Promoted to Exile: Fifth Tourmaline (part one)
Promoted to Exile
His advocate had told him to make the most of his new station.
The advice was free, benefit of a passing encounter on Herward’s way out. The promotion had come too close on the heels of the charges’ dismissal, for him to suppose the whole thing had not been brokered. Having transgressed, he must now be exemplary in obedience. Obedience, the signal virtue of a soldier.
But the advocate seemed to think he could risk some act of bravado.
“What would you consider the most I can make, then, sir?”
“Sergeant, you’ve got the wrong attitude. You have to resign yourself to what you get, and you ought to have known it. Just because you like the city…or maybe you’d be happier if they’d chosen the coast. You’ve been given an assignment. Take it as punishment, you’ve failed already. Keep your eyes open.”
Every day Herward could fail a dozen times more. And yes, he did take it as punishment. His own eyes were little use. The cameras that fed the monitors might pick something up, a moving shape in white against a dead-white field. The border offered, along with boredom…along with blizzard conditions, a visual deprivation, the misery of which he would not have guessed…a perfect chance for the stooge-in-command’s being fooled twice. The Hidtha were here within their element.
He hadn’t been ordered to watch Anton every minute.
The first scuttlebutt to reach his ears was that Sergeant Herward, brought in from the outside, had blocked the promotions of his two subordinate officers. Corporals Byrnes and Hyde were his go-betweens, and his coaches, until he’d got the personalities down, and a sense of how often and by what gambits the Hidtha stressed this particular outpost. He had to drill the enlisted men, sharp questions every day, making his rounds, so as not to make a fingered informer of any one of them.
“You have to resign yourself to what you get.” He tried the axiom on Byrnes.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Among Herward’s duties was the finding of tasks to keep his men and women from idleness. Major Wrik sometimes came up and sometimes didn’t, a pointless surprise element to his inspections.
And gave no counsel. “I trust you to do your job, sergeant.”
He’d said this as though offended by the request.
Herward saw that his people could take him all the way down, whenever they wanted to. He was bound to have a crisis. When it came, someone would be away from his or her post. He was doing a lieutenant’s job, his hours over-loaded. The G.R.A. kept as many officers as they could at the sergeant’s rank and pay grade.
So, taking the only advice he half-respected and thought might be of use, he’d sat down to write a letter, his language intimate. Vonnie, who was not his lover, would know by this…
That he asked her help, and it was urgent. You might remember Anton Leonhardt. You knew him, I think you said so, for a while in Cadwilliam. He was my case. But you probably spent more time with him than I did. Someone told me the Hidtha Utdrife took Anton over the mountains.
Herward sketched in a smile and a wink.
Did Jovie bring you the tea set and the chocolate bars?
This wasn’t code. It could be code. But there had been a tea set, and there had been chocolate bars. Jovie might have passed through seven or eight checkpoints, going home.
The Swisshelms were chaotists. He supposed he might have invented the word. Anarchy, conceived as its utopian idyll, was a passive condition…a let-down no doubt, in practice, beginning the day it bloomed. Tempting to label government a tick. Pull it off, the blood flows back into the vein. The untaxed poor gain nothing, but the theorists will claim unfettered commerce makes jobs for everyone.
The Hidtha were paternalistic, and lived, in their own way, without government. Their admirers the Swisshelms wanted, Herward thought, to spectate on the crash, to goggle at their nation’s wholesale disintegration…and then witness a sort of tribal rebirth. Or maybe witness only excitement, a constant churning to stir their cold, clinical hearts.
At any rate, he’d defected. He’d joined the occupying army. (And knew neither Vonnie nor Jovie to be cold. But the sisters had played him the same trick they’d played Anton.) He had joined, in a fire of outrage, that might, now and then, have flared to hate—
Or do I have it wrong, Herward asked himself. Is outrage passion, and hate…the flip side of love’s coin, well known to be. Enduring, then. He hadn’t loved Vonnie.
Jocelyn’s government (Toad Jocelyn today probably living high, on his pariah’s island), had agitated for what he’d called justice. He’d wanted the three nations bordering their own, and with whom they’d long allied themselves—for trade, for peace (defense), for the sharing of intelligence—to subordinate theirs to his regime, allow his zealots, his gang of relics, to call the shots. All that was war-mongering, and Herward, a graduate student then, had loathed it.
The war had been short and humiliating. The G.R.A., with their social science, now systematically were dissolving every tie, unnaming everything, relocating everyone, rooting and branching all rebellion. Many rebels remained Jocelynists. The Hidtha would treat only with the Palmists. But General Palma and the Ftheorde had stirred them, their old wish for independence. The Utdrife had been crossing back to the peninsula, to the rumored training camps.
Promoted to Exile
(2017, Stephanie Foster)