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Authors: Leo Frankowski

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A Boy and His Tank

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A BOY & HIS TANK
Leo Frankowski

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 (c) 1999 by Leo A. Frankowski

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 0-671-57850-2

Cover art by Gary Ruddell

First paperback printing, February 2000

Library of Congress Catalog Number 98-51933

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Typeset by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication
I'd like to dedicate this book to Owen Lock, who was for many years my editor at Del Rey. He's a VP at Random House these days, and no longer directly concerned with science fiction. Thus, I can now thank him for his long years of patience, sound advice, and friendship without it looking like I'm kissing ass. For many things, Owen, thank you.
—Leo Frankowski
TANKS A LOT!

One of the tanks pulled itself out of the line and drove up in front of us. It was a big slab of a thing, fully ten meters long and four wide. The machine was absolutely silent. The huge monster could have snuck up on a mouse, if there had been any such creature on New Kashubia.

"Number 04056239, you are hereby inducted into the service of the Kashubian Expeditionary Forces, and into the Croatian branch of that service, to which you will give all of your loyalty. Do you now swear loyalty to the Kashubian Armed Forces?" The sergeant recited it like a fixed formula.

"I SO SWEAR," the tank answered.

"Welcome into the service. Open up."

The tank did an about-face in front of us, and this big coffin-looking thing slid out of the rear of it.

"Get in there, kid," the sergeant said, "and I'll hook you up."

"You are swearing in the tank, but not me?" I said, amazed.

"Kid, if your tank is loyal, you don't have to be. Get in."

BAEN BOOKS by LEO FRANKOWSKI

A Boy and His Tank
The Fata Morgana

Acknowledgements

This book was a long time in the writing, and a lot of people generously lent me a hand in getting it done. So many, in fact, that I don't see how I can properly thank all of them. But if I don't try, I'll end up offending everybody I know instead of just most of them. So.

To Debbie Haberland for proofreading an earlier version of this and several other books. To L. Warren Douglas for the encouragement, the support and the beer. To Alan Greenberg, Gilbert Parker, Jane Devlin, Mike Hubble, Joe Ainu, and others for proofreading, encouragement, and friendship. To Halina Harding for keeping me alive the entire time. To Tom Devlin for giving my aging computer CPR when it died, several times and at the worst possible moments, and with the aid of various spells and potions restoring it to life. To Gene Wolfe for permission to repeat a conversation I overheard in a bar. To Harry Turtledove for clearing up an annoying historical point. To Glen Horning, for aid when it really counted. And to Toni Weisskopf and Jim Baen for buying the thing and getting it out to you. To all of you, my very sincere thanks.

Very special thanks are owed to Sgt. James Coop, Co. C Task Force, 1-32 Armor, First Cavalry Division, for proofreading an earlier version of this book while sitting in the desert waiting for Desert Storm to happen. Some twenty of his friends wrote up their comments as well, and included them with the manuscript when they mailed it back to me. The Post Office managed to demolish the package and all of their valuable comments were lost. All I got back was bits and pieces of the brown paper cover held together by forty yards of clear tape, and the computer printout of the manuscript. By the time it got back to me and my letter got back to them, the war was over, and the men were scattered. The advice of the real professionals was lost to me, and I'm sure that this book suffers because of it.

Then I compounded the tragedy by personally managing to lose the list of the names of the soldiers who had tried to help. I'm sorry, guys. It's all my fault.

Finally, no thanks at all are owed to the SOB of a Physicist from the Warren Tank Plant who borrowed a copy of the manuscript from me at Tudor's Tavern last year. He never was seen again, nor was my manuscript. If some of my ideas start showing up on the latest tanks, well, you'll know where they swiped them from.

Leo Frankowski

Sterling Heights

November 21, 1998

Author's Note for A Boy and His Tank

This book was a long time coming.

I've never met two authors who used the same technique in getting things written. Personally, I use something akin to Method Acting, or maybe it's a form of benign schizophrenia, but I sort of become my narrator and the other main characters in the book. This imposes certain limitations on my work. For one thing, I'm largely limited to first person writing. For another, I have to be careful of my characters, since I often forget and stay in character when I get up from my desk. If my protagonist was a real mental case, I just might end up in jail.

In the late eighties, I became impressed with David Drake's
Hammer's Slammers
, and I wanted to write something where my mercenary heroes went around blowing up the countryside in super tanks.

In return for nothing more than money, a mercenary volunteers to kill people who haven't done much to harm him or his family, and to take his chances of being on the receiving end of pain, disfigurement, and death while dishing the same out.

A person accepting such a job might be so poor that his immediate family is at risk of starving to death. Faced with his wife and children dying, a man would likely be willing to do what he has to in order to keep his people alive.

Or he might be someone who really enjoys butchering people and thinks that getting paid for it besides is just wonderful. That is to say, he is simply out of his mind, and in a most unpleasant way.

Since it is illegal to starve to death in America, only the second group is available to man the few American mercenary outfits that exist. I have met such people. You wouldn't want one living on your street. They are scary.

(Understand that I am not talking about soldiers, people who serve in the regular armed forces of their country. Such individuals are often among the best that our race produces.)

Needless to say, I couldn't write about such group two mercenaries and still be fit (or even safe) company. My heroes would have to come from group one.

