/ Language: English / Genre:sf_history / Series: Settling accounts

In At the Death

Harry Turtledove


Harry Turtledove

In At the Death

I

Brigadier General Clarence Potter crouched in a muddy trench north of Atlanta. Overhead, U.S. bombers flew through what looked like flak thick enough to walk on. Potter saw smoke coming from a couple of enemy airplanes, but the airplanes went on about the business of pounding the hub of the Confederate States of America flat.

Most of the bombs fell behind Potter, in the heart of Atlanta. As usual, the United States were going after the railroad yards and the factories that made the capital of Georgia so vital to the CSA. As far as Potter could tell, the latest bombardments were overkill. By now, Atlanta's importance was gone with the wind.

The locals, those who hadn't refugeed out or been blown sky high, seemed stunned at what had happened to their city. Disasters, to them, were for other places. New Orleans had suffered the indignity of capture in the War of Secession. Louisville had been lost in that war, wrecked in the Second Mexican War, lost again in the Great War, and spent an embarrassing generation as a U.S. city afterwards. Richmond had been battered in the Great War, and was taking it on the chin even harder now. But Atlanta? Atlanta just kept rolling along.

Except it didn't. Not any more.

Bombs were falling closer now, working their way north. Potter had seen that happen before. The lead airplanes in a formation would put their bombs about where they belonged-or where the bombardiers thought they belonged, anyhow. Bombardiers farther back would use those early explosions as targets. But, being human, the bomber crews didn't want to hang around any longer than they had to, so they released their bombs a little sooner than they might have. Work that all the way back through a bomber stream, and…

"And I'm liable to get killed by mistake," Potter muttered. He was in his early sixties, in good hard shape for his age, with iron-gray hair and cold gray eyes behind steel-rimmed spectacles. His specialty was intelligence work, but he commanded a division these days-the Confederacy was running low on capable, or even incapable, line officers. His cynical cast of mind either suited him for the spymaster's role or came from too many years spent in it. Even he didn't know which any more.

"General Potter!" a soldier yelled. "You anywhere around, General Potter?" No doubt for his own ears alone, he added, "Where the fuck you at, General Potter?"

"Here I am!" Potter shouted back. Not a bit abashed, the runner dove into the trench with him. "Why are you looking for me?" Potter asked crisply.

"You're General Potter? Our General Potter?" The young soldier didn't seem convinced despite Potter's dirty butternut uniform and the wreathed stars on either side of his collar.

"Afraid I am, son." Potter knew why the runner was dubious, too. "Back before the Great War, I went to college up at Yale. I learned to talk like a damnyankee to fit in, and it stuck. Now quit dicking around. What's up?"

"Sir, General Patton's on the telephone, and he needs to talk to you bad," the kid replied.

"Oh, joy." Potter had no trouble containing his enthusiasm. No matter what George Patton imagined he needed, Potter knew he didn't need to talk to Patton. But Patton commanded an army, not just a division. He headed all the forces trying to keep the USA away from Atlanta. Potter knew damn well he had to render unto Caesar-not that Patton thought Julius Caesar, or anyone else, his equal. "All right. Field telephone still at the same old stand?"

"Uh, yes, sir."

"Then you stay here. No point getting both of us blasted just because General Patton's got the galloping fantods."

"Thank you, sir." The runner gaped at him.

Potter hardly noticed. He scrambled out of the trench, getting more tomato-soup mud on his uniform. Fall 1943 had been wet. A good thing, too, he thought. Without the rain and the mud, the damnyankees'd probably be at the Atlantic, not Atlanta. He knew he exaggerated. He also knew he didn't exaggerate by as much as he wished he did.

He scuttled over the cratered landscape like a pair of ragged claws. Who was the crazy Englishman who wrote that poem? He couldn't come up with the name. Bombs whistled down from above. None did more than rattle his nerves.

The field telephone was only a couple of hundred yards from where he'd sheltered when bombs started falling. The soldier with the ungainly apparatus and batteries on his back huddled in a foxhole. Barring a direct hit, that was fine. Potter wished he hadn't thought of the qualifier. The operator held out the handpiece to him.

"Thanks," Potter said, and then yelled, "Potter here!" Field-telephone connections were generally bad, and bombs going off in the background definitely didn't help.

"Hello, Potter. This is Patton!" The army commander also shouted. No one was likely to mistake his rasping voice for anybody else's, even over a field telephone. Potter supposed the same was true of his own. That turned out not to be quite true, for Patton went on, "If the damnyankees capture a telephone, they can put on one of their men claiming to be you and talk me out of everything I know."

"Heh," Potter said dutifully. He was sick of being suspected and twitted because of the way he talked. "What do you need, sir? The runner said it was urgent."

"He's right," Patton answered. "I'm going to send the corps that your division is half of against the U.S. forces between Marietta and Lawrenceville. You'll go in by way of Chamblee and Doraville, and cut off the Yankees east of there. Once we drive them out of Lawrenceville or destroy them in place there, we reopen communications from Atlanta to the northeast."

"Sir, do you really think a one-corps attack will shift the U.S. forces in that area?" Potter tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Patton's answer to every military problem was to attack. He'd won great triumphs in Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1941 and 1942, but not the one in Pittsburgh that might have knocked the USA out of the war. And his counterattacks against U.S. forces in Kentucky and Tennessee and Georgia this year had cost the Confederate States far more men and matйriel than they were worth.

"We need to reopen that route now, General," Patton replied. "Even if that weren't obvious to anyone with a map, I have orders from the President."

What Jake Featherston wanted, Jake Featherston got. The only thing the President of the CSA wanted that he hadn't got was the one he'd needed most: a short, victorious war. Even getting a war the country could survive didn't look easy any more.

Speaking carefully, Potter said, "Sir, the Yankees already have more force in place than we can throw at them. If you try to knock a brick wall down with your head, you hurt your head worse than the wall."

"It's not so bad as that, Potter," General Patton insisted. "They offer us their flank. We can go through them like a ripsaw through balsa wood."

Potter admired him for not saying like a hot knife through butter. Patton had his own way of speaking, as he had his own way of doing things. For better and for worse, he was his own man. Right now, in Potter's view, it was for worse.

"If that's their flank, it's not soft, sir," Potter said. "And they have lots of artillery covering the approach. As soon as we start moving, we'll get plastered." Two bombs burst close enough to rattle him. "Hell, we're getting plastered now."

"We've had this argument before, farther north," Patton said heavily.

"Yes, sir. I have to say the results up there justified me, too," Potter said.

"I don't agree. And I don't have time for your nonsense, either, not now. As I say, my orders come from the President, and leave me no room for discretion," Patton said. "You will attack, or I will relieve you and put in someone else who will."

Do I have the courage of my convictions? Potter wondered. To his relief, he discovered he did. "You'd better relieve me, then, sir," he said. "I'm sorry for the men you'll throw away, but I won't be a party to it."

"You son of a bitch," Patton said. "You yellow son of a bitch."

"Fuck you…sir," Potter said. "Sorry, but you won't get to pin the blame for your mistakes-and the President's mistakes-on me."

"Brigadier General Russell will go forward to take your division," Patton said. "Don't wait for him. You are relieved, effective immediately. Come back here to central headquarters at once-at once, do you hear me? We'll see which shelf the War Department decides to put you on after that."

"On my way, sir," Potter answered, and hung up before Patton could say anything else. He shouted for a driver.

His yells attracted a captain on his staff before they got him a motorcar. "What's the commotion about, sir?" the officer asked.

"I've been relieved," Potter said bluntly. The captain's jaw dropped. Potter went on, "Brigadier General Russell will take over for me. He's going to send you northeast to try to cut off the damnyankees in Lawrenceville. I don't think you can do that, but give it your best shot. When I told General Patton I didn't think you could, he pulled the plug on me. Orders from the President are that you've got to try. I wish you luck." He meant that. This wasn't the first time he'd got caught between loving his country and looking down his nose at the man who ran it.

He had time for a handshake before a command car showed up. The driver didn't seem happy at being out and about with bombs falling. Potter wasn't happy, either. What could you do?

They made it. They took longer than they would have without all the air raids-but, again, what could you do? Atlanta had taken a nasty beating. One little diner had a jaunty message painted on the plywood that did duty for a front window: OPEN FOR BUSINESS WHILE EVERYTHING AROUND US GOES TO HELL.

"What did you do-walk?" Patton growled when Potter strode into headquarters, which were in an ugly building on Block Place, just west of the cratered remains of the railroad yard.

"Might have been faster if I did," Potter answered.

Patton muttered. Potter wasn't contrite enough to suit him. Most men, seeing their military career going up in smoke, would have flabbled more. "I spoke with the President," Patton said.

"Oh, boy," Potter said.

Patton muttered some more. Potter wasn't impressed enough to suit him, either. Of course, Potter had had more to say to-and about-Jake Featherston than Patton ever did. "There's an airplane waiting for you at the airport," Patton ground out. "You're ordered back to Richmond."

"So the damnyankees can shoot me down on the way?" Potter said. "Why didn't Featherston order me executed here?"

"I wondered if he would," Patton retorted. "Maybe he wants to do it personally. Any which way, get moving. You'll find out what he has in mind when you get there-if you do. I hope you sweat all the way. Now get out."

"Always a pleasure," Potter said, and flipped Patton a salute in lieu of the bird.

Atlanta's airport was at Hapeville, nine miles south of town. The airplane was a three-engined transport: an Alligator, so called because of its corrugated aluminum skin. U.S. transports were bigger and faster, but Alligators got the job done. The Confederate States had had to rebuild their military from scratch in the 1930s. Not everything got fully modernized: too much to do too fast. Most of the time, slow, obsolescent transports didn't matter too much.

If, however, a U.S. fighter got on your tail…

Cussing Patton under his breath, Potter did sweat till the Alligator, which also carried several other officers and a nondescript civilian who might have been a spy, got well away from Atlanta. The airplane wasn't out of the woods yet; he knew that. U.S. aircraft from Kentucky and Tennessee raided western North Carolina and Virginia. But his odds had improved.

He started sweating again when they neared Richmond, which vied with Paris as the most heavily bombed city in the world. They got down just before sunset. Two hard-faced men in Freedom Party Guard camouflage uniforms waited for Potter. "Come with us," one of them growled as soon as he got off. Having no choice, he did, and wondered if he was going for his last ride.

W ithout much modesty, false or otherwise, Lieutenant Michael Pound reckoned himself the best platoon commander for barrels in the U.S. Army. He also would have bet he was the oldest platoon commander for barrels in the Army. He'd been learning armored warfare ever since most of his counterparts were born.

Right now, things were pretty simple. The Confederates were pushing north and east out of their defenses in front of Atlanta. If they broke through, they would cut off and probably cut up a lot of good men.

Michael Pound didn't think they had a chance in church of breaking through. He stood up in the cupola of his green-gray barrel to get a better look around than the periscopes could give him. His shoulders barely fit through the opening; he was built like a brick. He needed-and hated-reading glasses these days, but he still saw fine at a distance.

His barrel sat under the pines near the edge of a wood. The crew had draped branches over the glacis plate to help hide the big, bulky machine. The other four in the platoon sat not far away, in the best cover their ingenious commanders could find. Soggy fields of red mud-which looked unnatural to someone from close to the Canadian border like Pound-lay to the south. If the Confederates wanted to try coming this way, they couldn't very well fool anybody.

Which didn't mean they couldn't get fooled. From behind, Pound could see trenches and foxholes and machine-gun nests. From in front, most of those would be camouflaged. He could see the signs marking the borders of minefields, too. The enemy wouldn't spot them till too late…unless the sappers who'd laid the mines wanted them seen, to channel C.S. attacks.

More U.S. infantry waited among the trees with the barrels-and Pound's platoon was far from the only armor on hand. If the bastards in butternut figured this was an exposed flank, they'd get rapped on the knuckles in a hurry.

And they did. They must have. Artillery started screaming down on the fields and on the pine woods. Michael Pound ducked into the turret and clanged the hatch shut. He felt sorry for the poor bloody foot soldiers. They'd get bloodier in short order. Air bursts were very bad news for troops caught under trees. Shells fused to burst as soon as they touched branches showered sharp fragments on the ground below.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than fragments clattered off the barrel. They sounded like hail on a tin roof, which only proved you couldn't go by sound.

"Lord help the infantry," said Sergeant Mel Scullard, the gunner. He managed to put up with having a longtime gunner set over him-at least, he hadn't tried to brain Pound with a wrench while the platoon commander slept.

"I was thinking the same thing," Pound replied. "It does even out some, though. Nobody fires antibarrel rockets or armor-piercing rounds at them."

"Goddamn stovepipe rockets," Scullard said. "If I caught a Confederate with one of those things, I'd shove the launcher up his ass and then light off a round. And that, by God, would be that."

"My, my. How the boys in the striped pants who put together the Geneva Convention would love you," Pound said.

The gunner's opinion of the Geneva Convention and its framers was blasphemous, scatological, and almost hot enough to ignite the ammunition stowed in the turret. Laughing, Pound wagged a forefinger at him. Scullard used a different finger a different way.

Pound peered through the periscopes set into the cupola. Had he been standing up, he could have used field glasses for a better view. Another rattle of sharp steel against the barrel's armored skin reminded him there were times to be bold and times to be smart, and this sure as hell looked like a time to be smart.

And he could see enough, if not quite everything he wanted. "They're coming, all right," he said. "Infantry first-probably probing to find out where the mines are and whether we've got any weak spots. And when they find some, that's where the barrels will try and get through."

"Let the goddamn barrels come," Scullard said. "They'll regret it."

In the first year and a half of the war, U.S. forces were sorry more often than not when they came up against C.S. barrels. Confederate machines had bigger guns, stronger engines, and thicker, better-sloped armor. But the newest U.S. models finally got it right. Their 3Ѕ-inch guns outclassed anything the enemy used, and their powerplants and protection also outdid the opposition. With problems elsewhere, the Confederates were slow to upgrade their barrels.

Some of the machines advancing now weren't barrels at all, but squat, ugly assault guns. Pound, a purist, looked down his nose at them. But throw enough of them into the fight and something would probably give. Quantity had a quality of its own.

"What's the range to those bastards?" he asked.

Scullard checked the rangefinder. "More than a mile and a half, sir. Even a hit at that range isn't a sure kill-they've got thick glacis plates."

"Take a shot at the lead machine anyway," Pound said. "If you do kill it way the hell out there, the rest of them will know right away they've got a tough row to hoe."

"I'll do it, sir," the gunner answered. Then he spoke to the loader: "Armor-piercing!"

"I thought you'd never ask," Joe Mouradian said, and handed him a long, heavy cartridge with the nose painted black.

Scullard traversed the turret a little to the left. He peered through the rangefinder again, raised the gun, peered once more, muttered, and brought the cannon up a hair farther. Pound wouldn't have hesitated so much. He had uncommon confidence in himself. He wasn't always right, but he was always sure. He was sure he ought to keep quiet now. Scullard's style was different from his, but the gunner usually hit what he aimed at.

If he didn't hit here, Pound intended to say not a word. It was long range, even for a gun that fired on a fast, flat trajectory like the 3Ѕ-incher.

Boom! Inside the turret, the noise wasn't too bad. Right outside, it would have seemed like the end of the world. Michael Pound looked through the periscopes, hoping he could see the shot fall if it missed.

But it didn't. The lead Confederate assault gun suddenly stopped. Greasy black smoke spurted from it. A hatch in the side opened. Somebody bailed out. More smoke belched from the hatch.

"Good shot! Good shot!" Pound thumped Scullard on the back. "Now kill the next one. The others will think twice about coming on after that."

"I'll try, sir," the gunner said, and then, "AP again, Mouradian!"

"Right." The loader slammed another round into the breech.

Scullard traversed the turret to the right. He fired again, then swore. That was a miss. Pound swore, too; he saw no puff of dust to mark where the shot came down. The wet weather complicated lives all kinds of ways.

Scullard tried again. This time, the shot went home. The assault gun slewed sideways and stopped, a track knocked off its wheels. The enemy could probably fix it, but that would take a while. In the meantime, it was out of the fight, a sitting duck. Odds were somebody would blast it before it got fixed.

Other U.S. barrels opened up. More C.S. assault guns and barrels got hit. Others stopped to return fire. Having expended three rounds from this spot, Pound figured it was time to move. They would have a good idea where he was, the same as if he'd lit three cigarettes on a match. He ordered the barrel back and to the left to a secondary firing position he'd marked out ahead of time.

Nobody ever said the Confederates lacked guts. They pressed the attack hard. Pound could see only his little part of it, like any soldier at the front. Thanks to the mines and the machine guns and the barrels and the fighter-bombers that swooped down on the enemy, the men in butternut never made it across the open ground and into the pine woods. They tried three different times, which only meant they paid a higher price for failure than if they'd left well enough alone after the first time.

When they sullenly pulled back late that afternoon, Pound said, "We ought to go after them. We might be able to walk right into Atlanta."

"Easy to walk into Atlanta, sir," Scullard said. "If we do, though, how many of us'll walk out again?"

Pound grunted. Having seen what the fighting in Pittsburgh was like, he didn't want to wind up on the other end of that. But watching the enemy get away went against all his instincts.

Then rockets started screaming down on the open ground in front of the woods and on the trees as well. Blast made even the heavy barrel shudder on its tracks. The Confederates were doing everything they could to discourage pursuit. He feared the foot soldiers were catching it hard.

Even so…"They won't take Lawrenceville away from us like that," he said.

"No, sir," Scullard agreed. "We'll likely try a flanking move from there, I bet. If we can make them leave Atlanta without us going in and taking it away from them, that sounds goddamn good to me."

"To me, too," Pound said. "The cheaper, the better."

The order to move forward came early the next morning. The axis of the advance was southeast: not straight towards Atlanta, but deeper into central Georgia. That warmed the cockles of Michael Pound's heart. It also told him that General Morrell, whom he'd known for many years, still had what it took. Morrell was all but inviting the Confederates in Atlanta to strike at his flank again. If they did, he would give them lumps.

They didn't. Watching their first counterattack fail must have taught them something. Pound didn't-wouldn't-believe they'd lost too many men and too much equipment for another try. They'd counterattacked again and again, all the way down from the Ohio River-usually before they should have. And it had cost them a lot more than standing on the defensive and making U.S. forces come to them would have done. Maybe they were finally wising up.

But if they were, it was liable to be too late. If they didn't come out of Atlanta, men and barrels in green-gray would curl around and cut them off from the east and south as well as from the north. And what would stop Irving Morrell's armor from slashing across the rest of Georgia to Savannah and the Atlantic and cutting the Confederacy in half?

Nothing Second Lieutenant Pound could see.

Here and there, the Confederates still fought hard. The Freedom Party Guard units, in their mottled uniforms, had the best gear the CSA could give them and a vicious determination to use it. They took few prisoners, and mostly didn't let themselves get captured. And their fanatical resistance got them…

Not very much. Jake Featherston didn't have enough Guard outfits to go around. He didn't come close. In between the towns they defended and the strongpoints they manned lay…again, not very much. Most Confederate soldiers, like most soldiers most places, weren't so enthusiastic about dying for their country. Militias of beardless boys and old men mixed bolt-action Tredegars from the last war with hunting rifles and shotguns. Some of them were brave. It hardly mattered. They didn't have what they needed to fight a real army.

Mel Scullard machine-gunned a kid who was running up to the barrel with a Featherston Fizz. The youngster fell. The burning gasoline from the bottle made his last minutes on earth even worse than they would have been otherwise.

With cold eyes, the gunner watched him die. "You want to play against the first team, sonny, you better bring your best game," he said.

"That's about the size of it," Pound agreed. "And most of their first team is in Atlanta, and it's doing them less and less good the longer it sits there. In the meantime, by God, we'll just clean up their scrubs."

C assius began to think he might live through the war. Black guerrillas who took up arms against the CSA and the Freedom Party always hoped to live, of course. But hoping and believing were two different things. Sooner or later, he'd figured, Gracchus' band would run out of luck. Then he'd either die on the spot or go to a camp the way his mother and father and sister had. Quick or slow, it would be over.

Now…Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't. He'd already watched U.S. fighter-bombers stoop on a truck convoy the Negroes stalled with a land mine planted in a pothole. What followed wasn't pretty, which didn't mean he didn't like it. Oh, no-it meant nothing of the sort.

And the rumble and growl of artillery in the northwest wasn't distant or on the edge of hearing any more. Now it grew into an unending roar, louder by the day and as impossible to ignore as a toothache. Whenever the guerrillas camped for the night, the same phrase was on their lips: "Damnyankees comin' soon."

They wanted the U.S. soldiers to get there soon. They would likely die if the U.S. soldiers didn't. They called them damnyankees anyhow. There as in so many other things, they imitated Confederate whites. They found yellow women prettier than brown ones and much prettier than black ones. They liked straight hair better than kinky, sharp noses better than flat. In all of that, they were typical of the Confederacy's Negroes.

The main way they weren't typical was that they were still alive.

Not far away, trucks rattled through the darkness, bringing C.S. troops forward to try to stem the U.S. tide. The guerrillas let most convoys go. They couldn't afford to get into many real fights with real soldiers. Gracchus had enough trouble scraping up new recruits as things were. Except for the scattered, harried rebel bands, not many Negroes were left in the Georgia countryside.

"Suppose the damnyankees come," Cassius said, spooning up beans from a ration a Mexican soldier would never open now. "Suppose they come, an' suppose they kill the Confederate sojers an' the ofays who put on white shirts and yell, 'Freedom!' all the goddamn time."

Gracchus was gnawing on a drumstick from a chicken liberated from a white man's coop. "Then we wins," he said, swallowing. "Then we starts puttin' our lives back the way they was 'fo' all this shit happen."

In a way, that sounded wonderful. In another way…"How? How we do dat, boss?" Cassius asked. "All the Yankee sojers in the world ain't gonna give me my ma an' pa an' sister back again. They ain't gonna bring back all the niggers the ofays done killed. We is like ghosts of the folks what used to be here but ain't no more."

Gracchus scowled as he threw the leg bone aside. "We ain't ghosts," he said. "The ones who got killed, they's ghosts. I bet this whole country have more hants'n you kin shake a stick at, this war finally done."

Cassius didn't exactly believe in hants. He didn't exactly not believe in them, either. He'd never seen one, but so many people were sure they had, he had trouble thinking they were all crazy or lying. He did say, "Hants ain't slowed down the ofays none."

"Might be even worse without 'em," another Negro said.

"How?" Cassius asked, and nobody seemed to want to answer that.

He didn't want to take the argument with Gracchus any further. He didn't want the guerrilla chieftain to think he was after that spot himself. As far as Cassius was concerned, Gracchus was welcome to it.

But, even if he kept quiet, he still thought he was right. Blacks in the CSA had had a vibrant life of their own, much of it lived right under the white majority's noses. With so many Negroes dead, how would the survivors ever start that again? How could they even live alongside the whites who hadn't tried to stop Freedom Party goons from stuffing them into trains for one-way journeys to camps, who'd often cheered to see them disappear? What could they be but a sad reminder of something that had once been alive but was no more? And if that wasn't a ghost, what was it?

The next morning, a scout came back in high excitement. "The Mexicans, they's pullin' out!" he said.

"They ain't goin' up to the front to fight?" Gracchus asked. "You sure?"

"Sure as I's standin' here," the scout replied. "They's marchin' south."

"They ain't here to fight the damnyankees," Cassius said. "They is here to keep us in line."

Francisco Josй's men were less enthusiastic about going after Negroes than white Confederates were. But their being here let the Confederacy put more men in the field against the United States. They did inhibit the rebel bands…some.

"If they's buggin' out fo' true, they must reckon the Confederate Army can't hold the Yankees back no mo'." Gracchus' voice rose with excitement. "Do Jesus, I hope they's right!"

The black guerrillas got another surprise the next day. A Confederate captain approached a scout with a flag of truce. The scout blindfolded him and brought him into camp. No one offered to take the blindfold off once he got there, either.

That didn't seem to faze him. "I have a proposition for you people," he said.

"Go on. Say your say. Tell your lies," Gracchus answered.

"No lies. What I ask is very simple: leave us alone while we fight the USA," the C.S. officer said. "You stay quiet, we won't come after you. We'll even give you rations so you don't have to plunder the countryside."

"Put rat poison in 'em first, I reckon," Gracchus said.

"If you agree, I will come back as a hostage and food taster," the captain said. "Don't jog our elbow. That's all we want. You tell us no, you'll get the stick instead of the carrot. I promise you that."

"Shoulda started leavin' us alone a hell of a long time ago," Cassius said.

Shrugging, the soldier said, "Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong. Too late to worry about it now, though. It's water under the bridge."

"Easy fo' you to say, ofay." Some of Gracchus' rage and hatred came out. "You ain't got no dead kinfolks."

"Hell I don't," the captain said, and Cassius realized he hated them at least as much as they hated him. "Damnyankee bombs blew up my mother and father and sister. Another sister'll limp forever on account of 'em. And you're helping the USA. Far as I'm concerned, we ought to feed you rat poison, and better than you deserve. But I don't give those orders. I just follow them."

"You got nerve." Gracchus spoke now with a certain reluctant admiration.

"I told you-I've got orders," the Confederate said. "So what'll it be? Will you back off and let us fight the United States, or do we come in here and clean out all of you raggedy-ass coons?"

Gracchus didn't answer right away. He wasn't an officer with a chain of command behind him and the automatic authority to bind and to loose. He couldn't order his fighters to obey a truce if they didn't want to. Cassius knew he didn't. He spoke to the captain: "You coulda done that, reckon you would've a long time ago."

"You don't get it, boy," the white said, and never knew how close he came to dying on the spot. He continued, "Before, you were just a rear-area nuisance. But if you think we'll let you fuck with us when the front's so close, you better think again."

Maybe he had a point of sorts. But even if he did…"What happens when the Yankees push you outa here?" Cassius ground out. "You reckon we ain't got us a lot o' bills to pay? You reckon we ain't gonna pay 'em soon as we git the chance?"

That got home. The C.S. captain bit his lip. "All the more reason for us to get rid of you now," he said.

"You kin try." Gracchus seemed to have made up his mind. "Yeah, you kin try, but I don't reckon you kin do it. When the war started, you coulda got what you wanted from us easy. All you had to do was leave us alone. Well, you didn't do nothin' like that. You know what you done. Like my friend here say"-he named no names-"we owes you too much to set it down. We takes you back to your own folks now. Ain't got nothin' left to say to each other no more."

As the scout led the blindfolded officer away, Cassius found himself nodding. Gracchus had nailed that, probably better than he knew. All across the Confederate States of America, whites and Negroes had nothing left to say to each other.

"Reckon we better get outa here," Gracchus said after the white man in butternut was gone. "They ain't gonna wait around. Soon as he tell 'em we say no, they gonna pound the shit outa where they thinks we's at."

He proved a good prophet. Artillery started falling not far from their camp inside of half an hour. A couple of Asskickers buzzed around overhead, looking for targets they could hit. The Negroes stayed in the woods till nightfall.

"You reckon they come after us from the same direction as that captain?" Cassius asked Gracchus.

"Mos' likely," the guerrilla leader answered.

"Maybe we oughta rig us an ambush, then," Cassius said. "That'll learn 'em they can't run us like we was coons an' they was hounds."

"We is coons," Gracchus said with a grim chuckle. He clapped Cassius on the back. "But yeah, you got somethin' there. We see what we kin do."

Next morning, right at dawn, close to a company of Confederate soldiers approached the woods where the guerrillas sheltered. Cassius and a couple of other Negroes fired at them, then showed themselves as they scurried away. That was dangerous. A fusillade of bullets chased them. But nobody got hit.

Shouting and pointing, the Confederates pounded after the fleeing blacks. Down deep, the ofays still thought Negroes were stupid and cowardly. They wouldn't have pursued U.S. soldiers with so little caution.

The machine gun opened up from the flank and cut them down like wheat before the scythe. The Confederates were brave. Some of them tried to charge the gun and take it out with grenades. They couldn't work in close enough to throw them. The white soldiers broke off and retreated. They did it as well as anyone could, leaving not a wounded man behind.

"We done it!" Cassius whooped. "We fuckin' done it!"

Gracchus was less exuberant. "We done it this time," he said. "Ofays ain't gonna make the same mistake twice. Next time, they don't reckon it's easy."

That struck Cassius as much too likely. Gracchus moved his band away from the ambush site as fast as he could. Artillery and bombs from above started falling there a few minutes later-probably as soon as the beaten Confederate soldiers could send back word of where they ran into trouble.

Armored cars and halftracks began patrolling the roads around the guerrilla band. The Negroes got one with a mine, but the vehicles trapped them and hemmed them in, making movement deadly dangerous. Before long, they started getting hungry. The rations the Confederate captain had promised in exchange for quiet seemed better to Cassius every time his belly growled.

"Reckon we kin hold 'em off when they come again?" he asked Gracchus.

"Hope so," the guerrilla leader answered, which was a long way from yes.

Cassius made sure his rifle was clean. He didn't want it jamming when he needed it most. How much good it would do him against a swarm of Confederates supported by armor…he tried not to think about.

Then one night the northwestern sky filled with flashes. Man-made thunder stunned his ears. The C.S. attack the guerrillas were dreading didn't come. The Confederates needed everything they had to hold back the U.S. forces hitting them.

And everything they had wasn't enough. Soldiers and vehicles in butternut poured back past and through the guerrillas' little territory. They weren't interested in fighting the blacks; they just wanted to get away. Wounded men and battered trucks and halftracks floundered here and there. The Negroes scrounged whatever they could.

And then Cassius spotted an advancing barrel painted not butternut but green-gray. It had a decal of an eagle in front of crossed swords on each side of the turret. He burst into unashamed tears of joy. The damnyankees were here at last!

A fter capturing Camp Determination and the vast mass graves where its victims lay, Major General Abner Dowling had trouble figuring out what the U.S. Eleventh Army should do next. He'd handed the United States a huge propaganda victory. No one could deny any more that the Confederates were killing off their Negroes as fast as they could.

Some of the locals were horrified when he rubbed their noses in what their country was up to. The mayor of Snyder, Texas, and a few of its other leading citizens killed themselves after forced tours of the graves.

But others remained chillingly indifferent or, worse, convinced the Negroes had it coming. Only coons and goddamn troublemakers were phrases Dowling never wanted to hear again.

He scratched at his graying mustache as he studied a map of west Texas tacked on the wall of what had been the mayor's office. Snyder, under military occupation, was doing without a mayor for now. "What do you think, Major?" he asked his adjutant. "Where do we go from here?"

Major Angelo Toricelli was young and handsome and slim, none of which desirable adjectives fit his superior. "Amarillo's too far north," he said judiciously. "We don't have the men to hold the front from here to there."

Dowling eyed the map. If that wasn't the understatement of the year, it came in no worse than second runner-up. "Abilene, then," he said. It was the next town of any size, and it didn't lie that far east of Snyder.

"I suppose so." If Major Toricelli was eager to go after Abilene, he hid it very well. Dowling knew why, too. Even if the Eleventh Army captured Abilene…Well, so what? Taking it wouldn't bring the USA much closer to victory or do anything more than annoy the Confederates.

With a sigh, Dowling said, "We've pretty much shot our bolt, haven't we?"

"Unless they're going to reinforce us, yes, sir," his adjutant answered.

"Ha! Don't hold your breath," Dowling said. Hanging on to the men Eleventh Army had was hard enough.

"Maybe you'll get a new command, sir," Major Toricelli said hopefully.

"Sure. Maybe they'll send me to Baja California." Dowling's voice overflowed with false heartiness.

His adjutant winced. The USA had tried to take Baja California away from the Empire of Mexico during the last war, tried and failed. This time around, the United States seemed to have succeeded. And, having taken Baja California away from Mexico, what did the USA have? Baja California, and that was all: miles and miles and miles of the driest, most godforsaken terrain in the world.

Holding Baja California mattered for only one reason. It let the United States sit over the Confederates in Sonora. U.S. ships could block the outlet to the Gulf of California. U.S. airplanes in Baja California could easily strike the C.S. port at Guaymas. Of course, Confederate aircraft in Sonora could hit back at the warships and the air bases. They could, and they did. The luckless brigadier general in charge of that operation was welcome to it, as far as Abner Dowling was concerned.

"With what you've done here, you ought to get a command closer to the Schwerpunkt," Major Toricelli said.

"How about Sequoyah?" Dowling asked innocently.

That was closer to the center of things than west Texas, which didn't mean Toricelli didn't wince again anyhow. Sequoyah was a bloody mess, and probably would go on being one for years. Thanks to a large influx of settlers from the USA, it had voted not to rejoin the Confederacy in Al Smith's ill-advised plebiscite. But the Indian tribes in the east, who'd prospered under Confederate rule, hated the U.S. occupation. And most of the oil there lay under Indian-held land.

The oil fields had gone back and forth several times in this war. Whoever was retreating blew up what he could to deny the oil to the enemy. When the United States held the oil fields, Confederate raiders and their Indian stooges sabotaged whatever wasn't blown up. That led to U.S. reprisals, which led to bushwhacking, which led to hell in a handbasket.

"About the only thing we could do to make Sequoyah work would be to kill all the redskins in it." Dowling sighed. "And if we do that, how are we any better than the goddamn Confederates?"

"Those Indians really are fighting us," Toricelli said.

"Sure." Dowling's chins wobbled as he nodded. "But if you listen to Confederate wireless, you hear all the stories about the terrible wicked black guerrillas. Some of that's got to be bullshit, sure. But not all of it, because we both know the War Department helps the guerrillas when it can."

Major Toricelli looked unhappy, but he nodded. One of the reasons Dowling liked him was that he would look facts in the face, even when they were unpleasant.

As if on cue, a soldier from the signals unit stuck his head into the office and said, "Sir, we just got a message that needs decoding."

"I'll take care of it," Toricelli said, and hurried away. Dowling wondered what was going on. Eleventh Army wasn't important enough to receive a lot of encrypted transmissions. The Confederates were welcome to read most of the usual messages it did get.

"Well?" Dowling asked when his adjutant came back forty-five minutes later.

"Well, sir, we're ordered to step up air attacks against Abilene." Toricelli had the look of a man who'd gone hunting in the mountains and brought home a ridiculous mouse.

"We can do that," Dowling allowed. He even understood why the order was coded-no point to letting the Confederates haul in more antiaircraft guns to shoot down U.S. bombers. But, after what he and Toricelli were talking about, the order felt anticlimactic, to say the least.

Colonel Terry DeFrancis was one of the youngest officers of his rank in the Army. He was also one of the better ones; his fighters had established U.S. dominance in the air over west Texas. "Pound the crap out of Abilene?" he said when Dowling told him about the new order. "Sure. We can do that, sir. I'll step up the recon right away, so we know what we're up against."

"Step up the recon over other targets, too," Dowling said. "No use advertising what we're up to."

"Will do, sir," DeFrancis promised. "You're sneaky, you know that?"

"Well, I try." Dowling paused to light a cigarette. No two ways about it-Raleighs and Dukes beat the hell out of anything the USA made. And Confederate cigars…Reluctantly, Dowling brought his mind back to the business at hand. "That's one thing I had to pick up on my own. General Custer never much went in for being sneaky."

"What was it like serving under him?" Colonel DeFrancis asked.

"It wasn't dull, I'll tell you that. He always knew what he wanted to do, and he went ahead and did it." Dowling nodded. That was true, every word of it. It was also the sanitized, denatured version of his long association with the man who was, by his own modest admission, the greatest general in the history of the world. Dowling suspected he'd kept Custer from getting sacked several times. He also suspected he'd kept himself from getting court-martialed at least as often. But Terry didn't need to hear about that.

"Was he as much of an old Tartar as everybody says?" DeFrancis had already heard something, then.

"Well…yes." Dowling couldn't say no without making himself into a bigger liar than he wanted to be.

"But he won the war, pretty much. He got the job done. Morrell was under his orders when he used that armored thrust to roll up the Confederates and take Nashville."

"That's true." Dowling gave a reminiscent shiver. Custer and Morrell had gone against War Department orders to mass their barrels. Dowling himself had lied like Ananias, writing reports that denied they were doing any such thing. Had Philadelphia found out he was lying, or had the attack failed…The aftermath wouldn't have been pretty.

And it wasn't a sure thing, not ahead of time. A lot of Custer's straight-ahead charges at the enemy failed, and failed gruesomely. Dowling knew how nervous he was before the barrels crossed the Cumberland. If Custer had any doubts, he never showed them.

"You know, Colonel, he really is the hero of the last war. In an odd way, he's the hero of the whole first part of this century," Dowling said. "He knew what he wanted to do, and he found a way to make it work."

"We just have to go and do the same thing, then," DeFrancis said. "I expect we can." He saluted and hurried off.

Abner Dowling stubbed out his cigarette. He didn't have George Armstrong Custer's relentless drive, or even Terry DeFrancis'. He was a sane man in a business where the crazy and the obsessed often prospered. He hoped his ability to see all sides of a problem gave him an edge over commanders with tunnel vision. He hoped so, but he was a long way from sure it did.

Major Toricelli stuck his head into the office. "Sir, there's a local who wants to see you. His name is Jeffries, Falstaff Jeffries. He runs the big grocery on the edge of town."

"Has he been searched?" Dowling didn't want to talk to a people bomb, or even a fellow with a pistol in his pocket. But his adjutant nodded. So did Dowling. "All right. Send him in. You know what's eating him?"

"No, sir. But I expect he'll tell you."

Falstaff Jeffries didn't live up to his name. He was short and skinny and somber, nothing like Shakespeare's magnificent clown. He did have the virtue of coming straight to the point: "Where am I going to get more food, General?"

"Where were you getting it?" Dowling asked.

"From farther east. That's where everything comes from out here," Jeffries answered. "Except now I'm on the wrong side of the line. Folks're gonna start getting hungry pretty damn quick unless somebody does something about it."

"I don't think anyone will starve," Dowling said. "Plenty of rations, if it comes to that."

The storekeeper looked at him as if he'd just ordered no presents at Christmastime. "Rations." Jeffries made it into a swear word. "How in blazes am I supposed to run a business if you go around handing out free rations?"

"A minute ago, you were talking about people going hungry," Dowling reminded him. "Now you're flabbling about where your money's coming from. That's a different story, and it's not one I care much about."

"That's on account of you don't have to worry about feeding your family." Falstaff Jeffries eyed Dowling's expanse of belly. "You don't worry about feeding at all, do you?"

"I told you-nobody'll starve," Dowling said tightly. "Not you, not your family, and not me, either."

"But my store'll go under!" Jeffries wailed.

"There's a war on, in case you didn't notice," Dowling said. "You're alive, you're in one piece, your family's all right. Count your blessings."

Jeffries muttered something under his breath. Dowling wouldn't have sworn it was "Damnyankee," but he thought so. The grocer rose. "Well, I can see I won't get any help here."

"If you think I'll open our lines so your supplies can get through, you're even crazier than I give you credit for, and that's not easy," Dowling said.

Jeffries took a deep breath, then seemed to remember where he was and to whom he was talking. He left without another word, which was no doubt wise of him. Abner Dowling hadn't acted like a military tyrant in the west Texas territory Eleventh Army had conquered, but the temptation was always there. And, if he felt like it, so was the power.

L ieutenant-Colonel Jerry Dover was not a happy man. The Confederate supply officer had had to pull back again and again, and he'd had to wreck or burn too much that he couldn't take with him. His dealings with the higher-ups from whom he got his supplies, always touchy, approached the vitriolic now.

"What do you mean, you can't get me any more antibarrel rounds?" he shouted into a field telephone. Coming out of the restaurant business in Augusta, he was much too used to dealing with suppliers who welshed at the worst possible time. "What are the guns supposed to shoot at the Yankees? Aspirins? I got plenty of those."

"I can't give you what I don't have," replied the officer at the other end of the line. "Not as much getting into Atlanta as there ought to be these days."

Dover laughed a nasty, sarcastic laugh. "Well, when the U.S. soldiers come marching in, buddy, you'll know why. Have fun in prison camp."

"This is nothing to joke about, goddammit!" the other officer said indignantly.

"Who's joking?" Dover said. "Only reason they haven't gone in yet is, they don't want to have to fight us house to house. But if you don't get out pretty damn quick, they'll surround the place-and then you won't get out."

"General Patton says that won't happen," the other officer told him, as if Patton had a crystal ball and could see the future.

"Yeah, well, when a guy wants to lay a girl, he'll say he'll only stick it in halfway. You know what that's worth," Dover said. "You want to keep the Yankees away from your door, get me those shells."

"I don't have any I can release."

"Aha!" Jerry Dover pounced. "A minute ago you didn't have any at all. Cough up some of what you're holding out on me, or you'll be sorry-will you ever."

"If I do that, they'll put my tit in a wringer," the officer in Atlanta whined.

"If you don't, you'll get your ass shot off," Dover said. "And I'll tell all the front-line soldiers you're holding out on me. You can find out if our guys or the Yankees get you first. Doesn't that sound like fun?"

"You wouldn't!" The other officer sounded horrified.

"Damn right I would. I was in the trenches myself the last time around. I know how much real soldiers hate it when the quartermasters don't give 'em what they need to fight the war."

"I'll report your threats to General Patton's staff!"

"Yeah? And so?" Dover said cheerfully. "If they put me in the line, maybe I'm a little worse off than I am here, but not fuckin' much. If they throw me in the stockade or send me home, I'm safer than you are. Why don't you just send me the ammo instead? Don't you reckon it's easier all the way around?"

Instead of answering, the supply officer in Atlanta hung up on him. But Dover got the antibarrel ammunition. As far as he was concerned, nothing else really mattered. If the other man had to tell his superiors some lies about where it went, well, that was his problem, not Dover's.

Even with that shipment, the Confederates east of Atlanta kept getting driven back. Too many U.S. soldiers, too many green-gray barrels, too many airplanes with the eagle and crossed swords. If something didn't change in a hurry…If something doesn't change in a hurry, we've got another losing war on our hands, Dover thought.

He'd never been one who screamed, "Freedom!" at the top of his lungs and got a bulge in his pants whenever Jake Featherston started ranting. He'd voted Whig at every election where he could without putting himself in danger. But he had some idea what losing a second war to the USA would do to his country. He didn't want to see that happen-who in his right mind did? Following Featherston was bad. Not following him right now, Jerry Dover figured, would be worse.

He stepped away from the field telephone, shaking his head, not liking the tenor of his thoughts. How could anybody in the Confederacy have thoughts he liked right now? You had to be smoking cigarettes the Quartermaster Department didn't issue to believe things were going well.

Or you had to read the official C.S. Army newspaper. A quartermaster sergeant named Pete handed Dover a copy of the latest issue. It was fresh from the press; he could still smell the ink, and it smudged his fingers as he flipped through The Armored Bear.

If you looked at what the reporters there said, everything was wonderful. Enemy troops were about to get blasted out of Georgia. A shattering defeat that will pave the way for the liberation of Tennessee and Kentucky, the paper called it. The Armored Bear didn't say how or when it would happen, though. Soldiers who weren't in Georgia might buy that. Jerry Dover would believe it when he saw it.

The Armored Bear spent half a column laughing at the idea that the damnyankees could threaten Birmingham. This industrial center continues to turn out arms for victory, some uniformed reporter wrote. A year earlier, the idea of U.S. soldiers anywhere near Birmingham really would have been laughable. C.S. troops were battering their way into Pittsburgh. They went in, yes, but they didn't come out. Now the story sounded more as if the writer were whistling his way past the graveyard. Had the Yankees wanted to turn on Birmingham, it would have fallen. Dover was sure of that. They thought Atlanta was more important, and they had the sense not to try to do two things at the same time when they could make sure of one.

Photos of night-fighter pilots with gaudy new medals on their chests adorned the front page. The story under the photos bragged of air victories over Richmond, Atlanta, Birmingham, Vicksburg, and Little Rock. That was all very well, but why were U.S. bombers over all those towns?

And another story bragged of long-range rockets hitting Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (not a word about the great battle there the year before), and Nashville (not a word that Nashville was a Confederate city, either).

There is no defense against these weapons of vengeance. Traveling thousands of miles an hour, they strike powerful blows against the Yankee aggressors, the paper said. Soon improved models will reach New York, Boston, Indianapolis, and other U.S. centers that imagine themselves to be safe. Confederate science in the cause of freedom is irresistible.

Jerry Dover thoughtfully read that story over again. Unlike some of the others, it told no obvious lies. He hoped it was true. If the Confederates could pound the crap out of U.S. targets without wasting precious pilots and bombers, they might make the enemy say uncle. It struck him as the best chance they had, anyway.

On an inside page was a story about a football game between guards and U.S. POWs down at Andersonville, south of Atlanta. A photo showed guards and prisoners in football togs. Dover thought the piece was a failure. So what if the guards won? If they were healthy enough to play football, why the hell weren't they healthy enough to fight?

Maybe that wasn't fair. And maybe the guards had pull that kept them away from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Dover knew which way he'd bet.

The story almost pissed him off enough to make him crumple up the paper and throw it away. Almost, but not quite. One thing in chronically short supply was toilet paper. Wiping his butt with the football-playing guards struck him as the best revenge he could get.

Later, he asked if Pete had seen the story about the Andersonville football game. The noncom looked disgusted. "Oh, hell, yes," he answered. "Closest those bastards ever get to real Yankees, ain't it?"

"Looks that way to me," Dover said. "I wondered if you saw things the same."

"Usually some pretty good stuff in The Armored Bear," Pete said. "Shitheads who turn it out fucked up this time, though."

Maybe he imagined soldiers-sergeants like himself, say-sitting around a table deciding what to put into the Army newspaper. Dover would have bet things didn't work like that. The writers likely got their orders from somebody in the Department of Communications, maybe in a soldier's uniform but probably in a Party one. Everything in the paper was professionally smooth. Everything made the war and the news look as good as they could, or a little better than that. No amateur production could have been so effective…most of the time.

But when the truth stared you in the face, what a paper said stopped mattering so much. "Reckon we can stop the damnyankees?" Pete asked. "If we don't, seems like we're in a whole peck o' trouble."

"Looks that way to me, too," Dover answered. "If they take Atlanta…Well, that's pretty bad."

We should have stopped them in front of Chattanooga, he thought glumly. Now that they're through the gap and into Georgia, they can go where they please. The paratroop drop that seized Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge from the Confederates and made them evacuate Chattanooga was a smart, gutsy operation. Dover admired it while wishing his side hadn't been on the receiving end.

When night fell, he slept in a tent with a foxhole right next to it. U.S. bombers came over at night even more often than in the daytime. The heavy drone of engines overhead sent him diving into the hole even before the alarm sounded. Bombs burst with heavy thuds that reminded him of earthquakes. He'd never been in any earthquakes, but he was sure they had to be like this.

Antiaircraft guns thundered and lightninged, filling the air with the sharp stink of smokeless powder. Dover listened hopefully for the concussive thud of stricken bombers smashing into the ground, but in that he was disappointed. Fewer bombs fell close by than he expected from the number of airplanes overhead, which didn't disappoint him a bit.

Then something fluttered down from the sky like an oversized snowflake and landed on top of his head. He grabbed the sheet of cheap pulp paper. The flash of the guns showed him a large U.S. flag, printed in full color, with text below that he couldn't make out in the darkness and without his reading glasses.

"More propaganda," he murmured with a sigh of relief. If the damnyankees wanted to drop their lies instead of high explosives, he didn't mind a bit. Had that been a bomb falling on his head…

He stuck the sheet into a trouser pocket and forgot he had it till the next morning. Only when it crinkled as he moved did he remember and take it out for a look.

Confederate soldiers, your cause is lost! it shouted, and went on from there. It urged him to save his life by coming through the lines holding up the picture of the Stars and Stripes. Maybe U.S. soldiers wouldn't shoot him if he did that, but it struck him as a damn good recipe for getting shot by his own side.

If his own side's propaganda was bad, the enemy's was worse. Look at the disaster Jake Featherston has led you into. Don't you want true freedom for your country? it said. All Jerry Dover wanted-all most Confederates wanted-was to see the Yankees go away and leave his country alone. They didn't seem to understand that. If the sheets falling from the sky meant anything, they thought they were liberators.

"My ass," Jerry Dover said, as if he had a U.S. propaganda writer in the tent with him. The United States had invaded the Confederate States four times in the past eighty years. If they thought they'd be welcomed with anything but bayonets, they were even bigger fools than Dover gave them credit for-not easy but not, he supposed, impossible.

And if the Confederates wanted to change their government, they could take care of it on their own. All the bodyguards in the world wouldn't keep Jake Featherston alive for long if enough people decided he needed killing. No Yankees had to help.

Dover started to chuck the propaganda sheet, then changed his mind. "My ass," he said one more time, now happily, and put it back in his pocket. As with the story in The Armored Bear, he could treat it as it deserved.

N ovember in the North Atlantic wasn't so bad as January or February, but it was bad enough. The Josephus Daniels rode out one big swell after another. On the destroyer escort's bridge, Sam Carsten felt as if he were on God's seesaw. Up and down, up and down, up and down forever.

"You still have that hydrophone contact?" he shouted down the speaking tube to Vince Bevacqua.

"Yes, sir, sure do," the chief petty officer answered. "Coming in as clear as you can expect with waves like this."

"All right, then. Let's give the submersible two ashcans," Sam said. "That'll bring it to the surface where we can deal with it."

He shouted the order over the PA system. The launcher crew at the Josephus Daniels' bow sent the depth charges flying into the ocean one at a time, well ahead of the ship. They were set to detonate not far below the surface. Sam felt the explosions through the soles of his feet.

Something rude came out of the speaking tube. "Had my earphones on when the first one burst," Bevacqua said. "That'll clean your sinuses from the inside out." He paused, then went on, "The sub's making noises like it's blowing water out of its dive chambers. Ought to be coming to the surface."

"We'll be ready for anything," Carsten promised.

And the destroyer escort was. Both four-inchers bore on the submarine when it surfaced. So did several of the the ship's twin 40mm antiaircraft guns and her.50-caliber machine guns. A swell washed over the sub's bow-and almost washed over the conning tower, too. This weather was tough to take in the Josephus Daniels. It had to be ten times worse in a submersible.

Sailors ran up a flag on the sub: the white, black, and red jack of the Imperial German Navy. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. "This is the one we're supposed to meet, all right," he said.

"So it would seem, sir," Lieutenant Myron Zwilling agreed. Sam wished he had more use for the exec. Zwilling was brave enough and more than willing enough, but he had all the warmth and character of an old, sour-smelling rag. Men obeyed him because he wore two stripes on his sleeve, not because he made them want to.

The submersible's signal lamp started flashing Morse. "We-have-your-package," Sam read slowly. "He knows English, then. Good."

He handled the destroyer escort's blinker himself. WILL APPROACH FOR PICKUP, he sent back.

COME AHEAD. BE CAREFUL IN THESE SEAS, the sub signaled.

Sam wished Pat Kelly were still aboard. But his old exec had a ship of his own, a newer, faster ship than the Josephus Daniels. He was probably showing his whole crew what a demon shiphandler he was. Sam wasn't, and never would be. Neither was Zwilling. Since he wasn't, Sam kept the conn himself.

As he steered closer to the submersible, he ordered Bevacqua to keep paying close attention to any echoes that came back from his hydrophone pings. The CPO laughed mirthlessly. "Oh, I'm on it, Skipper. Don't you worry about that," he said. "It's my neck, too, after all."

