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William Alan Rieser

Articles
- Genre Difficulties
- Can Anyone Tell the Time?
- An Appreciation of Tolkien
- On the Eerie Uncertainty of AI
- On the Effrontery of Wonder Women
- On the Brevity of Behemoths
- On The Infinite Endurance of Some Bogeymen
- On the Need for Effective Fantasy
- On the Insufferability of Druidom
- Viewing the Icons
- That's the Way It Used To Be

Short Stories
- Token of Esteem
- Modal Sojourn

Book Excerpts
- The Kaska Trilogy - Gam
- The Kaska Trilogy - Pmat
- The Kaska Trilogy - Kesht
- The Chronicles of Zusalem - Pathandu
- The Chronicles of Zusalem - The Find
- Luna Parabella
- Furnace

Token of Esteem (3 ratings)
         by William Alan Rieser
Page 1 of 8

"There," said Sergeant Ciccelo, pointing at the old, vast, orange Martian pyramid on the consoleís scanner. "This is their favorite spot so far, right on top of the Cydonian Plateau. We donít know why, but you can bank your blood on it. Mully over there will show you the ropes."

"How long you want me to do this?" asked Pook, the latest scrub to get stuck with rat duty. It seemed like an unfair assignment immediately upon his arrival. After all, Pook thought, he wasnít done with shuttle lag, let alone impulse trauma conditioning. He glimpsed Private Mully, who appeared to ignore both him and the sergeant as he sat quietly before his monitor. Still, the man must have his orders, he reasoned, even if they were impersonal.

"Until I get back from Phobos," answered the sergeant, not bothering with spelling things out any better for the new transferee from Luna. "If ya need help, use the com. Thereís enough guys around to lend a hand, unless it gets serious. If itís real bad, you just haul ass outta here and over to barracks, especially if the rats turn nasty. Make your report to the Louie. Do a good job Ďn Iíll remember. Everything clear?"

"Clear enough, sir," replied Pook.

"Piece Ďo cake. Routine stuff, right corporal?"

"Right, sir."

The two men saluted each other and the sergeant hastily departed the mesa

in his cruiser. Pook looked around the spartan sentry post and settled again on the lone figure of Mully, who sat in the roomís single comfortable chair while listening to some music on a juiced headset. Pook gave him the high sign when he thought the manís eyes rested on him, but there was no recognition. In fact, he hadnít seen Mullyís eyes or hands move at all since the sergeant brought him into the place. Pook was still garbed in his flight suit because the sergeant hadnít given him a chance to change into anything comfortable. The vacuum duffel, containing his clothes and other belongings, was still slung over his right shoulder since first meeting Ciccelo.

"Whatcha listeniní to, Jandia?" asked Pook, assuming the soldier was hooked on the latest Lunar fripwaves. There was no response, though Pook could clearly see that the crooning membrane surrounding Mullyís head, covering the ears, was active. The guy was just out of it or mesmerized, he thought. Pook dropped his duffel on the floor in front of some wall lockers and decided to change before studying the computerís data on the infestation. He walked past the absorbed private and barely nudged the manís shoulder as he squeezed by the console. Mully fell over dead on the floor, jarred by the impact and splayed out in an unnatural position. Pook froze where he stood, frying the shocking truth in his shaking brain. He nervously opted to remain suited, especially when he saw a burgeoning circle of blood spread wide beneath the soldierís static body.

"Medical," beckoned Pook quickly in his helmetís com. "Iíve got a dead man here." He tried to stay calm.

"Where are you?" said a mechanical voice. "Sensors are malfunctioning."

"Mesa sentry," answered Pook, already growing restless. "Corporal Pook."

"You talkiní Ďbout Mully? Donít know your voice."

"Guess so. Blood all over the place."

"OK. Hang tight. Donít touch anything. Weíll be up."

"Yeah," said Pook on the disconnect. "Hang is the operative word!" Things werenít going to be as routine as Sergeant Ciccelo indicated. He got to the console without stepping in red and managed to punch up some data. The so-called rat was displayed on the screen, but its features were indistinct. The text was a little better and Pook read it carefully, keeping his eyes off Mullyís body.

N0N-INDIGENOUS LIFE FORM - UNKNOWN ORIGIN - MAMMALIAN - ALTERABLE

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