Chapter 16 – Fun and Games
All work and no play makes Jack a depressed sailor or marine. And, aside from Kenji's radio network and pickup games of chesterfield rugby played between sponsors and concubines (and occasionally between sponsors), not much was going on.
And some of the officers noticed, and brought it to the attention of the one person on the entire planet who was in a position to do something about it: the senior Civil Service officer. She, in turn, brought it to the attention of the planet's already harassed, overworked senior civil engineer.
The knot of 10 to 12-year-old boys was playing road hockey on the ring road that encircled the dome, just inside the slidewalk. Suddenly one goaltender looked over his shoulder and announced in the time-honoured fashion of kids across Canada and the northern American states, “CAR!”
The kids stopped playing and moved to the grassy shoulder as the formidable vision of three LAVT-102 armoured personnel carriers rumbled through. Paul stared slack-jawed at the machines. Four weeks previously, the 11-year-old had been an innocent young lad – at least, as innocent as an 11-year-old got in the post-Swarm Earth – living with his widowed mother in a fairly isolated fishing and forestry outpost in Washington State. Then his mother took him to see the nearest big city of Bellingham, and somehow they never did get to finish their lunch at that restaurant.
“Those are big cars you have here,” he ventured to one of the kids picked up from Tribune Whitefeather's hockey tournament.
“Meh, you should see the Rommel,” advised Paul's new playmate.
The others snorted. Everyone knew that Thule didn't have any Rommel main battle tanks.
As the kids were about to resume play, a Volkswagen Beetle-like “Beep-Beep!” sounded from around the corner. The frustrated goalie repeated his yell of, “CAR!” and everyone returned to the side of the road, some grumbling the suggestion that maybe they should move their game.
The horn was a joke by the fabricators of the next three vehicles, as it fit them not at all. Staring at the behemoths passing them this time, the kids, all now slack-jawed in wonder, realized... “everyone” was wrong.
“Beauty!” breathed one lad.
That third Rommel had a rather unusual driver. For one thing, she was an officer, and Confederacy tanks were usually driven by lance-jacks. For another, she was awfully young for an officer. For a third, she wasn't a Marine officer, but a Civil Service officer.
The Marines were giving Samantha a treat, payback for all she'd done for them. She was the first ever to drive this particular monster, fresh off the production lines.
They even let her drive it right out of the dome and into the field outside. Eventually they came to the platoon's tank barn, whereupon she carefully backed the tank into its bay, put it in park and turned the engine to “standby”. You never really turned a fusion reactor “off”. The advantage was that you could start this beast immediately. The disadvantage was you had to put more safeties between its parked and operating conditions, lest it start moving on its own.
As she hopped off the tank, one of the Marines standing on the turret handed her her matte-white pace stick – given to her after the incident with the berserk Marine. It was yet another indication that as far as the sergeants and corporals were concerned, Samantha Redburn was not only an officer but an honorary Marine – and a “Goddamn gentleman”, their highest praise.
She reflected on the last seven weeks. She'd gone from being a middle-school student and AA-level hockey player to being an officer, regularly being consulted by an experienced Colonel. She'd become a restaurant owner, brothel keeper, school superintendent, and confidante to women decades older than herself. She was the commander of literally hundreds, having had accepted responsibility for more unassigned concubines than apparently anyone aside from the legendary David ap Rhys. She had participated in two different experimental extractions (once as an extractee and the other as the person in charge of the destination), she had lost and recovered a beloved kitten, grown closer to her parents and aunt than she'd thought possible, and ... killed a man. The pace stick in her hands had a fair bit of human blood on it, as far as she was concerned.
Standing to the side inside the shelter of the massive tank barn was a lone figure, his parka hood pushed back. The officer was making embarrassed faces and trying rather too obviously to look at anyone but the diminutive Civil Service cadet. Samantha wondered what brought Lieutenant Carruthers out here. Thanking the crew for giving her the chance to drive the meanest set of tracks in the Confederacy, she started over to his location. He brought her up short by using the PA system.
“Ah, Optio Redburn...” Carruthers ventured, clearing his throat, “They've changed some of their ideas on me. And that affects you.”
“Yes?” she asked, using her wrist interface. The Marines might consider her to be a “junior adult”, but the AI didn't, and it still wouldn't grant her an internal interface until she passed her CAP test – which they wouldn't let her take until her fourteenth birthday. Currently, the head of the Brigade's corpsmen had pencilled himself in to personally supervise the test at midnight on that day. Samantha currently had pencilled in a nap between two and six in the afternoon of that day – she planned to start the party immediately after the CAP test was over, probably at two-thirty in the morning, and by that hour would need a rest.
“They originally planned to keep the de Gaulles close to Camp Shackleton, but have decided to place the units under four Martellos to give better coverage over a wider area. I need to build four more tank barns at those locations, which means I have four surplus tank barns connected to Camp Shackleton.”
“Yeeees?” She shot a smirk at the pensive Marine Lance Corporal next to her.
“They just happen to be the right size for a regulation North American hockey pad. Add two metres to the roof and three metres to the width and they'll house a full-fledged arena each.”
“How long will it take to convert the tank barns?” Samantha held her breath.
“Working flat-out, about four days. We'll be ready by 21:00 on Thursday.”
The face of the Lance Corporal next to her was a study in delight. “Make it so, Number One! Make it so!” Samantha shouted, hugging the man.
“Number One?” the man asked.
Samantha blushed. “He gets my cherry,” she advised all of Camp Shackleton, Base Scott, and the orbital facilities still a-building.
