From the author: He's not a vampire, just immortal. And he wants to join the space marines--if he can just get out of the recruitment office . . . .
Recruiting Sergeant Abisai Kohler knew that he had to have gotten on God’s own personal shit-list. In the past four hours, he’d had to explain reality to candidates from the Moon whose bones were so fragile that they had to wear exoskeletons just to move around. He’d done the same for candidates from asteroid mining colonies. And a Quaker who’d overcome her religious scruples, but still requested a position that didn’t involve carrying a gun.
In the Space Marines.
He’d put her in the maybe file, since she’d been a firefighter for seven years, had EMT training, and probably wouldn’t break if someone breathed on her, unlike the spacers.
Kohler pushed himself up from his chair to hover over the cubicle wall between his office and his staff sergeant’s, hardly noticing the zero-G environment. “For the past decade, we haven’t been able to hit recruiting quotas,” he grumbled. “We meet a race of aliens who don’t like us much, and suddenly, everyone breaks out in a bad of patriotism—“
“Humanism,” Sergeant Luna Foster corrected, flicking files across her VR deskspace. In her thirties and red-haired, Foster had clearly deployed other places than behind a desk. And had the mech wear marks on her wrists to prove it.
“Whatever,” Kohler muttered. “And now, we sort through the crazies.”
“The docs should be screening some of these people out.” She shrugged. “At lunch, I’ll buy you a beer, and you can stop whining, eh?”
He stretched. “Well, when you put it that way . . . who’s next?” Kohler called the last more loudly.
There was only one person left in the waiting area—a man about two meters tall, with short-cropped dark blond hair, hazel eyes, and pale skin. Too much muscle to be a spacer, though he floated into the cubicle competently, and he carried a rectangular box with a handle. Kohler stared at it for a moment. “A briefcase?”
“Yes. I suspected you’d want to look through my prior records, and not all of them are digital.” Trace of an accent. Firm handshake.
Prior records? He barely looks twenty. “All right, have a seat and let’s get started. Name?”
Kohler had pulled up the standard recruiting file on his own internal HUD, and paused, his hands in the air. “No, your full name. Do you spell Ryan with a y?”
“It has been spelled that way,” the man said carefully, letting his case hang midair. “But you mistake me. My name is O-R-I-O-N.”
“Like the constellation?”
“Exactly like the constellation.” Weary tone.
Great. Another pain in my ass. “So, you’re . . . an android, then? Clone?”
“No, I was born the usual way.”
Thank god. This part will fit on my form. “Birthdate?”
“As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, January twenty-seventh, 1150 BC.”
Kohler’s hands froze. Foster popped up over the top of the cubicle wall as if propelled by a rocket. “Okay,” Kohler said in annoyance, conducting an electronic warfare sweep to see if someone had flown a nanocam into his office, “I don’t want to be today’s top viral video, so cut the shit.”
Orion regarded him with a faint smile. “No shit. Check the records.”
Kohler clenched his teeth, pulled up the file, and stared. Foster glided over the wall, saying, “My biometric scanners can’t detect your heartbeat or respiration, Mr. Orion.”
Kohler exhaled in disgust. “He’s a goddamned vampire. They all got forced out of the coffin by mandatory global DNA identification years ago.”
“One of the differently-alive,” Foster corrected hastily.
Orion snorted. “Please. I don’t need modern labels. And no, I’m not a vampire. Vlad and his children of the night didn’t come along till I’d been walking the earth for twenty-six hundred years.” He opened the briefcase and began removing items from it. Scrolls made from reeds. Tablets made of lead, incised in something that was Greek to Kohler. Actually, I think that is Greek. He pulled up a translation interface. “Junk,” he said impatiently. “If this is a scam—“
“Use a Doric filter,” Orion replied patiently.
English abruptly overlaid the Greek. Herein are the names of those who fought on the Athenian side at Marathon . . . his eyes skimmed, finding, a hunter called Orion.
Kohler shook his head. “This is bullshit,” he asserted. “This is 2199. Even if vampires and the rest are for real? What good is a man who’s older than Methuselah?”
Orion chuckled. “I’ve been through the local equivalent of boot camp several hundred times.”
