For All Nails #58: The Sweet Six
by David Mix Barrington
The man known to the world as Colonel Henry Anson, RCNAAF, late 14th Regiment (Air), Corps of Royal North American Marines FN2, was quietly beaming with pride. This press conference was the culmination of months of recruitment, training, and selection. Finally the CNA and the world were being introduced to the first six space pilots, the "Sweet Six", six young women chosen by Anson as carefully as he would choose a new junior wife for his own Family.
The Science Minister was speaking now -- since the new Defence Minister was understandably preoccupied with the aftermath of the Porto Rican debacle only two weeks ago, he was the senior Government official present. For the People's Coalition, Anson thought, the publicity campaign surrounding of the Sweet Six was part of the last-ditch plan to salvage the election -- a reminder to the voters of the beauty and strength that the CNA, and the beleagured CNA military, could produce under Carter Monaghan's leadership. Anson planned to vote for Monaghan himself next week. As something of an insider, he saw that the current Government did more good than harm in managing the activities of the real professionals like himself or like Joshua Abramowitz, the real boss of the Science Ministry. The space program would go on much the same whether Monaghan stayed in or was replaced by Skinner.
Actually, though, the rest of the military needed some shaking up after Moca, and the PC politicals at least had been around long enough to get an idea where some of the skeletons were buried. Put in a bunch of new Liberal politicals and they'd be months just finding out where the cloakrooms were. Like every military man, Anson had an opinion about Moca. He had no time for those in his own service who said that more air power would have made the difference. You could have blown hell out of the rocket sites, he thought wryly, but without men with guns on the ground to control the aftermath you'd never know what you'd blown up and what you hadn't. There was no substitute for the infantryman, no matter how technology moved forward.
And this time an overconfident commanding general had believed an optimistic report of the enemy's strength, not brought enough of those infantrymen, and then destroyed 1st and 2nd Marines against an impregnable position trying to salvage an already lost situation. Incompetence? If so, 'twere a grievous fault, and grievously had General Sir Francis Burns answered for it, found last week clutching his revolver with his brains spread across his carefully cleared desk.
He left this depressing subject to catch a few words from the next speaker, his direct superior, General Sir Lyle MacDonald. "These young women, from every state of our Confederation, from across the various services of our armed forces..." Sir Lyle was a bit of a windbag when given a podium, but he had earned that knighthood by modernizing the Air Force for the Atomic Age almost singlehandedly. Now as the chief of the Space Service he was a reliable champion in the bureaucratic struggle for resources, and a firm mentor and friend to Anson.
Most importantly, perhaps, he was a fellow member of the Church of God's Universal Love, a Turnerite. His True Name, like that of "Henry Anson Long", was recorded in the Sacrament House in Excelsior FN3. Born into the Monroe Family, the boy "Lyle Monroe" took his public name from his legal father, and had changed his True Name to "Lyle Monroe MacDonald" on starting his own, so far monogamous, Family. "Henry Anson" had the same birth and legal name, as in those simpler days his legal father Brian Smith had simply become "Brian Anson" legally when he moved from Boniface FN4 to Excelsior to publicly marry Maureen Howard and secretly become the eighth spouse in the Anson Family. Legally Henry had remained an Anson when he Married into the Longs, and those Long children born to his legal wife Virginia were legally Ansons though their True Name would be Long until they Married for themselves. Germ plasm was another matter -- Henry probably carried that of Daddy Ira rather than Daddy Brian, and had passed his on, he thought, to four of the Long children, only two of them Virginia's FN5. He supposed the Masquerade was almost as important for saving the trouble of explaining things to outsiders as for its main purpose of avoiding persecution.
What would his other colleagues on this podium think if they knew, Anson wondered? Earl St. Laurent knew he was a rural Manitoban, and perhaps that he had been "raised by Turnerite perverts", and that was already enough for the Academy commandant to forever snub him socially. The True Marriage that the Earl would call "bigamous" would no doubt drive him to wreck Anson's career. Dr. Charles Sterling and his lovely red-haired wife Shirley, now -- they might accept him for what he was. A scientific outlook, and a willingness to try out new ideas -- working with Charles on radiative shielding for the space capsule had been a highlight of this past winter. Abramowitz? The bureaucrat would sympathize, but in the end regretfully ease him out before any negative publicity could affect his beloved space program.
Sir Lyle was finally finished! They were ready to introduce each of the Sweet Six in turn, whereupon they would ceremonially take off their old regimental jackets and don the new silver jacket of the Space Service.
"Major Christine Lillehammer, late North Vandalia Dragoons!" The best of the best, the obvious choice to be the first human in Outer Space. (Unless that launch in December by Kramer had really... but they were pretty sure it hadn't.) Christine was simultaneously a big sister to the other girls and a battle-hardened competitor -- he remembered the stories of her football FN6 games with the male cadets at the Academy. St. Laurent might consider her another "hayseed", but Anson could not imagine better "breeding" than her father, a career enlisted Dragoon who had retired as RSM and "bought the farm" in the Missouri valley in the pleasantly non-metaphorical sense.
