Chapter Nine

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"Welcome to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the Red Legion," boomed Captain Raiden Yamada. Little taller than Ortiz, Yamada had a barrel chest and biceps that strained at the sleeves of his uniform. His close-cropped hair was black, save for the furrow of gnarled scar tissue that flowed from his scalp to engulf the left side of his face like a river delta. That side of his mouth was turned up in a permanent grin.

Ortiz and her platoon stood at stiff attention, ankle deep in mud on the waterlogged parade ground in front of the company headquarters building. The squat structure was neat in its appearance and well-maintained, but its rough-hewn wood siding, wood shake roof, and protruding ridgepoles made it look as if it were a living history museum. Three flagpoles stood before it, just behind Yamada, bearing the Confederation and Marine Corps flags, along with the banner of the 12th Guards Regiment, more commonly known as the Red Legion. The flags drooped without a breeze, soaked by the rain that continued to fall from the leaden clouds.

"He looks almost as scary as you, Gard," someone whispered from one of the rear ranks.

"At ease," Stalin hissed from where he stood at the rear of the small formation.

"I have good news and bad news for you," Yamada continued. "The bad news, as I am sure you surmised the moment you debarked from the boat that brought you from the Yavuz, is that our outpost here on Carillon is not the five star resort hotel on a sun-drenched beach that you were no doubt expecting." The right side of his mouth turned up in a smile, and his comment was rewarded with a round of subdued laughter. "Believe it or not, the thriving metropolis you will find beyond the palisade gate," he gestured with a hand toward the open gate in the wall of wooden poles with sharpened tops that surrounded the compound, "is the largest habitation on this joyful planet, and the most modern." The Marines craned their necks, looking through the gate, their eyes following the cobblestones that led to a collection of numerous wooden structures on both sides of the street that comprised the heart of the town beyond. While no chimneys were visible over the rough hewn but sharp tops of the palisade, several plumes of woodsmoke curled into the gray sky.

"Looks like a frontier town from a history book," someone whispered.

"It's a shit hole," someone corrected under their breath.

Yamada didn't hear, or perhaps just pretended not to. "By all rights, this garrison should be manned by the Territorial Army, but Carillon doesn't have enough of a population to raise even a single regiment. In such cases, primary responsibility for planetary defense on the ground falls to the Corps, with support from local TA recruits. The men and women who form the detachment here take their jobs seriously, and I have no doubt they will acquit themselves well if the time ever comes." He smiled again, but unlike the first time it was clearly forced. "Also, as you can see," he again gestured toward the open gate, "the Confederation has perfected time travel and sent us back about six hundred years. Since Carillon has never been threatened, let alone attacked, it's not exactly on the top of the priority list for Confederation engineers and modern materials. There's an endless supply of wood from the forests and stone from various quarries, so that's what we use here." He grinned, showing a set of perfect white teeth. "If you have carpentry and masonry skills, you'll be in good shape. If you don't have them now, you will before you rotate out, because we're the ones who build and maintain our fortifications, such as they are."

That brought on a collective groan.

"You said there was good and bad news, sir," Castle called out. "What's the good news?"

"The good news," Yamada said with a nod of acknowledgement, "is that Carillon's main export is liquor. As such, it's plentiful and cheap, so you can drown your sorrows to your heart's content when you're off duty. The town, which is also the planetary capital, also has a legal brothel that caters to both sexes. For you nature lovers, when the weather permits," he gestured to the clouds overhead, "an overnight hike or horseback ride from here will bring you to some of the most amazing scenery you'll ever set eyes on."

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