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Away to the darkness, cowardly offspring, where out of hatred

Eurotas does not flow even for timorous deer.

Useless pup, worthless portion, away to Hell.

Away! This son unworthy of Sparta was not mine at all.

—Anonymous saying attributed to a Spartan Mother

“Please take a seat and buckle in,” the PAO officer repeated. “We all want to get into space as fast as possible, don’t we?”

“As a last gig, this purely sucks,” Coxswain’s Mate Second Class Dana Parker said, watching the group filing into the Myrmidon shuttle.

To say that the line between civilian and military was starting to blur in the war was an understatement. During the last battle around the gate, the Troy had suffered numerous casualties despite it’s kilometer and a half thick walls. The 142nd Boat Wing had lost five shuttles with their crews and in one case consignment of Marines. Total losses were close to two thousand Navy and Marine personnel, mostly in the boarding action that had captured two Rangora space docks and their support ships.

On the other hand, the civilian repair crews of Apollo Mining had suffered over two hundred casualties doing repairs in the middle of a battle.

Thus when Apollo’s owner, or at least someone close enough to the top to get away using his name, asked if the Navy would be ever so kind as to loan Apollo a Myrmidon to pick up a group of space tourists, the Navy had been happy to oblige. It was good press for the Navy and doing Tyler Vernon a favor was always a good idea.

Troy, the nine kilometer battlestation that, along with her sister station Thermopylae, had just smashed a Rangora fleet flat, was the brainchild of the Chairman of the Board of Apollo. Also his home away from home. The financier rarely left his quarters onboard. And when he did it was in his customized shuttle, Starfire, which could often be seen drifting across the main bay or observing some new construction on the battlestation.

It was often wondered who really commanded Troy, Rear Admiral Jack Kinyon it’s supposed commander or the reclusive tycoon.

The trip Dana had gotten stuck on was part of a contest to name Battlestation Three. The eight kilometer ball of nickel iron was on its way inward from the asteroid belt, preparing to join the Thermopylae and Troy in guarding the Grtul gate, humanity’s contact to the stars. Not that for most of Dana’s life it had been much more than trouble. Her first memory was of walking out of the burning Los Angeles basin after a Horvath kinetic bombardment.

Her last visit to Los Angeles, one of many at this point, was to drop off more shuttle loads of Rangora prisoners. The survivors of the recent battle joined the more than ten thousand already in the camps built in the midst of the devastation. The ten foot tall lizards, whose labor could not be used for “military purposes,” were being used to strip the area clear of damage. Since the resulting superfires had burned everything from Glendale to Pomona to Irvine flat, it was also a convenient spot to stick them.

Her first trip to LA had entailed some really bad flashbacks. PTSD was considered the new normal, but returning to her birthplace had been a shock. At this point, it was just another destroyed city. Crawling with Rangora prisoners who were not nearly the supermen they seemed when earth first came to them attention as an “easy” conquest.

This trip was easier. The kids were among the thousands who had submitted names for the new battlestation. The requirement was that it be a battle in history where a group of outnumbered defenders fought a valiant battle win or lose. Each kid had to submit an essay defending their choice. The winners were drawn by lot from “essays or arguments of notable merit.”

Thirty kids between the ages of six and twelve were chosen. Six civilian chaperones, two PAO officers and that filled the thirty-eight person cargo section of the Myrmidon.

“And we’re full up,” Engineering Mate First Class Hartwell said.

Thermal had been her boss back when Dana was a newbie engineering apprentice assigned to the 142nd. During one of her first battles, several coxswains on their way back from earth had had the bad luck to be on a civilian shuttle coasting between earth and the Troy when the Rangora came through. A shuttle that the Rangora turned into debris during the battle. Thus the 142nd was left with a shortage of drivers just when they needed them.

Dana, as one of the EMs with a high rating in “flight cross-training” had been picked to drive a shuttle. Since she was a total newb, Thermal took her under his wing. They’d been partners for the last two years and in three days that was going to end. Dana was on orders to transfer to the 143rd Wing on the Thermopylae.