“Yeah, but I’ve had gene mods to enhance my strength. Give me vision into the ultraviolet and infrared. Change the effectiveness of my hemoglobin. And I have an electronics suite embedded in my brainstem to interface with my combat armor,” Kohler replied, glaring. “Can they even mod spooks?”
Orion shrugged. “Gene mods will probably get rejected.” He grinned. “On the other hand, I’ve marched across the Alps carrying a hundred pounds of gear, so I like my chances of being able to handle the latest armor without assistance.”
Arrogant son of a bitch, Kohler fumed internally.
Foster intervened. “Kohler, c’mon.” She eyed their potential recruit and asked, “So. Why do you want to join up?”
“I’ve fought in every major war of its era. I’d like the complete set.”
Foster chuckled. “No, really, why join up?”
A shrug and a smile. “I fought at Marathon to keep the Persians out of Greece. I fought at Epirus to keep the Romans out, too—lost that one. Fought in Gaul under Caesar as Greek auxiliary. Won that one.” He produced a parchment scroll, brown with age and lettered in Latin. “Fought the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410. Sometimes it feels like I barely bat better than five hundred.”
The man’s modern jargon somehow didn’t seem incongruous. Ancient history and the modern world seemed completely alloyed in him. But his calm demeanor irritated the shit out of Kohler.
“Who was the better commander, Julius Caesar or Vespasian?” Foster blurted.
“You honestly believe—?” Kohler demanded.
“Caesar was the better tactician, but Vespasian cared more about his troops,” Orion replied easily.
Kohler’s mouth shut with a click.
Orion continued, “Eventually found myself in England. I’d always been good with a bow, so I got dragged along with all the rest to Agincourt. Shakespeare’s speech was better than Henry’s original.” He raised his eyebrows. “By then, I was tired of English weather, so I stayed in France awhile.”
More parchments, these slightly less musty. “Wound up with a title, which made me a friend of the de Lafayettes when the American Revolution came along, so I followed their nineteen-year-old son to try to keep him alive. Fought in that Revolution and then the French one. But once the Terror hit, there wasn’t much liberty or fraternity left. So I hopped back across the Channel and enlisted in the Twenty-Seventh Regiment of Foot—the Inniskilling lads, don’tcha know,” he added, in a thick brogue, “as Padraig O’Ryan. Fought against Napoleon till Waterloo.”
Foster leaned forward, her eyes wide. “American Civil War?”
“Yes,” Orion told her with equanimity. “The 116th out of Pennsylvania, part of the Irish Brigade. Still as O’Ryan, though they made me change the first name to Patrick so they could spell it on their forms.” That, looking at Kohler. “People were getting fond of forms by that point.”
“And the world wars?” Foster asked, like a child begging for a bedtime story.
“First and second.” Paper forms and dog-tags emerged from the briefcase.
“There’s a recommendation in here from Patton,” Foster exclaimed, leafing through it all. “You knew him?”
“Patton?” Kohler repeated blankly.
“Tank commander, second global conflict,” Foster told him, then eagerly turned back towards Orion. “Was he right about being reincarnated? Did he really fight at Marathon?”
“Take a look,” Orion invited.
Kohler peered over Foster’s shoulder, and they both stared at the yellowing typed sheet. “It’s in Greek,” Kohler said.
“Patton didn’t speak Greek, did he?” Foster asked, grinning.
“As soon as he saw me at a field hospital, it came back to him.” A droll tone. “He yelled ‘Orion!’ across the tent—fortunately, O. Ryan was stenciled on my uniform—and I said ‘Hello, Achaikos.’ And then we spent most of that night drinking and yelling at each other.” He shrugged. “I haven’t seen him since. Maybe I’ll run into a new version of him in this war you’ve got going.” He gestured at a map of the stars hovering in Kohler’s cubicle. “Who knows?”
Foster gestured at the files. “Every time you’ve enlisted since the American Civil War, it’s been as a private, not as an officer. Why’s that?”
Orion chuckled. “Modern equipment. A sword is pretty much a sword, and a bow is pretty much a bow. But there are notable differences between a smoothbore musket, a Gatling gun, and an M16 rifle, however. I needed training.”
