Chapter 3

“I told you these files had been jiggered with,” said the policeman disgustedly. “No such thing as identical eleventuplets, not when they’re from eight or nine different planets. That’s the face of the guy that robbed this citizen’s place and beat him up. I’ve seen the vids, and they’re pretty clear. Somebody’s put the same face on all those files. So which one of ’em’s the original?” He pointed at the holofiles, showing the faces of the company’s converts to the Church of the King.

“It’s not that easy,” said Phule. “I think the original owner of that face has been dead for several centuries.”

Mr. Takamine leapt up and threw his hands in the air. “What, you’re tellin’ me a dead man robbed me? That’s the biggest load of-“

“I said no such thing,” said Phule, making shushing motions in hopes of calming the man down. “What I said was-“

“It was just a trick to make me give up,” the man shouted. “You’re gonna tell me that just because I can’t pick the guy out from the picture, I can’t get no satisfaction.”

“Sir, my employer has no intention of cheating you of your satisfaction,” said Beeker. “The fact is, these legionnaires are all members of some bizarre sect-“

“Well, I wouldn’t exac’ly call it bizarre, sonny,” said a new voice at the door.

“That’s the man!” shouted Takamine, turning to point to Reverend Jordan Ayres. “He’s the thug that robbed me! Arrest him!”

The policemen moved menacingly toward the chaplain, who raised his hands and said, “Hey, easy there, gen’lemen. I ain’t done a thing to this little fellow, and I reckon I can prove it. Just when and where is all this supposed to have happened?”

“Four days ago, in my restaurant over on Hastings Street,” the man said, still pointing at Rev. He stopped and frowned, then said, “You put on a hell of a lot of weight since then.”

“Ain’t put on a gram,” said Rev, striking a pose. “I’ve been workin’ out with the fellows, gettin’ in shape with a little bit of karate, jes’ like the King-“

“King?” said the complainant. “To hell with your king. We don’t have no kings here on Landoor and ain’t about to start-“

“Son, you’re makin’ a mistake,” said Rev, warming to his favorite subject. “The King’s comin’ to Landoor, no doubt about it. Why, he’s already here, if you look around you. Every true follower-“

“I’ll warn you, that sounds a lot like sedition to me,” said one cop. “Landoor’s got its own government, and we aren’t about to change.”

“That’s right, sedition!” said Takamine, his face lighting up. “I knew this man was a troublemaker when I first laid eyes on him. That greasy hair, that sneer-“

“But it weren’t me, I tell you,” said Rev.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, too,” said Phule. “There are at least eleven legionnaires who resemble this man, plus quite a few of your own citizens-“

“Dozens,” said Rev confidently. “Before long, hundreds of thousands will want to follow the King.”

“I’ve heard just about enough of that,” said the cop who’d accused Rev of sedition. “Mister, I don’t know whether you robbed this man or not, but I’m gonna take you down to the station for questioning.”

“One moment, officer,” said Phule, whose checkered history in relation to Legion brass had made him a pretty good barracks-room lawyer. He stepped forward between Rev and the policemen. “The Legion will always cooperate with civilian authorities, but I can’t stand by and see my company’s chaplain hauled away on an unfounded charge. If you file a formal complaint, a Legion board of justice will determine whether or not there’s been a breach of local law-“

“What did I tell ya?” screamed Takamine. “The minute you pin one of these occupying goons down for some offense, the rest of them close ranks to protect him. I’m gonna write the governor and have ’em thrown off the planet. My cousin’s a big contributor to the Native Landooran Party. A big contributor.”

“Well, ain’t that somethin’?” said the cop, raising an eyebrow. “Look here, Mr. Takamine, the captain here thinks we’re trying to railroad his man, and even you seem to have some doubt it’s the right guy. What we gotta do-“

The policeman was interrupted by a legionnaire who came into the records room and said, “Rev, Mother told me you were here-oh, hi, Captain. Can I talk to Rev a moment, or is this a bad time?” The legionnaire was one of Rev’s converts, and the facial resemblance was uncanny. His large name tag read Roadkill.

“Howdy, son,” said Rev, and the thought crossed Phule’s mind, He can’t tell the converts apart, either. Rev walked over to the legionnaire and put his arm around his shoulder. “As a matter of fact, you’ve come at the perfect time. Officer, I’d like you to meet my first line of defense.”

The two policeman and the civilian complainant stood openmouthed, staring at Rev and Roadkill, their eyes shifting back and forth between the two. This is going to be more trouble than I expected, thought Phule. This time, he was right-but not quite in the way he anticipated.

