Chapter 19 – Midday at the Oasis
The relatively tiny mob of select officers and enlisted men, each accompanied by at least one of their concubines, stood in front of the mysterious building located just off to the side of Camp Shackleton's headquarters building. Like the rest of the structures scattered across the cavernous dome, it was designed in High Streamline Moderne style, which happened to be the Colonel's favourite style architecturally speaking. Mike felt it hearkened back to an era of sophistication, something sorely needed to offset the utilitarian nature of the basic design of the basic colony, which tended to resemble a large-scale, futuristic trailer park and make everyone look and behave like George Jetson-era trailer trash. Until that weekend, this particular Streamline Moderne structure had been covered in scaffolding and high-tech tarpaulins, not allowing even the outline of the building to show. Now, only the signage was covered.
Samantha was there, escorting Aunt Alice. Her parents cuddled together on her other side. Lieutenant Carruthers was there accompanied by all four of his concubines. Sergeant-Major Blondell was there, with Greg and a girl who was quite young, very pregnant and, like Penny Deschenes, very naked.
Michael started the announcement. “After that little nastiness on the parade square where young Optio Redburn acquitted herself with the skill, tenacity and coolness that we would expect only from an adult Marine, it was discovered that the fire suppression system was inadequate in large open areas, specifically within our dome.”
Everyone remembered; set afire by the fracturing of the ejected laser crystal, the de Gaulle had burned for hours and had taken weeks to restore to full working condition. It had thoroughly stunk up the dome for days.
“I asked Lieutenant Carruthers to gather a team together to work to remedy this condition, and that team has let the two of us know that they're now ready to unveil their work. I give you,” he turned and pulled the cover off the sign in front of the building, “the latest word in fire suppression.”
Everyone clapped dutifully, if in a somewhat puzzled fashion.
The door to the garage-like building rolled up, and the proud technicians rolled out the latest addition to Thule's rapidly expanding fleet of fighting vehicles. Like the others, it was white, but gloss white, with gold piping and fancy gold letters that spelt out, “Thule Fire Department – Pumper #1”.
“It's a fire truck...” ventured Samantha, struggling to comprehend the situation.
“Yes,” confirmed one of the technicians, rather needlessly in Samantha's opinion. “Its design is based on the Ahrens-Fox standard pumper, 1928 version.”
The look of amused, pleased surprise on the Colonel was all that the men could ask for. Beside him, Lieutenant-Colonel Desrocher was, like Samantha completely nonplussed. “It's a fire truck...” he echoed in wonder. “How are you handling the gases from the internal combustion engine?”
With a flourish, the senior technician opened the hood and pointed to the engine within.
“Tabernac,” the Colonel said conversationally, shaking his head and turning to his Base Engineer. “Lieutenant Carruthers, I'm going to say a phrase, and I want you to pay close attention. The phrase is, '1928 nuclear-powered fire truck'. Now, am I the only one who sees anything even remotely absurd about that phrase?”
Behind him, Butch finally lost it and doubled over with raucous laughter.
“Congratulations, Sir,” offered Chaz. “I think you've got probably the only 1928 nuclear-powered fire truck in the known galaxy.”
“Thank you, Chaz. I think I've got probably the only 1928 nuclear-powered anything in the known galaxy. I assume that under that '1928' warpaint is something considerably more modern?”
“Yes, indeed,” the chief of the proud little band boasted. “The alloys she's made from are the strongest we could choose, and the tires only look like rubber – they'll still function on a frigid Thule winter's night. The AI can operate her if it needs to, we don't even need to drive her. And the hose isn't the old 1928 rubber and linen either.” He opened up the side and rear compartments to reveal the most advanced man-portable rescue, fire suppression and first-aid gear available. Rather than water, the tank of the fire truck carried tiny pellets that when exposed to heat turned into a foamy substance that deprived the flames of two of the three necessary factors for a fire, heat and oxygen. The pellets were as slippery as water, which meant that 1920's pump designs could handle the material just fine. The material would remain just as slippery and liquid-like regardless of how low a temperature they were exposed to – an advantage on an ice planet, where water would just congeal and probably in doing so burst the tank it was contained in.
Colonel Deschenes hosted a celebratory luncheon at the Beauty Saloon for the technical crew who had managed to come up with the amusing yet elegant solution to a potentially deadly problem. Admiral Van De Graaf showed up just as the celebrants sat down, obviously checking out the colony's recreational facilities, and was persuaded into joining them.
“Quite the place you have here,” he noted, flashing a smile of approval at Samantha. “Hard to believe this is the base brothel.”
“Thank you, Sir,” she responded. “The idea started out that it would be here not just for transient Marines to relieve their sexual frustrations out on unattached concubines, but for anyone who just wanted to get a little, of either gender. If you're here looking for someone to take upstairs to the party room, try one of the girls who are wearing the Chinese dresses slit up very high on the side. Of course every once in awhile we get a sponsor and concubine who just want to engage in a little slap-and-tickle in someplace a little naughtier than their pod's bedroom. We also get sponsored concubines whose sponsor is related to them and not into incest, and sometimes a female sponsor who just needs to have her itch scratched.”
She nodded at a nearby table where a family, including three youngsters under 10, were enjoying a peaceful Sunday brunch, completely unaffected by the presence mere metres away of three girls sitting at the bar, dressed to thrill and flirting with interested young Marines. “The family nature of the place... sorta evolved.”