Against his will, Kohler was coming to believe the man. But that didn’t change anything. “Look,” he said harshly, “I don’t mean to be rude, but there is just no place for vampires in the military—“
“I’m not a vampire. Just immortal. I don’t turn into bats, and I enjoy garlic.”
“Stake in the heart?” Kohler challenged.
“Would kill you,” Orion countered, raising his eyebrows. “Mildly irritates me.”
“Silver bullets?” Foster asked, smiling.
“That’s werewolves, ma’am. Silver doesn’t do more to me than a normal bullet.”
“You’re bullet-proof?” Kohler demanded.
A rude noise. “No. Bullets hurt like shit. I just can’t die from them. So far, I’ve been machine-gunned, set on fire, hanged, and have been stabbed with swords more times than I can count. It all hurts.” Orion grimaced. “I just can’t die from it.”
Kohler threw up his hands. “All right, fine. What do you eat? Blood?”
“I like venison,” Orion replied mildly. “I’ve eaten a lot of canned beans, hard-tack, and dried fish over the centuries. In a survival situation, you can drink blood, but the salt content just makes you thirstier.”
Kohler’s mouth snapped shut.
Orion continued, “To anticipate the rest of your objections, I don’t breathe, so the most hard vacuum will do to me is pop surface blood vessels. I don’t require much from doctors, other than digging bullets out. If they don’t, I wind up having to crap ‘em out, which is uncomfortable.”
Foster’s mouth dropped open. “I bet.”
“The biggest problem is dismemberment. In which case, put my pieces in the ground, and I’ll pop back out in three days.”
“Like a flower,” Kohler said, hollowly.
“Doesn’t smell that sweet when I sprout.” Orion grimaced. “Also, don’t strap a bomb to my chest and ask me to walk into an enemy facility. Yes, I’d be a perfectly reusable and recyclable suicide bomber. Practically environmentally-conscious. But that’s not going to happen, you get me?”
Kohler’s mouth dropped open. So did Foster’s. “We’d never. . .” Foster began.
Orion tilted his head at her. “Sergeant, you can’t tell me that idea won’t go through some general’s head. I know how they think.” He tapped on the desk. “The only suicide missions I go on are the ones I volunteer for.”
“So . . . basically, if someone wanted to get rid of you, they should dismember you and pour cement around the body?” Kohler said, slowly.
“Me and Jimmy Hoffa.”
“Who?” Kohler asked blankly.
“Jimmy Hoff—nevermind. Even he has to be dead by now.” Orion shrugged. “Look, I’m not a liability to your forces. Unlike Vlad’s children, who have a tendency to go into a feeding frenzy in casualty wards. I know. I had to pull one of them out of a tent of captured Janissaries after the Siege of Vienna.”
Foster licked dry lips. “Is he still around?”
Orion looked surprised. “Iosif? Sure. He occasionally sends me a Christmas card. Social media’s made it harder to avoid that. I keep telling him that I’m not Christian, and only went on those Crusades to try to keep some friends from getting themselves killed, but he sends the cards anyway.”
Kohler couldn’t help himself. He laughed. “All right,” he said, folding his arms across his chest. “If you’re not a vampire, and you can’t be killed, then how the hell did you wind up like this?”
Orion looked embarrassed. “I pissed off a god.”
Kohler rubbed his eyes. “What? Which one?”
“Apollo, if you must know.” Orion studied the floor.
Foster’s eyes widened. “The Apollo.”
“The one and only.”
“He’s real?” she whispered.
“Very much so. I’ve run into a few gods over the years. The Greek ones are quiet because no one’s sacrificing to them these days. Probably for the best. Zeus is a dick.” Orion looked up rapidly, then relaxed and laughed. “I love being able to say that,” he added. “Used to be, you said something like that, and BAM. Lightning bolt to the head. Which doesn’t tickle.”
Kohler put his face down in his hands, bracing his elbows on his desk. “What exactly did you do to get on Apollo’s shit-list?”
“. . . is this necessary for my file?” Orion’s tone suggested discomfort.
“Comparative purposes. So I can tell what I did to get on my god’s shit-list to have you parked at my desk today.”
