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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Harrison Harry

«Bill, the Galactic Hero», Harry Harrison

Bill, the Galactic Hero

Book One

Chapter 1

Bill never realized that sex was the cause of it all. If the sun that morning had not been burning so warmly in the brassy sky of Phigerinadon II, and if he had not glimpsed the sugar-white and wine-barrel-wide backside of Inga-Maria Calyphigia, while she bathed in the stream, he might have paid more attention to his plowing than to the burning pressures of heterosexuality and would have driven his furrow to the far side of the hill before the seductive music sounded along the road. He might never have heard it, and his life would have been very, very different. But he did hear it and dropped the handles of the plow that was plugged into the robomule, turned, and gaped.

It was indeed a fabulous sight. Leading the parade was a one-robot band, twelve feet high and splendid in its great black busby that concealed the hi-fi speakers. The golden pillars of its legs stamped forward as its thirty articulated arms sawed, plucked, and fingered at a dazzling variety of instruments. Martial music poured out in wave after inspiring wave, and even Bill's thick peasant feet stirred in their clodhoppers as the shining boots of the squad of soldiers crashed along the road in perfect unison. Medals jingled on the manly swell of their scarlet-clad chests, and there could certainly be no nobler sight in all the world. To their rear marched the sergeant, gorgeous in his braid and brass, thickly clustered medals and ribbons, sword and gun, girdled gut and steely eye which sought out Bill where he stood gawking over the fence. The grizzled head nodded in his direction, the steel-trap mouth bent into a friendly smile and there' was a conspiratorial wink. Then the little legion was past, and hurrying behind in their wake came a huddle of dust-covered ancillary robots, hopping and crawling or rippling along on treads. As soon as these had gone by Bill climbed clumsily over the split-rail fence and ran after them. There were no more than two interesting events every four years here, and he was not going to miss what promised to be a third.

A crowd had already gathered in the market square when Bill hurried up, and they were listening to an enthusiastic band concert. The robot hurled itself into the glorious measures of “Star Troopers to the Skies Avaunt,” thrashed its way through “Rockets Rumble,” and almost demolished itself in the tumultuous rhythm of “Sappers at the Tithead Digging.” It pursued this last tune so strenuously that one of its legs flew off, rising high into the air, but was caught dexterously before it could hit the ground, and the music ended with the robot balancing on its remaining leg, beating time with the detached limb. It also, after an ear-fracturing peal on the basses, used the leg to point across the square to where a tri-di screen and refreshment booth had been set up. The troopers had vanished into the tavern, and the recruiting sergeant stood alone among his robots, beaming a welcoming smile.

“Now hear this! Free drinks for all, courtesy of the Emperor, and some lively scenes of jolly adventure in distant climes to amuse you while you sip,” he called in an immense and leathery voice.

Most of the people drifted over, Bill in their midst, though a few embittered and elderly draft-dodgers slunk away between the houses. Cooling drinks were shared out by a robot with a spigot for a navel and an inexhaustible supply of plastic glasses in one hip. Bill sipped his happily while he followed the enthralling adventures of the space troopers in full color, with sound effects and stimulating subsonics. There was battle and death and glory, though it was only the Chingers who died: troopers only suffered neat little wounds in their extremities that could be covered easily by small bandages. And while Bill was enjoying this, Recruiting Sergeant Grue was enjoying him, his little piggy eyes ruddy with greed as they fastened onto the back of Bill's neck.

This is the one! he chortled to himself while, unknowingly, his yellowed tongue licked at his lips. He could already feel the weight of the bonus money in his pocket. The rest of the audience. were the usual mixed bag of overage men, fat women, beardless youths, and other unenlistables. All except this broad-shouldered, square-chinned, curly-haired chunk of electronic-cannon fodder. With a precise hand on the controls the sergeant lowered the background subsonics and aimed a tight-beam stimulator at the back of his victim's head.

Bill writhed in his seat, almost taking part in the glorious battles unfolding before him.

As the last chord died and the screen went blank, the refreshment robot pounded hollowly on its metallic chest and bellowed, “DRINK! DRINK! DRINK!” The sheeplike audience swept that way, all except Bill, who was plucked from their midst by a powerful arm.

