02

It scared me so, I hooked it off,

Nor stopped as I remember,

Nor turned about till I got home,

Locked up in mother’s chamber.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,

Yankee Doodle dandy,

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy.

I never really intended to join up.

And certainly not the infantry! Why, I would rather have taken ten lashes in the public square and have my father tell me that I was a disgrace to a proud name.

Oh, I had mentioned to my father, late in my senior year in high school, that I was thinking over the idea of volunteering for Federal Service. I suppose every kid does, when his eighteenth birthday heaves into sight — and mine was due the week I graduated. Of course most of them just think about it, toy with the idea a little, then go do something else — go to college, or get a job, or something. I suppose it would have been that way with me … if my best chum had not, with dead seriousness, planned to join up.

Carl and I had done everything together in high school — eyed the girls together, double-dated together, been on the debate team together, pushed electrons together in his home lab. I wasn’t much on electronic theory myself, but I’m a neat hand with a soldering gun; Carl supplied the skull sweat and I carried out his instructions. It was fun; anything we did together was fun. Carl’s folks didn’t have anything like the money that my father had, but it didn’t matter between us. When my father bought me a Rolls copter for my fourteenth birthday, it was Carl’s as much as it was mine; contrariwise, his basement lab was mine.

So when Carl told me that he was not going straight on with school, but would serve a term first, it gave me to pause. He really meant it; he seemed to think that it was natural and right and obvious.

So I told him I was joining up, too.

He gave me an odd look. “Your old man won’t let you.”

“Huh? How can he stop me?” And of course he couldn’t, not legally. It’s the first completely free choice anybody gets (and maybe his last); when a boy, or a girl, reaches his or her eighteenth birthday, he or she can volunteer and nobody else has any say in the matter.

“You’ll find out.” Carl changed the subject.

So I took it up with my father, tentatively, edging into it sideways.

He put down his newspaper and cigar and stared at me. “Son, are you out of your mind?”

I muttered that I didn’t think so.

“Well, it certainly sounds like it.” He sighed. “Still … I should have been expecting it; it’s a predictable stage in a boy’s growing up. I remember when you learned to walk and weren’t a baby any longer — frankly you were a little hellion for quite a while. You broke one of your mother’s Ming vases — on purpose, I’m quite sure … but you were too young to know that it was valuable, so all you got was having your hand spatted. I recall the day you swiped one of my cigars, and how sick it made you. Your mother and I carefully avoided noticing that you couldn’t eat dinner that night and I’ve never mentioned it to you until now — boys have to try such things and discover for themselves that men’s vices are not for them. We watched when you turned the corner on adolescence and started noticing that girls were different — and wonderful.”

He sighed again. “All normal stages. And the last one, right at the end of adolescence, is when a boy decides to join up and wear a pretty uniform. Or decides that he is in love, love such as no man ever experienced before, and that he just has to get married right away. Or both.” He smiled grimly. “With me it was both. But I got over each of them in time not to make a fool of myself and ruin my life.”

“But, Father, I wouldn’t ruin my life. Just a term of service — not career.”

“Let’s table that, shall we? Listen, and let me tell you what you are going to do — because you want to. In the first place this family has stayed out of politics and cultivated its own garden for over a hundred years — I see no reason for you to break that fine record. I suppose it’s the influence of that fellow at your high school — what’s his name? You know the one I mean.”

He meant our instructor in History and Moral Philosophy — a veteran, naturally. “Mr. Dubois.”

“Hmmph, a silly name — it suits him. Foreigner, no doubt. It ought to be against the law to use the schools as undercover recruiting stations. I think I’m going to write a pretty sharp letter about it — a taxpayer has some rights!”

“But, Father, he doesn’t do that at all! He—” I stopped, not knowing how to describe it. Mr. Dubois had a snotty, superior manner; he acted as if none of us was really good enough to volunteer for service. I didn’t like him. “Uh, if anything, he discourages it.”

“Hmmph! Do you know how to lead a pig? Never mind. When you graduate, you’re going to study business at Harvard; you know that. After that, you will go on to the Sorbonne and you’ll travel a bit along with it, meet some of our distributors, find out how business is done elsewhere. Then you’ll come home and go to work. You’ll start with the usual menial job, stock clerk or something, just for form’s sake — but you’ll be an executive before you can catch your breath, because I’m not getting any younger and the quicker you can pick up the load, the better. As soon as you’re able and willing, you’ll be boss. There! How does that strike you as a program? As compared with wasting two years of your life?”

