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His couple of weeks leave at his parents’ home seemed to pass quite slowly really. He had already had some time back after ‘boot camp’ and the subsequent training, whilst not monotonous, didn’t take an awful lot of talking about to describe it, so he soon found he had very little that was new to tell his family about his life so far in the Werlder Force.

Many of his friends from school had moved away, especially those who had gone to university. Those who had gone straight from school or college into full-time jobs were working during the day, of course, and besides he had not hung around with them so much at school and had drifted apart from those he did know quite well during his own time at university. Consequently even the evenings weren’t exactly filled with things to do.

He amused himself a couple of times by going to the local pub. It seemed very small and ‘ordinary’ now, very unlike the wonderful Mecca he had thought it was when he had first entered his 18th year, and been allowed to go in and order drinks. Andrew didn’t really drink now. He’d done his fair share of it when he had first been old enough to, and even at university in the first few months had held his own with the heaviest of drinkers. But he came to realise it wasn’t doing him any favours. He wasn’t exactly an alcoholic, but once he started he just kept on drinking … fast! It was expensive, as well as giving him some very painful hangovers. Nowadays he stuck to soft drinks mostly. Not quite teetotal, but very rarely indulging in more than a glass of wine with a meal, or a glass of champagne to drink a toast with.

People seem to fall into two camps – those that drank a lot and those that drank hardly at all. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground. Not with his age group at least. His parents drank, but again not heavily. He seldom went out with them to anywhere drinking was customary, barring the odd restaurant visit, and they didn’t drink much at home, so he had no way of telling really.

His brother was a drinker. Most of his tales of university life seemed to be wrapped around, or involve at least, major drinking sessions. No doubt Mike would learn eventually, and develop his own way of coping with it. Although only three years older, Andrew sometimes felt much more mature than Mike, but also remembered what he had been like at the same age, which wasn’t that much different to be honest.

Most of the other lieutenants he’d been training with were drinkers and all but one of the men he had been commanding on his last assignment before graduating. The ‘one’ who didn’t drink was a Pakistani lad, Kulli, and Andrew assumed he didn’t drink on religious grounds. That made it a bit easier for him, Andrew supposed. He himself had been under quite a lot of pressure to join in the drinking games the other lieutenants were fond of playing, and even the out and out ‘sessions’ of his men. Only the sergeant major seemed to give him a break from the constant whisperings, and he’d overheard a couple of the men speculating that he must be a Mormon. How these guys didn’t therefore wonder why he would choose to join a profession that was essentially there to fight, if that was the case, he couldn’t quite comprehend. Still, he supposed they had to have something to talk about, and speculation on his religion, or lack of it, seemed harmless enough. There were certainly other things they could be gossiping about which could be far more harmful, so he guessed he was quite lucky really.

Thinking about his men was still quite painful. His last task, before heading off for his break, had been to decide which of them to get rid of and which to retain. He’d had to lose a quarter of them, excluding the sergeants. The sergeant major was part of the training team so would remain at the camp to guide the next batch of lieutenant hopefuls.

The sergeants were promotions of previous corporals, who had re-enlisted at the end of their five-year term, and would stay for another five years, all things being equal.

Cutting the first man was relatively easy – the corporal who had led the unsuccessful assault in the last training exercise. He’d admired the guy’s enthusiasm, and understood the desire to be noticed, but he just couldn’t let getting four other troops ‘killed’ and three more badly ‘injured’ go unnoticed. He wondered briefly if it would have been so easy if the assault had actually been successful, all of the troops – or most anyway – had survived and the objective taken. He supposed it would. The corporal had acted without orders after all and whether the units in the bell tower and the garage who were defending the objective had been there or not was really just a matter of luck.

Cutting the other seven had been much harder. He had only led them for a few weeks, and didn’t really know them that well. In the end, it had been a simple matter of looking at their records and picking the best medics, comms specialists and gunners to remain with the team. He didn’t have any choice with the remaining eight still to be reassigned – they would come from an existing unit that had finished their five-year term and re-enlisted, as would his new sergeant major. He’d have to hope their experience would outweigh any faults they might have. Besides, someone had had to make the choice for them too, when they first joined up, and again when they had re-enlisted, so they would probably be good. Having such a small force in such a big world had its advantages. You really had la crème de la crème in your team. Everyone else was soon weeded out.

He had talked briefly with his brother about the upcoming vote for local and state councillors.

“Who are you going to vote for?” he’d asked Mike one evening.

“That’s supposed to be private, isn’t it?” Mike had replied, but there was humour in his voice as he said it. “The incumbent lady seems okay, to be honest. I agree with her on most things, and her voting record shows she was telling the truth in the answers to the questions they put to her.” He paused for a bit, obviously thinking. “Well, she might not have been telling the truth exactly, but she certainly voted as if she had been.”

The system of each candidate answering the same questions – most decided in advance by the Constitution, some posed by the State or Local Councils depending which the candidate was standing for, and designed to highlight specific local issues was more complicated than the old ‘first past the post’ party candidate system, but it only happened once every five years so it was worth the time it took to decide properly.

This would be the second time he’d voted. Mike’s too. When the voting age had been lowered to 15 it had seemed quite a big deal, and he and his college friends had spent a considerable amount of time online, deciding who they would cast their ballot for. His local choice hadn’t made it through but his choice for State Council had. This was the lady Mike was speaking of.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I’ll probably go for her again too, but I guess I need to find out who else is standing before I make a final choice.”

Andrew thought about the other candidates. One of them was a gay man, who seemed to pretty much have the same opinions as the lady, except that he was more active in the gay community, and supported gay rights more. Maybe he’d vote for him this time.

Although he’d be living and working in South America when the vote became effective, Andrew hadn’t changed his ‘home’ local or state registration. He didn’t know if he’d suddenly be posted elsewhere anyway, so signing up for the Venezuelan State he’d be based in seemed pretty academic. Besides, he still thought of Sandhurst as ‘home’. He supposed voting was harder for the older generations, especially those that weren’t online and therefore didn’t have access to all of the information that was provided, but they were a dying breed. Quite literally, really.

His ‘farewell’ party was quite a success. Uncles and aunts, and a smattering of various cousins, turned up to join with those few friends he had been in contact with since coming home to wish him a safe journey, and good luck in his new assignment. In a way he was sad to say goodbye but he was excited too by the thought of what this new stage in his life might bring.

He left his house early the next morning, without any tears. He’d miss his parents, and his brother of course, but he was eager to join his new ‘family’ and start this new adventure.

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