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Double Jeopardy

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Double Jeopardy

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Author: David Sherman
Dan Cragg
Publisher: Del Rey, 2009
Series: Starfist: Book 14
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Military SF
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It may be the twenty-fifth century, but the Marines are still looking for a few good men.

The Confederation has finally disclosed the existence of Skinks, fierce aliens bent on wiping out humankind. While the rest of the universe grapples with the news, the Skink-savvy Marines of the Confederation's Thirty-fourth Fleet Initial Strike Team (FIST) have their own worries: they've just learned they can't transfer out of the unit. Who else has the skills to fight the Skinks on their home turf when the time comes?

Morale isn't improved by a report of Skinks on the uncolonized world of Ishtar--which means that FIST must turn around and head right back into the jaws of hell with no downtime. But none of that matters to Lieutenant Charlie Bass and the third platoon of Company L. They're Marines, they're the best, and they've got a job to do.


Chapter One

Brigadier Sturgeon mounted the reviewing stand from the stairs at its rear. He'd briefly considered wearing chameleons for this appearance before his FIST but settled for garrison utilities rather than the dress reds that he customarily wore when he stood on the stand to address his Marines. Colonel Israel Ramadan, Thirty-fourth Fleet Initial Strike Team's chief of staff, and FIST Sergeant Major Bern Parant followed him, also in garrison utilities. The rest of the FIST's staff had remained at headquarters; they had work to do. And this was an occasion Sturgeon felt he had to face with minimal support.

Garrison utilities; this was not a ceremonial occasion. Sturgeon reached the podium and looked out over his force. The Marines stood at attention; no one moved in the thousand-plus man formation. Still, he sensed unease among his men. They were as unaccustomed as he was to appearing in formation on the FIST parade ground in garrison utilities rather than in dress reds.

They have a right, he thought, to feel ill at ease. They'd heard most of what he had to say after the Ravenette campaign, but he had more details now—and some changes. But they hadn't heard it right after fighting the Skinks.

"You all know," Sturgeon said without preamble, his amplified voice loud enough to carry to every man in the formation before him and beyond, to personnel working inside nearby buildings, "that the quarantine on Thirty-fourth FIST has been lifted. That was announced a few weeks ago. What everybody has been waiting for is to find out exactly what that means for us.

"The first thing it means is, nobody faces a Darkside penalty for revealing the existence of the Skinks; they are now public knowledge, thanks to President Chang-Sturdevant's announcement to the Confederation of Human Worlds." He shrugged. The Darkside penalty had been essentially meaningless so long as the Marines of Thirty-fourth FIST were restricted to Thorsfinni's World and left the unit's home world only on deployments.

"What you are all concerned with are retirements, rotations to new duty stations, and the end of active service for those of you who are not making a career of the Marines and have already served beyond your initial eight-year enlistment.

"Orders have been issued from the Heptagon. They apply to all members of every Confederation Army division, Confederation Navy air wing and starship, Confederation Marine FIST, and any other Confederation military element involved in the Skink war on Haul- over. They do not necessarily apply to any planetary military forces that served on Haulover.

"Taking those concerns in order, and as they apply specifically to Thirty-fourth FIST:

"Those Marines who had put in for retirement before the quarantine went into effect are now eligible to be retired and may do so within the next six months. Anyone else who is eligible for retirement may put in an application, such retirement to take effect no sooner than four years from the date of application.

"All transfers to other duty stations are suspended for the duration." Sturgeon paused to look over his Marines again. They were still at attention, still standing stock-still; no murmurs or mutters reached his ears. But he could feel their morale melting away. All Marines in Thirty-fourth FIST, even the replacements still in Whiskey Company, were past their normal rotation dates. That wouldn't present any major problem with units stationed on more advanced worlds, but Thorsfinni's World was remote, and assignment to the Navy and Marine units and facilities on it was officially a hardship posting. Hence the normal two-year assignment, instead of the three or four or even more years at other duty stations. "There's a sound military reason for the continuing suspension of transfers," he continued, before his thoughts could affect his own morale. "Thirty-fourth FIST is the most experienced unit in dealing with aliens, hostile or otherwise. We've fought the Skinks every time we know of that they have come up against humanity. We fought the birdmen on Avionia. We fought alongside the headless hexapods on Society 419. No other human unit has fought the Skinks more than twice, and no other hu- man unit has fought against or alongside other alien sentiences. The Confederation wants to keep its most experienced unit intact rather than dilute the experience by spreading us out by rotations to other units.