I didn’t say anything. None of it was news to me; I’d thought about it. Father stood up and put a hand on my shoulder. “Son, don’t think I don’t sympathize with you; I do. But look at the real facts. If there were a war, I’d be the first to cheer you on — and to put the business on a war footing. But there isn’t, and praise God there never will be again. We’ve outgrown wars. This planet is now peaceful and happy and we enjoy good enough relations with other planets. So what is this so-called ‘Federal Service’? Parasitism, pure and simple. A functionless organ, utterly obsolete, living on the taxpayers. A decidedly expensive way for inferior people who otherwise would be unemployed to live at public expense for a term of years, then give themselves airs for the rest of their lives. Is that what you want to do?”

“Carl isn’t inferior!”

“Sorry. No, he’s a fine boy … but misguided.” He frowned, and then smiled. “Son, I had intended to keep something as a surprise for you — a graduation present. But I’m going to tell you now so that you can put this nonsense out of your mind more easily. Not that I am afraid of what you might do; I have confidence in your basic good sense, even at your tender years. But you are troubled, I know — and this will clear it away. Can you guess what it is?”

“Uh, no.”

He grinned. “A vacation trip to Mars.”

I must have looked stunned. “Golly, Father, I had no idea—”

“I meant to surprise you and I see I did. I know how you kids feel about travel, though it beats me what anyone sees in it after the first time out. But this is a good time for you to do it — by yourself; did I mention that?—and get it out of your system … because you’ll be hard-pressed to get in even a week on Luna once you take up your responsibilities.” He picked up his paper. “No, don’t thank me. Just run along and let me finish my paper — I’ve got some gentlemen coming in this evening, shortly. Business.”

I ran along. I guess he thought that settled it … and I suppose I did, too. Mars! And on my own! But I didn’t tell Carl about it; I had a sneaking suspicion that he would regard it as a bribe. Well, maybe it was. Instead I simply told him that my father and I seemed to have different ideas about it.

“Yeah,” he answered, “so does mine. But it’s my life.” I thought about it during the last session of our class in History and Moral Philosophy. H. & M. P. was different from other courses in that everybody had to take it but nobody had to pass it — and Mr. Dubois never seemed to care whether he got through to us or not. He would just point at you with the stump of his left arm (he never bothered with names) and snap a question. Then the argument would start.

But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we had learned. One girl told him bluntly: “My mother says that violence never settles anything.”

“So?” Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. “I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn’t your mother tell them so? Or why don’t you?”

They had tangled before — since you couldn’t flunk the course, it wasn’t necessary to keep Mr. Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, “You’re making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!”

“You seemed to be unaware of it,” he said grimly. “Since you do know it, wouldn’t you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea — a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and thoroughly immoral — doctrine that ‘violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.”

He sighed. “Another year, another class — and, for me, another failure. One can lead a child to knowledge but one cannot make him think.” Suddenly he pointed his stump at me. “You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?”

“The difference,” I answered carefully, “lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.”

“The exact words of the book,” he said scornfully. “But do you understand it? Do you believe it?”

“Uh, I don’t know, sir.”

“Of course you don’t! I doubt if any of you here would recognize ‘civic virtue’ if it came up and barked in your face!” He glanced at his watch. “And that is all, a final all. Perhaps we shall meet again under happier circumstances. Dismissed.”

Graduation right after that and three days later my birthday, followed in less than a week by Carl’s birthday — and I still hadn’t told Carl that I wasn’t joining up. I’m sure he assumed that I would not, but we didn’t discuss it out loud — embarrassing. I simply arranged to meet him the day after his birthday and we went down to the recruiting office together.

On the steps of the Federal Building we ran into Carmencita Iba?ez, a classmate of ours and one of the nice things about being a member of a race with two sexes. Carmen wasn’t my girl — she wasn’t anybody’s girl; she never made two dates in a row with the same boy and treated all of us with equal sweetness and rather impersonally. But I knew her pretty well, as she often came over and used our swimming pool, because it was Olympic length — sometimes with one boy, sometimes with another. Or alone, as Mother urged her to — Mother considered her “a good influence.” For once she was right.

