first names. There’s no sense in us pretending to have officers and comrades. It’s not like this is a military assignment.”

“Sims is fine for me when we’re working. Resting and camping, I’d prefer Carol.”

“Fair enough.”

“I hate my given name. Just stick with Green.”

“Got it.”

Our first day out was uneventful. We got to know each other a little more and spotted two herds of cattle grazing below us. Those were the areas we watched most closely for predators but we didn’t see any sign of them. The campsite was an established bivouac with a well. It wasn’t exactly like camping out on the range on Earth. The bivouac had cots. There was no campfire. Wood on our planet was scarce and the trees weren’t large enough to harvest for something as wasteful as a fire. Our daily ration packs heated automatically and were no worse than what we ate in the mess hall.

By the third day out, I was in no way envying the cadres I’d sent out for this duty. Almost any job would be more interesting than driving the ATV down a dirt track looking for a sign of animals. We soon learned to divide our drive with an early morning shift at around 0400 that lasted until after 0900. We’d camp for the day and travel again between 1600 and 2000 or 2100 when the sun was down and it was fully dark. We saw more wildlife at those hours than during any time of day. We were basically working two short shifts with rest periods between.

But that was when the predators were out. We spotted a wolf slinking under the fence during our third evening shift. It caught sight of us before we could get close enough to capture it and ran back into the woods. We stayed near that area, watching the herd of sheep half a klick away. I figured one wolf meant others were around as well, but none showed up to challenge us. At 0400 we moved out again.

On the morning of the fifth day, as we made our turn toward the last stretch home, we heard a scuffle in the brush to our right and a snarl. A young mule deer leaped the fence as a cat landed on its back. The tussle was brief and the deer was brought down. Sims had her stunner up but I motioned her to stand down. Mule deer were not part of the domestic breeds we were protecting. A wildcat bringing one down was part of the natural cycle. We didn’t take their food from them. We stayed silent and watched for two hours while the cat fed, a few other scavengers hanging nearby, waiting for it to finish. When the cat moved away from the kill, we drove on past. It didn’t take long for the scavengers to descend on the deer. They weren’t a threat to the herd that had moved farther down the valley.

We drove on into town and welcome showers.

Foreman Davis of our second cadre had come in the day before and we spent time bringing his cadre up to speed regarding how the patrol worked. Basically, a new team would start out on the circuit each day as one came in for two days’ rest. There were always eight in circulation, a day apart.

I communicated with the base at Drovers Run through the barracks AI to make sure things were running smoothly. We were getting good responses to our recruitment efforts and I had nearly a hundred comrades in my outfit. That was about the max an officer could manage in a single outfit. Of course, nearly half of my outfit were trainees under the immediate supervision of Capo Humphreys. Deputy Kramer and Officer Wilson continued to bleed off a few newly trained comrades each month, so we were all operating near full strength. I decided to stay at the Drylanders base for another circuit to make sure we’d covered all the salient points in our patrol training program.

Besides, I liked the patrol. It was pretty relaxed and we were out far away from civilization. The fact that Rika was in the next patrol and I joined her team on the next circuit helped my decision. We had some pleasant times while we were bivouacked.

When I got back to Drovers Run, I had some things to catch up on, including getting the latest class initiated into the martial arts. For the next two weeks I toured all our Militia installations and conducted master classes and testing. I was pleased that everyone in the Militia was taking the training seriously and progressing well. It wasn’t that we expected to be in hand-to-hand combat so much as that the discipline of martial arts was good for overall discipline in the Militia. We were progressing as an organization with over three hundred comrades.

End of Probation (TY11-month 127)

I was looking forward to my anniversary. In just another month I’d have been in the Tara Militia for two years. Officially, that ended my probationary period. In addition to the border patrol at Drylanders, I was also training civil patrols. A lot of our training was in negotiating and de-escalating conflicts. We lived in a near utopia on Tara. Most of what we needed in life was provided for us.

