Robert Asprin: Phule's Errand

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Robert Asprin Phule's Errand
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    Phule's Errand
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Phule's Errand: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Not many men are as hardy as this Phule. Phule is without a doubt the only captain in the Space Legion with his own butler, but Beeker has stuck with him through thick and thin. Which is why it’s incomprehensible to Phule why Beeker has run off-planet without a word—and with Omega Company’s lovely new medic. Without his right-hand man, Phule has no idea what his left hand is doing. So he takes off after his errant butler, just as General Blitzkrieg decides to make a surprise visit to Zenobia. And the only thing Blitz would like better than catching Phule off guard is to catch Phule AWOL...

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Phule's Errand

(Phule's Company 06)


 Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck


Journal #760-

My employment with Willard Phule, better known by his nom de guerre of “Captain Jester,” has sometimes made me wonder if I have fallen under a legendary curse from Old Earth: “May you live in interesting times.” Two additional phrases are less well-known: “May you come to the attention of important people, and may you receive all that you wish for.” They apply all too well to my life with Omega Company of the Space Legion.

It was happy hour at the Officers’ Club at Rahnsome Base, headquarters of the United Alliance Military Command, and the barrooms were packed. In the luxurious back room reserved for general staff officers, there was scarcely an empty seat to be found. And the noise level was exactly what you would suspect from a group of sophonts who spent a large fraction of their time telling others what to do. Time-honored scuttlebutt around the base asserted that careers could be launched or destroyed right here in this room. To judge from the behavior of the officers present, the majority of them believed it.

The loudest of the blowhards on hand was General Blitzkrieg of the Space Legion. With a highball in one hand and a clear Neo-Havana cigar in the other, he sat in his favorite overstuffed chair by the trophy shelf, browbeating all who offered to question his preeminence. Normally, there were few who bothered-mainly because the effort was disproportionately greater than any possible reward for success.

Today, Blitzkrieg was holding forth on the utter absurdity of putting gormless civilians in a position of authority over professional military men. Since this was an opinion shared by every sophont in the building (except for the head bartender, who had seen the top brass in its cups far too often to have any faith in its competence), the Legion general was safe from contradiction on this particular subject. For that very reason it was one of his favorites.

“I’ll tell you how bad it’s gotten,” Blitzkrieg rumbled. “Now, if the damned bleeding hearts get their way, the Alliance Council will vet all promotions above the rank of lieutenant colonel. How’s that for bureaucratic bullshit? Who’s better qualified to judge a soldier than his own CO? There’s not an officer in the Legion whose work I don’t know a hundred times better than some meddling paper pusher or political hack…”

That statement was greeted by a nearly unanimous murmur of assent-only nearly unanimous, for once. This time, among the general’s listeners was a solidly built man wearing the deep blue uniform of Starfleet. Captain First Class John Arbuthnot shook his head. “That’d be hard to argue with,” he growled. “But everybody knows that’s not how it works. Talk all you want about the merit system, but the brownnoses always have the minimum-energy course to promotions. It’s true in Starfleet, it’s true in the Regular Army, and it’s damn near official policy in the Legion.”

“And what the hell do you know about Legion policy, Captain!” growled Blitzkrieg.

Another officer might have backed off at this point. But Captain Arbuthnot had an exemplary record, with meritorious service on a dozen ships, and was widely regarded as one of the most valuable members of the general staff. His one flaw was a stubborn refusal to let nonsense stand unchallenged-no matter who was saying it. That was why, after thirty years in the service, Arbuthnot was stuck at captain first class-a rank equivalent to colonel in the Legion or Regular Army. He’d seen one brownnose after another promoted past him, and he was a long way from being reconciled to it.

So Blitzkrieg’s slighting reference to his rank hit close to home. Captain Arbuthnot narrowed his eyes, and said, “Begging the general’s pardon, but I’d like to hear him deny that he’s given the ablest man in the Legion a deadend assignment babysitting a company of screwups.”

Blitzkrieg’s eyes bulged. “Deny it?” he roared. “Deny it? Damn straight I’ll deny it, because it’s a damned lie.” He stood up, looming over the Starfleet captain’s chair.

Arbuthnot was unfazed. “I’ll overlook the general’s last remark,” he said, in a voice that would have chilled the blood of anyone sensitive to tone. “He’s entitled to his opinion even if all the evidence is against him. But I’m entitled to mine, as well-and whatever the general thinks, I know what I know. I’ll stand by my original statement.” He tossed back his drink, then stood, gave a mock bow, and strode from the room, a smug expression on his face.

“Damned cheek,” muttered Blitzkrieg, and he sipped from his own drink. But suddenly it lacked bite-had the ice diluted it that quickly?-and the smoke of his cigar smelled stale. He stared around the room, looking for someone else to argue with. Nothing like a good fight to get the spirits up. But the other officers in the circle around him had somehow drifted away, and suddenly he didn’t feel like arguing, after all. He stubbed out the cigar, retrieved his hat, and stalked out, still muttering to himself.

The communicator buzzed, and Willard Phule looked up from the screen of his Port-a-Brain computer. “What is it, Mother?” he asked. From the displays, this was a Priority Three call: nothing urgent, but important enough not to defer, either.

“You’ll never guess, lover boy,” said the comm operator. “There’s a ship entering Zenobia orbit just now. It’s bringing just what we’ve all been waiting for.”

“That could be a lot of different things, depending on who you’re asking,” said Phule. Inevitably, he thought of the promotion he’d been assured the Alliance Senate had approved for him, but that had yet to be confirmed by his Legion superiors. Legion tradition mandated a real letter, on actual paper, to confirm promotions. It had occurred to him that General Blitzkrieg might have sent the promotion notice across the parsecs separating Legion Headquarters and Zenobia by some lowest-priority uncrewed freight carrier, chugging its way at sublight speeds from one system to another.

But that way lay insanity… he snapped back to the present. “Don’t keep me guessing, Mother,” he said. “What are we getting?”

He could practically hear the pout as she answered. “All right, big boy, if that’s the way you want to be. But just you wait-next time you need something from me, I might not be so sweet about it.”

Phule repressed a sigh. “Give me a hint, Mother. Person, place, or thing?”

“Silly boy,” came the answer. “Nobody could send us a place.”

“Uh, they could send us to a place,” said Phule. “A new assignment, get it? But I take it that’s not what we’re getting.”

“Right.” She waited. Then, after a long silence followed by a resigned sigh, “OK, it’s a person.”

“A person. Hmmm…” Phule tried to think of somebody he’d been waiting for, without success. “Uh, male or female?”

“Female, not that that’ll help you much,” said Mother, smugly.

Female, thought Phule. Who could it be? Not likely his mother, or his grandmother. Colonel Battleax had been his strongest supporter among the Legion brass, but she was hardly anybody the company had been waiting for… “Uh… Jennie Higgins?” he guessed. The ‘pretty young newstaper who’d put Omega Company in the headlines was a favorite with the troops-and a favorite with Phule himself, now that he thought of her.

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