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The Day of Glory

The locals had turned down the music from the sound truck while the bigwigs from the capital were talking to the crowd, but it was still playing. "I heard that song before," Trooper Lahti said, frowning. "But that was back on Icky Nose, two years ago. Three!"

"Right," said Platoon Sergeant Buntz, wishing he'd checked the fit of his dress uniform before he put it on for this bloody rally. He'd gained weight during the month he'd been on medical profile for tearing up his leg. "You hear it a lot at this kinda deal. La Marseillaise. It goes all the way back to Earth."

This time it was just brass instruments, but Buntz' memory could fill in, "Arise, children of the fatherland! The day of glory has arrived. . . ." Though some places they changed the words a bit.

"Look at the heroes you'll be joining!" boomed the amplified voice of the blonde woman gesturing from the waist-high platform. She stood with other folks in uniform or dress clothes on what Buntz guessed in peacetime was the judges' stand at the county fair. "When you come back in a few months after crushing the rebels, the cowards who stayed behind will look at you the way you look at our allies, Hammer's Slammers!"

Buntz sucked in his gut by reflex, but he knew it didn't matter. For this recruitment rally he and his driver wore tailored uniforms with the seams edged in dark blue, but the yokels saw only the tank behind them. Herod, H42, was a veteran of three deployments and more firefights than Buntz could remember without checking the Fourth Platoon log.

The combat showed on Herod's surface. The steel skirts enclosing her plenum chamber were not only scarred from brush-busting but patched in several places where projectiles or energy weapons had penetrated. A two-meter section had been replaced on Icononzo, the result of a fifty-kilo directional mine. Otherwise the steel was dull red except where the rust had worn off.

Herod's hull and turret had taken even a worse beating; the iridium armor there turned all the colors of the spectrum when heated. A line of rainbow dimples along the rear compartment showed where a flechette gun—also on Icononzo—had wasted ammo, but it was on Humboldt that a glancing 15-cm powergun bolt had flared a banner across the bow slope.

If the gunner from Greenwood's Archers had hit Herod squarely, the tank would've been for the salvage yard and Lahti's family back on Leminkainan would've been told that she'd been cremated and interred where she fell.

Actually Lahti'd have been in the salvage yard too, since there wouldn't be any way to separate what was left of the driver from the hull. You didn't tell families all the details. They wouldn't understand anyway.

"Look at our allies, my fellow citizens!" the woman called. She was a newsreader from the capital station, Buntz'd been told. The satellites were down now, broadcast as well as surveillance, but her face'd be familiar from before the war even here in the boonies. "Hammer's Slammers, the finest troops in the galaxy! And look at the mighty vehicle they've brought to drive the northern rebels to surrender or their graves. Join them! Join them or forever hang your head when a child asks you, 'Grampa, what did you do in the war?' "

"They're not really joining the Regiment, are they, Top?" Lahti said, frowning again. The stocky woman'd progressed from being a fair driver to being a bloody good soldier. Buntz planned to give her a tank of her own the next time he had an opening. She worried too much, though, and about the wrong things.

"Right now they're just tripwires," Buntz said. "Afterwards, sure, we'll probably take some of 'em, after we've run 'em through newbie school."

He paused, then added, "The Feds've hired the Holy Brotherhood. They're light dragoons mostly, but they've got tank destroyers with 9-cm main guns. I don't guess we'll mop them up without somebody buying the farm."

He wouldn't say it aloud, even with none of the locals close enough to hear him, but he had to agree with Lahti that Placidus farmers didn't look like the most hopeful material. Part of the trouble was that they were wearing their fanciest clothes today. The feathers, ribbons, and reflecting bangles that passed for high fashion here in Quinta County would've made the toughest troopers in the Slammers look like a bunch of dimwits. It didn't help that half of 'em were barefoot, either.

The county governor, the only local on the platform, took the wireless microphone. "Good friends and neighbors!" he said and stopped to wheeze. He was a fat man with a weather-beaten face, and his suit was even tighter than Buntz' dress uniform.

"I know we in Quinta County don't need to be bribed to do our duty," he resumed, "but our generous government is offering a lavish prepayment of wages to those of you who join the ranks of the militia today. And there's free drinks in the refreshment tents for all those who kiss the book!"

He made a broad gesture. Nearly too broad: he almost went off the edge of the crowded platform onto his nose. His friends and neighbors laughed. One young fellow in a three-cornered hat called, "Why don't you join, Jeppe? You can stop a bullet and save the life of somebody who's not bloody useless!"

"What do they mean, 'kiss the book?' " Lahti asked. Then, wistfully, she added, "I don't suppose we could get a drink ourself?"

"We're on duty, Lahti," Buntz said. "And I guess they kiss the book because they can't write their names, a lot of them. You see that in this sorta place."

"March, march!" the sound truck played. "Let impure blood water our furrows!"

It was hotter'n Hell's hinges, what with the white sun overhead and its reflection from the tank behind them. The iridium'd burn'em if they touched it when they boarded to drive back to H Company's laager seventy klicks away. At least they didn't have to spend the night in this Godforsaken place. . . .

Buntz could use a drink too. There were booths all around the field. Besides them, boys circulated through the crowd with kegs on their backs and metal tumblers chained to their waists. It'd be rotgut, but he'd been in the Slammers thirteen years. He guessed he'd drunk worse and likely much worse than what was on offer in Quinta County.

But not a drop till him and Lahti stopped being a poster to recruit cannon fodder for the government paying for the Regiment's time. Being dry was just part of the job.

The Placidan regular officer with the microphone was talking about honor and what pushovers the rebels were going to be. Buntz didn't doubt that last part: if the Fed troops were anything like what he'd seen of the Government side, they were a joke for sure.

But the Holy Brotherhood was another thing entirely. Vehicle for vehicle they couldn't slug it out with the Slammers, but they were division-sized and bloody well trained.

Besides, they were all mounted on air cushion vehicles. The Slammers won more of their battles by mobility than by firepower, but this time their enemy would move even faster than they did.

"Suppose he's ever been shot at?" Lahti said, her lip curling at the guy who spoke. She snorted. "Maybe by his girlfriend, hey? Though dolled up like he is, he prob'ly has boyfriends."

Buntz grinned. "Don't let it get to you, Lahti," he said. "Listening to blowhards's a lot better business than having the Brotherhood shoot at us. Which is what we'll be doing in a couple weeks or I miss my bet."