"Good," Sam said. "Long as you remember."

German subs weren't the only ones prowling the North Atlantic. Plenty of U.S. boats were out here, too. More to the point, so were British, French, and Confederate submarines. The odds against any one of them being in the neighborhood were long, but so were the odds against filling an inside straight, and lucky optimists did that every day.

In both the Great War and this one, U.S. admirals and their German counterparts dreamt of sweeping the British and French fleets from the North Atlantic and joining hands in the middle. It hadn't happened then, and it wouldn't happen this time around, either. The enemy kept the two allies apart, except for sneaky meetings like this one.

NEAR ENOUGH, the submersible's captain signaled. But Sam steered closer, anticipating the next swell with a small motion of the wheel. The sub's skipper waved to him then, seeing that he knew what he was doing. He lifted one hand from the wheel to wave back. THROW A LINE, came the flashes from the ugly, deadly, rust-streaked boat.

IS THE PACKAGE WATERPROOF? Sam asked.

JA, the submersible skipper answered. Sam knew more German than that; his folks had spoken it on the farm where he grew up. He ordered a line thrown. A German sailor in a greasy pea jacket and dungarees ran along the sub's wet hull to retrieve it. Sam wouldn't have cared to do that, not with the boat pitching the way it was. But the man grabbed the line, carried it back to the conning tower, and climbed the iron ladder, nimble as a Barbary ape.

The German skipper tied the package, whatever it was, to the end of the line. Then he waved to the Josephus Daniels. The sailor who'd cast the line drew it back hand over hand. When he took the package off it, he waved up to Sam Carsten on the bridge.

After waving back, Sam got on the blinker again: WE HAVE IT. THANKS AND GOOD LUCK.

LIKEWISE FOR YOU, the German answered. He lifted his battered cap in salute. Then he and the other men on the conning tower disappeared into the dark, smelly depths of the submersible. The boat slid below the surface and was gone.

A moment later, the sailor brought the package-which was indeed wrapped in oilskins and sheet rubber, and impressively sealed-up to the bridge. "Here you go, sir," he said, handing it to Sam and saluting.

"Thanks, Enos," Carsten answered. The sailor hurried away.

"Now into the safe?" the exec asked.

"That's what my orders are," Sam agreed.

"Wonder why the brass are making such a fuss about it," said Thad Walters, the Y-ranging officer.

"Beats me," Sam answered with a grin. "They pay me not to ask questions like that, so I'm going to lock this baby up right now. Mr. Zwilling, come to my cabin with me so you can witness that I've done it. Mr. Walters, you have the conn." Having a witness was in the orders, too. He'd never had anything on board before that came with such tight security requirements.

"Aye aye, sir." The exec's voice stayed formal, but he sounded more pleased than otherwise. Red tape was meat and drink to him. He would have done better manning a desk ashore and counting turbine vanes than as second-in-command on a warship, but the Navy couldn't fit all its pegs into the perfect holes. You did the best you could in the slot they gave you-and, if you happened to be the skipper, you did the best you could with the men set under you. If they weren't all the ones you would have chosen yourself…Well, there was a war on.

Sam's cabin wasn't far from the bridge. It wasn't much wider than his own wingspan, but it gave him a tiny island of privacy when he needed one. Along with his bed-which he didn't get to use enough-he had a steel desk and a steel chair and the safe.

He shielded it with his body as he spun the combination so the exec couldn't see it: more orders. The metal door swung open. "I am putting the package in the safe," he intoned, and did just that. "The seals are unbroken."

"Sir, I have observed you doing so," Myron Zwilling said, like a man giving responses to a preacher in church. "And I confirm that the seals are unbroken."

"All right, then. I'm closing up." Sam did, and spun the lock once more to keep it from showing the last number.

"Now we go back to Boston?" the exec said.

"Just as fast as our little legs will carry us," Sam replied. Zwilling gave him a look of faint distaste. Sam sighed silently; if the exec was born with a sense of whimsy, he'd had it surgically removed as a kid. And the Josephus Daniels' legs were indeed little. She couldn't make better than about twenty-four knots, far slower than a real destroyer. The only reason that occurred to Carsten for picking her for this mission was that she was one of the most anonymous ships in the Navy. The enemy wouldn't pay much attention to her. If he didn't command her, he wouldn't pay much attention to her himself. As they left the cabin, Sam added, "I am locking the door behind me."

"Yes, sir," Zwilling said. "You're also supposed to post two armed guards outside until you remove-whatever it is-from the safe."

"Go get two men. Serve them out with submachine guns from the arms locker and bring them back here. I'll stand guard in the meantime," Sam said. "If Jake Featherston's hiding under the paint somewhere, I'll do my goddamnedest to hold him off till you get back with the reinforcements."

"Er-yes, sir." The exec seemed relieved to get away.

This time, Sam sighed out loud. Pat would have sassed him right back instead of taking everything so seriously. Well, what could you do?

Before long, the armed guards took their places in front of the door to the captain's quarters. Sam went back to the bridge. "I have the conn," he announced as he took the wheel from Walters. "I am changing course to 255. We are on our way back to Boston." He rang the engine room. "All ahead full."

"All ahead full. Aye aye, sir." The response came back through a speaking tube. The black gang would wring every knot they could from the Josephus Daniels. The only trouble was, she didn't have many knots to wring.

Every mile Sam put between himself and the spot where he'd met the U-boat eased his mind. That it also meant he was one mile closer to his own country did nothing to make him unhappy, either. He wanted nothing more than to get…whatever it was out of his safe and off his ship. He didn't like having men with automatic weapons outside his door at all hours of the day and night. Were it up to him, he would have been much more casual about the mysterious package. But it wasn't, so he followed orders.

He also followed orders in maintaining wireless silence till he got within sight of Cape Ann, northeast of Boston. A couple of patrolling U.S. seaplanes had already spotted him by then and, he supposed, sent their own wireless signals, but nobody-especially not his exec-would be able to say he hadn't done everything the brass told him to do.

Two Coast Guard cutters steamed out from Rockport and escorted the Josephus Daniels across Massachusetts Bay as if she had royalty on board. Sam didn't think the Germans could have dehydrated the Kaiser and stuffed him into that flat package, but you never could tell.

When a pilot came aboard to steer the destroyer escort through the minefields outside of Boston harbor, Sam greeted him with, "The powers that be won't like it if you pick the wrong time to sneeze."

The pilot had flaming red hair, ears that stuck out like jug handles, and an engagingly homely grin. "My wife won't like it, either, sir," he answered, "and that counts a hell of a lot more with me."

"Sounds like the right attitude," Sam allowed. Myron Zwilling clucked like a fretful mother hen. Yes, he worshipped at Authority's shrine.

They got through the invisible barricade and tied up in the Boston Navy Yard. As soon as they did, a swarm of Marines and high-ranking officers descended on them. One of the captains nodded when he saw the guards outside Sam's door. "As per instructions," he said.

"Yes, sir," Sam said, and when was that ever the wrong answer?

Everybody waited impatiently till he opened the safe and took out the package. He wondered what would happen if he pretended to forget the combination. Odds were the newcomers had somebody who could jigger the lock faster than he could open it with the numbers.

"Here you go, sir." He handed the package to a vice admiral. "Any chance I'll ever know what this is all about?"

"No," the man said at once. But then he unbent a little: "Not officially, anyhow. If you can add two and two, you may get a hint one day."

Even that little was more than Carsten expected. "All right, sir," he said.

"Officially, of course, none of this ever happened," the vice admiral went on. "We aren't here at all."

"How am I supposed to log that, sir? 'Possessed by ghosts-summoned exorcist'?" Sam said. The vice admiral laughed. So did Sam, who was kidding on the square.

II

Camp Humble wasn't perfect, but it came as close as Jefferson Pinkard could make it. The commandant probably had more experience with camps designed to get rid of people than anybody else in the business. One thing he'd learned was not to call it that or even think of it like that. Reducing population was a phrase with far fewer unpleasant associations.

That mattered. It mattered a surprising amount. Guards who brooded about the things they did had a way of eating their guns or otherwise doing themselves in. If you gave it a name that seemed innocuous, they didn't need to brood so much.

Back at Camp Dependable, outside of Alexandria, Louisiana, guards had actually taken Negroes out into the swamps and shot them. That was hard on the men-not as hard as it was on the Negroes, but hard enough. Things got better when Jeff thought of asphyxiating trucks. Then the guards didn't have to pull the trigger themselves. They didn't have to deal with blood spraying everywhere and with screams and with men who weren't quite dead. All they had to do was take out bodies and get rid of them. That was a hell of a lot easier.

And the poison-gas chambers he'd started at Camp Determination in west Texas were better yet. They got rid of more blacks faster than the trucks did, and saved on fuel besides. The prairie out by Snyder offered plenty of room for mass graves as big as anybody could want. Everything at Camp Determination would have been, if not perfect, at least pretty damn good, if not for the…

"Damnyankees," Pinkard muttered. "God fry the stinking damnyankees in their own grease." Who would have figured the U.S. Army would push into west Texas? One of the reasons for building Camp Determination way out there was that it was the ass end of nowhere. The enemy hadn't seemed likely to bother a camp there.

But the Freedom Party underestimated how much propaganda the USA could get out of the camps. And earlier this year the United States had attacked everywhere they could, all at once: not seriously, but hard enough to keep the CSA from reinforcing the defenders in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the real action was. And it worked. Kentucky and Tennessee were lost, and Georgia was in trouble.

And Camp Determination was lost, too. The United States had bombed the rail lines coming into the camp so it couldn't reduce population the way it was supposed to. And they'd also bombed the crap out of Snyder; Jeff thanked God his own family came through all right. The Confederate defenders finally had to pull back, so now the Yankees had all the atrocity photos they wanted.

And Jefferson Pinkard had Camp Humble. Humble, Texas, just north of Houston, lay far enough east that the United States wouldn't overrun it unless the Confederacy really went down the drain. The USA had a much harder time bombing the rail lines that came through here, too. So Negroes came in, they got into trucks that took them nowhere except to death, or they went into bathhouses that pumped out cyanide instead of hot water. After that, they went up in smoke. Literally.

Pinkard scowled. The crematorium wasn't up to snuff. The outfit that built it had sold the CSA a bill of goods. The smoke that billowed from the tall stacks stank of burnt meat. It left greasy soot wherever it touched. Sometimes bits of real flesh went up the stacks and came down a surprising distance away. You couldn't very well keep Camp Humble's purpose a secret with a thing like that stinking up the air for miles around.

Somebody knocked on the door to Jeff 's office. "It's open," he called. "Come on in." A guard with a worried look obeyed. Guards who came into the commandant's office almost always wore a worried look; they wouldn't have been there if they didn't have something to worry about. "Well?" Jeff asked.

"Sir, we got us a nigger says he knows you," the guard said.

"And you waste my time with that shit?" Pinkard said scornfully. "Christ on a crutch, McIlhenny, it happens once a trainload. Either these coons know me or they're asshole buddies with the President, one. Like anybody'd be dumb enough to believe 'em."

"Sir, this here nigger's named Vespasian," McIlhenny said. "Says you and him and another coon named, uh, Agrippa used to work together at the Sloss Works in Birmingham. Reckon he's about your age, anyways."

"Well, fuck me," Jeff said in surprise.

"He's telling the truth?" the gray-uniformed guard asked.

"I reckon maybe he is," Jeff said. "The last war, they started using niggers more in factory jobs when white men got conscripted. I did work with those two, hell with me if I didn't."

"We didn't send him on right away," McIlhenny said. "Wanted to find out what you had in mind first. You want, we can get rid of him. Or if you want to see him, we can do that, too."

"Vespasian." Jefferson Pinkard's voice was far away. He hadn't thought about Vespasian in years. Sometimes the years he'd put in at the steel mill seemed to have happened to someone else, or in a different lifetime. But he said, "Yeah, I'll talk to him. He wasn't a bad nigger-not uppity or anything. And he worked pretty hard."

"We were gonna put him in a truck," the guard said. If they had, Vespasian wouldn't be seeing anybody this side of the Pearly Gates. He looked apprehensive. Asphyxiating somebody the commandant really knew wouldn't do wonders for your career.

"Well, I'm glad you didn't." Pinkard heaved his bulk out of the chair behind his desk. A lot of fat padded the hard muscles he'd got working in the foundry. He grabbed a submachine gun off a wall bracket and made sure the drum magazine that fed it was full. If Vespasian had some sort of revenge in mind, he wouldn't go on a truck after all. Instead, he'd get ventilated on the spot. "Take me to him. He in the holding area?"

"Sure is, sir," the guard answered. Camp Humble had one, to give the guards the chance to deal with prisoners who were dangerous or just unusual.

"You searched him?" Jeff took nothing for granted. Some of the people who worked for him were dumb as rocks.

But the guard nodded. "Sure did, sir. Up the ass and everything." He made a face. "He ain't got nothin'."

"All right, then," Jeff said. It sounded as if the men in gray were on the ball this time.

When they got to the holding area, he found two more guards aiming assault rifles at Vespasian. One of them blinked. "Be damned," he said. "This mangy old coon wasn't blowing smoke, then?"

Vespasian wasn't exactly mangy, but he was only a shadow of the burly buck who'd worked alongside Jefferson Pinkard half a lifetime earlier. He was gray-haired and scrawny, and looked like a man who'd been through hell. If his train ride from Birmingham to Camp Humble was like most, he had. A powerful stench clung to him. He hadn't washed in a long time, and hadn't always made it to a toilet or a slop bucket, either.

He nodded to Jeff not as one equal to another, but as a man who knew another man, anyhow. "Really is you, Mistuh Pinkard," he said, his voice desert-dry and rough. "Been a hell of a long time, ain't it?"

"Sure as hell has," Jeff answered. He turned to the guards. "Get him some water. Reckon he can use it."

"Do Jesus! You right about that," Vespasian croaked. When the water came-in a pail, not a glass-he drank and drank. How long had he gone without? Days, plainly. And when he said, "That was mighty fine," he sounded much more like his old self.

"What ever happened to that no-account cousin of yours or whatever the hell he was?" Jeff asked. "You know the one I mean-the guy they threw in jail. What the hell was his name?"

"You mean Leonidas?" Vespasian said, and Jeff nodded. The black man went on, "They let him out after the las' war was over-decided he weren't no danger to the country or nobody else. He kept his nose clean afterwards. Got married, had a couple chillun. Died o' TB a little befo' the new war start."

"How about that?" Jeff said. "I plumb lost touch with Birmingham lately." He hesitated, then waved the guards away. "I'll be all right, dammit," he told them. "I got a gun, and he ain't dumb enough to give me no trouble." They didn't like it, but the man who made the rules could break them, too. When the guards were out of earshot, Jeff asked Vespasian, "Ever hear what happened to that gal I used to be married to?"

"Yes, suh." Vespasian nodded. "She went downhill pretty bad. Got to drinkin' an' carryin' on with men. Ain't heard nothin' 'bout her in a while, though. Dunno if she's alive or dead."

"Huh." Jeff 's grunt was more self-satisfied than anything else. Run around on him, would Emily? Whatever she got after he cut her loose served her right, as far as he was concerned. "Bitch," he muttered under his breath. "Probably had a goddamn taxi meter between her legs."

Vespasian either didn't catch that or had the sense to pretend he didn't. He lifted the pail to his mouth again. Pinkard tensed. If he threw it…But he set it down and wiped his mouth on his filthy sleeve. "Ask you somethin' now, suh?"

"Go ahead," Jeff told him.

"What you do with me, now that I'm here?"

"You give people trouble?"

"Now, Mistuh Pinkard, you know I ain't like that," Vespasian said reproachfully.

"I sure do." Jeff nodded. "I told McIlhenny the same thing when he said you were asking for me. So you just stay in the barracks and do like the guards tell you, and everything'll be fine."

"Sure weren't fine comin' here." Vespasian didn't sound as if he believed a word of it. He was nobody's fool, evidently. Jeff knew what kind of lies he was telling. He didn't have anything against Vespasian as a man, but he didn't have the kind of affection for him that would have made him want to keep his former coworker around in defiance of the rules. The rules said the Confederacy needed to get rid of blacks. They caused the country more trouble than they were worth. From everything Jefferson Pinkard had seen, that was the gospel truth. And it was just Vespasian's hard luck that he'd finally wound up at Camp Humble.

So Jeff shrugged and spread his hands and went right on lying. "I am sorry about that, honest to God. Wish it could've been better. But there's a war on." That was the handy-dandy excuse for anything these days.

"Ain't no reason to leave a man in his own filth. Ain't no reason to have people die on the way to this here place," Vespasian said. "What's gonna happen to us all now that we's here?" Fear and apprehension roughened his voice.

"You got to remember, this is nothin' but a transit camp," Jeff said-one more lie piled on all the others. "You'll get some food, you'll get cleaned up, and we'll send you on the way again." And so they would, on a journey from which Vespasian wouldn't come back. "Then you'll sit out the war somewhere else. Once we're done licking the damnyankees, I reckon you'll go on back to Birmingham. We'll sort all that shit out then."

"I got to wait till we lick the USA, reckon I'll be at that other camp forever," Vespasian said.

The gibe held much more truth than Jeff wished it did. It also played on his own fears. He tried not to show that, but he did call the guards back. "Take him off to the barracks that's scheduled for the bathhouse next," he told them. "Once he gets cleaned up, we'll go from there."

"Yes, sir," the guards chorused. One of them nudged Vespasian. "Come on. You heard the boss. Get moving."

Away Vespasian went. Did he know Jeff had just ordered him liquidated? Pretty soon, he'd go up the crematorium stack, one more smudge of soot in a system that didn't work as well as advertised. Jeff might have found a lesson there had he been looking for one. Since he wasn't, he didn't worry about it. He had a job to do, and he aimed to keep at it till it was done.

C ongresswoman Flora Blackford was sick to death of war. She didn't know of anyone in the USA who wasn't. But she also didn't know of anyone except a few fools and lunatics who wanted to make peace with the Confederate States and Jake Featherston. There'd been more doubt and disagreement during the Great War. Had the European powers patched up a peace then, odds were the USA and CSA would have done the same. Now…The one thing Featherston had done was unify the United States-against him. No arguments about workers' solidarity now, not even from the hardcore wing of the Socialist Party. Getting rid of the enemy came first.

Her secretary stuck her head into Flora's inner office. "The Assistant Secretary of War is on the line, Congresswoman," she said.

"Thank you, Bertha. Put him through," Flora said.

She picked up the telephone on her desk even before the first ring finished. "Hello, Flora," Franklin Roosevelt boomed. "How are you this lovely morning?"

Flora looked out the masking-taped window. It was pouring rain, and the weatherman said there was a chance of sleet tonight. Winter hadn't got to Philadelphia, but you could see it coming. Roosevelt's office down in the bowels of the War Department was only a few blocks from hers. "Have you been down there so long you've forgotten it's not July any more?" she asked.

He chuckled merrily. "Well, you can see when you come over."

Telephone lines coming out of the War Department and the Congressional office building were supposed to be the most secure in the USA. Saying too much over them wasn't a good idea anyhow. Roosevelt had something interesting, though. Flora was sure of that. "On my way," she told him, and hung up.

Had the weather been halfway decent, she would have walked. As things were, she flagged a cab. Even the short ride showed her a couple of hits from the new Confederate rockets. They were aiming at the center of government, but weren't especially accurate; they fell all over Philadelphia. No warning was possible. The only thing you could do to stay safe was to be somewhere else when they came down.

"Ain't they terrible? Ain't they wicked?" said the cab driver, a middle-aged woman. "How come we don't got nothin' like that?"

"I expect we're working on them." Flora wasn't exactly giving away military secrets by admitting that.

"We shoulda done it first," the cabby said. "Blow them Confederate bastards to kingdom come without our boys gettin' hurt."

"That would be good." Flora thought of her own son. Joshua was in basic training now. Pretty soon, if the war didn't end first, they'd give him a rifle and turn him loose on the enemy. The enemy, unfortunately, had rifles-among other things-too.

Flora paid the driver, opened the cab's door, opened her umbrella, and splashed up the broad stairs to the entrance to the War Department. She didn't get very wet, but she didn't exactly stay dry, either. At the entrance, soldiers examined her ID with remorseless care before letting her in. She didn't get very far in even then, not at first. A hard-faced woman frisked her in a sandbagged revetment that could blunt the force of a people bomb. Only then did a private with peach fuzz escort her down, down, down to Franklin Roosevelt's office.

"You look like something the cat dragged in," the Assistant Secretary of War exclaimed. "Can I fix you a drink? Purely medicinal, of course."

"Of course," Flora said, deadpan. "Thanks. I'd love one."

The medicinal alcohol turned out to be some fine scotch. "Confiscated from a British freighter," Roosevelt explained. "I arranged for a friend of mine in the Navy Department to get some good Tennessee sipping whiskey, and this is how he scratched my back."

"Nice to have friends," Flora said. "I like scotch better, too."

"I still owe him a little something, or maybe not such a little something," Roosevelt said. "The Navy's been nice to us lately."

"Has it?" Flora said. When Roosevelt nodded, she went on, "Does that have something to do with why you called me over?"

He beamed at her. "I knew you were smart. It sure does. A few days ago, one of our destroyer escorts met the U-517 somewhere in the North Atlantic. The Navy and the Germans worked out just where. It doesn't matter anyhow, except that they did meet. The skipper of the submersible passed a package to the skipper of the Josephus Daniels-that's the destroyer escort. Our ship brought the package in to Boston, and now we've got it."

"What is it?" Flora asked. "Something to do with uranium, unless I'm crazy."

"Right the first time," Franklin Roosevelt agreed. "We finally managed to talk the Kaiser into letting us know just how far along the Germans are."

"And?"

"And they're ahead of us. Well, no surprise-most of the top nuclear physicists come from Germany or Austria-Hungary, and Bohr from Denmark is working for them, too," Roosevelt said. "But this will speed us up. I don't know all the details yet. Our people are still trying to figure out what the details are, if you know what I mean. It's good news, though."

"Sounds like it," Flora said. "Have we got any good news about these Confederate rockets?"

"Not much." Roosevelt's jaunty smile slipped. When it did, she could see how worn and weary he was. He looked like a man busy working himself to death. She couldn't even say anything, because he was far from the only one doing the same thing. He paused to light a cigarette and suck in smoke through the holder he liked to use. "About all we can do is bomb their launchers, and they've made them portable, so the damn things-excuse me-aren't easy to find."

"And in the meantime we sit here and take it," Flora said. "Can we bomb the factories where they make the rockets?"

"When we find 'em, we'll bomb 'em," Roosevelt promised. "I wish the Confederates would paint Rocket Factory on the roof in big letters. It sure would make reconnaissance a lot easier. We do keep plugging away."

"I'm so glad," Flora murmured, which made Roosevelt laugh. "What about the town where they're working on uranium? Are we still giving it the once-over?"

"Every chance we get," he replied. "They've got antiaircraft fire like you wouldn't believe all around Lexington-oops. Pretend you didn't hear that."

"Pretend I didn't hear what?" Flora said, and Franklin Roosevelt laughed again.

"Yeah, the flak is thick enough to land on, the pilots say," he continued, "and they put night fighters in the air, too. They've quit pretending it's not important. They know we know it is, and they're doing their best to keep us away."

"I take it their best isn't good enough?"

The Assistant Secretary of War shook his strong-jawed head. "Not even close. We're punishing them-that's the only word for it. I happen to know their boss researcher went to Richmond not long ago to squall like a branded calf. I wish I would have found out sooner. I might have tried to arrange to put him out of action for good."

"You have people in Richmond who can arrange that?" Flora asked with faint, or maybe not so faint, distaste. The Confederates made a policy of rubbing out U.S. officers they found dangerous. Turnabout was fair play, but even so…"War is a filthy business."

"It sure is. And the only thing worse than a war is a lost war. Two of those a lifetime ago almost ruined the country forever," Roosevelt said. "So, yes, there are people who would have tried to make sure Professor So-and-So never stood up in front of a blackboard again. No guarantees, of course, but we would have had a go at it."

"Would killing him make that much difference to the Confederate war effort?"

"No way to be sure, but we think so. He gets almost anything he wants when it comes to money and equipment. They know how important a uranium bomb is for them. If they get it first, they can still lick us. If they don't, we'll knock them flat and then we'll start kicking them."

"Alevai," Flora said. Roosevelt looked quizzical; no reason he should know Yiddish. She explained: "It means something like hopefully or God willing."

"He'd better be willing. If He's not, He's as sleepy as Elijah said Baal was," Roosevelt said. "They need licking, dammit. That Camp Determination turned out to be even worse than you said. I hadn't imagined it could, but there you are. What General Dowling found would gag a maggot. It really would."

Flora resisted the impulse to shout, I told you so! She had, over and over again, but it was too late to do anything about that now. Instead, she said, "It's not the only camp they're running. They've got plenty more, from east Texas to Alabama. If we can wreck the rail lines going into them, we slow the slaughter, anyhow."

"We're doing some of that," Roosevelt said. "It's not our top priority, I admit. Beating the enemy in the field is. But we're doing what we can." He clicked his tongue between his teeth. "With all the effort the Confederate States are putting into the camps, I think Featherston would just as soon kill off his Negroes as beat us. If that's not insane, it's certainly strange."

"Depends on how you look at things," Flora replied. "Even if they lose, the Negroes will still be gone for good. And the Freedom Party thinks it is good."

"If they lose, the Freedom Party is gone for good. I don't think they've figured that out yet," Roosevelt said grimly. "If they lose, chances are the Confederate States of America are gone for good, too. I'm sure those goons haven't figured that out yet."

"What do we do with them?" Flora asked. "Can we occupy everything from the border of Alaska all the way to the Rio Grande?"

"Can we not?" Roosevelt returned, and she had no good answer for him.

"What we got from the Germans really will help us build our bomb?" she said. He was bound to be right about one thing: winning came first.

"The physicists say it will. They're right more often than they're wrong, seems like. They'd better be, anyhow," Roosevelt said. "I just pray some British or French sub hasn't carried papers like that to the Confederacy."

"Oy!" That dismayed Flora into Yiddish again. "That would be terrible!"

"It sure would," Roosevelt said. "And the Confederates have something to trade for it, too. I bet the English and the French would just love to shoot rockets way into Germany."

"Oy!" Flora repeated. "What can we do about it?"

"Sink all the submersibles we can, and hope we get the one that's packed full of secret plans," Roosevelt answered. "And yes, I know-what are the odds? But we can't very well tell the enemy not to help their allies. That would make them more likely to do it, not less."

"I'm afraid you're right," Flora said after thinking it over. She sighed. "When we broke into Georgia, I thought the war was as good as won. But it'll come right down to the wire, won't it?"

"Maybe not. Maybe we'll just knock them flat," the Assistant Secretary of War said. "But they've got some rabbits they could pull out of the hat. We'll do everything we can to steal the hat or burn it, but if they hang on to it…Last time around, we could see we'd win months before we finally did. Not so easy to be sure now. That's not for public consumption, of course. Officially, everything's just fine."

"Officially, everything's always fine. Officially, everything was fine when the Confederates were driving on Lake Erie to cut us in half," Flora said.

"Can't go around saying things are bad and we're losing. People might believe us."

"Why? They don't believe us when we tell them everything's just fine. By now, they must figure we lie to them all the time." Flora listened to herself with something approaching horror. Had she really turned so cynical? She feared she had.

T he British ambassador is here to see you, Mr. President," Jake Featherston's secretary announced.

"Thanks, Lulu. Send him in," the President of the CSA said.

Lord Halifax was tall and thin, with a long bald head and a pinched mouth and jaw. He reminded Jake of a walking thermometer, bulb uppermost. No matter what he looked like, though, no denying he was one sharp bird. "Mr. President," he murmured in an accent almost a caricature of an upper-class Englishman's.

"Good to see you, Your Excellency." Featherston held out his hand. Halifax shook it. His grip wasn't the dead fish you would expect. The President waved him to a chair. "Have a seat. Glad you came through the last raid all right."

"Our embassy has an excellent shelter. Indeed, these days the shelter is the embassy, more or less," Halifax said. "The chaps who stay on, I'm afraid, draw hazardous-duty pay."

You can't stop the United States from bombing the crap out of your capital. That was what he meant, even if he was too much the diplomat to come out and say it. "Yeah, well, I hear the Germans and Austrians up in Philadelphia get bonuses, too," Jake said. They may be hurting us, but we're still in it. In meetings like this, words were smoke screens, concealing what lay behind them.

"Indeed," Halifax said, which might have meant It could be or, just as easily, My ass.

"I'm hoping your country can do more to keep the Canadians fired up against the United States," Jake said.

"Believe me, Mr. President, we're doing everything we can, this being in our interest as well," Lord Halifax replied. "The naval situation in the Atlantic remaining complex, however, we cannot do as much as we would wish. And events on the Continent naturally influence other commitments of scarce resources."

Jake had no trouble translating that into plain English. The Germans were pushing England and France back. The limeys didn't have so much to spare for adventures on this side of the Atlantic as they'd had when things were going better closer to home.

"What the damnyankees aren't using up there, they're shooting at us," Featherston said. "If we go under, they aim everything at you. How long do you think you'll last if they do?" They had a generation earlier, and the United Kingdom didn't last long. Chances were it wouldn't now, either.

And Lord Halifax couldn't shoot that one back at him. The USA could go after Britain in a big way if the CSA went under-could and would. But if Britain went down, Germany wouldn't care about the Confederacy. The Confederate States were no threat to the Kaiser, not till they got a uranium bomb. When they did, the whole goddamn world needed to watch out.

"I said we were doing everything we could, Mr President, and I assure you I meant it most sincerely," the British ambassador said. "We appreciate the CSA's importance to the overall strategic picture, believe you me we do. Our task would become much more difficult if the United States was prosecuting the Atlantic war with all their energy and resources."

You are tying the damnyankees down for us. Again, Halifax's words were pretty straightforward. He had to figure Jake could see that much for himself. And Jake could.

He leaned forward across his desk toward the limey. "Fair enough," he said, his rasping voice and harsh, half-educated accent contrasting sharply with Halifax's soft, elegant tones. "Now we come down to it. If you need us in the war, if you need us to lick the USA for you, why the hell won't you tell us what all you know about uranium bombs? We've got our own project going-you can bet your bottom dollar on that. But if you give us a hand, it helps you and us both. Sooner we start blowing the damnyankees sky-high, the happier everybody'll be. Except them, I mean."

Halifax's bony face never showed much; he would have made a dangerous poker player. But his eyebrows rose a fraction now. Maybe he hadn't expected Jake to be so direct. If he hadn't, he didn't know the President of the Confederate States as well as he thought he did.

"Uranium is an extremely delicate subject," he said at last.

"Tell me about it!" Featherston exclaimed. "Even so, you think the United States aren't working on a bomb of their own? Suppose they get it before we do. They'll blast Richmond off the map, and New Orleans, and Atlanta-"

"Assuming Atlanta hasn't fallen by then," Halifax said.

Fuck you, Charlie. Featherston almost said it, and diplomacy be damned. At the last instant, he bit his tongue. What he did say was, "Yeah, well, suppose they knock us out of the war. Then what? How long before London goes up in smoke? About as long as it takes to get a bomb across the ocean."

Lord Halifax looked physically ill. "The United States aren't our only worry on that score," he choked out.

"I know. Damn Germans started this whole mess. Somebody should've strangled that Einstein bastard when he was a baby." Jake scowled. "Too late to get all hot and bothered about it now. Look, I don't even know how far along you guys are. Maybe we're ahead of you."

The British ambassador winced, ever so slightly. Ah, that got him, Jake thought with an internal grin. The mere idea that backward half-colonials across the sea could get ahead of the high and mighty lords of creation on their own foggy island had to rankle.

To make sure it did, Jake added, "After all, we're a long ways ahead of you when it comes to rockets. Ask the Yankees if you don't believe me."

Halifax winced again, more obviously this time. Jake Featherston's internal grin got wider. "Quite," Halifax muttered: a one-word admission of pain.

"Reckon we can work a swap?" Jake asked. "We'll tell you what we know. We're not afraid of our allies. If you want to shoot rockets at the Germans, more power to you. Blow 'em to hell and gone. I won't shed a tear, and you can bet your…backside on that."

"An interesting proposal," the ambassador said. "I am not authorized to agree to it, but I shall put it to the Prime Minister. If he deems it feasible, we can proceed from there."

"How long will that take?"

"My dear sir!" Lord Halifax spread his hands. "That's in Winston's court, I'm afraid, not mine. I will say he is not a man in the habit of brooking delay."

Featherston wondered if they really did speak the same language. He thought he understood what the British ambassador meant, but he wasn't sure. Hoping he did, he answered, "He'd better not wait around. You're in trouble, and so are we. The more we can help each other, the better our chances, right?"

"One could hardly disagree," Halifax said.

"Fair enough." But Jake wasn't smiling. He was scowling. "Thing you've got to remember is, this cuts both ways. You want what we know about rockets-any fool can see you do. You want to get, but you don't want to give. And I'm here to tell you, your Lordship, sir, that ain't gonna fly."

Lord Halifax was a diplomat. If Featherston's bluntness offended him, he didn't let on. "I assure you, Mr. President, I intend to make your views plain to the Prime Minister. What happens after that is up to him."

Jake knew perfectly well he would have the hide of any Confederate ambassador who exceeded his authority. In fairness, he couldn't blame Winston Churchill for feeling the same way. But his definition of fairness was simple. If he got what he wanted, that was fair. Anything less, and the other side was holding out on him.

Most of the time, he admired Churchill. Like him, the Prime Minister had spent much too long as a voice crying in the wilderness. In a way, Churchill had a tougher job than he did. Britain needed to worry about fighting both the USA and the German Empire.

But Britain hadn't been invaded the last time around. She hadn't been disarmed and had to start over. All she'd lost was Ireland-and the way the Irish felt about their longtime overlords meant she might be better off without it. With Ireland gone, the British didn't have to worry about keeping the lid on a country where a third of the population hated the guts of the other two-thirds. Ireland was under British control now, to keep the USA from using it as a forward base, but military occupation had a whole different set of rules. The limeys weren't as tough on the micks as the Freedom Party was on Confederate Negroes, but they didn't take any crap, either.

"Tell him not to wait around, that's all," Jake said. "For his sake and ours."

"Winston is a great many things, but not a ditherer. He may from time to time find himself mistaken. He hardly ever finds himself unsure," Halifax said. "I do not know what his answer will be. I am confident you will have it in short order."

"Good. Anything else?" Jake was no ditherer, either.

"The United States are making a good deal of propaganda capital from that camp they captured in Texas," Lord Halifax said. "Did you have to be quite so open in your destruction of the colored populace?"

"You know what, Your Excellency? I don't give a shit how much the damnyankees squawk about that." Jake wasn't being truthful, but he didn't care. He had to make the limey understand. "What we do inside our own country is nobody's business but ours. We've had a nigger problem for hundreds of years-even before we broke away from England. Now I'm finally doing something about it, and I really don't care who doesn't like that. We're going to come out of this war nigger-free, or as close to nigger-free as I can make us."

"Your solution is…heroic," Halifax said.

Jake liked that better than the British ambassador probably intended. He felt like a hero for reducing the CSA's colored population. "I keep my campaign promises, by God," he said.

"No one has ever doubted your determination." Lord Halifax got to his feet. "If you will excuse me…" He left the President's office.

When Lulu looked in after Halifax was gone, Jake Featherston asked, "Who's next?"

"Mr. Goldman, sir."

"Send him in, send him in."

Saul Goldman had grown bald and pudgy in the twenty-odd years Jake had known him. That had nothing to do with anything. The little Jew still made a damned effective Director of Communications. Because he did, he could speak his mind to the President, or come closer than most of the glad-handing yes-men who surrounded Featherston.

"I don't know how I can present any more losses in Georgia," he said now. "People will know I'm whistling in the dark no matter what I say."

"Then don't say anything," Jake answered. "Just say the Yankees are spewing out a pack of lies-and they are-and let it go at that."

Goldman cocked his head to one side, considering. "It could work…for a while. But if Atlanta falls, sir, it's a propaganda disaster."

"If Atlanta falls, it's a fucking military disaster, and the hell with propaganda," Featherston said. "I don't think that'll happen any time soon." He hoped he wasn't whistling in the dark. The news from Georgia was bad, and getting worse despite the fall rains.

"You know more about that than I do. I'm not a general, and I don't pretend to be," Goldman said.

"Don't know why the hell not," Jake told him. "Seems like every damn fool in the country wants to tell me how to run the war. Why should you be any different?" He held up a hand. "I know why-you aren't a damn fool."

"I try not to be, anyhow," Goldman said.

"You do pretty well. Half of being smart is knowing what you're not smart at," Jake said. "Plenty of folks reckon that 'cause they know something, they know everything. And that ain't the way it works."

"I never said it was," Goldman answered primly.

"Yeah, I know," Jake said. "You make one."

A s far as Irving Morrell knew, he was unique among U.S. generals, with the possible exception of a few big brains high up in the General Staff. His colleagues thought about winning battles. After they won one, if they did, they worried about the next one.

Morrell was different. He thought about smashing the Confederate States of America flat. To him, that was the goal. Battles were nothing in themselves. They were just the means he needed to reach that end.

Back when the CSA still had soldiers in Ohio, he'd drawn a slashing line on the map, one that ran from Kentucky through Tennessee and Georgia to the Atlantic. That was where he was going now. He aimed to cut the Confederacy in half. Once he did, he figured the Confederate States would do what anything cut in half did.

They would die.

The question uppermost in his mind now was simple: could he go on to the ocean without bothering to capture Atlanta first? Would the enemy die fast enough afterwards to make the risk worthwhile?

He pondered a map. The chart was tacked to the wall of what had been a dentist's office in Monroe, Georgia, more than fifty miles east of Atlanta. He would have used the mayor's office, but a direct hit from a 105 left it draftier than he liked.

Monroe had had a couple of big cotton-processing plants, both of them now rubble. It had had a couple of fine houses that dated back to the days before the War of Secession, both of them now burnt. War had never come to this part of the CSA before. It was here now, and it made itself at home.

Reluctantly, Morrell decided Atlanta would have to fall before he stormed east again. It gave the enemy too good a base for launching a counteroffensive against his flank if he ignored it. Too many roads and railroads ran through the place. He couldn't be sure enough his air power would keep them all out of commission to ignore it. Taking chances was one thing. Taking stupid chances was something else again.

He didn't want to charge right into the city. He aimed to envelop it instead. That way, the Confederates couldn't do unto him as the USA did unto them in Pittsburgh. An attacking army that took a city block by block put its own dick in the meat grinder and turned the crank.

No help would come to Atlanta from the north or the east, and the bulk of the CSA's strength lay in those directions. The Confederate States were like a snail. They had a hard shell that protected them from the United States. Once you broke through, though, you found they were soft and squishy underneath. How much could they bring in from Florida or Alabama? Not nearly enough-or Morrell didn't think so, anyhow.

Back when he first proposed his slash, the General Staff estimated it would take two years, not one. When Chattanooga fell, he'd hoped to prove them wrong. He might yet, but racing ahead for the sake of speed wasn't smart.

"Then don't do it," he muttered, and headed out of the office. On the floor lay the dentist's diploma from Tulane University, the glass in the frame shattered. Morrell wondered whether the man was still practicing in Monroe or had put on a butternut uniform and gone up toward the front.

Two black men carrying rifles stalked along the street. They wore armbands with USA on them. White civilians fell over themselves getting out of their way. They waved and nodded to Morrell: not quite salutes, but close enough. He nodded back. The Negro guerrillas made him nervous, too. But they scared white Confederates to death, which was good, and they knew more about what was going on here than U.S. troops did, which was even better.

Sometimes they shot first, without bothering to ask questions later. Morrell was sure they'd killed a few people who didn't deserve killing. But how many Negroes who didn't deserve killing were dead all across the CSA? A little extra revenge might be too bad, but Morrell didn't intend to lose any sleep about it.

Except for guerrillas, not many Negroes were left in and around Monroe, or anywhere U.S. armies had reached. White people seemed to suffer from a kind of collective amnesia. More often than not, they denied there'd ever been many blacks close by. In Kentucky, they said the Negroes mostly lived in Tennessee. In Tennessee, they said the Negroes mostly lived in Georgia. Here in Georgia, they pointed two ways at once: towards Alabama and South Carolina. Was that selective blindness, a guilty conscience, or both? Morrell would have bet on both.

"Young man!" A Confederate dowager swept down on him. "I need to speak to you, young man!"

Morrell almost looked over his shoulder to see whom she meant. He'd passed fifty a couple of years before, and his weather-beaten features didn't seem young even to himself. But her gray hair and the turkeylike wattles under her chin said she was some distance ahead of him. "What can I do for you, ma'am?" he asked, as politely as he could.

"Young man, I know you come from the United States, and so are ignorant of a good deal of proper behavior, but I must tell you that colored people are not permitted to go armed in this country," she said.

He looked at her. He did his best to look through her. "They are now."

"By whose authority?" she demanded.

"Mine." He tapped the stars on his shoulder strap.

"You should be ashamed of yourself, in that case," she said.

Of itself, his hand dropped to the.45 he wore on his belt. "Lady, I think you better get lost before I blow your stupid head off," he said. "You people did your best to murder every Negro you could catch, and you have the gall to talk to me about shame…There's not a word low enough for you."

"The nerve!" The matron flounced off. Reality hadn't set in for her. He wondered if it ever would, or could.

Over in Texas, General Dowling had taken local big shots through the Confederate death camp and into the mass graveyard so they could see with their own eyes what their country had done. Some of them had the decency to kill themselves afterwards. Others just went on the way they had before.

Morrell wished he had one of those camps to show the locals. Then they wouldn't be able to shrug and pretend there'd never been that many Negroes in this part of the CSA. But he feared the matron wouldn't be much impressed afterwards. She was one of those people for whom nothing seemed real if it didn't happen to her.

Somebody'd painted YANKS OUT! on a wall. Morrell grabbed the first soldier he saw. "Get some paint and grab a couple of these assholes and have 'em clean this shit up," he told the man in green-gray. "If they give you a hard time, do whatever you have to do to get 'em to pay attention."

"Yes, sir!" the soldier said, and went off to take care of it with a grin on his face.

Artillery rumbled, off to the northeast. Morrell cocked his head to one side, listening, gauging. Those were Confederate guns. The enemy was still trying to blunt the U.S. attack and drive Morrell's forces back. He didn't think Featherston's men could do it. Before long, counterbattery fire or air strikes would make those C.S. gun bunnies sorry they'd ever been born, and even sorrier they'd tried messing with the U.S. Army.

From what Morrell had seen, the only thing Confederate civilians were sorry about was that their army hadn't done a better job of keeping the damnyankees away. Somehow, that left him imperfectly sympathetic.

"General!" Another woman called to him. This one was young and blond and pretty, pretty enough to remind him how long he'd been away from Agnes. She also looked mad enough to spit nails.

"Yes?" He'd give her the benefit of the doubt as long as he could.

"Those niggers of yours!" she snapped.

"What about 'em?" Morrell didn't want them getting out of hand and raping all the women they could catch. He could understand why they'd want to. He could sympathize, too. But he wasn't running a mob. He was running an army, or trying to.

"They looked at me. They leered at me, the grinning apes," the blond woman said. "You ought to string them up and horsewhip them."

Morrell needed a moment to realize she was dead serious. When he did, he almost wished the Negroes had dragged her into an alley and done their worst. "That's not how things'll work from here on out, so you'd better get used to it," he said. "Nobody gets whipped for looking. Heck, I'm looking right now. You're worth looking at, no offense."

"Well, of course." As pretty women often did, she took her good looks for granted. "But I don't mind it from you-too much. You're a Yankee, but you're not a nigger."

"If they touch you and you don't like it, you can complain. If anybody touches you and you don't like it, you can complain," Morrell said. "But they can look as much as they want."

"You mean you won't do anything about it?" The blond woman sounded as if she couldn't believe her ears. She looked disgusted, almost nauseated.

"That's what I said," Morrell told her.

"You damnyankees really are animals, then." She pursed her lips, perhaps getting ready to spit at him.

"If you do anything stupid," he said, "you'll find out just what kind of animal I am. You won't like it-I promise."

He didn't shout and bluster. That had never been his style. He didn't need to. He sounded like a man who meant exactly what he said, and for a good reason: he was. The local woman stopped looking like somebody saving up spit. She did look a little deflated. Then she gathered herself, flung, "Nigger-lover!" in his face instead of saliva, and stalked off. Fury gave her a fine hip action. Morrell admired it. He was sure the Negro auxiliaries had, too.

Up till now, he hadn't had much use for Negroes. Few whites in the USA did. Had he seen a couple of black men staring at a white woman's butt on a street corner in, say, Indianapolis, that might have offended him. In Monroe, Georgia? No. In fact, he smiled. The enemies of his enemies were his friends, all right.

After dark, Confederate bombers came over Monroe and dropped explosives on the U.S. soldiers in and around the town-and on their own people. A thin layer of low clouds hung above Monroe, so the Confederates might as well have been bombing blind. They couldn't come over by day, not unless they wanted to get slaughtered. In their shoes, Morrell supposed he would have preferred bombing blind to not bombing at all, too.

He had a few minutes' warning from Y-ranging gear that spotted the approaching bombers and sounded the alarm before they started unloading. U.S. night fighters were also starting to carry Y-ranging sets. So far, those sets were neither very strong nor very easy to use, but they were already making night operations more expensive for the CSA. Pretty soon, electronics might make nighttime raids as risky as daylight ones.

Crouching in a trench with bombs crashing down around him, Morrell could see a day where neither side on a battlefield would be able to hide anything from the other. How would you fight a war then? You could be so strong you'd beat your enemy even if he did see what you had in mind. You could, yes, but it wouldn't be easy, or economical.

Or you could make him think all your fancy preparations meant one thing and then go and do something else instead. Morrell nodded to himself. If he had his druthers, he would play it that way. If the enemy kept staring at the cape, he wouldn't see the sword till too late. You saved your own men and matйriel that way…if you could bring it off.

The all-clear warbled. Morrell got out of the trench and went back to his cot. He didn't know how much damage the Confederates had done. Probably some-probably not a lot. Without a doubt, they'd screwed a lot of U.S. soldiers out of a night's sleep. That counted, too, though no civilians who hadn't got up groggy after an air raid would think so. Morrell yawned. His eyes closed. Air raid or not, the Confederates didn't screw him out of more than forty-five minutes.

J onathan Moss had been on the run ever since a tornado let him break out of the Andersonville POW camp. Joining Spartacus' band of Negro guerrillas had kept the Confederates from getting him (it had also kept the guerrillas from shooting him and Nick Cantarella). But joining them also ensured that he stayed on the run.

U.S. forces weren't far away now. The rumble of artillery and the thud of bursting bombs came from the north by day and night. Running off to the troops from his own side would have been easy as pie…if not for God only knew how many divisions' worth of Jake Featherston's finest between him and them.

"We gots to sit tight," Spartacus told his men-again and again, a sure sign they didn't want to listen to him. "We gots to. Pretty soon, the Yankees, they comes to us. Then we is free men fo' true. We is free at las'."

Moss and Cantarella caught each other's eye. Moss doubted it would be so simple. By the New York infantry officer's raised eyebrow, so did he.

And, however much they wished they weren't, they turned out to be right. For a long time, the countryside a hundred miles south of Atlanta had been a military backwater: peanut farms and cotton fields, patrolled-when they were patrolled-by halfhearted Mexican soldiers and by militiamen whose stamina and skill didn't match their zeal. Good guerrilla country, in other words.

No more. With the U.S. irruption into northern Georgia, with the threat to Atlanta, southern Georgia suddenly turned into a military zone. Encampments and supply dumps sprouted like toadstools after a rain. Truck convoys and trains brought supplies and soldiers up toward the front.

All that gave Spartacus' band and the other black guerrillas still operating chances they'd never had before. If they mined a road and delayed a column of trucks, if they sprayed machine-gun bullets at a tent city in the middle of the night, they really hurt the Confederate war effort. From everything Jonathan Moss gathered from the news and rumors he picked up, the Confederate States couldn't afford even fleabites on their backside. They already had too much trouble right in front of them.

The enemy seemed to feel the same way. When Spartacus' guerrillas did strike, the men in butternut went after them with a ferocity they hadn't seen before. If Spartacus hadn't been fighting in country he knew better than the enemy did, the Confederates would have wiped out his band in short order. As things were, his men scrambled from woods to swamp, half a jump ahead of their pursuers.

Moss developed a new appreciation for possum and squirrel and turtle. The Negroes called one kind of long-necked terrapin, chicken turtles, presumably because of how they tasted. Moss couldn't see the resemblance. He didn't spend much time bitching, though; any meat in his belly was better than none.

Looking down at what was left of himself one weary evening, he said, "Back before the war, I had a potbelly. One of these days, I'd like to get another one."

"Some of the shit we eat makes Army rations look good," Nick Cantarella agreed. "Don't know that I could say anything worse about it."

Amusement glinted in Spartacus' eyes as he looked from one white man to the other. "I's mighty sorry to inconvenience you gents-mighty sorry," he said. "If 'n you knows where we kin git us some ribs and beefsteaks, sing out."

"Steak! Jesus!" Cantarella started to laugh. "I even stopped thinking about steak. What the hell's the point?"

"How about Confederate rations?" Spartacus asked, the mockery gone from his voice.

Hearing the change in tone, Moss grew alert. "What do you have in mind, boss?" he asked.

Spartacus smiled; he liked hearing the white men in his band acknowledge that he outranked them. "They got that new depot over by Americus," he said.

"Think we can hit it?" Cantarella asked.

"Hope so, anyways," Spartacus answered. "I got me a pretty good notion where they keeps the ration tins, too. See, here's what I got in mind…"

He sketched on the muddy ground with a stick. He wouldn't have done so much explaining for the other Negroes, but he thought of the escaped U.S. soldiers as military professionals, and valued their opinion. With Nick Cantarella, that was justified. Moss knew it was a lot less so for him.

He listened to Spartacus and tried to look wise. Cantarella, sure as hell, had a couple of suggestions that made the guerrilla leader nod in admiration. "Yeah, we do dat," Spartacus said. "We sure 'nough do dat. Featherston's fuckers, dey don't know which way dey should oughta run."

"That's the idea," Cantarella said. "If they go in a bunch of wrong directions, the right one gets easier for us."

The guerrillas struck at night. They stayed under cover while the sun was in the sky. Doing anything else would have asked to get slaughtered. A Negro threw a grenade into the depot from the north, while another black banged away with a Tredegar-trying to stir up the anthill.

They did it, too. Whistles shrilled. Men shouted. Soldiers boiled out after the Negroes. Moss hoped the guerrillas had splendid hidey-holes or quick legs.

As soon as the Confederates were well and truly stirred, the guerrillas' machine gun opened up from the west. Nick Cantarella had finally persuaded the gunner to fire short bursts and not squeeze off a belt of ammo at a time. It made the weapon much more effective and much more accurate.

Somebody inside the supply dump yelled, "Let's get those coons, goddammit! They come around here, they give us the chance to wreck 'em. We better not waste it." Shouted orders followed. The officer-he plainly was one-knew what he was doing, and how to get his men to do what he wanted.

