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Starship Troopers, Page 4

Robert A. Heinlein

  “No,” I admitted.

  “Most people think that all it takes is two hands and two feet and a stupid mind. Maybe so, for cannon fodder. Possibly that was all that Julius Caesar required. But a private soldier today is a specialist so highly skilled that he would rate ‘master’ in any other trade; we can’t afford stupid ones. So for those who insist on serving their term—but haven’t got what we want and must have—we’ve had to think up a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs that will either run ’em home with their tails between their legs and their terms uncompleted…or at the very least make them remember for the rest of their lives that their citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it. Take that young lady who was here—wants to be a pilot. I hope she makes it; we always need good pilots, not enough of ’em. Maybe she will. But if she misses, she may wind up in Antarctica, her pretty eyes red from never seeing anything but artificial light and her knuckles callused from hard, dirty work.”

  I wanted to tell him that the least Carmencita could get was computer programmer for the sky watch; she really was a whiz at math. But he was talking.

  “So they put me out here to discourage you boys. Look at this.” He shoved his chair around to make sure that we could see that he was legless. “Let’s assume that you don’t wind up digging tunnels on Luna or playing human guinea pig for new diseases through sheer lack of talent; suppose we do make a fighting man out of you. Take a look at me—this is what you may buy…if you don’t buy the whole farm and cause your folks to receive a ‘deeply regret’ telegram. Which is more likely, because these days, in training or in combat, there aren’t many wounded. If you buy at all, they likely throw in a coffin—I’m the rare exception; I was lucky…though maybe you wouldn’t call it luck.”

  He paused, then added, “So why don’t you boys go home, go to college, and then go be chemists or insurance brokers or whatever? A term of service isn’t a kiddie camp; it’s either real military service, rough and dangerous even in peacetime…or a most unreasonable facsimile thereof. Not a vacation. Not a romantic adventure. Well?”

  Carl said, “I’m here to join up.”

  “Me, too.”

  “You realize that you aren’t allowed to pick your service?”

  Carl said, “I thought we could state our preferences?”

  “Certainly. And that’s the last choice you’ll make until the end of your term. The placement officer pays attention to your choice, too. First thing he does is to check whether there’s any demand for left-handed glass blowers this week—that being what you think would make you happy. Having reluctantly conceded that there is a need for your choice—probably at the bottom of the Pacific—he then tests you for innate ability and preparation. About once in twenty times he is forced to admit that everything matches and you get the job…until some practical joker gives you dispatch orders to do something very different. But the other nineteen times he turns you down and decides that you are just what they have been needing to field-test survival equipment on Titan.” He added meditatively, “It’s chilly on Titan. And it’s amazing how often experimental equipment fails to work. Have to have real field tests, though—laboratories just never get all the answers.”

  “I can qualify for electronics,” Carl said firmly, “if there are jobs open in it.”

  “So? And how about you, bub?”

  I hesitated—and suddenly realized that, if I didn’t take a swing at it, I would wonder all my life whether I was anything but the boss’s son. “I’m going to chance it.”

  “Well, you can’t say I didn’t try. Got your birth certificates with you? And let’s see your IDs.”

  Ten minutes later, still not sworn in, we were on the top floor being prodded and poked and fluoroscoped. I decided that the idea of a physical examination is that, if you aren’t ill, then they do their darnedest to make you ill. If the attempt fails, you’re in.

  I asked one of the doctors what percentage of the victims flunked the physical. He looked startled. “Why, we never fail anyone. The law doesn’t permit us to.”

  “Huh? I mean, excuse me, Doctor? Then what’s the point of this goose-flesh parade?”

  “Why, the purpose is,” he answered, hauling off and hitting me in the knee with a hammer (I kicked him, but not hard), “to find out what duties you are physically able to perform. But if you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe. The only way you can fail is by having the psychiatrists decide that you are not able to understand the oath.”

  “Oh. Uh… Doctor, were you already a doctor when you joined up? Or did they decide you ought to be a doctor and send you to school?”

  “Me?” He seemed shocked. “Youngster, do I look that silly? I’m a civilian employee.”

  “Oh. Sorry, sir.”

  “No offense. But military service is for ants. Believe me. I see ’em go, I see ’em come back—when they do come back. I see what it’s done to them. And for what? A purely nominal political privilege that pays not one centavo and that most of them aren’t competent to use wisely anyhow. Now if they would let medical men run things—but never mind that; you might think I was talking treason, free speech or not. But, youngster, if you’ve got savvy enough to count ten, you’ll back out while you still can. Here, take these papers back to the recruiting sergeant—and remember what I said.”

  I went back to the rotunda. Carl was already there. The Fleet Sergeant looked over my papers and said glumly, “Apparently you both are almost insufferably healthy—except for holes in the head. One moment, while I get some witnesses.” He punched a button and two female clerks came out, one old battle-ax, one kind of cute.