While the Placidan officer was spouting off, a couple men had edged to the side of the platform to talk to the blonde newsreader. The blonde snatched the microphone back and cried, "Look here, my fellow citizens! Follow your patriotic neighbors Andreas and Adolpho deCastro as they kiss the book and drink deep to their glorious future!"

The officer yelped and tried to grab the microphone; the newsreader blocked him neatly with her hip, slamming him back. Buntz grinned: this was the blonde's court, but he guessed she'd also do better in a firefight than the officer would. Though he might beat her in a beauty contest. . . .

The blonde jumped from the platform, then put an arm around the waist of each local to waltz through the crowd to the table set up under Herod's bow slope. The deCastros looked like brothers or anyway first cousins, big rangy lunks with red hair and moustaches that flared into their sideburns.

The newsreader must've switched off the microphone because none of her chatter to one man, then the other, was being broadcast. The folks on the platform weren't going to use the mike to upstage her, that was all.

"Rise and shine, Trooper Lahti," Buntz muttered out of the side of his mouth as he straightened. The Placidan clerk behind the table rose to his feet and twiddled the book before him. It was thick and bound in red leather, but what was inside was more than Buntz knew. Maybe it was blank.

"Who'll be the first?" the blonde said to the fellow on her right. She'd cut the mike on again. "Adolpho, you'll do it, won't you? You'll be the first to kiss the book, I know it!"

The presumed Adolpho stared at her like a bunny paralyzed in the headlights. His mouth opened slackly. Bloody Hell! Buntz thought. All it'll take is for him to start drooling!

Instead the other fellow, Andreas, lunged forward and grabbed the book in both hands. He lifted it and planted a kiss right in the middle of the pebble-grain leather. Lowering it he boomed, "There, Dolph, you pussy! There's one man in the deCastro family, and the whole county knows it ain't you!"

"Why you—" Adolpho said, cocking back a fist with his face a thundercloud, but the blonde had already lifted the book from Andreas. She held it out to Adolpho.

"Here you go, Dolph, you fine boy!" she said. "Andreas, turn and take the salute of Captain Buntz of Hammer's Slammers, a hero from beyond the stars greeting a Placidan patriot!"

"What's that?" Andreas said. He turned to look over his shoulder.

Buntz'd seen more intelligence in the eyes of a poodle, but it wasn't his business to worry about that. He and Lahti together threw the fellow sharp salutes. The Slammers didn't go in for saluting much—and to salute in the field was a court-martial offense since it fingered officers for any waiting sniper—but a lot of times you needed some ceremony when you're dealing with the locals. This was just one of those times.

"An honor to serve with you, Trooper deCastro!" said Lahti. That was laying it on pretty thick, but you really couldn't overdo in a dog-and-pony show for the locals.

"You're a woman!" Andreas said. "They said they was taking women too, but I didn't believe it."

"That's right, Trooper," Buntz said briskly before his driver replied. He trusted Lahti—she wouldn't be driving Herod if he didn't—but there was no point in risking what might come out when she was hot and dry and pretty well pissed off generally.

"Now," he continued, "I see the paymaster—" another bored clerk, a little back from the recorder "—waiting with a stack of piasters for you. Hey, and then there's free drinks in the refreshment car just like they said."

The 'refreshment car' was a cattle truck with slatted steel sides that weren't going to budge if a new recruit decided he wanted to be somewhere else. A lot of steers had come to that realization over the years and it hadn't done 'em a bit of good. Two husky attendants waited in the doorway with false smiles, and there were two more inside dispensing drinks: grain alcohol with a dash of sweet syrup and likely an opiate besides. The truck would hold them, but a bunch of repentant yokels crying and shaking the slats wouldn't help lure their neighbors into the same trap.

Buntz saluted the other deCastro. The poor lug tried to salute back, but his arm seemed to have an extra joint in it somewhere. Buntz managed not to laugh and even nodded in false approval. It was all part of the job, like he'd told Lahti; but the Lord's truth was that he'd be less uncomfortable in a firefight. These poor stupid bastards!

The newsreader had given the mike back to the county governor. It was funny to hear the crew from the capital go on about honor and patriotism while the local kept hitting the pay advance and free liquor. Buntz figured he knew his neighbors.

Though the blonde knew them too, or anyway she knew men. Instead of climbing back onto the platform, she was circulating through the crowd. As Buntz watched she corralled a tall, stooped fellow who looked pale—the locals were generally red-faced from exposure, though many women carried parasols for this event—and a stocky teenager who was already glassy-eyed. It wouldn't take much to drink in the truck to put him the rest of the way under.

The blonde led the sickly fellow by the hand and the young drunk by the shirt collar, but the drunk was really stumbling along quick as he could to grope her. She didn't seem to notice, though when she'd delivered him to the recorder, she raised the book to his lips with one hand and used the other to straighten her blouse under a jumper that shone like polished silver.

They were starting to move, now, just like sheep in the chute to the slaughter yard. Buntz kept saluting, smiling, and saying things like, "Have a drink on me, soldier," and, "Say, that's a lot of money they pay you fellows, isn't it?"

Which it was in a way, especially since the inflation war'd bring—war always brought—to the Placidan piaster hadn't hit yet except in the capital. There was three months pay in the stack.

By tomorrow, though, most of the recruits would've lost the whole wad to the trained dice of somebody else in the barracks. They'd have to send home for money then; that or starve, unless the Placidan government fed its soldiers better than most of these boondock worlds did. Out in the field they could loot, of course, but right now they'd be kept behind razor ribbon so they didn't run off when they sobered up.

The clerks were trying to move them through as quick as they could, but the recruits themselves wanted to talk: to the recorder, to the paymaster, and especially to Buntz and Lahti. "Bless you, buddy!" Buntz said brightly to the nine-fingered man who wanted to tell him about the best way to start tomatoes. "Look, you have a drink for me in the refreshment car and I'll come back and catch you up with a couple more as soon as I've done with these other fellows."

Holding the man's hand firmly in his left, Buntz patted him on the shoulders firmly enough to thrust him toward the clerk with the waiting stack of piasters. The advance was all in small bills to make it look like more. At the current exchange rate three months pay would come to about seventeen Frisian thalers, but it wouldn't be half that in another couple weeks.

A pudgy little fellow with sad eyes joined the line. A woman followed him, shrieking, "Alberto, are you out of your mind? Alberto! Look at me!" She was no taller than the man but easily twice as broad.

The woman grabbed him by the arm with both hands. He kept his face turned away, his mouth in a vague smile and his eyes full of anguish. "Alberto!"

