Chapter 1

"Dear, don't you think that we should do something special for our 150th wedding anniversary. Maybe have a big party and invite all the kids back."

"Jim! Do you realize how big a hall we would have to rent to hold all of our descendants? We have 27 children, 113 grandchildren, 378 great grandchildren, 17 great great grandchildren, and several more on the way. With their spouses, that's over 1000 people. Where on Sauna can you find a hall that big that's not a sports arena?"

"So, what's wrong with a sports arena? Don't you think that having that many offspring is pretty sporty?"

"Well, now that you mention it..."

"Look, just give it some thought. We have a few months to decide. Just because you are the planet's chief executive officer, you are not bound to your office chair. You can take a few days off without the whole planet of Sauna going any farther or faster to hell."

"OK! OK, I'll think about it."

With that, Jim knew that he had won the argument. Jane would agree to the big party and have a blast at the ball. He could afford to hire a party planner without touching her money, so she didn't have to know how much he spent. This was going to be a party memorable in the annuals of Sauna. She deserved it, what with all the work she did for the planet's welfare.

He would start making a guest list, today. Besides their offspring, they had a lot of friends, both personal and political, who had to be invited. This party was easily going to run to 4,000 or 5,000 people. Maybe, even some of the native Saunaians, the Erbrusians, would want to attend. He'd have to ask one of the Native Bureau agents to find out.

This party was, indeed, the largest ever held in the history of Sauna. Nearly 300 Erbrusians had flown in from the North Pole, and providing the air conditioning they required had been quite a job. It was a good thing that the hockey rink was available. The special carpet laid down over the ice had been just the compromise needed to keep both species happy. All the humans wore light jackets and the Erbrusians wore nothing, so the air conditioning could be set for 55 degrees, Fahrenheit, and both could be comfortable.

The atmosphere was relaxed and full of light conversation, until Jim's eldest great great grandson cornered him for a serious conversation. James Coleman, V, usually called Jim5, was a sociologist and very much concerned by the increasing suicide rate among his generation. "Jim, You and Jane have got to do something to give my generation something interesting to do! Many of my peers have simply given up and are dying of boredom. Remember, we are all descendants of people who were "exiled" from Earth because we were too aggressive for the average population to deal with. Most of the challenges on Sauna have been dealt with and we're as calm and quiet as Earth. If you don't do something to liven up the place, we may not have a next generation!"

"OK, I see your point and I agree with you, but I don't know what we could do. Do you have any suggestions?"

"I don't know, but the paint-ball wars have graduated to live ammunition. Maybe you could get somebody off-world to start a war and invite us to attend!"

"You may have just hit on what we need! I'll look around and see if there would be a market for a mercenary band to help out where people are in trouble. If I find anything promising, I'll get back to you."

"Thanks, I knew we could depend on you to find a solution!"

Jim explained Jim5's problem to Jane, and she could see the value in forming the mercenary band. With reincarnation a proven fact, there was not nearly the fear of death there had been in the past, and every human citizen of Sauna was a tiger at heart. This would be an excellent way of relieving the frustrations a peaceful lifestyle was impressing on the younger, and not-so-young, generations. A 300-year lifespan of full youth and vigor and nothing to look forward to but sedentary activities was bound to tell on such a population.

Jane put out inquiries through official channels and Jim went through the unofficial channels. Between the two of them, they turned up several prospects. One of the best and most deserving seemed to be ideal for Sauna's first effort as The Lone Ranger. This was a planet whose native population of non-humans had been attacked by a gang of human bandits, The humans had moved in on a minor continent and taken over with the simple expedient of killing all of the native sentients. There were about 1000 well-armed humans molesting a much larger, but poorly armed, local population. All of the fighting was confined to ground action; there were no space craft to space craft battles which the humans from Sauna were not equipped to fight, anyway.

There was currently a lull in the fighting, but it was bound to start up again at any moment. Jane contacted the native government on Excer and asked if they wanted help. The Excers jumped at the offer and asked for Sauna to hurry before more of their people were murdered.

Jim jumped into action and contacted his old staff from 150 years ago to ask if they would like to take a working vacation. John Gunther, planning, Roberta Grimm, logistics, and Helen Arthur, intel, were in his office the next day. Jim explained in detail the goals, both short term and long term, he had in mind for his mercenary band and asked them to go to work on making it happen.

Jim handled recruiting and he did so by contacting the neighborhood watch clubs and war game clubs around the planet to ask who might be interested. He got over 1000 volunteers back by e-mail within the first day. Apparently, Jim5 had been right, boredom was rampant on Sauna. Jim contacted Roberta and was told that 1200 troops was the absolute maximum that they could handle at this time.

Jim and John came up with a working structure of:

8-man squads

4-squad platoons

4-platoon companies

4-company regiments for 512 troops in a regiment plus a staff of 39 officers. With this as a working Table of Organization, Roberta could handle 2 regiments. Sauna still had plenty of open space, so Jim and his staff looked at map and selected a spot for their camp. Jim put in a claim for enough land near the small city of Lovecraft and Roberta had tents and other necessaries shipped there.