“Here, I saved some for you,” the sergeant said, passing over a prepared cup so loaded with dissolved ego-reducing drugs that they were crystallizing out at the bottom. “You're a fine figure of a lad and to my eye seem a cut above the yokels here. Did you ever think of making your career in the forces?” “I'm not the military type, Shargeant…” Bill chomped his jaws and spat to remove the impediment to his speech and puzzled at the sudden-fogginess in his thoughts. Though it was a tribute to his physique that he was even conscious after the volume of drugs and sonics that he had been plied with.

“Not the military type. My fondest ambition is to be of help in the best way I can, in my chosen career as a Technical Fertilizer Operator, and I'm almost finished with my correspondence course… “ “That's a crappy job for a bright lad like you,” the sergeant said, while clapping him on the arm to get a good feel of his biceps. Rock: He resisted the impulse to pull Bill's lip down and take a quick peek at the condition of his back teeth. Later. “Leave that kind of job to those that like it. No chance of promotion. While a career in the troopers has no top. Why, Grand-Admiral Pflunger came up through the rocket tubes, as they say, from, recruit trooper to grandadmiral. How does that sound?” “It sounds very nice for Mr. Pflunger, but I think fertilizer operating is more fun. Gee-I'm feeling sleepy. I think I'll go lie down.” “Not before you've seen this, just as a favor to me of course,” the sergeant said, cutting in front of him and pointing to a large book held open by a tiny robot. “Clothes make the man, and most men would be ashamed to be seen in a crummy-looking smock like that thing draped around you or wearing those broken canal boats on their feet. Why look like that when you can look like this?” Bill's eyes followed the thick finger to the color plate in the book where a miracle of misapplied engineering caused his own face to appear on the illustrated figure dressed in trooper red. The sergeant flipped the pages, and on each plate the uniform was a little more gaudy, the rank higher. The last one was that of a grand-admiral, and Bill blinked at his own face under the plumed helmet, now with a touch of crow's-feet about the eyes and sporting a handsome and grayshot mustache, but still undeniably his own.

“That's the way you will look,” the sergeant murmured into his ear, “once you have climbed the ladder of success. Would you like to try a uniform on? Of course you would like to try a uniform on. Tailorl” When Bill opened his mouth to protest the sergeant put a large cigar into it, and before he could get it out the robot tailor had rolled up, swept a curtain-bearing arm about him and stripped him naked. “Hey! Hey!” he said.

“It won't hurt,” the sergeant said, poking his great head through the curtain and beaming at Bill's muscled form.. He poked a finger into a pectoral (rock), then withdrew.

“Ouch!” Bill said, as the tailor extruded a cold pointer and jabbed him with it, measuring his size. Something went chunk deep inside its tubular torso, and a brilliant red jacket began to emerge from a slot in the front. In an instant this was slipped onto Bill and the shining golden buttons buttoned. Luxurious gray moleskin trousers were pulled on next, then gleaming black knee-length boots. Bill staggered a bit as the curtain was whipped away and a powered full-length mirror rolled up.

“Oh, how the girls love a uniform,” the sergeant said, “and I can't blame them.” A memory of the vision of Inga-Maria Calyphigia's matched white moons obscured Bill's sight for a moment, and when it had cleared he found he was grasping a stylo and was about to sign the form that the recruiting sergeant held before him.

“No,” Bill said, a little amazed at his own firmness of mind. “I don't really want to. Technical Fertilizer Operator…” “And not only will you receive this lovely uniform, an enlistment bonus, and a free medical examination, but you will be awarded these handsome medals.” The sergeant took a flat box, offered to him on cue by a robot, and opened it to display a glittering array of ribbons and bangles. “This is the Honorable Enlistment Award,” he intoned gravely, pinning a jewel-encrusted nebula, pendant on chartreuse, to Bill's wide chest. “And the Emperor's Congratulatory Gilded Horn, the Forward to Victory Starburst, the Praise Be Given Salutation of the Mothers of the Victorious Fallen, and the Everflowing Cornucopia which does not mean anything but looks nice and can be used to carry contraceptives.” He stepped back and admired Bill's chest; which was now adangle with ribbons, shining metal, and gleaming paste gems.

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