She saw us and waited, dimpling. “Hi, fellows!”

“Hello, Ochee Chyornya,” I answered. “What brings you here?”

“Can’t you guess? Today is my birthday.”

“Huh? Happy returns!”

“So I’m joining up.”

“Oh …” I think Carl was as surprised as I was. But Carmencita was like that. She never gossiped and she kept her own affairs to herself. “No foolin’?” I added, brilliantly.

“Why should I be fooling? I’m going to be a spaceship pilot — at least I’m going to try for it.”

“No reason why you shouldn’t make it,” Carl said quickly. He was right — I know now just how right he was. Carmen was small and neat, perfect health and perfect reflexes — she could make competitive diving routine look easy and she was quick at mathematics. Me, I tapered off with a “C” in algebra and a “B” in business arithmetic; she took all the math our school offered and a tutored advance course on the side. But it had never occurred to me to wonder why. Fact was, little Carmen was so ornamental that you just never thought about her being useful.

“We — uh, I,” said Carl, “am here to join up, too.”

“And me,” I agreed. “Both of us.” No, I hadn’t made any decision; my mouth was leading its own life.

“Oh, wonderful!”

“And I’m going to buck for space pilot, too,” I added firmly.

She didn’t laugh. She answered very seriously, “Oh, how grand! Perhaps in training we’ll run into each other. I hope so.”

“Collision courses?” asked Carl. “That’s a no-good way to pilot.”

“Don’t be silly, Carl. On the ground, of course. Are you going to be a pilot, too?”

Me? ” Carl answered. “I’m no truck driver. You know me — Starside R&D, if they’ll have me. Electronics.”

“‘Truck driver’ indeed! I hope they stick you out on Pluto and let you freeze. No, I don’t — good luck! Let’s go in, shall we?”

The recruiting station was inside a railing in the rotunda. A fleet sergeant sat at a desk there, in dress uniform, gaudy as a circus. His chest was loaded with ribbons I couldn’t read. But his right arm was off so short that his tunic had been tailored without any sleeve at all … and, when you came up to the rail, you could see that he had no legs.

It didn’t seem to bother him. Carl said, “Good morning. I want to join up.”

“Me, too,” I added.

He ignored us. He managed to bow while sitting down and said, “Good morning, young lady. What can I do for you?”

“I want to join up, too.”

He smiled. “Good girl! If you’ll just scoot up to room 201 and ask for Major Rojas, she’ll take care of you.” He looked her up and down. “Pilot?”

“If possible.”

“You look like one. Well, see Miss Rojas.”

She left, with thanks to him and a see-you-later to us; he turned his attention to us, sized us up with a total absence of the pleasure he had shown in little Carmen. “So?” he said. “For what? Labor battalions?”

“Oh, no!” I said. “I’m going to be a pilot.”

He stared at me and simply turned his eyes away. “You?”

“I’m interested in the Research and Development Corps,” Carl said soberly, “especially electronics. I understand the chances are pretty good.”

“They are if you can cut it,” the Fleet Sergeant said grimly, “and not if you don’t have what it takes, both in preparation and ability. Look, boys, have you any idea why they have me out here in front?”

I didn’t understand him. Carl said, “Why?”

“Because the government doesn’t care one bucket of swill whether you join or not! Because it has become stylish, with some people — too many people — to serve a term and earn a franchise and be able to wear a ribbon in your lapel which says that you’re a vet’ran … whether you’ve ever seen combat or not. But if you want to serve and I can’t talk you out of it, then we have to take you, because that’s your constitutional right. It says that everybody, male or female, shall have his born right to pay his service and assume full citizenship — but the facts are that we are getting hard pushed to find things for all the volunteers to do that aren’t just glorified K.P. You can’t all be real military men; we don’t need that many and most of the volunteers aren’t number-one soldier material anyhow. Got any idea what it takes to make a soldier?”

“No,” I admitted.