Jim put out an automated e-mail reply to the volunteers on the first and second day, asking them to show up at the chosen spot near Lovecraft on the next Monday, six days away. They were told to bring all of their weapons and equipment. Any problems would be sorted out after they arrived. They were also told that probably not all of them would be selected for this first round of recruitment.

For lack of anything better, Jim decided to name his new camp as Camp Lovecraft; he thought that was a funny name for a military base when he analyzed it. Camp Lovecraft was in bad need of basic services: water, sanitation, and fuel. Well, the recruits would just have to put up with it for a few weeks, they just might be off-planet before they got tired of the primitive conditions.

John had enough tents erected for 1200 people and what was supposed to be enough latrines dug, but an abrupt change in diet for the recruits could put a strain on the latrines. Everything at Camp Lovecraft was coed, including the latrines and the showers; that might discourage some of the recruits, but Jim doubted it.

Roberta had come up with enough self-heating MREs for 1500 people, so nobody would go hungry the first day, but a few people were going to get wet when the afternoon rain came. Again, no way around it, the recruits would just have to bear up.

Bright and early Monday morning, Jim and his staff were at the main gate of Camp Lovecraft to welcome the recruits as they showed up. Each recruit was directed to take the next available place in the tents, they would be sorted out later. The tents were all full by the time the rain started; Jim and his staff just stood in the rain and toughed it out.

Several more recruits showed up during the rain storm; they were told to put their stuff in the storage tent and they could stay in there out of the rain if they wanted to. Most did, but a few stayed out with Jim. It looked like nobody else was going to show up after the rain quit, so Jim used the PA to call everybody to the parade ground.

He told them that the current capacity of Camp Lovecraft was 1024 people, so he was going to have to cut some people out that day. To do so, he was going to have them run around the parade ground until he told them to stop. Any stragglers and the tail-end-charlies would be asked to leave, but they were welcome to come back when the next recruitment drive was held.

The run was started and people started to fall out at the 7 mile mark. By the time the recruits had run 10 miles, the count of the remaining runners was just over 1000. Jim stopped the run and told the rejects "Thank you for coming" but it was now time for them to leave.

It took a little while to sort out the goers from the stayers, but it was finally done. Those people who had stuff temporarily put in the storage tent were told to claim their gear and find a place in the squad tents. There were 128 squad tents and all were full, except there were only 3 people in the last tent. Even this number of people was going to take a while to sort out.

By now, Roberta had found enough MREs, so that worry was off the list. Mess call was sounded and everybody was issued an MRE for supper. They were going to be living off those things for the next week or so.

Everybody was told that they would have to use their personal weapons until things got better organized. They were to return to their squad tents and somebody would be by to check on the rifles they had. The staff wanted to standardize on a particular assault rifle, which Jim laughingly named the "M1" without explaining why. Of course it had a commercial name, but that was not practical for use in the field; a short name was required and no manufacturer was using M1.

The M1 had a full range of features: recoil compensation; iron, optical, and video sights; laser assisted aiming; grenade launcher fittings; and a lot of other desirable features. Most people already used it and it was available only in .55 caliber, so it would be easy to supply ammunition. The rifle even had mounting lugs for a bayonet, but, as far as Jim knew, nobody had ever used one.

Jim and the staff each took 32 squad tents to survey for rifle type and it took them the rest of the daylight hours to finish the survey. Over 90% of the rifles were the "M1," but there were 6 sniper rifles and several other rifle types. About 30 people had 12-gauge shotguns and 4 had no weapons beyond their pistols.

Once the rifle survey was completed, the staff retired to the edge of the parade ground and Roberta inflated the command tent. John placed a guidon in front of the tent and everybody grabbed a folding chair and took it inside the tent for a final meeting of the day.

The decision was made to let the people with the sniper rifles and the shotguns stay with them, and supply the 60 replacement M1s. John wanted to put 3 snipers and 15 shotgunners with each regiment as special weapons teams; the rest of the troopers would have the M1 assault rifle. When the meeting broke up, Roberta ordered the 60 needed M1s. They would worry about the grenade launchers later in the week.

All four were exhausted by this time, so they grabbed their bedrolls from the storage tent, visited the latrine, showered, and went to sleep.

The next morning, after breakfast, John, who had become XO by default, used the PA to tell everybody to remain in their squad tents until they were visited by a staff officer. However, the people with the sniper rifles were ordered to the command tent; they should bring their rifles and ammunition.

The staff officers were going through the squad tents to find squad leaders while Jim was checking out the snipers to see if they were worth using that way. Jim got on a squad-sized hover-craft and took the six snipers to the rifle range. They set up targets at 1000 yards and Jim had each sniper shoot four times at a target. Jim examined the targets and found that every sniper had done an excellent job of grouping their shots on the target. He was satisfied that these people were entirely adequate snipers for what they needed, so they went back to the tent area.