Journal #500

The attempt to capture the robotic duplicate of my employer should have alerted the Fat Chance Casino’s security teams to the danger of a repeat attempt. Considering the value of the robot and the information that close examination of it would give to any of the underworld groups that still lusted to take over the casino, the failure of anyone to realize that such an attempt had taken place was inexcusable.

Looking backward, the main reason for the failure was simple: The attempt had been such an abject failure that the robot itself had no inkling that anyone had even attempted to capture it.

As for the would-be abductors, they were apparently just as clueless as the robot itself.

“He didn’t react at all,” said the dark-haired young woman with a noticeable pout. “I tried every trick in the book, Ernie. It was as if he was a damned robot or something.”

“Well, Lola, maybe you ain’t as hot as you think,” said her partner with a sneer. He ducked under the roundhouse punch she threw at him and backed up a half pace, holding up his hands in mock-serious defense. It was an old game; the two of them had been trading insults and half-playful punches ever since they’d become partners. “What if he is a robot?” he asked after a moment’s reflection.

“Well, of course he could be one,” she said, nodding. “That’s not impossible. But think about it. If Phule’s got somebody-or something-impersonating him, is the real Phule going to be running around on some half-jungle planet, getting shot at by the natives, or here in a first-class hotel, keeping tabs on his money? The robot’s gonna be the one out in the boonies. Do you know how much money he’s got sunk into this casino?”

“I know how much I’ve sunk into it,” said Ernie, scowling. “I’ve lost enough to feed him and half his soldiers for a couple of days.”

“He gets that from you and the same from a couple of thousand other suckers every day of the year,” said Lola, pacing the hotel room floor. “So the real Phule’s got to be right here, keeping an eye on his money. But I never thought he’d have the discipline to resist me when I put the moves on him. I guess that’s what it takes to run a casino and not gamble away the profits.”

“His butler’s on that other planet, you know,” Ernie pointed out. He lowered himself into an armchair facing the holovision and picked up the remote control from a nearby table. “The reports claim he’s the brains behind Phule. So why’s he there instead of here?”

“Because Phule wants everybody to think he’s really there,” said Lola, sitting on the bed and watching the holo picture shimmer into visibility. As usual, the default setting when the set warmed up was an advertisement for the Fat Chance’s various attractions, beginning with a closeup of Dee Dee Watkins impersonating a damsel in distress in a costume that managed to be revealing and vulnerable at the same time. Ernie let out a low whistle of appreciation, and Lola glowered at him. “Too bad you’re not the one I’m trying to kidnap: Your hormones outvote the brain every time. I wish it was as easy to get Phule interested in a few square inches of skin.”

“Hey, you can’t change human nature,” said Ernie, grinning. “Some guys are cold fish, like him. Other guys are natural lovers, like me. Which one would you rather have, babe?”

“Believe me, you really don’t want to know the answer to that,” said Lola, staring at Dee Dee’s performance on the screen. The diminutive starlet was singing, “Where is my knight in shining armor?” Her dance routine had her pursued by several performers dressed as dragons, ogres, and trolls. The music changed, and onto the stage danced a heroic figure in holochrome armor, to rout the evil creatures and carry Dee Dee off in triumph, still singing and smiling brightly at the cameras. “Say, there’s an idea,” she said. “It just might work, too.”

“What might work?” said Ernie.

She sat up and turned her gaze on Ernie. “Captain Phule’s a sucker for a damsel in distress. If he thinks I’m in danger, we can lure him off somewhere and nab him. So we have to make it look as if I’m in trouble and set it up so he’s the one who has to rescue me. And guess who gets to be the bad guy?”

Ernie frowned. “I ain’t so sure I like this,” he said.

“Like it?” Lola stretched like a cat waking up from a nap. “I don’t know whether you’ll like it, but I can guarantee you, you won’t like what happens if we don’t come up with some way to catch him before long. The guys that hired us don’t like spending the kind of money it takes to house us in the Fat Chance without getting some pretty convincing results for their payout. So if you’ve got any better strategy for catching our little prince, now’s the time to tell me.”

Ernie frowned but said nothing. After a long moment, Lola nodded and said, “OK, then, here’s my plan…”

After a few minutes of listening, even Ernie had to admit that it looked as if it might actually work.