  He pointed to our physical examination forms, our birth certificates, and our IDs, said formally: “I invite and require you, each and severally, to examine these exhibits, determine what they are and to determine, each independently, what relation, if any, each document bears to these two men standing here in your presence.”

  They treated it as a dull routine, which I’m sure it was; nevertheless they scrutinized every document, they took our fingerprints—again!—and the cute one put a jeweler’s loupe in her eye and compared prints from birth to now. She did the same with signatures. I began to doubt if I was myself.

  The Fleet Sergeant added, “Did you find exhibits relating to their present competence to take the oath of enrollment? If so, what?”

  “We found,” the older one said, “appended to each record of physical examination a duly certified conclusion by an authorized and delegated board of psychiatrists stating that each of them is mentally competent to take the oath and that neither one is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, other disabling drugs, nor of hypnosis.”

  “Very good.” He turned to us. “Repeat after me—

  “I, being of legal age, of my own free will—”

  “‘I,’” we each echoed, “‘being of legal age, of my own free will—’”

  “—without coercion, promise, or inducement of any sort, after having been duly advised and warned of the meaning and consequences of this oath—

  “—do now enroll in the Federal Service of the Terran Federation for a term of not less than two years and as much longer as may be required by the needs of the Service—”

  (I gulped a little over that part. I had always thought of a “term” as two years, even though I knew better, because that’s the way people talk about it. Why, we were signing up for life.)

  “I swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Federation against all its enemies on or off Terra, to protect and defend the Constitutional liberties and privileges of all citizens and lawful residents of the Federation, its associated states and territories, to perform, on or off Terra, such duties of any lawful nature as may be assigned to me by lawful direct or delegated authority—

  “—and to obey all lawfu
l orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Terran Service and of all officers or delegated persons placed over me—

  “—and to require such obedience from all members of the Service or other persons or non-human beings lawfully placed under my orders—

  “—and, on being honorably discharged at the completion of my full term of active service or upon being placed on inactive retired status after having completed such full term, to carry out all duties and obligations and to enjoy all privileges of Federation citizenship including but not limited to the duty, obligation and privilege of exercising sovereign franchise for the rest of my natural life unless stripped of honor by verdict, finally sustained, of court of my sovereign peers.”

  (Whew!) Mr. Dubois had analyzed the Service oath for us in History and Moral Philosophy and had made us study it phrase by phrase—but you don’t really feel the size of the thing until it comes rolling over you, all in one ungainly piece, as heavy and unstoppable as Juggernaut’s carriage.

  At least it made me realize that I was no longer a civilian, with my shirttail out and nothing on my mind. I didn’t know yet what I was, but I knew what I wasn’t.

  “So help me God!” we both ended and Carl crossed himself and so did the cute one.

  After that there were more signatures and fingerprints, all five of us, and flat colorgraphs of Carl and me were snapped then and there and embossed into our papers. The Fleet Sergeant finally looked up. “Why, it’s’way past the break for lunch. Time for chow, lads.”

  I swallowed hard. “Uh… Sergeant?”

  “Eh? Speak up.”

  “Could I flash my folks from here? Tell them what I—Tell them how it came out?”

  “We can do better than that.”


  “You go on forty-eight hours leave now.” He grinned coldly. “Do you know what happens if you don’t come back?”


  “Not a thing. Not a blessed thing. Except that your papers get marked, Term not completed satisfactorily, and you never, never, never get a second chance. This is our cooling-off period, during which we shake out the overgrown babies who didn’t really mean it and should never have taken the oath. It saves the government money and it saves a power of grief for such kids and their parents—the neighbors needn’t guess. You don’t even have to tell your parents.” He shoved his chair away from his desk. “So I’ll see you at noon day after tomorrow. If I see you. Fetch your personal effects.”

  It was a crumbly leave. Father stormed at me, then quit speaking to me; Mother took to her bed. When I finally left, an hour earlier than I had to, nobody saw me off but the morning cook and the houseboys.

  I stopped in front of the recruiting sergeant’s desk, thought about saluting and decided I didn’t know how. He looked up. “Oh. Here are your papers. Take them up to room 201; they’ll start you through the mill. Knock and walk in.”

  Two days later I knew I was not going to be a pilot. Some of the things the examiners wrote about me were:—insufficient intuitive grasp of spatial relationships…insufficient mathematical talent…deficient mathematical preparation…reaction time adequate…eyesight good. I’m glad they put in those last two; I was beginning to feel that counting on my fingers was my speed.

  The placement officer let me list my lesser preferences, in order, and I caught four more days of the wildest aptitude tests I’ve ever heard of. I mean to say, what do they find out when a stenographer jumps on her chair and screams, “Snakes!” There was no snake, just a harmless piece of plastic hose.

  The written and oral tests were mostly just as silly, but they seemed happy with them, so I took them. The thing I did most carefully was to list my preferences. Naturally I listed all of the Space Navy jobs (other than pilot) at the top; whether I went as power-room technician or as cook, I knew that I preferred any Navy job to any Army job—I wanted to travel.

