“Awright you filthy disgusting maggots! We are arriving at the lovely and delightful body of excrement known to the League as Juventas starting at oh six hundred in the morning, Standard Diego Time.

“I want every one of you sniveling no good crybabies to be ready to port down and kick some ass! The flyboys are going to soften them up down there after they eliminate the sonsabitches in orbit. But as always it’s the duty of the God-fearin’, Republic-lovin’ Marine Corps to clean up their messes on the planet’s surface.

“Now get a good night sleep, you lazy insufferable good for nothin’ babies! You all been fartin’ around this month playin’ your games and kissy kissin’ and loafin’ around. Tomorrow we go to work! Is that understood?”

One hundred young men and women shouted back at the top of their lungs, “YES, SERGEANT!”

Sergeant Gina Wilcox nodded at her platoon and slowly stuck a stubby unlit cigar in her mouth, scowling at them a final time. She was a big woman, taller than many men, and incredibly fit. She shaved her light brown hair short, like a man, although she gave no indication of being a lesbian. Her Marines were somewhat afraid of her, and no one had the guts to ask about her sexual orientation, or anything else of a personal nature.

They stood in the platoon’s common area, which was large enough to hold all of them at the same time, although just barely. From there, doorways led to bunks and showers. There was little room for privacy in the PRS Ronald Reagan, one of six troop transports in the Diego Fleet.

The door to the common room swished open and Tine Gruman, one of her Staff Sergeants, shouted, “Officer on deck!”

Everyone snapped to attention even more so than they had been while their First Sergeant was yelling at them.

Wilcox turned and saluted smartly at Lt. Colonel Wendell Peng.

Peng’s eyes drifted down to the unlit stogie in the Sergeant’s mouth.

“Is that tobacco, Sergeant?”

His tone of voice held a note of incredulity.

“No, sir,” Wilcox said, removing it from her mouth. “This is a leaf similar to tobacco from the planet Pearl. And I’m not smoking it, sir.”

The Colonel nodded, but his frown indicated disapproval. He said, “I just wanted to check in on all our platoons and see how ready we are for tomorrow.”

“The 31st Platoon is as ready as we’ll ever be, sir!”

Behind her, 100 men and woman yelled, “OORAH!”

“Very good, very good. Alright, we’ll be ready to port down once the Navy does their thing.”

Peng turned back to the door.

On his way out he looked over his shoulder and said, “And get rid of that cigar, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir!”

The door swished shut and everyone held their collective breaths. Wilcox turned around and placed the cigar back in her mouth.

“You heard the man. Get a good night’s sleep and be ready to go in the morning. Platoon dismissed.”

The tension eased and everyone moved at once, some heading for bunks, others for showers.

Gruman ambled over to Wilcox and said with a smile, “I don’t think they grow a tobacco substitute on Pearl, First Sergeant.”

Wilcox grunted. Gruman was an amiable fellow with blue eyes. She might have found him attractive if he were not ten centimeters shorter than she was.

She said, “He’s too busy with the war to look it up. I can always tell him they’re working on it. I think I read somewhere they actually are working on it. And this really is from Pearl.”

“Where’d you pick up that habit, anyway?”

She smiled, the cigar tilting up in her mouth.

“From my mother. She’s a pirate on Lute, you know.”

Gruman’s eyes widened in surprise. He had not known. But, the legend of Sergeant Wilcox would certainly grow now that he did.


Admiral Severs stepped onto the bridge of the Thomas Paine and went through the associated rituals involving high ranking officers. The tall, black man had turned 44 recently, and he knew he was young to make Fleet Admiral. But this was war, and he had met with considerable success thanks to the Thomas Paine. The Chancellor herself had promoted him.

He had chosen to make the Paine his flagship, even though it was no longer the newest ship in the fleet. That honor belonged to one of the other Condors, the Patrick Henry or the Marion Francis, although Severs did not know which one was newer. They both came off the line about the same time.

It was certainly true that Republican Shipworks engineers put in all the things they learned from the Paine’s maiden voyage into the newer ships. The power cores in the Condors were greatly expanded, and updated algorithms were integrated to mitigate overuse when repeatedly teleporting pieces of the nearest star into battle.

The Paine herself had been completely overhauled when they replaced her power core, although admittedly that had been a rush job. But the boys and girls of Republican Shipworks had been rushing things for the duration of the war, he thought.

Now the tide was finally changing in the Republic’s favor. If they could wrest a capital planet from the League, things would surely be looking up.

From the bridge of the Paine he would make an announcement to the commanding officers of all the ships in the fleet, and cover the battle plans a final time.

He nodded at Shelly Spencer, the ship’s new Captain. She was a short woman, of mixed ancestry, and rather attractive. Like her predecessor, Emmet Strand, she had a reputation for effectiveness in combat with nine confirmed League ships taken out.

Strand had been promoted to Commodore. Severs let him pick his own ship to lead his squadron. Strand chose the Marion Francis, nicknamed “Swamp Rat” by her crew. Severs smiled at that, thinking Strand had to have chosen her for the nickname, if nothing else.

The fleet stopped porting one AU per second, and floated near one another at an isolated point in space. PLAIR had them in perfect formation. They were precisely ten hours from Juventas.

The main holoscreen in front of the bridge lit up with the faces of the Captains, as well as the six Commodores, including Strand. All told, Admiral Severs spoke directly to 96 officers, although everyone on their respective bridges would no doubt also be listening in on the conversation as well.

Severs looked at the many faces staring back at him on the holoscreen.

He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Captains and Commodores of the Diego Fleet, welcome. This is to be our final briefing before the attack on Juventas in the morning.”


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