Mr. Flashman! Zillions of ‘em!”
infra-red snoopers showed hundreds of crawly, loathsome monsters
swarming from a sinkhole that had collapsed under the trooper the
moment his powered suit touched down. He flailed around trying to
reach his weapon as they stampeded over him. I nearly gave in to the
urge to flee raving into the night. Then just before hitting the
jets, I changed my mind. Flicking the trigger of my hand-flamer, I
incinerated the nearest Bugs, searing legs and heads off others,
sending gouts of flaming ichor in every direction. Other members of
the squad hurried in to dispatch all the others that had run by us.
short jump brought me beside the hole. “My God you’re a
cool one, Mr. Flashman!” the trooper shouted to me gratefully
over the squad’s communication circuit. “They might have
done for all of us!”
have, if they weren’t all workers,
thought I. Telling the difference was a little trick I learned on
Earth from Intel. They had asked me to pass it along to the unit,
which I surely would at some point.1
Diennes, Operation Bughouse commander, jumped his suit next to us,
demanding someone explain why we had no sooner landed than a ruckus
broke out in his HQ’s grid square. By now the trooper had
collected his blaster and clambered up beside me.
General Diennes scanned the trooper’s armor, radiant
with three colors of scorched bug guts, some still smoking.
is disgraceful. I can’t abide a slovenly soldier!” He
told the company commander, “Captain Frankel, get the devil
over here and clean up your trooper. Look at Major Flashman. He can
go through a skirmish and still be ready for parade inspection. Let
him be an example to the rest of you!”
preened inside my two thousand pounds of armor. It had taken all my
finesse to be assigned to the greatest peacock in the Mobile
Infantry. Detonation of a tactical nuke could not distract General
Diennes from brushing off his armor to get rid of the last flecks of
peel-away shroud from the launch capsule.
all the legends about the Mobile Infantry, so long as you remember
it’s still the military you won’t be surprised to hear
there are officers who think spit-and-polish is the only martial
virtue. That never changes, not even in the hardest-hitting, fastest
moving outfits. I’ve seen General Patton fine a Third Army tank
commander $5 for not wearing his tie on the way to the Battle of the
the way, if you’ve been reading these memoirs from the
beginning you may need a few words of explanation about how a
septuagenarian general who reportedly died in 1915 came to be on
Diennes’ staff in the first place. You see, I faked my death in
World War I. First, the trenches were no place for a confirmed coward
like me. A man could be killed there. Second, I needed a clean break
with the past anyway.
I was, a general with over fifty years of service, yet I still looked
like I was 37 years old. And felt that way, too, which the ladies
certainly appreciated. On the other hand, whenever Wolseley,
Kitchener or their ilk found a healthy-looking general who wasn’t
chronically suffering from some colonial plague, they were apt to
keep sending him out til he caught one.3
To keep that from happening to me, I hired a barber who was an artist
at touching up my muttonchop whiskers with gray, and I affected a
lurid cough. This kept me out of trouble until the Great War. That’s
when huge numbers of casualties forced all hands to stations. Even I
was scheduled for a tour in France. I was forced to find a personal
years passed before my exceptional lifespan was explained. Almost
needless to say, my mother was a Paget, and Pagets often intermarried
with the equally noble Howard family over the centuries.
I have had far greater satisfaction than simply outliving the poison
pen who authored Tom
Brown’s School Days.
I also have outlived everyone’s memory of the book itself.
my fresh start, for some curious reason I have endlessly repeated the
cycles of very bad luck in being present at the
worst military debacles of every era and very good luck at surviving
them with an undeserved reputation as a bluff and hearty hero,
decorated and feted.
it seem strange that a natural coward like me would deliberately
choose a military career over and over? It really makes perfect
sense. In peacetime it’s good pay for taking exercise in a
handsome uniform. In wartime it’s the safest place to be.4
Why did I choose the M.I.? The Bugs would soon be attacking
high-value targets like terrestrial cities, but I knew they’d
never bother training bases high in the mountains. Then, I could rest
assured that at the end of training I’d be shipped far away
from Earth, where I could begin working my way up the ranks into
increasingly comfortable behind-the-lines assignments. Always
remember -- it’s better to wave the stick than carry the big
while I’d sooner be sipping a julep back on Sanctuary,
unfortunately for me the Terran Federation handed my commander,
General Diennes, the supposed plum assignment of leading the invasion
of Klendathu, the Arachnid homeworld. But I took comfort in the plan.