A scream said at least one machine-gun bullet struck home. The Confederates fired back. They also started moving against the machine gun. A few black riflemen posted near the guerrillas' heavy weapon discouraged that. They were more mobile than the machine-gun crew, and gave the C.S. attackers some unpleasant surprises.

But the big surprise the guerrillas had in mind came from the far side of the supply depot. As soon as the Confederates were well engaged to the west, Spartacus whistled to the rest of the band and said, "Let's go!"

As it always did when he went into action, Jonathan Moss' heart pounded. He clutched his Tredegar and loped forward. Cutters snipped through the strands of barbed wire around the depot. The supply dump was new and in a rear area. The Confederates hadn't had the time or energy to protect it the way they would have closer to the front.

"No shootin' here, remember-not unless you got to," Spartacus called quietly. "In an' out fast as you can, like you was screwin' with her pappy asleep right beside you." From the way some of the Negroes chuckled, they'd done things like that.

Most of them carried rifles or pistols or submachine guns. Three or four, though, pushed wheelbarrows instead. Moss couldn't imagine a homelier weapon of war. But a man with a wheelbarrow could move much more food than someone who had to carry a crate in his arms or on his back.

"What the hell?" a Confederate called-the Negroes weren't quiet enough to escape all notice.

"We're on patrol here," Moss said, doing his best to imitate a Southern accent. "Why the devil aren't you chasing those damn niggers?"

"Uh-on my way, sir."

Moss heard rapidly retreating footsteps. He knew he'd better not laugh out loud. In his own ears, he hadn't sounded much like a Confederate at all. But he had sounded like a white man, and the soldier never dreamt he'd run into a damnyankee here. To him, anybody who sounded like a white had to be on his side, and anybody who sounded like an authoritative white had to be entitled to order him around.

"How d'you like being a Confederate officer?" Nick Cantarella whispered.

"Fine, except the bastards don't pay me," Moss whispered back.

"Hell they don't," Spartacus said. "We's at the payoff now. In there, boys-grab an' git!"

The Negroes rushed into the tent that sheltered crates of rations from the elements. Soft thumps announced that several of those crates were going into the wheelbarrows. The guerrillas emerged, their grins the most visible thing about them.

Then a shot rang out. "Jesus God, we got chicken thieves!" a Confederate screamed.

One of the chicken thieves shot him an instant later. "Scram!" Spartacus said-surely the most succinct order Moss had ever heard. It was also just right for the circumstances.

Firing as they went, the guerrillas withdrew from the depot. Men with rifles and submachine guns covered the wheelbarrows' retreat. When a bullet struck home with a wet slapping sound, a hauler dropped. Nick Cantarella grabbed the wheelbarrow handles and got it moving again.

They made it out of the supply dump and back into the woods. Moss' greatest worry was that the Confederates would pursue hard, but they didn't. "Shit, they already did more than I figured they would," Cantarella said. "They're rear-echelon troops, clerks and stevedores in uniform. If they wanted to mix it up, they'd be at the front."

"I guess," Moss said. "I'm not complaining, believe me."

Cantarella gave him the ghost of a grin. "Didn't think you were. That was smart, what you did there to keep the one asshole off our ass."

"Thanks." Praise from the other Army officer always made Moss feel good. It made him feel like a real soldier, not a pilot stuck in the middle of a ground war he didn't understand-which he was.

Once the guerrillas got clear of the depot, Spartacus abandoned the wheelbarrows. His men grumbled, but he held firm. "Gotta do it," he said. "Otherwise, them wheels show the butternut bastards every place we been. Trail's a lot harder to get rid of than footprints."

Moss and Cantarella took their turns playing pack mule along with everybody else. White skin gave them no special privileges here. If they'd tried to claim any, they wouldn't have lasted long. Moss wondered whether Confederates caught in like circumstances would have been smart enough to figure that out. After some of the things he'd seen in Georgia, he wouldn't have bet on it.

His back grumbled at lugging-toting, they said down here-a heavy crate. He was the oldest man in the guerrilla band. Spartacus, who'd been a Confederate noncom in the Great War, was within a couple of years of him, but Spartacus was the CO. Nobody expected him to fetch and carry.

After what seemed like forever, the Negroes and the U.S. soldiers they'd taken in got back to the swampy hideout from which they'd started. And then…to the victors went the spoils. "Let's eat!" Spartacus said, and they did.

C.S. military rations were nothing to write home about. In truces to pick up wounded men, Confederate soldiers traded tobacco and coffee to their U.S. counterparts for canned goods made in the USA. And U.S. rations, as Moss knew too well, wouldn't put the Waldorf out of business any time soon.

But greasy hash and salty stew filled the belly. Moss' had rubbed up against his backbone too often lately. He was amazed at how many tins of meat he could bolt down before he even started getting full.

"Man, I feel like I swallowed a medicine ball," Nick Cantarella said after a while.

"Yeah, me, too," Moss said. "I like it."

He lit a cigarette, the way he might have after a fine meal in a fancy restaurant. He'd had plenty to eat, and nobody was shooting at him right this minute. How could life get any better?

C incinnatus Driver wanted to strut through the streets of Ellijay, Georgia. Strutting wasn't in the cards when you walked with a cane and a limp, but he felt like it anyway. How could a black man from the USA not want to strut in a little town his country had taken away from the Confederacy?

Here I am! he felt like shouting. What are you ofay bastards gonna do about it? And the whites of Ellijay couldn't do one damn thing, not unless they wanted the U.S. Army to land on them with both feet.

The hamlet seemed pleasant enough, with a grassy town square centered on a rock fountain. Groves of apple and peach trees grew nearby; Cincinnatus had heard the trout and bass fishing in the nearby stream was first-rate. Ellijay probably made a nice place to live…for whites.

Whenever the locals saw Cincinnatus, though, the way they acted gave him the chills. They stared at him as if he were a rare animal in a zoo-a passenger pigeon come back to life, say. They hadn't thought any Negroes were left in these parts, and didn't bother hiding their surprise.

"What're you doin' here?" a gray-haired man in bib overalls asked around an enormous chaw.

"Drivin' a truck for the United States of America," Cincinnatus answered proudly. "Helping the Army blow all this Confederate white trash to hell and gone."

He thought the Georgian would swallow the cud of tobacco. "You can't talk that way! You ought to be strung up, you know that?"

Along with his cane, Cincinnatus carried a submachine gun some Confederate soldier would never need again. He gestured with it. "You try, Uncle, an' it's the last dumb thing you ever do."

"Uncle? Uncle?" That pissed the white man off as much as Cincinnatus hoped it would. It was what Confederate whites called Negroes too old to get called boy. Throwing it in the local's face felt wonderful. "You can't speak to me that way! I'll talk to your officer, by God, and he'll teach you respect."

Cincinnatus laughed in his face. "You're the enemy, Uncle, and we done beat you. We don't need to waste respect on the likes of you."

Muttering under his breath, the local stomped off. Cincinnatus hoped he did complain to an Army officer. That would serve him right-wouldn't it just? Cincinnatus tried to imagine what the officer would tell him. He couldn't, not in detail, but it would boil down to, Tough shit, buddy. Now fuck off and leave me alone. He was sure of that.

Technically, Cincinnatus wasn't even in the Army. The U.S. Navy accepted Negroes, but the Army didn't-though he'd heard talk that that might change. If it did, it would matter to his son, but not to him. He was both overage and not in any kind of shape to pass a physical.

But he could still drive a truck. A lot of drivers were overage civilians, many of them with not quite disabling wounds from the Great War. They freed up younger, fitter men to go to the front and fight. And, when Confederate bushwhackers hit them, they showed they still knew what to do with weapons in their hands, too.

When Cincinnatus first volunteered to drive after getting back to U.S. territory, he'd carried a.45. He patted the ugly, functional submachine gun with almost the affection he might have shown his wife. Elizabeth had got him out of some tough spots, and so had the captured Confederate piece. And it didn't talk back.

U.S. 105s north of Ellijay thundered to life. Somebody-a spotter in a light airplane, maybe-must have seen Confederates up to something. With luck, the guns would disrupt whatever it was. Before long, Confederate artillery would probably open up, too, and maim or kill a few U.S. soldiers. Always plenty of fresh meat on both sides in war.

U.S. forces might push farther east from Ellijay, but they were unlikely to go farther north soon. They held this part of Georgia mostly to keep the enemy from bringing reinforcements down towards Atlanta. They didn't want any more of it-they were shield, not sword.

The drivers guarded their own trucks. Several men who weren't on sentry duty sat around a liberated card table playing poker. Soldiers probably would have sat on the ground, but it wasn't comfortable for geezers with old wounds and assorted other aches and pains. Green U.S. bills and brown C.S. banknotes went into the pot. They had good-natured arguments-and some not so good-natured-about what Confederate money was worth. Right now, in the drivers' highly unofficial rate of exchange, one green dollar bought about $2.75 in brown paper.

"Call," Hal Williamson said. A moment later, Cincinnatus' friend swore as his three sevens lost to a nine-high straight.

"Come to papa." The other driver raked in the pot.

Williamson got to his feet. "Well, that's about as much money as I can afford to lose till Uncle Sam gives me some more," he said.

One of the kibitzers sat down in the folding chair he'd vacated and pulled out a fat bankroll of green and brown. "I'm not here to lose money," he announced. "I'm gonna win me some more."

"Emil's here. We can start now," another poker player said. The guy with the roll flipped him off. The other man turned to Cincinnatus. "How about you, buddy? Got any jack that's burning a hole in your pocket?"

"Nope," Cincinnatus said. "Don't play often enough to get good at it. Don't like playin' enough to get good at it. So why should I throw my money down the toilet?"

"On account of I got grandkids who need shoes?" suggested the man sitting at the card table. "We need suckers in this here game-besides Emil, I mean."

"You'll see who's a sucker," Emil said. "You'll be sorry when you do, too."

"If you're no good at somethin', why do it?" Cincinnatus said.

"Well, there's always fucking," the other driver replied, which got a laugh.

"Maybe you ain't no good at that," Cincinnatus said, which got a bigger one. "Me, though, I know what I'm doin' there."

"That's telling him," Williamson said.

Cincinnatus' answering grin was crooked. Even his buddies seemed surprised when he held his own in banter or didn't turn cowardly when he got shot at or generally acted like a man instead of the way they thought a nigger would act. It might have been funny if it weren't so sad. These were U.S. citizens, men from a country where Negroes mostly had the same legal rights as anybody else, and they thought-or at least felt down deep somewhere-he ought to be a stupid buffoon.

What about white people in the Confederate States? His mouth tightened, the grin disappearing altogether. He knew the answer to that, knew it much too well. They thought Negroes were so far below ordinary human beings that they got rid of them without a qualm. And what would the local in overalls say about that? He'd probably say the Confederacy's Negroes had it coming.

"Fuck him, too," Cincinnatus muttered.

"Who? Dolf there?" Williamson nodded toward the poker player who'd gone back and forth with Cincinnatus. "What'd he do to you?"

"No, not Dolf. This peckerhead redneck I was talkin' with in town," Cincinnatus answered, not even noticing he was tarring the Confederate with the same kind of brush whites in the CSA used against blacks. "He reckoned I was uppity. If I was really uppity, I would've plugged the son of a bitch."

"Probably no great loss," Williamson said. "We're gonna have to kill a lot of these Confederate assholes to scare the rest into leaving us alone." Again, Confederate whites might have talked about Negroes the same way.

The next morning, soldiers loaded crates of 105mm shells into the back of Cincinnatus' truck. The convoy of which he was a part rattled north to replenish the guns that had been firing at the Confederates the day before. The artillery position was only a few miles away. Even so, a halftrack and three armored cars came along with the trucks. No one inside Ellijay seemed eager to take on the assembled might of the U.S. Army, but things were different out in the countryside. It seethed with rebellion.

Two bushwhackers fired from the undergrowth that grew too close to the side of the road before the convoy got halfway to where it was going. One bullet shattered a truck's windshield. Another flattened a tire. The armored cars sprayed the bushes with machine-gun fire. Cincinnatus hadn't seen any muzzle flashes. He would have bet the soldiers in the armored cars hadn't, either.

One of those cars stayed behind to help the truck driver with the flat change his tire-and to shield him from more bullets while he worked. Cincinnatus hoped the driver would be all right. He had to keep going himself. He wished a barrel with a flail were preceding the convoy. That way, it would probably blow up any land mines before they blew up people. As things were…

As things were, they didn't run into-or over-any. Cincinnatus figured the convoy was lucky. He also figured it had no guarantee of being lucky again on the way back. Who could guess what holdouts or stubborn civilians were doing while nobody in a green-gray uniform could see them?

Gun bunnies unloaded the crates. "We'll give 'em hell," one of them promised. Cincinnatus nodded, but the artillerymen couldn't do anything about the enemies likeliest to hurt him.

He wished he could stay by the gun pits. Bushwhackers didn't come around here. But then, as he was driving back towards Ellijay, he heard thunder behind him. A glance in the rear-view mirror told him the artillerymen were catching it. Wherever you went, whatever you did, the war would reach out and grab you and bite you.

Snipers fired a few shots at the trucks on the way back to the depot. When they got there, one of the drivers said, "You guys are gonna have to help me out of the cab. They got me in the knee."

"Jesus, Gordie, how come you ain't screamin' your head off?" another driver asked. "How the hell'd you make it back?"

Gordie started laughing to beat the band. "On account of I lost that leg in 1915," he answered. "Fuckers ruined the joint in my artificial one, but that's about it."

"How'd you work the clutch without your knee joint?" Cincinnatus asked.

"Grabbed the leg with my hand and mashed down on the sucker," Gordie said. "Wasn't pretty. Don't figure I did my gear train any good. But who gives a damn? I made it back. 'Course, the leg's just a piece of junk without that joint. Better find me a wheelchair or some crutches-I ain't goin' anywhere without 'em."

Cincinnatus had a lot of parts that didn't work as well as they should have. He wasn't out-and-out missing any, though, and he never would have imagined that losing a leg could prove lucky for anybody. If they'd already got you there once, they couldn't do it again.

The supply dump stocked both wheelchairs and crutches. That didn't surprise Cincinnatus, although it saddened him. Maimed men were a by-product of war. The powers that be understood as much.

Gordie's leg went out for repairs. Technicians who dealt with such things were also necessary. When it came back, the amputee was full of praise. "Feels like I just got new spark plugs on my Ford," he said. "Joint's smoother and easier to work than it ever was before, I think. Quieter, too." He still walked with a rolling gait like a drunken sailor's, but so did anybody who'd lost a leg above the knee. The roll locked the joint till the next step. Cincinnatus also thought the artificial leg was quieter now than it had been.

Except for harassing fire as he drove his routes, everything seemed pretty quiet. He'd drifted into a backwater of the war. Part of him wanted to be doing more. The rest-the larger portion-thought that part was out of its tree.

III

George Enos, Jr., liked being back on the East Coast. When the Josephus Daniels came in to the Boston Navy Yard for refit or resupply-or even to deliver a package-he had a chance for liberty, a chance to see his wife and kids. Unlike a lot of sailors, he preferred getting it at home to laying down money in some sleazy whorehouse and lying down with a girl who was probably more interested in the current crossword puzzle than in him.

That didn't stop him from lying down with a whore every once in a while. It did leave him feeling guilty whenever he did. That, in turn, meant he drank more on liberty than he would have otherwise. He couldn't get drunk enough to stop feeling guilty, which didn't keep him from trying.

When he came into Boston, he didn't have to worry about it. He could go to bed with Connie with a clear conscience. And, being away so much, he felt like a newlywed whenever he did. Most of his married buddies weren't lucky enough to have caught a warm, willing, pretty redhead, either.

"I wish you didn't have to leave," she said, clinging to him with arms and legs the night before he was due back aboard his ship. When she kissed him, he tasted tears on her lipstick.

"Wish I didn't have to go, too," he answered. "But it'd be the Shore Patrol and then the brig if I tried to duck out. They'd bust me down to seaman third, too. You fight the Navy, you're fighting out of your weight."

"I know," she said. "But-" She didn't go on, or need to. But covered bombs and torpedoes and mines and everything else that could mean this was the last liberty George ever got. She clung to him tighter than ever.

He found himself rising to the occasion once more, which told how long it had been since his last liberty. In his thirties, he didn't do that as automatically as he had once upon a time. "Hey, babe," he said. "Hey."

"Ohh," Connie said when he went into her-more a sigh than a word. He wasn't sure he could come again so soon after the last time, but he did, a moment after she gasped and quivered beneath him. But then she started crying all over again. "I don't want you to go!"

"I don't want to, either. But I've got to." He stroked her hair and kissed her in the hollow of her shoulder, all of which made things worse instead of better.

Finally, after she cried herself out, she reached for a tissue and blew her nose. "Good thing the lights are out," she said. "I must look like hell."

"You always look good to me," he said, and that started her crying again.

He wasn't very far from blubbering himself, but he didn't. He did fall asleep a few minutes later. Connie couldn't tease him about that, because she'd already started to breathe deeply and slowly herself.

She fed him an enormous plate of bacon and eggs the next morning. The way the boys stared at it said how unusual it was. They ate oatmeal as they got ready for school. Connie ate oatmeal, too, and drank coffee that smelled like burnt roots. "Rationing that bad?" George asked.

"Well, it's not good-that's for sure," his wife answered. "Better for us than for a lot of folks. I know people at T Wharf, so I can get fish for us. We're tired of it, but it's better than going without."

"Sure." George remembered his mother talking about doing the same thing during the last war. All over the country, no doubt, people were doing what they could to get along.

What George could do was shoulder his duffel bag, kiss Connie and the kids good-bye, and head for the closest subway station. When he came up again, he was on the other side of the Charles, half a block from the Boston Navy Yard.

He and the duffel got searched before the guards let him in. "All right-you're not a people bomb," one of the men said.

"Has that happened here?" George asked.

"Not here at the Yard, no, but it sure as hell did in New York City. Twice," the guard answered.

"Jesus!" George said. "Nobody's safe anywhere any more. I'd rather put to sea. At least out there I know who's on my side and who isn't." With a nod, the guard waved him on.

Armorers were bringing crates of ammunition aboard the Josephus Daniels. They were eloquently obscene, creatively profane. George had heard that before among men with especially dangerous trades. It gave them a safety valve they couldn't find any other way. He paused not just to give them room but also to admire their invectives. He'd thought he'd heard everything, but they showed him he was wrong.

He was almost sorry when they finished and walked down the pier. "Permission to come aboard?" he called as he set foot on the destroyer escort's gangplank.

"Granted," answered Thad Walters, who had officer-on-deck duty. After the formal response, he unbent enough to ask, "Liberty good?"

"Yes, sir," George said. "Kids are growing like weeds. Connie pisses and moans about the rationing, but she's sure keeping them fed." He turned to salute the flag at the stern.

"Well, that's good." The grin on the OOD's face said he knew George and Connie didn't spend all their time talking about rations. He was younger than George himself. Chances were he didn't spend all his time thinking about Y-ranging gear, either. He went on, "Well, stow your gear below and get used to the ship again. You'd better-we put to sea tomorrow morning, early and"-he looked at the cloudy sky-"not too bright."

"Aye aye, sir." After his own apartment, the accommodations belowdecks were a rude reminder that he was back in the Navy's clutches. Everything was cramped and smelly. Instead of a bed to share with his wife, he had a hammock in a compartment full of snoring, farting sailors. If he tried to roll over, he'd fall out.

Some kid was bragging about how many times he'd done it in a whorehouse. Only a couple of guys were even half listening to him, and they mainly seemed interested in telling him what a liar he was. George thought the same thing. Anybody who boasted about what a great lover he was had to be lying, even if he didn't always know it.

Chow was another disappointment: some kind of hash and lumpy mashed potatoes. Connie would have been ashamed to put slop like that on the table no matter how bad rationing got. The coffee was better than hers, though. The Navy and the Army got most of the real bean that came into the USA; civilians had to make do with ersatz.

Maybe because he'd gone without real coffee for a couple of days and it hit him harder when he drank it again, maybe because his own mattress had spoiled him, he had a hell of a time going to sleep that night. He knew he'd stagger around like a zombie in the morning, but he lay there in the hammock staring up at the steel ceiling not nearly far enough above his head.

A pilot had brought the Josephus Daniels in through the minefields shielding Boston harbor from enemy submersibles. Another one took her out again. A small patrol boat followed the destroyer escort to pick up the pilot and bring him back. George stayed at his 40mm mounts till well after the pilot was gone. The powers that be had installed the guns to shoot at airplanes, but they could also do dreadful things to subs forced to the surface.

"We have ourselves a new assignment." Sam Carsten's voice blared from the loudspeakers. George still thought it was bizarre that he'd met the man now his skipper when he was a kid in Boston. Carsten went on, "We're heading for Bermuda, and then for the central Atlantic. We're going to try to find convoys bringing food up from Argentina and Brazil to England and France. And when we do, we'll sink 'em or capture 'em."

Excitement tingled through George. This was the work his father had done in the last war. It was what finally made Britain decide she'd had enough. And it was the work that cost his father his life.

"Some of you poor devils are polliwogs," the skipper boomed. "When we get to the Equator, King Neptune and the shellbacks aboard will take care of that."

George laughed. He'd been initiated into the shellbacks when he crossed the Equator for the first time. He could hardly wait to give the new fish a taste of what he'd got.

And he had another reason for wanting to get down by the Equator. The North Atlantic was kicking up its heels. He had a strong stomach, and he'd known worse seas than this in a fishing boat that made the Josephus Daniels seem as sedate as a fleet carrier. That meant he kept down what he ate. It didn't mean he enjoyed himself. And using the heads was rugged, because a lot of guys were desperate and weren't neat. Some of them didn't make it to the heads. The skipper had cleaning parties out all the time. They almost kept up with the sour stink. Almost, here as in so many places, was a word nobody really wanted to hear.

The ship approached Bermuda from the northeast. That made for more time at sea, but lessened the chance of meeting C.S. bombers or seaplanes on the way in.

"No liberty here," Carsten announced as they tied up in the harbor. "Sorry, guys. We don't have time. On the way back to the USA, I'll give you the best blowout I can, and that's a promise."

By the way the old-timers on the destroyer escort nodded, the skipper kept promises like that. George wasn't surprised. Keeping them seemed in character for Carsten. Being a mustang, he knew what ratings liked better than most officers with Annapolis rings did. And one of the things they liked was officers who delivered on their promises.

Because of the threat from the Confederate mainland, the crew spent the night at battle stations, four hours on, four off. A handful of bombers did come over. Bermuda had Y-ranging gear far more powerful than the set the Josephus Daniels carried; sirens started shrieking before the destroyer escort picked up the bombers.

And even after the ship did, the gunners were firing by earsight, hoping to get lucky or to nail a bomber caught by the blazing searchlights ashore. Yellow and red tracers crisscrossed the night sky.

U.S. night fighters were up over Bermuda, too. George wondered if they had their own Y-ranging sets. If they did, it didn't seem to do them much good. He heard the harsh crump of bombs-none very close-but saw no bombers going down.

Even after the all-clear sounded, ships and land-based guns kept throwing shells around. George was glad he had a helmet on. Shrapnel clattered down from the sky like sharp-edged hail. It could kill the people who'd fired it even if it didn't do a damn thing to its intended targets.

"Boy, I enjoyed that," he said when the other gun crew relieved him and his comrades.

"You be able to sleep?" his opposite number asked.

"Fuck, yes. I don't care if the Confederates come back and the noise starts up all over again. I'll sleep."

And, some time in the wee small hours, the Confederates did come back. They couldn't take Bermuda away from the USA, but they could make sure the United States didn't enjoy holding it. George opened his eyes when the shooting started again, then closed them and began to snore louder than ever.

The Josephus Daniels sailed the next morning, her tanks topped off and ammunition replenished. The Atlantic was a changed beast; as the destroyer escort steamed south, the ocean went from tiger to kitten. The sun shone warm and bright. The air turned sweet and mild. George was reminded of the weather in the Sandwich Islands. It didn't get any better than that.

British submersibles. French submersibles. Confederate submersibles. Misguided U.S. submersibles. Confederate seaplanes. Maybe even bombers and torpedo-carriers from a prowling British carrier. This part of the Atlantic was like the Sandwich Islands in more ways than the weather: it was also full of danger. Standing by the breech of the twin 40mm, George hoped he wouldn't follow in his father's last footsteps, as he'd already followed in so many.

D r. Leonard O'Doull watched Sergeant Vince Donofrio chatting up a well-fed blond Georgia farm girl with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. The senior medic seemed to try his luck with everything female from fourteen to fifty. This one-her name was Billie Jean-fell toward the lower end of the range, but not so low that she didn't have everything a woman needed. She also had an inch-long cut on her left index finger, which was what brought her to the U.S. aid station in the first place.

Donofrio had given her a shot of novocaine and put a couple of stitches in the cut. In O'Doull's professional opinion, it needed nothing but a bandage, but Donofrio had motivation beyond the purely professional.

"I never reckoned Yankees could be so kind and helpful," Billie Jean said, which showed the sergeant had made some progress, anyhow.

"I'm a medic. We help everybody on both sides." Donofrio turned to O'Doull for support. "Ain't that right, Doc?"

"That's our job." O'Doull could hardly deny it-it was true. He said it himself, somewhere between once a day and once a week. Here, though, he wished he weren't agreeing with the horny sergeant. He'd never sewn up a pretty girl's wound in the hope of getting into her pants.

Then he shook his head and started to laugh. When he sutured a cut on Lucien Galtier's leg up in Quebec, that put him in the good graces of the man who became his father-in-law. It didn't hurt him with Nicole, either. Still, he wasn't inclined to look at Vince Donofrio and Billie Jean Whoozis and intone, Bless you, my children.

As if Vince cared. "Can I walk you home, sweetie?" he asked.

Billie Jean frowned. O'Doull gave her points for that. "I don't know," she said. "Some of the guys here, they don't like it if they see a girl walkin' with a Yankee." At least she didn't say damnyankee.

"Like I said, I'm a medic," Donofrio said. "I don't give trouble, and I don't want trouble." He had a.45 on his hip, just in case. So did O'Doull.

He also had the gift of gab, even though his boss was the Irishman. He talked Billie Jean into letting him tag along. And he talked O'Doull into letting him go, which was harder. "You be back in an hour, you hear me?" O'Doull growled. "And I don't mean an hour and one minute, either. I don't see you here in an hour's time, I send a search party out after you, and you won't like it when they find you."

"I promise, Doc." The senior medic crossed his heart. Billie Jean laughed.

Ten minutes later, corpsmen brought a soldier with a hand wound into the aid station. He'd passed out, or he would have come in under his own power. One look at the injury told O'Doull the hand would have to go. He hated to do it, but he didn't see any way to save the mangled remnants. He wished Vince were there to pass gas, but he could act as his own anesthetist.

"What happened to the guy, Eddie?" he asked as he put the ether cone over the wounded man's mouth and nose. "Do you know? This is about as ugly a hand wound as I've ever seen."

"I thought the same thing, Doc," the corpsman answered. "He was by a boulder when we found him, and the boulder had blood all over it. I'm guessing, but I'd say a big old chunk of shell casing mashed his hand against the rock."

O'Doull nodded. "Sounds reasonable. But he'll have to make do with a hook from here on out. I hope he wasn't left-handed, that's all."

"Didn't even think of that." Eddie looked and sounded surprised.

The amputation went as well as an operation like that could. The cutting was over in a hurry; patching things up, as usual, took longer. At last, O'Doull said, "Well, that's about all I can do. Poor bastard won't like it when he wakes up."

"Any other doc would've done the same thing-only not as well, chances are," Eddie said. They'd worked together a long time.

"Thanks," O'Doull said wearily. "I'd like a drink, but I think I'll settle for a cigarette." He stepped outside the aid tent to light up. He'd smoked the Raleigh almost down to the butt when he happened to look at his watch. An hour and five minutes had passed since Vince Donofrio decided to walk Billie Jean home, and he wasn't back. O'Doull swore in disgust. He didn't care if Vince had got lucky. The medic wouldn't think he was by the time O'Doull got through with him.

Finding soldiers for a search party was the easiest thing in the world. He waved to the first squad he saw coming up the road and told them what he needed. The Army had made him a major so he could give enlisted men orders. "Right," said the corporal in charge of the squad. "So what do we do if we catch him laying this broad?"

"Throw cold water on him, pull him off, and haul his sorry ass back here," O'Doull replied angrily, which made the soldiers grin. They went off with a spring in their step and a gleam in their eye.

When they weren't back in half an hour or so-and when Donofrio, shamefaced or not, didn't show up on his own-O'Doull started to worry. He almost welcomed a man with a leg wound. Patching it up let him think about other things besides the medic and why he might be missing. Why the devil had he let Donofrio go? But he knew the answer to that: because Vince would have sulked and fumed for days if he hadn't, and life was too short. But if life turned out to be literally too short…

By the time another hour went by, O'Doull began to dread what would happen when the search party came back. Then they did. One look at the corporal's face told him he hadn't wasted his time worrying. "What happened?" he asked.

"Both dead," the noncom said grimly. "Beaten, stomped, kicked-you name it, they got it, the guy and the gal both. We found 'em in a field not far from the side of the road. The medic's holster was empty, so his pistol's gone. Some goddamn Confederate's got it now."

"Jesus!" O'Doull felt sick. He'd never been responsible for a man's death like this before. Plenty of wounded soldiers had died while he was working on them, but he was doing his goddamnedest to save them. Here, one word-no-would have saved Vince Donofrio. It would have, but he hadn't said it. He forced out the next question: "What now?"

"Sir, I've already talked to a line officer," the squad leader said. "We beat the bushes for the motherfuckers who did it. We take hostages. We put out the call for the guilty bastards to give themselves up. Then we blow the fuckin' hostages' heads off." He sounded as if he looked forward to serving in the firing squad.

"Jesus!" O'Doull said again. "How many people are going to die because Vince thought Billie Jean was cute?"

"She wasn't cute when we found her, sir," the corporal said. "They…Well, shit, you don't want to hear about that. But she wasn't. Neither was he."

O'Doull crossed himself. "I shouldn't have let him go. But he liked her looks, and I didn't think anything would happen this time, so-"

"You never think anything'll happen this time," the corporal said. "Only sometimes it does."

"Yeah. Sometimes it does." O'Doull covered his face with his hands. "Here's one I'll carry on my conscience the rest of my life." Yes, this was much worse than losing a patient on the table.

"We'll get 'em," the corporal said. "Or if we don't, we'll get enough of the bastards who might have done it to make the rest of the assholes around here think twice before they try anything like that again."

"Fat lot of good any of that will do Vince," O'Doull said.

"Sir, I'm sorry as hell about that. It's part of the war around these parts," the corporal said. "Sooner or later, I expect we'll put the fear of God into the Confederates."

That wouldn't do Vince Donofrio any good, either. O'Doull didn't say so-what was the use? The noncom saluted and led his squad away. Eddie came up to O'Doull. "Not your fault, Doc," he said. "You just did what anybody else would've done."

"I guess so," O'Doull said. "But if it went wrong when somebody else did it, it'd be his fault, right? So how come it's not mine?"

"You couldn't know he'd run into bushwhackers," the corpsman said.

"No, but I could know-hell, I did know-he might, and I let him go anyway. Shit." O'Doull wanted to get into the medicinal brandy, but he didn't think he deserved it. He wished a wounded man would come in so he'd be too busy to brood about what had happened-he could drown his sorrows in work as well as alcohol. But the poor slob who'd have to stop something so he could get busy didn't deserve that.

After a while, deserving or not, a soldier with a smashed shoulder came in. Acting as his own anesthetist again, O'Doull did what he could to clean out the wound and fix it up. Eddie assisted, long on willingness but not on skill. Have to get a new senior medic, O'Doull thought. He'd worked with Granny McDougald for a couple of years, with Vince Donofrio for only about three months. Now somebody else would have to figure out his quirks and foibles.

The local commandant wasted no time. Soldiers seized hostages that afternoon. They gave the men who'd ambushed Vince and Billie Jean forty-eight hours to surrender. If not…Well, if not it was a tough war all the way around.

"Has anybody ever given himself up?" O'Doull asked Major Himmelfarb, who'd sent out the ultimatum.

"It does happen once in a blue moon," the line officer answered. "Some of these bastards are proud of what they've done. They're willing-hell, they're eager-to die for their country." He shrugged. "We oblige 'em."

No one came forward to admit to killing Vince Donofrio and the girl whose finger he'd sewn up. Major Himmelfarb asked O'Doull if he wanted to watch the hostages die. He shuddered and shook his head. "No, thanks. I see enough bullet wounds every day. It won't bring Vince back, either."

"That's a fact." Major Himmelfarb looked as if he wanted to call O'Doull soft but didn't think he could. Instead, he went on, "Maybe it will keep some other dumb, horny U.S. soldier from getting his dick cut off. We can hope so, anyway."

"Right," O'Doull said tightly, wishing the other officer hadn't told him that. Sometimes you found out more than you wanted to know. He hoped the medic was dead by then.

U.S. custom was to assemble the people from the nearest town-here, it was Loganville, Georgia-to witness hostage executions and, with luck, to learn from them. Nobody in the CSA seemed to have learned much from them yet. O'Doull listened to one flat, sharp volley of rifle fire after another in the middle distance: twenty-five in all. Before they got to the last one, he did dip into the brandy. It didn't do a damn bit of good.

He kept wondering if Billie Jean's father or brothers or maybe even husband (had she worn a wedding ring? — he didn't remember, and Vince wouldn't have cared) would show up at the aid station. Then he wondered if those people were part of the crowd that had got the girl and the medic. Would they have lulled them into a false sense of security before springing the trap? He never found out.

Eddie stayed in the aid tent as his first assistant for three days. Then the replacement depot coughed up a new senior medic, a sergeant named, of all things, Goodson Lord. He was tall and blond and handsome-he really might have been God's gift to women, unlike poor Donofrio, who only thought he was.

O'Doull greeted him with a fishy stare. "How hard do you chase skirt?" he demanded.

"Not very much, sir," Lord answered. Something in his voice made O'Doull give him a different kind of fishy look: did he chase men instead? Well, if he did, he'd damn well know he had to be careful about that. Queers didn't have an easy time of it anywhere.

"Make sure you don't, not around here," was all O'Doull thought he could say. "The guy you're replacing did, and they murdered him for it." Sergeant Lord nodded without another word of his own.

When a U.S. soldier came in with a bullet in the hip, Lord proved plenty capable. He knew much more than Eddie, and probably more than poor Vince had. The aid station would run just fine. That was O'Doull's biggest concern. Everything else took second place, and a distant second to boot.

A rmstrong Grimes and his platoon leader crouched-sprawled, really-in a shell hole northeast of Covington, Georgia. Armstrong was wet and cold. A hard, nasty rain had started in the middle of the night and showed no signs of letting up. The Confederates had a machine gun in a barn half a mile ahead. Every so often, it would fire a burst and make the U.S. soldiers keep their heads down.

"Wish we had a couple of barrels in the neighborhood," Armstrong said. "They'd quiet that fucker down in a hurry. Even a mortar team would do the trick."

"Well, it's not that you're wrong, Sergeant," Lieutenant Bassler replied. "But what we've got is-us. We're going to have to take that gun out, too. We leave it there, it stalls a battalion's worth of men."

"Yes, sir," Armstrong said resignedly. It wasn't that Bassler was wrong, either. But approaching a machine gun wasn't one of the more enjoyable jobs infantry got.

"For once, the rain helps," Bassler said. "Bastards in there won't be able to see us coming so well."

"Yes, sir," Armstrong said again. He knew what that meant. They'd be able to get closer to the gun before it knocked them down.

"You take your squad around toward the back of the barn," Bassler said. "I'll lead another group toward the front. We ought to be able to work our way in pretty close, and then we'll play it by ear."

"Yes, sir," Armstrong said one more time. He didn't have anything else to say, not here. Bassler wasn't just coming along. He'd given himself the more dangerous half of the mission. You wanted to follow an officer who did things like that.

"All right, then. I'll give you ten minutes to gather your men. We'll move out at"-Bassler checked his watch-"at 0850, and I'll see you by the barn."

"0850. Yes, sir. See you there." Armstrong scrambled out of the hole and wiggled off toward the men he led. The machine gun opened up on him, but halfheartedly, as if the crew wasn't sure it was really shooting at anything. He dove into another hole, then came out and kept going.

"Password!" That was a U.S. accent.

"Remembrance," Armstrong said, and then, "It's me, Squidface."

"Yeah, I guess it is, Sarge," the PFC answered. "Come on. What's up? We goin' after that fuckin' gun?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?" Armstrong said. "Our guys go to the right, the lieutenant goes to the left, and when we get close whoever sees the chance knocks it out. Will you take point?"

Squidface was little and skinny and nervous-he made a good point man, and a good point man made everybody else likely to live longer. But even the best point man was more likely to get shot than his buddies. He was there to sniff out trouble, sometimes by running into it.

"Yeah, I'll do it." Squidface didn't sound enthusiastic, but he didn't say no. "Who you gonna put in behind me?"

"I'll go myself," Armstrong said. "Zeb the Hat after me, then the rest of the guys. Or do you have some other setup you like better?"

"No, that oughta work," Squidface said. "If anything works, I mean. If the guys at the gun decide to go after us-"

"Yeah, we're screwed in that case," Armstrong agreed. "You got plenty of grenades? Need 'em for a job like this."

"I got 'em," Squidface said. "Don't worry about that."

"Good. We move at 0850."

Armstrong gathered up the rest of his squad. Nobody was thrilled about going after the machine gun, but nobody hung back, either. At 0850 on the dot, they trotted toward the barn. The rain had got heavier. Armstrong liked that. Not only would it veil them from the gunners, the drum and drip would mask the noise they made splashing through puddles.

Somewhere off to the left, Lieutenant Bassler's men were moving, too. Maybe it'll be easy, Armstrong thought hopefully. Maybe the guys at the gun won't know we're around till we get right on top of them. Maybe-

The gun started hammering. Despite the rain, Armstrong had no trouble seeing the muzzle flashes. They all seemed to be aimed right at him. He yipped and hit the dirt-hit the mud, rather.

Nobody behind him screamed, so he dared hope the burst missed the men he led, too. He peered ahead. He didn't see Squidface on his feet, but nobody with his head on straight would have stayed upright when the machine gun cut loose.

He hoped the platoon commander and his guys were taking advantage of all this. They could be getting close…

Then the hateful gun started up again. This time, it was aimed away from Armstrong and his squad. "Up!" he shouted. "Get cracking!" He splashed forward. And there was Squidface, up and running, too. Armstrong breathed a silent sigh of relief. He'd feared he would lope past the point man's corpse.

They'd got within a couple of hundred yards when the machine gun cut off once more. "Down!" Squidface yelled, and suited action to word.

Armstrong threw himself flat, too. Three seconds later, a bullet snarled through the place where he'd been standing. That made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Somebody behind him yowled like a cat with its tail in a rocking chair-Whitey, he thought. His mouth shaped the word Fuck.

Three or four guys from Lieutenant Bassler's group opened up on the machine-gun crew-they could see the Confederates better than Armstrong and his squad could. Then another machine gun farther back opened up on them.

This time, Armstrong said, "Fuck," out loud. He might have known-and Bassler might have known, too-that the Confederates would have one gun covering another. Once the men in green-gray knocked out this one, they would have to stalk the next. And if they didn't take more casualties doing it, God would have doled out a miracle, and He was as niggardly with them as a quartermaster sergeant was with new boots.

As soon as the gun in the barn swung back to Lieutenant Bassler's men, Armstrong and his squad rushed it. They hadn't given themselves away by firing, so the gun farther back didn't know they were around-and the men they were attacking didn't realize how much trouble they were in till too late.

Squidface threw the first grenade. Armstrong's first flew at the same time as the PFC's second. The Confederate machine gunners howled. The gun got off a short burst. This time, two bullets came closer to Armstrong than they had any business doing. Another grenade knocked the machine gun sideways. The soldiers in butternut who could still fight grabbed for their personal weapons. None of them fired a shot. Armstrong's men made sure of that.

"Turn the gun around," Armstrong said. "We'll let the assholes at the next position farther back know their turn's coming up."

None of his men was a regular machine gunner. But if you could use a rifle, you could use a machine gun after a fashion. They'd all practiced with them in basic training. And the C.S. weapon was about as simple to use as a machine gun could be. Squidface aimed the gun while Zeb the Hat gathered fresh belts of ammunition.

"You know," Squidface said as he squeezed off a burst, "this goddamn thing has a bipod, too. We could take it off the tripod mount and bring it along with us."

"Are you volunteering?" Armstrong asked.

"Yeah, I'll do it," Squidface said. "Why the hell not? We sure get a lot of extra firepower, and we can probably liberate enough ammo to keep it fed."

"It's yours, then." Armstrong was all for extra firepower. If Squidface wanted to carry the machine gun instead of a lighter rifle, that was fine with him.

The Confederates back closer to Covington realized what machine-gun fire coming their way was bound to mean. They returned it. Armstrong flattened out like a nightcrawler under a barrel. The Confederates shot a little high, so nobody got hit.

"Way to go!" Lieutenant Bassler's voice came out of the rain. "Shall we stalk these next assholes, too?"

A gung-ho lieutenant was good. A lieutenant who got too gung-ho wasn't, because he'd get people killed. "Sir, I have one man wounded, maybe two," Armstrong answered. "Let's round up a mortar team and see if we can drop shit on the bastards instead."

When Bassler didn't say yes right away, Armstrong got a sinking feeling. The platoon commander was going to tell him no. That machine-gun crew up ahead would be waiting for the U.S. soldiers to come at them-not a chance in hell for surprise. Armstrong didn't want an oak-leaf cluster for his Purple Heart.

But before Lieutenant Bassler could issue what might literally have been a fatal order, a couple of Confederates fired short bursts from their automatic rifles in the direction of the gun Armstrong's squad had just captured. Nobody got hurt, but the U.S. soldiers hit the dirt again. Armstrong jammed an index finger up against the bottom of his nose to kill a sneeze. Wouldn't get a Purple Heart for pneumonia, he thought, but I'd sure as hell end up in the hospital with it.

The extra gunfire convinced Bassler he'd had a bad idea. "They've got a regular line up there," he said. "That gun's not just an outpost, the way this one was. No point slamming our faces into it-a mortar team's probably a better plan. Good thinking, Sergeant."

"Uh-thank you, sir," Armstrong answered. When was the last time an officer told him something like that? Had an officer ever told him anything like that? Damned if he could remember.

Squidface winked at him. "Teacher's pet."

"Yeah, well, up yours, Charlie," Armstrong replied. "You want to charge a machine-gun nest when Featherston's fuckers are waiting for you, go ahead. Don't let me stop you."

"No, thanks," Squidface said. "Already got my asshole puckered once today. That's plenty. Hell, that's once too many."

"Twice too many," Zeb the Hat said. "Why ain't we twenty miles back of the line, eatin' offa tablecloths an' screwin' nurses?"

"'Cause we're lucky," Armstrong said, which drew a chorus of derisive howls. "And 'cause no nurse ever born'd be desperate enough to screw you, Zeb."

"Huh! Shows what you know, Sarge." Zeb the Hat launched into a story that was highly obscene and even more highly unlikely. It was entertaining, though, almost entertaining enough to make Armstrong forget he lay sprawled in cold mud with an enemy machine gun not nearly far enough away.

A few minutes later, mortar bombs started bursting somewhere near that C.S. gun. Through the driving rain, Armstrong couldn't tell how close they were coming. "Hey, you guys at the gun, fire off a burst," Lieutenant Bassler said. "Let's see if they answer."

"I'll do it if you want, sir," Squidface said, "but if I was a Confederate I'd sandbag and see if I could lure us in."

"Fuck me," Bassler said. "Yeah, you're right. Maybe we'd better sit tight for a while, wait till reinforcements come up."

Armstrong liked that order just fine. He drew back into the barn and lit a cigarette. It wasn't so bad in here. It was dry-though the roof dripped-and nobody was shooting at him right this minute. What more could you want? A horny nurse, he thought, and then, Yeah, wish for the moon while you're at it.

Jorge Rodriguez had a stripe on his sleeve. Making PFC meant he got another six dollars each and every month. It meant he got to tell buck privates what to do. And it meant the Confederate Army didn't care that he was a greaser from Sonora. He'd convinced the people above him that he made a pretty decent soldier.

Sergeant Blackledge treated him no different on account of his promotion. Blackledge treated everybody under him like dirt all the time. And not just people under him-the sergeant had threatened to shoot General Patton if he didn't quit slapping a soldier with combat fatigue. As far as Jorge was concerned, that took more guts than bravery against the damnyankees.

"Hey, Sarge!" Gabriel Medwick called as Jorge sewed on his stripe. "How come I don't get promoted, too?" He sounded more than half joking-he and Jorge were buddies. He was tall and blond and handsome: the Freedom Party ideal. Jorge was none of the above. They got on well anyhow.

"Next time we need a guy, I reckon you will," Blackledge answered. "In the meantime, don't get your balls in an uproar. You can't buy more'n a couple of extra fucks on a PFC's pay, so if you get too horny to stand it in the meantime, just pull it out of your pants and beat it."

That made Jorge snicker, but it shut Gabe up like a gag-and turned him sunset-red, too. He was as innocent as if he'd been born into the previous century; Jorge wondered if he'd heard about the facts of life before the Army grabbed him. Girls would have fallen all over him, too. Hardly any of the girls in Georgia wanted to look at Jorge, much less do anything else. He wasn't a nigger, but he wasn't exactly white, either.

Georgia girls might not think he was good enough to lay them, but they thought he was plenty good enough to keep the damnyankees away. He crouched in a muddy foxhole on Floyd Street, in front of what had been the Usher House. He gathered it had been a local landmark before the war came this way. But U.S. artillery and air strikes had accomplished its fall. Half a dozen columns had stretched across its front. Now they-and the house timbers-were knocked every which way, like God's game of pick-up-sticks.

Orders were to defend Covington to the last man. Sergeant Blackledge had some lewd remarks about orders like that. Jorge understood why, too. The veteran noncom had no problems about killing Yankees. He'd done a lot of it. He was much less happy about the prospect of getting killed himself. Who wasn't?

But Jorge could also see why the powers that be issued those orders. U.S. forces were curling down from the northeast. Every town they took cut off one more route into and out of Atlanta. Every advance they made brought more roads and railroad lines into artillery range. If they kept coming, Atlanta would fall-or else they would just strangle it and let it wither on the vine. The Confederacy had to stop them somewhere. Why not Covington?

Rising screams in the air made Jorge duck down low and fold himself up as small as he could. He didn't need the shouts of "Incoming!" to know artillery was on the way.

Most of it came down in back of the positions his squad was holding. In a way, that was a relief. It meant there was less risk of a round's butchering him right this minute. But it left him worried about what was coming next. Were the damnyankees trying to cut the town off from reinforcements? If they were, did that mean they'd try to smash through soon?

"Barrels!" somebody shouted. Jorge could have done without such a prompt answer to his question.

If the U.S. soldiers thought they could waltz into Covington, they had to change their minds in a hurry. A rocket took out the lead U.S. barrel, and an antibarrel cannon set two more on fire. Confederate artillery pounded the poor damned infantrymen loping along with the barrels. The rain kept Jorge from seeing them, but he knew they'd be there. U.S. attacks worked about the same as the ones his side used.

Enemy fire eased. "Taught 'em a lesson that time," Gabe Medwick said.

"Sн." Jorge nodded. "Now what kind of lesson they gonna try and teach us?" He had a Sonoran accent, but his English was good.

"They've gotta know they can't drive us outa here as easy as they want to," his pal said.

"Sн," Jorge repeated, and he nodded again. "But they don't always gotta drive us out to make us move."

"Huh?" Medwick might be blond and brave and handsome, but there were good and cogent reasons why nobody had ever accused him of being bright. That was probably a big part of why Jorge had a stripe and he didn't.

Jorge didn't try to explain things to Gabe. Life was too short. If he was lucky, he was wrong, in which case the explanation would only be a waste of time anyhow. He just said, "Well, we find out," and let it go at that.

More U.S. artillery came down on Covington. A lot of it landed up toward the front line. Yes, the Yankees were annoyed that the defenders didn't lie down and quit. Before long, the shelling eased up again and a U.S. officer approached under a flag of truce. "What the hell you want?" Sergeant Blackledge yelled.

"You fought well," the lieutenant answered. "Your honor is satisfied. Throw down your weapons and surrender and you'll be treated well. If you keep fighting, though, you don't have a chance. We can't answer for what will happen to you then."

Blackledge had to wait for a Confederate officer to answer that; it wasn't his place. After a couple of minutes, somebody did: "We're ordered to hold this position. We don't reckon you can drive us out. If you want to try, come ahead."

The lieutenant in green-gray saluted. "You asked for it. Now you'll get it." He turned around and went back to his own lines.

"Hunker down, boys! Hunker down tight!" Sergeant Blackledge yelled. "We went and pissed the damnyankees off, an' they're gonna try and make us pay for it."

Jorge pulled his entrenching tool off his belt and went to work with it. What he could do to improve his foxhole wasn't much, though. What U.S. guns could do to wreck it was liable to be a lot more. And the enemy's cannon wasted little time before they started trying to knock Covington flat again. Jorge swore in English and Spanish when he heard gas shells gurgling in and people shouting out warnings. Gas wouldn't do as much in the rain as it would on a clear day, but he still had to put on his mask. Raindrops on the glass in front of his eyes made him seem to peer through streaked and splattered windows. Could he shoot straight? If he had to, he had to, that was all.

"Barrels!" That shout filled him with fear, because even with an automatic rifle he couldn't do anything about a barrel. He had to depend on others to take care of that part of the job-and if they didn't, he was dead even though he hadn't made any mistakes.

But they did. That antibarrel cannon knocked out two more U.S. machines in quick succession. The rest pulled back instead of charging into Covington.

"You can't answer," Sergeant Blackledge jeered. "You ain't got the balls to answer, you stinking Yankee cocksuckers." Talking through the mask, he sounded as if his voice came from the far side of the moon. That made him seem more scornful, not less.

No more barrels drew within range of the gun. U.S. infantry didn't swarm forward, either. Machine gunners and riflemen-and the artillery-made the Confederates keep their heads down. Some of the machine guns were captured C.S. weapons. Jorge knew the difference when they fired. His own side's guns spat far more rounds per minute than the ones the USA made.

Like Blackledge, he thought the U.S. lieutenant was trying to bluff the defenders of Covington out of a position from which they couldn't be forced. The truth turned out to be less simple. With all those shells landing close by, he didn't want to stick up his head and look around. But before long he had to-he could hear something going on to the south.

Because of what the rain was doing to the lenses on his gas mask, he couldn't see very far. But things weren't going well outside of town, though his ears told him more about that than his eyes could. Barrels were moving forward there-forward from the U.S. point of view, that is. They had plenty of artillery and small-arms support, too.

What kind of line did the CSA have south of Covington? Jorge didn't know. Up till now, he hadn't worried about it. He realized that maybe he should have. Heavy fire came from a little east of due south. After a while, it came from due south. After another little while, it came from west of due south.

You didn't have to be a professor with frizzy, uncombed hair and thick glasses to figure out what that meant. The damnyankees had tried to force a breakthrough there, and it looked as if they'd done it. The next interesting question was what they would do with it. They didn't keep anybody waiting long for an answer. Shells and machine-gun bullets came into Covington from the south as well as from the east and north. There was also firing from southwest of town, which wasn't good. If the defenders held their ground much longer, they'd be hanging on to a surrounded town. Those stories didn't have happy endings.