"Captain Patricia Shaeffer, late Royal Confederation of North America Coast Guard!" His fellow Manitoban in the Six, though her home town of Harmony FN7 was closer to Michigan City than to Excelsior. Her mother had brought her north after her divorce from her father, a New Orleans musician now apparently making a name for himself on vitavision someplace. She'd reconnected with him after being stationed in the Mississippi Delta. Quite a pilot -- she'd had to be because the USM Air Force vaqueros were somehow able to pick out the airmobile with the girl pilot and loved to play "chicken" with her. Last year she'd maneuvered one into such trouble that he'd ejected over the Gulf, and our Coast Guard had even picked up what was left of his craft after rescuing him. Some of the alienists had worried about her "deprived childhood" with only one parent. Nonsense! How much more crippling was one parent compared to two? Eight parents hadn't always seemed like enough for him...
"Captain Caroline Hamilton, late Southern Confederation Light Horse!" A clear winner in the selection process, smart, tough, and able, but not his favorite. Her head was filled with the same prescientific notions of "breeding" as St. Laurent's. Her father was a successful doctor, the honorary mayor of her little town in North Carolina, a sire to be proud of, but Caroline was more worried that her aristocratic friends not know that his grandfather carried the "vulgar taint of trade".
"Captain Lysistrata Weathers, late 6th Regiment Corps of Royal CNA Marines!" Here was real "breeding" for you! Lizzie was a Negro from Southern Vandalia. You could never generalize about races, but it was obvious to a casual reader of Darwin that the average CNA Negro had better germ plasm than the average white. After all, you combined hybrid vigor (of course nearly all of them had at least some white blood) with the brutal selection applied to them during the passage from Africa and the shameful history of slavery. He'd personally tested Lizzie's body, mind, and character in the second-best possible way, on the fencing piste. Wielding a sabre, despite being barely half his size, she'd used her skill and quickness to beat him on points, he who had slowed down quite a bit but still had been Academy champion thirty years ago. Lizzie would do -- a fine woman and a fine Marine.
"Captain Lynne Januszewicz, late 34th Regiment Royal North American Engineers!" The daughter of Polish immigrants from some industrial town west of Michigan City. Everyone acknowledged the importance of the unglamorous Engineers and their logistic functions, but no one thought of their air arm as containing crack pilots. Unless, of course, they thought for a moment about the difficulty of wrestling an Airwaggon, laden (perhaps very hastily) with fifty tonnes of vital materiel, on or off an inadequate-length runway. Lynne had tested near the top for reflexes in all their simulations. She'd also stood out in that she shared a hobby with him and with Virginia, as a competitive ice-acrobat FN8. Normally Anson was able to keep his natural affection and admiration for his charges from crossing the line into outright desire. But the sight of Lynne in her short-skirted skating dress, those powerful legs surging across the ice, propelling her into a perfect full-twist jump--
"Captain the Honorable Evangeline Gilmore, late Governor-General's Own Light Horse". The youngest, the only bona fide aristocrat in the group, and a puzzle to the alienists. Two of the panel of four had actually given her a downcheck as psychically unfit, while the other two said she was the most stable of them all. They worried about the "psychic trauma" she'd suffered when her father was killed, and when her friend's father had shot up the Academy dinner a few years ago. Psychic trauma! Did they think violent death was something a military officer should find unusual? When he was Ev's age he'd been dumping high explosive into the North Atlantic, where it hadn't helped those German submersible crews that it was "neutral", "non-combatent" high explosive. Twice he'd seen the pieces come up -- had he killed fifty men? A hundred? FN9
God put challenges in front of every man and every woman -- the important thing was how they met them. Ev had responded to her father's murder by being the best student and the best cadet possible. When that Stapleton fellow snapped before her eyes, she'd taken action that had prevented him from killing God knows how many more victims. (He'd met Stapleton once, at some sort of school board meeting for his daughter Carol in Fort Benton. Something had seemed wrong even then -- his mind was a weak vessel that had burst when put to the challenge.) Ev was different, ready for whatever space flight might require of her. She had less experience than the others, but he'd observed some of it carefully. In the observer seat of her charger FN10 at Pax River, he'd seen her through three simulated dogfights. She was a natural, with a killer instinct but also the poise to get out of whatever she got into.
There they were, his girls, yet another Family of sorts. They and their successors to come would lead the CNA to the stars.
Forward to FAN #59: Not-So-White Trash Nation.
Forward to 8 February 1973: A Near-Run Thing.
Forward to Space Flight: The Spaced Service.
Forward to Ev and Alex: A Visitor From Outer Space.
Return to For All Nails.