  Next I listed Intelligence—a spy gets around, too, and I figured that it couldn’t possibly be dull. (I was wrong, but never mind.) After that came a long list; psychological warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, combat ecology (I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded interesting), logistics corps (a simple mistake; I had studied logic for the debate team and “logistics” turns out to have two entirely separate meanings), and a dozen others. Clear at the bottom, with some hesitation, I put K-9 Corps, and Infantry.

  I didn’t bother to list the various non-combatant auxiliary corps because, if I wasn’t picked for a combat corps, I didn’t care whether they used me as an experimental animal or sent me as a laborer in the Terranizing of Venus—either one was a booby prize.

  Mr. Weiss, the placement officer, sent for me a week after I was sworn in. He was actually a retired psychological-warfare major, on active duty for procurement, but he wore mufti and insisted on being called just “Mister” and you could relax and take it easy with him. He had my list of preferences and the reports on all my tests and I saw that he was holding my high school transcript—which pleased me, for I had done all right in school; I had stood high enough without standing so high as to be marked as a greasy grind, having never flunked any courses and dropped only one, and I had been rather a big man around school otherwise; swimming team, debate team, track squad, class treasurer, silver medal in the annual literary contest, chairman of the homecoming committee, stuff like that. A well-rounded record and it’s all down in the transcript.

  He looked up as I came in, said, “Sit down, Johnnie,” and looked back at the transcript, then put it down. “You like dogs?”

  “Huh? Yes, sir.”

  “How well do you like them? Did your dog sleep on your bed? By the way, where is your dog now?”

  “Why, I don’t happen to have a dog just at present. But when I did—well, no, he didn’t sleep on my bed. You see, Mother didn’t allow dogs in the house.”

  “But didn’t you sneak him in?”

  “Uh—” I thought of trying to explain Mother’s not-angry-but-terribly-terribly-hurt routine when you tried to buck her on something she had her mind made up about. But I gave up. “No, sir.”

  “Mmm…have you ever seen a neodog?”

  “Uh, once, sir. They exhibited one at the Macarthur Theater two years ago. But the S.P.C.A. made trouble for them.”

  “Let me tell you how it is with a K-9 team. A neodog is not just a dog that talks.”

  “I couldn’t understand that neo at the Macarthur. Do they really talk?”

  “They talk. You simply have to train your ear to their accent. Their mouths can’t shape ‘b,’ ‘m,’ ‘p,’ or ‘v’ and you have to get used to their equivalents—something like the handicap of a split palate but with different letters. No matter, their speech is as clear as any human speech. But a neodog is not a talking dog; he is not a dog at all, he is an artificially mutated symbiote derived from dog stock. A neo, a trained Caleb, is about six times as bright as a dog, say about as intelligent as a human moron—except that the comparison is not fair to the neo; a moron is a defective, whereas a neo is a stable genius in his own line of work.”

  Mr. Weiss scowled. “Provided, that is, that he has his symbiote. That’s the rub. Mmm…you’re too young ever to have been married but you’ve seen marriage, your own parents at least. Can you imagine being married to a Caleb?”

  “Huh? No. No, I can’t.”

  “The emotional relationship between the dog-man and the man-dog in the K-9 team is a great deal closer and much more important than is the emotional relationship in most marriages. If the master is killed, we kill the neodog—at once! It is all that we can do for the poor thing. A mercy killing. If the neodog is killed…well, we can’t kill the man even though it would be the simplest solution. Instead we restrain him and hospitalize him and slowly put him back together.” He picked up a pen, made a mark. “I don’t think we can risk assigning a boy to K-9 who didn’t outwit his mother to have his dog sleep with him. So let’s consider something else.”

  It was no
t until then that I realized that I must have already flunked every choice on my list above K-9 Corps—and now I had just flunked it, too. I was so startled that I almost missed his next remark. Major Weiss said meditatively, with no expression and as if he were talking about someone else, long dead and far away: “I was once half of a K-9 team. When my Caleb became a casualty, they kept me under sedation for six weeks, then rehabilitated me for other work. Johnnie, these courses you’ve taken—why didn’t you study something useful?”


  “Too late now. Forget it. Mmm…your instructor in History and Moral Philosophy seems to think well of you.”

  “He does?” I was surprised. “What did he say?”

  Weiss smiled. “He says that you are not stupid, merely ignorant and prejudiced by your environment. From him that is high praise—I know him.”

  It didn’t sound like praise to me! That stuck-up stiff-necked old—

  “And,” Weiss went on, “a boy who gets a ‘C-minus’ in Appreciation of Television can’t be all bad. I think we’ll accept Mr. Dubois’ recommendation. How would you like to be an infantryman?”

  I came out of the Federal Building feeling subdued yet not really unhappy. At least I was a soldier; I had papers in my pocket to prove it. I hadn’t been classed as too dumb and useless for anything but make-work.

  It was a few minutes after the end of the working day and the building was empty save for a skeleton night staff and a few stragglers. I ran into a man in the rotunda who was just leaving; his face looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.