Just at that moment, their waitress Gladys came over, wearing a light-blue shift with a stylized cocktail glass on the pocket. “Optio Redburn, a sponsor would like to see you on business.” She indicated a Lance Corporal standing over by the entrance to Samantha's tiny office in a corner of the facility, Winnie, the Principal of the local school at his side.
“Pardon me, Admiral, Colonel. Duty calls.” She got up and strode over to meet the pair.
“She seems very self-possessed,” observed the Admiral to the Colonel as Samantha retreated out of earshot.
Michael was acutely aware that Samantha's father, Bob, was not only sitting on the other side of the Admiral, but was hanging on every word. “When she first came here, the AI had an initial assessment that on her fourteenth birthday she would get a CAP score of somewhere between 6.8 and 7.2 – and it always assesses conservatively. Don't tell our young lady, but just yesterday I asked again, and the AI gave me an updated analysis of somewhere between 7.4 and 7.8, and is still being conservative. She could easily end up with a mark of over eight.”
“And she's quite professional,” attested Bob with forgivable parental pride. “Even though that lance-jack's in my section, if it's none of my business. I won't hear a word of what transpires in that room.”
The young lady in question sat in her office with her Principal-concubine Winnie and a Lance Corporal Roger Bachelor. The nervous man was worrying his kepi in his hands.
“Now, Roger. I can call you Roger?”
“Sir, yes Sir.” Roger relaxed a touch, and said, “My friends call me 'Batch'.”
“OK, Batch. When we're behind closed doors, it's 'Sam'. What can I do you for?”
“It has to do with my son, Daniel.”
Samantha had the AI place a picture of Daniel on the wall beside them. The picture of an eleven-year-old boy with dark eyes and a thick mop of dark brown hair stared back at them. “Yes? Is he in trouble?”
“No, Sir,” advised Winnie firmly. “He's one of our better students, especially at that grade level. Leads by example, encourages his fellow students, doesn't hesitate to lend an ear or a shoulder, whatever is required. He's ahead of his studies in every subject, too. The AI thinks he'll easily score in the Volunteer range on his fourteenth birthday.”
“I can also see the girls in his class lining up for a ride the second he turns fourteen,” Samantha observed waggishly. “He is a cute guy.”
“Well....” Winnie looked at Batch, who in embarrassment took up the thread of the conversation.
“My son has a crush on a girl.”
“OK....” Samantha was unsure where this was going. A girl in his own pod, maybe? That could get awkward, especially if you were trying to keep a couple of under-14 kids apart.
“You know how these things go out here. My son would tell me who he had the crush on, and I'd then talk to the girl's dad. If he approved then my son and her would set a date, and the four of us, plus a concubine of mine and one of the other father's, their mothers if possible, would go out on an escorted date together. It's part of growing up out here.”
He had described mating rituals in the Diaspora fairly well. On this colony boys and girls in the nine-to-thirteen age group were encouraged to date, although they wouldn't be permitted to engage in oral and anal sex until they were 13 and to go out together alone until they'd reached the magic age of 14. It was a common sight to see a pair of kids aged 9 years or so dressed up in their finery in the main dining room of the Beauty Saloon, sponsors in tow. If the two sponsors were members of the same rank, then the boy could take the girl out (or vice-versa) to the Officers', Sergeants' or Junior Ranks club. While sex was not an issue for most in that age group, especially toward the younger years, the Colonel felt it best if the kids got to know each other outside of school – it made hooking up at 14 much easier for all concerned if potential candidates were familiar with each others' personalities.
“But?” Samantha asked.
“Her father, well,” Batch temporized.
“Well? Who is her dad?” demanded Samantha, becoming frustrated.
“Perhaps it will be better if I say who she is first,” advised Winnie. “Diana. She's also eleven.”
“So an eleven-year-old Goddess of the Hunt has managed to bag a boy. Nice....” Wait just a moment, her brain demanded of Samantha. There aren't all that many eleven-year-olds on Thule, and how many do you know named “Diana”? “This 'Diana' person: long black hair, dark eyes, into ice dancing?”
“Yes, Sir,” confirmed Winnie.
“Goes by the last name, 'Deschenes'?” Samantha suggested.
Winnie nodded again, ruefully.
“I can see where this is going. Batch, does your son know who his crush's daddy is?”
“Winnie, are his feelings reciprocated?”
“I did make discrete enquiries, and yes she has noticed him and would like him to notice her back.”
“Just a sec. AI, I need a subvocal link to Colonel Deschenes, right now.”
“Yes, Optio Redburn.”
The voice of Michael filled the room a moment later. “A problem, Optio?”
“No, Colonel. While this is business for me, it's personal for you. I have some people who need to talk to you in your pod tonight, preferably with Penny and Diana present as well. I'll escort them so one certain member of the party doesn't chicken out.”
“My marines don't chicken out.” The Colonel sounded insulted.
“Eleven year olds aren't marines yet, and as a result sometimes they do. Can we see you at about twenty-hundred hours?”
“If my curiosity can wait that long. See you then.” With that, he broke the connection.
“I'll pick you up at your pod at nineteen-thirty hours,” she advised the lance corporal.
Batch nodded. “Thank you Sir. It would be too awkward without you.”
“Don't worry about the Colonel, Batch. He only bites during months with vowels in their names.” Samantha grinned wickedly.
Batch laughed nervously and left her office, Winnie at his side. Both Winnie and Samantha were privately convinced the man would spend the next few hours stewing no matter what anyone said or did.
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