Journal #502

General Blitzkrieg’s animosity to my employer had become his driving passion. There were rumors that he had passed up several opportunities to take early retirement in hopes of finding a way to “pay off Jester once and for all, ” as he had been heard to say. But when diplomatic circles began to bandy about the Zenobians’ request for Omega Company as military advisors, the general had to acquiesce in what the other Legion commanders saw as the first significant improvement in the Legion’s image in decades.

That did not prevent him from trying to find ways to sabotage the mission. As quickly became apparent, he had more than one ace up his sleeve.

The intercom buzzed. Warily, Major Sparrowhawk answered, “Yes, General Blitzkrieg?” The general already had his coffee, his news printouts, and the other routine items he wanted first thing every morning. That meant he’d come up with a brainstorm, and General Blitzkrieg’s brainstorms meant trouble for Major Sparrowhawk. She might have to spend the next few hours carefully convincing him to change his mind.

“Major, I want a search of Legion personnel files,” said the general. “I need a captain or a newly promoted major, somebody from an old-Legion, old-money background. Wouldn’t hurt if his family were hereditary nobility somewhere. And he’s got to be a stickler for regulations. Give me a dozen candidates, with full dossiers, hard copy, pronto.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sparrowhawk. She thought a beat, then said, “Male candidates only?”

Blitzkrieg grumbled, then said, “I’ll consider a couple of females if they fit the other criteria, but I think this is a job for a man. Oh, yes, and the younger and richer, the better.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sparrowhawk. She waited a beat, and when the general cut the connection, she began entering the search parameters. Idly she wondered what the general was working up this time. The search parameters were just odd enough that he had to have something particular in mind. Well, she’d find out soon enough.

It was too bad she didn’t fit the criteria. Despite the general’s lip service to considering a female candidate, it was perfectly obvious that he wanted a male. So much for any dreams she might have had of engineering a transfer and getting out from under Blitzkrieg’s thumb.

But she knew better by now than to hope for any such escape. Even in the unlikely case that Blitzkrieg approved the transfer, the other ranking Legion commanders would overrule it, knowing they’d have to ruin some other officer’s career to replace her. Nobody wanted the “opportunity” to be Blitzkrieg’s adjutant. Her chance to move on would have to await Blitzkrieg’s retirement-and she knew all too well that she wasn’t the only person in the Legion wishing for that particular event to come sooner rather than later.

She entered the final search parameters and checked to make sure she hadn’t made any obvious errors. There was next to no chance that the general would notice any problems on his own, unless the whole project blew up in his face, at which point, she’d get the entire blame. That was an implicit function of her position, minimizing the extent to which the general could foul things up by sheer laziness and inattention to detail. The general would still foul up plenty of things on his own, of course, but where it could be prevented, she was expected to do so. In five years on the job, she’d managed to prevent more than one disaster. Of course, it would only take one that slipped past her to ruin her career. But thinking about that was likely to give her ulcers, and so she did her best not to.

At last, satisfied that she’d set up the program properly, she launched the search, then called up another window to take a look at her stock portfolio. Eventually, she’d be able to retire, and even if the general went down in flames and took her with him, she intended to have a safety net waiting when she did get out. She had a couple of stocks that had been sluggish of late; maybe it was time to sell them off and reinvest in something that moved faster. Her broker had mentioned a company marketing a mini antigrav unit that might be a good short-term investment. She studied the figures until the computer signaled that the general’s search was done, then printed out the results (Blitzkrieg always wanted hard copy) and took them into the inner office.

Typically, once he had the information in front of him, General Blitzkrieg made his decision almost immediately. Sparrowhawk wondered if he thought that having the computer pick a list of candidates exempted him from having to put any real thought into making a selection among them. In any case, he flipped through the printouts, reading a few sentences here and there, and then pulled one candidate’s dossier off the pile with an air of triumph. The entire process took perhaps five minutes.

“Major Botchup,” purred the general. He handed the dossier to his adjutant and grinned wickedly. “Yes, this is precisely the man for the job.”

“What position did you have in mind for him?” asked Major Sparrowhawk, fingering the personnel dossier. She was somewhat surprised at the general’s enthusiasm. The officer in question fit all the search criteria, no question about that. But reading between the lines of his performance ratings-of course she’d already read the candidates’ dossiers-he seemed consistently to rub his superiors the wrong way. While performing strictly in conformance with regulations and Legion tradition (in its way, more important than any regulation), he’d managed to establish himself as a pain in the arse. Not that that made him different from most male Legion officers…She looked back at the general.