“Double check the door,” Dana said, watching the PAOs get the kids settled down. That wasn’t going well since the kids, all of whom were also crazy for space, were bouncing around like Mexican jumping beans. “The last thing we want to happen is the compartment to evacuate in orbit.”

“That would be bad, yes,” Thermal said, climbing out of his seat.

Generally a PO2 didn’t order a PO1 around. But while Thermal “owned” Shuttle Thirty-Six, Dana was responsible for all actions during flight. Thermal was probably going to check the hatch anyway, but Dana hadn’t survived this long by taking anything for granted. Space was a cold, unforgiving bitch and she wasn’t going to have “killed thirty kids” on her resume.

Dana watched on the internal monitors as Thermal made his way forward. He had to stop from time to time to answer questions from the hyper-active children in the compartment but he finally managed to make his way back to the flight deck.

“Whoo!” Thermal said, dogging the hatch and leaning on it. “That was worse than a hot LZ! Those kids are going insane.”

“We’d better get them to the Troy, then,” Dana said, giggling. She hated when she giggled but it was her normal reaction to stressors. By now she’d had enough of those to get over it. And nobody in the 142nd said a damned thing about “Comet’s giggle.” They’d heard it too many times when the shit was hitting the fan.

“Please prepare for lift-off,” Dana said over the internal speakers. It was the first time she could think of when she’d used them. Most of the time they carried Marines who had implants to receive broadcasts. And a good bit of the time the cargo compartment was evacuated so the Marines could unass quicker.

Which reminded her to check, for the fourth time, that all seals were tight and the compartment’s air circulators were working. That was, technically, Thermal’s job. And she’d seen him do it since he sat down and to her starboard from the flight control position. Didn’t mean she wasn’t going to triple check. And check again.

She pulled the shuttle up and around under moderate drive. She could pull up to four hundred gravities if she wanted to subject her passengers to a relative condition of three gravs of inertia. But not only would that unduly stress her passengers, it would heat up the shuttle as it rocketed out of the atmosphere faster than the most advanced air-breathing fighter. Then there was the overpressure wave, the sonic boom, the fact that STC had her on a strict flight path and the fact that Manchester field was busy as hell. All good reasons to keep her velocity down.

Two freighters were taking off to the east on the increasingly large tarmac and three more were inbound to the west. One of the ones to the west she recognized as the Troy’s milk run freighter which carried up food and other consumables and carried back refined metals from the Apollo processors on the Troy. The metals would, in turn, be shipped to factories all over the world. And mostly be turned into parts and materials for the growing Terran Alliance Fleet and modules for the Troy, Thermopylae and Station Three.

At seventy thousand feet, ground control automatically handed off to Space Traffic Control. Dana noted it and decided to see if Athena was busy.

“Athena, Shuttle One-Four-Two-Three-Six,” Dana said.

Comet,” the AI replied. “How are you today?”

“Milk run,” Dana said. “Carrying kids up to the Troy to be all agog.”

I’m aware of the mission,” Athena said over the hypercom. The FTL transmitter was one of a dozen alien technologies that Terrans, at this point, took for granted. “I take it you don’t care for it.”

“Not my idea of vital support of humanity, Athena,” Dana said. “Anything I should be aware of?”

The usual mess of destroyed ships,” the AI said, distastefully. “There’s a large section of hull plating surrounded by a constellation of lesser damage moving through your route. I’ll warn you when you’re getting close.”

“Roger, Athena,” Dana said, making a moue. “Seems like an odd place for debris.”

It’s from the first battle,” Athena commed. “Portion of a Horvath destroyer. It was ejected into a retrograde orbit but it’s become more of an asteroid at this point. Apollo keeps planning to smelt it and move it but there’s always something else that comes up. There’s a fair bit of small particles around it. I’ll vector you wide.”

“Thank you, Athena,” Dana said. “I’d hate to kill these kids. Take that back, I’d hate to be responsible for killing these kids.”