The county governor was still talking about liquor and money, but all the capital delegation except an elderly, badly overweight union leader had gotten down from the platform and were moving through the crowd. The girlishly pretty army officer touched the screaming woman's shoulder and murmured something Buntz couldn't catch in the racket around him.

The woman glanced up with a black expression, her right hand rising with the fingers clawed. When she saw the handsome face so close to hers, though, she looked stunned and let the officer back her away.

Alberto kissed the book and scooted past the recorder without a look behind him. He almost went by the pay table, but the clerk caught him by the elbow and thrust the wad of piasters into his hand. He kept on going to the cattle truck: to Alberto, those steel slats were a fortress, not a prison.

A fight broke out in the crowd, two big men roaring as they flailed at each other. They were both blind drunk, and they didn't know how to fight anyway. In the morning they'd wake up with nothing worse than hangovers from the booze that was the reason they were fighting to begin with.

"I could take 'em both together," Lahti muttered disdainfully. She fancied herself as an expert in some martial art or another.

"Right," said Buntz. "And you could drive Herod through a nursery, too, but they'd both be a stupid waste of time unless you had to. Leave the posing for the amateurs, right?"

Buntz doubted he could handle the drunks barehanded, but of course he wouldn't try. There was a knife in his boot and a pistol in his right cargo pocket; the Slammers had been told not to wear their sidearms openly to this rally. Inside the turret hatch was a sub-machine gun, and by throwing a single switch he had control of Herod's tribarrel and 20-cm main gun.

He grinned. If he said that to the recruits passing through the line, they'd think he was joking.

The grin faded. Pretty soon they were going to be facing the Brotherhood, who wouldn't be joking any more than Buntz was. The poor dumb bastards.

The county governor had talked himself out. He was drinking from a demijohn, resting the heavy earthenware on the cocked arm that held it to his lips.

His eyes looked haunted when they momentarily met those of Buntz. Buntz guessed the governor knew pretty well what he was sending his neighbors into. He was doing it anyway, probably because bucking the capital would've cost him his job and maybe more than that.

Buntz looked away. He had things on his conscience too; things that didn't go away when he took another drink, just blurred a little. He wouldn't want to be in the county governor's head after the war, though, especially at about three in the morning.

"Against tyrants we are all soldiers," caroled the tune in the background. "If our young heroes fall, the fatherland will raise new ones!"

The union leader was describing the way the army of the legitimate government would follow the Slammers to scour the continent north of the Spine clean of the patches of corruption and revolt now breeding there. Buntz didn't know what Colonel Hammer's strategy would be, but he didn't guess they'd be pushing into the forested highlands to fight a more numerous enemy. The Brotherhood'd hand 'em their heads if they tried.

On the broad plains here in the south, though. . . . Well, Herod's main gun was lethal for as far as her optics reached, and that could be hundreds of kilometers if you picked your location.

The delegation from the capital kept trying, but not even the blonde newsreader was making headway now. They'd trolled up thirty or so recruits, maybe thirty-five. Not a bad haul.

"Haven't saluted so much since I joined," Lahti grumbled, a backhanded way of describing their success. "Well, like you say, Top, that's the job today."

The boy kissing the book was maybe seventeen standard years old—or not quite that. Buntz hadn't been a lot older when he joined, but he'd had three cousins in the Regiment and he'd known he wasn't getting into more than he could handle. Maybe this kid was the same—the Army of Placidus wasn't going to work him like Hammer's Slammers—but Buntz doubted the boy was going to like however long it was he wore a uniform.

The last person in line was a woman: mid-30s, no taller than Lahti, and with a burn scar on the back of her left wrist. The recording clerk started to hand her the book, then recoiled when he took a look at her. "Madame!" he said.

"Hey Hurtado!" a man said gleefully. "Look what your missus is doing!"

"Guess she don't get enough dick at home, is that it?" another man called from a liquor booth, his voice slurred.

"The proclamation said you were enlisting women too, didn't it?" the woman demanded. "Because of the emergency?"

"Sophia!" cried a man stumbling to his feet from a circle of dice players. He was almost bald, and his long, drooping moustaches were too black for the color to be natural. Then, with his voice rising, "Sophia, what are you doing?"

"Well, maybe in the capital," the recorder said nervously. "I don't think—"

Hurtado grabbed the woman's arm. She shook him off without looking at him.

"What don't you think, my man?" said the newsreader, slipping through what'd become a circle of spectators. "You don't think you should obey the directives of the Emergency Committee in a time of war, is that what you think?"

The handsome officer was just behind her. He'd opened his mouth to speak, but he shut it again as he heard the blonde's tone.

"Well, no," the clerk said. The paymaster watched with a grin, obviously glad that somebody else was making the call on this one. "I just—"

He swallowed whatever else he might've said and thrust the book into the woman's hands. She raised it; Hurtado grabbed her arm again and said, "Sophia, don't make a spectacle of yourself!"

The newsreader said, "Sir, you have no—"

Sophia bent to kiss the red cover, then turned and backhanded Hurtado across the mouth. He yelped and jumped back. Still holding the book down at her side, she advanced and slapped him again with a full swing of her free hand.

Buntz glanced at Lahti, just making sure she didn't take it into her head to get involved. She was relaxed, clearly enjoying the spectacle and unworried about where it was going to go next.

The Placidan officer stepped between the man and woman, looking uncomfortable. He probably felt pretty much the same as the recorder about women in the army, and maybe if the blonde hadn't been here he'd have said so. As it was, though—

"That will be enough, Senor Hurtado," he said. "Every family must do its part to eradicate the cancer of rebellion, you know."

Buntz grinned. The fellow ought to be glad that the blonde'd interfered, because otherwise there was a pretty fair chance that Lahti would've made the same points. Lahti wasn't one for words when she could show just how effective a woman could be in a fight.

"We about done here, Top?" she said, following Sophia with her eyes as she picked up her advance pay.

"We'll give it another fifteen minutes," Buntz said. "But yeah, I figure we're done."

"Arise, children of the fatherland. . . ." played the sound truck.

* * *

"It's gonna be a hot one," Lahti said as the sky above Herod. The tank waited as silent as a great gray boulder where Lahti'd nestled it into a gully on the reverse slope of a hill. They weren't overlooked from any point on the surface of Placidus—particularly from the higher ground to the north which was in rebel hands. Everything but the fusion bottle was shut down, and thick iridium armor shielded that.