Other soldiers saw the same thing. They must have-otherwise, why would they start slipping out of Covington to the west? And why would Sergeant Blackledge watch them slip away without ordering them to stop or, just as likely, shooting them in the back?

"We gonna get orders to pull out, Sarge?" Gabriel Medwick asked.

"Beats the shit out of me," Blackledge answered. "If we don't, though, we'll spend the rest of the war in a POW camp…if the Yankees bother taking prisoners. If they don't, we'll be lucky if they waste the time to bury us."

Jorge didn't worry much about what happened to his body once he was done using it. But he wasn't-nowhere close. And dying to keep a third-rate town out of U.S. hands for a few extra minutes struck him as a waste of his precious and irreplaceable life. "When you gonna go, Sarge?" he called.

"Pretty damn quick," Blackledge said. "This place ain't worth throwin' myself down the crapper for. Unless somebody orders me to stay, I'm gone." And if somebody did order him, he might suddenly become hard of listening. It wouldn't surprise Jorge at all.

Before long, a worried-sounding lieutenant said, "We'd better pull back. If we don't, they're liable to cut us off."

"Would you believe it?" Sergeant Blackledge said. "Boy, if the officers can see it, you know it must be obvious."

Despite the noncom's sarcasm, Jorge felt better about pulling back with the lieutenant's permission. U.S. forces didn't make it easy. As soon as they realized the Confederates were withdrawing from Covington, men in green-gray pushed into the town from the northeast. Two mortar bombs burst closer to Jorge than he cared to think about. Fragments hissed and snarled past him. He felt a ghostly tug at his trouser leg, and looked down to discover a new tear. But he wasn't bleeding.

Things got more dangerous, not less, when he left Covington behind. The Yankees who'd broken through to the south lashed the fields with gunfire. Jorge was glad to scramble into a truck and get out of there much faster than he could have hoofed it.

Gabe Medwick sat across from him. "We got to hold 'em somewheres, or else we ain't gonna keep Atlanta," he said. He might not be bright, but he had no trouble seeing that. Who would?

"How can we hold, they keep pounding on us like this?" Jorge asked.

"Beats me." His buddy shrugged. "But if we don't, we won't just lose Atlanta. We'll lose the damn war."

You also didn't need to be bright to see that. Neither Jorge nor any of the other wet, weary soldiers in the truck tried to argue with him. They'd got out of Covington alive. Right now, that seemed more than enough.

F irst Sergeant Chester Martin looked at his company's new transport with a raised eyebrow. Command cars, halftracks, guerrilla-style pickup trucks with a machine gun mounted in the bed…anything that could move pretty fast and shoot up whatever got in the way. They were going to head east from Monroe, Georgia, till they ran into something tough enough to stop them…if they did. The Great War hadn't been like this at all. In those days, both sides measured advances in yards, not miles.

Lieutenant Boris Lavochkin, Martin's platoon commander, didn't remember the Great War or give a damn about it. Chester was supposed to ride herd on him, as he had with other young lieutenants. It wasn't easy with Lavochkin, who had a mind and a cold, hard will of his own.

Chester suspected Lavochkin wouldn't stay a second lieutenant long. He had higher rank written all over him-if he didn't stop a Confederate bullet. But one of the things that marked him for higher rank was a propensity for going where enemy bullets were thickest. Chester would have minded less had he not needed to go along.

"My platoon-listen up!" Lavochkin said. And it was his platoon, which surprised Chester Martin more than a little. "We're going to go out there, and we're going to smash up every goddamn thing we bump into. We're going to show these sorry clowns that their government and their troops aren't worth the paper they're printed on. And we're going to show them what war is like. If they wanted one so bad, let's see how much they want it when it's in their own backyard."

A savage baying rose from the men. Lavochkin was an unusual leader. He didn't make his soldiers love him. He made them hate the other side instead. And he left them no doubt that he felt the same way-or that he'd make them sorry if they were soft or hung back.

"Nobody's going to mind if you bring back goodies, either," he finished. "Lavochkin's Looters, that's us! They'll be howling from New Orleans to Richmond by the time we get through with 'em!"

That got another fierce cheer from the men. They liked the idea of making the CSA pay for the war. They liked the idea of lining their own pockets while they did it, too. Chester caught Captain Rhodes' eye. They shared bemused grins. Captain Rhodes was a pretty damn good company CO, but he didn't know what to make of the tiger now under his command, either.

The soldiers piled into their motley assortment of transport. Martin would have liked to get into a command car with Lieutenant Lavochkin, but Lavochkin didn't want him that close at hand. He climbed into a halftrack instead. Yes, it was the lieutenant's show, all right.

Nobody seemed to expect a U.S. force to head east from Monroe. Morrell's troops had been using the town as a pivot point for the move to isolate Atlanta. They held off C.S. attacks from the north and, that done, wheeled around Atlanta instead of trying to break in. But with the main city in Georgia still in Confederate hands, no one in butternut was ready for raiders to strike in any other direction.

Every time the U.S. soldiers spotted an auto or truck on the road, they opened up with their machine guns. What.50-caliber slugs did to soft-skinned vehicles wasn't pretty. What they did to softer-skinned human beings was even uglier. The shock from one of those thumb-sized bullets could kill even if the wound wouldn't have otherwise.

And when Lavochkin's Looters and the rest of Captain Rhodes' company rolled into High Shoals, the first hamlet east of Monroe…It would have been funny if it weren't so grim. The locals greeted them with waves and smiles. It didn't occur to them that soldiers from the other side could appear in their midst without warning.

Lieutenant Lavochkin showed them what a mistake they'd made. He sprayed bullets around as if afraid he'd have to pay for any he brought back to Monroe. Women and children and old men ran screaming, those who didn't fall. Glass exploded from the front windows of the block-long business district. And Lavochkin howled like a coyote.

When he opened up, everybody else followed his lead. Grenades flew. A soldier with a flamethrower leaped out of a halftrack and shot a jet of blazing jellied gasoline at the closest frame house. It went up right away.

High Shoals had to be too small to have a militia of its own. There were probably as many U.S. soldiers as locals in the little town. In moments, though, two or three people found old Tredegars or squirrel guns and started shooting back. Chester spotted a muzzle flash. "There!" he yelled, and pointed toward the window from which it came. A machine gun and several rifles answered, and no more bullets came from that direction.

The raiders hardly even slowed down. Leaving ruin and death and fire behind them, they went on along the road toward Good Hope, a town that was about to see its name turn into a lie. Good Hope might have been a little larger than High Shoals, but the people there were no more ready for an irruption of damnyankees than their fellow Georgians farther west had been.

In Good Hope, all the U.S. machine guns opened fire at once. People fell, shrieking and writhing and kicking. They looked like civilians anywhere in the USA. One of the women who caught a bullet was a nice-looking blonde. Waste of a natural resource, Chester thought, and fired his rifle at a man with a big belly and a bald head with a white fringe of hair. Another round caught him at the same time as Chester's. He didn't seem to know which way to fall, but fall he did.

When the shooting started, some people came rushing out of houses and shops to see what was going on. People always reacted like that. It was the worst thing they could do, but a good many did. They paid the price for mistimed curiosity, too.

Lavochkin shot up the filling station. That got a good blaze going in nothing flat. He whooped as flames shot skyward from the pumps. "See how you like it, you bastards!" he yelled. "Hope your whole town burns in hell!"

As in High Shoals, a few determined people in Good Hope tried to fight back. Bullets came from upstairs windows and from behind fences. Overwhelming U.S. firepower soon silenced the locals' rifles and pistols. But one alert and determined man drove his auto sideways across the street to try to keep the green-gray vehicles from going any deeper into Georgia. He paid for his courage with his life. A fusillade of bullets not only killed him but flattened three of the tires on the motorcar.

And in the end he delayed the U.S. column only a few minutes. A halftrack rumbled forward and shoved the hulk out of the way. "Good thing we didn't set the son of a bitch on fire," Chester said. "Then we would've had to look for a way around."

"Screw it," said the soldier sitting next to him. "We would've found one. C'mon, Sarge. You think these sorry civilian assholes can stop us?"

"Doesn't look like it-that's for sure," Chester answered.

East of Good Hope, the column bumped into a platoon of short, swarthy soldiers in uniforms of a khaki yellower than the usual Confederate butternut. Mexicans, Chester realized, probably out chasing Negro guerrillas.

Like the locals, the Mexican troops took a few fatal seconds too long to realize the approaching soldiers weren't on their side. Some of Francisco Josй's men waved and took a few steps toward the command cars and halftracks.

"Let 'em have it, boys!" Captain Rhodes sang out. Everybody who could get off a shot without endangering U.S. soldiers in front of him opened up. The Mexicans went down like wheat before the harvester. A few tried to run. A few tried to shoot back. They got off only a handful of rounds before they were mowed down, too. A U.S. corporal yowled and swore and clutched his shoulder. Chester thought he was the first U.S. casualty of the day.

Southeast of Good Hope lay Apalachee. Rhodes ordered the U.S. vehicles to stop about a mile outside of town. Lieutenant Lavochkin's broad features clouded over. "You're not going to let this place off easy, are you, sir?" he demanded. "That's not what we're here for."

"I know what we're here for, Lieutenant. Keep your shirt on." The company commander seemed to enjoy putting Lavochkin in his place. Chester Martin would have, too, but it wasn't always easy for a noncom. Rhodes went on, "Mortar crews-out! Let's give them a few rounds from nowhere before we pay our respects. That should make them good and glad to see us when we roll into town."

As the men with the light mortars set up and started lobbing bombs towards Apalachee, Lieutenant Lavochkin smiled a smile Chester wouldn't have wanted to see aimed at him. Lavochkin pointed it toward the enemy, where it belonged. He gave Rhodes the most respectful salute Martin had ever seen from him.

Apalachee might have been an ants' nest that somebody had kicked when Captain Rhodes' company came in. People were running every which way. Wounded men and women screamed. A few buildings had chunks bitten out of them.

A middle-aged man in a business suit ran toward the lead command car. The left arm of his jacket was pinned up: he had no arm to fill it. "Thank God you're here!" he yelled. "We got a call from Good Hope that there were Yankees loose, and then they went and mortared us."

"How about that?" Boris Lavochkin took aim with the command car's machine gun.

"Uh-oh," the Georgian said: the last phrase that ever passed his lips. He started to turn away, which did no good at all. Lavochkin's burst almost cut him in half.

People shrieked and fled. Bullets and grenades made sure they didn't get far. Wails filled the streets. Chester shot a man who was reaching into the waistband of his trousers. Did he have a pistol stashed there? Nobody except him would ever know now. The bullet from the Springfield blew off the top of his head.

"This hardly seems fair," said the private next to Chester. "Not like we're fighting soldiers or anything."

"They're all the enemy," Chester answered, working the bolt and chambering a new round. "If they can't find enough soldiers to keep us from getting at civilians, what does that say?"

"I bet it says we're winning." The private grinned. He had a captured C.S. automatic rifle, and lots of magazines for it. Unlike Chester, he hardly bothered aiming. He just sprayed bullets around. Some of them were bound to hit something.

"I bet you're right." Chester Martin shot a man who drove his auto into range at exactly the wrong time. The fellow might not even have known U.S. soldiers were loose in Apalachee. He didn't get much of a chance to find out, either.

Lieutenant Lavochkin shot up another gas station-he seemed to enjoy that. This one rewarded him with a spectacular fireball. Had he been closer when he opened up, the flames might have swallowed his command car.

"Whoa!" shouted the kid next to Chester. "Hot stuff!"

"Yeah," Chester said. "We're hot stuff, and the Confederates can't do much about it, doesn't look like. If we had enough gas, I bet we could make it damn near to the ocean."

"That'd be something," the private said.

But things stopped being so much fun not long after they got out of Apalachee. An enemy barrel blew a command car into twisted, burning sheet metal. U.S. soldiers leaped out of the vehicles that carried them and stalked the metal monster. It wasn't a new model, but it was plenty tough enough. It wrecked another couple of vehicles and shot several soldiers before somebody clambered up on top of it and threw grenades into the turret. That settled that: the barrel brewed up.

"Fools," Boris Lavochkin said scornfully. "They didn't have infantry along to protect it."

"They probably didn't have any to spare," Chester said. Lavochkin thought that over. Then he smiled again. Any soldier in butternut who saw that smile would have wanted to surrender on the spot.

F lora Blackford found a place to sit on the Socialists' side of the aisle. Congressional Hall was always crowded during a joint session. President La Follette hadn't called many. He seemed to think actions spoke louder than words. Oddly, that made his words resonate more when he did choose to use them.

The Speaker of the House introduced him: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the distinct honor and high privilege of presenting to you the President of the United States!"

Charlie La Follette took his place behind the lectern. The lights gleamed off his silver hair. Along with everybody else in the hall, Flora applauded till her hands were sore. La Follette was an accidental President, but he was turning out to be a pretty good one.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you," he said. "I come before you today-I come before the people of the United States today-to help right a wrong that has continued in our country for too long.

"We do not have a large number of Negro citizens in the United States. Most Negroes in North America have always lived in the Confederacy. This is partly our own fault, as we have been slow to accept refugees from the oppression that has long existed there.

"Not caring for a man because of the color of his skin is one thing. Leaving him to die in a country that hates him is something else again. It is a mistake, a reprehensible mistake, and not one we will continue to make. Any human being, regardless of color, is entitled to live free. I will ask that legislation be introduced in Congress to make sure this comes true.

"And, I fear, we have committed another injustice. For too long, we have believed that Negro men lack the courage to fight for their country. We have never conscripted them into the Army or even let them volunteer. In the Navy, we let them cook food and tend engines, but no more. This is not right, not if they are men like any others, citizens like any others.

"As if further proof were needed, colored guerrilla fighters in the Confederate States have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that courage is not a question of black and white. Without their brave efforts, our war against Jake Featherston's vicious tyranny would be even harder and more perilous than it is.

"No law prevents the enlistment and conscription of Negroes into the armed forces of the United States. We have relied on long-standing custom instead. I say to you that this custom will stand no longer. By its dreadful example, the Confederacy shows us how evil prejudice of any sort is. This being so, I have today issued an executive order forbidding discrimination on the basis of race in the recruitment, training, and promotion of all U.S. military forces."

He paused there, perhaps wondering what kind of applause he would get. Flora clapped hard. So did almost all the Socialists and Republicans listening to President La Follette. And so did most of the Democrats in Congressional Hall. Flora was sure Robert Taft would have if a people bomb hadn't killed him; he was a conservative, yes, but one with a strong sense of justice. Only a few reactionaries, men who harked back to the days when their party dominated the states that became the CSA and the attitudes that went with those days, sat on their hands.

President La Follette beamed out at Congress. He must have got a better hand than he expected. Sounding relieved, he continued, "Under the terms of the executive order, Negro men from the ages of eighteen to forty-eight will have sixty days to register for conscription at the center nearest their homes. Once registered, they will be selected at random on the same basis as whites-and, for that matter, on the same basis as Orientals and Indians. Failure to register within sixty days will lead to the same penalties for them as for anyone else who tries to evade conscription."

Flora wouldn't have talked about penalties right after lifting the bar of discrimination. She didn't think Al Smith would have. Charlie La Follette didn't have such sure political instincts. If he did, he might have got elected on his own hook instead of being chosen to balance the Socialist ticket. Instincts or not, though, he was getting the job done.

If a bomb blew Jake Featherston to hell, how would the Confederate States fare under Don Partridge? As far as Flora could see, the Vice President of the CSA was a handsome, smiling, brainless twit. She suspected Featherston chose him as a running mate because he was a nobody: not a rival, not a threat. The previous Confederate Vice President had tried to murder his boss, and by all accounts damn near succeeded. Nonentities near the center of things were safer. As long as Jake Featherston survived, it didn't matter. His ferocious energy drove the CSA. But if he died…

Wishing he would made Flora miss a few words of President La Follette's speech. When she started paying attention again, he was saying, "…and 1944 is only two weeks away. It will be the fourth year of the war. But I pledge to you, people of the United States, it will also be the last! This is our year of victory!"

A great roar went up from the assembled Senators and Representatives. They sprang to their feet, clapping and cheering. No one hung back, not the most ardently revolutionary Socialists and not the most hidebound Democrats. The only alternative to beating Jake Featherston was losing to him, and he seemed to have gone out of his way to show the United States how horrid that would be.

"The birthday of the Prince of Peace is almost here," La Follette said after the Congressmen and — women reluctantly took their seats again, "and we shall have peace. That is my pledge to you. We shall have peace-and on our terms."

He got another stormy round of applause. If the United States won the war by this coming November, he would get more than that: he likely would get elected President on his own hook. And he would have earned it, too.

Flora wondered whether he would threaten to rain a new destruction on the Confederate States if they didn't give up, the way the Kaiser had warned Britain and France. But he kept silent there. Thinking about it, Flora decided it made sense. Jake Featherston knew what the United States was working on. He was working on the same thing himself. If he got it first, he might win yet. Every U.S. bombing raid on the C.S. uranium project made that less likely, but you never could tell. The Confederacy's rockets warned that its scientists and engineers were not to be despised, even if its leaders were.

"North America must have peace," was the way Charlie La Follette chose to finish. "Four times now, during one long lifetime, war has ravaged our continent. It must never come again-never, I say! Before the War of Secession, the United States stood off England in the fight that gave us our national anthem and defeated Mexico to plant our flag on the Pacific coast. We dominated the continent, being the sole power at its heart. And, when this cruel war ends at last, we shall do the same again!"

There! He'd said it! That was probably more important than obliquely warning the Confederates about uranium bombs. Charlie La Follette had declared there would be no more Confederates, no more CSA, when the war was over. If he could go down in history as the Great Reuniter, wouldn't he make people forget about Abraham Lincoln and the way the United States fell to pieces during his luckless term in office?

Senators and Representatives contemplating the end of the Confederate States cheered even louder than they had before. It wasn't given to many men to be in at the birth of something wonderful. If you couldn't do that, being in at the death of something foul was almost as good.

Congressmen and — women crowded up to congratulate the President as he stepped down from the rostrum. Flora started to, but then changed her mind. Charlie La Follette would know how she felt. And she wanted to find out what Jake Featherston had to say about his opposite number's speech. She didn't think she would need to wait very long.

But when she got to her office, Bertha waved a message form at her. "Mr. Roosevelt would like to see you as soon as you can see him, Congresswoman," she said.

"Is he coming here, or does he want me to go to the War Department?" Flora asked.

"He called right when the President finished. When I told him I expected you back soon, he said he was on his way," her secretary answered.

Roosevelt got there about fifteen minutes later. He wheeled himself into Flora's inner office and closed the door behind him. "What's going on, Franklin?" she asked.

"Well, I'm afraid I have bad news, and I wanted you to hear it straight from me," the Assistant Secretary of War said. "The Confederates landed raiders in Washington State-we think by submersible-and they fired a good many mortar rounds at the uranium project."

"Gevalt!" she exclaimed. "How bad is it?"

"They did some damage, damn them. We're still trying to figure out just how much," Roosevelt replied. "Two or three mortar bombs hit one of the dormitories, too. We lost some talented people, and they won't be easy shoes to fill."

"How close are we? Can we go on without them?"

Franklin Roosevelt shrugged broad shoulders. "We have to. And we're getting very close. I don't know how much this will delay us. I'm not sure it'll delay us at all. But I'm not sure it won't, either." He spread his hands. "We just have to see."

"What about the Confederate project? Are we delaying it?"

"If we're not, it isn't from lack of effort. That town will never be the same, and neither will that university. But they're burrowing like moles, putting as much as they can underground. That's delaying them all by itself. They haven't quit, though. I don't think that bastard Featherston knows what the word means."

"They won't get another chance to do this to us. They've already had too many," Flora said.

"Charlie made a good speech there," Roosevelt agreed. "I bet Jake Featherston's mad enough to spit rivets."

"Shall we see?" Flora reached for the knob on her wireless set. Even after it warmed up, static stuttered and farted as she turned the tuner to a frequency Featherston often used. The USA and CSA kept jamming each other's stations as hard as they could. Richmond's main transmitter, though, punched through the jamming more often than not.

Sure enough, the Confederate President came on the air right away. "I don't need to tell you the truth, on account of Charlie La Follette just did it for me," Featherston snarled. "The truth is, he aims to wipe the Confederate States clean off the map. Charlie La Follette thinks he's Abe Lincoln. Turned out Lincoln couldn't wipe us out. Old Charlie'll find out the hard way he can't, either. I know the Confederate people won't let the country down. They never have. They never will. And Charlie La Follette will hear from us real soon now. You bet he will. So long."

He wasn't kidding. At least a dozen long-range rockets slammed into Philadelphia in the next few minutes. One of them missed Congressional Hall by alarmingly little. Flora felt the jolt in the soles of her feet. The rockets didn't announce themselves. They flew faster than sound, so the boom! when they went off was the first and only sign they were on the way.

After the salvo ended, Roosevelt said, "He can annoy us doing that, but he can't beat us. And we can beat him on the ground. And we are. And we will."

"But how much will be left of us by the time we do?" Flora asked.

The Assistant Secretary of War stuck out his chin. "As long as we have one man standing after he goes down, nothing else matters."

As long as the one man we have standing is my son, nothing else matters, Flora thought. But Franklin Roosevelt had a son in the Navy. Maybe he was thinking the same thing.

IV

Major Toricelli stuck his head into Abner Dowling's office. "Sir, you've got a call from Philadelphia."

"Do I?" Dowling viewed the prospect without delight. "What do they think I've gone and done now?" Calls from the War Department, in his copious experience, seldom brought good news.

But his adjutant said, "I don't think it's that kind of call, sir. It's General Abell. Shall I transfer it in here?"

"You'd throw a fit if I said no. So would he," Dowling said. A moment later, the telephone on his desk rang. He picked it up. "Abner Dowling here."

"John Abell, sir," said the voice on the other end of the line, and Dowling recognized the brainy General Staff officer's cool, cerebral tones. "I hope you're well?"

"Tolerable, General, tolerable," Dowling replied. "Yourself?"

"I'll last out the war," Abell said, which might have meant anything or nothing. "I have a question for you: how would you like to come back to the East and command an army in what we hope will be one of the decisive attacks of the war?"

How would you like to go to bed with a beautiful blonde who's passionately in love with you? Yes, there were dumber questions, but not many. "What's not to like?" Dowling asked.

And John Abell told him what there was not to like: "Your army-group commander would be General MacArthur."

"Oh," Dowling said. MacArthur had commanded a division in George Custer's army in the Great War while Dowling was Custer's adjutant general. When MacArthur led an army in northern Virginia this time around, Dowling had commanded a corps under him for a while. The two men didn't get along well-which was, if anything, an understatement.

"We could use you back in Virginia, sir," Abell said. "You have experience with aggressive offensive action, and you have experience fighting Freedom Party Guards. You'd do the country a service if you came back."

"And what would I do to myself?" Dowling asked. Brigadier General Abell didn't answer; he had to figure that out on his own. "Who would take over for me here if I left?" he inquired. "Still lots of work that needs doing."

"We were looking at giving Colonel DeFrancis a star and putting him in charge of Eleventh Army," Abell said. "He should handle it, and his coming from the air-operations side of things would be an advantage on such a broad front. Or do you think I'm wrong?" Is there anything about Terry DeFrancis we don't know? he meant.

"No, I'm sure he'll do a bang-up job." Dowling had to answer that quickly and firmly, so Abell would have no doubts. "He's a fine officer, and he knows the situation here, so he won't have to waste any time figuring out what's going on. He's young to make general, but wars do that."

"So they do," said Abell, who, like Dowling, had waited a long time for stars. "I'll see you here in Philadelphia, then, as fast as you can come. Orders will be cut by the time you get to the airstrip outside of Snyder. Take care." He hung up without waiting for Dowling's good-bye.

"Pack a duffel, Angelo," Dowling called to his adjutant. "We're on our way to Philly, and then to Virginia."

"Who takes over here?" Toricelli asked.

"Terry DeFrancis," Dowling replied. "My guess is, his telephone's ringing right about now."

Sure enough, DeFrancis' auto pulled up in front of Eleventh Army headquarters just as Dowling and Toricelli were ready to leave for the airstrip. "Congratulations on getting back to the real war, sir!" DeFrancis called as he jumped out.

"Congratulations to you, General," Dowling said. They shook hands.

"I've got a hot transport waiting for you at the field," DeFrancis said. "It'll take you up to Wichita. I don't know what they've got laid on for you after that, but General Abell sure sounded like he wants you in Philadelphia fast as you can get there."

Dowling and Toricelli threw duffel bags with enough personal belongings to keep them going for a little while into a command car. After one more handshake with DeFrancis, Dowling told the driver, "Step on it!"

"Yes, sir!" The corporal needed no further encouragement. He drove like a bat out of hell-perhaps like a bat a little too eager to go back there.

The two-engined transport took off with an escort of four fighters. Terry DeFrancis hadn't mentioned that. Dowling was grateful all the same. U.S. air power dominated the skies in west Texas, but the Confederates still got fighters up in the air every now and then. Even a hot transport was no match for a Hound Dog.

Neither the Texas Panhandle nor western Sequoyah had suffered too badly in the war. The fighting in Sequoyah was mostly farther east, where the oil wells were. Where the oil wells had been, rather. The oil fields had changed hands several times during the war. Whenever they did, the side pulling out blew them up to deny them to the enemy. The conquerors would start making repairs and then have to retreat themselves-and carry out their own demolitions. By now, Sequoyah's oil wells were some of the most thoroughly liberated real estate on the face of the globe.

In the last war, Sequoyah had started out as Confederate territory. C.S. cavalry raids terrorized Kansas till the USA slowly and painfully overran that state's southern neighbor. These days, though, Wichita was a backwater. The arrival of a major general, even if he was only passing through on his way somewhere else, made airport personnel flabble.

"Your airplane is ready and waiting, sir!" said the major in command of the field.

"Thanks," Dowling said. "Where do I go from here?"

"Uh, St. Louis, sir," the major said. "Didn't they tell you?"

"If they had, would I be asking?" Dowling asked reasonably.

He got into St. Louis just as the sun was setting. That was a relief: he wasn't sure they would have turned on landing lights for his airplane. Confederate bombers from Arkansas came up often enough to leave blackout regulations tightly in place.

At the airport there, they offered him the choice of a Pullman berth on a fast train east or a layover and the first flight out in the morning. He chose the layover. A bed that didn't bounce and shake had its attractions.

He spent less time in it than he would have liked. The Confederates came over at eleven and then again at two. Instead of a bed that didn't bounce, Dowling got two doses of a chilly trench. Bombs whistled down and burst too close for comfort. He wondered if he would be able to fly out the next morning.

He did. The raid left the airport with a working runway, and didn't hit the airplane waiting to take him east. On the way, he got a bird's-eye view of what the war had done to the United States.

Only occasional craters showed on the ground till he flew over what had to be eastern Indiana. From there on, it was one disaster after another: deserted, unplowed farmland, with towns and cities smashed into ruins. How long would repairing the devastation take? How much would it cost? What could the country have done if it didn't have to try to put itself together again? He couldn't begin to guess. That was a question for politicians, not soldiers. But a soldier had no trouble seeing the USA-and the CSA, too-would have been better off without a war.

Though Dowling didn't see what had happened to the Confederate States, he knew that had to be worse than what he was looking at. "If they were smart, they would have left us alone," he said to Major Toricelli.

"If they were smart, they never would have elected that Featherston bastard," his adjutant replied. Dowling nodded-there was another obvious truth.

His airplane landed outside of Pittsburgh to refuel. As it spiraled down toward the runway, he got a good look at what the battle had cost the city. His first thought was, Everything. But that wasn't an obvious truth. Smoke rose from tall stacks-and from some truncated ones-from steel mills that were either back in business or had never gone out of business. Nobody had bothered repairing shell-pocked walls or, sometimes, roofs. Those could wait. The steel? That was a different story. Trucks on the roads, trains in the railroad yards, and barges on the rivers took it where it needed to go.

When he got out of the airplane to stretch his legs and spend a penny, his nose wrinkled. He'd expected the air to be full of harsh industrial stinks, and it was. He hadn't expected the stench of death to linger so long after the fighting ended.

"Not as bad as the graves outside of Camp Determination," Toricelli said.

"Well, no. I don't think anything in the whole world is that bad," Dowling replied. "But this is what the Great War battlefields were like. Most of the ones this time around aren't so foul. They move faster and cover more ground, so there aren't so many bodies all in the same place."

"Except here there are," his adjutant said.

Dowling nodded. "Yeah. Except here there are."

Philadelphia was another bomb-pocked nightmare of a city, another place where factories sent up defiant plumes despite the destruction. A green-gray motorcar met Dowling at the airport. "I'll take you to the War Department, sir," said the bright young captain who accompanied the enlisted driver.

"How bad are these long-range rockets we hear about?" Dowling asked as the auto picked its way through streets often cratered and rubble-strewn.

"They sure aren't good, sir," the captain answered. "First thing you know is, they go boom-and if you're there when they do, then you aren't any more."

That was convoluted, but Dowling got the message. Damage grew worse as the auto got closer to the center of town. A lot of the rockets seemed to have fallen there. Dowling saw the finned stern of one sticking up, and curved sheet metal from a couple of more.

The War Department had taken lots of near misses but no direct hits Dowling saw. He had to show his ID before they let him in. Even after he did, they patted him down. No one apologized-it was part of routine. The captain took him down to John Abell's office. "Good to see you, sir," Abell said, his usual bloodless tones sucking the warmth from the words.

"And you," Dowling replied, which wasn't entirely true but came close enough. He pointed to a map of Virginia on Abell's wall. "What are we going to do to them?"

Abell got up and pointed. "This is what we've got in mind."

Dowling whistled. "Well, whoever came up with it sure didn't think small."

"Thank you," Abell said. That made Dowling blink; the General Staff officer was more likely to see what could go wrong than what could go right. This scheme, though, definitely counted on things going right.

"You really think they're on their last legs, don't you?" Dowling said.

"Last leg," John Abell replied. "They're standing on it in Georgia. If we hit them here, too, the bet is that they fall over."

"It could be." Dowling hesitated, then said the other thing he thought needed saying: "Is General MacArthur really the right man to knock them over?"

"If you want command of the army group, sir, you won't get it." Now Abell's voice was as icy as Dowling had ever heard it, which said a good deal.

"No, no, no. I wasn't asking for myself. After a question like that, I wouldn't take it if you gave it to me on a silver platter," Dowling said. "But if we've got somebody better than that scrawny bastard handy, we ought to use him."

The General Staff officer relaxed fractionally. "Since you put it that way…Well, General Morrell is busy in Georgia, which is also of vital importance. And General MacArthur is the man on the spot, and familiar with conditions."

"All right," Dowling said. It wasn't, not really, but he'd made the effort. "When we're ready down there, I'll do everything I can."

C larence Potter was so glad to get away from Georgia and George Patton that he almost didn't mind shuttling back and forth between Richmond and Lexington every few days. President Featherston couldn't seem to make up his mind whether he wanted Potter to pick up his work in Intelligence again or act as liaison with the uranium-bomb project.

Either way, Potter figured he was better suited to the work than he was to commanding a division under Patton. As far as he could see, the only things that suited a man to command a division under Patton were a rhino's hide and an uncanny ability to turn off one's brain. That probably wasn't fair-Patton had grievances with him, too. Potter didn't much care. Not dealing with Patton was such a pleasure.

Of course, not dealing with the general meant dealing with the President of the CSA-and, incidentally, with Professor FitzBelmont. But Potter had been dealing with Jake Featherston since the Great War, and he scared the living bejesus out of the professor. He could handle both of those jobs without wanting to retread his stomach lining twice a day.

FitzBelmont was a man facing a problem all too common in the CSA these days: he was trying to do a key job without quite enough men or resources, and with the damnyankees pounding the crap out of him from the air. Back before the United States found out what was going on there, Washington University had been a lovely, leafy, grassy campus. Potter remembered what a joy coming to Lexington had been after the devastation visited on Richmond.

Lexington was making up for lost time these days. Everything except the uranium-bomb project had abandoned the university campus, which looked like a real-estate poster for a subdivision in one of the ritzier neighborhoods of hell. The slagged and cratered earth might have caught smallpox. Ruins of what had been elegant, graceful buildings, many dating back before the War of Secession, offered a sorry reminder of better times. Only the square, brutal simplicity of reinforced concrete, ton upon ton of it, had any hope of surviving the Yankees' nightly visits.

Down below that concrete, the pile was turning uranium into jovium, which was what FitzBelmont had christened element 94. Enough jovium would go boom, just like U-235. Making it go boom, though, wasn't so simple.

"With U-235, we could shoot a plug into a hole in a bigger chunk, and then everything would go up," FitzBelmont said.

"Why can't you do that with the jovium, too?" Potter asked.

"Our calculations show it would start going off too soon and get too deformed for a full blast," the physicist answered.

"Well, you seem to think you can make it go off," Potter said, and Henderson FitzBelmont nodded. Potter asked what looked like the next reasonable question: "How?"

"We have to slam a lot of pieces down into a sphere-that's what the math says," FitzBelmont replied. "It's harder than making a U-235 bomb would be, because it's so much more precise. But getting the jovium is easier, because we can chemically separate it from the uranium in the pile."

"My chemistry prof at Yale told me transmutation was nothing but a pipe dream," Potter said.

"Mine told me the same thing." FitzBelmont shrugged. "Sometimes the rules change. They did here. Transmutation isn't chemistry-it's physics."

"It could be black magic, and I wouldn't care," Potter said. "As long as we say, 'Abracadabra!' before the damnyankees do, nothing else counts."

"They're doing their best to make sure we don't. Are we doing the same to them?" the professor asked.

"What we can. Getting to Washington State isn't easy for us, and it got tougher after they went and grabbed Baja California from Mexico," Potter said. Henderson FitzBelmont looked blank. He was no military man. Patiently, Potter explained: "It makes it much harder for us to get ships and subs out of Guaymas. But we did it not so long ago, and we attacked their facility."

"And?" FitzBelmont asked eagerly.

"And past that I don't know," Potter admitted. "The attack went in-that's all I can tell you for sure. The United States keep real quiet about their project, same as we keep quiet about ours. We haven't picked up any leaks to let us know what we did-none I've heard, anyhow."

"We can't hit them the way they hit us," FitzBelmont said mournfully. "And it looks like they started work on this before we did."

Potter had been worrying about those very things for quite a while now. Except for getting the latest strike at the Yankee project started, he couldn't do much but worry. "That means we have to be smarter," he told the physicist. "We're up to that, aren't we? If we make fewer mistakes and don't get stuck in blind alleys, we can still win. You're as good as anybody they've got, right?" You'd better be, or we're history.

"Yes, I think so," FitzBelmont replied. "They may well have more highly competent people than we do, though. And I worry about Germany a good deal. The Kaiser's physicists, and the ones he can draw from Austria-Hungary, are the best in the world. Has the President been able to get any technical help from our allies?"

"If he has, he hasn't told me," Potter said. "I'll ask him next time I'm in Richmond."

That was only a couple of days later. Traveling inside Richmond was safer by day. U.S. airplanes mostly came at night. Confederate defenses and fighters still made daytime raids too costly to be common. The bombers had taken a terrible toll all the same. Intact buildings stood out because they were so rare. The streets were full of holes of all sizes. The smell of death floated through the air.

The grounds to the Gray House might have been hit harder than anything else in Richmond. The United States wanted Jake Featherston dead. They wanted to avenge Al Smith, and they thought the Confederacy would grind to a halt without its leader. Potter feared they were right, too, which made him leery of plots against Featherston.

After going underground, after a couple of unpleasantly thorough searches, he was escorted to the waiting room outside the President's office, and then into Featherston's presence. The President's secretary sniffed as she closed the door behind him.

"Lulu doesn't much fancy you." Jake Featherston sounded amused, which was a relief. "She doesn't reckon you think I'm wonderful enough."

How right she is. But saying that was impolitic. "The country needs you. I know it." Potter could tell the truth without giving away his own feelings.

"What's the latest from Lexington?" Featherston asked, letting Lulu go.

"They're doing everything they know how to do, and the United States are trying to make sure they can't," Potter answered. "Do you know what we did in Washington State?"

"Something," the President answered. "They've had repair crews in there-I know that for a fact. Don't know much more, though."

How did he know even that much? A spy on the spot? Reconnaissance aircraft? Intercepted signals? Whatever the answer was, the word hadn't come through Potter. "How are things in Georgia?" he asked. The wireless didn't say much, which was never a good sign.

"We're going to lose Atlanta," Featherston said bluntly. "They didn't want to come in, so they're sweeping around. They want to trap our army in there and grind it to pieces."

"For God's sake don't let them!" Potter exclaimed. The President had thrown away one army in Pittsburgh. Didn't he see he couldn't afford to do that again?

He must have, for he nodded. "We're pulling out. We're wrecking the place, too. They won't get any use from it when they get in." He paused. "When Patton challenged you to a duel, did you really choose flamethrowers?"

"Yes, sir," Potter answered. "For a little while, I thought he'd take me up on it, too."

"That wouldn't've been pretty, would it?" the President said. Potter shook his head; it would have been anything but. Featherston went on, "He was spitting rivets at you, though. Let me tell you, he was."

"Let him spit rivets at the damnyankees," Clarence Potter said. "It would hurt 'em a lot more than some of the other things he's tried."

"Yeah, I know." Featherston scowled. "But who have I got who'd do better?"

Potter grunted. That, unfortunately, was much too good a question. He found a question of his own: "If we can't lick the USA no matter who we've got in the field, why are we still fighting?"

"Well, for one thing, they want unconditional surrender, and I'll see 'em in hell first," Jake Featherston answered. "And, for another, the longer we hold on, the better the chance FitzBelmont and the other slide-rule boys have of blowing 'em a new asshole."

Reluctantly, Potter nodded. The Confederate States had shown they were too dangerous for the United States to give them another chance to rebuild and try again. It was a compliment of sorts, but one the Confederacy could have done without now. As for the other…"What if they get a uranium bomb first?"

"Then we're fucked." Featherston's response had, at least, the virtue of clarity. "Then we don't deserve to win. But that won't happen, so help me God it won't. We are going to lick those bastards right out of their boots. You wait and see."

When he said it, Potter just about believed it-a telling measure of how persuasive Featherston could be. But afterwards, coming up aboveground once more, seeing the devastation that had been a great city, Potter shivered. How often lately had Jake Featherston taken a good long look at what had become of his capital and his country?

That afternoon, Potter and Nathan Bedford Forrest III walked through the disaster that was Capitol Square. Washington's statue still survived; not even a mountain of sandbags had saved Albert Sidney Johnston's. "What the hell are we going to do?" the chief of the General Staff said-quietly, so no passerby could hear.

"What the hell can we do?" Potter answered. "We're stuck between the Yankees and Jake Featherston. If we dump Featherston-if we kill him, I mean, because he won't be dumped-the United States land on us with both feet. And if we keep fighting-"

"The United States land on us with both feet anyhow," Forrest finished bitterly.

"They won't let us quit," Potter said. "They aim to wipe us off the map, same as they did in the War of Secession."

"Featherston never should have started this damn war," Nathan Bedford Forrest III said.

"Oh, cut the crap…sir," Potter said. His superior gaped. Not caring, he went on, "You aren't mad at him for starting the war. You were all for it. So was I. So was everybody. You're just mad because we aren't winning."

"Aren't you?"

"Sure, but at least I know why. I-" Clarence Potter broke off.

"What?" Forrest said, but then he heard it, too: the distant rumble of artillery suddenly picking up. He frowned. His eyes, which were more like his famous great-grandfather's than any other feature, narrowed. "Damnyankees haven't done that much firing for quite a while."

"They sure haven't," Potter agreed. "I wonder if they think they can catch us with our pants down here because we've moved so much stuff to Georgia." I wonder if they're right. He didn't say that out loud. Nathan Bedford Forrest III had enough to worry about, and the same thought was bound to be going through his mind.

The chief of the General Staff stood there listening, his head cocked to one side. After a minute or so, he shook himself; he might almost have come out of a trance. "I'd better get back to the War Department, find out what the hell they're up to," he said.

"I'll come with you," Potter said. Forrest didn't tell him no, even though he didn't have a formal place there any more. The gunfire went on and on. Halfway back to the War Department building, both men broke into a trot.

C assius and Gracchus strode through the streets of Madison, Georgia. They both wore U.S. Army boots on their feet and green-gray U.S. military-issue trousers. Only their collarless chambray work shirts said they weren't regular U.S. soldiers-those and their black skins, of course. Even the shirts had Stars-and-Stripes armbands on the left sleeve. The Negroes were at least semiofficial.

Gracchus carried a captured C.S. submachine gun; Cassius still had his bolt-action Tredegar. Both of them were alert for anything that looked like trouble. Madison had only recently fallen to the United States. The whites here didn't like seeing their own soldiers driven away. They were even less happy about Negroes patrolling their streets.

A couple of days earlier, somebody'd fired at one of Gracchus' men. The guerrilla got his left hand torn up. Madison got a lesson, a painful one. The U.S. commandant, a cold-eyed captain named Lester Wallace, grabbed the first ten white men he could catch, lined them up against a brick wall, and had them shot without even blindfolding them first.

"Nobody fucks with anybody under U.S. authority in this town," he told the horrified locals in a voice like iron, while the bodies still lay there bleeding. "Nobody, you hear?"

"Jesus God, it was only a nigger!" a woman shrilled.

"Anybody who comes out with that kind of shit from now on, I figure you just volunteered for hostage duty," Wallace said. "Far as I can see, the black folks around here are worth at least ten of you assholes apiece-I mean at least. They didn't start murdering people for the fun of it. You 'Freedom!'-yelling cocksuckers did."

"We didn't know what happened to the colored folks who got shipped out," an old man quavered.

"Yeah-now tell me another one. You give me horseshit like that, you're a volunteer hostage, too," Captain Wallace said. "You didn't know! Where'd you think they were going, you goddamn lying bucket of puke? To a fucking football game?"

Cassius didn't know what he'd thought Yankees would be like. This chilly ferocity wasn't it, though-he was sure of that. A lot of U.S. soldiers hated the enemy with a clear and simple passion that shoved everything else to one side.

"You know, I never had much use for smokes," a skinny corporal who needed a shave told Cassius out of the blue one day. "But shit, man, if Featherston's fuckers have it in for you, you gotta have somethin' going for you."

Was that logical? Cassius wondered what his father would have thought of it. But there was a brutal logic that beat down the more formal sort. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That was working here.

It had a flip side. The friend of my enemy is my enemy. As Cassius and Gracchus patrolled Madison, Cassius said, "Ain't never gonna be safe for niggers around here without Yankees close by from now on."

"Reckon not," Gracchus said, "but how safe was it for us 'fore the damnyankees done got here?"

That question answered itself. His family hauled out of church and taken off to a camp. His own life on the run ever since. The precarious life black guerrillas led, knowing there would be no mercy if they got caught.

"Well, you got me," Cassius said.

They tramped into the town square. A bronze plaque was affixed to a small stone pillar there. Somehow, the little monument had come through the fighting that leveled half the town without even a nick. Gracchus pointed to the plaque. "What's it say?" he asked. Cassius had taught him his letters, but he still didn't read well.

"Says it's the Braswell Monument," Cassius said. "Says in 1817 Benjamin Braswell done sold thirteen slaves after he was dead so they could use the money to educate white chillun. Says they raised almos' thirty-six hundred dollars. Ain't that grand?"

"Sold niggers to help ofays. That's how it goes, sure as hell." Gracchus strode up to the Braswell Monument, unbuttoned his fly, and took a long leak. "Show what I thinks o' you, Mr. Benjamin fuckin' Asswell."

A couple of white women with wheeled wire shopping carts were hurrying across the square. They took one look Gracchus' way and walked even faster. "They don't like your dark meat," Cassius said.

"My meat don't like them, neither," Gracchus replied. "I start fuckin' white women, I ain't gonna start fuckin' no ugly white women, an' they was dogs."

They hadn't been beautiful. Some Negroes in U.S. service didn't care. They took their revenge on Confederate women for everything Confederate men had done to them. A few U.S. officers reacted as badly to that as Confederate men might have. Not everyone in the USA loved Negroes, not by a long shot. But most men who wore green-gray uniforms hated the enemy worse than the blacks he'd oppressed.

"Know what I feel like?" Gracchus said as he and Cassius resumed their patrol. "I feel like a dog that jus' pissed somewhere to say, 'This here place mine.'"

"Dunno if it's yours or not," Cassius said. "Sure as shit don't belong to the Confederate ofays no mo'."

As if to emphasize that, the U.S. troops had run up a barbed-wire stockade just outside of Madison to hold C.S. prisoners of war. Cassius wasn't the only Negro drawn to that stockade as if by a magnet. Seeing soldiers in butternut-and, better still, seeing Freedom Party Guards in brown-splotched camouflage-on the wrong side of the wire, stuck inside a camp, disarmed and glum while he carried a weapon, was irresistibly sweet.

"They gonna reduce your population!" a Negro from a different band jeered at the POWs. "They gonna put you on a train, an' you ain't never gettin' off!"

Some of the captured Confederates looked scared-who could know for sure what the soldiers on the other side would do? Some swore at the black guerrilla. One stubborn sergeant said, "Fuck you in the heart, Sambo. They already put your nappy-headed whore of a mama on the train, and she deserved it, too."

A few seconds later, he lay dead, a bullet through his chest. A U.S. corporal, hearing the shot, came running. "Jesus!" he said when he saw the corpse. "What the hell'd you go and do that for?"

The Confederates in the stockade were screaming and pointing at the Negro who'd fired. The guerrilla was unrepentant. "He dogged my mother," he said simply. "Ain't nobody gonna dog my mother, 'specially not some goddamn ofay fuckhead."

"Christ, I'm gonna have to fill out papers on this shit," the noncom groaned. "Tell me what the fuck happened."

Several POWs tried to. They did their best to outshout the guerrilla who'd killed the sergeant. Cassius weighed in to balance them if he could.

"He said that to this guy?" the corporal said when he finished.

"He sure did," Cassius answered.

"Shit on toast," the noncom said. "He told me that, I bet I woulda blown his fuckin' head off." The POWs screamed at him, too. He flipped them off. "Listen up, assholes-something you better figure out. You lost. These guys"-he pointed at Cassius and the other Negro-"they won. Better get used to it, or a hell of a lot of you are gonna end up dead. And you know what else? Nobody's gonna miss you, either."

"We won't ever put up with bein' under niggers!" a captive shouted.

"That's right!" Two or three more echoed him.

"Then I figure you'll be underground." The corporal pointed to the corpse. "Take your carrion over to the gate. We'll put him where he belongs."

He got more curses and jeers, and ignored all of them. After he went away, the other Negro stuck out his hand to Cassius. "Thanks for backin' me. I'm Sertorius."

"My name's Cassius." Cassius took the proffered hand. As he had with Gracchus, he asked, "Reckon we ever be able to do anything down here without the Yankees backin' our play?"

"No," Sertorius said calmly. "But so what? Yankees don't come down here, fuckin' Confederate ofays kill us anyways. They really did take my mama, God damn them to hell an' gone."

"Mine, too, an' my pa, an' my sister," Cassius answered.

"How come they miss you?"

"On account of I didn't go to church. That's where they got everybody else."

"I heard stories like that before," Sertorius said. "If there's a God, He got Hisself a nasty sense o' humor."

"Reckon so." Cassius had wondered about God even before the ofays got his family. He'd always kept quiet, because he knew his mother didn't want him saying-or thinking-things like that. He had the feeling his father was sitting on the same kind of doubts. The older man never talked about them, either. One of these days, the two of them might have had some interesting things to say to each other. They never would now.

The black guerrillas had a camp alongside that of the U.S. soldiers who guarded the POWs and made sure the lid stayed on in Madison. They slept in U.S. Army tents, and used U.S. Army sleeping bags. Those gave them better, softer nights than they'd had most of the time on their own.

They got U.S. Army mess kits, too, and ate U.S. Army chow with the men from north of the Mason-Dixon line. They didn't have to wait till the soldiers in green-gray were served before they got fed. They just took their places in line, and the cooks slapped down whatever they happened to have. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not. But there was always plenty. For Cassius, whose ribs had been a ladder, that was plenty to keep him from complaining.

When he went into Madison, kids would ask, "Got any rations? Got any candy?"

No. Starve, you little ofay bastards. That was always the first thought that went through his head. But hating children didn't come easy. They hadn't done anything to him. And some of them looked hungry. He knew what being hungry was all about.

Then one of them called, "Hey, nigger! Got any candy?"

He didn't shoot the boy, who must have been about eight. That would have got him talked about. He did say, "You call me a nigger, brat, you can damn well starve for all I care."

The kid looked at him as if he were crazy. "Well, what are you if you ain't a nigger?"

"A colored fellow, or a Negro, or even a black man," Cassius answered. "Call somebody a nigger, it's an insult, like."

"You're a nigger, all right, an' you suck the damnyankees' cocks," the brat squeaked. He didn't get a handout from Cassius, or a lesson. He also still didn't get shot, but he came much closer to that than to either of the other two.

He'd likely feel the way he did till the day he died. So would countless others just like him. In the face of hate like that, what were the surviving Negroes in the CSA supposed to do? After the war ended, how could they settle down and make a living? If U.S. soldiers didn't back them, how long would they last? Not long-that seemed only too obvious.

And if U.S. soldiers did back them, the white majority-much larger now than before the murders started-would hate Negroes more than ever…assuming such a thing was possible.

"We is fucked," Cassius said sorrowfully. "We is so fucked."

"What? On account o' that ofay kid?" Gracchus said. "Little shithead run his mouth like that, he get hisself killed goddamn quick, an' nobody be sorry, neither."

"No, not on account o' him," Cassius said, which wasn't exactly true. "On account of everything." He started to explain, then gave up. What was the use? Once upon a time, he would have found a place in Augusta-not the place he would have had if he were white, but a place. He would have fit in. Now?

Now he carried a Tredegar, and he was ready to kill any white who got in his way. That too was a place…of sorts.

Chester Martin smoked a cigarette outside of Monroe, Georgia, and waited for the next raiding party to head east. The company-strength expedition had proved what the brass thought before-the Confederates hadn't had anything worth mentioning to oppose a U.S. thrust. Why not try it again, in greater strength?

To Chester, the answer seemed obvious enough. If you hit them there once, wouldn't they get ready to make sure you couldn't do it again?

Lieutenant Boris Lavochkin looked at him-looked through him-with those cold, pale Slavic eyes. "You're welcome to stay behind when we go, Sergeant," he said.

"You know I don't want to do that, sir," Chester said. "But I don't want to get my tit in a wringer, either, not when I don't have to."

"No guarantees in this business," Lavochkin said.

He wouldn't listen. Everything had come his way for a long time now. He thought it would keep right on happening. And he wasn't the only one. The brass never would have signed off on a raid if they didn't think it would fly. Maybe they were right. Chester could hope so, anyhow.

He did talk to Captain Rhodes, who, he was sure, knew his ass from his end zone. "If they're laying for us, sir, we'll be all dressed up with no place to go," he said.

"What do you think the odds are?" the company commander asked.

