No Victory Won

No Glory Sought - Book Three

by Phil Geusz

How can any conceivable military victory be worth the death and suffering of billions?

That's the question Commander Thomas Longo must confront as against all odds the tide turns against his Dracan foes and final victory begins to beckon in the distance. Yes, there's still plenty of hard fighting to be done as the Emperor holds out hoping for a miracle. The end of the tunnel, however, is definitely in sight. Paradoxically this makes things more difficult still for young Thomas, who now must also battle against those who'd pervert his victory into wealth and power for themselves. Which enemy will Thomas find deadlier? The Dracan Emperor?

Or his own government?


Excerpt

Part I

 

Chapter One

 

“It was so good of you to come!” Rolf whispered for about the hundredth time.

“Not at all!” Admiral Vlasilov replied yet again, his voice full of false heartiness and camaraderie. Well, perhaps “false” was an unfair choice of words. The admiral wouldn't have taken so much time out of his overloaded personal schedule if he hadn't been sincerely grateful to Rolf and everyone else who'd sacrificed so much to produce the tiny handful of superfighters that was turning around the war. But, certainly, his tone was forced. Visiting a deathbed was an awkward thing at the best of times; it was far worse when you barely even knew the patient.

Rolf smiled and laid his skull-like head back onto the blood-spattered pillow. The linen had been snowy-fresh when the admiral and I arrived, but the Stormcrow-plant worker's skin had become so delicate and fragile due to long-term radiation poisoning that nothing around him remained unsullied for more than moments. Watery red fluid leaked from Rolf's ears, from the wrinkles in his skin, even sometimes from his tear ducts. He'd have died long ago if the navy hadn't, true to its word, provided the best treatments and most skilled specialists available. “I still can't believe it! The saviors of the United Systems—come to see me! Our biggest heroes! I've done nothing to deserve such an honor! Nothing!”

I met Vlasilov's eye; he nodded slightly, suggesting that it was my turn to speak. “I think that you have,” I replied, doing my best to find words that could never, ever be enough for a man who'd freely risked dying so horribly. They called me a hero, and I'd sure enough taken chances. But laser-bolts generally killed clean, and even if they didn't I could always turn off my pain circuits. Poor Rolf weighed perhaps a third of what he once had, and putrid ooze dripped from every orifice. The entire room reeked of death and putrefaction, judging by how everyone else's face was all screwed up. Vlasilov had turned a deathly pale color. Soon, however, he'd be able to leave. How it was for poor Rolf, the source of all the nauseous emanations, I couldn't even begin to imagine. “I think that you have earned such consideration, and so does Father. He sends his best, by the way, and plans to be here tomorrow.”

Rolf's smile widened further; he might've been the happiest corpse in the universe. “I did my best,” he whispered. “Always, I gave my best for your father.” He turned to face Vlasilov on the other side of the bed. “Willy Longo is a noble man, sir. Noble and good-hearted! One of the greatest Esteppans who ever lived! It was my privilege to serve him. Together, we stood off the entire universe!”

“Da,” the admiral agreed. His voice was sad. After all, he'd been one of the besiegers. “That you did, Rolf. That you did.”

There was an awkward silence. Then Rolf inhaled, doubtless to thank us for coming again. But this time I decided to head him off at the pass. “Rolf Wunderling,” I said formally. “We have come not only to visit, but to honor you.”

“Ja?” the patient asked, looking a bit confused. His mind came and went, according to his wife. So far, we'd been lucky.

“Ja,” I agreed firmly, meeting Vlasilov's eye. He nodded back, a pre-arranged signal, then looked over at the soon-to-be Widow Wunderling. Smiling, she stood up and took her husband's hand.

“Rolf Wunderling,” Vlasilov said, carefully repeating the name, “I hereby invest you with the United Systems Medal of Merit, civilian-grade, for your role in supporting essential military production under the most dangerous circumstances imaginable.” He paused, then pinned the pathetic little ribbon to the blood-spattered pillow. Its crimson silk made it look like just another stain. Then Vlasilov offered a parade-ground salute.

“I…I…” Rolf quavered. But I didn't let him speak yet.

“And I have two decorations to present,” I continued smoothly, allowing Mrs. Wunderling time to remove them from her pocket. My fingers weren't nimble enough to make the physical presentation, so she'd agreed to do it for me. “First, there is the Esteppan Cross for Gallantry, civilian grade, awarded to you by the Esteppan government in recognition of your services during the last war.” I let my smile fade slightly. It should've been awkward to present this particular honor while wearing a United Systems Navy uniform, but somehow for me at least it also felt very right. “When,” I explained as Mrs. Wunderling performed her pinning duties, “you did indeed play a crucial role in one of the most stubborn and effective defensive stands in recorded history.”

Rolf began weeping, watery-crimson tears running down his cheeks. But I wasn't done. “And,” I continued, “Though Father himself will be here tomorrow to thank you in person, he's asked me to also award you the Longo Enterprises Certificate of Service, the highest commendation our business has to offer. It's presented in gratitude for service and loyalty so far above and beyond the ordinary that I cannot find words to express the Longo family's gratitude.” Mrs. Wunderland did the pillow-pinning again, then showed her husband the big parchment Certificate in its heavy wooden frame. I then saluted as best I could, though the result was far less impressive than the admiral's showpiece effort due to my slow-moving electric motors.

“The Certificate!” Rolf blubbered, staining everything downstream of his eyes a brilliant, odoriferous red. “Mein gott! I mean…”

“It's the first one I've ever been privileged to award,” I explained, hand still held rigidly to my brow. “And, I'm quite certain, I'll never give one that's more deserved.”

“Mr. Longo!” Rolf's face screwed up, as if he were suddenly in agony. Perhaps he was. “Sir! I….”

“Hush, now!” Mrs. Wunderling urged her husband, though she was looking at me. Her eyes shone with gratitude. “You need to save your strength.”

Presently the dying machinist's sobs turned into coughs, and more artery-bright blood erupted onto the pillow. Then a nurse came and wordlessly ushered us out into the corridor. “Go now,” he urged us. “He'll be asleep in a couple of minutes.”

“Right,” Vlasilov replied, his voice unusually harsh and distant. “Of course.” Then he turned to me. “You did well, Thomas. In a difficult situation.”

I shrugged. “He deserved the best I could give. And more.”

Vlasilov shook his head then smiled and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You're a credit to us all,” he observed, apropos of nothing that I could see. “Come now, and let us spend some time in a happier place. Or a busier one, at least. We have many important plans to make together.” He looked down at his normally-immaculate white dress-jacket; like mine, it was now flecked with thousands of tiny aerosol-borne specks of red. “Just as soon as we change our uniforms,” he added. “Certainly, the war can wait long enough for that.”  

"No Victory Won" - Phil Geusz

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