“He’s going to Zenobia,” said Blitzkrieg, smirking. “A mission of that importance can’t have a mere captain in command of it, let alone a bumbler like Jester. Botchup is due for an important command of his own. And if anybody can whip Omega company into shape, he’s the man for the job. A genuine respect for Legion traditions-you don’t see that very often these days, Sparrowhawk.”

“No, sir,” said Sparrowhawk. Herself, she was just as glad the old Legion ways were starting to die out. But that wasn’t something to admit to Blitzkrieg, who fancied himself the last bastion of Legion tradition-and the legacy of ineptitude that went with it. She was pretty sure that was the main reason he’d taken such a hatred of Phule, far beyond any provocation the captain of Omega Company had given his superiors. “Shall I cut orders for Major Botchup to join the company on Landoor, then?”

The general rubbed his chin, musing. “No, I think that’d give Jester too much time to get ready for him. We’ll have him join his new command at their destination on Zenobia. And we’ll keep it under our hats for now. No point in having somebody try to undercut the plan before it’s had a chance to work.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sparrowhawk. She knew the reasoning behind that one: easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission. It was no surprise to find out that Blitzkrieg operated on that principle. It was probably the oldest of all Legion traditions.

“Thank you very much, sir,” said Phule. He shook Ambassador Gottesman’s hand. “I didn’t really want to get my hopes up for this assignment. Quite frankly, some of the top Legion commanders can be counted on to oppose anything that looks like a reward for this unit. But I must say, you came through rather quickly.”

“I made use of a few connections,” said the ambassador with a wink. “And I did point out that, if this assignment is in the nature of a reward, it’s by no means a sinecure. There’s some probability your people will face combat, Captain.”

Phule grinned and said as nonchalantly as possible, “Well, in the Legion we don’t necessarily see that as a liability, sir. But perhaps you can brief me on the situation we’ll be going into. All I really know is that it’s on the Zenobians’ home world-“

“Yes, and they say they’re trying to repel an alien invasion,” said the ambassador, spreading his hands.

“I see,” said Phule, leaning his elbow on his desk. “Who are the invaders, sir:”

“I wish I had a good answer to that, and I’m afraid I don’t,” said Gottesman. “The Zenobians are being closemouthed about it.” He paused and took a sip of his tea, then looked Phule straight in the eye. “I have the distinct impression they’re…well, embarrassed might be the best description of how they’re acting.”

“Embarrassed?” Phule leaned his other elbow on the desk. Now he was frowning. “Can you be more precise? Are they embarrassed because they can’t repel the invaders or because they need help or what?”

The ambassador shrugged. “I don’t really know. In fact, it’s just my interpretation of how they act. And you must know how hard it can be to read a nonhuman sophont’s emotions.” He set down the teacup with a wry smile and spread his hands. “I have enough trouble with my teenage daughters, half the time.”

“I can imagine,” said Phule, thinking that even parenting teenage girls might be easier than commanding the motley outfit he’d been put in charge of. “But this puts my people at a serious disadvantage, going into a possible combat situation without reliable intelligence. If we don’ know what we’re up against-“

“I understand, Captain,” said the ambassador. He stood up and put his hand on Phule’s shoulder. “We at State have our intelligence branch working overtime on it, believe me. We don’t want to send anybody into a booby trap. The minute we get something useful, you’ll get it from us. You have my word on that. Until then, just try to be ready for anything-anything at all.”

Phule nodded. “I guess we’ll have to be ready, then,” he said. He stood up and shook Gottesman’s hand. Then he added, “That’s what we’re supposed to do anyhow, isn’t it?”

“I have complete confidence in you and your people. Captain,” said the ambassador. Then he added darkly, “I wish I had the same confidence in your superiors.” He allowed himself a thin smile and left the office.

Beeker, who had sat silently listening to the entire interview, watched the ambassador leave, then said, “Are you quite certain you want to stick your head into this particular noose, sir?”

Phule turned to look at his butler. “Is that how you read it, Beeker?” He placed high value on Beeker’s opinions and advice-not that he always allowed them to influence his decisions. If he had, he’d never have joined the Space Legion. But when the butler smelled trouble, it was worth listening to him.

Beeker steepled his fingers. “Consider the evidence, sir. The Zenobians have asked for help against some sort of external threat that they cannot defeat with their own resources. Yet the Zenobians are remarkably competent warriors, both in their basic physical abilities and in their technological accomplishments. What kind of help is a single Legion company going to be able to provide?”