The Staff had been through the squad tents by lunch and had appointed the temporary squad leaders, plus they had identified the potential platoon leaders and other officers. In most cases, the squad members already knew each other and who were the leaders and who were the followers, so selection had been quick and easy. They'd spend the rest of the week on field problems to insure that good choices had been made.

Roberta and John had ordered a local contractor to fence off squares of unimproved ground 200 yards on a side to be used as training ground. Sixteen of these areas had been prepared and they started using them that afternoon. A native "hyena," a very dangerous animal, was released into the pen and a squad was sent in to kill it. This was made a contest by timing how long it took each squad to perform the task. The squad leader was to coordinate the search for the hyena and was responsible for insuring that none of his squad was successfully attacked by the animal. He was issued a flare gun to use in announcing that their hyena had been found and killed.

There was a lot of laughing and joking about the hunt before it started, but every member of the squad knew how dangerous a hyena was and had participated in several hunts on previous occasions. The staff was impressed at how quickly the squads were able to find and kill their quarry. Every squad did well with the problem and the winner only won by a 2-second margin. A special pennant was given to the winning squad to fly in front of their tent until the next contest, and the staff was surprised at how prized the flag was.

The next day, the hunt was for two hyenas at the same time. This upped the ante by an order of magnitude, at least. The hunters could be attacked by the second hyena if they concentrated too much on the first one. The best technique for this game was to work in pairs; one hunted while the other guarded his back. A different squad won the flag this time and was the envy of the camp.

The third day, three hyenas were the quarry! This could very easily get somebody killed. A single bite could kill a human because of the toxicity of native Sauna products. Hyena saliva was as toxic to humans as the strongest poison from Earth. This cut way back on the speed of the hunt, so it took two days to find a winner, this time. A couple of the hunters had been bitten and had to be rushed to the hospital in Lovecraft, who were waiting for casualties and managed to save the lives of both victims. These two squads were deemed to be abject failures by the rest of the squads and actually shunned for a couple of days.

This activity was not as pointless as it may sound; the staff was able to pick out the natural leaders and promote them to officer status. Officers still fought with the grunts, they just had added responsibilities. In fact, if the officers had not been allowed to fight along side the grunts, most would have refused the promotion. The name of the game was the excitement of putting your own life on the line!

Jim wanted a catchy name for his new army, so he put it to the troops to name themselves. It took a couple of nights of discussion and wrangling to come up with a name, but they finally settled on "Sauna's Slayers." Jim wondered how long that name would stick, but he was willing to give it a try.

John was concerned that they didn't have any crew-served weapons, but that type of weapon didn't fall into the natural bent of the Saunaians. They were too much the individualists to gravitate toward crew-served anything except helicopter gunships. Just to be sure that they didn't overlook anything, John advertised on TV for any one who had helicopters, tanks, or artillery and would like to join Sauna' Slayers. He was amazed at the response!

Helicopters turned up in surprising numbers; seventeen were offered, complete with 3-man crews. Eleven light tanks with 3-man crews were volunteered and two more were available if Sauna's Slayers would pay for some minor repairs. Four mortar teams showed up, but each had a different caliber round. John took them all, with thanks.

Roberta interviewed the mortar teams and got them to agree to a common caliber if she would supply the tubes. This was not a problem, but it would take a few weeks they didn't have, to get the weapons in hand. Meanwhile the mortar crews would stick with what they had.

She arranged to get the two tanks needing repair fixed as soon as possible and delivered to Camp Lovecraft, meanwhile the 11 serviceable tanks were also shipped to Camp Lovecraft. The 17 helicopters were flown in as soon as John accepted them, so Sauna's Slayers had some muscle to go with their light infantry.

John had the helicopters and the tanks practicing maneuvering as tactical units, since they had never had the opportunity to do that before, but they could only take part in a few days of training before they were due to leave for Excer.

The plan was to stage on the major continent of Excer and to jump from there to attack the invaders. John hoped to do this in two waves, but that would depend on what kind of transportation the Excers would actually provide.

Helen had been hard at work getting all of the information she could on Excer and the invaders. Excar had .97g, so there would not be a problem with gravity. The temperature was similar to summer in northern Europe on Earth, so that, too, was to their advantage.

The invaders were mostly armed with shoulder-fired weapons similar to those used by the Slayers, and they had no tanks. The did have more gunships than the Slayers, 30 at last report, and they relied on them heavily as replacements for tanks. Roberta was alerted to get some laser-guided rockets for anti-aircraft use before they left Sauna.

Jane was concerned that the Slayers were costing more than she had expected. The government of Sauna could pay for this excursion, but Sauna's Slayers would have to become self-supporting by the next commitment. Charity could only go so far before the tax payers complained.

Excar provided transportation via FTL transports and Sauna's Slayers left on their grand adventure with high hopes and great expectations.

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