"Well, sir, we sure as hell won't take 'em by surprise twice," Martin answered.

"No, but how much can they do about it?" Rhodes said.

"Don't know, sir," Chester said. "I bet we find out, though. If I wanted to be a goddamn guinea pig, I would've bought myself a cage."

That made Captain Rhodes grin, but he didn't change his mind. "We've got our orders," he said. "We're going to go through with them. If we run into trouble, I expect we'll have backup. But I think we have a decent chance to bang on through, same as we did the last time around."

"Hope you're right, sir." Chester didn't believe it. Nobody above him cared what he believed. To the men in his platoon, he was God the Father to Lavochkin's Son and Rhodes' Holy Ghost. To the officers above him, he was just a retread with a big mouth. And the fellows with shoulder straps were the ones whose opinions mattered.

Two mornings later, the long, muscular armored column rolled down the road from Monroe to Good Hope, the same road the smaller raiding band had traveled not long before. Chester thought that might surprise whoever was in charge of the Confederate defenders. They wouldn't believe anybody could be dumb enough to hit them the same way twice running. Chester had trouble believing it himself.

They didn't run into any traffic on the way to Good Hope. They also didn't run into any ambushes, for which Chester was duly grateful. Maybe the C.S. brass really couldn't believe their foes would try the same ploy twice.

Good Hope looked like holy hell. Only a couple of people were on the street when the U.S. command cars and armored vehicles rolled in. The Confederate civilians didn't think the green-gray machines were on their side this time. They took one horrified look, screamed, and ran for their lives.

Maybe that did them some good; maybe it didn't. Machine guns and cannon cut loose as soon as the U.S. column came into the little town, and didn't let up till it rolled through. Martin looked back over his shoulder after he was outside of Good Hope. Clouds of smoke announced that raiders were on the loose. If the enemy had telephone and telegraph lines back up from the last assault, people were already letting C.S. military authorities know about the new one.

If there were any C.S. military authorities in this part of Georgia…Perhaps there weren't. Perhaps the Confederate States really were falling into ruin. Chester could hope so, anyhow.

Trouble came between Good Hope and Apalachee. The road went through some pine woods. The column stopped because a barricade of logs and rocks and overturned wrecked vehicles blocked it. Getting barrels up to knock the obstruction aside wasn't quick or easy, not with trees of formidable size alongside the narrow, badly paved road.

And as soon as the column bogged down, C.S. troops in the woods opened up with automatic weapons, mortars, and stovepipe rockets. Chester didn't think there were a whole lot of them, which didn't mean they didn't do damage. Several soft-skinned vehicles and a halftrack caught fire. Wounded men howled.

U.S. soldiers hit back with all the firepower they'd brought along: heavy machine guns and cannon on their vehicles, along with the rifles and automatic rifles and submachine guns the men carried. Nobody could come close to the column and live, which didn't help all that much when it wasn't going anywhere.

After half an hour or so, U.S. barrels did shoulder the roadblock out of the way. The column went on, minus the vehicles put out of action. When the soldiers got to Apalachee, they tore into it even more savagely than they had at Good Hope. Not much was left of the hamlet when they came out the other side.

Chester hoped they wouldn't duplicate the whole route from the last raid. That would give the Confederates more chances to bushwhack them, and would also mean they were tearing up more stuff they'd already wrecked once. He nodded in approval when they left the road and started cross-country, heading as close to due east as made no difference.

Whenever they came to a farmhouse, they shot it up. If the people who lived there made it very plain they were giving up-if they came out with hands high-the soldiers let them flee with the clothes on their backs. If they showed fight or even if they just stayed inside, they got no second chances.

A startling number of rural Georgians seemed to think a few rounds from a squirrel rifle or a shotgun would set the U.S. Army running. They paid for their education. None of them would ever make that mistake, or any mistake, again. Often, their families died with them.

"That's kind of a shame, sir," Chester said as a woman trapped in a burning farmhouse and likely wounded shrieked her life away.

"Think of it as survival of the fittest," Captain Rhodes replied. "If they're dumb enough to fire on us, they're too dumb to deserve to live."

"She probably didn't have a gun," Martin said.

The company commander shrugged. "She was dumb enough to marry somebody who did. We aren't here to talk to these people, Sergeant. We're here to teach 'em that fucking with the United States is as dumb as it gets."

Inside the farmhouse, cartridges started cooking off. The woman's shrieks mercifully faded. "I'd say she's got the point, sir," Chester said. "Fat lot of good it'll do her from here on out."

Before Rhodes could answer, Chester and he both heard airplane motors overhead. They expected U.S. fighter-bombers to pound whatever lay ahead of them. Then a fearsome scream rose with the rumble. Chester had heard that noise too many times, though not so often lately.

"Asskickers!" he yelled, and threw himself flat.

Anybody who could get to an automatic weapon opened up on the vulture-winged C.S. dive bombers. The Mules ignored the ground fire and planted their bombs in the middle of the thickest concentrations of vehicles they could find. One landed right on a halftrack. The fireball caught a couple of nearby soldiers and turned them into torches. The Asskickers came back again to strafe the U.S. soldiers. Machine-gun bullets stitched the ground much too close to Chester. He scraped away with his entrenching tool, not that it would do a hell of a lot of good.

And then the dive bombers were gone. Captain Rhodes looked around at the damage they'd done. "Fuck," he said softly. "You all right, Chester?"

"Yeah." Martin scrabbled in his pockets for a cigarette. "Boy, I forgot how much fun that was."

"Me, too," Rhodes said. "We've got used to dishing it out. That's a lot more fun than taking it."

"Bet your ass-uh, sir." Chester needed three tries before he could strike a match; his hands were shaking. Then he held out the pack to Rhodes. The company commander didn't waste time trying to light one on his own. He just leaned close to Chester and started his the easy way.

Lieutenant Lavochkin came up. "We ought to push on, sir," he said. "We can do a lot more damage before nightfall."

He didn't care about the air attack. All he wanted to do was keep hitting the Confederates. That was either admirable or slightly insane, depending. Captain Rhodes sighed and blew out a ragged plume of smoke. "We'll see to the dead and wounded, and then we'll go on," he said.

Some of the dead didn't leave enough remains to bury. Maybe the Confederates would tear up the graves the men in green-gray quickly dug, but Chester could hope they wouldn't. Plenty of C.S. soldiers lay in U.S. soil, for the most part quietly.

When the war was over, they would probably sort all of that out. They'd done the same thing after the Great War. By all the signs, this war was bigger and nastier than the one that had lasted from 1914 to 1917. What would they call it when it was done? The Greater War? The Worse War? Right now, it was just the War, commonly with an obscene adjective stuck on in front.

They did roll on after an hour or so, and took a would-be Confederate ambush from behind. The enemy soldiers seemed highly offended at that-those who lived through the encounter, anyhow. U.S. soldiers took prisoners, as much to keep their intelligence officers happy as because they really wanted to. One of the men in butternut complained, "Y'all weren't suppose to come where you did."

"That's what she said," Chester answered, which left his buddies laughing and the POW shaking his head.

Home guards and Mexicans tried to make a fight in Stephens and Hutchings, two little towns in front of Lexington. They got blasted out of the way in short order in both places. They were brave, but bravery and small arms and a few mines didn't go very far against halftracks and barrels. The two villages went up in flames.

Lexington was a tougher nut to crack. The defenders had a couple of quick-firing three-inch guns, leftovers from a generation earlier. For all Chester knew, they'd been sitting on the courthouse lawn ever since. If they had, somebody'd kept them well greased. And some old-timer-probably a guy a lot like me, Chester thought-knew what to do with them. Shells rained down on the advancing U.S. soldiers.

But the Confederates didn't seem to have any armor-piercing ammunition. Those three-inchers weren't made for barrel busting, anyway. They did hurt some men on foot and in soft-skinned vehicles, but that was enough to make the soldiers in green-gray angry without being enough to stop them. As the December sun went down, Lexington got the same treatment as the two smaller towns in front of it.

The U.S. soldiers camped in the ruins. "See?" Lieutenant Lavochkin said. "Piece of cake."

"Expensive piece of cake…sir," Chester said woodenly.

Lavochkin shrugged. "They paid more than we did. And we can afford it better than they can."

Both those things were probably true. In the cold calculus of war, they were also probably the only things that mattered. A guy who'd just stopped shrapnel with his belly cared about none of that. Chester lit a Raleigh and thanked God he hadn't.

O ne of the first things Dr. Leonard O'Doull found out about Sergeant Goodson Lord was that he hated his name. "My mother's maiden name, and I've got it for my first one," the new medic said. "If I had a dime for every time I got called Good Lord, I'd be a goddamn millionaire."

"I believe it," O'Doull said. "Didn't your folks realize what they were doing?"

"I doubt it," Lord replied. "Neither one of 'em's got much of a sense of humor, I'm afraid."

"How about you?" O'Doull asked.

"Me, sir?" Sergeant Lord gave him a wry grin. "I earned mine the hard way. It was either laugh or murder some yokking asshole before I was twelve years old."

"Well, I spent a couple of years working with a guy who answered to Granny," O'Doull said. "If I say Good Lord every once in a while, I may not be talking to you."

"Can't ask for more," Lord said.

"And I'll tell you one more time-careful about the women around here."

"Hey, I like screwing-who doesn't?" the noncom said. "I hope I'm not too dumb about going after it."

He didn't seem to swish now, even if O'Doull had wondered before. He was on the young side of thirty. Most guys his age would have said the same thing-unless they came out and admitted that they thought with their dick. "Try not to get murdered," O'Doull said earnestly. "I hate breaking in a new guy every couple of months, you know what I mean?"

"Sir, I will do my best," Sergeant Lord said.

He did his best with the wounded, too. He was at least as good as Vince Donofrio had been, and he was plainly a better anesthetist. O'Doull still missed Granville McDougald, but Lord would definitely do.

And the wounded kept coming in as U.S. forces cut off one road into and out of Atlanta after another. O'Doull worked like a maniac to keep the hurt men from dying or getting worse right away, then sent them off to field hospitals farther back of the line.

He spent quite a bit of time patching up a sergeant's left hand, which had taken a bullet through the palm. "I think he'll have pretty good function there," he said when the surgery was done. "Hope so, anyway."

"I bet he will, Doc," Goodson Lord said. "You really do pay attention to the little stuff, and it matters. I've seen some guys just stitch up a wound like that and let it go. They figure the doctor in the rear'll take care of it, and sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong. Myself, I always thought it was a lazy, shitty thing to do."

"I'm with you. The more you do right the first time, as soon as you can, the less you have to be sorry for later," O'Doull said.

Sometimes you couldn't do much. The corpsmen brought in a soldier in the mottled camouflage uniform of a Freedom Party Guard; he'd been shot through the head. "Why did you bother?" Lord said after one look at the wound.

"Well, you never can tell," Eddie answered.

That was true. Every once in a while, O'Doull got a surprise. But he didn't think he would this time. The wounded man was barely breathing. His pupils were of different sizes and unresponsive to light, his pulse reedy and fading. Brains and blood and bits of bone dribbled out of a hole the size of O'Doull's fist.

"I can clean things up a little, but that's it," O'Doull said. "He's in God's hands, not mine." He didn't think God would hang on tight, either.

The Confederate died halfway through the cleanup. He gave a couple of hitching last breaths and then just-stopped. "That's a mercy," Sergeant Lord said. "Other mercy is, he never knew what hit him. How many bad burns have you seen, Doc?"

"One is a million too many," O'Doull answered, and the senior medic nodded. When O'Doull thought of those, he didn't think of seeing them, though. The smell, like pork left too long in the oven, rose up in his mind as vividly as if a burned barrelman lay on the table in front of him.

And they got themselves a different kind of casualty, one brought in not by the medics but by an irate platoon commander. "Sir, this sorry son of a bitch has the clap," the lieutenant said in a voice that seemed barely done changing. "Isn't that right, Donnelly?"

"'Fraid so," Donnelly said. "Hurts like hell when I piss."

"Well, we can do something about that," O'Doull said; guys with VD were just as much out of the fight as if Jake Featherston's men had plugged them. "Drop your pants, Donnelly, and turn the other cheek."

"You gonna give me a shot?" the soldier asked apprehensively.

"Yup." O'Doull readied the needle-a big one.

"I thought you got pills for the clap." Donnelly might well be fearless in the field, but he sure wasn't here.

"You used to. This penicillin clears it up faster and better, though," O'Doull said. "Now bend over."

"You fuck around, Donnelly, I'll have you bend over and I'll kick your sorry ass-I won't stick it," the kid lieutenant said.

By the expression on Donnelly's face, he would rather have got a kicking than a shot. But he saw he had no choice. He yelped when the needle went home. O'Doull pushed in the plunger with a certain malicious glee. "For Chrissake, wear a rubber next time," he said.

"It's like screwing in socks," Donnelly whined.

"Well, your sweetheart sure gave you something to remember her by," O'Doull said. "What did you give her?"

"Four cans of deviled ham. She was skinny as all get-out. How was I supposed to know she'd give me a drippy faucet?"

"You're supposed to think about shit like that," his platoon commander snapped before O'Doull could say anything. "How many times did you hear about it in basic?"

"Yes, sir," Donnelly said. O'Doull had a good notion of what he wasn't saying: that the only thing he'd cared about was getting his jollies.

That was natural enough. Of course, so was running away if somebody started shooting at you. Soldiers could learn not to. They could also learn not to screw without being careful. They could, but this one hadn't.

"Clap isn't the only thing to worry about down here," O'Doull said. "Medic who worked with me got murdered for laying a Confederate woman."

"I wasn't worried about that, sir. I wasn't worried about anything," Donnelly said.

He wouldn't listen. O'Doull could see that. "Well, pull your pants up and get the hell out of here," he said. "If you come down with another dose, so help me God I'll find a bigger needle." The threat might work if anything did.

It made Donnelly look worried as he covered himself again, anyhow. The lieutenant kept barking at him as he led him away from the aid station. "How often does that happen?" Lord asked.

"Every now and again," O'Doull answered. "At least this guy didn't have a chancre."

"Penicillin'll do for syphilis, too," Sergeant Lord said.

"Sure a lot better than the chemicals full of arsenic we used before," O'Doull agreed. "And before that it was mercury and all kinds of other poison."

The senior medic made a face. "I think I'd rather have the pox. A lot of the time, something else would kill you before it got bad."

"Maybe," O'Doull said. "But maybe not, too. A lot of the time, you'd get sick over and over, one thing after another. They'd all be different. They'd all look different, anyhow. But they'd all have syphilis at the bottom. Damn thing's the great pretender."

"You know more about it than I do, sir," Sergeant Lord said. "I played the trombone before I got conscripted. I knew some guys who had it, and it didn't seem to bother them all that much."

"Seem to is right," O'Doull said, and then, "The trombone, eh? Have one with you?"

"Afraid not, sir. It's not like a flute or even the trumpet-not so easy to carry around."

"Too bad. Well, maybe you can liberate one."

"Maybe." Goodson Lord looked dubious. "I've seen fiddles and pianos and guitars in these pissant Confederate towns, but that's about it."

"Well, let the corpsmen know. Let the guys in front of us know," O'Doull said. "You'd be amazed at what they can come up with-besides the clap, I mean."

"If I want that, I'll get it myself," Lord said. O'Doull snorted.

Since the medic didn't seem to want to spread the word, O'Doull did it for him. Inside of three days, Eddie produced a horn. "Here you go," he said. "Merry Christmas."

"I'll be a son of a bitch," Goodson Lord said. He took the trombone and started to play. Notes smooth and mellow as butter filled the tent. They made the Army bugles O'Doull was used to seem like screeching blue jays by comparison.

"Wow!" Eddie said. "You really can play that so-and-so."

"You think I was lying?" Lord asked, lowering the trombone.

"No, not like that," Eddie answered. "But there's playing, and then there's playing, you know? You're really good!"

"Oh. Thanks." The corpsman's enthusiasm made the sergeant blink. He started to play some more.

He got about thirty seconds into a number from Oh, Sequoyah! before a corpsman brought in a man with a piece of shrapnel in his thigh. "You can blow that thing, man," the soldier said. "Can you keep playing while the doc works on me?"

"Sorry," Lord said after a quick look at the wound. "I think we're gonna have to knock you out."

"Aw, hell," the wounded man said. As far as Leonard O'Doull could remember, that was the first time he'd ever heard a man ask not to be anesthetized.

Sergeant Lord got the patient etherized on the table. O'Doull cut away the man's trouser leg and started cleaning out the wound and tying off bleeders. He could see the femoral artery pulsing in there, but it wasn't cut. If it had been, the man likely would have bled out before he got back to the aid station.

O'Doull sewed him up and injected him with penicillin and tetanus antitoxin. "These aren't so bad," he said. "He should heal up fine."

"You do like to work on 'em when they turn out that way," Lord agreed. "How many amputations have you done?"

"I couldn't even begin to count 'em. They're like burns: more than I ever wanted to, that's for damn sure," O'Doull said.

"Yeah, same here," Lord said. "They're easy to perform, they're fast, and the patient usually comes through 'em pretty well. But you know he'll never be the same afterwards, the poor bastard."

"Ain't it the truth?" O'Doull said sadly. "Most of the time when I do an amputation, I feel more like a butcher than a surgeon."

"That's about the size of it," Lord said.

O'Doull wished they hadn't been talking about it, because the very next man the corpsman carried in had a foot and lower leg smashed beyond the hope of saving. The doctor pulled out the bone saw and did what he had to do. As Sergeant Lord had said, the soldier would probably pull through. Whether he would be happy about it was a different question. O'Doull wasn't likely ever to learn his answer to it.

Fayetteville lay south and even a little west of Atlanta. A rail line ran through it. Once the U.S. Army got astride that line, it would pinch off one more Confederate artery into the beleaguered capital of Georgia. Lieutenant Michael Pound didn't think the enemy would be able to hold Atlanta much longer after that happened.

Being a platoon commander, Pound wore earphones more often than he wanted to. Instead of doing as he pleased, he had to keep track of what the other units in the regiment and the other barrels in his platoon were up to. He thought it cramped his style.

"Marquard's platoon has lost three barrels at square G-5," a voice from somewhere in back of the line intoned. "Need armor there to cover the infantry advance."

Pound checked the map. If his platoon was where he thought, they were right on the edge of G-5 themselves. "Pound here," he answered on the same frequency. "We can cover. Do you know why they lost them? Over."

He waited. He didn't have to wait long. "Roger your covering," the voice said. "Report is that the losses are due to enemy barrels. Over."

"What the hell's wrong with Marquard?" Pound asked, but not with the TRANSMIT key pressed. He happened to know that the other lieutenant had new-model machines. To his way of thinking, you had to be worse than careless to lose three in a hurry to C.S. barrels. You damn near had to be criminally negligent.

He wirelessed the news to the other four barrels in his platoon. By what their commanders said, they felt the same way. "We'll take care of it," one of the sergeants promised. "Those butternut bastards can kiss their butts good-bye."

"Damn straight!" Pound said. He led a bunch of hard-charging pirates, men who thought the same way he did. "Let's go get 'em. Follow me."

He led the platoon west and a little south, to come in where the luckless Marquard had got in trouble. He hadn't got far before realizing the trouble might not be what he thought. There sat a dead U.S. barrel in a field-not just dead but decapitated, for the turret lay upside down, about ten feet from the chassis.

"Fuck," Sergeant Scullard said. "Where'd they get a gun that could do that?"

"Good question," Pound said, which didn't answer the gunner. He got on the platoon circuit again: "Be careful, guys. Use all the cover you can. I think Featherston's fuckers just came up with something new."

For most of a year, the latest U.S. barrels had dominated the battlefield. If they couldn't do that any more…then everything got harder. Michael Pound approved of easy, not that the enemy cared.

He flipped up the lid to the cupola and stood up in the turret. He needed to be able to see; the periscopes built into the cupola just didn't do the job. There wasn't a lot of small-arms fire. If the C.S. gunners who nailed that U.S. barrel opened up on him with an automatic rifle or a machine gun…that was better than having them shoot at his barrel with whatever monster gun they had.

One of the other barrels in his platoon was about a hundred yards to his left. He saw a blast of flame burst from a thick stand of bushes, heard a thunderous roar, and a moment later watched the other U.S. barrel brew up. The men inside couldn't have had a chance-and that gun, whatever it was, would be aiming at him next.

"Front!" he bawled as he tumbled back into the turret.

"Identified," Scullard answered. "I'm going to give it AP. I think a hull's hiding in there."

"I don't know. I didn't see one." But Pound added, "If you got a better look, go with what you think."

Mouradian had already slammed the round into the breech. The gunner fired the piece. The cannon's bellow was slightly muffled inside the turret. Smoke and fire spurted from the heart of the bushes. Michael Pound whooped and thumped Sergeant Scullard on the back. "Gimme another round!" Scullard told the loader. He fired again. More flames burst from the bushes. Shame Moses isn't here, Pound thought.

"Sir, I think that son of a bitch is history," Scullard said.

"I think you're right," Pound said. "And if you weren't so quick-and if you weren't so sure about what was hiding there-we would be instead." He spoke into the intercom: "Move forward-carefully. I want to see what the hell we killed."

"Yes, sir," the driver answered.

By the time Pound's barrel drew near, the bushes were burning briskly. Through them, he got a pretty good look at a low hull, a turret as smoothly curved as a turtle's carapace, and a gun that looked as if it came off a destroyer.

"Fuck," Scullard said again. "Gonna be a ton of work killing these babies."

"We can do it. You did it," Pound said.

"I know," the gunner said. "But they can kill us, too, easy as you please. I hope the Confederates don't have a lot of 'em."

"Me, too," Pound admitted. "We can't go marching around like no gun can touch us any more-that's for sure." Sometimes U.S. new-model barrels, confident in their armor, would almost dare C.S. machines to shoot at them. If you did that against one of these barrels, they'd bury your ashes in a tobacco pouch.

He got on the wireless to pass what he'd found to division HQ. "Roger that," came the reply. "We've had a couple of other reports about them."

The soldier on the other end of the connection sounded calm and relaxed. Why not? He was well behind the line. "Why the devil didn't you pass the word along?" Pound yelled. "You damn near got me killed!"

"We said the losses were due to enemy barrels," the wireless man answered, as if that were enough. He probably thought it was.

Pound took off the earphones. "We can beat the enemy," he said to nobody in particular, "but God help us against our own side."

"Headquarters being stupid again?" Scullard asked sympathetically.

"They'd have to wise up to get to stupid." Warming to his theme, Pound added, "They've got their headquarters in their hindquarters."

"And we're the ones who'll end up paying for it," the gunner predicted.

"Guy in one of our uniforms coming up," Mouradian said.

That sent Pound out of the cupola again, a captured Confederate submachine gun at the ready. Just because somebody wore a U.S. uniform, he wasn't necessarily a U.S. soldier. But he stopped by himself before Pound could tell him not to come any closer. "You nailed that fucker," he said. His harsh accent claimed he was from Kansas or Nebraska, but that didn't prove anything, either.

"Yeah," Pound answered. "And so?"

"More of 'em around-bound to be," said the U.S. soldier-Pound supposed he was a U.S. soldier, anyhow. "Can you clear 'em out?"

"Who knows?" Pound didn't just look at the monstrous machine his barrel had just wrecked. He looked back at the U.S. barrel the Confederates had killed. Those were five men of his, five friends of his, gone in the wink of an eye. He hadn't had even a moment to grieve. He still didn't, not really.

"Those other guys, they walked into a buzz saw," the infantryman in green-gray said. "Bam! Bam! Bam! They went out one after another. I don't think they ever knew what got 'em."

Pound hoped the men in the barrel from his platoon didn't know what got 'em. Was that a 4Ѕ-inch gun on the C.S. machine? A fiveincher? Whatever it was, it was devastating.

A Confederate machine gun started snarling. The foot soldier threw himself flat. Pound ducked down into the turret. He got on the platoon circuit with the survivors: "We're moving up. For God's sake, watch it. We aren't the biggest cats in the jungle any more."

How many of those big barrels did Featherston's men have? How fast were they? How maneuverable? How well did they do on bad ground? A barrel's engine could be as important a weapon as its gun. But the gun in that bastard…

"Kinda revs up the pucker factor, doesn't it, sir?" Scullard said, which came unpleasantly close to echoing Pound's thoughts.

"Maybe a little," he answered, his voice as dry as he could make it. He didn't want to admit he was scared, but he couldn't very well deny it, either. He got on the wireless: "Any chance of sending up some more armor to G-5? We don't know what's ahead of us, and it feels pretty naked around here."

"Well, we'll see what we can do," said the wireless operator on the other end of the line. He was sitting in a chair under canvas somewhere. For all Michael Pound knew, he was eating bonbons and patting a cute nurse on the ass to hear her giggle. He wasn't up here at the sharp end of the wedge, wondering if he'd cook like a pot roast in the next few seconds.

Two rounds of HE silenced that chattering machine gun. The country was pine woods and little clearings. Pound stayed away from the clearings when he could and dashed across when he couldn't. Somewhere ahead lay the Georgia Southern line, somewhere ahead and to the right the unreduced town of Fayetteville. If everything worked, the enemy would have to abandon it along with Atlanta. Pound had been confident. He wished he still were.

He also wished the enemy were still counterattacking. That would have made things easier. Then those big honking barrels would have had to show themselves. As things were, they lurked in ambush. The only way to find one was…the hard way.

Having foot soldiers along came in handy. Pound waited in the woods while the men in green-gray trotted across a field. A big round of HE slammed into the poor bloody infantry. Some U.S. soldiers went flying, while others flattened out and dug in.

"See where that came from, sir?" Scullard asked.

"Bearing was almost straight ahead of us-behind that twisted tree with the chunk of bark missing," Pound answered, peering through the periscopes. "If he's smart, he'll back away-he ought to figure our guys have armor with 'em."

"Maybe he'll get greedy instead," the gunner said.

Pound wouldn't have, but the enemy crew did. They fired twice more at the infantrymen in the field. They had good targets in front of them, and they were going to take advantage of it. To give them their due, they didn't have any room to retreat, not if the CSA wanted to hang on to the railroad line.

"Identify 'em now, Mel?" Pound asked.

"Oh, hell, yes," Scullard said, and then, to the loader, "AP!" He added, "Be ready for another round as fast as you can. If the first one doesn't do the trick, we've got to try again."

"Right," Mouradian said.

If the second one doesn't do the trick, we've got to get away-if we can, Pound thought. The C.S. barrel would know where the shots were coming from, and would answer. Pound didn't want to be on the receiving end of that reply.

The gun spoke twice in quick succession. Scullard didn't wait to see if the first round hit before sending the second on its way. As soon as he'd fired both of them, Pound shouted, "Reverse!" The barrel jerked backward.

No enemy antibarrel rounds came after it. Pound popped out of the turret to see what they'd done to the C.S. barrel. Smoke rose from behind the tree, an ever-growing cloud. He spotted motion back there-somebody'd got out and was running away. That impressed him in spite of himself. His own barrel wouldn't have let anybody inside survive, not after it got hit twice. The Confederates had themselves some deadly dangerous new toys here. He hoped like anything they didn't have too many of them.

V

Irving Morrell posed for U.S. photographers in front of the Atlanta city hall. New Year's Day for 1944 was chilly and overcast, with the wet-dust smell of rain in the air. Morrell didn't care. He would have posed for these pictures in the middle of a deluge.

"A year ago, we were still mopping up in Pittsburgh," he said. "Now we're here. We've done pretty damn well for ourselves, by God."

"Did you expect the Confederates to evacuate the city?" a reporter asked.

"They were going to lose it either way," Morrell answered. "The question was, would they lose Atlanta, or would they lose Atlanta and the army that was holding it? They saved a good part of the army by pulling out."

They'd saved more than he wished they would have. They'd started the evacuation at night, and bad weather had kept U.S. fighter-bombers on the ground, so their columns hadn't got the pounding they should have. Patton's army was still a going concern, somewhere over near the Alabama border. Morrell didn't know what his C.S. opposite number would do with the men he had left, but he figured Patton would think of something.

A rifle banged, not too far away. Holdouts and snipers still prowled Atlanta. The Confederates had planted lots of mines. They'd attached booby traps to everything from fountain pens to toilet seats. The Stars and Stripes might fly here, but the town wasn't safe, and wouldn't be for quite a while.

"How much does this victory mean?" another reporter called.

"Well, the enemy will have a lot tougher time fighting the war without Atlanta than he would have with it," Morrell said. "It was a factory town and a transport hub, and now he'll have to do without all that."

The reporter waved at the wreckage. "Doesn't look like he could have done too much with it even when he had it."

"You'd be amazed," Morrell said. "We've seen how places that look beaten to death can go right on producing till they finally change hands."

A plaque on the bullet-pocked terra-cotta wall behind him said ATLANTA RESURGENS, 1847–1927. The city hall had gone up in the brief spell of prosperity that followed the CSA's devastating postwar inflation. Then the worldwide economic collapse sucked down the Confederacy along with almost everybody else, and paved the way for the rise of Jake Featherston.

"What do you aim to do now, General?" another reporter inquired.

By his earnest voice and expectant look, he really expected Morrell to answer in detail. Some reporters never did figure out that their right to a good story stopped where it began to endanger U.S. soldiers. As gently as he could, Morrell said, "Well, I don't want General Patton to read about it in tomorrow's paper, you know."

"Will you drive west into Alabama or east toward the Atlantic?" This fellow was stubborn or stupid or both.

"Yes," Morrell answered. The reporter blinked. Some of his colleagues, quicker on the uptake, grinned. Morrell said, "That's about all, boys. Happy New Year."

A few more flashbulbs popped. He didn't mind that-the Confederates already knew he was in Atlanta. Bodyguards closed up around him as the press conference ended. He didn't care for the guards, but he didn't care to get killed, either. Enemy snipers would have loved to get him in their sights.

The State Capitol wasn't far away. A lot of people on his staff had wanted him to make his headquarters there. He said no, and kept saying no till they believed him. Demolition men were still going through the building, which looked like a scaled-down version of the Confederate Capitol in Richmond-at the moment, including bomb damage. They'd already found a couple of dozen booby traps there…and how many had they missed?

A small, none too fancy house a couple of blocks away seemed a better, safer bet. The demolition experts had swept it, too, and found it clear. The Confederates didn't have enough ordnance or time to booby-trap everything, which came as a relief.

Morrell had other things to worry about, plenty of them. Sitting on his desk when he got back were photos of wrecked new-model C.S. barrels. By all reports, they were half a step ahead of the U.S. machines that had dominated the battlefield for most of 1943. How far could that race go? Would there be land dreadnoughts one day, with twelve-inch guns and armor thick enough to stop twelve-inch shells? You could build one now. What you couldn't build was an engine that would make it go faster than a slow walk-if it moved at all.

He was glad the reporters hadn't asked him anything about the new enemy machines. He wouldn't have had much of an answer for them, except to note that the Confederates didn't seem to have very many. How long would that last? Hit Birmingham harder by air, he wrote. Notes helped him remember the million things he had to do. They were already dropping everything but the kitchen sink on the town. Have to throw that in, too.

A large explosion stunned the air and his ears. He ducked, not that that would have done him any good had the blast been closer. He hauled out his notebook again. Hit Huntsville, too, he scribbled. Intelligence said the Confederates made their rockets there. Not many of them had crashed down on Atlanta yet, but how long would that last? Not long enough-he was dismally sure of it.

He was also sure he couldn't do a damn thing about the rockets except smash the factories that made them and the launchers that sent them on their way. Once they got airborne, there was no defense.

If Featherston had had them from the beginning…That would have been very bad. He was content to leave the thought there. Neither side had all of what it needed when the war began. Part of what the war was about was finding out what you needed. He'd heard rumors that higher-ups in Philadelphia were all excited about some fancy new explosive. Maybe that would end up meaning something, and maybe it wouldn't. They'd throw money and talent at it and see what happened next. What else could they do?

Another big boom rattled his nerves. He didn't know if the enemy was working on super-duper explosives. The ordinary sort people had been using since the end of the last century seemed plenty good enough.

Now he had to figure out what to do himself. The reporter had given him his two basic choices: he could keep his original plan of driving to the sea, or swing west against Birmingham and Huntsville. If the War Department ordered him to go west, he would, he decided. Otherwise, he wanted to cut the Confederacy in half. If the offensive in Virginia came to something, where would Jake Featherston run then? And could the Confederate West stand on its own for long without orders from Richmond-and without Featherston's ferocious energy available to stiffen spines? Finding out would be interesting.

An aide stuck his head into the bedroom Morrell was using for an office. "Sir, the mayor of Atlanta would like to speak to you."

"He would, would he?" Morrell said. "So he didn't run away with the Confederate army?"

"I guess not, sir."

"Well, send him in, then. Let's see what he's got to say for himself."

The mayor had gray hair and was skinny as a rail. He introduced himself as Andrew Crowley. When Morrell asked him why he hadn't fled, he answered, "I wanted to protect my people, so I chose to remain." He threw back his head, a gesture straight out of a corny movie.

"That's nice," Morrell said. "How many Negroes are you protecting?"

"I was speaking of Confederate citizens, sir," the mayor answered, "not of Confederate residents." One word made all the difference in the world.

"They all look like people to me," Morrell said.

"You don't understand the way we do things in this country," Crowley told him.

"Maybe I don't," Morrell allowed. "Of course, if you hadn't invaded mine I wouldn't be down here now. Since I am, I have to tell you that murder looks a lot like murder, no matter who you do it to. I haven't got a whole hell of a lot of sympathy for you, Mr. Mayor."

"We did what the government in Richmond told us to do," Crowley insisted. "Don't see how you can go and flabble about that."

"Yeah, sure. Now tell me you never once yelled, 'Freedom!' in all your born days."

Andrew Crowley's hollow cheeks turned red. "I-" He stopped. Maybe he'd been about to deny it. But how many people could give him the lie-to say nothing of the horse laugh-if he tried?

"Here's what's going on," Morrell told him. "We'll try to keep your people from starving. We'll try to keep them from coming down sick. If they stay quiet, we'll leave 'em alone. If they don't, we'll make 'em sorry. Shoot at a U.S. soldier, and we'll take twenty hostages and shoot 'em. Kill any U.S. soldier, and we'll take fifty hostages and shoot 'em. Kill a Negro, and it's the same price. Got that? Is it plain enough for you?"

"You're as cruel and hard as the government warned us you would be," Crowley whined.

"Tough beans, Mr. Mayor." Was Morrell enjoying himself playing the tyrant? As a matter of fact, he was. "Your soldiers were every bit as sweet in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Only difference now is, the shoe's on the other foot. Hope you like the way it feels."

"You've got to be kidding," the mayor said. "Fifty people for a worthless nigger? If that's not a joke, it ought to be."

"Chances are you don't need to worry about it much," Morrell said. "I bet you've taken most of yours off to be killed by now. Isn't that right?"

"Even if it is, the idea's ridic-" Crowley broke off several words too late. He went red again, this time at what he'd admitted by letting his mouth run free.

"Get out of my sight," Morrell said. "I don't think we've got much to say to each other. You wouldn't like it if I told you what I thought. Just get out before I chuck you in the calaboose."

Crowley got. This probably wasn't the interview he'd wanted to have. Morrell didn't intend to lose any sleep about that. He went into the bathroom and washed his hands. He wasn't Pilate, turning his back on the truth. He knew it when he ran into it, and its touch disgusted him.

He was glad he was only a soldier. He didn't have to try to figure out how to administer captured C.S. territory on any long-term basis. All he had to worry about was making sure the locals didn't give his men too much trouble. The War Department didn't care if he got rough doing it. That suited him fine, because the little he'd seen south of the Ohio inclined him to be gentle.

A long lifetime earlier, this had been part of the country he'd grown up in, the country he served. It wasn't any more. Nothing could be plainer than that. Attitudes toward the USA, attitudes toward Negroes…

Jake Featherston hadn't been in the saddle here for even ten years. But the hatreds he'd exploited and built on had been here long before he used them to such deadly effect. You couldn't create those out of nothing. Without them, the black rebellions during the Great War wouldn't have had such lasting and terrible aftereffects. Did whites here have guilty consciences? They had plenty to feel guilty about, that was for sure. If they didn't, the CSA's Negroes never would have launched uprisings almost surely doomed to fail.

Will the Confederates go on fighting for the next eighty years even if we wipe their country off the map? That was Morrell's greatest dread, and the greatest dread of everyone in the USA who thought about such things at all. The Mormons were bad. Canada gave every sign of being worse. But the Confederate States? If these people stayed determined, they could be an oozing sore for a long, long time.

If the United States didn't wipe their country off the map, wouldn't they start another big war in a generation? And wouldn't that be even worse?

G eorge Enos, Jr., was a shellback. You couldn't get to the Sandwich Islands from Boston by sea without becoming a shellback. That gave him the privilege of harrying the poor, hapless polliwogs aboard the Josephus Daniels. The sailors who hadn't crossed the Equator before paid for the honor of swearing allegiance to King Neptune.

The poor polliwogs got sprayed with saltwater from the hoses. Some of them were painted here and there with iodine. The cook who doubled as a barber cut their hair in strange and appalling ways. One rating who was inordinately proud of his handlebar mustache got half of it hacked off. Anyone who squawked got thumped, too.

Sid Becker, a chief petty officer who might have been the hairiest man George had ever seen, played King Neptune. His mermaids had mop tops for wigs, inflated condoms for breasts, and some kind of padding to give them hips. They also had hellacious five o'clock shadows, no doubt to emulate their sovereign.

Polliwogs had to kiss each stubbly mermaid and then kiss King Neptune's right big toe, which was as hairy as the rest of him. George and the other shellbacks whooped as they gave out what they'd taken when they were initiated into the fraternity of the sea.

Sweetest of all, as far as George was concerned, was that Myron Zwilling was a polliwog. King Neptune didn't respect rank or anything else; that was a big part of what made the ceremony what it was. The exec did have the sense to know he couldn't complain about anything that happened to him.

He didn't have the sense to know he ought to look as if he were enjoying it. He went through it with the air of a man who had no choice. George wondered if he was noting who did what to him for payback later. He wouldn't have been surprised-that seemed like Zwilling's style.

After crossing the Equator, the ship got back to work: keeping Argentine beef and grain from getting across the Atlantic, and keeping the Royal Navy from interfering. She could do the first on her own. For the second, she had help from a pair of escort carriers: the Irish Sea and the Oahu. The limeys had carriers in these waters, too. If one side's airplanes found the other…there would be a big brawl.

George was glad Captain Carsten gave the crews so much gunnery practice. The more time he put in as a loader, the faster he got. The more shells the twin 40mm mount threw, the better the chance it had of knocking down an enemy Swordfish or Spitfire before the airplane could perpetrate whatever atrocity its crew had in mind. Maybe even more than the other sailors in the gun crew, George liked that idea. They hadn't been attacked from the air when they couldn't shoot back. He had.

Having their own airplanes along enormously extended how far they could see. A wireless call sent the flotilla steaming south after a convoy more than a hundred miles away. The enemy freighters and their escorts would have got away if the baby flattops hadn't joined the destroyers and cruisers in the South Atlantic.

"Keep an eye peeled for subs," Swede Jorgenson warned as the Josephus Daniels picked up speed. The new gun chief added, "Be just like the limeys to have a couple traveling with the convoy just to fuck us over."

Even though the destroyer escort had its fancy new hydrophone, that struck George as good advice. He scanned the blue water for a telltale periscope. Maybe it wouldn't help, but it sure couldn't hurt. He didn't want to die the way his father had. He didn't want to die at all, but especially not that way.

Fighters and dive bombers streaked off the escort carriers. These new carriers didn't seem to have torpedo airplanes aboard. Scuttlebutt said the brass had decided they were sitting ducks, and dive bombers could do the job better.

Reaching the enemy convoy took a while. The Oahu and the Irish Sea slowed down the rest of the U.S. ships. The baby flattops were no faster than any of their predecessors. "Snails with flight decks," Jorgenson said scornfully.

"Yeah, but they're our snails with flight decks," George answered, and the crew chief grinned at him.

"Now hear this! Now hear this!" Lieutenant Zwilling said over the PA system. "Our aircraft report one enemy destroyer sinking and one on fire. The convoy is breaking up in flight. That is all." That was plenty to set sailors slapping one another on the back.

They steamed on. Then the Josephus Daniels and another destroyer escort pulled away from the ships that still stayed with the airplane carriers. "Something's going on," Jorgenson said.

"Do you think so, Sherlock?" Marco Angelucci said. The new shell-jerker laughed to take any sting from the words.

"Wish the exec or the skipper would tell us what," George said.

He'd hardly spoken before Zwilling came on the PA again. "We are in pursuit of a pair of enemy freighters that broke north from the pack of ships in the convoy. Our purpose is the capture or incapacitation of these vessels."

"Boy, the skipper wouldn't talk like that," Jorgenson said.

"No kidding," George said. "He'd say something like, 'We're after two of the bastards who're trying to get away. We'll take 'em or sink 'em.'"

The gun chief nodded. "Wonder how come the exec doesn't talk like that."

"'Cause he talks through his ass instead of his mouth?" Angelucci suggested.

When the ship swung farther east, George wondered why. Was a U.S. airplane shadowing the freighters and wirelessing their moves back to the Josephus Daniels? That was the only thing that made sense to him.

Then he let out a catamount whoop. His finger stabbed toward the horizon. "Smoke!" he yelled.

Before long, the freighter making the smoke spotted the exhaust spewing from the Josephus Daniels' funnels. The other ship sheered away, trying to run. The destroyer escort was slow for a warship, but had no trouble overhauling her. The four-incher in the forward turret boomed, sending a shot across her bow. A moment later, the Argentine flag came down from the staff at the stern. Sailors along the rail waved whatever white rags and scraps of cloth they could get their hands on.

"We've got her!" Sam Carsten's voice boomed from the PA. "We're going to put a prize crew aboard her and take her back up to the USA. Whatever she's carrying, better we have it than the damn limeys."

"A prize crew?" Jorgenson laughed out loud. "That's something right out of pirate-ship days. I wonder if the guys still get a share of what she's worth."

"Is that what they used to do?" George asked. "How do you know about that old-time stuff?"

"There's this limey writer, or I guess maybe he's an Irishman. Anyway, his name's C. S. O'Brian. He writes about fighting Napoleon like you're there. You think swabbies got it bad now, you oughta read what it was like way back when."

"Loan me one," George said, and Jorgenson nodded.

Lieutenant Zwilling came down from the bridge to choose the prize crew. A chief came with him, to serve out submachine guns to the men he picked. If the sailors on the freighter-her name was the Sol del Sud-tried getting cute, they'd be sorry.

"All old shellbacks," George remarked as the sailors crossed to the Sol del Sud.

"You noticed that, too, eh?" Jorgenson said. Now George nodded. On one level, it made sense; men who'd crossed the Equator before likely had more experience than men who'd been polliwogs only a few days earlier. But wasn't the exec taking off men who'd given him a hard time when he was getting initiated? It sure looked that way to George.

As soon as the boats came back from the captured freighter, the Josephus Daniels hurried off after the other ship she'd been assigned. "Damn lumbering scow couldn't've got far," George said.

She hadn't. Before long, smoke came over the southeastern horizon. Again, the destroyer escort had no trouble running her down. Again, a shot crashed across her bow. She was the Tierra del Fuego, by looks a near twin to the Sol del Sud, but her captain seemed more stubborn. Another shot from the four-incher thundered past her, this one just in front of her bridge. "Next one we'll hit you with!" Carsten thundered over the PA. The Tierra del Fuego struck her colors.

Lieutenant Zwilling pointed at George. "Enos, go aboard her," he snapped. The CPO handed George a tommy gun and several drums of ammo.

George said the only thing he could: "Aye aye, sir." Maybe they'd take her back to Boston. He could hope so, anyhow. But yeah, the exec was clearing the destroyer escort of the people who'd had too good a time when he suffered with the other polliwogs.

One of the rubber-breasted mermaids and King Neptune himself were also in the prize crew: the CPO held command. When George told Becker what was going on, he shrugged and said, "I bet you're right, but I don't care. Zwilling ain't as smart as he thinks he is. I bring this baby in all right, maybe I go up through the hawse hole like the skipper. Only chance I got-I sure as hell can't pass the goddamn exam. Lord knows I've tried."

When George got up on the Tierra del Fuego's deck, he eyed the sailors standing there. Would they give trouble, or were they just glad his ship hadn't sunk them? "Any of you guys speak English?" he asked.

Two men raised their hands-the skipper and a fellow with a lightning-bolt patch on his sleeve. The wireless man, George thought. "I do," the fellow said.

"Good. Tell your pals nobody's gonna hurt 'em as long as they do what we say," George said. "They'll be POWs in the USA, and they'll go home after the war." The wireless man rattled off some Spanish. A moment later, one of the sailors from the Josephus Daniels knocked him down and yelled at him, also in Spanish.

"Any of these assholes says anything with puto or chinga or maricуn in it, beat the shit out of him, 'cause he's cussin' you," the sailor said. "They ain't gonna dick around with us." He spoke in Spanish to the would-be interpreter, then came back to English: "I told him to try it again, only not to get cute this time."

A couple of men from the destroyer escort's black gang went below to look at the engines. One of them came back up shaking his head. "They're oil-burners-she'd make even more smoke if they weren't," he reported. "But they're about as old as they can be and still burn oil. Ain't no surprise she couldn't outrun us."

Chief Becker took charge of the pistol and the couple of shotguns in the Tierra del Fuego's arms locker. "Don't look like she ever had anything more," he said. "Enough to try and put down a mutiny, and that's about it."

At his orders, the freighter's sailors pointed her bow north and got her up to about eight knots. She lumbered along. George would rather have gone north aboard a fishing boat. It would have bounced worse, but it would have gone over the waves instead of trying to slice through them. He didn't look forward to riding out a gale in this wallowing tub.

Before long, they recrossed the Equator. Nobody asked whether any of the Argentine sailors were polliwogs. George didn't know whether the greasers talked about King Neptune. All he knew was that he had to keep an eye on them.

Day followed day. The chow on the Tierra del Fuego was different from what he would have eaten on the Josephus Daniels-not really better or worse, but different. He tried yerba matй tea. The stuff wasn't bad: better than he expected. It had more kick than regular tea, not so much as coffee.

If a British or Confederate seaplane spotted them flying the Stars and Stripes, they were history. George tried not to think about that. He blessed the fogs and mists that shrouded the Tierra del Fuego as she got farther north. They made navigation harder, but she was going by the seat of her pants anyway. When she came closer to the U.S. coast, no doubt she'd get an escort for the last leg of her journey. She'd need one, too.

In the meantime…In the meantime, it was just the ship and the sea. For George, that wasn't so bad.

R ichmond. The front was Richmond. In the bunker under the ruins of the Gray House, Jake Featherston shook his fist toward the north and cursed a God Who seemed to be cursing him and the CSA.

Ever since the war started, people were saying that whoever could do two big things at once would win. The Confederacy had never managed it. Neither had the damnyankees…till now. They were still going great guns down in Georgia. And they were pushing out of the Wilderness and heading straight for the Confederate capital.

U.S. artillery hadn't fallen on Richmond yet. The ground between the Rapidan and the capital was likely the most heavily fortified stretch on the face of the earth. If the Yankees came, they had to come that way. Both sides knew it. Whatever artifice could do to stop them, artifice had done.

But along with artifice, the Confederate States needed men-men they didn't have. Too many soldiers had died in the Great War. Too many had died or gone off into captivity in Ohio and especially Pennsylvania this time around. And too many were doing everything they could to fight the USA farther south. That left a lot of the bunkers and gun emplacements between the Rapidan and Richmond nothing more than…what did the Bible call them? Whited sepulchers, that was it.

Featherston jumped when the telephone rang. He picked it up. "Yeah?" he said harshly.

"Lord Halifax on the line, sir," Lulu said.

"Put him through," Jake said at once. Was a rat deserting the sinking ship?

"Mr. President?" That plummy British accent.

"What's up?" Jake asked the ambassador. If Halifax was bailing out, he'd put a flea in the bastard's ear, all right.

"I have some papers you may perhaps be interested in seeing," the British ambassador said.

"Well, bring 'em on over, then," Jake told him. He was so relieved that Halifax was staying put, he couldn't refuse him anything.

When Halifax got there, it gave Jake an excuse to throw out Nathan Bedford Forrest III. He didn't want to listen to the chief of the General Staff anyhow; Forrest was too gloomy to be worth listening to. By the noises he made, he feared Richmond would fall. Even if that was true, Jake didn't want to hear it. So he bundled Forrest out and brought in the ambassador instead. "What's up?" he asked again.

Lord Halifax opened his fancy attachй case: buttery leather polished till it gleamed, with clasps that looked like real gold. He pulled out a document held together with a fat paper clip. "Here you are, Mr. President. I honestly didn't believe they would turn these loose, but they did. You must have made an even more favorable impression on the Prime Minister than I thought. He does admire a…purposeful man, no doubt of that."

Jake Featherston hardly heard him. He was flipping through the papers. He didn't understand more than one word in ten, and he didn't understand any of the math. But he knew the word uranium when he saw it. And he knew about element 94, even if the limeys were calling it churchillium and not jovium.

"Did your scientists name it after Winston because it's supposed to make a big boom when it goes off?" he asked with a sly grin.

"Officially, it's a compliment to his office. We call 93 mosleyium after the Minister of War," Halifax replied. "Unofficially…well, I shouldn't wonder if you're right."

"I'll get this to our people who can use it just as quick as I can," Jake said. "And I want you to thank Winston for me from the bottom of my heart. What he did here, it means a lot to the country and it means a lot to me personally."

"He found your point about the need to continue the struggle against the United States by any means necessary alarmingly persuasive," Lord Halifax said. "If you fail, Britain is most dismally surrounded by the Yankees and the Huns."

"How close are you to getting one of these bombs?" Jake asked.

The British ambassador shrugged narrow shoulders. "Haven't the foggiest, I'm afraid. Were I not ambassador to a country also taking part in this research, I doubt I should know there is any such thing as uranium."

"Mm-makes sense," Featherston allowed. That was the only reason the Confederate envoys in London and Paris knew about uranium and what you might be able to do with it. But they hadn't been able to pry anything out of England or France. He damn well had.

"Will you be able to hold Richmond, sir?" Halifax asked.

"Hope so," Jake said. "But even if we don't, we'll keep fighting. As long as we've got a puncher's chance, we'll hang on. And with this"-he tapped the document with a nicotine-stained forefinger-"we do."

"Very good," the British ambassador said. But he meant it the way limeys did, so it might have been all right. He didn't mean it was very good, just that he'd heard. "I shall convey your determination to London. Bombing is picking up there, I'm afraid, though it's not so bad as here."

"Damn squareheads have airfields closer to you now," Jake said. Lord Halifax looked like a man who'd just sat on a tack but was too polite to mention it. Featherston knew why. He hadn't been…diplomatic. Well, too bad, he thought. He'd told the truth, hadn't he? He'd told the truth all the time while he rose-it looked that way to him, anyhow. He didn't see any point to stopping now.

And he was telling the truth again. The Kaiser's forces had bundled the British out of northwestern Germany, out of Holland, and back into Belgium. They were threatening Ypres-universally pronounced Wipers by English-speakers-again, as they had in the Great War. When it fell then, it was a sign that the Entente couldn't hold on against the Central Powers. If it fell this time around, it would be another verse of the same song.

