Promoted to Exile (part one)
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 capital, or just because 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), the 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 effectively blocked the promotion of a subordinate officer. 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,” Byrnes said.
Among Herward’s duties was the finding of tasks to keep his men and women from idleness. Major Wrik, who sometimes came up and sometimes didn’t—a pointless surprise element to his inspections—gave no counsel.
“I trust you to do your job, sergeant.” He’d said this as though offended by the request.
Herward saw that they 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.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)