“Most people think that all it takes is two hands and two feet and a stupid mind. Maybe so, for cannon fodder. Possibly that was all that Julius Caesar required. But a private soldier today is a specialist so highly skilled that he would rate ‘master’ in any other trade; we can’t afford stupid ones. So for those who insist on serving their term — but haven’t got what we want and must have — we’ve had to think up a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs that will either run ’em home with their tails between their legs and their terms uncompleted … or at the very least make them remember for the rest of their lives that their citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it. Take that young lady who was here — wants to be a pilot. I hope she makes it; we always need good pilots, not enough of ’em. Maybe she will. But if she misses, she may wind up in Antarctica, her pretty eyes red from never seeing anything but artificial light and her knuckles callused from hard, dirty work.”

I wanted to tell him that the least Carmencita could get was computer programmer for the sky watch; she really was a whiz at math. But he was talking.

“So they put me out here to discourage you boys. Look at this.” He shoved his chair around to make sure that we could see that he was legless. “Let’s assume that you don’t wind up digging tunnels on Luna or playing human guinea pig for new diseases through sheer lack of talent; suppose we do make a fighting man out of you. Take a look at me—this is what you may buy … if you don’t buy the whole farm and cause your folks to receive a ‘deeply regret’ telegram. Which is more likely, because these days, in training or in combat, there aren’t many wounded. If you buy at all, they likely throw in a coffin — I’m the rare exception; I was lucky … though maybe you wouldn’t call it luck.”

He paused, then added, “So why don’t you boys go home, go to college, and then go be chemists or insurance brokers or whatever? A term of service isn’t a kiddie camp; it’s either real military service, rough and dangerous even in peacetime … or a most unreasonable facsimile thereof. Not a vacation. Not a romantic adventure. Well?”

Carl said, “I’m here to join up.”

“Me, too.”

“You realize that you aren’t allowed to pick your service?”

Carl said, “I thought we could state our preferences?”

“Certainly. And that’s the last choice you’ll make until the end of your term. The placement officer pays attention to your choice, too. First thing he does is to check whether there’s any demand for left-handed glass blowers this week — that being what you think would make you happy. Having reluctantly conceded that there is a need for your choice — probably at the bottom of the Pacific — he then tests you for innate ability and preparation. About once in twenty times he is forced to admit that everything matches and you get the job … until some practical joker gives you dispatch orders to do something very different. But the other nineteen times he turns you down and decides that you are just what they have been needing to field-test survival equipment on Titan.” He added meditatively, “It’s chilly on Titan. And it’s amazing how often experimental equipment fails to work. Have to have real field tests, though — laboratories just never get all the answers.”

“I can qualify for electronics,” Carl said firmly, “if there are jobs open in it.”

“So? And how about you, bub?”

I hesitated — and suddenly realized that, if I didn’t take a swing at it, I would wonder all my life whether I was anything but the boss’s son. “I’m going to chance it.”

“Well, you can’t say I didn’t try. Got your birth certificates with you? And let’s see your IDs.”

Ten minutes later, still not sworn in, we were on the top floor being prodded and poked and fluoroscoped. I decided that the idea of a physical examination is that, if you aren’t ill, then they do their darnedest to make you ill. If the attempt fails, you’re in.

I asked one of the doctors what percentage of the victims flunked the physical. He looked startled. “Why, we never fail anyone. The law doesn’t permit us to.”

“Huh? I mean, excuse me, Doctor? Then what’s the point of this goose-flesh parade?”

“Why, the purpose is,” he answered, hauling off and hitting me in the knee with a hammer (I kicked him, but not hard), “to find out what duties you are physically able to perform. But if you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe. The only way you can fail is by having the psychiatrists decide that you are not able to understand the oath.”

“Oh. Uh … Doctor, were you already a doctor when you joined up? Or did they decide you ought to be a doctor and send you to school?”

Me? ” He seemed shocked. “Youngster, do I look that silly? I’m a civilian employee.”

“Oh. Sorry, sir.”

“No offense. But military service is for ants. Believe me. I see ’em go, I see ’em come back — when they do come back. I see what it’s done to them. And for what? A purely nominal political privilege that pays not one centavo and that most of them aren’t competent to use wisely anyhow. Now if they would let medical men run things — but never mind that; you might think I was talking treason, free speech or not. But, youngster, if you’ve got savvy enough to count ten, you’ll back out while you still can. Here, take these papers back to the recruiting sergeant — and remember what I said.”

