Story: The Immortal O. Ryan

Story by Deborah L. Davitt


The Space Marines are looking for a few good… Vampires?


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?”


“O. Ryan.”


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. “Birth date?”


“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. 


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 ’til 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–“


Read the rest of “The Immortal O. Ryan” in issue #4 of Red Sun.