"We are doing everything in our power to deny them the use of those air bases," Halifax said.

"Sure, sure." Jake nodded and smiled. He probably should have kept his mouth shut even if he did tell the truth. Didn't he owe Halifax that much? The ambassador-and his government, of course-had come through for the Confederacy in a big way. "Between us, your Lordship, sir, we'll lick the bad guys yet."

"Between us, yes. And the French and the Russians will have something to say about it as well." Lord Halifax grimaced again. "I worry about the Russians. Failure the last time around cost them the Ukraine and Finland and Poland and the Baltic states and a Red insurrection at least as unpleasant as yours." He was being diplomatic; the Tsar's fight against the Reds had been bigger and bloodier than anything the CSA went through. After a pause to light a Habana, he continued, "They're wavering again, I fear. When they couldn't beat the Germans, or even the Austrians…If they go out, heaven only knows what sort of upheaval will follow."

"Hell with that," Featherston said. "If they go out now, you and France get the shaft. The Kaiser can pull everything away from the east and shoot it all at you."

"Quite." British reserve had its uses. Lord Halifax got as much mileage from one soft-spoken word as Jake would have from five minutes of cussing. He rose and held out an elegantly manicured hand. "Always a pleasure, Mr. President. I do hope the document proves valuable to you."

"I'm sure it will be." I'll know just how valuable by this time tomorrow, Jake thought as he shook it. Aloud, he went on, "England's always been the best friend the Confederacy has. We know that, and we never forget it."

One more time, the truth. English recognition in 1862, English forcing of the U.S. blockade, had ensured the Confederacy's independence. English help during the Second Mexican War made sure the CSA got to keep Chihuahua and Sonora, even if an invasion of the USA from Canada came to grief in Montana.

Well, the Confederate States of America paid their debts to the UK in 1914. This time, no debt was involved: both countries wanted revenge against the enemies who'd beaten them. And remembering alliances past didn't mean you had to do anything but remember. Jake understood that perfectly well. Did Lord Halifax? No doubt; he was twisty as a snake.

As soon as the British ambassador bowed his way out, Featherston summoned a courier. The bright young lieutenant saluted. "Freedom!"

"Freedom!" Jake echoed. He handed the man the British document. "Get these pages photographed. As soon as you've done that, haul ass to Washington University in Lexington and deliver them to Professor FitzBelmont."

"Yes, sir." The courier hesitated. "If it's such a tearing hurry, sir, why wait for the photography?"

"Because this has to get through," Jake answered. "Even if something happens to you"-even if the damnyankees roast you like a barbecued porker-"FitzBelmont has to get it. So we make a copy before we send you off."

"All right, sir. I understand."

"Good. Tell the fellow in the photo lab to call me as soon as he does what he needs to do." With this document, Jake intended to take no chances whatever.

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant said again. He saluted and hurried away. He didn't even need to leave the armored underground compartment to find a photographic technician. Anything that had to do with running a country, you could do here.

Now he would have some idea of what was going on in Lexington. So would the man who photographed the pages. That worried Jake less than it would have a few months before. If one of them reported to the damnyankees…well, so what? The United States already knew the Confederate States were working on a uranium bomb. The United States knew where, too. Otherwise, they wouldn't have started pounding the crap out of Lexington. If they knew the limeys were helping out, how did that change things? Didn't it just give them a brand-new worry? It looked that way to Jake Featherston.

The courier hadn't been gone more than a couple of minutes before the telephone on his desk jangled again. He eyed it the way a man in the woods might eye a rattler with a buzzing tail. Unlike a man in the woods, he couldn't walk away from it no matter how much he wished he could.

He picked it up. "Featherston here…What the hell do you mean, they're over the North Anna?" He'd expected bad news-that was the kind that got to the President in a hurry. He hadn't expected news this bad, though. "How the devil did they do that? Which dumb-shit general had his thumb up his ass to let 'em?…Jesus Christ, they can't have that much armor-can they?" He sounded worried even to himself. That was no good. You needed to sound calm, even-no, especially-when you weren't.

He gave orders to try to stem the green-gray tide. The damnyankees couldn't shell Richmond yet, no, but it wouldn't be long if they kept going like this.

"Over the North Anna. Son of a bitch," Jake muttered after he hung up. He started looking at the maps on his office walls in a new way. Richmond really might fall. And if it did, he needed somewhere else to go, a place from which he could keep fighting till FitzBelmont and the rest of the high foreheads came through.

He'd never thought it would come to this. He'd figured the United States would roll over and show their yellow belly when he cut them in half. When that didn't happen, he'd been sure losing Pittsburgh would make them quit. When they didn't lose Pittsburgh…About then, he realized he had a tiger by the tail.

Can't let go, he thought. And the Yankees had a tiger by the tail, too. If they didn't know that yet, they would. He nodded to himself. They sure as hell would. No matter where he had to do it from, he'd make them pay for every single thing they'd done to his country. He'd make them pay plenty.

A rmstrong Grimes was happy as a clam in a country where they'd never heard of chowder. Along with the rest of his platoon, he tramped east toward the Savannah River and the sea. They'd told Lieutenant Bassler the Confederates didn't have a whole hell of a lot in front of them. So far, they looked to be right.

"Keep your eyes peeled, though," he warned the men in his squad. "Don't want to get your nuts shot off doing something dumb."

"Shit, Sarge, I don't want to get my nuts shot off doing something smart," Squidface said.

"You've got a point," Armstrong said. "Now put a hat on it."

The PFC flipped him off. He gave back the bird. When he took over the squad, the men had been wary about him. They'd come through a lot together, and they weren't about to trust somebody from the repple-depple till they saw he deserved it. By now, Armstrong had paid his dues and then some. He was part of the life of the platoon, somebody to razz and somebody to put them through their paces. They followed his orders not just because he had three stripes but because they'd seen he had a halfway decent notion of what he was doing.

Up ahead, a Confederate machine gun chattered. That tearing-sailcloth noise sobered people in a hurry. Men kind of hunched down to make themselves into smaller targets. They moved away from one another to make a burst less likely to take out several of them at once. Armstrong did all that himself, too, before he even thought about it. He knew his trade, the same as the other guys did.

Most of them did, anyhow. A couple were new men fresh out of the replacement depot. A tall, gangly kid called Herk had taken Whitey's place. He stared around in mild surprise when the soldiers around him spread out. Then a bullet cracked past his head. He knew what that meant, all right, and awkwardly dropped to the ground.

"You gotta move faster'n that, man," Armstrong told him. "Otherwise, you'll damn well stop one, and I ain't got time to nursemaid you."

"I'll try, Sarge." Herk was willing. He was just unskilled.

"Sure." Armstrong swallowed a sigh. He'd hit it, all right-he couldn't nursemaid the replacements. In a perfect world, they would have joined the unit when it got taken out of the line so the veterans got to know them a little bit. Here, it was baptism by total immersion. Experienced soldiers shied away from the new guys. Raw men didn't just get themselves maimed and killed; they also brought trouble down on their comrades, because the Confederates who aimed at them also hit guys near them.

If they made it through a couple of weeks of action, they learned the ropes and turned into decent soldiers. A lot of them didn't, though. Not too many Confederates stood in front of Armstrong's platoon right now. The ones who did knew their business. The only new Confederate soldiers were the ones who'd been too young for conscription when the war started.

From the ground, Herk asked, "We gonna go after that machine gun, Sarge?"

"Not if we can find a barrel or a mortar team to do it for us," Armstrong answered. "We want to lick these fuckers, yeah, but we don't want to pay too much while we're doing it."

"Now you hope the lieutenant feels the same way," Squidface said, his grin half sly, half resigned.

"Bet your ass I do." Armstrong could hope, anyhow. Lieutenant Bassler had pretty good sense…as far as lieutenants went. He didn't think he had an infinite supply of soldiers to do whatever he thought needed doing, and he didn't send his men anywhere he wouldn't go himself. Things could have been worse.

And they rapidly got that way. That rising howl in the air wasn't artillery. It was even worse. "Screaming meemies!" Squidface yelled while Armstrong was still sucking in wind to shout the same thing. Everybody who wasn't already on the ground threw himself flat. Armstrong got out his entrenching tool and started digging like a madman.

The salvo of rockets shrieked home before he'd thrown up more than a shovelful of red dirt. A couple of dozen of them slammed down within a few seconds. Armstrong got picked up and thrown around while chunks of jagged iron whined through the air. Whether he lived or died wasn't up to him; it was just luck one way or the other. He hated that more than anything else about combat. Sometimes whether you were a good soldier didn't matter worth a dime.

When he came down and stopped rolling, he looked around. There was Herk, blood running from his nose but otherwise seeming all right. There was Squidface, who hadn't even lost his cigarette. And…there was Zeb the Hat's head, attached to one shoulder and not much else. The rest of what was probably his body lay thirty yards away.

Herk got a good look at that and lost his breakfast. Armstrong had already seen a lot of bad things, but his stomach wanted to empty out, too. Squidface's lips silently shaped the word Fuck. Or maybe he said it out loud; Armstrong slowly realized he wasn't hearing very much.

Squidface said something else. Armstrong shrugged and pointed to his ears. The PFC nodded. He came over and bellowed, "He was a hell of a good guy."

"Yeah," Armstrong shouted back. "He was."

That was about as much of a memorial as Zeb the Hat got. Armstrong dragged his two pieces together so Graves Registration would know they went with each other. The surviving soldiers helped themselves to Zeb's ammunition and ration cans-he didn't need them any more. Armstrong took out his wallet and found his real name was Zebulon Fischer, and that he was from Beloit, Wisconsin. The billfold held only a couple of bucks. Had he had a real roll, Armstrong would have sent that to his next of kin.

More shrieks in the air announced another salvo of rockets. Armstrong went flat again. These screaming meemies came down off to the left, not all around him. He had more of a chance to dig in, and used it. The Confederates in this part of Georgia didn't seem inclined to let U.S. soldiers come any farther.

After the rockets slammed down, Armstrong breathed a sigh of relief: nothing bad had happened to him or his men. Then shouts came from the left. He needed a little while to make out what people were saying. The first salvo really had pounded the crap out of his hearing. After a while, though, he got the message: Lieutenant Bassler was wounded.

He swore. God only knew what kind of half-assed new man the repple-depple would cough up. Then somebody said, "Looks like you're in charge of the platoon, Sergeant."

"What the hell?" Armstrong said. Two of the other three sergeants were senior to him.

"Yeah, you are," the soldier insisted. "Same goddamn rocket got Borkowski and Wise. One of 'em's dead-looks like the other one'll lose a foot."

"Shit." Armstrong had got a platoon before, and the same way-everybody above him got wounded or killed. That was the only way a three-striper could command a platoon…or, if enough things went wrong, a company. He didn't really want the honor. As usual, nobody cared what he wanted.

"What are we gonna do?" the news bringer asked, something not far from panic in his voice. "We stay here, Featherston's fuckers'll just keep pounding the shit out of us."

"Tell me about it," Armstrong said unhappily. The Confederates would be loading up more screaming meemies right this minute. If he ordered a retreat, his own superiors would tear the stripes off his sleeve. They'd call him a coward, and he wouldn't be able to prove them wrong. Which left…"We gotta move up."

They would have to take out that machine gun now, like it or not. He didn't, but he was stuck. Squidface came to the same unwelcome conclusion: "That goddamn gun's gonna have to go."

"Uh-huh." Armstrong nodded. "You've got the squad for now."

"Fuck of a way to get it," Squidface said, but then he nodded, too. "You don't want the platoon, either, do you?"

"Not like this," Armstrong answered. "Keep the guys spread out. And watch that Herk, for Chrissake. He'll get his ass shot off before he knows what's what."

"I ain't his goddamn babysitter, for cryin' out loud." After a moment, Squidface nodded again. "Well, I'll try."

Armstrong hadn't gone very far before he realized the machine-gun emplacement could murder the whole platoon. It had an unobstructed field of fire to the west. No way in hell would they be able to sneak up on it. He yelled for the wireless man and got on the horn to regimental HQ: "This is Grimes, in charge of Gold Platoon, Charlie Company. We need a couple of barrels to knock out a nest at square, uh, B-9."

Some uniformed clerk well back of the line asked, "What happened to what's-his-name? Uh, Bassler?"

"He's down. I've got it," Armstrong growled. "You gonna get me what I need, or do I have to come back there and tear you a new asshole?"

"Keep your hair on, buddy," replied the fellow back at headquarters. "We'll see what we can do."

That wasn't enough to keep Armstrong happy-not even close. Yet another barrage of screaming meemies roared in. They were mostly long, but not very long. Armstrong damn near pissed himself. He knew plenty of guys who had. You didn't rag on them much, not if you had any sense. It could happen to you.

Half an hour later, after still more rockets-again, mostly long-the barrels showed up. Without getting out of the foxhole he'd dug, Armstrong pointed them toward the machine-gun nest. They clattered forward. The machine gun opened up on them, which did exactly no good. There was no place for advancing U.S. soldiers to hide. That also meant there was no place for C.S. soldiers with stovepipe antibarrel rockets to hide. The barrels shelled the machine-gun nest into silence.

"Let's go." Armstrong hustled to catch up with the barrels. So did his men. Anyone who'd been in action for even a little while knew armor made a hell of a life-insurance policy for infantrymen. It could take care of things that stymied foot soldiers-and it drew fire that would otherwise come down on their heads.

And the ground pounders were good for barrel crews' life expectancy, too. They kept bad guys with stovepipes and Featherston Fizzes from sneaking close enough to be dangerous. Barrels that got too far out in front of the infantry often had bad things happen to them before anybody could do anything about it.

"Come on, Herk!" Armstrong yelled, looking back over his shoulder and seeing that the new guy wasn't moving fast enough. "Shake a leg, goddammit!"

"I'm coming, Sarge." Yeah, Herk was willing. But he didn't understand why Armstrong wanted him to hurry up. He wasn't urgent and he wasn't alert. With the best will in the world, he was asking for trouble. Armstrong figured he'd buy a piece of a plot-or maybe a whole one-before he figured out what was what. Too damn bad, really, but what could you do?

Meanwhile, the Confederates with the screaming meemies were still lobbing them where the U.S. soldiers had been, not where they were now. Before long, the rocketeers would find out they'd goofed-with luck, when the barrels put shells or machine-gun bullets through them.

Armstrong trotted on. He heard a few bursts from up ahead, but nothing really bad. The bastards in butternut all carried automatic weapons. Nothing you could do about that. But if there weren't enough of them, what they carried didn't matter. And, right here, there weren't.

W hen Sam Carsten thought of prize crews, he thought about pigtailed sailors with cutlasses boarding sailing ships: wooden ships and iron men. But the Josephus Daniels was shorthanded because a couple of freighters that would have gone to England or France were bound for the USA instead.

Sam gave Lieutenant Zwilling the conn so he could straighten out some of the complications detaching men had caused. He was talking with a damage-control party-damage control being something about which he knew more than he'd ever wanted to learn-when Wally Eastlake, a CPO who'd played one of King Neptune's mermaids when the destroyer escort crossed the Equator, sidled up to him and said, "Talk to you for a second, Skipper?"

When a chief wanted to talk, listening was a good idea. "Sure," Sam said. "What's on your mind?"

Instead of answering right away, Eastlake drew himself out of earshot of the damage-control party. A couple of snoopy sailors started to follow, but the chief 's basilisk stare made them keep their distance. In a low voice, Eastlake said, "Notice anything funny about the prize crews the exec took for those Argentine pigs?"

"Not a whole lot," Sam answered. "Mostly guys who've been in for a while, but that's more good than bad, you ask me. You need men with some experience when they go off on their own."

"If that was all, sure," Eastlake said. "But the guys who're gone, they're the ones who busted a gut laughing when he stopped being a polliwog. I'd be gone myself, I bet, except I was holding it in and busting up where it didn't show. Swelp me, Skipper, it's the God's truth." He drew a cross on his chest.

"Oh, yeah?" Sam said.

"Swelp me," the chief said again.

Carsten thought about it. He hadn't had much to do with the festivities. They were designed to let ratings get their own back. Even if the captain just watched, it dampened the fun. But he also had a pretty good notion of who'd enjoyed themselves most at Myron Zwilling's expense-and who'd had reasons for enjoying themselves. Eastlake was right-an awful lot of those people weren't on the ship any more. "Son of a bitch," Sam said softly.

"Yeah," Eastlake said. "I didn't think you noticed-you got bigger shit to worry about. But I figured you oughta know."

"Thanks-I guess." Now Sam had to decide what to do about it, or whether to do anything at all. Zwilling could deny everything and say he hadn't done it consciously. How would you prove he was lying? For that matter, maybe he wasn't. Or he could say he damn well had done it, and so what?

"You think I shoulda kept my big trap shut?" Eastlake asked.

"No. I'd rather know what's going on," Sam answered. "I'll take care of it." The CPO nodded. He didn't ask Sam how he'd take care of it, which was a good thing, because Sam still didn't know.

When he got back to the bridge, the exec was keeping station with the other warships in the flotilla. Zwilling was competent, precise, painstaking. The tip of his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth, as if he were a grade-schooler working on a big paper. He'd never be the shiphandler Pat Cooley was. He was plenty good enough to get the job done, though. Chances were he was better than Sam, who'd come to the wheel late. Whether he'd be better in an emergency, when instinct and balls could count for more than carefully acquired skill, was a different question.

"Anything interesting going on?" Sam asked.

"No, sir. All routine," Zwilling answered.

"All right. In that case, why don't you let Thad have it for a bit?" Sam nodded toward the Y-ranging officer. "He can use the practice. You never know what could happen if a British fighter or bomber chews up the bridge."

"Aye aye, sir." Zwilling stepped away from the wheel. Lieutenant Walters took it, a wide grin making him look even younger than he did most of the time.

Carsten gestured to the exec. "Come to my cabin, why don't you?" Yes, he was going to take the bull by the horns. He didn't know what else to do.

"Of course, sir." Zwilling's eyes narrowed. He knew something was up, but he couldn't very well say no.

The cabin, small for one man, was crowded with two. But, with the door closed, it was about the only place on the destroyer escort that offered reasonable privacy. Sam sat down on the bed and waved the exec to the metal chair, saying, "I've got a question for you."

"Sir?" Zwilling didn't show much. Well, with a superior getting ready to grill him, Sam would have shown as little as he could, too.

"When you picked prize crews for those freighters we nabbed, how did you go about it?"

Zwilling still didn't show much. He would have made a pretty fair poker player, and probably did. "I mostly chose men with above-average experience, sir. They'll be on their own going north. They'll need to be extra alert for enemy action, and for trouble from the sailors. New fish are less likely to do well in a situation like that."

"I see." Sam would have said the same thing. It was even likely to be true. But it wasn't likely to be the whole truth. With a sigh, Sam went on, "Did you also choose men who gave you a hard time when we crossed the Equator?"

Now the exec knew which way the wind was blowing. His mouth tightened. He hunched in on himself, just a little. But his answer was forthright: "Yes, sir. We're better off without some of those troublemakers on board. That was a criterion of mine, too."

Thinking about the men who were gone, Sam shook his head. "They mostly aren't troublemakers, Mr. Zwilling. They have good records. They may not love you, but that's not the same thing."

By Zwilling's scowl, it was to him. "They're bad for discipline, sir. I'm not sorry to be rid of them."

"I'm sorry you used personal dislikes to influence what you did," Carsten said. "If I were you, I wouldn't do that again. I'm disappointed you did it once."

"If you're unhappy with me, sir, may I request a transfer off this ship?" Zwilling asked. "You need to have confidence in your executive officer."

He didn't say anything about his needing to have confidence in Sam. That would have been insubordinate, and he was a stickler for the proprieties. But it hovered in his tone and in the way he eyed Carsten.

With another sigh, Sam nodded. "Yes, I think that'll be best for everyone. This won't go in your papers. You didn't do anything against regulations. But you did something I don't fancy, and I won't try to tell you any different."

"Is that all, sir?" The exec's voice might have come from a machine.

"Yes, that's all. Go take the conn back." As far as the ship was concerned, Zwilling was fine. With the sailors, on the other hand…And with me, too, Sam thought sadly. There were skippers for whom Myron Zwilling would have been the perfect exec. Men who did things strictly by the book themselves would have been wild for him. But Sam flew by the seat of his pants. That drove Zwilling nuts, and the exec's insistence on routine grated on the mustang just as much.

Sam followed Zwilling back to the bridge. When the exec said, "I have the conn, Mr. Walters," the Y-ranging officer almost jumped out of his skin. Sam didn't blame him. Zwilling didn't sound like a machine any more. He sounded like a voice from beyond the grave.

Christ! Sam thought, now alarmed. I hope he doesn't go hang himself from the first pipe fitting he finds. He didn't want the exec dead, only off his ship and onto one where he fit better.

Thad Walters retreated in a hurry. His eyes asked Sam what had happened in the cabin. Sam couldn't tell him, even in private; that would have been monstrously unfair to Zwilling.

Then Sam shook his head. It wouldn't be so simple after all. Even now, people would be buzzing that Chief Eastlake had talked with him. And they would know all too soon that he and the exec had talked in his cabin. They would add two and two, sure as hell. And when Zwilling left the ship, Eastlake would be a power to reckon with indeed.

That wasn't good. You didn't want the crew thinking a CPO could hang an officer out to dry. Even more to the point, you didn't want a CPO thinking he could hang an officer out to dry. In this particular case, it happened to be true, which only made things worse. Sam shook his head again. Eastlake would have to go, too. That wasn't fair, but he didn't see that he had any other choice.

He wished for word of an enemy convoy. He almost wished for word of enemy aircraft on the way in. Anything that took his mind off the ship's internal politics would have been nice. But no enemy freighters came into sight. The sky remained clear of everything but the sun. The only thing he had to worry about was Myron Zwilling steering the Josephus Daniels with a face that looked as if he were watching his family tortured and killed.

Was I too hard on him? Sam wondered. He played back the conversation in his cabin inside his head. He really didn't think so. The only other thing he could have done was pretend he didn't know anything about what Zwilling had pulled. And that wouldn't fly, because Chief Eastlake would let the crew know he'd told Sam what was going on. Their respect would get flushed right down the head.

And so would Sam's self-respect. He'd never been any damn good at pretending. Oh, sometimes you had to. If you were dealing with a superior you couldn't stand, a little constructive hypocrisy didn't hurt. But that was about as far as he could make himself go. Ignoring this would have felt like ignoring a bank robbery right under his nose.

Lieutenant Walters took a long look at his Y-ranging gear. The screens must have been blank, for he stepped away from them and over to Sam. In a low, almost inaudible voice, he asked, "Sir, what's going on?"

Sam glanced at Lieutenant Zwilling. The exec didn't turn around. Did his back stiffen, though? Was he listening? It didn't matter any which way. Sam said what he would have said if Zwilling were down in the engine room: "Nothing that's got anything to do with you."

"Yes, sir." The Y-ranging officer nodded, but he didn't go back to his post. Instead, he asked, "Is it anything that will hurt the ship?"

Zwilling's ravaged voice and face made that query much too reasonable. But Sam didn't think he was lying when he shook his head. "No, we'll be all right," he said. "It's…" He stopped. Even saying something like It's a personnel matter went too far. Were he in the exec's place, he wouldn't want anybody running his mouth about him. "Just let it go, Thad. It'll sort itself out."

"I hope so, sir." Walters returned to his post. He'd needed nerve to make even that much protest.

Muttering to himself, Sam turned away. He didn't like the idea of blighting Zwilling's career. He hadn't liked it back in New York City, and he liked it even less here. But try as he would, he didn't see what else he could do. Zwilling had made his bed; now he had to lie in it.

And what will the fancy-pants officers back in the USA think about me when they get wind of this? Sam wondered. Now that he'd been a lieutenant for a while, he wanted to make lieutenant commander. That would be pretty damn good for somebody who started out an ordinary seaman. Would the men who judged such things decide he could have handled this better?

After worrying at it and worrying about it for a couple of minutes, he shrugged. The ship had to come first. If the brass hats didn't care for what he'd done, he'd retire a lieutenant, and the world wouldn't end. When he first signed up, even CPO had seemed a mountain taller than the Rockies, but he'd climbed a lot higher than that.

So he'd go on doing things the way he thought he needed to. And if anybody away from the Josephus Daniels didn't like it, too damn bad.

T he telephone on Jefferson Pinkard's desk jangled. He picked it up. "This is Pinkard."

"Hello, Pinkard," said the voice on the other end of the line. "This is Ferd Koenig, in Richmond."

"What can I do for you, sir?" Jeff asked the Attorney General, adding, "Glad to hear you still are in Richmond." From some of the things the papers were saying, the capital was in trouble. Since the papers always told less than what was really going on, he'd worried.

"We're still here. We aren't going anywhere, either," Koenig said. As if to contradict him, something in the background blew up with a roar loud enough to be easily audible even over the telephone. He went on, "We'll lick the damnyankees yet. You see if we don't."

"Yes, sir," Jeff said, though he'd already seen all the war he wanted and more besides in Snyder. Coming east to Humble was a wonderful escape. U.S. warplanes hardly ever appeared over the city of Houston (far, far away from the damnyankee abortion of a state that carried the same name) and had never been seen over this peaceful town twenty miles north of it.

"Wait till we get all our secret weapons into the fight," Koenig said. "We're already throwing those rockets at the USA, and we've finally got new barrels that'll make their best ones say uncle. Bigger and better things in the works, too."

"Sure hope so." From everything Pinkard could see, the Confederate States needed bigger and better things if they stood a chance of winning.

"Believe it. The President's promised we'll have 'em, and he keeps his word." Ferdinand Koenig sounded absolutely convinced, despite yet another big boom in the distance. He went on, "But there's something I need from you."

Of course there is. You wouldn't have called me if there wasn't, Jeff thought. Aloud, all he said was, "Tell me what."

"I want you to go through your guards. Anybody who's fit enough to fight, put him on a train for Little Rock. We'll take it from there," the Attorney General said.

"Everybody who's fit enough to fight?" Pinkard asked in dismay.

"That's what I said."

"Sir, you know a lot of my guys are from the Confederate Veterans' Brigades," Jeff said. Those were men the C.S. Army had already judged not fit to fight, mostly because of wounds from the Great War.

"Yes, I understand that. Sort through them, too. Some of 'em'll probably do-we aren't as fussy as we used to be," Koenig said. "But you've got plenty of Congressmen's nephews and Party officials' brothers-in-law. Come on, Pinkard-we both know how that shit works. But we can't afford it any more."

"Shall I get on the train myself, then?" Jeff asked. "Reckon I still know which end of a rifle's which."

"Don't be dumb," Koenig told him. "We've got to keep the camp running. That's damn important, too. Way things are, though, we need every warm body we can get our hands on at the front."

"Well, I'll do what I can, sir," Jeff said.

"I reckoned you would," the Attorney General replied. "Freedom!" The line went dead.

"Freedom," Jeff echoed as he hung up, too. Once the handpiece was back in the cradle, he added one more word: "Shit."

He wondered how few guards he could get away with sending. The men on the women's side, sure. They wouldn't be a problem. He could always replace them with dykes. Plenty of tough broads ready to send Negro women to the bathhouses. Plenty of tough broads eager to do it. And if some of them ate pussy in the meantime…well, hell, as long as the colored gals got what was coming to them sooner or later, Jeff supposed he could look the other way in the meantime. Yeah, lezzies were disgusting, but there was a war on, and you had to take the bad with the good.

Losing guards from the men's side would hurt more. He couldn't bring female guards over here. Some of them, the butch ones, would have liked it. But it would stir up trouble among the coons if he tried it, and it would stir up more trouble among his men. So he'd have to do some pruning, and then live with personnel being gone.

Congressmen's nephews. Party bigwigs' brothers-in-law. Sure, he had some guys like that. He didn't want to get rid of all of them. They were the young, the healthy, the quick here. You couldn't run a camp with a bunch of old farts who couldn't get out of their own way…could you? He hoped he wouldn't have to find out, and feared he would.

He got on the intercom, and then on the PA system, to summon Vern Green to his office. The guard chief got there about fifteen minutes later. "What's up, sir?" Pinkard told him what was up. He looked disgusted when he heard. "Well, for God's sake! They reckon our boys gonna win the damn war all by their lonesome?"

"Beats me," Jeff answered. "But when the Attorney General tells you you got to do this and that, you can't very well say no."

Green looked more disgusted yet, but he nodded. "I'll ask around," he said. "Maybe we can fix it." He had his own back channels to Richmond. Someone in the capital would be keeping an eye on Jeff for the government or the Party or both. Usually, that made the guard chief the camp commandant's rival. They both wanted to pull in the same direction today, though.

"Yeah, you do that," Jeff said. "But don't hold your breath. War news is bad enough, they'll be grabbing anybody they can get their hands on."

"Uh-huh," Green said. They both had to be careful when they talked about how things were going. Either could report the other for defeatism. But they couldn't afford to pretend they were blind, either. If the news were better, Richmond wouldn't be prying men loose wherever it could. The guard chief went on, "You got a roster handy?"

"Sure do." Jeff spread papers out on his desk. "I've made some marks already."

Green looked at them. He nodded. "What you've got makes sense. We can always come up with guards in skirts for the women's side."

"Just what I was thinkin'," Pinkard agreed. "The ones over here, though…That's gonna be a bastard. Bastard and a half, even."

"Yeah." The guard chief nodded again. "Some of these guys'll bawl like castrated colts when you tell 'em they got to go and fight the damnyankees. Some of their fathers'll bawl even louder."

"Tell me about it," Jeff said with a wry grin. "But I know what to do about that, damned if I don't. I'll just say, 'You want to squawk, don't you come squawkin' to me. Go squawk to Ferd Koenig, on account of he gave the orders. Me, I'm only doin' like he said.'"

Vern Green smiled a slow, conspiratorial smile. "Ain't gonna be a whole lot o' folks with the brass to try that."

"Hell, I wouldn't," Jeff said. "I know when I'm fightin' out of my weight. Anybody who wants to take a swing at it, well, good luck." He peered through his reading glasses at the roster. "Let's see how we can finish this off and still have enough left to do our jobs here."

Neither of them ended up happy about what they came up with. But they both agreed Camp Humble could go on reducing population without the guards they'd ship to Little Rock. Then they wrangled about who would announce the transfers. Jeff wanted the guard chief to do it. Green insisted the words had to come out of the commandant's mouth. In they end, they split the difference. Pinkard would announce the Attorney General's order, while Green read the names of the men who would go to Little Rock.

Even assembling the guards was tricky. Like any soldiers or bureaucrats, the men knew a break in routine was suspicious. To them, change was anything but good. And they started yelling their heads off when Jeff announced that Ferd Koenig required some of them to go to the front.

"Shut up!" Pinkard yelled, and his bellow was enough to rock them back on their heels and make sure they damn well did shut up, at least for a little while. Into that sudden, startled silence, he went on, "Y'all reckon I want to do this? You're out of your goddamn minds if you do. You reckon I've got any choice? You're just as crazy if you think so, and a lot stupider'n I figured you were."

"We won't go!" somebody yelled, and other guards took up the cry.

"Oh, yes, you will," Jeff said grimly. "I don't believe you catch on. You ain't just fuckin' with me, people. Y'all are fuckin' with Ferd Koenig and Jake Featherston and the Freedom Party and the Confederate government. You'll end up in the stockade, and then they'll ship your sorry asses to the front any which way. And if you don't end up in a penal battalion for raising a ruckus, then I don't know shit about how things work. And I damn well do."

A shudder ran through the guards. They didn't want to go to the front as soldiers. That was nasty and dangerous. But if you went to the front in a penal battalion, you were nothing but dead meat that hadn't got cooked yet. And they threw you straight into the fire.

"You still talkin' about not goin'?" Jeff asked. Nobody said anything this time. He nodded in something approaching satisfaction. "That's more like it. Maybe y'all ain't as dumb as you look after all. Hell, you go and mutiny, maybe they don't send you to the front at all. Maybe they just line you up and shoot you." He waited for another shudder, and got it. Then he went on, "Vern here'll read out the names of the men who're going to Little Rock. You hear your name, be ready to ship out tomorrow at 0600. You ain't ready, you got more trouble'n you know what to do with, I promise. Vern?"

One by one, the guard commander read the list of names. Some men who got called jerked as if shot. For a few, or more than a few, that was bound to be anticipation. Others cursed Green or the Freedom Party. And still others reacted with complete disbelief. "You can't do this to me!" one of them cried. "Do you know whose cousin I am?"

"You ain't Ferd Koenig's cousin, and you ain't Jake Featherston's cousin, either," Jefferson Pinkard said in a voice like iron. "And as long as you ain't, it don't matter for shit whose cousin you are. You got it?"

"You can't talk to me that way!" exclaimed the guard with the prominent-but not prominent enough-cousin.

"No? Seems like I just did," Jeff answered. "You can get on the train tomorrow morning, or you can go to the stockade now and get on another train after that. You just bet your ass you won't be happy if you do, though."

The cousin said not another word. Green went back to reading names. He got more howls of protest. Some guards did some virtuoso cussing. But nobody else said he wouldn't go. Nobody else said he had a relative important enough to keep him from going, either. As far as Jeff was concerned, that was progress.

He waited with the shivering guards the next morning. All but two of them were there. Those two had skipped camp. They'd be the military police's worry from now on. He figured the MPs would track them down and make them sorry. The train pulled in right on time, snorting up in the beginnings of morning twilight-sunup was still a ways away.

Doors opened. Glumly, the guards climbed up and into the passenger cars. When they'd all boarded, the train chugged off. Its light was dim. Even here, lights could draw U.S. airplanes. You didn't want to take chances you didn't have to.

After the train pulled away, Jeff went to the kitchen for fried eggs, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. He'd done his duty. He wasn't happy about it, but he'd done it. Pretty soon, Camp Humble would start doing its duty again, too. Even with a reduced guard contingent, the camp would keep on working toward making the Confederate States Negro-free.

That was damned important work. Jeff was proud to have a part in it. He just wished the damnyankees and the war wouldn't keep interfering.

VI

Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry Dover didn't have Atlanta to kick around any more. The senior supply officers there couldn't make his life miserable any more. They'd either fled or died or were languishing in U.S. POW camps. The Stars and Stripes flew over the capital of Georgia. And so…

And so…Alabama. Dover had never figured he would have to try to fight the damnyankees from Alabama. Now he could scream at Huntsville for not getting him what he needed.

It was less fun than screaming at Atlanta had been. The chief quartermaster officer in Huntsville was a brigadier general named Cicero Sawyer. He sent Dover anything he had. When he didn't send it, he didn't have it. Dover could complain about that, but Sawyer complained about it, too.

"Anything that comes from Virginia and the Carolinas, forget it," he told Dover on a crackling telephone line. "They can't get it here."

"Why not?" Dover demanded. "We've still got Augusta. We've still got Savannah. We've still got shipping. Damnyankees can't sink every freighter in the goddamn country."

"Reckon the big reason is all the shit that's going on up in Virginia right now," Sawyer said. "They want to hang on to every damn thing they can so they can go and shoot it at the Yankees there."

"Yeah, well, if they forget this is part of the country, too, pretty soon it won't be any more," Dover said. "Let's see how they like that."

"I know," Sawyer said wearily. "I've got two worries myself. I got to keep the soldiers supplied-that means you. And I've got to keep the rocket works going. We're hurting the USA with those things, damned if we're not."

"That's nice," Dover said. "In the meantime, I need boots and I need raincoats and I need ammo for automatic rifles and submachine guns. When the hell you gonna get that stuff for me?"

"Well, I can send you the ammunition," Brigadier General Sawyer answered. "That comes out of Birmingham, so it's no problem. The other stuff…Mm, maybe I can get some of it from New Orleans. Maybe."

"If you don't, I'm gonna have men coming down with pneumonia," Dover said. "Boots wear out, dammit, and they start to rot when it's wet like it is now. The guys who have shelter halves are wearing them for rain hoods, but they aren't as good as the real thing."

Sawyer sighed. "I'll try, Dover. That's all I can tell you. You aren't the only dumpmaster yelling his head off at me, remember."

"Why am I not surprised?" Dover hung up with the last word.

Dumpmaster was a word that fit him much too well right now. His supply depot was small and shabby. The nearest town, Edwardsville, was even smaller and shabbier. Close to a hundred years earlier, Edwardsville had been a boom town, for there was gold nearby. Then the mother lode in California shot the little Alabama gold rush right behind the ear. Some of the fancy houses built in Edwardsville's first-and last-flush of prosperity still stood, closed and gray and grim.

"Well?" Pete asked when Dover hung up.

"He promised us the ammo," Dover told the veteran quartermaster sergeant. "As far as the rest of it goes, we're screwed."

"Not us. We got the shit for ourselves," Pete said. Supply officers and noncoms lived well. That was a perquisite of the job. Pete went on, "It's the poor bastards a few miles east of here who get the wrong end of the stick."

Jerry Dover nodded unhappily. In the last war, the average Confederate soldier had been about as well supplied as his Yankee counterpart. Through the first couple of years of this fight, the same held true. But the Confederate States were starting to come apart at the seams, and the men were paying for it.

"Ammo's great," Pete went on. "What if everybody's too damn hungry and sick to use it, though?"

"I already told you," Dover answered. "In that case, we're screwed." He looked around to make sure nobody but Pete could hear before adding, "And we're liable to be."

Off to the northwest lay Huntsville, where the rockets came from. Off to the west lay Birmingham, where anything made of iron or steel came from. Off to the east lay damnyankees who knew that much too well. When they got ready to push west, could they go right on through the Confederates standing in their way?

Although Dover hoped not, he wouldn't have bet against it.

"How many niggers in these parts?" Pete asked, not quite out of a clear blue sky.

"Well, I don't exactly know," Dover answered. "I don't think I've seen any, but there could be some skulking around, like."

"Could be, yeah. I bet there are," Pete said. "I bet they get one look at what all we got here, then they light out to tell the Yankees."

"I bet you're right. We saw it often enough farther east," Dover said. "Maybe we ought to do some hunting in the woods around here." He remembered too well the black raiders who'd plundered his dump in Georgia.

"Maybe we should." Pete grinned. "I ain't been coon hunting since I was a kid."

"Heh." Dover made himself grin back. He'd heard jokes like that too many times to think they were very funny, but he didn't want to hurt Pete's feelings.

The hunt was no joke. Jerry Dover feared it was also no success. He couldn't get any front-line troops to join in, which meant he had to do it with his own men, men from the Quartermaster Corps. They could fight if they had to; they were soldiers. They'd had to a couple of times, when U.S. forces broke the lines in front of them. They hadn't disgraced themselves.

But there was a big difference between a stand-up fight and hunting down Negroes who didn't want to get caught or even get seen. Regular troops probably would have had a hard time doing that. It was more than the men from the supply dump could manage. They might have made the blacks shift around. They caught no one and killed no one. The day's only casualty was a corporal who sprained his ankle.

That evening, Birmingham caught hell. The bombers came right over the supply dump, flying from east to west. When the alarms went off, Dover scrambled into a slit trench and waited for hellfire and damnation to land on his head. As the Hebrews in Egypt must have done, he breathed a silent sigh of relief when the multi-engined Angels of Death passed over him, bound for other targets.

He felt guilty about that, and angry at himself, but he couldn't help it. Yes, the Confederacy was still going to get hurt. Yes, other men-and women, and children-were still going to get blown to bits. But his own personal, precious, irreplaceable ass was safe, at least till the sun came up.

He grimaced when he realized just how many U.S. airplanes were heading west. The damnyankees had loaded up their fist with a rock this time. Alabama boasted only two targets worth that much concentrated hate. The bombers' course told him they weren't bound for Huntsville. "Sorry, Birmingham," he muttered.

Birmingham, without a doubt, would be, and shortly was, even sorrier. He cowered in a trench more than seventy miles east of the city. Even from there, he could hear the bombs going off: a low, deep roar, absorbed almost as much through the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet as through the ears.

"Where the hell's our fighters?" Pete howled, as if Dover had a couple of dozen stashed away in the depot.

"We don't have enough," Dover answered. That had been true ever since the front lay up in Tennessee. It was more obviously, more painfully, true now. U.S. factories were outproducing their C.S. counterparts. Dover supposed U.S. pilot-training programs were outpacing their Confederate counterparts, too.

"How're we supposed to lick 'em if we can't go up there and shoot 'em down?" Pete wailed.

Jerry Dover didn't answer. The only thing he could have said was, We can't. While that was liable to be so, it didn't do anybody any good. If the writing was on the wall, Pete would be able to see it as well as anybody else.

The bombers didn't come back by the same route they'd taken going in. When Dover realized they weren't going to, he nodded in grudging respect. The Yankees weren't so dumb, dammit. C.S. antiaircraft guns would be waiting here for the returning airplanes. So would whatever night fighters the local Confederates could scrape up. Maybe Y-ranging gear could send the fighters after the U.S. bombers anyway. Dover hoped so. He was far from sure of it, though.

He wasn't sorry to climb out of the muddy trench. If chiggers didn't start gnawing on him, it would be nothing but dumb luck. Pete came out of his hole at about the same time. "Ain't this a fun war?" the sergeant said.

"Well, I could think of a lot of words for it, but I'd probably have to think a long time before I came up with that one," Dover answered.

"They knocked the shit out of Birmingham," Pete said.

"Can't argue with you."

Pete looked west, as if he could see the damage from where he stood. "You reckon the place can keep going after they hit it like that?"

"Probably," Dover replied. His eyes were well enough adapted to the dark to let him see Pete start. He went on, "Why not? We bombed plenty of Yankee towns harder than that, and they kept going. The USA hit Atlanta day after day, week after week, and it kept making things and shipping them out till just a little while before we finally lost it. Hard to bomb places back to the Stone Age, no matter how much you wish you could."

"Well, I sure as hell hope you're right." Pete pulled a pack of cigarettes from a breast pocket. He stuck one in his mouth and bent his head to light it. The brief flare of the match showed his hollow, unshaven cheeks. Remembering his manners, he held out the pack. "Want a butt, sir?"

"Don't mind if I do. Thanks." Dover flicked a lighter to get the proffered cigarette going. After a couple of drags, he said, "If they flatten Birmingham and Huntsville and maybe Selma, not many factory towns left between here and New Orleans."

"Yeah." Pete grunted. "Whole state of Mississippi's nothin' but farms, near enough. Farms and rednecks, I mean. Used to be farms and rednecks and niggers, but I reckon we took care o' most of the coons there. That's one good thing, anyways."

"Let me guess-you're not from Mississippi." Dover's voice was dry.

"Hope to shit I'm not, sir," Pete said fervently. "I came off a farm about twenty miles outside of Montgomery, right near the edge of the Black Belt. Well, it was the Black Belt then. Likely ain't no more."

"No, I wouldn't think so." Jerry Dover left it there. He thought the Confederacy had more urgent things to do than hunt down its Negroes. Jake Featherston thought otherwise, and his opinion carried a lot more weight than a jumped-up restaurant manager's. But if he'd put those coons into factories instead of getting rid of them, how many more white men could he have put into uniform? Enough to make a difference?

We'll never know now, Dover thought.

"You know how many Mississippians it takes to screw in a light bulb?" Pete asked out of the blue.

"Tell me," Dover urged.

"Twenty-seven-one to hold the bulb, and twenty-six to turn the house round and round."

Dover laughed his ass off-that one did take him by surprise. Here he was, his country crashing down around his ears, and he laughed like a loon at a stupid joke. If that wasn't crazy, he didn't know what would be. He didn't stop laughing, either.

W hen Jonathan Moss heard barrels clanking toward him, he feared it was all over. If the Confederates wanted to put that kind of effort into hunting down Spartacus' guerrilla band, they could do it. Moss knew that all too well. So did all the survivors in the band.

"Got us some Featherston Fizzes?" Spartacus called.

"We'd do better trying to hide," Nick Cantarella said.

"Ain't gonna hide from that many machines," the chieftain said, and Moss feared he was right. He went on, "We headin' fo' heaven, might as well send some o' them motherfuckers down to hell."

Moss wasn't so sure of his own destination, but he'd been living on borrowed time long enough that he didn't worry too much about paying it back. An old bolt-action Tredegar wasn't much use against a barrel, but he hoped a driver or a commander would be rash enough to stick his head out for a look around. If one of them did, Moss hoped to make it the last rash thing he ever tried.

There came one of the big, snorting monsters. Moss swore under his breath. The barrel was buttoned up tight. Just his luck to spot a crew who knew what they were doing. He also saw that barrel design had come a long way while he was on the shelf here in Georgia. This green-gray machine was different from any he'd seen before.

Green-gray…His eyes saw it, but his brain needed several seconds to process it, to realize what it meant.

His jaw had just dropped open when Nick Cantarella, a little quicker on the uptake, let out a joyously obscene and blasphemous whoop: "Jesus fuckin' Christ, they're ours!"

"Them's Yankee barrels?" Spartacus sounded as if he hardly dared believe it. Jonathan Moss knew how the guerrilla leader felt-he hardly dared believe it himself.

"Sure as shit aren't Confederate," Cantarella answered as two more machines rumbled down the road. The ground-pounder took a long look at them. "Wow," he breathed. "They've really pumped up the design, haven't they?"

"I was thinking the same thing. These look like they're twenty years ahead of the ones we were used to," Moss said. War gave engineering a boot in the butt. Moss thought of the airplanes he'd flown in 1914, and of the ones he'd piloted three years later. No comparison between them-and no comparison between these barrels and their predecessors, either.

If he walked out in front of them with a rifle in his hands, he'd get killed. The Negroes in Spartacus' band didn't have that worry. U.S. barrelmen, seeing black faces, would know they were among friends.

Again, the guerrillas figured that out at least as fast as he did. Several of them broke cover, smiling and waving at the oncoming barrels. The lead machine stopped. The cupola lid on top of the smooth rounded turret flipped up. "Boy, are we glad to see youse guys!" the barrel commander said in purest Brooklynese, his accent even stronger than Cantarella's.

"We's mighty glad to see you Yankees, too," Spartacus answered. "We gots a couple o' friends o' yours here." He waved for Moss and Cantarella to show themselves.

Cautiously, Jonathan Moss came out from behind the bush that had hidden him. The barrel's bow machine gun swung toward his belly button. A burst would cut him in half. He set down the Tredegar and half raised his hands.

"Who the hell are you?" the barrel commander asked. "Who the hell're both of youse?"

"I'm Jonathan Moss, major, U.S. Army-I'm a pilot," Moss answered. In scruffy denim, he looked more like a farmer-or a bum.

"Nick Cantarella, captain, U.S. Army-infantry," Cantarella added. "We got out of Andersonville, and we've been with the guerrillas ever since."

"Well, fuck me," the barrel commander said. "We heard there might be guys like you around, but I never figured I'd run into any. How about that? Just goes to show you. How long you been stuck here?"

"Since 1942." By the way Moss said it, it might as well have been forever. That was how he felt, too.

"Fuck me," the kid in the barrel said again. He looked around. "Gonna be some foot soldiers along any minute. We'll give you to them guys, and they'll do…whatever the hell they do with you. Clean youse up, anyway." That confirmed Moss' impression of himself. Cantarella looked even more sinister, because he had a thicker growth of stubble.

Sure enough, infantrymen trotted up a couple of minutes later. At least half of them carried captured Confederate automatic rifles and submachine guns. The lieutenant in charge probably wasn't old enough to vote. "Where are the closest Confederates?" he demanded, sticking to business.

"Down in Oglethorpe, other side o' the river," Spartacus answered. "They got some sojers there, anyways."

"You lead us to 'em?" the young officer asked.

Spartacus nodded. "It'd be my pleasure."

"All right. We'll clean 'em out-or if we can't, we'll call for the guys who damn well can." The lieutenant took a couple of steps towards Oglethorpe before he remembered he hadn't dealt with Moss and Cantarella. He pointed to one of his men. "Hanratty!"

"Yes, sir?" Hanratty said.

"Take these Robinson Crusoes back to Division HQ. Let the clerks deal with 'em." The lieutenant raised his voice: "The rest of you lazy lugs, c'mon! We still got a war to fight."

"Robinson Crusoes?" Moss said plaintively. The infantrymen tramped south, boots squelching through the mud. The barrels rumbled along with them. The Confederates in Oglethorpe were in for a hard time. Nobody paid any attention to the newly liberated POWs, not even the blacks with whom they'd marched and fought with for so long.

Well, there was Hanratty. "You guys were officers?" he said. Jonathan Moss managed a nod. So did Cantarella, who looked as stricken as Moss felt. Hanratty just shrugged. "Well, come on, sirs."

Still dazed, Moss and Cantarella followed. Moss had known the ropes with the guerrillas, and before that in Andersonville, and before that as a flier. Before long, he'd probably be in a situation where he knew them again. For now, he was in limbo.

Division HQ was a forest of tents a couple of miles to the north. Hanratty turned his charges over to the sentries there, saying, "My outfit scraped up these two Crusoes running with the niggers. One's a major, the other one's a captain. They're all yours. I gotta get back to it-can't let my guys down." With a nod, he headed south again.

"Crusoes?" Moss said once more. Not even Robinson Crusoes this time.

"That's what we call escaped POWs who've been on their own for a while, sir," the sentry said. Maybe he was trying to be kind, but he sounded patronizing, at least to Moss' ears. He went on, "You guys come with me, uh, please. I'll take you to the doc first, get you checked and cleaned up, and then they'll start figuring out what to do with you next."

"Oh, boy," Cantarella said in a hollow voice. Moss couldn't have put it better himself.

The doctor wore a major's gold oak leaves, but he didn't look much older than that kid lieutenant. He poked and prodded and peered. "Fleas, lice, chiggers, ticks," he said cheerfully. "You're scrawny as all get-out, too, both of you. Do a lot of walking barefoot?"

"Some, after our boots wore out and before we could, uh, liberate some more," Moss admitted.

"Hookworm, too, chances are. And some other worms, I bet." Yes, the doctor sounded like somebody in hog heaven. "We'll spray you and give you some medicine you won't like-nobody in his right mind does, anyway-and in a few days you'll be a lot better than you are now, anyhow. And we'll feed you as much as you can hold, too. How does that sound?"

"Better than the worm medicine, anyway," Moss said. "You make me feel like a sick puppy."

"You are a sick puppy," the doctor assured him. "But we'll make you better. We've learned a few things the last couple of years."

"When do we get back to the war?" Nick Cantarella asked. "If the United States are down here, Featherston's fuckers have to be on their last legs. I want to be in at the death, goddammit."

"Me, too," Moss said.

"When you're well enough-and when we make sure you are who you say you are." The doctor produced two cards and what looked like an ordinary stamp pad. "Let me have your right index fingers, gentlemen. We'll make sure you're really you, all right. And if you're not, you'll see a blindfold and a cigarette, and that's about it."

"If you think the Confederates would let somebody get as raggedyassed as we are just to infiltrate, you're crazy as a bedbug, Doc," Cantarella said.

"Well, you aren't the first man to wonder," the doctor said easily.

For the next few days, Moss felt as if he'd gone back to Andersonville. He and Cantarella were under guard all the time. The food came from ration cans. The worm medicine flushed it out almost as fast as it went in. That was no fun. Neither was the idea that his own country mistrusted him.

At last, though, a bespectacled captain said, "All right, gentlemen-your IDs check out. Welcome back to the U.S. Army."

