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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Asprin Robert
 

«Phules Paradise», Robert Asprin

PROLOGUE

 

The view from General Blitzkrieg's window was uninspired to say the most, surveying a cramped parking lot and a blank wall badly in need of repainting or tearing down. In some ways, however, it typified the status of the Space Legion, or lack thereof. Perpetually strapped for funding, even the space for its headquarters was rented, and the area was very low rent indeed. That Blitzkrieg's office had a window at all was a sign of his lofty standing in that organization.

"Excuse me, sir?"

The general turned from staring out the window to find an aide poised in the door of his office.

"Yes?"

"You asked to be notified as soon as Colonel Battleax left on her vacation," the aide said without formality. Salutes, like views, were optional in the Legion, and therefore very rare indeed.

"You're sure she's gone? You saw her take off yourself?"

"Well, sir, I saw her shuttle lift off and then return without her. The ship she had reservations on has left orbit, so I assume that she's on it."

"Good, good," the general said, almost to himself, a rare smile flickering across his face. "And she'll be on vacation for several months, at least."

Due to the time necessary for space travel, even aided by faster-than-light travel, vacations tended to be long, so the aide found nothing unusual about the length of Battleax's sabbatical, especially considering she had been accumulating time for several years. The aide was, however, puzzled by the general's attitude and interest in it. It was surprising that Blitzkrieg, as one of the three directors of the Space Legion, would take such a concern in the long-overdue vacation of a lowly colonel.

"She'll certainly be missed," the aide commented, fishing for more information.

"She'll be missed more by some than others," Blitzkrieg said darkly, his smile tightening a bit.

"Sir?"

"The colonel is a fine officer and administrator," the general said, "as fine as any you'd find in the Regular Army. Still, she's human-and a woman at that-and tends to form attachments to certain individuals and units under her command It's only natural that she use her position to campaign in their behalf here at Headquarters, as well as sheltering them when they foul up."

"I suppose so, sir," the aide said, suddenly uneasy about commenting on the performance of a senior officer.

"Well, that's about to change," the general declared, sinking into the chair behind his desk. "While she's on vacation most of her duties will be absorbed by other officers here at Headquarters, but I've set it up so that one unit in particular will report directly to me in her absence."

"Which unit is that, sir?"

Blitzkrieg's eyes fixed on a spot on the far wall like he was a hungry toad tracking a fly.

"I'm talking about Captain Jester and that Omega Mob of his."

Suddenly the aide could see the situation clearly.

It was well known around Headquarters that General Blitzkrieg had recently had his heart set on court-martialing Captain Jester for his actions upon taking over an Omega company-a company specifically formed to handle military misfits unsuited for even the Legion's loose standards and guidelines. Exact details were unknown, but the renegade captain had emerged from the incident not only unscathed but with a commendation for himself and his entire unit. Speculation as to how this was accomplished ran high, though many suspected that it had something to do with the fact that before enlisting and taking the name "Jester," the captain had been one Willard Phule, one of the universe's youngest megamillionaires and heir apparent to the vast Phule-Proof Munitions empire. This latter piece of information became known when Jester ignored the Legion's tradition of anonymity through pseudonym and exposed his true identity and origins to the media, thereby focusing unprecedented public attention on himself, his unit, and the Legion as a whole. The media loved it, but apparently the general didn't.

"Pass the word to communications," Blitzkrieg said, never changing his tone or his smile. "I want them to get Captain Jester on the horn for me. I have a new assignment for him and that ragtag gang of his."

"Yes, sir," the aide snapped, and quickly retreated from the office.

Several things troubled the aide as he headed for the communications room to carry out the general's order.

First, he had been thinking of requesting a transfer to Jester's company himself, and had been merely waiting for the right time to submit the necessary paperwork. As it was, however, it occurred to him that this was not the proper time for such a move, either from the viewpoint of the general's mood or from the fact that it looked like he had something unpleasant in store for that unit and its commander.

Second, he wondered if Captain Jester was aware of the general's animosity toward him, and even if he was, if he would be able to handle or avoid whatever unpleasantness was currently being aimed at him.


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