I went back to the rotunda. Carl was already there. The Fleet Sergeant looked over my papers and said glumly, “Apparently you both are almost insufferably healthy — except for holes in the head. One moment, while I get some witnesses.” He punched a button and two female clerks came out, one old battle-ax, one kind of cute.

He pointed to our physical examination forms, our birth certificates, and our IDs, said formally: “I invite and require you, each and severally, to examine these exhibits, determine what they are and to determine, each independently, what relation, if any, each document bears to these two men standing here in your presence.”

They treated it as a dull routine, which I’m sure it was; nevertheless they scrutinized every document, they took our fingerprints — again!—and the cute one put a jeweler’s loupe in her eye and compared prints from birth to now. She did the same with signatures. I began to doubt if I was myself.

The Fleet Sergeant added, “Did you find exhibits relating to their present competence to take the oath of enrollment? If so, what?”

“We found,” the older one said, “appended to each record of physical examination a duly certified conclusion by an authorized and delegated board of psychiatrists stating that each of them is mentally competent to take the oath and that neither one is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, other disabling drugs, nor of hypnosis.”

“Very good.” He turned to us. “Repeat after me—

“I, being of legal age, of my own free will—”

“‘I,’” we each echoed, “‘being of legal age, of my own free will—’”

“—without coercion, promise, or inducement of any sort, after having been duly advised and warned of the meaning and consequences of this oath—

“—do now enroll in the Federal Service of the Terran Federation for a term of not less than two years and as much longer as may be required by the needs of the Service—”

(I gulped a little over that part. I had always thought of a “term” as two years, even though I knew better, because that’s the way people talk about it. Why, we were signing up for life.)

“I swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Federation against all its enemies on or off Terra, to protect and defend the Constitutional liberties and privileges of all citizens and lawful residents of the Federation, its associated states and territories, to perform, on or off Terra, such duties of any lawful nature as may be assigned to me by lawful direct or delegated authority—

“—and to obey all lawful orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Terran Service and of all officers or delegated persons placed over me—

“—and to require such obedience from all members of the Service or other persons or non-human beings lawfully placed under my orders—

“—and, on being honorably discharged at the completion of my full term of active service or upon being placed on inactive retired status after having completed such full term, to carry out all duties and obligations and to enjoy all privileges of Federation citizenship including but not limited to the duty, obligation and privilege of exercising sovereign franchise for the rest of my natural life unless stripped of honor by verdict, finally sustained, of court of my sovereign peers.”

(Whew!) Mr. Dubois had analyzed the Service oath for us in History and Moral Philosophy and had made us study it phrase by phrase — but you don’t really feel the size of the thing until it comes rolling over you, all in one ungainly piece, as heavy and unstoppable as Juggernaut’s carriage.

At least it made me realize that I was no longer a civilian, with my shirttail out and nothing on my mind. I didn’t know yet what I was, but I knew what I wasn’t.

“So help me God!” we both ended and Carl crossed himself and so did the cute one.

After that there were more signatures and fingerprints, all five of us, and flat colorgraphs of Carl and me were snapped then and there and embossed into our papers. The Fleet Sergeant finally looked up. “Why, it’s’way past the break for lunch. Time for chow, lads.”

I swallowed hard. “Uh … Sergeant?”

“Eh? Speak up.”

“Could I flash my folks from here? Tell them what I — Tell them how it came out?”

“We can do better than that.”

“Sir?”

“You go on forty-eight hours leave now.” He grinned coldly. “Do you know what happens if you don’t come back?”

“Uh … court-martial?”

“Not a thing. Not a blessed thing. Except that your papers get marked, Term not completed satisfactorily, and you never, never, never get a second chance. This is our cooling-off period, during which we shake out the overgrown babies who didn’t really mean it and should never have taken the oath. It saves the government money and it saves a power of grief for such kids and their parents — the neighbors needn’t guess. You don’t even have to tell your parents.” He shoved his chair away from his desk. “So I’ll see you at noon day after tomorrow. If I see you. Fetch your personal effects.”

It was a crumbly leave. Father stormed at me, then quit speaking to me; Mother took to her bed. When I finally left, an hour earlier than I had to, nobody saw me off but the morning cook and the houseboys.