"Gee, thanks." Moss had trouble sounding anywhere close to enthusiastic.

The captain took his sarcasm in stride. "I also have the pleasure of letting you know that you're now a lieutenant colonel, sir-and you, Mr. Cantarella, are a major. You would have reached those ranks had you not been captured, and so they're yours. They have been for some time, which is reflected in the pay accruing to your accounts."

"That's nice." Moss remained hard to please. Nobody got rich on an officer's pay, and the difference between what a major and a light colonel collected every month wasn't enough to get excited about.

"When can we start fighting again?" Cantarella demanded, as he had before.

"You'll both need some refresher training to get you back up to speed," said the captain with the glasses. "Things have changed over the past couple of years, as I'm sure you'll understand."

"How much hotter are the new fighters?" Moss asked.

"Considerably," the captain said. "That's why you'll need the refresher work."

"Will I get back into action before the Confederates throw in the sponge?"

"Part of that will be up to you," the captain answered. "Part of it will be up to the Army as a whole, and part of it will be up to Jake Featherston. My own opinion is that you shouldn't waste any time, but that's only an opinion."

"We are going to lick those bastards?" Nick Cantarella said.

"Yes, sir. We are." The captain with the specs sounded very sure.

"What'll happen to Spartacus and his gang?" Moss asked, adding, "They're damn good fighters. They wouldn't have stayed alive as long as they did if they weren't."

"We've started accepting colored U.S. citizens into the Army," the captain said, which made Moss and Cantarella both exclaim in surprise. The captain continued, "Since your companions are Confederates, though, they'll probably stay auxiliaries. They'll work with us, but they won't be part of us."

"And if they get out of line, you won't have to take the blame for anything they do." As a lawyer, Moss saw all the cynical possibilities in the captain's words.

The other officer didn't even blink. "That's right. But, considering everything the enemy has done to them, not much blame sticks to Negroes acting as auxiliaries in the Confederate States."

"Is it really as bad as that?" Having been away from even Confederate newspapers and wireless broadcasts since his escape, Moss had trouble believing it.

"No, sir," the captain said. "It's worse."

S omewhere ahead lay the Atlantic. Cincinnatus Driver had never seen the ocean. He looked forward to it for all kinds of reasons. He wanted to be able to say he had-a man shouldn't live out his whole life without seeing something like that. More important, though, was what seeing the ocean would mean: that the United States had cut the Confederate States in half.

He hadn't been sure it would happen. This thrust east across Georgia had started out in a tentative way. The United States was trying to find out how strong the Confederates in front of them were. When they discovered the enemy wasn't very strong, the push took on a life of its own.

And anywhere soldiers went, supplies had to go with them. They needed ammo. They needed rations. They needed gasoline and motor oil. Cincinnatus didn't like carrying fuel. If an antibarrel rocket-or even a bullet-touched it off…

"Hell, it's no worse than carrying artillery rounds," Hal Williamson said when he groused about it. "That shit goes up, you go with it."

He had a point. Even so, Cincinnatus said, "Artillery rounds blow, they take you out fast. You get caught in a gasoline fire, maybe you got time to know how bad things is."

"Well, maybe," the white driver said. "They give you a truckload, though, I figure it'll go off like a bomb if it goes."

"Mmm…maybe." Cincinnatus paused to light a cigarette. "Got us plenty o' cheerful stuff to talk about, don't we?"

"You wanted cheerful, you shoulda stayed home," Williamson said.

Cincinnatus grunted. That held more truth than he wished it did. But he said, "I tell you one cheerful thing-we're beatin' the livin' shit outa Featherston's fuckers. That'll do for me. Only thing that'd do better'd be beatin' the shit outa Featherston."

"Could happen," the other driver said. "You believe even half of what Stars and Stripes says, he won't be able to stay in Richmond much longer. Where's he gonna run to then?"

With another grunt, Cincinnatus replied, "You believe half o' what Stars and Stripes says, we won the goddamn war last year."

Hal Williamson laughed. "Yeah, well, there is that. Those guys lie like they're selling old jalopies."

"They got a tougher sell than that," Cincinnatus said. "They got to sell the war."

"Soon as the Confederates jumped into Ohio, I was sold," Williamson said. "Bastards tried to knock us flat and steal the war before we could get back on our feet again. Damn near did it, too-damn near."

He was right about that. "Same here," Cincinnatus said. "'Course, they ain't as likely to shoot our asses off as they are with the kids in the front line."

"Still happens, though. You know that as well as I do. We've lost more drivers than I like to think about," Williamson said.

"Oh, yeah. I won't try to tell you anything different. All I said was, it ain't as likely, and it ain't," Cincinnatus said. He waited to see if the other driver would keep arguing. When Williamson didn't, Cincinnatus decided he'd made his point.

The next morning, he picked up a load of canned rations and headed for the front. He liked carrying those just fine. The soldiers needed them, and they wouldn't blow up no matter what happened. He couldn't think of a better combination.

About every third Georgia town had Negro guerrillas patrolling the streets along with U.S. soldiers. Whenever Cincinnatus saw some of them, he would tap his horn and wave. The blacks commonly grinned and waved back. "You a Yankee nigger?" was a question he heard again and again.

"I'm from Kentucky," he would answer as he rolled past. Let them figure that out. Yes, he'd grown up in the CSA, but he'd spent most of the second half of his life under the Stars and Stripes. His children were Yankees-no doubt about it. They even sounded as if they came from the Midwest…except when they got upset or angry. Then an accent more like his own would come out. But he was more betwixt and between than any one thing. He probably would be for the rest of his life.

U.S. authorities here took no chances. Bodies hung in almost every town square. That was supposed to make the living think twice about giving the USA any trouble. Seeing how much trouble the living gave the USA, Cincinnatus had his doubts about how much good it did. But those dead men wouldn't bother the United States again. He had no doubts about that at all.

Would the United States need to kill every white male in the Confederate States above the age of twelve? If they did need to, would they have the will to do it? Cincinnatus wasn't so sure about that, either. And even if the United States did set out to slaughter white male Confederates, wouldn't it be the same kind of massacre the Confederate whites had inflicted on their Negroes?

"Damn ofays have it coming, though," Cincinnatus muttered, there in the cab of his deuce-and-a-half.

Reluctantly, he shook his head. You couldn't play God like that, no matter how much you wanted to. Jake Featherston and the Freedom Party really and truly believed blacks had it coming, too. Nothing Cincinnatus had seen while stuck in Covington or while driving a truck through the wreckage of the CSA gave him any reason to think otherwise. Sincerity wasn't enough. What was? What could be?

"We got to stop killing each other. We got to," Cincinnatus said. Then he started to laugh. That would have been a fine thought…if he'd had it somewhere else, when he wasn't hauling food to soldiers dedicated to putting the Confederate States of America out of business for good.

The roads here didn't seem to be mined, the way so many had been in Tennessee. Up there, the enemy had known which way U.S. truck convoys were going. Here, they didn't. Cincinnatus wasn't sure U.S. commanders knew where their forces were going from one day to the next. And if they didn't, how could the Confederates?

Every so often, snipers would take pot shots at the trucks from the woods. When they did, U.S. armored cars and halftracks lashed the pines with bullets. That took care of that…till the halftracks and armored cars drove on. Then, more often than not, the unharmed bushwhackers would climb out of their holes and start banging away at U.S. trucks again.

Cincinnatus watched the woods as closely as he watched the road, then. He kept a submachine gun on the seat beside him, where he could grab it in a hurry if he needed to. He didn't want to get shot, but he really didn't want to get captured. One of the bullets in the captured Confederate weapon might be for him if he had to use it that way.

He wondered how many movies he'd seen where the bad guy snarled, You'll never take me alive, flatfoot! He didn't think he was the bad guy in this particular melodrama, but the Confederate skulkers wouldn't feel the same way about him.

Everything went fine till the convoy got to Swainsboro, Georgia, not far from where the trucks would unload. The woods around Swainsboro were particularly thick. The town itself had a turpentine plant, a couple of planing mills, and a furniture factory to deal with the timber. In the cleared areas, farmers raised chickens and turkeys, hogs and goats. All in all, it was a typical enough backwoods Georgia town-or so Cincinnatus thought till a big bomb went off under a deuce-and-a-half a quarter of a mile in front of him. He was still in town; the other truck had just cleared Swainsboro.

The poor driver never knew what hit him. His truck went up in a fireball that would have been even bigger had he carried anything inflammable. Chunks of metal and asphalt rained down around Cincinnatus as he slammed on the brakes. Something clanged off a fender. Whatever it was, it sounded big enough to leave a dent. He was amazed his windshield didn't blow in and slash his face to ribbons.

No sooner had he stopped-just past the last buildings on the outskirts of town-than he grabbed for the submachine gun. He'd been through bombings before. Usually, the bomb was intended to stall the convoy so bushwhackers could hit it from the sides. His head swiveled. He didn't hear any gunfire, and wondered why not.

As the trucks ahead of him moved forward, he put his back in gear. An armored car went off the road to one side, a halftrack to the other. The light cannon and machine guns the armored vehicles carried were potent arguments against getting gay with the convoy. Cincinnatus hoped they were, anyhow.

He ground his teeth when he had to leave the paving and go off into the mud to the side. The truck's all-wheel drive kept him from bogging down, but getting stuck was the least of his worries. If those bastards had planted more explosives next to the road…He'd seen that before, too.

He'd just got back up onto the road-and breathed a sigh of relief because he'd made it-when an antibarrel rocket trailing fire streaked out of the woods and slammed into the armored car's side. Those rockets were made to pierce much thicker armor than that. The armored car burst into flames.

Cincinnatus fired into the trees again and again. Short bursts, he reminded himself. The muzzle wouldn't pull up and to the right if he didn't try to squeeze off too many rounds at a time. That fire trail pointed right back to where the man with the launcher had to be. If Cincinnatus could nail him…

He growled out a triumphant, "Yeah!" when he did. A man in bloodied Confederate butternut staggered out from behind a loblolly pine and fell to his knees. Cincinnatus squeezed off another burst. The Confederate grabbed at his chest as he toppled. He lay there kicking. How many bullets did he have in him? Men often proved harder to kill than anyone who wasn't trying to do it would imagine.

This bastard, though, had surely killed everybody in the armored car. No hatches opened; no men got out. And the driver hadn't got out of the blasted truck, either. No way in hell he could have. So the Confederate had extracted a high price for his miserable, worthless life. If all his countrymen did the same…

But they couldn't. Cincinnatus had already seen as much. The enemy soldiers had the advantage of playing defense, of making U.S. forces come to them. But the United States also had an advantage. They could pick when and where to strike. And they could concentrate men and barrels where they thought concentrating them would do the most good. Breakthroughs were easier to come by in this war than they had been the last time around.

How many more would the USA need? Cincinnatus thought about that with half his mind while the rest got the truck rolling down the road again, and scanned the woods to either side. He'd spot the Confederates no doubt lurking in there only if they made a mistake-he knew that. Those bastards were human beings just like anybody else, though. They could screw up the same way U.S. soldiers could.

A good thing, too. Cincinnatus' shiver had nothing to do with the nasty weather. If the Confederates hadn't screwed up a couple-three times, they'd be ruling the roost now. A few Negroes still survived in the CSA. Had Jake Featherston won everything his heart desired, everything south of the border would be lily-white.

So…One more push into Savannah, and how long would the butternut bastards go on screaming, "Freedom!" with their goddamn country split in two? The United States could turn north and smash one half, then swing south and smash the other. Or maybe the body would die once the USA killed the head. Cincinnatus patted the submachine gun. He sure hoped so.

J orge Rodriguez and Gabriel Medwick both sewed second stripes onto their sleeves. Jorge was lousy with a needle and thread; back in Sonora, sewing was work for women and tailors. He was surprised to find his friend neat and quick and precise. "How come you can do that so good?" he asked, ready to rag on Gabe.

"My ma learned me," Medwick answered matter-of-factly. "She reckoned I ought to be able to shift for myself, and knowing how to sew was part of it."

That left Jorge with nothing to say. Ragging on his buddy was one thing. Ragging on Gabe's mother was something else, something that went over the line. Instead of talking, Jorge sewed faster-not better, but faster. He wanted to get the shirt back on. Even sitting in front of a campfire, it was chilly out.

Artillery opened up behind him, from the direction of Statesboro. Covington was a long way northwest now, and long gone. Statesboro guarded the approaches to Savannah. The town wasn't that well fortified, not by what Jorge had heard. Why would it be? Back before the war, who would have imagined eastern Georgia would be crawling with damnyankees? Nobody in his right mind, that was for sure.

Imagine or not, though, U.S. soldiers swarmed through this part of the state. Everybody figured they were heading for Savannah. They'd been pushing the Confederates back toward the southeast for weeks. Where else would they be going?

Sergeant Hugo Blackledge appeared in the firelight. He had a gift for not being there one second and showing up out of nowhere the next: a jack-in-the-box with a nasty temper. He commanded the company these days. All the officers above him were dead and wounded, and replacements hadn't shown up. Jorge's promotion to corporal was older than Gabe's, even if their sets of stripes had both arrived at the same time. That meant Jorge had a platoon, while his friend only led a section.

"How's it feel, making like lieutenants?" Blackledge asked with a certain sardonic relish.

"Don't want to be no lieutenant," Gabriel Medwick said. "I got enough shit to worry about already."

"You said it," Jorge agreed.

As if to underline their worries, U.S. artillery came to life. Jorge listened anxiously, then relaxed as the shells roared over his head. That was counterbattery fire aimed at the C.S. guns. As long as the big guns shot at each other, as long as they left the front-line infantry alone, Jorge didn't mind them…much.

Sure enough, the U.S. shells came down well to the rear. Jorge finished sewing on his new stripes and put his shirt back on. Gabe, fussily precise, lagged behind.

"What are we gonna do?" Jorge said.

His buddy looked up from his sewing. "Fight the damnyankees. Keep fighting 'em till we chase 'em back where they came from."

"їComo?" Jorge asked, startled into Spanish. The question sounded every bit as bleak in English: "How?"

"President'll figure out some kinda way." Medwick sounded a hundred percent confident in Jake Featherston.

Sergeant Blackledge lit a cigarette. "Don't get your ass in an uproar about that kind of shit, Rodriguez," he advised. "You can't do nothin' about it any which way. All we got to worry about is the damnyankees in front of us."

"That's bad enough!" Jorge exclaimed, because Blackledge made it sound as if the U.S. soldiers were nothing to worry about. Rodriguez wished they weren't but knew they were.

"Yeah, well, so what? You're still here. I'm still here. Hell, even pretty boy's still here." Blackledge blew smoke in Gabriel Medwick's direction.

"Up yours, too, Sarge," Medwick said without rancor. When he first got to know Blackledge, he wouldn't have dared mouth off like that. Neither would Jorge. And the formidable noncom would have squashed them like lice if they had dared. Now they'd earned the right, not least simply by surviving.

"All we can do is all we can do," Hugo Blackledge said. "We've put up a hell of a fight, seeing as they outweigh us about two to one."

"We'll lick 'em yet," Gabe said as he finally put his shirt back on.

"Uh-huh." Sergeant Blackledge nodded. Jorge had seen nods like that, from doctors in sickrooms where the patient wasn't going to get better but didn't know it yet. You kept his hope up as long as you could. Maybe it didn't do any good, but it didn't hurt, either. And he felt better, for a little while, anyway.

Jorge's dark eyes met the sergeant's ice-gray ones in a moment of complete mutual understanding. Gabe didn't get it, and probably wouldn't till Savannah fell, if then-and if he lived that long. The patient in the sickroom was the Confederacy. And chances were it wouldn't get better.

"Got another one of those Dukes?" Jorge asked Blackledge.

"Sure do. Here you go." The older man held out the pack.

Jorge got to his feet and walked over to take one. As he leaned forward so Blackledge could give him a light, he whispered, "We're fucked, sн?"

"Bet your sorry butt we are," Blackledge answered.

"Thanks." Jorge sucked in smoke. But he was more grateful for the candor than for the cigarette.

When morning came, he looked up the road along which he'd been retreating. A couple of dead Confederates lay there, about three hundred yards in front of the line. Nobody'd tried to retrieve their bodies. For one thing, it was too likely that U.S. snipers would shoot anyone who did. For another, C.S. engineers had booby-trapped the corpses. Any damnyankee who flipped them over looking for souvenirs would regret it.

Nobody'd set up a kitchen anywhere close by. Jorge made do with a ration can. It was U.S.-issue deviled ham, the favorite canned meal on both sides of the front. Jorge hadn't swapped cigarettes to get his hands on this one. He'd taken three or four cans off a dead Yankee. Looking at those bodies out there made him shake his head as he ate. Maybe he'd been lucky not to get blown to kingdom come.

It wasn't as if the damnyankees wouldn't have other chances. Sooner or later-probably sooner-they would start pushing hard toward Savannah again. The only question was whether they'd do it right here or somewhere a little farther west. If they did it right here, Jorge knew he'd have to retreat or die. If they did it farther west, his choices would lie between retreating and getting cut off and trapped.

He didn't think the C.S. line could hold. As for counterattacks…Well, no. When a sergeant commanded a company, when a new corporal was leading a platoon, this army would have a devil of a time holding its ground. Pushing the enemy back seemed far beyond its power.

Too many damnyankee soldiers. Too many damnyankee barrels. Too many airplanes with the eagle and crossed swords. With Atlanta gone, with Richmond in trouble, with Birmingham getting pounded, how could the Confederacy reply?

No U.S. troops came close enough to try to plunder the booby-trapped corpses. That left Jorge more relieved than anything else. Advancing U.S. soldiers would have meant more hard fighting. He'd seen enough-more than enough, in fact-to last him a lifetime. He knew he hadn't seen the end of things here. Either he'd have to do more fighting or he'd have to fall back. Chances were, he'd have to do both. If he didn't have to do either one today, or maybe even tomorrow, so much the better.

Quiet lasted through the afternoon and into the evening. He smoked and ate and dozed and listened to the problems of a soldier in his platoon who had woman trouble back in North Carolina. Somebody'd sent Ray a letter that said his wife (or maybe fiancйe; Jorge wasn't quite sure) was fooling around on him with a mechanic who was back there because he'd already lost an arm in the fighting.

"Shoulda blown off his shortarm instead," Ray said savagely. "What I want to do is, I want to go on home and take care o' that my own self."

"Well, you can't," Jorge said. "They catch you deserting, they shoot you. Then they hang up your body to give other people the message."

"It'd be worth it. Then Thelma Lou'd know how much I love her," Ray said.

Jorge wondered why he'd got stuck listening to this crap. He himself hadn't had a fiancйe, let alone a wife, back in Baroyeca. The few times he'd lain down with a woman, he'd had to put money on the dresser first. But he was the platoon leader. That must have made him seem to Ray like someone who knew what he was doing. He wished he seemed that way in his own eyes.

He knew enough to be sure Ray was talking like a fool. Anybody who wasn't in love with Thelma Lou would have known that. "She just laugh when you get in trouble," Jorge said. "Then she go on fooling around with this asshole."

"Not if I kill him, she don't." Ray was as stubborn as he was stupid, which took some doing.

"Then she fool around with somebody else," Jorge said. "A gal who cheats on you once, she cheats on you lots of times. You don't get her back like she never screwed around at all." Ray's jaw dropped. Plainly, that had never crossed his mind. Dumb as rocks, Jorge thought sadly. He went on, "Or maybe this letter you got, maybe it's bullshit. Whoever sent it to you, there ain't no return address, right?"

"I dunno," Ray said, which covered more ground than he realized. "You might could be right, but I dunno. Kinda sounds like somethin' Thelma Lou'd go and do."

So why do you give a damn about her? Jorge didn't scream it, however much he wanted to. He could tell it would do no good. "You can't go nowhere," he said. "You don't want to let your buddies down, right?" Ray shook his head. He wasn't a bad soldier. Jorge pressed on: "You can't get leave, and there's lots of military police and Freedom Party men between here and your home town. So stay. All this stuff, if it really is anything, it'll sort itself out when the war's done. Why worry till then?"

"I guess." Ray didn't sound convinced, but he didn't sound like someone on the ragged edge of deserting, either.

Sergeant Blackledge swore when Jorge warned him of the trouble. "This ain't the first time he's had trouble with that cunt," he said. "But you were dead right-if he does try and run off, he ain't gonna get far, and he'll land in more shit than Congress puts out."

Half an hour after that, a captain and a second lieutenant and six or eight enlisted men showed up: a new company CO, a platoon commander, and some real live (for the moment, anyhow) reinforcements. Would wonders never cease? The captain, whose name was Richmond Sellars, walked with a limp and wore a Purple Heart ribbon with two tiny oak-leaf clusters pinned to it.

"I told 'em I was ready to get back to duty," he said, "so they sent my ass here." He pointed to the lieutenant, who had to be at least forty and looked to have come up through the ranks. "This is Grover Burch. Who's in charge now?"

"I am, sir. Sergeant Hugo Blackledge." Blackledge likely wasn't happy to see company command go glimmering. Jorge wasn't thrilled about losing his platoon. The good news was that he wouldn't have to listen to complaints like Ray's so much. They'd be Burch's worry, and Sergeant Blackledge's, too.

"Well, Blackledge, why don't you fill me in?" Sellars said. He'd seen enough to know he'd be smart to walk soft for a while.

The sergeant did, quickly and competently. He said a couple of nice things about Jorge, which surprised and pleased the new corporal. Then Blackledge pointed northwest. "Not really up to us what happens next, sir," he said. "The damnyankees'll do whatever the hell they do, and we've got to try and stop 'em. I just hope to God we can."

F orward to Richmond! That had been the U.S. battle cry in the War of Secession. It would have been the battle cry during the Great War, except the Confederates struck north before the USA could even try to push south. And in this fight…

In this fight, the CSA had held the USA in northern Virginia. The Confederate States had held, yes, but they weren't holding any more. Abner Dowling noted each new U.S. advance with growing amazement and growing delight. After U.S. soldiers broke out of the nasty second-growth country called the Wilderness, the enemy just didn't have the men and machines to stop them. The Confederates could slow them down, but the U.S. troops pushed forward day after day.

A command car took Dowling and his adjutant past burnt-out C.S. barrels. Even in this chilly winter weather, the stink of death filled the air. "I didn't believe I'd ever say it," Dowling remarked, "but I think we've got 'em on the run here."

"Yes, sir. Same here." Major Angelo Toricelli nodded. "They just can't hold us any more. They'll have a devil of a time keeping us out of Richmond."

"I hope we don't just barge into the place," Dowling said.

He glanced over at the driver. He didn't want to say much more than that, not with a man he didn't know well listening. His lack of faith in Daniel MacArthur was almost limitless. He'd served with MacArthur since the Great War, and admired his courage without admiring his common sense or strategic sense. He doubted whether MacArthur had any strategic sense, as a matter of fact.

"I've heard we're trying to work out how to get over the James," Major Toricelli said.

"I've heard the same thing," Dowling replied. "Hearing is only hearing, though. Seeing is believing."

A rifle shot rang out, not nearly far enough away. The driver sped up. Toricelli swung the command car's heavy machine gun toward the sound of the gunshot. He didn't know what was going on. He couldn't know who'd fired, either. The shot sounded to Dowling as if it had come from a C.S. automatic rifle, but about every fourth soldier in green-gray carried one of those nowadays-and the other three wanted one.

Toricelli relaxed-a little-as no target presented itself. "Back in the War of Secession, they would have had a devil of a time taking the straight route we're using," he remarked. "The lay of the land doesn't make it easy."

"Around here, the lay of the land's got the clap," Dowling said. His adjutant snorted. So did the driver. An adjutant was almost obligated to find a general's jokes funny. A lowly driver wasn't, so Dowling felt doubly pleased with himself.

He'd been exaggerating, but only a little. The rivers in central Virginia all seemed to run from northwest to southeast. Major Toricelli was right. Those rivers and their bottomlands would have forced men marching on foot to veer toward the southeast, too: toward the southeast and away from the Confederate capital.

But barrels and halftracks could go where marching men couldn't. And U.S. forces were pushing straight toward Richmond whether Jake Featherston's men liked it or not.

So Dowling thought, at any rate, till C.S. fighter-bombers appeared. The driver jammed on the brakes. Everybody bailed out of the command car. The roadside ditch Dowling dove into was muddy, but what could you do? Bullets spanged off asphalt and thudded into dirt. Dowling didn't hear any of the wet slaps that meant bullets striking flesh, for which he was duly grateful.

A moment later, he did hear several metallic clang!s and then a soft whump! That was the command car catching fire. He swore under his breath. He wouldn't be going forward to Richmond as fast as he wanted to.

He stuck his head up out of the ditch, then ducked again as machine-gun ammo in the command car started cooking off. Embarrassing as hell to get killed by your own ordnance. Embarrassing as hell to get killed by anybody's ordnance, when you came right down to it.

After the.50-caliber rounds stopped going off, Dowling cautiously got to his feet. So did the driver. Dowling looked across the road. Major Toricelli emerged from a ditch there. He wasn't just muddy-he was dripping. His grin looked distinctly forced. "Some fun, huh, sir?"

"Now that you mention it," Dowling said, "no."

"We'd better flag down another auto, or a truck, or whatever we can find," Toricelli said. "We need to be in place."

He was young and serious, even earnest. Dowling had been through much more. With a crooked grin, he replied, "You're right, of course. The whole war will grind to a halt if I'm not there to give orders at just the right instant."

Who was the Russian novelist who'd tried to show that generals and what they said and did was utterly irrelevant to the way battles turned out? Dowling couldn't remember his name; he cared for Russian novels no more than he cared for Brussels sprouts. With the bias that sprang from his professional rank, he thought the Russian's conclusions absurd. He remembered the claim, though, and enjoyed hauling it out to bedevil his adjutant.

"They do need you, sir," Major Toricelli said. "If they didn't, they would have left you in Texas."

"And if that's not a fate worse, or at least more boring, than death, I don't know what would be," Dowling said.

While he and Toricelli sparred, the driver, a practical man, looked down the road in the direction from which they'd come. "Here's a truck," he said, and waved for it to stop.

Maybe he was persuasive. Maybe the burning command car was. Either way, the deuce-and-a-half shuddered to a halt, brakes squealing. Over the rumble of the engine, the driver said, "You guys look like you could use a lift."

"You mean you're not selling sandwiches?" Dowling said. "Damn!"

The driver eyed his rotund form. "You look like you've had plenty already…" As his eyes found the stars on Dowling's shoulder straps, his voice trailed off. Too late, of course, and the glum look on his face said he knew it. "Uh, sir," he added with the air of a man certain it wouldn't help.

"Just get me to Army HQ in a hurry, and I won't ask who the hell you are," Dowling said.

"Pile in. You got yourself a deal." Now the driver sounded like somebody'd who'd just won a reprieve from the governor.

Before long, Dowling repented of the bargain. The trucker drove as if he smelled victory at the Omaha 400. He took corners on two wheels and speedshifted so that Dowling marveled when his transmission didn't start spitting teeth from the gears. Other traffic on the road seemed nothing but obstructions to be dodged.

"What are you carrying?" the general shouted. The engine wasn't rumbling any more-it was roaring.

"Shells-105s, mostly," the driver yelled back, leaning into another maniacal turn. "How come?"

Major Toricelli crossed himself. Dowling wondered who was more dangerous, the Confederate fighter-bomber pilot or this nut. Well, if the shells went off, it would all be over in a hurry. Then, brakes screeching now, the driver almost put him through the windshield.

"We're here," the man announced.

"Oh, joy," Dowling said, and got out of the truck as fast as he could. Toricelli and the soldier who'd driven the command car also escaped with alacrity. The truck drove off at a reasonably sedate clip. The madman behind the wheel probably felt he'd done his duty.

A sentry with a captured C.S. submachine gun came up. "I know you, sir," he said to Dowling. "Do you vouch for these two?" The muzzle swung toward Toricelli and the driver.

Never saw 'em before. The words passed through Dowling's mind, but didn't pass his lips. The sentry was too grim, too serious, to let him get away with them, and too likely to open fire before asking questions. "Yes," was all Dowling said.

"All right. Come ahead, then." The sentry gestured with his weapon, a little more invitingly than he had before.

Familiar chaos enveloped Dowling as he stepped into the big tent. The air was gray with tobacco smoke and blue with curses. People in uniform shouted into telephone handsets and wireless sets' mikes. But they just sounded annoyed or angry, the way they were supposed to sound when things were going well.

He remembered headquarters in Columbus, back in the first summer of the war. He remembered the panic in officers' voices then, no matter how they tried to hold it at bay. They couldn't believe what the Confederates were doing to them. They couldn't believe anyone could slice through an army like a housewife slicing cheddar. They didn't know how to do it themselves, and so they'd figured nobody else knew, either.

They almost lost the war before they realized how wrong they were.

Now they knew what was what. Now they had the barrels and the bombs and the artillery and the men to turn knowledge into action. Better still, they had the doctrine to turn knowledge into effective action. Yes, they'd learned plenty of lessons from the enemy, but so what? Where you learned your lessons didn't matter. That you learned them did.

One of the men at a field telephone lifted his head and looked around. When he spotted Dowling, he called, "Message for you from General MacArthur, sir."

"Yes?" Dowling tried not to show how his stomach tightened at that handful of words. Daniel MacArthur often seemed incapable of learning anything, and the lessons he drew from what happened to him verged on the bizarre. His scheme to land men at the mouth of the James and march northwest up the river to Richmond…

I managed to scotch that one, anyhow, Dowling thought. I earned my pay the day I did it, too.

"Well done for your progress, and keep it up," the man reported. "And the general says he's over the Rapidan River east of Fredericksburg and rapidly pushing south. 'Rapidly' is his word, sir."

"Is it?" Dowling said. "Good for him!" The Confederates had given MacArthur a bloody nose at Fredericksburg in 1942. There wasn't much room to slide troops east of the town. Abner Dowling wouldn't have cared to try it himself. But if MacArthur had got away with it, and if he was driving rapidly from the Rapidan and punning as he went…"Sounds like Featherston's boys really are starting to go to pieces."

"Here's hoping!" three men in Army HQ said in one chorus, while another two or three added, "It's about time!" in another.

Dowling liked prizefights. People said of some boxers that they had a puncher's chance in the ring. If they hit somebody squarely, he'd fall over, no matter how big and tough he was. That was the kind of chance the CSA had against the USA. But when the United States didn't-quite-fall over, the Confederate States had to fight a more ordinary war, and they weren't so well equipped for that.

Did Featherston have one more punch left? Dowling didn't see how he could, but Dowling hadn't seen all kinds of things before June 22, 1941. He shrugged. If the United States seized Richmond and cut the Confederacy in half farther south, what could Featherston punch with?

"Tell General MacArthur I thank him very much, and I look forward to meeting him in front of the Gray House," Dowling said. Forward to Richmond! Things really were going that way.

A s far as Dr. Leonard O'Doull was concerned, eastern Alabama seemed about the same as western Georgia. The hilly terrain hadn't changed when he crossed the state line. Neither had the accents the local civilians used. Shamefaced U.S. soldiers caught social diseases from some of the local women, too.

This penicillin stuff knocked those down in nothing flat, though. It was better than sulfa for the clap, and ever so much better than the poisons that had been medicine's only weapons against syphilis.

"Move up, Doc!" a noncom shouted at O'Doull one morning. "Front's going forward, and you gotta keep up with it."

"Send me a truck, and I'll do it," the doctor answered. Sergeant Goodson Lord played a racetrack fanfare on his liberated trombone. The soldier who brought the news thumbed his nose at the medic. Grinning, Lord paused and returned the compliment, if that was what it was.

By now, O'Doull had moving down to a science. Packing, knocking down the tent, loading stuff, actually traveling, and setting up again went as smoothly as if he'd been doing them for years-which he had. He was proud of how fast he got the aid station running once the deuce-and-a-half stopped. And every forward move meant another bite taken out of the Confederate States.

He hadn't been set up again for very long before he got a hard look at what those bites meant. "Doc! Hey, Doc!" Eddie the corpsman yelled as he helped carry a litter back to the aid station. "Got a bad one here, Doc!"

O'Doull had already figured that out for himself. Whoever was on the litter was screaming: a high, shrill sound of despair. "Christ!" Sergeant Lord said. "They go and find a wounded woman?"

"Wouldn't be surprised, not by the noise," O'Doull answered. "It's happened before." He remembered an emergency hysterectomy after a luckless woman stopped a shell fragment with her belly. What had happened to her afterwards? He hadn't the faintest idea.

When he first saw the wounded person, he thought it was a woman. The skin was fine and pale and beardless, the cries more contralto than tenor. Then Eddie said, "Look what they're throwing at us these days. Poor kid can't be a day over fourteen."

This time, O'Doull was the one who blurted, "Christ!" That was a boy. He wore dungarees and a plaid shirt. An armband said, NATIONAL ASSAULT FORCE.

"You damnyankees here're gonna shoot me now, ain't you?" the kid asked.

"Nooo," O'Doull said slowly. He'd seen National Assault Force troops before, but they were old geezers, guys with too many miles on them to go into the regular Army. Orders were to treat them as POWs, not francs-tireurs. Now the Confederates were throwing their seed corn into the NAF, too.

"They said you'd kill everybody you got your hands on," the wounded boy said, and then he started shrieking again.

"Well, they're full of shit," O'Doull said roughly. He nodded to the stretcher-bearers. "Get him up on the table. Goodson, put him out."

"Yes, sir," Lord said. When the mask went over the kid's face, the ether made him think he was choking. He tried to yank off the mask. O'Doull had seen that before, plenty of times. Eddie and Goodson Lord grabbed the boy soldier's hands till he went under.

He'd taken a bullet in the belly-no wonder he was howling. O'Doull cut away the bloody shirt and got to work. It could have been worse. It hadn't pierced his liver or spleen or gall bladder. He'd lose his left kidney, but you could get along on one. His guts weren't too torn up. With the new fancy medicines to fight peritonitis, he wasn't doomed the way he would have been a few years earlier.

"I think he may make it." O'Doull sounded surprised, even to himself.

"I bet you're right, sir," Goodson Lord said. "I wouldn't have given a dime for his chances when you got to work on him-I'll tell you that."

"Neither would I," O'Doull admitted as he started closing up. His hands sutured with automatic skill and precision. "If he doesn't come down with a wound infection, though, what's to keep him from getting better?"

"Then we can kill him," Lord said. O'Doull could see only the medic's eyes over his surgical mask, but they looked amused. The kid had been so sure falling into U.S. hands was as bad as letting the demons of hell get hold of him.

"Yeah, well, if we don't kill him now, will we have to do it in twenty years?" O'Doull asked.

"He'll be about old enough to fight then," Sergeant Lord said.

That was one of too many truths spoken in jest. But what would stop another war between the USA and the CSA a generation down the road? After the United States walloped the snot out of the Confederates this time around, would the USA stay determined long enough to make sure the Confederacy didn't rise again? If the country did, wouldn't it be a miracle? And wouldn't the Confederates try to hit back as soon as the USA offered them even the smallest chance?

"Once you get on a treadmill, how do you get off?" O'Doull said.

"What do you mean, sir?" Lord asked.

"How do we keep from fighting a war with these sons of bitches every twenty years?"

"Beats me," the medic said. "If you know, run for President. I guaran-damn-tee you it'd put you one up on all the chuckleheads in politics now. Most of 'em can't count to twenty-one without undoing their fly."

O'Doull snorted. Then, wistfully, he said, "Only trouble is, I don't have any answers. I just have questions. Questions are easy. Answers?" He shook his head. "One reason old Socrates looks so smart is that he tried to get answers from other people. He didn't give many of his own."

"If you say so. He's Greek to me," Goodson Lord replied.

They sent the wounded Confederate kid off to a hospital farther back of the line-all the way back into Georgia, in fact. O'Doull, who had a proper professional pride in his own work, hoped the little bastard would live even if that meant he might pick up a rifle and start shooting at U.S. soldiers again twenty years from now…or, for that matter, twenty minutes after he got out of a POW camp.

The front ground forward. Before long, Birmingham would start catching it from artillery as well as from the bombers that visited it almost every night. O'Doull wondered how much good that would do. The Confederates might be running short of men, but they still had plenty of guns and ammunition. The bombing that was supposed to knock out their factories didn't live up to the fancy promises airmen made for it.

Featherston's followers still had plenty of rockets, too. Stovepipe rockets blew up U.S. barrels. O'Doull hated treating burns; it gave him the shivers. He did it anyway, because he had to. Screaming meemies could turn an acre of ground into a slaughterhouse. And the big long-range rockets threw destruction a couple of hundred miles.

"Hell with Birmingham," Sergeant Lord said, picking screaming-meemie fragments out of the thigh and buttocks of an anesthetized corporal. "We've got to take Huntsville away from those fuckers. That's where this shit is coming from."

"No arguments from me." O'Doull held out a metal basin to the senior medic. Lord dropped another small chunk of twisted, bloody steel or aluminum into it. Clink! The sound of metal striking metal seemed absurdly cheerful.

"Well, if you can see it and I can see it, how come the brass can't?" Lord demanded. He peered at the wounded man's backside, then dug in with the forceps again. Sure as hell, he found another fragment.

"Maybe they will," O'Doull said. "They swung a lot of force south of Atlanta to make the Confederates clear out. Now we're better positioned to go after Birmingham than we are for Huntsville, that's all."

"Maybe." Lord sounded anything but convinced. "Me, I think the brass are a bunch of jerks-that's what the trouble is."

Of course you do-you're a noncom, O'Doull thought. He too was given to heretical thoughts about the competence, if any, of the high command. Yes, he was an officer, but as a doctor he wasn't in the chain of command. He didn't want to be, either. There often seemed to be missing links at the top of the chain.

Missing links…His memory went back to biology classes in college, in the dead, distant days before the Great War. He remembered pictures of low-browed, chinless, hairy brutes: Neanderthal Man and Java Man and a couple of others thought to lie halfway between apes and Homo laughably called sapiens. He imagined ape-men in green-gray uniforms with stars on their shoulder straps and black-and-gold General Staff arm-of-service colors.

The picture formed with frightening ease. "Ook!" he muttered. Sergeant Lord sent him a curious look. O'Doull's cheeks heated.

He also imagined hulking subhumans in butternut, with wreathed stars on their collars. Confederate Neanderthals also proved easy to conjure up. A good thing, too, O'Doull thought. We'd lose if they weren't as dumb as we are.

And wasn't Jake Featherston the top Pithecanthropus of them all? "Ook," Leonard O'Doull said again, louder this time. Then he shook his head, angry at himself for swallowing his own side's propaganda. Sure, Featherston had made his share of mistakes, but who in this war hadn't? The President of the CSA had come much too close to leading his side to victory over a much bigger, much richer foe. If that didn't argue for a certain basic competence, what would?

"You all right, sir?" Goodson Lord asked, real concern in his voice.

"As well as I can be, anyhow," O'Doull answered. What worried him was that Jake Featherston could still win. The Confederates had come up with more new and nasty weapons this time around than his own side had. The fragments Lord was cleaning up-another one clanked into the bowl-showed that. If the enemy pulled something else out of his hat, something big…

"Hey, Doc!" That insistent shout from outside drove such thoughts from his mind. No matter what the Confederates who weren't Neanderthals came up with, all he could do was try to patch up the men they hurt.

"You all right by yourself?" he asked Lord.

"I'll cope," the senior medic said, which was the right answer.

The new wounded man had had a shell fragment slice the right side of his chest open. The corpsmen who brought him in were irate. "It was a short round, Doc," Eddie said. O'Doull could all but see the steam coming out of his ears. "One of ours. It killed another guy-they'll have to scrape him up before they can bury him."

"That kind of shit happens all the time," another stretcher-bearer said.

"Happens too goddamn often." Yeah, Eddie was hot, all right.

"I think so, too." O'Doull had also seen too many wounds on U.S. soldiers inflicted by other U.S. soldiers. He hated them at least as much as Eddie did. All the same…"Let's get to work on him. The less time we waste, the better."

Collapsed lung, lots of bleeders to tie off, broken ribs. O'Doull knew what to expect, and he got it. The wound was serious, but straightforward and clean. O'Doull knew he had a good chance of saving the soldier. By the time he finished, he was pretty sure he had. If the war lasted long enough, the man might return to duty.

"Won't he be proud of his Purple Heart?" Eddie was a little rabbity guy. Somehow, that only made his sarcasm more devastating.

"He's here to get one, anyway," O'Doull said. "You told me he had a buddy who bought the whole plot, right?"

"Yeah." Eddie nodded.

"Well, this is better. This guy'll probably end up all right," O'Doull said. Eddie didn't answer, which might have been the most devastating comeback of all.

VII

When Cassius walked down the street, white people scurried out of his way. That still thrilled him. It had never happened before he started this occupation duty. His whole life long, he'd been taught to move aside for whites. Dreadful things happened to colored people who didn't.

Now he had a Tredegar in his hands and the U.S. Army at his back. Anybody who didn't like that-and there were bound to be people who didn't-and was rash enough to let him know it could end up suddenly dead, and no one would say a word. Other members of Gracchus' band had shot whites in Madison for any reason or none, and then gone about their business. Oh, the ofays in town flabbled, but who paid attention to them? Not a soul.

White women were particularly quick not just to get out of the way but to get out of sight. Cassius had seen that ever since he got here. Shooting wasn't the only revenge Negroes could take on their former social superiors. Oh, no-not at all.

Cassius scowled when he saw blue X's painted on walls. Those would come down or get painted over in a hurry-they were shorthand for C.S. battle flags. If a property owner didn't cover them up, U.S. soldiers would assume he was a Confederate sympathizer. They'd probably be right, too. Right or wrong, they'd make him sorry.

More than a few whites had already disappeared from Madison. The U.S. Army said they'd gone into prisons farther from the front. Negroes loudly insisted the U.S. soldiers had shipped them to camps. Cassius had done it himself. He wanted the ofays quivering in their boots. They'd made him quiver too damn long.

They'd made him fight back, too. Tales of horror like that were liable to make the local whites fight back. Cassius didn't care. If the ofays wanted to try, they could. He figured the U.S. Army would start massacring them then.

And he would get to help.

He came to a street corner at the same time as another Negro marching from a different direction. "Mornin', Sertorius," he said. "How you doin'?"

"I's tolerable," his fellow guerrilla replied. "How 'bout yourself?"

"Could be worse," Cassius admitted. "We got us plenty o' grub, we got warm places to sleep, an' we got all the Yankees on our side. Yeah, sure enough could be worse."

"Amen," Sertorius said, as if Cassius were a preacher. "Couple months ago, things was worse." He wore a U.S. helmet, and made as if to tip it. Cassius returned the gesture with the cap he had on. "See you," Sertorius added, and went on marching his assigned route.

"See you." Cassius also walked on. Odds were they would see each other at the end of the day. They weren't living in fear, the way they had when they skulked and hid in the countryside. The ofays feared them now. Cassius liked that better. Who wouldn't?

And sometimes the ofays were starting to treat them with respect. A kid maybe eight or nine years old came up to Cassius. "Got any rations you can spare?" he asked, his voice most polite.

Cassius would have told a grown man to go to hell. A skinny kid, though, was a skinny kid. Cassius started to reach for one of the ration cans in his belt pouch. Then he took another look at the boy. His hand stopped. "You called me a goddamn nigger before," he said. "You said I sucked the damnyankees' dicks. Far as I'm concerned, you kin starve."

The white boy looked almost comically astonished. "I didn't mean it," he said, and smiled a winning smile.

How dumb was he? How dumb did he think Cassius was? That was the real question, and Cassius knew the answer-dumb as a nigger, that was what he thought. "Now tell me one I'll believe," Cassius said scornfully.

If looks could have killed, he would have fallen over dead on the spot. The white kid started to say something-probably something as sweet and charming as the insults he'd dealt out the last time he ran into Cassius. Then he glanced at the Tredegar and went away instead. That was the smartest thing he could have done. Cassius likely would have shot him if he'd run his mouth twice.

An old man came up behind him. "You won't even feed a little boy?" the geezer asked. "What's the world coming to?"

"I ain't gonna feed that little bastard no matter what the world's comin' to," Cassius answered. "Some other kid, maybe, but not him."

"Why not?"

"On account of he done called me a nigger and a cocksucker."

Well, you are a nigger. Cassius could see it in the old white man's shrewd gray eyes. The fellow had sense enough not to say it, though. And cocksucker was an insult to anybody. "Oh," was all that came out of the ofay's mouth. He walked on past Cassius, careful not to come close enough to seem threatening.

At noon, another black man took over Cassius' beat. Cassius went back to the tents outside of town to see if the U.S. Army cooks had any hot food. Sure enough, big kettles of chicken stew simmered over crackling fires. Cassius dug out his mess kit and got in line.

"How'd it go?" asked the white soldier in front of him. "Any trouble with the local yokels?"

"Nah." Cassius shook his head. But then he corrected himself: "Well, a little. This kid who don't like niggers-an' I know he don't like niggers-tried to bum food offa me."

"Hope you told him to fuck himself," the soldier said. "Little asshole can starve for all I care. Just save somebody on our side the trouble of shooting him once he grows up."

"You reckon another war's comin'?" Cassius asked as the line snaked forward.

"Shit, don't you?" the white man replied. "Sooner or later, we'll let these Confederate bastards back on their feet. A half hour after we do, they'll clean the grease off the guns they got stashed away and start greasin' us."

Was that savage cynicism or sage common sense? When it came to gauging the chances of peace and war, how much difference was there? Cassius didn't know. He did know Confederate whites despised both blacks and U.S. whites. He'd always known C.S. Negroes didn't love whites-and how little reason they had to love them. Now he'd discovered that white soldiers from the USA couldn't stand Confederate whites, either. That was reassuring.

Plainly, quite a few soldiers in green-gray didn't like Negroes, either. But they hated Confederate whites more-at least while they were down here. Confederate whites wanted them dead, and were willing-no, eager-to pick up weapons and make sure they died. Negroes in the CSA, by contrast, made natural allies. The enemy of my enemy…is at least worth dishing out rations to, Cassius thought.

The cook loaded his mess kit with as much chicken stew as anybody else got. "Here y'are, buddy," he said, his lips barely moving because of the cigarette that dangled from the corner of his mouth.

"Thanks." Cassius moved on.

When he got a cup of coffee to go with the stew, he found it heavily laced with chicory. But it came from the same big pot-almost a vat-that served the U.S. soldiers. No one was giving him particularly lousy coffee. The good stuff was hard to come by-that was all. As long as he got his fair share of what there was, he had no kick coming.

He made sure he washed his mess kit after he finished eating. The U.S. Army came down hard on you if you didn't. One dose of a jowly sergeant screaming in his face about food poisoning and the galloping shits was enough to last him a lifetime. He did notice that the sergeants screamed just as loud at white men they caught screwing up. Again, as long as they tore into everybody equally, Cassius could deal with it.

Once he'd policed up-a term that had sounded funny when he first heard it, but one he was used to now-he went over to the POW camp outside of Madison. Watching Confederate soldiers behind barbed wire was even more fun than looking at animals in cages had been when his father took him to the zoo.

The Confederates were like lions-they'd bite if they got half a chance. But he had claws of his own. The Tredegar's weight, which often annoyed him, seemed more like a safety net close to the prisoners. "I had a gun myself, I'd shoot you for totin' that thing," a POW said, shaking his fist.

"You could try," Cassius answered. "Some other ofays done tried before, but I'm still here."

"You know what happens to uppity niggers?" the POW said.

"Sure do. They git shot." Cassius started to unsling the rifle. "Same thing happens to uppity prisoners." The Confederate shut up. Cassius let his hand drop.

Some of the other POWs weren't uppity. They were just hungry. They begged from U.S. soldiers, and they begged from Negroes, too. "Got any rations you don't need?" one of them asked, stretching out his hands imploringly to Cassius.

"You feed me if I was in there?" Cassius asked.

"Well, I hope so," the man answered after a perceptible pause for thought. "I'm a Christian, or I try to be."

"Reckon Jake Featherston's a Christian, too?"

"Sure he is," the POW said, this time without hesitation. "He loves Jesus, same as you'n me. Jesus loves him, too."

"Fuck you, you ofay asshole." Cassius turned away. "You can starve."

"You ain't no Christian," the Confederate called after him.

"If Jake Featherston is, I don't want to be." Cassius walked off. He wondered if the POW would cuss him out as he went. But the man kept quiet. A few untimely demises had convinced the C.S. prisoners that they needed to watch their mouths around the surviving Negroes.

Cassius' mother would have landed on him like a thousand-pound bomb if she heard him say he didn't want to be a Christian. She prayed even when things looked worst-no, especially when they did. And she got caught in church, and went straight from church to one of Jake Featherston's murder factories. What did that say about how much being a Christian was worth? Not much, not so far as Cassius could see.

Maybe she was in heaven, the way she always thought she would be. Cassius hoped so. He had trouble believing it, though. He had trouble believing anything these days.

He found Gracchus that evening. Gracchus thought about things, too. "You reckon we'll ever fit in again?" Cassius asked.

The former guerrilla leader didn't even pretend not to understand what he was talking about. "In Georgia? Naw." Gracchus shook his head.

"Don't just mean Georgia," Cassius said. "I mean anywhere. The Confederate ofays all hate us." He didn't love whites in the CSA, either, but he left that out of the mix, continuing, "Ofays from the USA don't all hate us, I reckon, but they's so different, ain't no way we belong in Yankeeland, neither. So what does that leave?"

"Nothin'." Gracchus managed a crooked grin. "When you ever know a nigger who had more'n dat?"

"You got somethin' there," Cassius admitted. His father had had more: a kingdom of the mind, a kingdom whose size and scope Cassius was only beginning to realize he'd never fully grasped. But what did all of Xerxes' quiet wisdom win him in the end? Only another place on the train bound for hell on earth. Cassius said, "I could kill ofays for the rest o' my life an' not even start payin' them fuckers back."

"It's a bastard, ain't it?" Gracchus said. "Maybe Jake Featherston wins, an' maybe he loses. But we-uns, we-uns already done lost." Cassius started to answer, but what could he say that Gracchus hadn't?

Y es, the front was Richmond. There had always been a danger in putting the Confederate capital so close to the U.S. border. Richmond made a magnet for U.S. ambitions. McClellan had threatened it in the War of Secession; a better general likely would have taken it then. Even in the Second Mexican War, the USA dreamt of marching in. During the Great War, the flood tide of green-gray had reached Fredericksburg on its way south before the Confederate government decided it had had enough.

And now…Now Jake Featherston was red-hot, almost white-hot, with fury, but not even his unending, unyielding rage could stiffen the Confederate armies north of the capital. "God damn it to hell!" he screamed at Nathan Bedford Forrest III. "We need to bring more men into the line up there!"

"Sir, we haven't got any more men to move," Forrest replied.

"Get 'em from somewhere!" Jake said.

"Where do you recommend, sir?" the chief of the General Staff asked. "Shall we pull them out of Georgia? Or maybe out of Alabama?"

"No! Jesus Christ, no!" Featherston exclaimed. "The fucking country'll fall apart if we do." The country was falling apart anyway, but he knew it would fall apart faster if he pulled soldiers away from the sectors where they were fighting hardest. "What have we got left in the Carolinas?"

"What was there is either up here or down in Georgia," Forrest replied. "It has been for weeks." He paused, then licked his lips and asked, "Are you sure you aren't overworked, Mr. President?"

