CHAPTER ONE It wasn't late in the evening, but at high latitude on Thorsfinni's World the sun was long down by the time the liberty bus clattered to a stop next to a vacant lot near the center of Bronnysund, the town outside the main gate of Marine Corps Base Camp Major Pete Ellis. The driver levered the door open and thirty Marines clattered off, whooping and hollering in unrestrained glee at their weekend's freedom from the restrictions on behavior imposed by the Confederation Marine Corps during duty hours. Well, most of the restrictions. They were required to maintain a certain level of decorumat least, they were not to commit crimes, or get themselves injured badly enough to miss duty, or go anyplace from which they wouldn't be able to return for morning roll call on the third morning hence. And it was only most of them who whooped and hollered; there was a loose knot of eight who were somewhat more restrained. The eight in question were the junior leaders of third platoon, Company L, 34th Fleet Initial Strike Team. "So where are we going?" Corporal Bohb Taylor, second gun team and most junior of the corporals, asked when the other twenty-two Marines had scattered. Corporal Tim Kerr, first fire team leader, second squad, and the most senior of the eight, simply snorted and turned to lead the way. Corporal Bill Barber, first gun team leader and not much junior to Kerr, slapped the back of Taylor's head hard enough to knock his soft cover awry, said, "Taylor, sometimes you're so dumb I don't know how you ever got your second stripe." He turned to follow Kerr. "Yeah, Taylor. What do you know about the Top that the rest of us don't?" asked Corporal Rachman "Rock" Claypoole, third fire team leader, second squad, and not much senior to Taylor. He followed Barber. "What do you mean, what do I know about the Top?" Taylor squawked. "Blackmail!" Corporal Joe Dean, first squad's third fire team leader and also not much senior to Taylor, hooted. "There's no other way you could make corporal!" He laughed raucously. "Which begs the question of how you made corporal," Corporal Raoul Pasquin, first squad's second fire team leader said with a loud laugh. "Hey!" Dean yelped indignantly. Corporal Dornhofer, first fire team leader, first squad, not much junior to Kerr, chuckled and shook his head. He and the other corporals fell in with Claypoole. Taylor had to run a few paces to catch up. A few blocks and a couple of turns later, Kerr shoved open the door of Big Barb's, the combination bar, restaurant, ships' chandlery, hotel, and bordello that was the unofficial headquarters of third platoon, Company L, 34th Fleet Initial Strike Team during liberty hours. "Te-e-em!" Twin shrieks barely preceded two young women, one blond and fair, the other brunette and swarthy, both beautiful by any standard, who flew across the large common room and flung themselves on the big corporal with enough force to stagger him back a couple of steps. "Hey! Watch where you're going, Kerr!" Corporal Pasquin shouted into the back of Kerr's head. He raised his hands and pushed Kerr off his chest. Corporal Dean helped keep Kerr upright and moving forward. The press of advancing bodies behind them forced Kerr and the others farther into the room. Kerr barely noticed the hands and bodies holding him up and forcing him forward, he was too distracted by the four aSherman, David is the author of 'Flashfire ', published 2006 under ISBN 9780345460547 and ISBN 0345460545.