"The positive side of that is, we all have the honor of remaining with the most active, most highly decorated unit in the entire Confederation Marine Corps."

Sturgeon understood that many of his Marines would already be wondering why the Confederation didn't want other units to receive the benefit of Thirty-fourth FIST's experience by absorbing some of those "most experienced" Marines into their ranks, or how adversely their chances of surviving "the duration" were affected by remaining in the unit most likely to face the Skinks—or other potentially hostile aliens. He knew they were wondering those things because he was wondering them himself. But he didn't have an answer to that question, so he didn't give it voice.

Now Sturgeon had to give his Marines the worst news.

"You have known since we found out about the quarantine that all routine 'end of active duty' releases were suspended, that the term of service for everyone in Thirty-fourth FIST was extended for the duration. I imagine that you believe, or at least suspect, that now that the quarantine has been lifted, so has the involuntary extension for the duration of the Skink threat.

"That is not the case. Everyone in Thirty-fourth FIST, and a few other Confederation military units, is still in for the duration."

Sturgeon stopped talking and looked over his Marines again. Again, nobody moved; nobody said anything that he could hear. But he could feel morale plunge even further than it already had.

He knew that many, perhaps most of the Marines before him had joined not to start a career but to serve one enlistment. They joined the Marines to prove themselves to themselves or to someone else; they joined seeking an adventure; they joined in a quest to become "men," for the intangibles to be gained from eight years as members of a brotherhood, of an elite force; or they joined to carry on a family tradition of military service. Some from sufficiently impoverished backgrounds may have enlisted because being a Marine meant having a job that carried a certain degree of respect in the civilian community. But most didn't enlist for the money—most civilian occupations paid better than the Marines did, and with fewer risks to life and health.

While Brigadier Sturgeon himself had always intended to make a career of the Marines, by no means did he look down on those who only intended to serve one enlistment. To the contrary, he thought they formed the body and soul of the Corps. And most Marines, when they returned to civilian life after their time in the Corps, whether a full forty-year career or just one eight-year enlistment, were better, more productive citizens of the Confederation and their home worlds than they would have otherwise been.

With few exceptions, mostly in Whiskey Company, his Marines had served more than the eight-year term of the one enlistment most of them had expected to serve. He had to give them something to counter the bad news he'd just given them.

Fortunately, he had such news.

"Since Thirty-fourth FIST went into quarantine, promotions from corporal on up have been almost totally limited to filling the billets of NCOs and officers killed or too severely injured to return to duty—which is a hell of a way to get a promotion.

"That means that many of you are still one or even two ranks below where you would have been in the normal course of events, had normal rotations been in effect.

"There aren't many Marines in Thirty-fourth FIST who are eligible for immediate retirement under the conditions I gave earlier. But everyone who does retire will open not only his own billet for someone to be promoted into, but will also open several promotion slots below his position."

Once more, there was no visible or audible reaction from within the formation, but Sturgeon hadn't expected any. After all, fewer than a platoon's worth of Marines in the FIST would be affected by the retirement-induced promotions. But most of them would be affected by what he had to say next, and the rest would be affected by it in the future.

"You will be interested to know that the Chairman of the Combined Chiefs, General Cazombi, backed up by the Commandant and the rest of the Combined Chiefs, went to President Chang-Sturdevant and Minister of War Berentus about the situation here. The President and the Minister of War then took them to the Congress to state their case.

"Congress, feeling both generous and appreciative for what Thirty-fourth FIST has done, has passed legislation moving every member of Thirty-fourth FIST who would normally have expected to be promoted by this time to be elevated to the next pay grade.

"Before you get too excited, you are not getting promoted, merely being given a pay raise.

"The pay raise is effective as of six weeks ago, the date the legislation was passed and signed. You will receive part of the six weeks of back-pay raise in your next pay, and the balance in your following pay. Following that, your pay should reflect the higher pay grades to which you are entitled by Act of Congress.

"I have one other item of good news. Most of you are be- yond your normal end of enlistment. In the normal course of events, those of you who reenlisted would have received a reenlistment bonus. You will be pleased to know that the Stortinget, which you should know is Thorsfinni's World's legislature, has passed legisla- tion granting monies equivalent to a reenlistment bonus to each individual in Thirty-fourth FIST who would have received such bonus had he reenlisted instead of being involuntarily extended. Within the ...

Copyright © 2009 by David Sherman

Copyright © 2009 by Dan Cragg


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