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The martial music echoed from the hillside, bouncing back from the rocky ledges and losing itself in the hushed green shadows under the trees. Around the bend, stamping proudly through the dust, came the little parade led by the magnificent form of a one-robot band. Sunlight gleamed on its golden limbs and twinkled from the brazen instruments it worked with such enthusiasm. A small formation of assorted robots rolled and clattered in its wake, and bringing up the rear was the solitary figure of the grizzle-haired recruiting sergeant, striding along strongly, his rows of medals ajingle. Though the road was smooth the sergeant lurched suddenly, stumbling, and cursed with the rich proficiency of years.

Halt! he commanded, and while his little company braked to a stop he leaned against the stone wall that bordered the road and rolled up his right pants leg.

When he whistled one of the robots trundled quickly over and held out a tool box from which the sergeant took a large screwdriver and tightened one of the bolts in the ankle of his artificial foot. Then he squirted a few drops from an oil can onto the joint and rolled the pants leg back down. When he straightened up he noticed that a robomule was pulling a plow down a furrow in the field beyond the fence, while a husky farm lad guided it.

Beer! the sergeant barked, then, `A Spaceman's Lament. ' The one-robot band brought forth the gentle melodies of the old song, and by the time the furrow reached the limits of the field there were two dew-frosted steins of beer resting on the fence.

That's sure pretty music, the plowboy said.

Join me in a beer, the sergeant said, sprinkling a white powder into it from a packet concealed in his hand.

Don't mind iffen I do, sure is hotter'n h out here today. Say hell, son, I heard the word before. Mamma don't like me to cuss. You sure do have long teeth, mister. The sergeant twanged a tusk. A big fellow like you should cuss a bit. If you were a trooper you could say hellor even bowbif you wanted to, all the time. I don't think I'd want to say anything like that. He flushed red under his deep tan. Thanks for the beer, but I gotta be plowing on now. Mamma said I was to never talk to soldiers. Your mamma's right, a dirty, cursing, drinking crew the most of them. Say, would you like to see a picture here of a new model robomule that can run a thousand hours without lubrication? The sergeant held his hand out behind him, and a robot put a viewer into it.

Why that sounds nice! The farm lad raised the viewer to his eyes and looked into it and flushed an even deeper red. That's no mule, mister, that's a girl and her clothes are The sergeant reached out swiftly and pressed a button on the top of the viewer. Something went (hunk inside of it, and the farmer stood rigid and frozen. He did not move or change expression when the sergeant reached out and took the little machine from his paralyzed fingers.

Take this stylo, the sergeant said, and the other's fingers closed on it.

Now sign this form, right down there where it says RECRUIT'S SIGNATURE The stylo scratched, and a sudden scream pierced the air.

My Charlie! What are you doing with my Charlie! an ancient, gray-haired woman walled, as she scrambled around the hill.

Your son is now a trooper for the greater glory of the Emperor, the sergeant said, and waved over the robot tailor.

No-please- the woman begged, clutching the sergeant's hand and dribbling tears onto it. I've lost one son, isn't that enough she blinked up through the tears, then blinked again. But you-you're my boy! My Bill come home! Even with those teeth and the scars and one black hand and one white hand and one artificial foot, I can tell; a mother always knows! The sergeant frowned down at the woman. I believe you might be right, he said. I thought the name Phigerinadon II sounded familiar. The robot tailor had finished his job. The red paper jacket shone bravely in the sun, the one-molecule-thick boots gleamed. Fall in, Bill shouted, and the recruit climbed over the wall.

Billy, Billy the woman wailed, this is your little brother Charlie!

You wouldn't take your own little brother into the troopers, would you? Bill thought about his mother, then he thought about his baby brother Charlie, then he thought of the one month that would be taken off of his enlistment time for every recruit he brought in, and he snapped his answer back,instantly.

Yes, he said.

The music blared, the soldiers marched, the mother cried-as mothers have always done-and the brave little band tramped down the road and over the hill and out of sight into the sunset.

Chapter 5 | Bill, the Galactic Hero |