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Mercenary
by [?]

Every status-quo-caste society in history
has left open two roads to rise above your
caste: The Priest and The Warrior. But in
a society of TV and tranquilizers–the
Warrior acquires a strange new meaning….

Joseph Mauser spotted the recruiting line-up from two or three blocks down the street, shortly after driving into Kingston. The local offices of Vacuum Tube Transport, undoubtedly. Baron Haer would be doing his recruiting for the fracas with Continental Hovercraft there if for no other reason than to save on rents. The Baron was watching pennies on this one and that was bad.

In fact, it was so bad that even as Joe Mauser let his sports hovercar sink to a parking level and vaulted over its side he was still questioning his decision to sign up with the Vacuum Tube outfit rather than with their opponents. Joe was an old pro and old pros do not get to be old pros in the Category Military without developing an instinct to stay away from losing sides.

Fine enough for Low-Lowers and Mid-Lowers to sign up with this outfit, as opposed to that, motivated by no other reasoning than the snappiness of the uniform and the stock shares offered, but an old pro considered carefully such matters as budget. Baron Haer was watching every expense, was, it was rumored, figuring on commanding himself and calling upon relatives and friends for his staff. Continental Hovercraft, on the other hand, was heavy with variable capital and was in a position to hire Stonewall Cogswell himself for their tactician.

However, the die was cast. You didn’t run up a caste level, not to speak of two at once, by playing it careful. Joe had planned this out; for once, old pro or not, he was taking risks.

Recruiting line-ups were not for such as he. Not for many a year, many a fracas. He strode rapidly along this one, heading for the offices ahead, noting only in passing the quality of the men who were taking service with Vacuum Tube Transport. These were the soldiers he’d be commanding in the immediate future and the prospects looked grim. There were few veterans among them. Their stance, their demeanor, their … well, you could tell a veteran even though he be Rank Private. You could tell a veteran of even one fracas. It showed.

He knew the situation. The word had gone out. Baron Malcolm Haer was due for a defeat. You weren’t going to pick up any lush bonuses signing up with him, and you definitely weren’t going to jump a caste. In short, no matter what Haer’s past record, choose what was going to be the winning side–Continental Hovercraft. Continental Hovercraft and old Stonewall Cogswell who had lost so few fracases that many a Telly buff couldn’t remember a single one.

Individuals among these men showed promise, Joe Mauser estimated even as he walked, but promise means little if you don’t live long enough to cash in on it.

Take that small man up ahead. He’d obviously got himself into a hassle maintaining his place in line against two or three heftier would-be soldiers. The little fellow wasn’t backing down a step in spite of the attempts of the other Lowers to usurp his place. Joe Mauser liked to see such spirit. You could use it when you were in the dill.

As he drew abreast of the altercation, he snapped from the side of his mouth, “Easy, lads. You’ll get all the scrapping you want with Hovercraft. Wait until then.”

He’d expected his tone of authority to be enough, even though he was in mufti. He wasn’t particularly interested in the situation, beyond giving the little man a hand. A veteran would have recognized him as an old-timer and probable officer, and heeded, automatically.

These evidently weren’t veterans.

“Says who?” one of the Lowers growled back at him. “You one of Baron Haer’s kids, or something?”