After being court-martialed by the Space Legion for ordering the strafing of a treaty-signing ceremony, multimillionaire Willard Phule receives his punishment: He must command the misfit Omega Company on Haskin's Planet, a mining settlement on the edge of settled space. At his duty station, he leverages his personal money and a knack for managing people to get the company to come together as a unit.
Phule convinces the governor to leave the contract for an honorary duty up for competition between the Space Legionnaires and the Regular Army. The Army sends some of their most elite troops to take part in the competition, but Phule's company operates with their own unique tactics….
One word: Hilarious. Bob Asprin is best known for his MYTH adventures, fantasy spoofs, but his goofy military SF series Phule's Company is also a bestseller and just as funny. Bob died several years ago, but WordFire Press is thrilled to reissue all six of these books. We included the first one in the bundle. – Kevin J. Anderson
Journal File #004*
Some have commented that the executive mind tends to expand work to fill, or overfill, available time. While I will not attempt to comment on the overall accuracy of this statement, it was certainly the case during our preparations prior to departure for my employer's new assignment.
For my employer, this meant countless shopping expeditions, both in person and by computer. As you will note in these chronicles, unlike many of his financial level, he was never reluctant to part with his money. In fact, when confronted by a choice of two items, he seemed to invariably solve the dilemma by simply purchasing both—a habit I found less than endearing as I was the one required to store and track these acquisitions.
Of course, his pursuit of equipment and wardrobe meant that other important chores tended to be neglected … such as conducting research on the situation which we had been thrust into. As is so often the case, I felt compelled to step into this void rather than allow my employer to begin this new endeavor without proper preparation.
* * *
The Port-A-Brain computer system was designed to be the ultimate in pocket computers. Its main strength was that it enabled the user to tap into nearly any data base or library in the settled worlds, or place an order with most businesses above a one-store retail level, or communicate directly with or leave messages for anyone or any business which utilized any form of computerized telecommunications, all without so much as plugging into a wall outlet or tapping into a phone line. What's more, the unit, complete with folding screen, was no larger than a paperback book. In short, it was a triumph of high-tech microcircuitry … but there was a small problem. Each unit cost as much as a small corporation, placing it well out of the financial reach of the individual and all but the most extravagant conglomerate executive officers; and even those who could afford one usually contented themselves to use the cheaper modes of data access, particularly since their job positions were lofty enough to allow them to delegate such menial tasks as research and communications to lower echelon staffers. As such, there were fewer than a dozen Port-A-Brain units in actual use in the entire galaxy. Willard Phule had two: one for himself and one for his butler. He reasoned the expense was worth avoiding the inconvenience of waiting in line for a pay terminal.
Camped in one of the spaceport's numerous snack bars, he had been putting his personal unit to good use for the last several hours, tirelessly tapping in message after message in his clawlike two-fingered style. Finally he signed off with a flourish and replaced the computer in his pocket.
"Well, that's all I can think of for now, Beek," he declared, stretching mightily. "The rest can hold until we've had a chance to look over our new home."
"Nice of you to curb your enthusiasm, sir," the butler said dryly. "It may enable us to be on time for our transport."
"Don't worry about it." Phule started to finish his cardboard cup of coffee, then set it aside with a grimace when he realized any trace of heat in the liquid had long since fled. Some things remained untouched by technological advances. "It's not like we're taking a commercial flight. This ship has been hired specifically to transport us to Haskin's Planet. I doubt it'll leave without us if we're a few minutes late."
"I wish I shared your confidence, sir. More likely the pilot will cancel the flight completely and make do with half payment for a no-show."
Phule cocked his head quizzically at his companion.
"You're certainly a Gloomy Gus today, Beeker. In fact, you've been more than a bit dour ever since the court-martial. Anything in particular bothering you?"
The butler shrugged. "Let's just say I don't have the greatest faith in the generosity of the Legion, sir."
"Well, for one thing, there's this chartered flight. Considering the tight-fisted nature of the Legion, I find it a bit out of character for them to allow the added expense of a private ship rather than using normal commercial transport."
"That's easy." Phule laughed. "The commercial lines only fly to Haskin's Planet once every three months."
"Exactly." Beeker nodded grimly. "Has it occurred to you that this new assignment is more than a bit away from the mainstream of activity?"
"Beeker, are you trying to say you suspect that my promotion and subsequent assignment are something less than a reward?"
There was an edge on his employer's voice that made the butler hesitate before answering. While normally pleasant enough to deal with, Phule also had a temper that ran to icy exactness rather than blind rage, and Beeker had no wish to become the focus of it. Still, there had always been an unspoken agreement of total honesty between them, so he summoned his courage and plunged onward.
"Let's just say I find the timing of both to be … questionable, considering the fact that you were being court-martialed at the time. If nothing else, their insistence that you change your Legion name would seem to indicate there's more to the matter than meets the eye."
"I'm afraid I'll have to disagree," Phule said coldly, then flashed one of his sudden grins. "I don't think there's any question at all. The whole thing stinks on ice. Whatever I'm headed into, it's a cinch I'm not supposed to enjoy it."
Beeker experienced a quick wave of relief.
"Forgive me, sir. I should have realized you couldn't be totally unaware of the situation. It's just that you seem abnormally cheerful for someone who knows he's being, as they say, set up."
"Why shouldn't I be?" Phule shrugged. "Think about it, Beek. Whatever's waiting for us on Haskin's has got to be better than rotting in a stockade for a couple years. Besides, I've always wanted to command a company. That's why I went for officer status in the first place."
"I'm not sure it's safe to assume this assignment is preferable to a stockade," the butler cautioned carefully.
"Oh?" The reply was accompanied by a raised eyebrow. "Is there something in the company's personnel records I won't like?"
"I am virtually certain of it, sir." Beeker smiled tightly. "I've taken the liberty of loading them into your personal computer files so you can review them without having to deal with hard copy. I know you've never mastered traveling light."
He gave a slight jerk of his head toward the porters standing by their luggage.
"Whoops! That's right. We've got a flight to catch."
Phule surged to his feet and gestured to the waiting baggage handlers.
"Follow me, men. Time and spaceflights wait for no one. C'mon, Beeker. Let's roll."