Voyage From Yesteryear

“A real pro burglar Terry exclaimed. “You son-of-a-gun.” Hanlon said admiringly.

“Son-of-a-something, anyway,” Anita added. They all laughed.

Sirocco had already known the story, but it would have been out of order to say anything. Stanislau’s transfer to D Company had followed an investigation o~ the mysterious disappearance from Brigade stores of tools ~and electrical spares that had subsequently appeared on sale in the Home Entertainment department of one of the shopping mart~

Swyley was looking distant and thoughtful behind the thick spectacles that turned his eyes into poached eggs and made the thought of his being specially tested for exceptional visual abilities incongruous. He was wondering how useful Stanislau’s nefarious skills might he for inserting a few plus.-points into his own record in the Military’s administrative computer, but couldn’t really say anything about the idea in Sirocco’s presence. There was such a thing as being too presumptuous. He would talk to Stanislau privately, he decided.

“Where’s Tony Driscoll tonight?” Paula asked, straightening up in her chair to scan the bar. “I don’t see him around anywhere.”

“Don’t bother looking,” Colman said. “He’s got the late duty ”

“Don’t you ever give these guys a break?” Terry asked Sirocco.

“Somebody has to run the Army. It’s just his turn. He’s as qualified to do it as anyone else.”

“Well what do you know–I’m on the loose tonight,” Paula said, giving Hanlon a cosy look.

Bret Hanlon held up a hand protectively. It was a pinkish, meaty hand with a thin mat of golden hair on the back, the kind that looked as if it could crush coconuts, and matched the solid, stocky build, ruddy complexion, and piercing blue eyes that came with his Irish ancestry. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’m contracted now, all nice and respectable. That’s the fella you should be making eyes at.” He nodded toward Colman and grinned mischievously.

“Do him good too,” Sirocco declared. “Then they might make him an engineer. But you’ll have a hard time. He’s holding out till he’s found out what the talent’s like on Chiron.”

“I didn’t know you had a thing about little girls, Steve,” Anita teased. “You don’t look the type.” Hanlon roared and slapped his thigh.

“I’ve got two sisters you can’t get in trouble with,” Stanislau offered.

‘~You got it wrong,”‘ Colman told them. “It’s not the little ones at all.” He widened his eyes in a parody of lewd anticipation and grinned. “Think of all those grandmothers.” Terry and Paula laughed.

Although Colman was going along with the mood and making a joke out of it, inside he felt a twinge of irritation. He wasn’t sure why. Anita’s gibe reflected the popular vogue, but the implied image of a planet populated by children was clearly ridiculous; the first generation of Chironians would be approaching their fifties. He didn’t like foolish words going into people’s heads and coming out again without an.~? thought about their meaning having transpired in between. Anita was an attractive girl, and not stupid. She didn’t have to do things like that. Then it occurred to him that perhaps he was being too solemn. Hadn’t he just done the same thing?

“Some grandmothers!” Terry exclaimed. “Did anybody see the news today? Some scientist or other thinks the Chironians could be building bombs. There was an interview with Kalens Wo. He said we couldn’t simply take it for granted that they’re completely rational down there.”

“You’re not suggesting there’ll be a fight, are you?” Paula said.

“I didn’t say that. But they’re funny people . . . cagey. They’re not exactly giving straight answers about everything.”

“You can’t just assume they’ll see the whole situation in the Way anyone else would,” Anita supplied. “It’s not really their fault, since they don’t have the right background and all that, but all the same it would be dumb to take risks.” “It makes sense, I guess,” Paula agreed absently.

“Do you figure they might start trouble, chief?” Stanislau asked, turning his head toward Sirocco.

Sirocco shrugged noncommittally. “Can’t say. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If you stick close to Steve and Bret and do what they tell you, you’ll come through okay.” Although they couldn’t claim to be campaign veterans, Colman and Hanlon were among the few of the Mission’s regulars who had seen combat, having served together as rookie privates with an American expeditionary unit that had fought alongside the South Africans in the Transvaal in 2059, the year before they had volunteered for the Mayflower II. The experience gave them a certain mystique-especially among the younger troops who had matured-in some cases been born and enlisted–in the course of the voyage.

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