Hammer Into AnvilBy Alicia Ann Fox
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Cadet Del Tarrant was stretched out full-length on his narrow cot in his narrow room, staring up at the high plastine ceiling. The cream-colored paint was flaking in the corner nearest the room's single window, and the dark red pull-shade over it was faded with age and the harsh sunlight of Eriax.
Through the window came the raucous cries of the preppers who were playing air-ball in the courtyard. Tarrant could easily pick out the voice of the proctor who was refereeing the game; it was Junior Cadet Jac Moore, the son of that Captain Moore who had been killed in a "border dispute" with the Trantinians. Death was a constant companion of Spaceforce.
Death was in Tarrant's future as well, he knew. As a Space Command officer, there was a 64% chance that he would be killed in the line of duty. As a Space Command pilot rather than a line soldier, the odds were slightly better, but Tarrant had no illusions. Only the politically powerful and their associates got the milkruns; Tarrant was most probably destined for a war zone. In fact, his destiny would meet him soon, for tomorrow he would graduate with the rank of Leftenant, and begin his service as a junior pilot. He had just passed his eighteenth birthday.
Of course, Tarrant mused, he would probably enjoy a war zone more than, say, transporting troops, or shepherding influential businessmen to and from Earth, or piloting a convict ship. Tarrant wanted more from his career than steady pay and the accolades of his superiors. He wanted glory, excitement, and personal fulfillment. All unlikely in the service, he knew, but one could hope. They were "iron," weren't they?
Yesterday at convocation, the Marshall had spoken to them of an old-calendar military man named Bismarck. "The problems of our time are to be solved by iron and blood. By the blood of the enemies of the Federation, and by the iron which is our invincible army. You, men, are that iron...."
Tarrant was skeptical. He wasn't sure he wanted to be iron. Iron tended to rust, and Del Tarrant wasn't going to rust any time soon. He stretched and uncrossed his booted feet, switching his gaze from the aged ceiling to his long-fingered hands. The hands that Ajia had found so beautiful (too bad she'd been transferred off-planet) and his instructors so talented. He was top of his class, and knew it all too well. And tomorrow...he would be a cog. An (iron) cog in the service of the Federation.
How long would it be before he could bear it no more? Ambition boiled within him, and would probably have no outlet, unless he was a perfect cog.
So be it. And if the promotions were slow in coming...he could always start over, somewhere else.
He would have a ship, and he would have his freedom.
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