Paying the Piper
Hammer’s Slammers #5
by David Drake
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional,
and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright ? 2002 by David Drake. "Choosing Sides" previously appeared in The
Warmasters, edited by Bill Fawcett.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Larry Elmore
First printing, July 2002
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Paying the piper / by David Drake.
"A Baen Books original"—T.p. verso.
1. Life on other planets—Fiction. 2. Space warfare—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3554.RI96 P39 2002
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
To Larry Barnthouse, who long ago as another 96C2L94 was missed by
all the same bullets that missed me.
This book involved computer adventures unusual even for me, The Man Who Kills Computers. (Three dead within two weeks.) My son Jonathan, Mark Van Name, Karen Zimmerman, Allyn Vogel, and my wife Jo, were of particular importance in making it possible for me to continue working.
This book required a lot of attention by Dan Breen, my first reader. I'm very fortunate to have him.
A BACKGROUND NOTE
THE POLITICAL PROCESS
NECK OR NOTHING
A BACKGROUND NOTE
I've always found it easier to use real settings and cultures than to invent my own. No matter how good a writer's imagination, the six or seven millennia of available human history can do a better job of creating backgrounds.
More than ten years ago I finally took the advice my friends Jim Baen and Mark Van Name had been giving me and did an afterword, explaining where I got the details of the book I'd just completed. I'd resisted this, feeling that it was bad art—the book should
explain itself—and anyway, it was unnecessary. It was obvious to any reader that I was using historical and mythological backgrounds, so why should I bother to tell them?
It still may be bad art, and I may have been correct about readers in general seeing what I was doing without me telling them explicitly, but reviewers suddenly discovered that my fiction utilizes literary, historical and mythological material. I've kept up the practice, though generally not with straight Military SF like the Hammer series—but in this case I
thought it might be useful, because the background I've used is from a backwater of history.
The Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the 3rd century bc was a very complex region. The three empires founded by the successors of Alexander the Great were collapsing. They were locally powerful, but none was a superpower. Usurpers and secessionists complicated their politics.
Leagues of city states—the Achaeans and Aetolians in Greece proper, others in Asia
Minor—had their own interests. New kingdoms, particularly that of Pergamum, were growing at the expense of their neighbors, and barbarians—both Celtic and Illyrian—were
becoming regional powers instead of merely raiding and moving on.
Rome was still in the wings but the violent morass would shortly draw her in, ending both the chaos and her own status as a republic. (The region's enormous wealth and complexity, in my opinion, inexorably turned Rome into an empire.)
I adapted this setting for Paying the Piper. The general background is that of the war
between Rhodes and Byzantium, ostensibly over freedom of navigation. It was about as stupid a conflict as you're likely to find, during which the real principals licked their lips and chuckled while well-meaning idealists wrecked their own societies in pursuit of unobtainable goals by improper means. Much of the military detail is drawn from the campaigns of Phillip the Fifth and his allies against the Aetolian League, particularly the campaign of 219 bc which culminated in Phillip's capture of Psophis.
I guess it isn't out of place to add one comment about the study of history. Knowing a good deal about how cultures interacted in the past allows one to predict how they will interact in the present, so I'm rarely surprised by the daily news. But I regret to say that this understanding doesn't appear to make me happier.
The driver of the lead combat car revved his fans to lift the bow when he reached the bottom of the starship's steep boarding ramp. The gale whirling from under the car's skirts rocked Lieutenant Arne Huber forward into the second vehicle—his own Fencing Master,
still locked to the deck because a turnbuckle had kinked when the ship unexpectedly tilted on the soft ground.
Huber was twenty-five standard years old, shorter than average and fit without being impressively muscular. He wore a commo helmet now, but the short-cropped hair beneath it was as black as the pupils of his eyes.
Sighing, he pushed himself up from Fencing Master's bow slope. His head hurt the way
it always did just after star-travel—which meant worse than it did any other time in his life.
Even without the howling fans of Foghorn, the lead car, his ears would be roaring in time
with his pulse.
