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.The plasma-tube was something like an RPG in size but heavier and bulkier.It had manual controls and a power pack you had to lug around on your back.The tube itself was difficult in every way.Just adjusting power levels and cranking the focus from tight to diffuse was a workout.As per Graves’ suggestion, I spent my mornings exercising with weights in the portions of the ship that maintained active gravity-wells.I did this vigorously, as we didn’t even know exactly what conditions would be like when we reached the target world.What if the gravity was double that of Earth? I didn’t want to be caught dragging my weapon behind me in the dirt with my exoskeleton groaning and sparking, unable to keep up with the rest of the squad.Training in body armor was another new experience for me.The light infantry really did have the worst of it, I could see that now.The best part was that Veteran Harris showed no new inclinations to kill me during training.It wasn’t that he’d gotten over our little rivalry, but rather that he feared damaging my equipment.In order to kill an armored trooper shouldering a belcher, you had to do a lot of damage.That would almost certainly wreck the armor I was carrying around.The fact that all of our equipment was virtually irreplaceable made matters worse for my trainers.On my first campaign into space, nothing had been more expendable than human flesh.The officers hadn’t been overly-concerned with our gear, either.We recycled what we could, but if a smart-suit stopped knitting back up, or a snap-rifle didn’t operate properly—we tossed it.Legion Varus, for all our bad reputation, had always been awarded a generous budget of Galactic credits from Hegemony.Those days were gone.Now that my gear was worth more than my flesh, everyone inspected my equipment whenever I fell down.It was like being ordered around by accountants.I said as much to Veteran Harris, who didn’t enjoy listening to my opinions.“McGill,” he said, “you just make damn sure you don’t wreck anything when we get down there.You’re a specialist now, a big-time weaponeer.Yeah, I’m all impressed.But you remember you’re the greenest frigging weaponeer on this deck, and I mean that.So, learn from your betters, boy.They’re all around you.”We were standing in a sandy pit with scorched puff-crete walls in every direction.In order to operate a weapon like a plasma cannon aboard a spaceship in flight, you had to make damned sure it didn’t puncture the hull.The legion techs had achieved an appropriate level of safety by building up a puff-crete bunker several layers thick all around us.That way, they could just construct a new wall of the material every time we wrecked the nearest one.As a further precaution, they made certain there were always a few more layers outside the bunker to keep us from reaching the actual hull itself.I took a second to eye the crowd in the bunker with me.It did seem like the heavy weapons squad I’d been assigned to for training was made up of experts.They snapped each component into place with practiced precision.It seemed to me that all the most muscular guys in the cohort were there.Veteran Harris never looked at the rest of the weaponeers.He was watching me.He had his hands on his hips staring at my hands as I worked with my weapon, waiting for me to make the slightest mistake.“No, no, no!” he shouted a moment later as I pushed a cartridge into the base of the weapon.“You have to slap it in, boy.It won’t lock right if you just toy with it!”I slapped, and apparently I did that wrong too, because he ripped it out of my hands and whacked the cartridge with a big hand.He tossed the weapon back to me.I caught it, but not without staggering.He glared.“You’re hopeless.I’m telling Graves this was a big mistake.He should keep you with the light troops, where at least you know what the hell you’re doing.”“Sorry Vet,” I said.“I don’t know why I didn’t get assigned to heavy weapons training during shore leave.”Harris shook his head.“Doesn’t work that way.Too expensive.”I thought about it and nodded.We weren’t like a national standing army, we were mercenaries.Our treasury was based on active contracts not taxpayer dollars coming from some borrowed government pot.An active duty legionnaire was paid about triple what a man got while sitting on his hands at home.That’s why they didn’t like to have us muster back in until it was go-time—meaning they had a new contract.“That’s why you didn’t put us through boot camp the first time out, right? Cheaper to do it on the flight to the target world, and then throw us into the fight.After dying a few times, we figured out how to be proper soldiers.”Harris shrugged.“That’s about the size of it.But you’re failing at weaponeer school.You don’t know how to handle your suit or your weapon [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]