I stopped in front of the recruiting sergeant’s desk, thought about saluting and decided I didn’t know how. He looked up. “Oh. Here are your papers. Take them up to room 201; they’ll start you through the mill. Knock and walk in.”

Two days later I knew I was not going to be a pilot. Some of the things the examiners wrote about me were:—insufficient intuitive grasp of spatial relationships … insufficient mathematical talent … deficient mathematical preparation … reaction time adequate … eyesight good. I’m glad they put in those last two; I was beginning to feel that counting on my fingers was my speed.

The placement officer let me list my lesser preferences, in order, and I caught four more days of the wildest aptitude tests I’ve ever heard of. I mean to say, what do they find out when a stenographer jumps on her chair and screams, “Snakes!” There was no snake, just a harmless piece of plastic hose.

The written and oral tests were mostly just as silly, but they seemed happy with them, so I took them. The thing I did most carefully was to list my preferences. Naturally I listed all of the Space Navy jobs (other than pilot) at the top; whether I went as power-room technician or as cook, I knew that I preferred any Navy job to any Army job — I wanted to travel.

Next I listed Intelligence — a spy gets around, too, and I figured that it couldn’t possibly be dull. (I was wrong, but never mind.) After that came a long list; psychological warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, combat ecology (I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded interesting), logistics corps (a simple mistake; I had studied logic for the debate team and “logistics” turns out to have two entirely separate meanings), and a dozen others. Clear at the bottom, with some hesitation, I put K-9 Corps, and Infantry.

I didn’t bother to list the various non-combatant auxiliary corps because, if I wasn’t picked for a combat corps, I didn’t care whether they used me as an experimental animal or sent me as a laborer in the Terranizing of Venus — either one was a booby prize.

Mr. Weiss, the placement officer, sent for me a week after I was sworn in. He was actually a retired psychological-warfare major, on active duty for procurement, but he wore mufti and insisted on being called just “Mister” and you could relax and take it easy with him. He had my list of preferences and the reports on all my tests and I saw that he was holding my high school transcript — which pleased me, for I had done all right in school; I had stood high enough without standing so high as to be marked as a greasy grind, having never flunked any courses and dropped only one, and I had been rather a big man around school otherwise; swimming team, debate team, track squad, class treasurer, silver medal in the annual literary contest, chairman of the homecoming committee, stuff like that. A well-rounded record and it’s all down in the transcript.

He looked up as I came in, said, “Sit down, Johnnie,” and looked back at the transcript, then put it down. “You like dogs?”

“Huh? Yes, sir.”

“How well do you like them? Did your dog sleep on your bed? By the way, where is your dog now?”

“Why, I don’t happen to have a dog just at present. But when I did — well, no, he didn’t sleep on my bed. You see, Mother didn’t allow dogs in the house.”

“But didn’t you sneak him in?”

“Uh—” I thought of trying to explain Mother’s not-angry-but-terribly-terribly-hurt routine when you tried to buck her on something she had her mind made up about. But I gave up. “No, sir.”

“Mmm … have you ever seen a neodog?”

“Uh, once, sir. They exhibited one at the Macarthur Theater two years ago. But the S.P.C.A. made trouble for them.”

“Let me tell you how it is with a K-9 team. A neodog is not just a dog that talks.”

“I couldn’t understand that neo at the Macarthur. Do they really talk?”

“They talk. You simply have to train your ear to their accent. Their mouths can’t shape ‘b,’ ‘m,’ ‘p,’ or ‘v’ and you have to get used to their equivalents — something like the handicap of a split palate but with different letters. No matter, their speech is as clear as any human speech. But a neodog is not a talking dog; he is not a dog at all, he is an artificially mutated symbiote derived from dog stock. A neo, a trained Caleb, is about six times as bright as a dog, say about as intelligent as a human moron — except that the comparison is not fair to the neo; a moron is a defective, whereas a neo is a stable genius in his own line of work.”

Mr. Weiss scowled. “Provided, that is, that he has his symbiote. That’s the rub. Mmm … you’re too young ever to have been married but you’ve seen marriage, your own parents at least. Can you imagine being married to a Caleb?”

“Huh? No. No, I can’t.”