I take your meaning,” Athena commed. “Gotta go, kid. There’s more fires than that to stomp out.”

“Thirty-Six, out,” Dana replied, making a slight adjustment to her path. Deep space rubble from the various battles was bad enough. The orbits around earth were just a nightmare. Many of the satellites weren’t even in use anymore, being communications satellites which had been outmoded by the hypercom. But with everything else going on in the system, nobody was getting around to pulling them out of orbit.

“Can I let the kids unbuckle?” Thermal asked.

“Let me get out of the junk belt,” Dana said. “I don’t know when I’m going to have to pull a high G maneuver until we’re beyond geosynch.”

“Roger,” Thermal said.

“And do you really want a bunch of space junkies loose in the cargo bay?” Dana asked.

“Better than squirming in their seats the whole trip,” Hartwell said.

“They probably smuggled screwdrivers onboard,” Dana said. “You know they did.”

“You really don’t like kids, do you?” Thermal said.

“I like them just fine,” Dana said. “Preferably poached, but grilled is pretty good, too.”

“We’re going to be in this war for a long time the way things are going,” Thermal said. “Where are we going to get the next generation of intrepid space eagles?”

I wasn’t interested in space,” Dana said, sighing slightly as the last geosynchronous satellite was behind her. “I’m here to protect and defend the planet, just like it says in the commercials. And given Johannsen’s, I figure we’re going to have all the volunteers we need.”

Earth’s cities had been repeatedly hammered by orbital strikes to the point that of the “top one hundred” cities from before the war, only five were unscathed. That didn’t even count the deaths from a series of plagues broadcast by the Horvath when Dana was a child.

One critical aspect of the plagues, though, was quickly refilling earth’s population. The Horvath had hidden a subtle genetic change in several of the viruses that were spread. The change had to do with female reproduction, especially in the “blonde” genetic subgroup. Women who were effected, and the spread had been very nearly one hundred percent, were subject to a “heat” cycle similar to male reproductive drive and pharmaceutical contraceptives were functionally useless. The Horvath had anticipated their plagues essentially depopulating the planet and wanted to ensure a steady supply of new human slaves.

Friendly Glatun medical AIs and doctors had stopped the plague from killing most of humanity but since most of the world’s population was infected by the orbitally distributed plagues, they were left with the problem of what was called “Johannsen’s Syndrome.” The only way to fix the global issue was a reverse plague. But not only were the ethical considerations against infecting people without their consent, to stop the Horvath plagues they’d immunized most of humanity with advanced nano-bots that stopped virtually any biological or nannite in its tracks. To undue the damage required multiple medical visits and advanced technology that, at that point, was fairly rare.

This left virtually every woman on the planet with so much as a trace of blonde gene as a baby factory. The first year after the plague, Germany had one birth for every reproductive aged female. Scandinavia at one point hit an average birth rate of 9.1, meaning that if the rate continued the average Scandinavian—Dane, Swedish and Norwegian—woman would bear nine children in her life. The teen pregnancy rate got completely out of control for about five years before education and cultural effects started to get a handle on the new reality.

It was all very well to say “be fruitful and multiply.” Johannsen’s made the situation simply insane. The nature of the plague meant that, in some cases, there were serial pregnancies meaning that more than one viable fetus was in the womb from multiple inseminations. Some women had three children in as many months.

Most of those children from the first “baby explosion” were still below military age. The kids she was carrying were a good example. But between the damage to infrastructure on earth, requiring nearly complete re-industrialization, and the critical need for Navy and Marine personnel, many of them were going to end up living, and fighting, in the reaches of space. Most industry, for that matter, was moving to orbital. Not only were there fewer environmental issues, it was simply easier with modern technology.

If these kids wanted to work in space when they grew up, the jobs were going to be there.

“We’re out of orbit,” Dana said. “You can let them undog if you want. But you’d better keep an eye on them or they’ll have the hatch open to see if space is really vacuum.”