This left me with the problem of, if my heroes were so damn poor, how could they afford all those multimillion-dollar super tanks? This got me into the long and strange history of the Wealthy Nations Group and the New Kashubians.

Then there was the question of whose territory I was going to have these sterling troops desecrate.

Well, back in the late eighties, it was obvious to anyone not in the government that Yugoslavia was an explosion impatiently waiting to happen. I mean, most countries have a minority group or two, but Yugoslavia had so many mutually belligerent minority groups that they didn't have enough people left over to form a
majority
group. This made them an ideal candidate for starting any number of territorial wars. Also, having Kashubian Poles, Serbians, and Croatians in the same book would give me lots of opportunities to display the various aspects of the Slavic character.

Thus prepared, I went about my trade of making esthetically pleasing marks on clean, white paper. I had the book about ninety percent done when those unspeakable Yugos,
completely without my permission
, went and started their war two hundred years early and on the wrong damn planet, besides.

Please understand that historical and technical accuracy is supremely important to me. Unless my own disbelief is completely suspended, I can't write at all. With a war going on, all bets on the future history of Yugoslavia were off. If the Serbs, say, were wiped out, the character of Yugoslavia would be totally altered. Hell, I couldn't be sure that there would even
be
a Yugoslavia two hundred years hence.

Fruitless months went by when nothing useful appeared on my computer screen. Finally, I set the book aside, and went to work on
The Fata Morgana
. This book, too, was approaching completion when it too had to be delayed. I had some medical problems and was generally unable to sit at my computer, let alone push the buttons in any meaningful manner.

Years later, my health started to return about the same time as my bank account was running dry and the landlord was getting uppity. I did the obvious thing, completely rewrote
A Boy and His Tank
, and at long last you have it in your hands.

Enjoy.

 

Leo Frankowski

August 1, 1998

Sterling Heights

 

CHAPTER ONE
How I Volunteered for the Army
ca. 2162 A.D.

They sentenced me to death and then told me that I had my choice of either being rendered down so that my body's chemicals could fertilize the hydroponic vats, or joining the army.

I picked the army, but I soon learned that I had screwed up again.

Within an hour, they had given me a bath and shaved my head, and I found myself walking naked down a chilly tunnel up in the high gravity of the palladium layer. Twenty meters in diameter to match the bore of the huge Japanese ore drilling machines, the floor had been leveled by an equally bodacious milling robot, and the shiny metallic walls seemed to stretch on to infinity. Filling this tunnel with air must have cost a bundle.

The guards left me with a sergeant who was standing in front of a long row of military tanks. I could tell he was a sergeant because there were a lot of stripes on his armband. Aside from the armband and his sandals, he was as naked as I was. New Kashubia wasn't wealthy enough to afford clothes for most people.

I figured that I'd better try and get on the guy's good side as soon as possible, so I saluted him.

He looked at me and said, "Don't salute until you know how to do it. Anyway, you don't salute a sergeant."

"Yes, sir."

"And you don't call an NCO `sir.' " He looked at his clipboard. "You're Mickolai Derdowski?"

"Yes."

"Then put your right thumbprint here."

When I'd done as he'd asked, he checked his clipboard again.

"Number 04056239!" He shouted, "It's your turn! Front and center!"

One of the tanks pulled itself out of the line and drove up in front of us. It was a big slab of a thing, fully ten meters long and four wide. It was maybe a meter thick, and rode about twenty centimeters off the floor on treads that were nothing but unconnected bars that floated out of two slots in the front of the tank. They placed themselves in front of the machine as it floated over them, then lifted off the floor and went back into slots in the back of the tank once it had passed by. They didn't seem to be connected to anything at all! Some kind of magnetic trick, I guessed.

The tank was completely flat on the bottom and top, with absolutely nothing but one little bump on the left front corner to break the flat expanse of highly polished metal. The four sides sloped inwards at forty-five degree angles, and they were as bright and featureless as the rest of the vehicle. My uncle had once told me that these tanks had interchangeable weaponry. They could attach any combination of guns and whatnot that the mission required, so the lack of visible weapons didn't surprise me. What I couldn't figure out was where the driver sat, and how he could see out of the thing.

The machine was absolutely silent. I tell you that the huge monster could have snuck up on a mouse, if there had been any such creature on New Kashubia.

"Number 04056239, you are hereby inducted into the service of the Kashubian Expeditionary Forces, and into the Croatian branch of that service, to which you will give all of your loyalty. Your combat data code will be number 58294, and you will now permanently erase all other codes from your memory. Do you now swear loyalty to the Kashubian Armed Forces?" The sergeant recited it like a fixed formula.

"I SO SWEAR," the tank answered in a small, tinny voice.

"Welcome into the service. Open up."

The tank did an about-face in front of us, and this big coffin-looking thing slid out of the rear of it.

"Get in there, kid," the sergeant said, "And I'll hook you up."

"You are swearing in the tank, but not me?" I said, amazed.

"Kid, if your tank is loyal, you don't have to be. Get in."

"I don't like the looks of this."

"Nobody does, at first. Eventually, you'll learn to love it. Think of it as a womb with a view."

"I'll bet you tell that to all the boys," I said, stalling for time.

"Right, but then I don't get to hook up the girls who volunteer, more's the pity. Look, kid, get in there. It's that or the hydroponic vats."

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