In his office, the Colonel looked up at his office concubine from the paperwork he was grinding through. He was smirking and she was giggling.
In Rifle Class within the dome, his students congratulated Corporal Bob Redburn as he chuckled and shook his head ruefully.
At the school, every class erupted in laughter. Over the school intercom Winnie asked, “AI, when is student Samantha Redburn's fourteenth birthday?”
“Six weeks and three days,” responded the AI, also over the school intercom.
And in their pod, Monica and Alice fell over each other laughing. “I couldn't think of a nicer guy to take her cherry,” Samantha's mother laughed. “Even if I am holding her hand while she rides him.”
Samantha wouldn't find out for several more hours that she'd just told the entire system not only that she was a virgin, but exactly who her first lover would be.
As Samantha left the school at noon, her face was one of triumph. She wasn't even all that embarrassed by the AI-controlled sign currently gracing a stretch of blank wall opposite the Principal's office: “Weeks: 6, Days: 0”. Samantha felt that her birthday orgy was going to be Thule's social event of the year. Somehow the small party she'd had planned – her hockey teammates and their families – was becoming system-wide business. If she'd been selling tickets, she would have been a rich woman.
But this Thursday was for less reproductive triumphs. She and Cassie had changed into warm clothes and were headed to the inaugural party of the Howie Morenz Arena – a name suggested by a hockey dad with a sense of history. Lieutenant Carruthers' men had put the emphasis on this particular structure to ensure not only that they met the 21:00 deadline, but that they exceeded it by a good nine hours. The rest would finish up on time, thanks to Lieutenant Carruthers' padding his estimates for unanticipated events.
In the snack bar area, concubines laid out trays of finger-food. Behind the snack bar itself another concubine served as bartender, serving cocktails – the versions of both wine and beer that the replicators delivered were still considered bio-waste, if not a biohazard – beside yet another concubine who was ladling out hot chocolate, candy, popcorn and pretzels.
The outfits were not standard by any means. The concubine shift was far too scanty for the cool temperatures within the arena, so they wore sweaters and tight-fitting pants that left the female concubines' camel-toes clearly visible. Nobody seemed to complain about the ladies' lack of bras, as their breasts danced delightfully in the coverings. Everyone knew that the snack bar and lobby could be kept warmer, even the seating area could be heated, but they wanted an old-fashioned arena experience and to everyone's delight Carruthers' crew delivered.
The only difference from the old-fashioned Earth arena experience was that no Earth arena had a large, well-heated room under the north-side bleachers to take your concubine for some intermission nookie. The sign announced the room to be the “Puck Bunny Hutch”. Near the door it had compartments for your clothes and racks for your jackets, in the far end by the emergency exit it had a large multi-head shower with a floor-to-ceiling clear-glass wall for post-coital cleanup, and in the middle a line of beds, heads against the outer wall.
As the crowd began to file into the bleachers, Lieutenant-Colonel Desrocher was holding court in the snack bar near the bleachers. He was feeling no pain.
“Do you know why dey put da 'see hache' in da middle of da Montreal Forum?” he demanded in a thick Francophone accent to his audience, which included Trois-Rivières native Butch Blondell. He was referring to the “CH” logo of the Montreal Canadiens.
Butch turned to the audience and said as an aside, “I know I'm going to regret this.” She turned back to the comedian. “OK, why do dey put da 'see hache' in da middle of da Montreal Forum?”
“Why, to show dem dere dumb Québéckers where to drop da puck. Centre h'ice.”
His audience groaned appropriately and playfully pelted him with popcorn.
“Froggy better wait until dis here dumb Québécker gets Froggy in da dojo again,” advised Butch with a smirk and a thick Québécois accent, amidst a rising chorus of “Uh-oh, you're in trouble now!”
To welcoming cheers, Colonel Deschenes and Penny made a circuit around the ice. After they returned to the Home players' bench, an eleven-year-old ice fairy in a sparkling royal-blue ice-dancing costume popped out and circled the ice. She did a few simple routines to the audience's appreciation – they knew well she would not have had a chance to practise anything fancier.
Up in the stands, one eleven-year-old boy discovered he was feeling lightheaded over the little sprite... because he had become so entranced by the sight he'd completely forgotten to breathe.
Samantha, five other members of her hockey team and six from one of their competitors from the tournament extraction came out next. The Colonel dropped the ceremonial First Puck, which was saved for Thule's future museum, and the teams then played a quick five-minute shinny. To Samantha's delight, she got an assist on the only goal in that five minutes. It felt good to be out playing her favourite game again, and she vowed there would be other hockey games, somehow.
They were followed by the first-ever Zamboni in the Diaspora, laying down a fresh flood over the ice. In true hockey fashion, the ice-resurfacing vehicle's sides held advertisements for the Puck Bunny Hutch and the Beauty Saloon.
With the opening ceremonies over, the arena was opened to a general skate. Samantha spotted her aunt in the happy crowd skating to pop tunes programmed in by Kenji. With a few powerful strokes she caught up to Aunt Alice. “Have you seen Mom and Dad?” she asked as Alice concentrated on staying upright.
“I think your Mom said something about trying out the Puck Bunny Hutch. She grabbed your Dad and off they went – he was definitely NOT complaining.” With that, Alice lost her balance and ended up on her butt.
“Great!” Samantha said as she helped her non-athletic aunt to her feet. “I'll drop by there later.”
The party went on until the wee hours. Samantha was too exhausted to do much more than give Vickie a French kiss. Vickie was grateful for that: despite her load of medical nanites, she was too sore both from previously unused muscles and from falling far too often. The Liverpudlian had never been skating before in her life.
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