“Well, as much as we can, of course,” said Phule. “I suspect most of our role will be in training and in tactical and strategic consultation. After all, we’re being brought in as advisors, not to engage the enemy directly.”

Beeker’s face grew solemn. “Sir, I hope you have not entered into negotiations to purchase any bridges from the Zenobians.”

Phule laughed. “I leave that to State, Beeker,” he said. “With Ambassador Gottesman on our side, I’m not really worried about any surprises.”

“You should be,” scolded Beeker. “Ambassador Gottesman has done a great deal for us when it was to his advantage to do so. Now it is to his advantage to send us to Zenobia, but I have no idea whether it is to our advantage to go there. The Black Hills undoubtedly looked like a plum assignment to George Armstrong Custer.”

“Good old Beeker, always seeing the bright side,” said Phule, grinning. “Don’t worry, I can take care of myself. And if I can’t, I’ve got a whole Legion company to do it for me.”

“Sir, that’s exactly what worries me the most,” said Beeker.

Journal #505

It did not take long for word of the company’s impending move to filter down to the rank and file. Indeed, within a few short hours of Phule’s conversation with the ambassador, the tables at the Landoor Plaza’s Poolside Bar were buzzing with speculation. As a rule, the better a position a person was in to know what was really likely to happen, the less they were willing to say about it. However, this rule could definitely be modified in the case of Chocolate Harry.

Chocolate Harry stared at Do-Wop and shook his head sadly. “Man, if you knew half as much as you think you know, you’d be a mortal danger.”

“He’s a mortal danger already,” said Super-Gnat, deadpan. “Just ask any woman who’s gone on a date with him.”

“Ahh, I got girls lined up ten deep waitin’ for the chance to go out with me,” said Do-Wop, swelling up his chest and making a perfunctory grab at Gnat, who ducked away and stuck out her tongue at him. Frustrated in his effort to demonstrate his appeal, he turned back to the supply sergeant. “But I can’t let you get away with that, C. H. I got inside info as good as anybody in the company. You don’t know who I been talkin’ to.”

“Don’t matter who you talk to, you wouldn’t understand it if they told you two and two is four,” said Chocolate Harry. “You’d figure it was six, and by the time you got done tellin’ the rest of us, it’d be fifteen or twenty.”

“And worth absolutely nothin’,” added Slammer, one of the new recruits who’d been assigned to the supply depot under Harry’s supervision. He’d quickly picked up the supply sergeant’s conversational style: half humorous insults, half bragging, and half plain lies. That’s three halves, but those who knew Harry were willing to make allowances for a good bit of surplus.

Carefully choosing his target-the whole company knew better than to try to beat C. H. at his own game-Do-Wop looked at Slammer and said, “Hey, Slammer, I been meaning to ask you-did you get that name because that’s where you belong, or because people slam doors in your face?”

“It’s because if anybody messes with me, that’s what I do to ’em,” said Slammer, not taking particular offense.

“That’s no problem, nobody wants to mess with you,” said Super-Gnat with a grin that suggested she intended more than one meaning. “Besides, I want to hear where Harry thinks we’re going and why. What’s the word, Sarge?”

“I don’t think, Gnat, I know,” said Chocolate Harry. “We goin’ to Barriere to take on the renegade robots there. They got a big problem with those bots. And the reason they pick us is because they know of C. H. has got the know-how when it comes to fixin’ robots. Hell, a man that can customize a hawg the way I have ain’t gonna have any problem with a hot.”

“This is the first I heard about any renegade robots,” said Sushi, leaning his elbows on the table. “How long’s that been going on?”

“Man, you ain’t got my inside sources, that’s all,” said Harry, with a self-congratulatory grin. He took a deep swig of his beer and sighed in satisfaction. “Thing a lot of folks don’t realize, the supply lines are what the Legion runs on. Supply don’t do its job, you gonna have a bunch of people sittin’ on some bare asteroid, SOL.”

“What means SOL?” asked Tusk-anini, squinting behind his dark glasses.

“Somebody’s Obviously Loony,” said Super-Gnat with a sly grin. Her partner’s command of human slang was tenuous at best, and she enjoyed ribbing him about it. From her, at least, he usually took it in good nature. He wasn’t without a sense of humor, although it sometimes seemed very strange to his human companions.

“Nah, it means Salad Oil Liberation,” said Do-Wop, horning in on the game.

Tusk-anini’s squint narrowed into a frown. “I don’t think Do-Wop tells me right,” he said. “Salad oil is no part of it. Am I right, Gnat?”