"It'll be hot for somebody," Buntz agreed. He sat on the turret hatch; Lahti was below him at the top of the bow slope. They could talk in normal voices this way instead of using their commo helmets. Only the most sophisticated devices could've picked up the low-power intercom channel, but he and Lahti didn't need it.

He and Lahti didn't need to talk at all. They just had to wait, them and the crew of Hole Card, Tank H47, fifty meters to the north in a parallel gully.

The plan wouldn't have worked against satellites, but the Holy Brotherhood had swept those out of the sky the day they landed at New Carthage on the north coast, the Federation capital. The Brotherhood commanders must've figured that a mutual lack of strategic reconnaissance gave the advantage to their speed and numbers. . . . and maybe they were right, but there were ways and ways.

Buntz grinned. And trust Colonel Hammer to find them.

"Hey Top?" Lahti said. "How long do we wait? If the Brotherhood doesn't bite, I mean."

"We switch on the radios at local noon," Buntz said. "Likely they'll recall us then, but I'm just here to take orders."

That was a gentle reminder to Lahti, not that she was out of line asking. With Herod shut down, she had nothing to see but the sky—white rather than really blue—and the sides of the gully.

Buntz had a 270 degree sweep of landscape centered the Government firebase thirty klicks to the west. His external pickup was pinned to a tree on the ridge between Herod and Hole Card, feeding the helmet displays of both tank commanders through fiber optic cables.

There were sensors that could maybe spot the pickup, but it wouldn't be easy and even then they'd have to be searching in this direction. The Brotherhood wasn't likely to be doing that when they had the Government battalion and five Slammers combat cars to hold their attention on the rolling grasslands below.

The Placidan troops were in a rough circle of a dozen bunkers connected by trenches. In the center of the encampment were four 15-cm conventional howitzers aiming toward the Spine from sandbagged revetments. The trenches were shallow and didn't have overhead cover; ammunition trucks were parked beside the guns without even the slight protection of a layer of sandbags.

According to the briefing materials, the firebase also had two calliopes whose task was to destroy incoming shells and missiles. Those the Placidan government bought had eight barrels each, arranged in superimposed rows of four.

Buntz couldn't see the weapons on his display. That meant they'd been dug in to be safe from direct fire, the only decision the Placidan commander'd made that he approved of. Two calliopes weren't nearly enough to protect a battalion against the kind of firepower a Brotherhood commando had available, though.

The combat cars of 3d Platoon, G Company, were laagered half a klick south of the Government firebase. The plains had enough contour that the units were out of direct sight of one another. That wouldn't necessarily prevent Placidans from pointing their slugthrowers up in the air and raining projectiles down on the Slammers, but at least it kept them from deliberately shooting at their mercenary allies.

Buntz' pickup careted movement on the foothills of the Spine to the north. "Helmet," he said, enabling the voice-activated controls. "Center three-five-oh degrees, up sixteen."

The magnified image showed the snouts of three air-cushion vehicles easing to the edge of the evergreen shrubs on the ridge nearly twenty kilometers north of the Government firebase. One was a large armored personnel carrier; it could carry fifteen fully-armed troops plus its driver and a gunner in the cupola forward. The APC's tribarrel was identical to the weapons on the Slammers' combat cars, a Gatling gun which fired jets of copper plasma at a rate of 500 rounds per minute.

The other two vehicles were tank destroyers. They used the same chassis as the APC, but each carried a single 9-cm high intensity powergun in a fixed axial mount—the only way so light a vehicle could handle the big gun's recoil. At moderate range—up to five klicks or so—a 9-cm bolt could penetrate Herod's turret, and it'd be effective against a combat car at any distance.

"Saddle up, trooper," Buntz said softly to Lahti as he dropped down into the fighting compartment. "Don't crank her till I tell you, but we're not going to have to wait till noon after all. They're taking the bait."

The combat cars didn't have a direct view of the foothills, but like Buntz they'd raised a sensor pickup; theirs was on a pole mast extended from Lieutenant Rennie's command car. A siren wound from the laager; then a trooper shot off a pair of red flare clusters. Rennie was warning the Government battalion—which couldn't be expected to keep a proper radio watch—but Buntz knew that Platoon G3's main task was to hold the Brotherhood's attention. Flares were a good way to do that.

The Government artillerymen ran to their howitzers from open-sided tents where they'd been dozing or throwing dice. Several automatic weapons began to fire from the bunkers. One was on the western side of the compound and had no better target than the waving grass. The guns shooting northward were pointed in the right direction, but the slugs would fall about fifteen kilometers short.

The Brotherhood tank destroyers fired, one and then the other. An ammunition truck in the compound blew up in an orange flash. The explosion dismounted the nearest howitzer and scattered the sandbag revetments of the other three, not that they'd been much use anyway. A column of yellow-brown dirt lifted, mushroomed a hundred meters in the air, and rained grit and pebbles down onto the whole firebase.

The second 9-cm bolt lashed the crest of the rise which sheltered the combat cars. Grass caught fire and glass fused from silica in the soil sprayed in all directions. Buntz nodded approval. The Brotherhood gunner couldn't have expected to hit the cars, but he was warning them to keep under cover.

Brotherhood APCs slid out of the shelter of the trees and onto the grasslands below. They moved in companies of four vehicles each, two east of the firebase and two more to the west. They weren't advancing toward the Government position but instead were flanking it by more than five kilometers to either side.

The sound of the explosion reached Herod, dulled by distance. A little dirt shivered from the side of the swale. Twenty klicks is a hell of a long way away, even for an ammo truck blowing up.

The tank destroyers fired again, saturated cyan flashes that Buntz' display dimmed to save his eyes. Their target was out of his present magnified field of view, a mistake.

"Full field, Quadrant Four," Buntz said, and the lower left corner of his visor showed the original 270 degree display. A bunker had collapsed in a cloud of dust though without a noticeable secondary explosion, and there was a new fire just north of the combat cars. The cars' tribarrels wouldn't be effective against even the tank destroyers' light armor at this range, but the enemy commander wasn't taking any chances. The Brotherhood was a good outfit, no mistake.

Eight more vehicles left the hills now that the advanced companies had spread to screen them. Pairs of mortar carriers with pairs of APCs for security followed each flanking element. The range of Brotherhood automatic mortars was about ten klicks, depending on what shell they were firing. It wouldn't be any time before they were in position around the firebase.

Rennie's combat cars were moving southward, keeping under cover. Running, if you wanted to call it that.