Staff HQ would be landing on a quiet grid in the center of the
largest force of M.I. ever assembled. Yes, there is no greater
calling than for men to place themselves between me and war’s
desolation. I just ought not to have forgotten Pickett’s
Charge, another day I’d started comfortably amidst 15,000 armed
men, and ended dry heaving with hysterical fear because the Yankees
were mowing us down, firing volleys faster than they could yell
“Fredricksburg” from behind their stone walls.
Diennes had no sooner radioed his order to Captain Frankel than many
more sinkholes yawned open, issuing columns of Bugs on all sides. The
trooper, feeling embarrassed that he’d gotten overly excited by
the last attack, immediately waded right into them. Unfortunately,
these weren’t workers. He was hit with energy bolts from every
direction and staggered away crackling with blue fire like
Frankenstein’s monster, then fell down belching smoke from
every vent in his armor.
went wild. The rest of the HQ staff had also been chosen more for
decorative than functional purposes. Our mob of Mobile Infantry
milled about, getting in each others’ lines of fire, officers
transmitting nonsensical orders like, “Kill everything that has
more than two legs!”
Diennes called back the retrieval craft. When they were on the way he
declared to his staff, “Stay here while I lead a diversionary
attack so other troops can escape!” At the order “Follow
me!” two companies of M.I. took off behind him, never to be
all the other officers he left behind lacked my talent for avoiding
the line of fire and promptly got themselves killed. Now the troopers
were waiting for that sure voice of command while seconds trickled
away. Yes, looking to me to be that voice, make decisions, give the
right order… and not only the right one, but in a calm
unworried tone. In that fearful instant, bordering on the
hallucinatory, one thought alone came into my mind. “The
square!” I shouted. “Form the British square!”
* * *
Bughouse. General Diennes had said, “We’ll attack at
night, the Bugs are less active then.” If he’d lived, I’m
confident that his next assignment would have been planning the first
manned landing on the Sun – go at night, it’s cooler
then, I’ve heard. That’s all the good it did to attack
the night side of Klendathu. The natives were damned active
everywhere the M.I. landed, and plenty of ‘em, too. It isn’t
likely Diennes’ HQ just coincidentally crashed a party at the
Bugs’ favorite all-night espresso bar.
after I had ordered the company to form a square, some non-com
initiated an emergency command to cut the power to my suit, ending my
part of Operation Bughouse. I spent the remaining minutes of the
battle poised like the Statue of Liberty, one arm still raised to
rally the troops.
fleet of retrieval boats led by Captain Yvette Deladrier bravely
soared through the fiery chaos. Deladrier was a snapping, black-eyed
piece. Through a regrettable misunderstanding our moment had passed.
In short, she hated my guts. The good Captain boarded the other
survivors and left without me.
* * *
a deadly quiet had settled over the battlefield, the Arachnids sent
their workers out to scavenge everything abandoned by the M.I.
Including myself. I was carried underground inside my powerless armor
along with all the broken bits and pieces, certain that was the end
of me up until the moment my suit was unlatched and I was taken
captive. No doubt the incredible smell of what I had done inside my
armor alerted them.
was not confined once out of the armor. After all, what difference
would it make if I “escaped” to the surface? I could even
look around the area where I was held because instead of the
pitch-black tunnel I’d expected there were light panels running
the length of the ceiling. This unexpectedly homey touch was soon
explained, right after I had the shock of my life.
there!” said a voice in perfect Terran. A voice that didn’t
come from an Arachnid translator, but a human head occupying pride of
place ordinarily given to a moose. “I’m Captain Carl
Jenkins from Intelligence.”
was another living M.I. Well, sort of. Carl had been breadboarded,
his head adorning the wall, the rest of his essential organs hanging
nearby, attached to life-support machinery.5
Everything there was to know about the feeding and maintenance of
human captives the Arachnids had learned from Carl, who had an
obvious incentive to teach them well.
was a casualty of a Bug raid on a research station earlier in the
war,” he explained once I calmed down. He ruefully added, “I
only wanted to stay in for two years and earn my franchise.”
yes, his franchise. What a bore. I’m sure the only army that
ever spent more time lecturing itself about political purity belonged
to my old comrade on the Long March, Mao Tse Tung. Everyone is
entitled to complete two years of federal service if they’re
willing to stick it out, no matter if they’re capable of
soldiering. They could spend two years cleaning latrines. And that
makes you qualified to help run the government? No wonder we were
losing this war!
soundness of restricting the franchise to veterans was shown by
mathematical proofs, I’d been assured by some one-armed colonel
named Dubois. Well, if so much could be accomplished in merely two
years of federal service, I’d liked to have asked Carl to
explain why all my years of military service had made me something
less than a paragon of civic virtue? That argument would have to
wait. Right now, he was the key to whatever faint chance I had of
getting through this alive.