“Hey, do you want to hear what’s goin’ on or not?” said Chocolate Harry, sensing his audience slipping away.

“We don’t wanna hear no crap about renegade robots,” said Do-Wop. “Everybody knows robots just follow orders. They got Asimov circuits that make ’em do what people say.”

“Yeah, that’s what everybody thinks, ” said Harry, taking the cue and launching into a new spiel. “That’s what the robot factories want you to think, on account of who’s gonna buy a machine that, you wake up one morning and it’s killed you and taken over your house?”

“I wouldn’t buy nothin’ like that,” said Slammer, obviously impressed by his sergeant’s logic.

“You got it,” said Harry. He slapped his palm on the table, sending splashes out of several drinks. “Thing is, nobody wants their robots to have a mind of their own, ’cause if the bots figure out that us humans have everything and they got nothin’, what’s to stop ’em from taking over?”

“I no human,” said Tusk-anini, irrefutably. “I no scared of robots, either.”

“That’s ’cause you ain’t run across these-here renegades,” said the supply sergeant. “They’ll just naturally wipe out any kind of sophont. You think it matters to them how many legs or eyes you got on you? It’s the last thing they care about.”

“You sure this is the straight story from the brass?” asked Do-Wop. Almost automatically, not even watching, he slowly peeled the label off his beer bottle with his thumbnail.

“Pure gospel, man,” said Harry, holding up a palm as if taking an oath. “Rev himself ain’t ever said a word as true as this stuff I’m lettin’ you in on.”

Some of the listeners-mostly new members of the company unfamiliar with the supply sergeant’s ways-nodded and murmured words of approval. They’d been in the Legion a while, but they still had a tendency to believe everything they heard from a veteran, especially from a fast talker like Chocolate Harry. This made them welcome additions to the supply sergeant’s poker games and easy marks for his long string of scams.

But Sushi was a veteran and a first-class scammer in his own right. “It’s a triff story,” he said, grinning. “What I still haven’t figured out is how Harry thinks he’s going to make a buck out of it. I’ll admit he could be telling lies for free, just to keep in practice, maybe. But somewhere down the road, if we buy this line of stuff, it’s going to cost us. What’s the deal, Harry? Are you selling robot repellent or something?”

“You oughta know me better than that, Soosh,” said Harry, managing a hurt expression. “I’d never try to sell something like that. Why, a robot’s mechanical. You can’t run it off like you would some kinda bug.”

“That’s true,” said Do-Wop. “The robots I’ve seen, they just don’t let anything bother them. Sorta like Mahatma when he gets wrapped up in something. There’s no stopping him.”

“That’s right,” said Harry. “That’s why something like a repellent won’t work. But there is one thing-“

“Here it comes!” said Sushi, and everyone chuckled. Even Tusk-anini leaned forward in anticipation of Chocolate Harry’s spiel.

Harry continued as if he hadn’t heard Sushi’s stage whisper. “The thing is, robots can only see in certain frequencies. So if you’re wearing certain colors-stuff in the purple end of the spectrum, for example-they just naturally can’t see you, and you can sneak right up on ’em. And it just so happens I’ve got in a supply of robot-proof camouflage…” He waved toward a large crate, marked Phule-Proof Camo.

“Which you’ll make available, at a price, to anyone who wants a little insurance,” prompted Super-Gnat.

“Why, sure,” said Harry, his face devoid of all guile. “I’d purely hate to see anybody get hurt if we ended up in a bad robot situation and they weren’t prepared, y’know? So who wants some?”

“I think I’ll pass,” said Do-Wop. “But somehow, I don’t think you’ll have any shortage of takers, Sarge.”

“Sushi, I sure hope you’re right,” said the supply sergeant. “In my job, you’ve got to think ahead, and I’m just glad I thought of this particular possibility before it turned into a real problem.”

“Harry, you’re a pure genius,” said Sushi, shaking his head with admiration. “I bet we’ll see half the squad wearing purple before we leave Landoor.”

“I hope it’s more than that,” said Chocolate Harry. “Why, I’ll hardly rest until I know we’re all safe from the robots.”

“Harry, somehow I know we will be,” said Sushi. He nodded in the direction of Stammer, who was already wearing a purple field vest over his fatigues. Stammer, noticing the attention, lifted his chin and favored his comrades with a satisfied smirk. “Yes indeed, Harry,” said Sushi, “somehow, I know you’ll be able to rest very comfortably.”

Harry’s broad grin left no doubt of that.

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