Gellibrand Obsidian stood to inherit billions, but to avoid his mother's crazy political schemes he turns his back on the fortune to join the sector infantry on the Imperial Rim, only to end up leading his platoon on a fightback against a deadly group of mercenaries known as The Destroyers. Then there is the dark secret behind the beautiful sex worker Athena, and the question of who murdered a director of the Obsidian family company Arvind Olsen.
Private Gellibrand Bosworth Baines Plymouth Obsidian of three platoon B Company, Second Regiment of the Lighthold Sector Assault Infantry was sound asleep aboard the interstellar troop transporter Highreach, dreaming of women, when his platoon sergeant came to wake him. Gel, as he was to his friends, may have highly trained in cutting-edge weaponry and sensing systems resulting from centuries of technological advancements, but his sergeant’s approach to rousing the soldier would have been familiar to a Roman legionnaire or a Greek Hoplite.
“Get up Obsidian, you lazy sod,” said staff sergeant Sefton, flipping up the capsule’s cover and shaking Gel. Being old school, the sergeant would have tipped the private onto the floor and dumped his mattress on top of him, but Gel was in a sleep capsule on the second tier of the bunk room’s array of capsules. The sergeant had to make do with shaking.
“Wha.. Staff Sergeant?” Gel automatically looked at the display set on the bulkhead beside him. “Still half an hour to alarm.”
“Not for you, we’re making you a squad leader.”
“But I don’t wanna be a squad leader,” protested Gel. “I’ve told you that. I don’t wanna start worrying about what some other poor Salt should be doing.” The Assault Infantry called each other Salts.
“Major Tatcha has told me you either accept the job or we’re authorised to put you in the air lock and space you. Lieutenant Andris” (this was the platoon leader) “says he will personally work the override for the outer doors to open while you’re inside.”
“Isn’t it against military law to murder privates for refusing promotions?”
The sergeant pushed his face up close to Obsidian’s to glare at the private.
“The court of inquiry will find that there are extenuating circumstances, such as the private in question being aggravating.” Gel had refused promotion several times. “You’re squad leader, no argument, and senior squad leader too.” The sergeant withdrew his face and jerked his thumb to indicate that Gel should get up. The other members of the platoon, in sleep capsules with translucent covers closed, as regulations demanded, slept on.
“Say, what? What’s happened to Jim, Gus and Ella?” said Gel as he swung his legs over the side and grabbed his trousers.
“Squad Leaders James Guthrie and Gustav Graves had to be switched to other platoons to cover gaps,” said Staff Sergeant Sefton. “Guthrie has been made brevet sergeant in C company. His promotion is deserved as you know. Squad leader Ella Hutchinson is still finding her way, as she admits. That leaves you, heaven help us all. You are older than the others and sometime make more sense – which doesn’t say much for the others - and you’ve done the squad leader course.”
The sergeant could have also added that Gel was somewhat taller than the platoon average, powerfully built and had more than held his own on all levels in the give and take of barrack rooms without making enemies. The others would not mess with him lightly. He was a natural choice for the vacant junior leader slot.
“I only did the course because you threatened me with field punishment if I didn’t,” said Gel putting on his socks.
“Did I?” The sergeant affected surprise. “You shouldn’t have such a good memory, Obsidian. Finish getting dressed and get to the ready room. The last-minute shuffle has upset things. Assistant squad leader Finney is the other promotion in three platoon, and Obsidian.” the sergeant lent in again.
“Yes sergeant?” said Gel, leaning back.
“If you didn’t want promotion you should have stayed away from the assault infantry.”
The ball was a swanky, formal dinner with a retro theme including a live 1940s style big band. This band launched into the swing time classic, A string of pearls.
“Swing,” exclaimed Gellibrand Bosworth Baines Plymouth Obsidian. In keeping with the theme of the night, he wore a white coat with wide lapels, black bow tie and black pants. “Alison, let’s dance?”
“Not now, dear,” said Alison. “I want to work the room.”
“But this is a ball,” protested Gel. “People dance at balls not network. I want to dance with my fiancée. I’ve even been taking swing dancing lessons.”
“That’s nice dear,” said Alison, scanning the room. “But you’ll never get into the senate if I don’t get out there and make contacts.”
“Senate?” Gel was momentarily taken aback, then shrugged, “if you’re that interested in politics mother will buy you a senate seat after we’re married, and you can sit in that dreadful Senate building and have meetings.”
“I’m not talking about the planetary senate, Gel,” said Alison rounding on him. “I’m talking about the Imperial Senate on Earth.”
Gel’s blood ran cold. His mother had mentioned that he might go into politics, but he thought she had heeded his strong protests and dropped the idea. The vast family fortune could be used to back some other poor devil who actually liked being in meetings, giving speeches, having his picture taken and being interviewed. Gel detested the publicity that came with being heir to a vast fortune and actively avoided it. But if Alison was talking about aiming for the Imperial Senate Gel knew that his mother must be behind the idea. He also knew that what his mother wanted, she got.
“Why in all of Imperium would I want to get into that senate?” he said. “I don’t want to be in politics – I don’t want to start worrying about what some other poor citizen is doing.”