had been exchanging information with the Arachnid brain bugs for the
past two years. He had learned a lot. One time he asked, “Did
you ever notice that workers become disoriented when the brain bug is
concussed by an explosion?” I told him no, I’d been too
busy during the entire 23 minutes I’d spent enjoying the
nightlife of Klendathu to notice that. Carl explained, “The
Arachnids are a hierarchical society, every Bug born into its caste –
royalty, workers, warriors.” There were a lot of Bugs, but
nearly all of them were controlled by the tiny minority of brains and
queens. He added, “The interesting thing is, I can give them
information, but they haven’t really internalized that we
aren’t a hive mentality.” Not for want of effort by
fellows like Dubois, I thought. “So of course, once they
learned you are a higher ranking officer than I am, they naturally
lost interest in me and wanted to question you as soon as possible.”
seen the work they’d made of Carl. I came a little unhinged at
the prospect of being interrogated.
remember, Flashman, the Bugs can’t be deceived,” Carl
warned. They had gotten the theory of lie detecting technology from
him. “The only way you can keep from telling everything you
know and disgracing yourself is to promptly commit suicide.”
wish you’d taken that sound advice before you gave them the lie
detector!” I harrumphed. And frankly, since they’d kept
Carl as a specimen so long, I hoped to convince them my company was
even more delightful.
soon as the Bugs came to take me away I began to blather every damned
thing I’d ever learned about soldiering. I drew them the
diagram of the Q-bomb.6
I told them the Picts’ best recipe for woad. I told them how
the German High Seas Fleet executed the
Anything I could think of to keep me alive. And if you’ve read
my memoirs up ‘til now, you know that’s a fount of
stories without end -- Scheherezade’s not in it.
hideous Arachnid brain sat at his lie-detecting machinery, endlessly
interested in my low opinion of the competence of nearly every
military leader I’d known, excepting only the world’s
greatest soldier, the Duke of Wellington. It hadn’t occurred to
me that when I was telling them about Admiral Halsey driving his
fleet into the teeth of a hurricane – two times! – or
Field Marshal Haig’s knack for ordering huge artillery
bombardments before losing thousands of soldiers just to advance a
few hundred yards, that they weren’t hearing it as a knock on
individual, but as a an indictment of whole genres of fighting
technology. Technology that wasn’t part of Bug history, and
after hearing me describe it, wasn’t attractive.
there was just one approach to warfare that they couldn’t wait
to try, because it was the only one I had ever believed in.
* * *
was still filibustering when our fleet returned. Once the battle
ended, the M.I. peeled away endless layers of Bug warrens get down to
our level where the royalty were waiting to surrender. I’m sure
the Arachnids wished they’d had a Wolseley to warn them about
the shortcomings of tunnels.8
forces, having arrived ready for a real slugging match, were
surprised when that proved unnecessary. “It was the craziest
thing I ever saw,” said our rescuer, Lieutenant Rico, as he
described the Second Battle of Klendathu. “When the fleet
orbited, our radar showed every single Bug warrior was on the surface
standing at attention in identical formations. It was the easiest
thing in the world to pick ‘em off.”
didn’t need to ask the Lieutenant the shape of their
formations. I knew. The Arachnids had been standing in …
It’s not clear what Flashman had been told. Most leading
scientists agree that an M.I.’s only infallible test for
distinguishing workers from warriors is whether the Bugs shoot back.
Here Flashman seems to have misremembered that Patton’s
standard tie fine was $25, the amount, for example, paid by
Lieutenant Kness of Darby’s Rangers, according to Kness’s
Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st
Earl Kitchener, was Secretary of State for War in 1915. Field
Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley, 1st
Viscount Wolseley, who passed away in 1913, was Commander-in-Chief
for five years, 1895-1901.
The great philosopher Harry Harrison was the first to point this
Captain Christopher Pike was the first recorded human to survive
being reconstructed by untrained aliens.
The Q-bomb was invented by Professor Kokintz of Columbia University.
The World War I-era German navy could, at need, break off a fleet
engagement by ordering ships in the line of battle to make a
coordinated 180-degree turn.
Sir Garnet Wolseley deeply opposed Sir Edward Watkin’s attempt
to build a Channel Tunnel, asserting that the construction might be
“calamitous for England,” because “No matter what
fortifications and defences were built, there would always be the
peril of some continental army seizing the tunnel exit by surprise.”