“I’ve a better idea, Coxswain,” Thermal said. “Since you’re engineering rated and I am cox rated and this is a milk run, why don’t you go forward and give them a class on maintenance of a Myrmidon shuttle. Start with the Sector Seven grav plates.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Dana said. “That sounds like a job for the engineer.”

“Sounds like a job for the junior PO, to me,” Thermal said, grinning. “Seriously, Coxswain’s Mate. Time to man up. Or woman up in your case.”

“I hate kids,” Dana said.

“I can make it an order if you want,” Thermal said. “Take the tool bag.”

“You are a vicious and cruel human, you know that, Thermal,” Dana said, getting out of her chair and pulling the shuttle’s toolbag out of its compartment. Mounted over the compartment was a racked crowbar. “I ought to put this crowbar to good work on your skull.”

“Now, now,” Thermal said. “You know the significance of the crowbar. Let it not be used for lesser purposes.”

“Athena warned of debris up ahead,” Dana said, temporizing.

“I heard,” Thermal said. “I can fly this thing nearly as well as you. Out! Away to your mission, Comet.”

“Bastard,” Dana muttered, undogging the hatch.

She was immediately assaulted by the sound of children. They weren’t screaming so much as having to talk very loud to be heard over the kids who were talking very loud to be heard over...

“AT EASE!” Dana bellowed. “That means quiet down!”

“Coxswain’s Mate?” one of the PAO officers said. He was a lieutenant which meant Dana was seriously outranked. On the other hand, this was her shuttle.

“I’m going to conduct a class on Myrmidon maintenance, sir,” Dana said, sliding around to the aisle. The Myrmidon, with all its seats installed, didn’t have much room to maneuver. “Since these kids are into space and all that. It’ll keep them from trying to take it apart to see how it ticks.”

“I know how it ticks,” one of the boys said. “I made a complete scale model of a Myrmidon last year, every part.”

“Every part?” Dana asked. “Even the components of the Sector Seven grav module?”

“No,” the kid said. “I had to do that as one module. It was too small to do all the components.”

“Not in here,” Dana said, hefting the heavy toolbag into his lap. “So out of your seat. It’s time to do some PMCS. And you get to start. Where’s the Sector Seven module?”

“Underneath her chair,” the kid said, struggling with the twenty kilo bag.

“So how are you going to move the chair?” Dana asked.


“Everybody up!” Dana said. “All the chaperones to the rear. Unless you’re really interested in space shuttles. It’s going to take at least four of you. Get the number three and four chairs undogged and moved forward. Do not touch the hatch. It’s locked internally but God knows what you little demons could figure out.” She stopped with her hands on her hips looking at the suddenly quiet group. “I said get those chairs moved! Move it! Move it!”

* * *

“And...fore!” Tyler Vernon called, swinging his golf club.

The head connected with the ball and sent it out on an almost straight trajectory towards the circle of red lights set up a kilometer away in the main bay. It went left, a slice, and lower than he’d expected, and nearly hit one of the gravity drives on Horn Four.


Rising up from the interior of the six kilometer wide main bay of the Troy were four three kilometer long “horns.” They tapered from six hundred meters wide at the base to two hundred meters at their terminus. The terminus was ringed with grav drives larger than any ship’s.

Their purpose was to rotate the Troy which they could manage at about ten meters per second. Given that they were moving two trillion tons, that was pretty good. Archimedes, the father of leverage, once remarked that if he had a lever long enough he could move a world.

Tyler was quietly proud that he’d finally proven the old guy right.

They were also a convenient place to hang secondary systems. Horn Four, besides its grav drives and the massive matter conversion plants necessary to drive them, was home to four “small” one-hundred-meter fabbers, primarily used to produce missiles. There were more on Horns Two and Three while Horn One was home to the main ship fabber, Hephaestus.

Since Troy was full up on missiles again, all four hundred and fifty thousand in the two completed missile magazines, the fabbers switched to producing laser emitters and power systems. Which was building up Troy’s onboard laser capability nicely.

“I’ve got to get rid of that slice,” Tyler said, taking his next swing.