The Brotherhood APCs were amazingly fast, seventy kph cross-country. They couldn't fight the combat cars head-on, but they wouldn't try to. They obviously intended to surround the Slammers platoon and disgorge their infantry in three-man buzzbomb teams. Once the infantry got into position, and with the tank destroyers on overwatch to limit the cars' movement, the Brotherhood could force Lieutenant Rennie to surrender without a shot.

One of the Government howitzers fired. The guns could reach the Brotherhood vehicles in the hills, but this round landed well short. A red flash and a spurt of sooty black smoke indicated that the bursting charge was TNT.

The gunners didn't get a chance to refine their aim. A 9-cm bolt struck the gun tube squarely at the trunnions, throwing the front half a dozen meters. The white blaze of burning steel ignited hydraulic fluid in the compensator, the rubber tires, and the hair and uniforms of the crew. A moment later propellant charges stacked behind the gun went off in something between an explosion and a very fierce fire.

Two howitzers were more or less undamaged, but their crews had abandoned them. Another bunker collapsed—a third. Buntz hadn't noticed the second being hit, but a pall of dust was still settling over it. Government soldiers started to leave the remaining bunkers and huddle in the connecting trenches.

Flashes and spurts of white smoke at four points around the firebase indicated that the mortars had opened fire simultaneously. They were so far away that the bombardment seemed to be happening in silence. That wasn't what Buntz was used to, which made him feel funny. Different generally meant bad to a soldier or anybody else in a risky business.

The tank destroyers fired again. One bolt blew in the back of a bunker; the other ignited a stand of brushwood ahead of the combat cars. That Brotherhood gunner was trying to keep Rennie off-balance, taking his attention off the real threat: the APCs and their infantry, which in a matter of minutes would have the cars surrounded.

Buntz figured it was time. "Lahti, fire'em up," he said. He switched on his radios, then unplugged the lead from his helmet and let the coil of glass fiber spring back to the take-up reel on the sensor. The hollow stoonk-k-k of the mortars launching finally reached him, an unmistakable sound even when the breeze sighing through the tree branches almost smothered it.

The hatch cover swivelled closed over Buntz as Herod's eight drive fans spun. Lahti kept the blades in fine pitch to build speed rapidly, slicing the air but not driving it yet.

"Lamplight elements, move to start position," Buntz ordered. That was being a bit formal since the Lamplight call-sign covered only Herod and Hole Card, but you learned to do things by rote in combat. A firefight's no place for thinking. You operated by habit and reflex; if those failed, the other fellow killed you.

The fan note deepened. Herod vibrated fiercely, spewing a sheet of grit from beneath her skirts. She didn't move forward; it takes time for thrust to balance a tank's 170 tonnes.

A calliope—only one—ripped the sky with a jet of 2-cm bolts. The burst lasted only for an eyeblink, but a mortar shell detonated at its touch. The gun was concealed, but Buntz knew the crew was slewing it to bear on a second of the incoming rounds before it landed.

They didn't succeed: proximity fuses exploded the three remaining shells a meter in the air. Fragments sleeted across the compound. Because mortars are low pressure, their shell casings can be much thinner than those of conventional artillery; that leaves room for larger bursting charges. The blasts flattened all the structures that'd survived the ammo truck blowing up. One of the shredded tents ignited a few moments later.

Herod's fans finally bit deeply enough to start the tank climbing up the end of the gully. Buntz had a panoramic view on his main screen. He'd already careted all the Brotherhood vehicles either white—Herod's targets—or orange, for Hole Card. That way both tanks wouldn't fire at the same vehicle and possibly allow another to escape.

Buntz' smaller targeting display was locked on where the right-hand Brotherhood tank destroyer would appear when Herod reached firing position. Hole Card would take the other tank destroyer, the only one visible to it because of a freakishly tall tree growing from the grassland north of its position.

"Top, I'm on!" shouted Cabell in Hole Card on the unit frequency. As Cabell spoke, Buntz' orange pipper slid onto the rounded bow of a tank destroyer. The magnified image rocked as the Brotherhood vehicle sent another plasma bolt into the Government encampment.

"Fire!" Buntz said, mashing the firing pedal with his boot. Herod jolted backward from the recoil of the tiny thermonuclear explosion; downrange, the tank destroyer vanished in a fireball.

Hole Card's target was gone also. Shrubbery was burning in semicircles around the gutted wreckage, and a square meter of deck plating twitched as it fell like a wounded goose. It could've come from either Brotherhood vehicle, so complete was the destruction.

There was a squeal as Cabell swung Hole Card's turret to bear on the plains below. Buntz twitched Herod's main gun only a few mils to the left and triggered it again.

The APC in the foothills was probably the command vehicle overseeing the whole battle. The Brotherhood driver slammed into reverse when the tank destroyers exploded to either side of him, but he didn't have enough time to reach cover before Herod's 20-cm bolt caught the APC squarely. Even from twenty kilometers away, the slug of ionized copper was devastating. The fires lit by the burning vehicles merged into a blaze of gathering intensity.

Now for the real work. "Lahti, haul us forward a couple meters, get us onto the forward slope!" Buntz ordered. The main gun could depress only 5 degrees, so any Brotherhood vehicles that reached the base of the rise the tanks were on would otherwise be in a dead zone.

They shouldn't get that close, of course, but the APCs were very fast. Buntz hadn't made platoon sergeant by gambling when he didn't need to.

The Brotherhood troops on the plains didn't realize—most of them, at least—that their support elements had been destroyed. The mortar crews had launched single rounds initially to test the Placidan defenses. When those proved hopelessly meager, the mortarmen followed up with a Battery Six, six rounds from each tube as quickly as the automatic loaders could cycle.

The calliope didn't make even a token effort to meet the incoming catastrophe; the early blasts must've knocked it out. The twenty-four shells were launched on slightly different trajectories so that all reached the target within a fraction of a same instant. Their explosions covered the interior of the compound as suddenly and completely as flame flashes across a pool of gasoline.

The lead APC in the western flanking element glared cyan; then the bow plate and engine compartment tilted inward into the gap vaporized by Hole Card's main gun. As Lahti shifted Herod, Buntz settled his pipper on the nearest target of the eastern element, locked the stabilizer, and rolled his foot forward on the firing pedal.

Recoil made Herod stagger as though she'd hit a boulder. The turret was filling with a gray haze as the breech opened for fresh rounds. The bore purging system didn't get quite all of the breakdown products of the matrix which held copper atoms in alignment. Filters kept the gases out of Buntz' lungs, but his eyes watered and the skin on the back of his hands prickled.