Orion laughed. “All right.” He cleared his throat. “Apollo had a sister. Artemis. He had the hots for her.”
Foster’s voice sounded puzzled. “Yes, but she was a virgin—“
“Virgin goddess my ass,” Orion answered gruffly. “We took care of that first thing. Then we hunted monsters for a year. It was great.” A sigh. “Till she got pregnant.”
Kohler raised his head in disbelief. “Wait, you f—“
“A goddess.” Kohler felt that needed to be underlined somehow.
“One with a jealous shithead of a brother, yes.” Orion exhaled. “Apollo made her think I was a monster and she killed me. I forgave her the moment she resurrected me.” He paused. “She had limits. She couldn’t make me a god, her equal.” A shrug. “And Apollo would have made moving in with her pretty miserable, too.”
Their mouths hung open.
Orion shrugged. “In the end? I started off fighting monsters with Artemis. Now that you’ve pissed off aliens, it’ll be refreshing to fight monsters again.” He paused. “Assuming our new enemies are monsters, and not just funny-looking people. Which would at least present fresh moral quandaries.”
“You’ve fought wars for over three thousand years! You’ve seen humanity at its worst. How are you not insane?” Foster demanded.
“How are you not signing up with the aliens to wipe us out?” Kohler asked hollowly.
Orion tapped his temples with a knuckle. “I don’t get concussions,” he replied. “I’ve seen a lot of shit, but I’ve also seen years of peace. I’ve watched humanity grind its way up. These days, thanks to vaccines, half the children born don’t die before their first birthday. There’s light whenever you want light, sewers to sweep the filth away, and food practically falls into your mouths. You two are sitting there wiggling your fingers like wizards, except, stuff actually happens.” He shrugged, that irritating equanimity sweeping over his face again. “Plus, there’s my family.”
Kohler blinked. “Family?”
“Well, yeah. I did say Artemis was knocked up when her brother made her kill me, right?” Orion coughed into his hand. “I figure I have several hundred million descendants by now. I can always tell—I see a glow around them. Makes finding female company a little uncomfortable in bars, if you know what I mean?”
“Oh Christ,” Kohler said in horror.
“Not one of mine. Don’t let my rising from the grave after three days fool you,” Orion replied hastily. “So. Do I make an X, sign a form, or give you a thumb print, or what?”
Kohler hissed in Foster’s ear, “This is a bad idea.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” his staff sergeant retorted in a whisper. “A man with more military experience than god wants to enlist in the Space Marines. We should be glad he didn’t walk into EarthGov headquarters and offer to take over as Commander Global Forces. He’s on our side. I say, let the aliens get a load of this.”
She turned back to Orion, smiled, and said cheerfully, “Thumb print. How do you want to handle your name?”
“It’d be a treat to use my own name for once.”
“How about Orion Hunter?” Luna suggested.
“Done!” Orion exclaimed.
“And done,” Foster replied, making the necessary adjustments. “Orion? Welcome to the Space Marines.”
“And now that we’re done—” Kohler began, when just past Orion’s shoulder, through the open door of his cubicle, he saw another person enter the office. This one tall, dark-haired, and female, with blue eyes. He let himself float up and called out to the woman, “Sorry, ma’am, we’re about to close for lunch. Unless you’re a werewolf. In which case, you’d be the perfect capper to a morning full of weird.”
The woman blinked. Her lips worked for a moment, and she looked down at herself carefully. “How did you know?” she finally asked. “There isn’t so much as a stray wisp of fur!”
Kohler sank back down into his chair. Foster chuckled. “You want me to handle this one?” she offered cheerfully.
“No. Go to lunch. Take our new friend with you. I’ll take my medicine.”
He shifted his head enough to see that Foster had just peeked over the wall, and then she ducked back down to whisper in his ear, “And the fact that your werewolf out there looks like a supermodel has no bearing at all on this sudden desire for medicine over a beer and lunch?”
“Foster? I’ve worked with you for two years, and I say this with respect, but. . . .” Kohler lifted his head and gave his colleague a look. “Go play in traffic.”
Foster threw back her head, laughed, and escorted Orion the Hunter out of the office.
This story originally appeared in Red Sun.