Golfing in space suits had a venerable history. Alan Shephard, commander of Apollo Fourteen, had hit two golf balls on the moon. At that time, lifting the mass of his golf club and the two balls had cost nearly sixty thousand dollars.

Tyler’s company had figured out how to give a two trillion ton asteroid an Orion drive that accelerated the battlestation at .2 G. Lifting his golf clubs wasn’t a big deal.

What was a big deal was trying to hit the balls in microgravity. Tyler was in a space suit whose boots were grav-locked to the top of the Starfire. That meant that he couldn’t rotate his body worth a damn. Shephard at least could get a decent rotation going. Tyler was blaming his tendency to slice on that.

Then there was the problem of having golf balls, which weren’t going to lose their momentum in the microgravity of the main bay, bouncing around the six kilometer, somewhat busy, sphere. Fortunately, Paris had some pretty darned good tractor beams and wasn’t terribly busy at the moment. He was also rather happy at his new upgrade to Class III AI and more than willing to catch balls. Even if they were occasionally errant.

If you wouldn’t mind holding off on the next one, sir,” Paris commed. “We’ve got an incoming Myrmidon heading for the civilian docking bay.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, straightening from teeing up. “It’s not like a golf-ball’s going to hurt a Myrmidon, though.”

Tyler didn’t like being in a suit and didn’t like EVA. He’d been in a “low atmosphere” condition one time during an abortive attack by the Horvath back when Earth was just starting to get advanced technology. It was the first attack the US had managed to beat off, due as much to Apollo’s Solar Array Pumped Laser as anything. But because he was one of the few people with Galactic implants, which appeared absolutely necessary to fly Earth’s first star fighter, he’d ended up sucking vacuum in a half destroyed fighter.

He also had, over the years, lost all hobbies. Work had absolutely eaten him up for the last decade to the point where he’d barely managed to attend his daughters’ weddings. He effectively owned LFD, the parent corporation of Apollo Mining LLC and SAPL, which was a ninety hour per week job.

Once upon a time he’d been a cartoonist. He had been a manager in the software industry. A programmer. He had a family, he golfed and played ultimate frisbee.

He’d had a life.

Combining golfing, which was a hard skill to relearn in the first place, with EVA was a natural. It got him out of his quarters and in the fresh vacuum.

Now if he could just overcome that nasty slice.

I suspect the clang as it hit the side would startle the crew, however,” Paris replied. “And it’s the winners of the naming contest. We don’t want them peeing all over the shuttle.”

“Damned stupid idea, anyway,” Tyler muttered. “I’m going to name it what I want to name it.”

Part of Apollo’s contract with the Navy was that Apollo Mining, LLC—which was the only company in the system with the ability to make the Troy class battlestations—reserved the right to name them. What that meant, in real effect, was Tyler got to name them. There had been some questions about the names thus far. Both were famous battles where the losing side had won a moral victory.

Few people remembered what city Agamemnon or Achilles came from. Just about anyone recognized the name Troy. By the same token, it took a historian to know any details of the Persian side of the battle of Thermopylae.

“What’s the betting pool, anyway,” Tyler said, resting one arm on his driver as the shuttle passed.

Six to one for Alamo according to New Las Vegas,” Paris responded. “Top vote is Iwo Jima.”

“Iwo Jima?” Tyler said. “That was a victory.”

Not to the Japanese, sir,” Paris commed. “They’re voting rather heavily. Also Saipan, Tarawa and Okinawa.

“Those are classes of Marine assault ships,” Tyler said. “If we ever get around to making Marine assault ships. What’s next?”

Constantinople,” Paris commed. “Stalingrad, Changsha, Islawanda and Clervaux.”

“Changsha?” Tyler asked.

Battle between the Japanese and Chinese around the time of the Second World War,” Paris replied. “First time the Japanese lost to the Chinese.”

“Might as well call it Guadalcanal,” Tyler said. “Midway. El Alemain. Silly people. No sense of history.”

Shuttle is past, sir,” Paris commed.

“Right,” Tyler replied. “Forrrre...”


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