He was used to it. He wouldn't have felt comfortable if it hadn't happened.

The lead company of the commando's eastern element was in line abreast, aligning the four APCs—three and a dissipating fireball now—almost perfectly with Herod's main gun. Buntz raised his pipper slightly, fired; raised it again as he slewed left to compensate for the APCs' forward movement, fired; raised it again—

The driver of the final vehicle was going too fast to halt by reversing the drive fans to suck the APC to the ground; he'd have pinwheeled if he'd tried it. Instead he cocked his nacelles forward, hoping that he'd fall out of his predicted course. The APC's tribarrel was firing in Herod's general direction, though even if the cyan stream had been carefully aimed the range was too great for 2-cm bolts to damage a tank.

As Buntz' pipper steadied, the sidepanels of the APC's passenger compartment flopped down and the infantry tried to abandon the doomed vehicle. Buntz barely noticed the jolt of his main gun as it lashed out. Buzzbombs and grenades exploded in red speckles on his plasma bolt's overwhelming glare. The back of the APC tumbled through the fiery remains of the vehicle's front half.

Half a dozen tribarrels were shooting at the tanks as the surviving APCs dodged for cover. The same rolling terrain that'd protected Platoon G3 from the tank destroyers sheltered the Brotherhood vehicles also. Buntz threw a quick shot at an APC. Too quick: his bolt lifted a divot the size of a fuel drum from the face of a hillock as his target slid behind it. Grass and topsoil burned a smoky orange.

The only Brotherhood vehicles still in sight were a mortar van and the APC that'd provided its security. They'd both been assigned to Hole Card originally, but seeings as all of Herod's targets were either hidden or blazing wreckage—

Cabell got on the mortar first, so as its unfired shells erupted in a fiery yellow mushroom Buntz put a bolt into the bow of the APC. The sidepanels were open and the tribarrel wasn't firing. Like as not the gunner and driver had joined the infantry in the relative safety of the high grass.

The mortars hadn't fired on Rennie's platoon, knowing that the combat cars would simply put their tribarrels in air-defense mode and sweep the bombs from the sky. The only time mortar shells might be useful would be if they distracted the cars from line-of-sight targets.

The Brotherhood commando had been well and truly hammered, but what remained was as dangerous as a wounded leopard. One option was for Rennie to claim a victory and withdraw in company with the tanks. In the short term that made better economic sense than sending armored vehicles against trained, well equipped infantry in heavy cover. In the longer term, though, that gave the Slammers the reputation of a unit that was afraid to go for the throat . . . which meant it wasn't an option at all.

"Myrtle Six to Lamplight Six," said Lieutenant Rennie over the command push. "My cars are about to sweep the zone, west side first. Don't you panzers get hasty for targets, all right? Over."

"Lamplight to Myrtle," Buntz replied. "Sir, hold your screen and let me flush'em toward you while my Four-seven element keeps overwatch. You've got deployed infantry in your way, but if we can deal with their air defense—right?"

Finishing the commando wouldn't be safe either way, but it was better for a lone tank. Facing infantry in the high grass the combat cars risked shooting one another up, whereas Herod had a reasonable chance of bulling in and out without taking more than her armor could absorb.

Smoke rose from a dozen grassfires on the plain, and the blaze on the hills to the north was growing into what'd be considered a disaster on a world at peace. A tiny part of Buntz' mind noted that he hadn't been on a world at peace in the thirteen standard years since he joined the Slammers, and he might never be on one again until he retired. Or died.

He'd been raised to believe in the Way. Enough of the training remained that he wasn't sure there was peace even in death for what Sergeant Darren Lawrence Buntz had become. But that was for another time, or probably no time at all.

While Buntz waited for Myrtle Six to reply, he echoed a real-time feed from Hole Card's on a section of his own main screen, then called up a topographic map and overlaid it with the courses of all the Brotherhood vehicles. On that he drew a course plot with a sweep of his index finger.

"Lamplight, this is Myrtle," Lieutenant Rennie said at last. The five cars had formed into a loose wedge, poised to sweep north through the Brotherhood anti-armor teams and the remaining APCs. "All right, Buntz, we'll be your anvil. Next time, though, we get the fun part. Myrtle Six out."

"Four-seven, this is Four-two," Buntz said, using the channel dedicated to Lamplight; that was the best way to inform without repetition not only Sergeant Cabell but also the drivers of the two tanks. "Four-two will proceed on the attached course."

He transmitted the plot he'd drawn while waiting for Rennie to make up his mind. It was rough, but that was all Lahti needed—she'd pick the detailed route by eyeball. As for Cabell, knowing the course allowed him to anticipate where targets might appear.

"I'll nail them if they hold where they are, and you get'em if they try to run, Cabell," he said. "But you know, not too eager. Got it, over?"

"Roger, Four-two," Cabell replied. "Good hunting. Four-seven out."

Lahti had already started Herod down the slope, using gravity to accelerate; the fans did little more than lift the skirts off the ground. Their speed quickly built up to 40 kph.

Buntz frowned, doubtful about going so fast cross-country in a tank. Lahti was managing it, though. Herod jounced over narrow, rain-cut gullies and on hillocks which the roots of shrubs had cemented into masses a hand's breadth higher than the surrounding surface, but though Buntz jolted against his seat restraints the shocks weren't any worse than those of the main gun firing.

The fighting compartment displays gave Buntz a panoramic view at any magnification he wanted. Despite that, he had an urge to roll the hatch back and ride with his head out. Like most of the other Slammers recruits, whatever planet they came from, he'd been a country boy. It didn't feel right to shut himself up in a box when he was heading for a fight.

It was what common sense as well as standing orders required, though. Buntz did what he knew he should instead of what his heart wanted to do. When he'd been ten years younger, though, he'd regularly ridden into battle with his torso out of the hatch and his hands on the spade grips of the tribarrel instead of slewing and firing it with the joystick behind armor.

"Boomer Three-niner-one, this is Myrtle Six," Lieutenant Rennie said, using the operation's command channel to call the supporting battery. "Request targeting round at point Alpha Tango one-three, five-eight. Over."

Herod tore through a belt of heavy brush in the dip between two gradual rises. Ground water collected here, and there might be a running stream during the wet season. The tank's skirts sheared gnarled stems, and bits that got into the fan nacelles were sprayed out again as chips.

