Something Different – Part 1
I never knew why grandad looked up at the stars. It seemed a weird thing for him to do. I mean. He went to the stars. He spent two dozen years or more in one mercenary company or another. And yet every time we went out to the country where his rambling old ranch house stood, he would be out there every night. Staring at the stars.
One summer. After I finished school, I went out there alone. I asked Da for the keys to the truck. Told him I wanted to visit grandad. He looked at me for a long minute, then went to the drawer, fished out the keys and handed them to me without a word. I took them gravely and, three or four hours later, I drove past the last of the windmills on his power farm to find him out back. Staring at the stars.
“Hoi, grandad” I said, waving as I walked down the path to the fence he perched on.
“Hoi yersself” he said. Looking up, scanning back and forth.
I leaned on the fence near him, trying to look at the same stars as him, trying to see what he was looking at. After a while the night sky seemed to fade from a deep black to a blue as my eyes adjusted. The stars seemed clearer. I still couldn’t see what he was looking at.
“Grandad, What do you look for at night anyway?”
“What did you talk to Mr. Neuheisel about in town yesterday?”
I coughed as panic grabbed my chest.
“Oh come now missy, you don’t think grandad keeps up with the recruiter? I’m old but you don’t get old by being stupid, come on. Tell your grandad”
I looked down for a second. The grass waved at me in the night breeze. The nearest light might have been from the now forgotten stars. He knew.
“Well, I got my test scores back, I wanted to know what he thought of them”
“Naturally. Every little girls first stop is at the local merc meat finder’s shop to see how they scored”
I shuddered. This wasn’t how I saw this trip going at all.
“Calm yourself. I’m not blaming you. It’s only natural after all. Lord knows it’s the first place I headed.”
“He called you?”
Grandad laughed, there was even some humor in it. “Damn right he did. Course he knows if he puts one of my kin on a ship without talkin’ to me…”
“Oh grandad, he wouldn’t do that”
“The hell he wouldn’t. Bastard gets a piece of every ass he puts in a seat, yours same as anyone’s. Don’t you forget it either. Minute you step onto one of those ships the only person gives a damn about you… is you”
I looked over at him. His head was held higher, his shoulders back, his jaw set. I thought for a minute, then I asked him “What did he tell you?”
He looked over at me now, a glint in his eye. “Second smart thing you’ve said tonight. He told me a list of the outfits you matched up with.”
“Did he tell you that I could go to Condor Legion?”
“Yeah. And I told him you wouldn’t.”
I almost fell over. “But… you were in Condor?”
“Aye. And I left. I told him to hold a post in Virgil’s Vedettes.”
I wrinkled my nose. I’d heard the name but when I saw the size and rating I didn’t bother looking up anything else. The Vedettes were a battalion sized unit, less than 800 men, they usually handled support contracts for the big outfits. Convoy escort, garrison duty, the kind of stuff that made working in da’s electronics shop look exciting.
“Virgil and me go way back. He trains his people, he invests in them. You may not save a world, but you’ll learn things that’ll save your hide. Virgil makes half his money when the big companies buy out the contracts of his people so they can replace their losses with well trained, competent troops.”
“And he’ll keep me out of trouble.”
His teeth shined in the dark “And he’ll keep you out of some trouble, granddaughter of mine.”
I looked up again. “So… what are you seeing up there?”
“Back to your first smart question. Well, you’ll learn soon enough, I may as well tell you. I’m looking at the stars I buried friends at. Thirty or more suns I’ve fertilized the soil with the body of a friend. I hope something useful comes of it. Come on in, we’ll get you a good breakfast then I’ll drive you back to Neuheisel’s in the morning. If you ask nicely I’ll even take the truck back to your old man’s.”