“The emotional relationship between the dog-man and the man-dog in the K-9 team is a great deal closer and much more important than is the emotional relationship in most marriages. If the master is killed, we kill the neodog — at once! It is all that we can do for the poor thing. A mercy killing. If the neodog is killed … well, we can’t kill the man even though it would be the simplest solution. Instead we restrain him and hospitalize him and slowly put him back together.” He picked up a pen, made a mark. “I don’t think we can risk assigning a boy to K-9 who didn’t outwit his mother to have his dog sleep with him. So let’s consider something else.”

It was not until then that I realized that I must have already flunked every choice on my list above K-9 Corps — and now I had just flunked it, too. I was so startled that I almost missed his next remark. Major Weiss said meditatively, with no expression and as if he were talking about someone else, long dead and far away: “I was once half of a K-9 team. When my Caleb became a casualty, they kept me under sedation for six weeks, then rehabilitated me for other work. Johnnie, these courses you’ve taken — why didn’t you study something useful?”

“Sir?”

“Too late now. Forget it. Mmm … your instructor in History and Moral Philosophy seems to think well of you.”

“He does?” I was surprised. “What did he say?”

Weiss smiled. “He says that you are not stupid, merely ignorant and prejudiced by your environment. From him that is high praise — I know him.”

It didn’t sound like praise to me! That stuck-up stiff-necked old—

“And,” Weiss went on, “a boy who gets a ‘C-minus’ in Appreciation of Television can’t be all bad. I think we’ll accept Mr. Dubois’ recommendation. How would you like to be an infantryman?”

I came out of the Federal Building feeling subdued yet not really unhappy. At least I was a soldier; I had papers in my pocket to prove it. I hadn’t been classed as too dumb and useless for anything but make-work.

It was a few minutes after the end of the working day and the building was empty save for a skeleton night staff and a few stragglers. I ran into a man in the rotunda who was just leaving; his face looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.

But he caught my eye and recognized me. “Evening!” he said briskly. “You haven’t shipped out yet?”

And then I recognized him — the Fleet Sergeant who had sworn us in. I guess my chin dropped; this man was in civilian clothes, was walking around on two legs and had two arms. “Uh, good evening, Sergeant,” I mumbled.

He understood my expression perfectly, glanced down at himself and smiled easily. “Relax, lad. I don’t have to put on my horror show after working hours — and I don’t. You haven’t been placed yet?”

“I just got my orders.”

“For what?”

“Mobile Infantry.”

His face broke in a big grin of delight and he shoved out his hand. “My outfit! Shake, son! We’ll make a man of you — or kill you trying. Maybe both.”

“It’s a good choice?” I said doubtfully.

“‘A good choice’? Son, it’s the only choice. The Mobile Infantry is the Army. All the others are either button pushers or professors, along merely to hand us the saw; we do the work.” He shook hands again and added, “Drop me a card—‘Fleet Sergeant Ho, Federal Building,’ that’ll reach me. Good luck!” And he was off, shoulders back, heels clicking, head up.

I looked at my hand. The hand he had offered me was the one that wasn’t there — his right hand. Yet it had felt like flesh and had shaken mine firmly. I had read about these powered prosthetics, but it is startling when you first run across them.

I went back to the hotel where recruits were temporarily billeted during placement — we didn’t even have uniforms yet, just plain coveralls we wore during the day and our own clothes after hours. I went to my room and started packing, as I was shipping out early in the morning — packing to send stuff home, I mean; Weiss had cautioned me not to take along anything but family photographs and possibly a musical instrument if I played one (which I didn’t). Carl had shipped out three days earlier, having gotten the R&D assignment he wanted. I was just as glad, as he would have been just too confounded understanding about the billet I had drawn. Little Carmen had shipped out, too, with the rank of cadet midshipman (probationary)—she was going to be a pilot, all right, if she could cut it … and I suspected that she could.

My temporary roomie came in while I was packing. “Got your orders?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“What?”

“Mobile Infantry.”

“The Infantry? Oh, you poor stupid clown! I feel sorry for you, I really do.”

I straightened up and said angrily, “Shut up! The Mobile Infantry is the best outfit in the Army — it is the Army! The rest of you jerks are just along to hand us the saw—we do the work.”

He laughed. “You’ll find out!”

“You want a mouthful of knuckles?”

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