Hole Card fired. Buntz had been concentrating on the panoramic screen, poised to react if the tank's AI careted movement. Now he glanced at his echo of Cabell's targeting display. The bolt missed, but a Brotherhood APC fluffed its fans to escape the fire spreading from the scar which plasma'd licked through thirty meters of grass.

Cabell fired again. Maybe he'd even planned it this way, spending the first round to startle his target into the path of the second. The APC flew apart. There was no secondary explosion because the infantry had already dismounted, taking their munitions with them.

A shell from the supporting rocket artillery screamed out of the southern sky. While the round was still a thousand meters in the air, a tribarrel fired from near the predicted point of impact. Plasma ruptured the shell, sending a spray of blue smoke through the air. It'd been a marking round, harmless unless you happened to be exactly where it hit.

Herod had just reached the top of another rise. The APC that'd destroyed the shell was behind a knoll seven kilometers away, but Buntz fired, Cabell fired, and two combat cars on the east end of Rennie's wedge thought they had a target also.

None of them hit the target, but Buntz got a momentary view of a Brotherhood soldier hopping into sight and vanishing again. He'd leaped from his cupola, well aware that it was only a matter of time—a matter of a short time—before the Slammers' concentrated fire hit the vehicle that'd been spared by such a narrow margin.

Lahti boosted her fans into the overload region to lift Herod another centimeter off the ground without letting their speed drop. The side-slopes were harsh going: the topsoil had weathered away, leaving rock exposed. Rain and wind deposited the silt at the bottom of the swales, so the Brotherhood troops waiting on the other side of the hill would expect Herod to come at them low.

Buntz'd angled his main gun to their left front, fully depressed. The cupola tribarrel was aimed up the hill Herod was circling. He saw the infantry on the crest rise with their buzzbombs shouldered. Before his thumb could squeeze the tribarrel's firing tit, his displays flickered and the hair on the back of his neck rose. The top of the hill erupted, struck squarely by a bolt from Hole Card's main gun. Cabell's angle had given him an instant's advantage.

Twenty-odd kilometers of atmosphere had spread the plasma charge, but it was still effective against the infantry. There'd been at least six Brotherhood soldiers, but when the rainbow dazzle cleared a single figure remained to stumble downhill. Its arms were raised and its hair and uniform were burning. The fireball of organic matter in the huge divot which the bolt blasted from the hilltop did most of the damage, but the troops' own grenades and buzzbombs had gone off also.

Cabell'd taken a chance when he aimed so close to Herod at long range, but a battle's a risky place to be. Buntz wasn't complaining.

Herod rounded the knob, going too fast to hold its line when the outside of the curve was on a downslope. The tank, more massive than big but big as well, skidded and jounced outward on the turn. The four Brotherhood APCs sheltered on the reverse slope fired before Herod came into sight, willing to burn out their tribarrels for the chance of getting off the first shot. The gunners knew that if they didn't cripple the blower tank instantly they were dead.

They were probably dead even if they did cripple the tank. They were well-trained professionals sacrificing themselves to give their fellows a chance to escape.

2-cm bolts rang on Herod's bow slope in a brilliant display that blurred several of the tank's external pickups with a film of redeposited iridium. The Brotherhood commander hadn't had time to form a defensive position; his vehicles were bunched to escape the tank snipers far to the west, not to meet one of those tanks at knife range. Three vehicles were at the bottom of the swale in a rough line-ahead; the last was higher on the slope.

Buntz fired his main gun when the pipper swung on—on anything, on any part of the APCs. His bolt hit the middle vehicle of the line; it swelled into a fiery bubble. The shockwave shoved the other vehicles away.

The high APC continued to hose Herod with plasma bolts, hammering the hull and blasting three fat holes in the skirts. That tribarrel was the only one to hit the tank, probably because its gunner was aiming to avoid friendly vehicles.

Herod's main gun cycled, purging and cooling the bore with a let of liquid nitrogen. Buntz held his foot down on the trip, screaming with frustration because his gun didn't fire, couldn't fire. He understood the delay, but it maddening nonetheless.

The upper half of the APC vanished in a roaring coruscation: the explosion of Herod's target had pushed it high enough that Hole Card could nail it. Cabell wouldn't have to pay for his drinks the next night he and Buntz were in a bar together.

Two blocks of Herod's Automatic Defense Array went off simultaneously, making the hull chime like a gong. Each block blasted out hundreds tungsten barrels the size of a finger joint. They ripped through long grass and Brotherhood infantry, several of them already firing powerguns.

A soldier stepped around the bow of an APC, his buzzbomb raised to launch. A third block detonated, shredding him from neck to knees. Pellets punched ragged holes through the light armor of the vehicle behind him.

Herod's main gun fired—finally, Buntz' imagination told him, but he knew the loading cycle was complete in less than two seconds. The rearmost APC collapsed in on itself like a thin wax model in a bonfire. The bow fragment tilted toward the rainbow inferno where the middle of the vehicle had been, its tribarrel momentarily spurting a cyan track skyward.

Lahti'd been fighting to hold Herod on a curving course. Now she deliberately straightened the rearmost pair of fan nacelles, knowing that without their counteracting side-thrust momentum would swing the stern out. The gunner in the surviving APC slammed three bolts into Herod's turret at point-blank range; then the mass of the tank's starboard quarter swatted the light vehicle, crushing it and flinging the remains sideways like a can kicked by an armored boot.

Herod grounded hard, air screaming through the holes in her plenum chamber. "Get us outa here, Lahti!" Buntz ordered. "Go! Go! Go!"

Lahti was already tilting her fan nacelles to compensate for the damage. She poured on the coal again. Because they were still several meters above the floor of the swale, she was able to use gravity briefly to accelerate by sliding Herod toward the smoother terrain.

Buntz spun his cupola at maximum rate, knowing that scores of Brotherhood infantry remained somewhere in the grass behind them. A shower of buzzbombs could easily disable a tank. If Herod's luck was really bad, well . . . the only thing good about a fusion bottle rupturing was that the crew wouldn't know what hit them.

The driver of an APC was climbing out of his cab, about all that remained of the vehicle. Buntz didn't fire; he didn't even think of firing.

It could of been me. It could be me tomorrow.

Lahti maneuvered left, then right, following contours that'd go unremarked on a map but which were the difference between concealed and visible—between life and death—on this rolling terrain. When Herod was clear of the immediate knot of enemy soldiers, she slowed to give herself her time to diagnose the damage to the plenum chamber.

Buntz checked his own readouts. Half the upper bank of sensors on the starboard side were out, not critical now but definitely a matter for replacement before the next operation.