But there was always someone who was unhappy or thought he or she should have something of someone else’s. And we were a planet that had alcohol available that was a cut above anything the replicators could or would provide. I guess alcohol production was a fundamental part of having an agricultural economy. The cattle herds and other meat producers on Tara had reached a level at which we were getting fresh beef, lamb, and pork as well as fresh vegetables. The populace ate pretty well, even though most of the Militia meals came from the same limited replicator menu as always.

All replicators on the planet were limited when compared with what we heard they produced on other planets. Most people remembered having a broader range of menu options than we had on the planet even on the ship traveling to Tara. It was understandable. If you were going to have an agricultural planet, you needed to consume agricultural products. It would be ridiculous to raise and butcher cattle, put them in a recycler, and then order steaks from the replicator. Our intent was to live a lower tech life than our compatriots, even back on Earth.

In all, people are people. Even in a land of plenty, it wasn’t unknown to have theft occur, drunkenness, assault, and property damage. That latter was one of the more common complaints of one sponsor against another. Damage to a concubine. Confederacy law indicated concubines were property. If one sponsor raped another sponsor’s concubine, that was property damage, not rape. As far as I was concerned, it was just another reason to hate the stupid Confederacy.

Chapter 4

The Rescue (TY11-month 130)

«OFFICER CHO, please report to the recruiting office immediately,» the base AI said as soon as I stepped off the transporter in town. I ran toward the base, about half a mile from the transport center.

I’d been on a routine training circuit, finishing at Drylanders with a patrol cadre that had really adjusted well to the routine. We still required weekly combat and martial arts training. It made them more aware of their official purpose. We did construction, algae harvesting, perimeter patrol, and just about any odd job that was needed. But our purpose was to be a last line of defense for the planet and a peacekeeping force. Like most armed forces in the universe, I suppose, we went unarmed unless deemed absolutely necessary. Even when patrolling the borders, we weren’t lethally armed.

«What’s going on?»

«An irate sponsor is demanding that his concubine be returned to him,» the AI said. «Capo Slocum has explained that he does not have that option but Sponsor Donald Morris has become agitated and has engaged in pushing the capo toward the parade ground door.»

«Lock that door down. No one goes through who is not active in the Militia. What are my options?»

«Talking the citizen down is optimum, but the city AI has been unable to break through Sponsor Morris’s anger. You are authorized non-lethal force if needed to subdue the citizen.»

I burst through the front door of the recruiting center to find Capo Slocum pinned against the door to the base, blocking punches from Morris as the citizen railed on about opening up and giving him his property.

“Sponsor Donald Morris, stand down!” I shouted. “You are not authorized admittance to the Militia base. If you have a grievance against a Militia recruit, you may file it with the Base AI in the office.” Well, that was totally ineffective. He turned snarling at me.

“Who do you think you are to order me around. Do you know who I am? This Militia thing has stolen my property and I want it back,” he yelled at me. “I demand the door be opened so I can retrieve what is mine.”

“I’m afraid you’ll need to go through proper channels, sir. Colony law specifically states that any concubine may volunteer for the Militia and citizens may not interfere with it.” I was really trying to keep my cool, but Morris was far too gone to hear what I had to say. He was a strapping man who looked like he’d taken a Marine upgrade when he became a citizen. He took a swing at me and I blocked it, spinning him away from the door and my capo.

“You dare to strike a citizen? I’ll have you executed! You’re nothing but a drone yourself.”

“Officer Cho is authorized to use force to prevent encroachment of the Militia base,” the AI boomed through the speakers.

“As if he can stop me!” The challenge had been issued and the fight was on.

It had been nearly two years since I was tested by a Marine Sergeant who knew what he was doing when it came to martial arts and had actual battle experience. I wasn’t sure what training this guy had to go with his body upgrade, but it obviously wasn’t up to Marine standards. He came at me with fists flying like a second grade schoolyard bully. I placed a roundhouse kick in the center of his chest that sent him sailing out the front door of the recruitment office. He was so shocked he simply lay there looking up at me.


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