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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Asprin Robert

«A Phule and His Money», Robert Asprin


Journal #278

Even the most fortunate circumstances contain the seeds of their own destruction. So it was with the tenure of Phule's Company on Lorelei.

At first glance, a posh gambling resort like Lorelei would appear a plum assignment for a Space Legion company that until recently had been the laughingstock of the Legion. Omega Company had long been the Legion's dumping ground for incompetents and malcontents. My employer, Willard Phule (or "Captain Jester, " to use his Legion name) was given command of Omega Company as punishment for a small indiscretion of his own, namely ordering a peace conference strafed. He was lucky-only his status as a wealthy munitions heir kept him from being expelled outright. The generals meant to so overload him with frustration and embarrassment that he would resign. A spoiled rich kid could find plenty of more pleasant ways to misspend his youth, they thought.

Instead he had decided to make the company the best in the Legion, and by applying unorthodox methods had come a long way toward that goal. But he had powerful enemies, and Lorelei appeared a perfect trap for the unwary. Dominated by gangsters, and given over to every sort of sybaritic entertainment, it would have destroyed most military units. That Phule's company had succeeded beyond all hopes confounded those enemies-but they were determined to find new ways to destroy him.

Now, the company was about to receive new troops-the first significant additions to its ranks since he took command. In such a tight-knit unit, any change of personnel has an impact. When the new troops have been selected by one's enemies, the impact is likely to be disastrous...

"They'll be docking any minute, now," said Phule, consulting his chronometer. It was the third time he'd checked it in the last five minutes. Since there were numerous time displays on view throughout the space station's arrival lounge, an observer might have concluded that Phule's preoccupation with the time-combined with his pacing and nonstop talking-was a sign of nervousness. That observer would have been right.

"A few minutes one way or the other won't make much difference, Captain," said Sergeant Brandy, who had come with her commanding officer to greet the new troops assigned to Phule's Company. "They're coming, and we'll deal with it. All of us will. I've been through this enough times before."

"Oh, I know you have," said Phule, nodding appreciatively to his top sergeant. "And I know you'll do everything you can to make them fit in smoothly. I've seen what you can do, Brandy. But this isn't just any new batch of recruits. It's a completely unique situation."

"You mean the Gambolts, sir?" said Lieutenant Armstrong, the third in the greeting party. He stood ramrod straight, almost managing to look comfortable despite the exaggerated precision of his uniform and posture. "I don't see where they'll be a problem. They're among the finest fighters in the galaxy. It's an honor to have them in our unit."

"Yes, I appreciate that," said Phule. "But Gambolts have never served in mixed units with humans before-and these three specifically requested to be assigned to us. It's a tribute to the good work we've done. But I can't help wondering..." His voice trailed off.

Brandy shook her head firmly. "Whether the troops will accept them? Don't worry about that, Captain. This outfit may be the most tolerant bunch in the Legion. When you've had to live down the reputation we've been saddled with, you don't have room to get snooty about your barracksmates."

"Losers can't be choosers, in other words," said Phule. "I suppose that's been true in the past. Most of the companies have had to accept whatever hand the Legion dealt them. But we've been changing that."

"You've been changing that, sir," said Lieutenant Armstrong. "If not for you, we'd still be back on Haskin's Planet, slogging through the swamps. Now we're among the elite companies of the Legion-all thanks to your efforts."

"I can't take all the credit," said Phule. "It's been a team effort, and every member has contributed. That's why I'm anxious about the new troops, to tell you the truth. The Gambolts have always had their own elite unit in the Regular Army. Now three of them are coming to us-and I have to wonder why. Will they fit into the team? Will they hold themselves apart from the rest of the unit? Will they..."

Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by the blare of a klaxon and a red-lit sign flashing on and off by the arrival door. The sign now read, SHUTTLE DOCKING: PREPARE FOR DEBARKING PASSENGERS. Phule and his subordinates turned to face the door. Some of their questions were about to be answered.

One advantage of building a casino on a space station is that it can be a true twenty-four hour operation. With no local cycle of day and night, there is no need for visitors to adjust to the local clock, or to go through what in prespace days used to be called "jet lag". So the Fat Chance Casino was likely to have an eager crowd of gamblers at any hour. This, in turn, meant that Phule's Company had to be alert for trouble at any hour.

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