The point-blank burst into the side of the turret was more serious. The bolts hadn't penetrated, but another hit in any of the cavities just might. Base maintenance would probably patch the damage for now, but Buntz wouldn't be a bit surprised if the turret was swapped out while the Regiment was in transit to the next contract deployment.

But not critical, not right at the moment. . . . 

As Buntz took stock, a shell screamed up from the south. He hadn't heard Lieutenant Rennie call for another round, but it wasn't likely that a tank commander in the middle of a firefight would've.

Six or eight Brotherhood APCs remained undamaged, but this time their tribarrels didn't engage the incoming shell. It burst a hundred meters up, throwing out a flag of blue smoke. It was simply a reminder of the sleet of antipersonnel bomblets that could follow.

A mortar fired, its choonk! a startling sound to a veteran at this point in a battle. Have they gone off their nuts? Buntz thought. He set his tribarrel to air defense mode just in case.

Lahti twitched Herod's course so that Herod didn't smash a stand of bushes with brilliant pink blooms. She liked flowers, Buntz recalled. Sparing the bushes didn't mean much in the long run, of course.

Buntz grinned. His mouth was dry and his lips were so dry they were cracking. In the long run, everybody's dead. Screw the long run.

The mortar bomb burst high above the tube that'd launched it. It was a white flare cluster.

"All personnel of the Flaming Sword Commando, cease fire!" an unfamiliar voice ordered on what was formally the Interunit Channel. Familiarly it was the Surrender Push. When a signal came in over that frequency, a red light pulsed on the receiving set of every mercenary in range. "This is Captain el-Khalid, ranking officer. Slammers personnel, the Flaming Sword Commando of the Holy Brotherhood surrenders on the usual terms. We request exchange and repatriation at the end of the conflict. Over."

"All Myrtle and Lamplight units!" Lieutenant Rennie called, also using the Interunit Channel. "This is Myrtle Six. Cease fire, I repeat, cease fire. Captain el-Khalid, please direct your troops to proceed to high ground to await registration. Myrtle Six out."

"Top, can we pull into that firebase while they get things sorted out?" Lahti asked over the intercom. "I'll bet we got enough time to patch those holes. I don't want to crawl all the way back leaking air and scraping our skirts."

"Right, good thinking," Buntz said. "And if there's not time, we'll make time. Nothing's going to happen that can't wait another half hour."

Herod carried a roll of structural plastic sheeting. Cut and glued to the inside of the plenum chamber, it'd seal the holes till base maintenance welded permanent patches in place. Unless the Brotherhood had shot away all the duffle on the back deck, of course, in which case they'd borrow sheeting from another of the vehicles. It wouldn't be the first time Buntz'd had to replace his personal kit, either.

They were within two klicks of the Government firebase. Even if they'd been farther, a bulldozed surface was a lot better to work on. Out here you were likely to find you'd set down on brambles or a nest of stinging insects when you crawled into the plenum chamber.

As Lahti drove sedately toward the firebase, Buntz opened his hatch and stuck his head out. He felt dizzy for a moment. That was reaction, he supposed, not the change from chemical residues to open air.

Sometimes the breeze drifted a hot reminder of the battle past Buntz' face. The main gun had cooled to rainbow-patterned gray, but heat waves still shimmered above the barrel.

Lahti was idling up the resupply route into the firebase, an unsurfaced track that meandered along the low ground. It'd have become a morass when it rained, but that didn't matter any longer.

There was no wire or berm, just the circle of bunkers. Half of them were now collapsed. The Government troops had been playing at war; to the Brotherhood as to the Slammers, killing was a business.

Lahti halted them between two undamaged bunkers at the south entrance. Truck wheels had rutted the soil here. There was flatter ground within the encampment, but she didn't want to crush the bodies in the way.

Buntz'd probably have ordered his driver to stop even if she'd had different ideas. Sure, they were just bodies; he'd seen his share and more of them since he'd enlisted. But they could patch Herod where they were, so that's what they'd do.

Lahti was clambering out her hatch. Buntz made sure that the Automatic Defense Array was shut off, then climbed onto the back deck. He was carrying the first aid kit, not that he expected to accomplish much with it.

It bothered him that he and Lahti both were out of Herod in case something happened, but nothing was going to happen. Anyway, the tribarrel was still in air defense mode. He bent to cut the ties holding the roll of sheeting.

"Hey Top?" Lahti called. Buntz looked at her over his shoulder. She was pointing to the nearest bodies. The Government troops must've been running from the bunkers when the first mortar shells scythed them down.

"Yeah, what you got?" Buntz said.

"These guys," Lahti said. "Remember the recruiting rally? This is them, right?"

Buntz looked more carefully. "Yeah, you're right," he said.

That pair must be the DeCastro brothers, one face-up and the other face-down. They'd both lost their legs at mid-thigh. Buntz couldn't recall the name of the guy just behind them, but he was the henpecked little fellow who'd been dodging his wife. Well, he'd dodged her for good. And the woman with all her clothes blown off; not a mark on her except she was dead. . The whole Quinta County draft must've been assigned here.

He grimaced. They'd been responsible for a major victory over the rebels, according to one way of thinking.

Buntz shoved the roll of sheeting to the ground. "Can you handle this yourself, Lahti?" he said. He gestured with the first aid kit. "I can't do a lot, but I'd like to try."

The driver shrugged. "Sure, Top," she said. "If you want to."

Recorded music was playing from one of the bunkers. Buntz' memory supplied the words: "Arise, children of the fatherland! The day of glory has arrived. . . ."

End note to The Day of Glory

The Hammer's Slammers series isn't in any sense a future history. It's made up of individual stories exploring one aspect or another of what war means to the men and women at the sharp end. In these stories I've been translating into an SF setting what I learned in 1970 with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Viet-Nam and Cambodia.

We—the Blackhorse—were an elite unit. I was very fortunate to have been assigned to a regiment in which you never had to worry if the guy next to you was going to do his job: he was, and so were you—whatever you thought of war or The War or our Vietnamese allies. (Generally the answer to all those questions was, "Not much.")

The flip side was that the distinction between the categories Not Blackhorse and Enemy got blurred. We didn't view our job as winning hearts and minds: we were there to kill people and then go home. And we didn't much care about the cost of victory so long as somebody else was paying it.

That's something civilians ought to consider long and hard before they send tanks off to make policy. Because I can tell you from personal experience, it isn't something the tankers themselves are likely to worry about.



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