Narakan Rifles, About Face!, p.1George H. Smith
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This etext was produced from Planet Stories January 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
Narakan Rifles, About Face!
By JAN SMITH
_Those crazy, sloppy, frog-like Narakans ... all thumbs and six-inch skulls ... relics of the Suzi swamps. Until four-fisted Lt. Terrence O'Mara moved among them--lethal, dangerous, with a steady purpose flaming in his volcanic eyes._
* * * * *
Terrence O'Mara lay flat on his back trying to keep his big body asstill as possible. Despite the fact that he was stripped to hisregulation shorts, a large pool of sweat had formed on the cotunderneath him. The only movement he permitted himself was anoccasional pursing of his lips as he dragged on a cigarette and sent aswirl of smoke upward through the heavy humid air. Then he would justlie there watching as the smoke crept up to mingle with the largedrops of water that were forming on the concrete of the command post.
"Damn! Damn Naraka, anyway! Outpost of civilization! Who'd want theblasted place except the Rumi?"
At the words, Terrence moved his head just a fraction of an inch andhis eyes only a little farther to look across the room to where BillFielding was twisting and turning on his cot. All he could see of theother man was the wet outline of his body under a once white sheet anda hand that every so often reached into a bucket of water on thefloor and then replaced a soaking T-shirt over a red head.
"You'll feel it less if you lie still," Terrence said, distressed atthe necessity for talking.
"Feel it less! My God, listen to the man! What difference does it makeif you lie still or move around or even run around in the suns like abloody Greenback? Dust Bin will get you one way or another ... and ifit doesn't, the Rumi will."
The visible hand lifted the T-shirt and began to pop salt tablets intoan open mouth like they were so many peppermints.
"I wonder where Norton is. Out reviewing the troops?"
"Reviewing, my eye. He's up at Government House sitting in that coolliving room drinking one of Mrs. Wilson's icy drinks and admiring Mrs.Wilson's shapely legs. From a discreet distance, of course. Beingtemporary Commanding Officer of even Dust Bin has its privileges!"
There was a rattle of drums and the blare of one or two off-keyinstruments from outside.
"Then why," asked Terrence, "are those poor beggars marching up anddown in this blasted heat?"
"The Greenbacks? They love it! It would take more than a little heatto get under those inch-thick skins of theirs. They like to playsoldier when it's a hundred and thirty under water."
There were a few more straggling notes and then the semblance of amarch began.
"Listen to that, will you?" Fielding moaned, "They can't even keeptime with a drum! They can't march, they can't shoot, they can't breakdown a Banning; they're all thumbs and six-inch thick skulls. 'Trainlocal forces to take over'! Bah! Did those desk jockeys back in NewChicago ever see a Greenback? Did they ever try to teach a Narakan tofix a bayonet to the proper end of a rifle or to fire a blaster in theright direction?"
* * * * *
Terrence was lighting another cigarette with as little exertion aspossible. "Yes, but they keep trying. Ten hours a day. You don't haveto drive those boys. They want to learn. Listen to O'Shaughnessybarking out orders."
"Sergeant Major O'Shaughnessy of the First Narakan Rifles!" Fieldingmurmured sarcastically. "A year ago he was squatting in a mud cocoonat the bottom of Suzi swamp with the rest of the frogs. Now he's got agood Irish name and he's strutting around like a Martian FieldMarshal."
"I thought the names might give them a sense of self respect. Besideswe couldn't pronounce theirs and I was tired of hearing Norris yell'Hey, greenboy!' at them."
"Well, they picked the right guy when they made you Training Officer.You and those damn frogs get along like you came from the samecounty!"
"They aren't any great shakes for brains but you can't take anythingaway from me boys for willingness."
"Willingness! Hooray! They're willing, so what? So is a Suzi Swamplizard. What'll it get them? A week after they pull the Terran forcesout, the Rumi will gobble up the lot of them. Maybe they'll gobblethem and us before we pull out. Who could fight in this place? Who'dwant to fight? I say, to hell with Naraka! It's so near to hellalready with those two blasted suns blazing sixteen hours a day. Letthe Rumi have the stinking planet! Let them have the whole CentaurianSystem!"
"Speaking of pulling out, I wouldn't be surprised if Dust Bin wasn'tthe next place we let go of...."
Fielding raised himself on one elbow, "No kidding? Where did you hearthat?" His sunburned and blistered face was alight with excitement.
"Well, you know how it's been. When we first came here twenty yearsback, we drove the Rumi out of all this country and more or less tooktheir cat feet off the Narakan's backs but now that so much of theEarth garrison has been pulled all the way back into the Solar System,the Rumi are acting up again. So much so that the dope I got is thatwe may be pulling everything back into the Little Texas peninsula towait for reinforcements and it will take four years for those to comeout from Mars."
"Great! Great! But.... Ah, it's too good to be true. Can't you justpicture Fielding and O'Mara parading down Dobi street in New Chicagowith their first lieutenant bars on their collars? Say, you don'tsuppose that's why the _Sun Maid_ is sticking around out here, do you?Imagine, free transportation! A two hour trip to New Chi!"
"I'd sure hate to march those two hundred miles at this time of year!"
"March? Through those swamps? Every time we run a patrol throughthem...."
Fielding was interrupted by a knock on the door and a skinny youngTerran with sergeant's chevrons on his shorts stuck his head throughfrom the other room and said, "Major Chapelle's on the voice radio,sir. He's calling from battalion headquarters and wants CaptainNorton."
"Tell him Norton's up playing footsies with the Resident's wife,"Fielding said, "You'd think those people down at the river would haveenough to do without bothering us in the heat of the day, wouldn'tyou?"
The sergeant looked shocked and started to withdraw his head. Terrencefrowned Fielding into silence and called to the sergeant, "Just aminute, Rogers. I'll talk to the Major."
Major Chapelle was a thickset, balding man in his late forties. Eventhe blazing suns of Naraka hadn't succeeded in burning the sicklyyellow color off his face. In the vision screen he looked like a manon his last legs. Whatever was wrong with him didn't help his temper,Terrence thought as he lowered himself gently into a seat before thescreen.
"O'Mara! Where in hell is Norton?" he demanded.
"Well, sir, you see...." began Terrence.
"Never mind! I've a pretty good idea where he is. A fine time to bechasing skirts! Well, get this straight, O'Mara. Orders have comethrough and we're pulling the battalion out. We're ordered back toLittle Texas. We're going to give up these positions along the rivertonight and pull back into Dust Bin. The _Sun Maid_ will stand by toevacuate us. You people are to come too. Everybody has to get out,both the military and civilians. All hell's broken loose down river.The Rumi are across the Muddy in half a dozen places. They've cut the5th to pieces. New Chicago thinks that those cats have been bringingtroops in from space all along despite the agreement by both sides notto do so. And now they have us way outnumbered." The Major's voiceheld a thin edge of hysteria.
"Is there any action along
"Not yet; just patrols across the river so far. We've got to get out,O'Mara, and get out fast. They'll be all over us if we don't. TheColonel says for Norton to have everything ready to go. He wants thedepot destroyed. Everything's got to go, everything we can't takealong. The _Sun Maid_ won't have time for more than one trip. He wantsthe HQ company and the civilians on board by tomorrow morning
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