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«No Phule Like an Old Phule», Robert Asprin

Prologue.

General Blitzkrieg was just lining up a tricky four-meter putt when a buzzer sounded on his desk. He flinched, at the noise, and the ball jerked to the right missing the target by a good half meter. "Damn it all to hell, what is it now?" he snarled, stomping over to the desk and. pressing a button.

"Colonel Battleax to see you, sir," came the voice of" Major Sparrowhawk, his adjutant. "Shall I send her in?", Blitzkrieg stifled another-curse, and nodded. Then, realizing that Sparrowhawk couldn't see him, he "said" "Sure, sure; send her in." He quickly stashed his custom-made ultracarbon putter behind the desk and turned to stand with the window behind him. The view of "the North. Rahsome Mountains behind the old city wasn't anything to get ecstatic over, but he was pleased at the 'thought' of having his back turned to Battleax when she entered the- office-a subtle slight, but nothing she could take overt offense at. If heed been able to contrive a way to make her cool her heels in the outer office for fifteen or twenty minutes; he'd have enjoyed it even more-but that would have required some advance planning. Might as well just get the unpleasant confrontation over with. He didn't know what the colonel was here for, but it was bound to be unpleasant.

He heard the door slide open, but he resisted the impulse to turn; let the old harpy wait until he was good and ready. He let a thin smile cross his face as he heard the colonel come into the. office. "I think you've forgotten something, General, "came a voice from behind him.

Blitzkrieg turned, just in time to see Colonel Battleax toss him the golf ball he'd left sitting in the middle of his office floor. Caught off guard, he snatched at it clumsily, and stifled another curse as it bounced off his chest, then ricocheted off his toe to roll under the desk. He determinedly ignored it. "What brings you here today, Colonel?" he asked, doing his best not to show his annoyance at her.

"I've got the latest" intelligence reports on the Zenobian situation," she said. "You'll be glad to know..."

"I won't be glad unless you're going to tell me those blasted overgrown lizards have eaten Captain Jester;" said the general, losing his composure after all. "That's the planet he's on, and the less I hear about it, the less I'll have to ruin my appetite."

"I doubt there's much that could do that," said Battleax;" eyeing his ample midsection. "Anyhow, you need to know this, whether you like it or not. The second race that Jester found on Zenobia-the Nanoids-claim to be indigenous to the planet."

"Very interesting, I'm sure," said Blitzkrieg. He poked his toe under the desk, experimentally, hoping he could kick out the golf ball without bending over to look for it. No such luck.

"More interesting than you may realize, General," said Battleax, smugly. "We have two technologically advanced, races inhabiting one planet--and both are apparently legitimately native to that world. Now, as you. may recall, Captain Jester's company was, called there because the Zenobians had detected the Nanoids conducting surveillance of their major cities. This suggests that the Nanoids may be looking to expand their territory-and you can surely guess what that would lead to."

"Civil war," said Blitzkrieg, waving a hand dismissively. "Not our problem, as long as the conflict doesn't break out intoAlliancespace. We keep. a strict hands-off policy, and provide sophontitariail aid where appropriate.

They covered that in second year MilSci at the-academy or did you miss that lecture?"

"No, General," said Battleax, smiling. "Did you miss the fact that the Zenobians signed a mutual defense treaty with theAlliancejust over a year ago, and that we're now making diplomatic overtures to the Nanoids, to get a treaty with them? That planet already isAlliancespace, and if we're not careful, we're going to be deeply entangled with both sides in the conflict. And the only combat-ready Alliancemilitary unit in the entire system is one Legion company."

Blitzkrieg's eyes lit up. "Yessss!" he hissed.

"No," said Battleax, shaking her head. "we can't just leave them in the line of fire."

"Of course we can. It's the Legion way," said Blitzkrieg, a feral grin on his face.

"Maybe I did miss a lecture at the academy, after all," said Battleax, coldly. "Or is that one of the lessons reserved for the old boy network?"

"Nothing more than learning to look at the big picture," said Blitzkrieg. A superior smirk came to his face. "If you're ever going to get stars on your shoulders, that's the kind of choice you have to be ready to make, Colonel.

They don't play this game in short pants you know."

"I'll take your word for that," said Battleax. She leaned forward and picked up the golf ball, which had rolled out of the far side of the desk and come to rest at her feet. She handed it to the general, and said, "But if Phule's company is going to be in the middle of a civil War. I'm going to make sure they know in advance just what kind of game they're -in-and what kind of pants their superior officers are wearing. In your case.. ." She paused and looked Blitzkrieg up and down. "No, it's too easy. I won't" say it"

She saluted, then turned and walked out of the office with a mischievous grin." Blitzkrieg, spent the rest of the day trying to figure "out just What she'd meant by it.

1

Journal #633


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