None of the troopers in Huber's platoon were in much better shape, and he didn't guess the starship's crew were more than nominal themselves. The disorientation from star travel, like a hangover, didn't stop hurting just because it'd become familiar.
"Look!" said Sergeant Deseau, shouting so that the three starship crewmen could hear him over the fans' screaming. "If you don't have us free in a minute flat, starting now, I'm
going to shoot the cursed thing off and you can worry about the damage to your cursed deck without me to watch you. Do you understand?"
Two more spacers were squeezing through the maze of vehicles and equipment in the hold, carrying a power tool between them. This sort of problem can't have been unique to Fencing Master.
Huber put his hand on Deseau's shoulder. "Let's get out of the way and let them fix this, Sarge," he said, speaking through the helmet intercom so that he didn't have to raise his voice. Shouting put people's backs up, even if you didn't mean anything by it except that it was hard to hear. "Let's take a look at Plattner's World."
They turned together and walked to the open hatch. Deseau was glad enough to step away from the problem.
The freighter which had brought Platoon F-3, Arne Huber's command, to Plattner's World had a number rather than a name: KPZ 9719. It was much smaller than the vessels which usually carried the men and vehicles of Hammer's Regiment, but even so it virtually overwhelmed the facilities here at Rhodesville. The ship had set down normally, but one of
the outriggers then sank an additional meter into the soil. The lurch had flung everybody who'd already unstrapped against the bulkheads and jammed Fencing Master in place,
blocking two additional combat cars behind it in the hold.
Huber chuckled. That made his head throb, but it throbbed already. Deseau gave him a sour look.
"It's a good thing we hadn't freed the cars before the outrigger gave," Huber explained. "Bad enough people bouncing off the walls; at least we didn't have thirty-tonne combat cars doing it too."
"I don't see why we're landing in a cow pasture anyway," Deseau muttered. "Isn't there a real spaceport somewhere on this bloody tree-farm of a planet?"
"Yeah, there is," Huber said dryly. "The trouble is, it's in Solace. The people the United Cities are hiring us to fight."
The briefing cubes were available to everybody in the Slammers, but Sergeant Deseau was like most of the enlisted personnel—and no few of the officers—in spending the time
between deployments finding other ways to entertain himself. It was a reasonable enough attitude. Mercenaries tended to be pragmatists. Knowledge of the local culture wasn't a factor when a planet hired mercenary soldiers, nor did it increase the gunmen's chances of survival.
Deseau spit toward the ground, either a comment or just a way of clearing phlegm from his throat. Huber's mouth felt like somebody'd scrubbed a rusty pot, then used the same wad of steel wool to scour his mouth and tongue.
"Let's hope we capture Solace fast so we don't lose half our supplies in the mud," Deseau said. "This place'll be a swamp the first time it rains."
KPZ 9719 had come down on the field serving the dirigibles which connected Rhodesville with the other communities on Plattner's World—and particularly with the
spaceport at Solace in the central highlands. The field's surface was graveled, but there were more soft spots than the one the starship's outrigger had stabbed down through. Deseau was right about what wet weather would bring.
The starship sat on the southern edge of the kilometer-square field. On the north side opposite them were a one-story brick terminal with an attached control tower, and a dozen warehouses with walls and trusses of plastic extrusion. Those few buildings comprised the entire port facilities.
Tractors were positioning lowboys under the corrugated metal shipping containers slung beneath the 300-meter-long dirigible now unloading at the east end of the field. A second dirigible had dropped its incoming cargo and was easing westward against a mild breeze, heading for the mooring mast where it would tether. The rank of outbound shipping containers there waited to be slung in place of the food and merchandise the United Cities imported. The containers had been painted a variety of colors, but rust now provided the most uniform livery.
A third dirigible was in the center of the field, its props turning just fast enough to hold it steady. The four shipping containers hanging from its belly occasionally kicked up dust as they touched the ground. A port official stood in an open-topped jitney with a flashing red light. He was screaming through a bullhorn at the dirigible's forward cockpit, but the crew there seemed to be ignoring him.