"I'm tired of nobody doin' what needs doin'-I sure am tired o' that," Jake growled.

"That's…not quite what I meant, sir." Nathan Bedford Forrest III licked his lips again. "Don't you think the strain of command has been a little too much for you? Shouldn't you take a rest, sir, and come back to duty when you're refreshed and ready to face it again?"

"Well, I don't rightly know," Featherston said slowly. "Do you really reckon I'm off?"

"The war hasn't gone the way we wish it would have, and that's a fact." Forrest sounded relieved-and surprised-that Jake wasn't hitting the armored ceiling in fourteen different places. "Maybe somebody with a fresh slant on things can stop the damnyankees, or at least get a peace we can live with out of them."

"I suppose it's possible, but I wouldn't bet on it." Under the desk, out of the general's sight, Jake's left hand hesitated between two buttons. The first one, the closer one, would send the nearest guards rushing into the office. But the chief of the General Staff plainly had a coup in mind. If he hadn't suborned those guards, he wasn't worth the paper he was printed on. "Who do you have in mind to take over afterwards? You?" Keep the son of a bitch talking. Jake's finger came down on the other button.

"I'll take military command," Nathan Bedford Forrest III replied. "But I think Vice President Partridge is the better man to talk peace with the United States. Everything stays nice and constitutional that way." He was keeping Jake talking, too, waiting till his men got here to back his play.

You stupid piece of shit. Only way to get me out of this chair is to murder me. Featherston let a little anger show, but only a little-the sort he might show if he was thinking of stepping down. "Do you reckon even the Yankees are dumb enough to take Don Partridge seriously?" he demanded. "I sure as hell don't."

"If he's speaking in the name of the President, or as the President, they'll have to listen to him." Nathan Bedford Forrest's eyes kept slipping toward the door and then jerking back to Jake. The President of the CSA wanted to look that way, too, but he didn't. He had more discipline in his pinkie than Forrest did in his whole worthless carcass.

"So who all figures the country'd be better off without me?" Jake asked. "Don must be in on this, too, right? How about Clarence Potter? He's a fellow with pretty fair judgment-always has been." He was also a fellow Featherston had suspected for years.

To his surprise, Forrest shook his head. "As a matter of fact, no. He thinks you're the best war leader we've got. I used to think so, too, but-"

He broke off. There was a commotion outside, shouts and screams and then a couple of gunshots and more screams and shouts. One of the bullets punched through what was supposed to be bulletproof glass in the door. Almost spent, it ricocheted off the wall above Jake's head and fell harmlessly to the floor.

An instant later, the door flew open with a crash. Four soldiers in camouflage uniforms burst into the President's office. Jake and Nathan Bedford Forrest III pointed at each other. "Arrest that man!" they both yelled.

Four automatic-rifle muzzles bore on the chief of the General Staff. So did the.45 Jake Featherston plucked from a desk drawer. "Hold it right there, traitor!" one of the soldiers roared.

"Freedom!" the other three shouted. They were Party Guards, not Army men. Nathan Bedford Forrest III seemed to notice that for the first time. His face turned gray as tobacco smoke. Jake Featherston watched with almost clinical interest. He'd never seen a man go that color before-not a live man, anyhow.

"How-?" Forrest gasped. That used up all the breath he had in him. He might have been a hooked crappie, drowning in air he couldn't breathe.

"What? You reckon I've only got one set of guards round this place?" Jake said. "You might be dumb enough to do something like that, but I sure ain't." He turned to the men who'd rescued him. "Make sure everything's secure down here. You find anybody you don't figure you can rely on, grab the son of a bitch. We'll sort out who's what later on. In the meantime, we squeeze answers out of this asshole. He'll sing. He'll sing like a fucking canary."

"You bet, boss." One of the Freedom Party Guards-a troop leader-grinned a sharp-toothed grin. "Once we get going, we can make a rock sing." The three-striper laughed.

So did Featherston. "He won't be a rock," he predicted. Part of him wanted to laugh at what an amateurish excuse for a coup Nathan Bedford Forrest III tried to bring off. Talking him into stepping down of his own accord! If that wasn't the dumbest thing in the world, Jake didn't know what would be. "Your granddad'd be ashamed of you," he told Forrest.

"Great-grandfather. And no, he wouldn't-he didn't like tyrants any better than I do," the suddenly former chief of the General Staff replied. He could talk a good game, but some games weren't about talk, and he'd never figured that out.

"Take him away," Jake said. He didn't want to argue with Forrest, and he didn't have to, either. But the other man hadn't the least idea what he meant. If the original Nathan Bedford Forrest planned a coup, he would have done it right. This smudgy carbon copy-hardly a Forrest at all in looks, except for the eyes-didn't know the first thing about how to manage one.

Away he went, perhaps too numb to realize yet what kind of hell he was heading for. Well, he'd find out pretty damn quick. The only thing that excused a plot was winning. Failure brought its own punishment.

Jake went out into the antechamber. Lulu sat at her desk as calmly as if two Army men didn't lie dead not ten feet away. "I knew you'd take care of that foolishness, Mr. President," she said. "Shall we call somebody to get rid of this carrion?"

"Mm-not quite yet," Featherston answered. "Let me bring in some more men I'm sure I can count on." The worst thing about having somebody mount a coup was being unable to trust the people around you afterwards.

But if he couldn't count on the Freedom Party Guards, he couldn't count on anybody-and if he couldn't count on anybody, Nathan Bedford Forrest III's strike would have worked like a charm. Jake went back to the telephone on his desk. Had Forrest had the brains to suborn the operator and keep the President from getting hold of loyal troops? That might make things dicey, even now.

But no. Within a minute, Featherston was talking with a regimental commander named Wilcy Hoyt, who promised to secure the Gray House grounds with his troops. "Freedom!" Hoyt said fervently as he rang off.

Would the men who backed Forrest fight? Would they try to take Jake out, reckoning it was their best chance? In their shoes, Featherston would have done that. He still had his.45. But the pistol was there to protect him against a visitor who turned out to be an assassin. It wouldn't help much against a squad of soldiers determined to do him in.

As soon as he got off the telephone with Hoyt, he went out and grabbed an automatic rifle from one of the dead guards. Even that wouldn't do him as much good as he wished, but it was better than the pistol. If he had to go down, he aimed to go down fighting.

"Will there be more shooting, Mr. President?" Lulu asked.

"Well, I don't know for sure, but there may be," Jake answered.

"Hand me that other rifle, then," his secretary said.

Featherston stared at her as if she'd suddenly started speaking Swahili. "You know how to use it?"

"Would I ask if I didn't?" she said.

He gave her the Tredegar. She could handle it, all right. And two rifles blasting anybody who tried to break in were bound to be better than one. "Where the devil did you learn something like this?" Jake inquired.

"A women's self-defense course," Lulu answered primly. "I thought I'd be shooting at Yankees, though, not traitors."

"Rifle works the same either way," Jake said, and she nodded. He supposed she'd feared assaults on her virtue. His own view was that any damnyankee who tried to take it would have to be desperately horny and plenty nearsighted, too. He would never have said anything like that, though. He liked Lulu, and wouldn't hurt her for the world-which he wouldn't have said about most people he knew.

But the people who showed themselves at the doorway to the outer office were Freedom Party Guards: Featherston loyalists. Jake had the first few come in without their weapons and with their hands up. They obeyed. The obvious joy they showed at seeing him alive and in charge of things left him with no doubt that they were on his side.

When they'd set up a perimeter outside the office, he began to feel more nearly certain things were going his way. "Get me another outside line," he told Lulu. She nodded. Jake snorted in soft contempt. No, Nathan Bedford Forrest hadn't known thing one about running a coup. Well, too goddamn bad for him. Jake got down to business: "Put me through to Saul Goldman."

"Yes, Mr. President," Lulu said, and she did. That the Confederate Director of Communications remained free made Jake snort again. Didn't Forrest know you couldn't run a country without propaganda? Evidently he didn't. He'd left the best liar and rumormonger in the business alone. Had Saul said no, how would Forrest have publicized his strike even if he pulled it off?

No need to flabble about that now. "Saul? This here's Jake," Featherston rasped. "Can you record me over the telephone and get me on the air? We've had us a little commotion here, but we got it licked now."

"Hold on for about a minute and a half, sir," the imperturbable Jew replied. "I need to set up the apparatus, and then you can say whatever you need to." He took a bit longer than he'd promised, but not much. "Go ahead, Mr. President."

"Thank you kindly." Jake paused to gather his thoughts. He didn't need long, either. "I'm Jake Featherston, and I'm here to tell you the truth. Truth is that a few damn fools reckoned they could do a better job of running our precious country than me. Other truth is that the traitors were wrong, and they'll pay. Oh, boy, will they ever…"

A nother new exec. Sam Carsten wondered what he'd get this time. He'd had one pearl of great price and one burr under the saddle. The powers that be might have told him to make do without. He could have done it, but it wouldn't have been any fun. He would have had to be his own ogre instead of playing the kindly, benevolent Old Man most of the time.

But a new officer had been chosen and brought down to the destroyer escort on a flying boat. And now Lieutenant Lon Menefee bobbed in the light swells of the South Atlantic as a real boat carried him from the seaplane to the Josephus Daniels.

"Permission to come aboard, sir?" he called when the boat drew up alongside the warship. By the matter-of-fact way he said it, the Josephus Daniels might have been moored in the Boston Navy Yard, not out on her own God only knew how many hundred miles from the nearest land.

"Permission granted," Sam said, just as formally. A rope ladder tied to the port rail invited Lieutenant Menefee upward. He stood up in the boat, grabbed the ladder, and climbed steadily if not with any enormous agility.

A couple of sailors stood by to grab him as he came over the rail. He turned out not to need them, which made Sam think better of him. "Reporting as ordered, sir," he said with a crisp salute.

"Good to have you aboard." Returning the salute gave Carsten the chance to look him over. He liked what he saw. Menefee was in his late twenties, with a round face, a solid build, and dark whiskers that said he might have to shave twice a day. His eyes were also dark, and showed a wry amusement that would serve him well…if Sam wasn't just imagining it, of course. Among the fruit salad on his chest was the ribbon for the Purple Heart. Pointing to it, Sam asked, "How'd you pick that up?"

"A Japanese dive bomber hit my destroyer somewhere north of Kauai," Menefee replied with a shrug. "I got a fragment in the leg. The petty officer next to me got his head blown off, so I was lucky, if you can call getting wounded lucky."

"All depends on how you look at things," Sam said. "Next to not getting hurt, getting wounded sucks. But it beats the hell out of getting killed, like you said."

"Yes, sir." Lieutenant Menefee cocked his head to one side. "I don't mean this any way bad at all, sir, but you aren't what I expected."

Carsten laughed. "If I had a nickel for every officer who served under me and said the same thing, I'd have…a hell of a lot of nickels, anyway. Who expects to run into a two-striper old enough to be his father?"

"That's not what I had in mind. Besides, I already knew you were a mustang," Menefee said. "But you're not…" He paused, visibly weighing his options. Then he plunged, like a man throwing a double-sawbuck raise into a poker game. "You're not a hardass, the way I figured you might be."

He had nerve. He had smarts, too. If that had rubbed Sam the wrong way, it could have blighted things between skipper and exec from then on out. But Menefee had it right-Sam wasn't a hardass, except every once in a while when he needed to be. "I hope not-life's mostly too short," he said now. "How come you had me gauged that way?"

"Well, I knew the executive officer you had before didn't last very long," Lon Menefee said. "If you're in my shoes, that makes you wonder."

"Mm, I can see that it would," Sam allowed. "Why don't you come to my cabin? Then we can talk about things without every sailor on the ship swinging his big, flapping hydrophones towards us."

"Hydrophones, huh?" Menefee's eyes crinkled at the corners. His mouth didn't move much, but Sam liked the smile anyway. "Lead on, sir. You know where we're going."

"I'll give you the grand tour in a bit," Sam said. "Come on."

After he closed the door to the captain's little cabin, he pulled a bottle of brandy and a couple of glasses from the steel desk by his bed. "Medicinal, of course," Lieutenant Menefee observed.

"Well, sure," Sam said, pouring. "Good for what ails you, whatever the devil it is." He handed the new exec one of the glasses. "Mud in your eye." They both drank. The brandy wasn't the best Sam had ever had-nowhere close. But it was strong, which mattered more. "So you want to hear about the old exec, do you?"

"If I'm going to sail these waters, sir, shouldn't I know where the mines are?"

"That seems fair enough," Sam said, and told him the story of Myron Zwilling. He finished, "This is just my side of it, you understand. If you listen to him, I'm sure you'd hear something different." One corner of his mouth quirked upward. "Yeah, just a little."

"I'll bet you one thing, sir," Menefee said: "He wouldn't figure the story had two sides. He'd tell me his was the only one, and he'd get mad if I tried to tell him anything different."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Sam said. Zwilling hadn't had any doubts. Sure as hell, that was part of his problem. "Do you see things in black and white, or are there shades of gray for you?"

"I hope there's gray," Menefee said. "Black and white make things easier, but only if you don't want to think."

That sounded like the right answer. But did he mean it, or was he saying what he thought his new skipper wanted to hear? I'll find out, Sam thought. Aloud, he said, "Things aboard ship are pretty much cut-and-dried right now. They'll stay that way, too, I hope, unless we need to pick another prize crew."

"I'll be all right with that," Menefee said. "I just got here, so I don't know who doesn't like me and who really can't stand me. Those are about the only choices an exec has, aren't they?"

"Pretty much," Sam said. "Is this your first time in the duty?"

"Yes, sir," the younger man replied. By the way he said it, a second term as executive officer wouldn't be far removed from a second conviction for theft. Maybe he wasn't so wrong, either. Didn't a second term as exec say you didn't deserve a command of your own?

"Just play it straight, and I expect you'll do fine," Carsten said, hoping he was right. "Pretty soon you'll have a ship of your own, and then somebody else will do your dirty work for you."

Menefee grinned. "I've heard ideas I like less-I'll tell you that. But I don't know. The war's liable to be over before they get around to giving me my own command, and after that the Navy'll shrink like nobody's business. Or do you think I'm wrong, sir?"

"It worked that way the last time around-I remember," Sam said. "This time? Well, who knows? After we get done beating the Confederates on land, we'll still need ships to teach Argentina a lesson, and England, and Japan. One of these days, the Japs'll have to learn they can't screw around with the Sandwich Islands."

"Can we go on with the little fights once the big one's over? Will anybody care, or will people be so hot for peace that they don't give a damn about anything else?"

"We'll find out, that's all," Sam said. The questions impressed him. Plainly, Lon Menefee had an eye for what was important. That was a good asset for an executive officer-or anybody else. "All we can do is what they tell us to do," Sam went on, and reached for the brandy bottle. "Want another knock?"

"No, thanks," Menefee said. "One's plenty for me. But don't let me stop you."

"I'm not gonna do it by myself." Sam put the bottle back into the desk drawer. He eyed Menefee, and wasn't astonished to find the new officer eyeing him, too. They'd both passed a test of sorts. The exec would have a friendly drink, but didn't care to take it much further than that. And Menefee had seen that, while Sam didn't live by the Navy's officially dry rules, he wasn't a closet lush, either. And neither of them had said a word about it, and neither would.

As the desk drawer closed, Menefee said, "Will you give me the tour, then, and let me meet some of the sailors who won't be able to stand me?" He spoke without rancor, and in the tones of a man who knew how things worked-and that they would work that way no matter what he thought about it. The slightly crooked grin that accompanied the words said the same thing. Sam approved, having a similar view of the world himself.

He took Menefee to the bridge first. Thad Walters had the conn, which meant a petty officer was minding the Y-ranging screens. The Josephus Daniels just didn't carry a large complement of officers. When Sam told the new exec that the chief hydrophone operator was a CPO, Menefee raised one eyebrow but then nodded, taking the news in stride.

"Lots of antiaircraft guns. I saw that when I came aboard," Menefee remarked when they went out on deck.

"That's right, and I wish we carried even more," Sam said. "The only ship-to-ship action we've fought was with a freighter that carried a light cruiser's guns. We whipped the bastard, too." Sam remembered the pride-and the terror-of that North Atlantic fight. "Most of the time, though, airplanes are our number-one worry. Way things are nowadays, warships can't get close enough to shoot at other warships. So, yeah-twin 40mm mounts all over the damn place, and the four-inchers are dual purpose, too."

"Sure. They've got more reach than the smaller guns." Lieutenant Menefee nodded. "Things look about the same to me. If we don't find some kind of way to keep bombers off our backs, the whole surface Navy's liable to be in trouble."

"During the Great War, everybody flabbled about submersibles. This time around, it's airplanes. But as long as we bring our own airplanes with us, we can fight anywhere. And the carriers need ships to help keep the bad guys' airplanes away from them, so I figure we can keep working awhile longer, anyhow."

"Sounds good to me, sir." Menefee gave him another of those wry grins.

When they got to the engine room, the new exec started gabbing with the black gang in a way that showed he knew exactly what he was talking about. "So you come from engineering?" Sam said.

"Shows a little, does it?" Menefee said. "Yes, that's what I know. How about you, sir?"

"Gunnery and damage control," Sam answered. "We've got the ship covered between us-except for all the fancy new electronics, I mean."

"Most of the guys who understand that stuff don't understand anything else-looks that way to me, anyhow," Menefee said.

"Me, too," Carsten agreed. "If you can figure out all the fancy circuits, doesn't seem likely you'll know how people work. I wouldn't want one of those slide-rule pushers in charge of a ship." But then he stopped himself, holding up his right hand. "Thad's an exception, I think. He can make the Y-ranging gear sit up and roll over and beg, but he's a damn good officer, too. You'll see."

"He's mighty young. He's had the chance to get used to it right from the start," Menefee said. Sam nodded, carefully holding in his smile. To his eyes, Lon Menefee was mighty damn young, too. But the new exec was right-there were degrees to everything. Young, younger, youngest. Sam couldn't hide the smile any more. Where the hell did old fart fit into that scheme?

N ot Richmond, not any more. Richmond was a battleground. Basically, everything north of the James was a battleground-except for what had already fallen. And the damnyankees had a couple of bridgeheads over the river, too. They hadn't tried to break out of them, not yet, but the Confederates couldn't smash them, either. And so, when Clarence Potter left Lexington to report to Jake Featherston on what the physicists at Washington University were up to, he headed for Petersburg instead of the doomed capital of the CSA.

Getting to Petersburg was an adventure. Getting anywhere in the Confederacy was an adventure these days. But the Confederate States had hung on to equality in the air in northern Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania longer than they had anywhere else. They'd hung on, and hung on, and hung on…till they couldn't hang on any more. That was how things stood now.

Antiaircraft guns still blazed away at strafing U.S. fighters and fighter-bombers. But antiaircraft guns were just annoyances. What really held enemy aircraft at bay were your own airplanes. And the Confederates didn't have enough to do the job any more.

His motorcar went off the road several times. It raced for a bridge once, and hid under the concrete shelter with bullets chewing up the ground to either side till the aerial wolves decided they couldn't get him and went off after other, easier game. Then, cautiously, the driver put the butternut Birmingham in gear.

"Some fun, huh?" Potter said.

The look the PFC at the wheel gave him told him how flat the joke fell. "Hope to Jesus whatever the hell you're doin' on the road is win-the-war important," the kid said. "If it ain't, we got no business travelin', on account of the damnyankees're too fuckin' likely to shoot our dicks off. Sir."

Potter wanted to clutch himself like a maiden surprised. The mere thought was appalling. Reality was worse. He'd seen it. He wanted no closer acquaintance with it than that. But he said, "It just may be, soldier. If anything can nowadays, it's got a pretty fair chance."

"Hope so," the driver said. This time, his suspicious stare was all too familiar. "How come you talk like a Yankee yourself?"

"'Cause I went to college up there a million years ago, and I wanted to fit in," Potter replied. "And if I had a dime for every time I've answered that question, I'd be too rich to worry about an Army post."

"Reckon we'll go through security before we get real far into Petersburg." The driver sounded as if he was looking forward to it, which meant he didn't completely believe Potter. And if I had a dime for that, too… the Intelligence officer thought.

He figured Petersburg would be something out of Dante, and he was right. Soldiers and bureaucrats and civilian refugees thrombosed the streets. People moved forward by shouting and waving fists and sometimes by shooting guns in the air. Potter saw bodies hanging from lampposts. Some said DESERTER. Others said SPY. He felt the driver's eye on him, but pretended he didn't.

Sure as hell, there were security checkpoints almost every block. "Papers!" the soldiers or Freedom Party Guards-more and more Guards as Potter neared the center of town-would shout. The wreathed stars on his collar meant nothing to them. Considering that Nathan Bedford Forrest III and other high-ranking officers had risen against Jake Featherston, that made more sense than Potter wished it did.

Then a Freedom Party Guard checked off his name on a clipboard. "You're on our list," said the man in a camouflage smock. "You come with me right now." By the way he jerked the muzzle of his automatic rifle, Potter would be sorry if he didn't-although perhaps not for long.

"Where are you taking me?" Potter asked.

"Never mind that. Get out of your auto and come along," the Party Guard said.

Not seeing any other choice but starting a firefight he couldn't hope to win, Potter got out of the Birmingham. "Good luck, sir," the driver said.

"Thanks." Potter hoped he wouldn't need it, but it never hurt.

None of his escort-captors? — demanded the pistol on his belt. He wondered whether that was a good omen or simply an oversight. One way or the other, he figured he'd find out before long. "Now that we've got him, what the hell do we do with him?" another Party Guard asked.

The one who'd decided Potter was a wanted man checked the clipboard again. "We take him to the Lawn, that's what," he answered.

It meant something to the other Freedom Party Guard, if not to Clarence Potter. The security troops hustled him along. Nobody laid a finger on him, but nobody let him slow down, either: not quite a frog-march, but definitely something close.

The Lawn, on Sycamore near the corner of Liberty, turned out to be a tall red-brick house much overgrown by ivy. The grass in front of it had gone yellow-brown from winter cold. More Freedom Party Guards manned a barbed-wire perimeter outside the house. They relieved Potter of the.45 before letting him go forward. Before he could go inside, a stonefaced Army captain gave him the most thorough-and most intimate-patting down he'd ever had the displeasure to get.

"Do you want me to turn my head and cough?" he asked as the captain's probing fingers found another sensitive spot.

"That won't be necessary." The young officer didn't change expression at all.

"Necessary…sir?" Potter suggested. He didn't usually stand on military ceremony, but he was sick and tired of being treated like a dangerous piece of meat.

He watched the captain think it over. The process took much longer than he thought it should have. At last, grudgingly, the man nodded. "You are on the list, and it looks like you're clean. So…it won't be necessary, sir. Are you happy…sir?"

"Dancing in the goddamn daisies," Potter replied.

That got the ghost of a grin from the young captain. "Go on in, then, sir." No audible pause this time. "The boss will take care of you."

"Who-?" Clarence Potter began, but the captain had already forgotten about him. Somebody else was coming up to the Lawn, and needed frisking. Those educated hands had more work to do. Muttering, Potter went on in. When he saw Lulu typing on a card table set up in the foyer, he figured out what was going on.

She paused when she recognized him. He almost laughed at the sniff she let out. She never had liked him-she never thought he was loyal enough to the President. But it wasn't funny any more. The way things were these days, suspicion of disloyalty was liable to be a capital offense.

"General Potter," the President's secretary said.

"Hello, Lulu," Potter answered gravely. "Is he all right?"

"He's just fine." She got to her feet. "You stay right there"-as if he were likely to go anywhere. "I'll tell him you're here." The Confederate States of America might be going down the drain, but you couldn't tell from the way Lulu acted. She came back a moment later. "He wants to see you. This way, please."

This way took him through the living room, down a hall, past four more guards-any one of whom looked able to tear him in half without breaking a sweat-and into a bedroom. Jake Featherston was shouting into a telephone: "Don't just sit there with your thumb up your ass, goddammit! Hurry!" He slammed the handset down.

Lulu's cough said she disapproved of the bad language even more than of the man she escorted. "General Potter is here to see you, sir," she said. She still didn't care for Potter, though, not even a little bit.

"Thank you, darling," Jake said. Watching him sweet-talk his secretary never failed to bemuse Potter. He wouldn't have bet Featherston could do it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes again and again. "Come in, Potter. Sit down." He pointed to a chair. "Lulu, hon, please close the door on your way out." Please! Who would have thought it was in the President's vocabulary?

Lulu gave Potter a fishy stare, but she did as Jake Featherston asked. "Reporting as ordered, Mr. President," Potter said, sinking into the overstuffed chair. It was all red velvet and brass nails, and looked like something from a Victorian brothel.

"How close are they to a uranium bomb?" Featherston didn't waste time or politeness on Potter. The President looked like hell: pale and haggard and skinny, with big dark circles under his eyes. How much did he sleep? Did he sleep at all? Potter wouldn't have bet on it.

"They're getting closer, sir," he answered. "They're talking about months now, not years-if the damnyankees' bombs don't set them back again."

"Months! Jesus Christ! We can't wait months!" Jake howled. "Haven't they noticed? This goddamn country's falling apart around their ears! Atlanta! Richmond! Savannah's going, and God only knows how long Birmingham will last. We need that fucker, and we need it yesterday. Not tomorrow, not today-yesterday! Months!" He rolled his eyes up to the heavens.

"Sir, I'm just telling you what Professor FitzBelmont told me," Potter said. "He also said that if you think you can find someone who'll do it better and faster, you should put him in charge."

Featherston swore. "There isn't anybody like that, is there?"

"If there is, Mr. President, I sure don't know about him," Potter answered. "Shall we try disrupting the U.S. program again?"

"What the fuck difference does it make?" Featherston said bitterly. That alarmed Potter, who'd never before heard him back away from anything. Even more bitterly, the President went on, "Shit, they're licking us without uranium bombs. I never would've reckoned they could, but they damn well are. Makes you wonder if we deserve to live, doesn't it?"

"No, sir. I have to believe that," Potter said. "This is my country. I'll do everything I can for it."

Featherston cocked his head to one side. "Ask you something?"

"You're the President, sir. How can I say no?"

"You sure never had any trouble before. But how come you didn't throw in with Bedford Forrest III and the rest of those bastards?"

"Sir, we're in a war. We need you. We need you bad. Whoever they brought in instead would have been worse. Chances are the Yankees wouldn't have made peace with him, either, not this side of-what do they call it? — unconditional surrender. That kills us. Way it looks to me is, we've got to keep fighting, because all our other choices are worse. Maybe the slide-rule brigade can save us. It's the best hope we've got, anyhow."

He realized he'd just admitted he knew about Forrest's plot, even if he hadn't gone along with it. If Jake wanted his head, he could have it. But that had always been true, ever since the Richmond Olympics. "Well, I get straight answers from you, anyway," the Confederate President said. "Listen, you go back and tell FitzBelmont I don't care what he does or who he kills-we've got to have that bomb, and faster than months. Get his head out of the clouds. Make sure he understands. It's his country, too, what's left of it."

"I'll do my best, sir. I don't know how much I can hurry the physicists, though," Potter said.

"You'd better, that's all I've got to tell you," Featherston said. Clarence Potter nodded. He'd seen the President of the CSA angry before-Jake Featherston ran on anger the way trucks ran on gasoline. He'd seen him gleeful. He'd seen him stubborn and defiant. But never-never till now, anyway-had he seen him desperate.

N ext stop, Birmingham!" Michael Pound said exultantly. It wasn't spring yet, not even here in Alabama, where spring came early. It wasn't spring, no, but something even sweeter than birdsong and flowers filled the air. When Pound sniffed, he didn't just smell exhaust fumes and cordite and unbathed soldiers. He smelled victory.

The Confederates hadn't quit. He didn't think they knew the meaning of the word. Some of their terrifying new barrels came into the front line without so much as a coat of paint-straight from the factories U.S. bombers and now artillery were still trying to knock out. The crews who fought those shiny metal monsters were brave, no doubt about it. But all the courage in the world couldn't make up for missing skill.

And, while the Confederate machines trickled from their battered factories in dribs and drabs, U.S. production went up and up. Maybe a new C.S. barrel was worth two of the best U.S. model. If the USA had four or five times as many barrels where it mattered, how much did that individual superiority matter?

Not enough.

Pound guided his barrel past the guttering corpse of a machine that had tried conclusions with several U.S. barrels at once. That might have been a brave mistake, but a mistake it undoubtedly was. The Confederates had made so many big mistakes, they couldn't afford even small ones any more.

Somebody not far away fired an automatic rifle. Maybe that was a U.S. soldier with a captured weapon. On the other hand, maybe it was a Freedom Party Guard aiming at a barrel commander riding along with head and shoulders out of the cupola. Regretfully, Michael Pound decided not to take the chance. He ducked down into the machine.

"Where the hell are we, sir?" Sergeant Scullard asked. The gunner didn't get nearly so many chances to look around as the barrel commander did.

Despite having those chances, Pound needed to check a map before he answered, "Far as I can tell, we're just outside of Columbiana."

"And where the fuck's Columbiana?"

Unless you were born and raised in central Alabama, that was another reasonable question. "Twenty, maybe thirty miles from Birmingham, south and a little bit east," Pound said. "Town's got a munitions plant in it, run by the C. B. Churchill Company-that's what the map notes say, anyhow."

"Fuck," the gunner repeated, this time as a term of general disapproval. "That means those butternut assholes'll fight like mad bastards to keep us out."

"They've been fighting like mad bastards for almost three years," Pound said. "How much good has it done 'em? We're in the middle of Alabama. We've got 'em cut in half, or near enough so it makes no difference. If they had any brains, they'd quit now, because they can't win."

"Yeah, and then they'd spend the next hundred years bushwhacking us." Scullard was not in a cheerful mood.

Pound grunted. The gunner might have meant that for a sour joke. Even if he did, it made an unfortunate amount of sense. In a standup fight, the Confederacy was losing. But how much fun would it be to occupy a country where everybody hated your guts and wanted you dead? After the Great War, the United States hadn't enjoyed trying to hold on to Kentucky and Houston and Sequoyah. If the USA tried to hang on to the whole CSA…

"Well, nobody ever said the Army would go out of style any time soon," Pound said.

"A good thing, too," Scullard replied. "If we're in deep shit now, we'd be in a lot deeper without this baby." He rapped his knuckles on the breech of the barrel's main armament, adding, "I just wish we had more like it."

"They're coming," Pound said. "Maybe not as fast as if we'd started sooner, but they are. We can make more stuff than the Confederates can. Sooner or later, we'll knock 'em flat, and it's getting on toward sooner."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a Confederate antibarrel rocket slammed into a U.S. machine a quarter of a mile away. The green-gray barrel brewed up, sending an enormous and monstrously perfect smoke ring up and out through the open cupola. Fire and greasy black smoke followed an instant later as the barrel slewed to a stop. Pound didn't think anybody got out.

He swore under his breath. The United States were making more stuff than the Confederate States could, yes. Sometimes, though-too damn often, in fact-the Confederates made better stuff. The automatic rifles their infantry carried, these antibarrel rockets, the screaming meemies that could flatten acres at a volley, the long-range jobs that reached into the USA…The enemy had talented engineers. Their cause stank like a dead fish, but they were good at what they did.

Scullard must have seen the U.S. barrel go up, too. "I hope we knock 'em flat sooner," he said. "That way, the mothers don't have the chance to come up with anything really nasty."

"Yeah," Michael Pound said. That marched with his own thoughts much too well.

Fields and forest surrounded Columbiana. Two routes led up to the town from the south: a county road whose thin blacktop coat the barrels' tracks quickly wrecked, and a railroad line maybe a hundred yards to the west. They were both nice and straight, and Pound couldn't have said which he distrusted more. They both let the Confederates see what was coming long before it got there.

And what they could see, they were too likely to be able to hit. That blazing barrel said as much. Of course, banging your way through the woods was asking to get nailed by some kid in butternut crouching behind a pine tree. You'd never spot him till he fired off his stovepipe, and that was too damn late.

Pound stood up in the cupola. He wanted to find out just how much U.S. armor was close enough to follow his platoon's lead. He hoped the other barrels would follow, anyway. If they didn't, he was liable to end up slightly dead.

Or more than slightly.

Sometimes, though, a barrel's engine was as important a weapon as its cannon. This felt like one of those times. Accidentally on purpose, he sent his orders over the all-company circuit instead of the one that linked him to his platoon alone: "Men, we are going to charge up this miserable little road as fast as we can go. We are going to blast anything that gets in our way, and we'll be inside Columbiana before Featherston's fuckers figure out what hit 'em." I hope. "Follow me. If this goes wrong, they'll get my barrel first." He switched to the intercom so he could talk to his driver: "You hear that, Beans?"

"Yes, sir." The driver's name was Neyer, but he rarely had to answer to it. His fondness for one particular ration can had given him a handle he'd keep till he took off his uniform…or till he got blown to smithereens, which might happen in the next couple of minutes.

Don't think about it, Pound told himself. If you think about it, you'll get cold feet. "Then gun it," he said. He was sure his own platoon would come with him. The rest…Don't think about that, either.

The engine roared. The barrel zipped forward. Flat out, it could do better than thirty. On rough ground, going like that would have torn out the kidneys of the men inside. On the road, it was tolerable…barely.

"Shoot first if you see anything," Pound advised, shouting over the noise.

"Going this fast, the stabilizer ain't worth shit," the gunner answered.

"Shoot first anyway. Even if you miss, you make the other guy duck. Then you can make your second shot count."

Scullard grunted. Pound knew damn well he was right, but he could see that it wasn't the sort of thing where you'd want to bet your life if you didn't have to.

As they neared Columbiana, they found there were Confederate soldiers on the road. The men in butternut hadn't figured the Yankees would be dumb enough or crazy enough to thunder down on them like that. The bow machine gun and the coaxial machine gun in the turret both started jackhammering. The C.S. troops scattered.

"Give 'em a couple of rounds of HE, too," Pound said. "Something to remember us by, you know?"

"Yes, sir!" Scullard said enthusiastically, and then, to the loader, "HE!"

The main armament thundered twice. A 3Ѕ-inch shell carried enough cordite to make a pretty good boom when it burst. One round went off in the middle of a knot of fleeing Confederates. Men and pieces of men described arcs through the air.

"Nice shot!" Pound yelled. Only later did he remember he was cheering death and mayhem. They were what he did for a living, his stock in trade. Most of the time, he took them for granted. He wondered why he couldn't quite do it now.

Then he did, because the barrel roared into Columbiana. He had no time to think about killing-he was too busy doing it. The barrel crew might have been an extension of his arm, an extension of his will.

"Where the hell is Lester Street?" he muttered. That was where the C. B. Churchill Company was, and had been since 1862. A glance through the periscopes built into the cupola told him what he needed to know. The biggest building in town, the one with the Stars and Bars flying over it, had to be the munitions factory. "Send a couple of HE rounds in there, too," he told the gunner. "Let 'em know they've just gone out of business."

"Right." But before Scullard could fire, machine-gun bullets rattled off the barrel's sides and turret, clattering but doing no harm. The bow gunner sent a long burst into a general store with a big DRINK DR. HOPPER! sign out front. Pound had tried the fizzy water, and thought it tasted like horse piss and sugar. The enemy machine gun abruptly cut off.

Boom! Boom! Pound watched holes appear in the munitions plant's southern wall. He giggled like a kid. Sometimes destruction for its own sake was more fun than anything else an alleged adult could do. He wondered whether Jake Featherston had an advanced case of the same disease.

And then he got more in the way of destruction than even he wanted. Maybe one of those HE rounds blew up something inside the factory. Maybe somebody in there decided he'd be damned if he let the plant fall into U.S. hands. Any which way, it went sky high.

Pound and his barrel were more than half a mile away. Even through inches of steel armor, the roar was overwhelming. The barrel weighed upwards of forty tons. All the same, the front end came off the ground. The machine might have been a rearing horse, except Pound was afraid it would flip right over onto its turret. Scullard's startled "Fuck!" said he wasn't the only one, either.

But the barrel thudded back down onto its tracks. Pound peered out through the periscopes again. One of the forward ones was cracked, which said just how big a blast that was. It must have knocked half of Columbiana flat.

"Well," he said, "we liberated the living shit out of this place."

F lora Blackford was listening to debate on a national parks appropriation bill-not everything Congress did touched on the war, though it often seemed that way-when a House page hurried up to her. His fresh features and beardless cheeks said he was about fifteen: too young to conscript, though the Confederates were giving guns to kids that age, using up their next generation.

"For you, Congresswoman," the page whispered. He handed her an envelope and took off before she could even thank him.

She opened the envelope and unfolded the note inside. Come see me the second you get this-Franklin, it said. She recognized the Assistant Secretary of War's bold handwriting.

Any excuse to get away from this dreary debate was a good one. She hurried out of Congressional Hall-leaving was much easier than getting in-and flagged a cab. The War Department was within walking distance, but a taxi was faster. When Franklin Roosevelt wrote, Come see me the second you get this, she assumed he meant it.

"Heck of a thing about this Russian town, isn't it?" the driver said.

"I'm sorry. I haven't heard any news since early this morning," Flora said.

"Bet you will." The cabby pulled up in front of the massive-and badly damaged-War Department building. "Thirty-five cents, ma'am."

"Here." Flora gave him half a dollar and didn't wait for change. A newsboy waved papers and shouted about Petrograd, so something had happened in Russia. Maybe the Tsar was dead. That might help the USA's German allies.

She hurried up the scarred steps. At the top, her Congressional ID convinced the guards that she was who she said she was. One of them telephoned Roosevelt's office, deep in the bowels of the building. When he'd satisfied himself that she was expected, he said, "Jonesy here'll take you where you need to go, ma'am. Somebody will check you out as soon as you get inside."

Check you out was a euphemism for pat you down. The tight-faced woman who did it took no obvious pleasure from it, which was something, anyhow. After she finished and nodded, Jonesy-who looked even younger than Flora's own Joshua-said, "Come along with me, ma'am."

Down they went, stairway after stairway. Her calves didn't look forward to climbing those stairs on the way up. Franklin Roosevelt had a special elevator because of his wheelchair, but no mere Congresswoman-not even a former First Lady-got to ride it.

"Here we go." Jonesy stopped in front of Roosevelt's office. "I'll take you up when you're done." Don't go wandering around on your own. Nobody ever came out and said that, but it always hung in the air.

The captain in the Assistant Secretary of War's outer office nodded to Flora. "Hello, Congresswoman. You made good time. Go right in-Mr. Roosevelt is expecting you."

"Thanks," Flora said. "Can you tell me what this is about?"

"I think he'd better do that, ma'am."

Shrugging, Flora walked into Franklin Roosevelt's private office. "Hello, Flora. Close the door behind you, would you, please? Thanks." As always, Roosevelt sounded strong and jovial. But he looked like death warmed over.

He waved her to a chair. As she sat, she asked, "Now will you tell me what's going on? It must be something big."

"Petrograd's gone," Roosevelt said bluntly.

"A newsboy outside was saying something about that," Flora said. "Why does it matter so much to us? To the Kaiser, sure, but to us? And what do you mean, gone?"

"When I say gone, I usually mean gone," Franklin Roosevelt answered. "One bomb. Off the map. G-O-N-E. Gone. No more Petrograd. Gone."

"But that's imposs-" Flora broke off. She was as far from Catholic as she could be, but she felt the impulse to cross herself even so. She was glad she was sitting down. "Oh, my God," she whispered, and wanted to start the mourner's Kaddish right after that. "The Germans…Uranium…" She stopped. She wasn't making any sense, even to herself.

But she made enough sense for Roosevelt. He nodded, his face thoroughly grim. "That's right. They got there first. They tried it-and it works. God help us all."

"Do they have more of them?" Questions started to boil in Flora's head. "What are they saying? And what about the Russians? Have England and France said anything yet?"

"We got a ciphered message yesterday that made me think they were going to try it," the Assistant Secretary of War said. "They were cagey. I would be, too. Wouldn't be good to say too much if the other side is reading your mail, so to speak. And the Kaiser just talked on Wireless Berlin." He looked down at a piece of paper on his desk. "'We have harnessed a fundamental force of nature,' he said. 'The power that sets the stars alight now also shines on earth. A last warning to our foes-give up this war or face destruction you cannot hope to escape.'"

"My God," Flora said, and then again, "My God!" Once you'd said that, what was left? Nothing she could see-not for a moment, anyhow. Then she did find something: "How close are we?"

"We're getting there," Roosevelt said, which might mean anything or nothing. The exasperated noise Flora made said it wasn't good enough, whatever it meant. Roosevelt spread his hands, as if to placate her. "The people out in Washington say we're getting close," he went on. "I don't know if that means days, weeks, or months. They swear on a stack of Bibles that it doesn't mean years."

"It had better not, not after all the time they've already used and all the money we've given them," Flora said. If not for the money, she never would have known anything about the U.S. project. And she found another question, one she wished she didn't need to ask: "How close is Jake Featherston?" Even with the Stars and Stripes flying in Richmond for the first time since 1861, she thought of the Confederacy boiled down to the terrifying personality of its leader.

So did Franklin Roosevelt, as his answer showed: "We still think he's behind us. We're plastering his uranium works every chance we get, and we get more chances all the time, because we're finally beating down the air defenses over Lexington. His people have put a lot of stuff underground, but doing that must have cost them time. If we're not ahead, he's got miracle workers, and I don't think he does."

"Alevai," Flora said, and then, "Do they have any idea how many dead there are in Petrograd?" Part of her wished she hadn't thought of that. Most of the dead wouldn't be soldiers or sailors. Some would be factory workers, and she supposed you could argue that the people who made the guns mattered as much in modern war as the people who fired them. All the generals did argue exactly that, in fact. But so many would be street sweepers and dentists and waitresses and schoolchildren…Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? From one bomb? "My God!" she exclaimed again.

Franklin Roosevelt shrugged the broad shoulders that went so strangely with his withered, useless legs. "Flora, I just don't know. I don't think anyone knows yet-not the Germans, not the Russians, nobody. Right now…Right now, the whole world just took a left to the chops. It's standing there stunned, trying not to fall over."

That wasn't the comparison Flora would have used, but it was vivid enough to make her nod. Before she could say anything-if she could find anything to say beyond one more "My God!" — the captain from the outer office came in and nodded to Roosevelt. "Sir, the Tsar just issued a statement."

"What did he say?" Roosevelt and Flora asked at the same time.

The captain glanced down at a piece of paper in his left hand. "He calls this a vicious, unholy, murderous weapon, and he condemns the massacre of innocents it caused." That went well with Flora's thoughts.

"Did he say anything about surrender?" Franklin Roosevelt asked.

"No, sir." The young officer shook his head. "But he did say God would punish the Kaiser and 'the accursed scientists and people of Germany'-his words-even if the Russian Army couldn't do the job."

"How can he keep fighting if Germany can drop bombs like that and he can't?" Flora asked, not really aiming the question at either Roosevelt or the captain. Was God listening? If He was, would He have let that bomb go off? "Moscow, Minsk, Tsaritsyn…" She ran out of Russian cities. She did, yes, but she was sure the Germans wouldn't.

"Russia always takes more losses than her enemies," the Assistant Secretary of War said. "That's the only way she stays in wars. But losses on that kind of scale? I don't think so, not for long."

"If the Tsar tries to go on fighting and the Germans drop one of those on Moscow, say, don't you think all the Reds who've gone underground will rise up again?" the captain asked. "Wouldn't you?"

"How many Reds are left?" Flora asked. "Didn't the Tsar's secret police kill off as many as they could after the last civil war?"

"They sure did," Franklin Roosevelt said, and the captain nodded. Roosevelt went on, "We know the secret police didn't get everybody, though. And the Reds are masters at going underground and staying there."

"They have to be, if they want to keep breathing," the captain added.

"So the short answer is, nobody-nobody on this side of the Atlantic, that's for sure-knows how many Reds there are," Roosevelt said. "Something like a uranium bomb will bring them out, though, if anything will."

"And if it doesn't kill them," the captain said. "Chances are, there are a lot of them close to Petrograd and Moscow."

Flora nodded. Those were the two most important Russian cities, and the Reds were like anybody else-they'd want to stay as close to the center of things as they could. Her thoughts went west. "England and France have to be shaking in their boots right now," she said. "Unless they've got bombs of their own, I mean."

"If they had them, they would use them," Roosevelt said. "The war in the west has turned against them-not as much as the war here has turned against the CSA, but enough. If the Kaiser's barrels really get rolling across Holland and Belgium and northern France, it won't be easy to stop them this side of Paris."

"Paris," Flora echoed. The Germans hadn't got there in 1917; the French asked for an armistice before they could. Kaiser Wilhelm granted it, too. Looking back, that was probably a mistake. Like the Confederates, the French weren't really convinced they'd been beaten. "This time, the Germans ought to parade through the streets, the way they did in 1871."

"Sounds good to me," Roosevelt said. "Keep it under your hat, but I've heard Charlie La Follette's going to go to Richmond."

"Is it safe?" Flora asked.

"Not even a little bit, but he's going to do it anyhow," Roosevelt answered. "Abe Lincoln couldn't, God knows James G. Blaine couldn't, even my Democratic cousin Theodore couldn't, but La Follette can. And there's an election this November."

"Good point," Flora agreed. How many votes would each photo of President La Follette in the ravaged and captured capital of the Confederacy be worth? Maybe as many as the uranium bomb had killed, and that was bound to be a lot.

VIII

I n! In! In!" Sergeant Hugo Blackledge bellowed. "Move your sorry asses before you get 'em shot off!"

Corporal Jorge Rodriguez hurried aboard the little coastal freighter. Fires in Savannah lit up the docks almost bright as day. Every so often, a flash and a boom would mark another ammo dump or cache of shells going up in smoke. The port was falling. Anybody who stayed to try to hold up the damnyankees would end up dead or a POW. Orders were to get out as many soldiers as could escape.

Nervously, Rodriguez looked up into the sky. If any fighters came over right now, they could chew his company to pieces. But they mostly stayed on the runways after dark. With a little luck, this ship-the Dixie Princess, her name was-would be far away from Savannah by the time the sun came up.

"Ever been on a boat before?" Gabe Medwick asked.

"No," Jorge admitted. "You?"

"A little rowboat, fishin' for bluegill an' catfish," his friend said. "This ain't the same thing, is it? Not hardly." He answered his own question.

Soldiers from eight or ten regiments-not all of them even from the same division-jammed the Dixie Princess. They eyed one another like dogs uncertain whether to fight. Sailors in gray dungarees elbowed their way through the butternut crush. They knew where they were going and what they were doing, which gave them a big edge on the troops they were carrying.

The rumble of the engines got deeper. Rodriguez felt the deck vibrate under his boots. The freighter pulled away from the pier and down the Savannah River toward the sea.

Only gradually did Jorge realize there were antiaircraft guns on deck. More sailors manned them. Some wore helmets painted gray. Others stayed bareheaded, as if to say a helmet wouldn't make any difference in what they did. A soldier near Jorge lit a cigarette.

"Kill that, you dumb dipshit!" Sergeant Blackledge yelled. "Kill it, you hear me? You want some damnyankee to spot your match or your coal? Jesus God, how fuckin' stupid are you, anyways?"

"All right, all right," the offender muttered. Down to the deck went the smoke. A boot mournfully crushed it out.

"Now, when it gets light y'all got to keep your eyes peeled for damnyankee submarines," Blackledge went on. "One of them fuckers puts a torpedo in our guts, it's a hell of a long swim to land, you know what I mean?"

"Boy," Gabriel Medwick muttered, "he sure knows how to make a guy feel safe."

Jorge laughed. That was so far wrong, it was funny. It would have been funny, anyway, if he weren't aboard this floating coffin. How many men were with him? He wasn't sure, but it had to be a couple of thousand. A damnyankee submersible skipper who sank the Dixie Princess would probably get the biggest, fanciest medal the USA could give out.

"You reckon it's true, what happened to that town in Russia?" somebody not far away from him asked.

"It's bullshit, you ask me," another soldier answered. "Damn Kaiser's just runnin' his mouth. Stands to reason-a city's too fuckin' big for one bomb to take out."

"You hear about that?" Medwick asked Jorge.

He nodded. "I hear, sн, but I don't know what to believe. What do you think?"

"I hope like anything it's bullshit," his buddy said. "If it ain't…If it ain't, we all got more trouble than we know what to do with. If the Germans have a bomb like that, if it's really real, how long before the Yankees do, too?"

"ЎMadre de Dios!" Jorge crossed himself. "One bomb, one city? You couldn't fight back against something like that, not unless…Maybe we get those bombs, too."

"Maybe." Gabe seemed doubtful. "If we get 'em, we better get 'em pretty damn quick, that's all I got to say. Otherwise, it's gonna be too late."

He wasn't wrong, however much Jorge wished he were. The fall of Savannah meant the Confederate States were cut in half. People were saying that Richmond had fallen, too, and that Jake Featherston had got out one jump ahead of the U.S. soldiers coming in. Some people said he hadn't got out, but that didn't seem to be true, because he was still on the wireless.

What can I do about any of that? Jorge wondered. The only answer that occurred to him was, Not much. He yawned; it had to be somewhere not long after midnight. He couldn't even lie down and go to sleep: no room to lie down. He dozed a little standing up, the way only a tired veteran could.

Dawn was just painting the eastern horizon-all ocean, flat out to the edge of the world-with pink when he saw another ship ahead. No, it was a boat, much smaller than the Dixie Princess. It had a blinker that flashed Morse at the freighter. Up on the bridge, where no soldiers were allowed, a sailor-maybe an officer-answered back.

"What's going on?" Gabe Medwick asked around a yawn.

"Beats me," Jorge answered. "We just gotta wait and find out." If that didn't sum up a lot of soldiering, what did?

The Dixie Princess changed course and followed the smaller craft toward the low-lying coast ahead. Her guide zigged and zagged in a way that made no sense to Jorge. And whatever the guide did, the Dixie Princess did, too.

Then somebody said, "We better not hit one of them damn mines, that's all I got to say. That'd be worse'n getting torpedoed."

A light went on in Jorge's head. They had to be heading towards a port, one warded by mines to keep out U.S. warships. And the small boat knew the way through the floating death traps. Jorge hoped like hell it did, anyhow.

WELCOME TO BEAUFORT, a sign said. Jorge would have guessed the name was pronounced Bofort. What his guess was worth, he found out when a man with bushy white side whiskers called, "Welcome to Bew-fort, y'all! Where d'you go from here?"

Jorge hadn't the faintest idea. Somebody-probably an officer-called, "Where's your train station?"

"Mile outside o' town," the old-timer said, pointing west. "We like our peace and quiet, we do. Ain't but one train a day anyways."

"Jesus H. Christ!" the officer exploded. "This is as bad as it would've been before the War of Secession!"

"No, sir." The white-whiskered man shook his head. "We had the hurricane back in '40, and the really bad one back in '93, an' we came through both o' them. And besides, we was full o' niggers in the old days. Ain't hardly got no more coons around now, though. Don't hardly miss 'em, neither. More room for the rest of us, by God."

Odds were the Negroes had done most of the hard work. Sailors had to jump down from the Dixie Princess and grab the mooring lines that bound her to the pier. Gangplanks thudded onto the rickety planking.

"Disembark! Form up in column of fours!" an officer shouted. "We will proceed to the railroad station and board transportation for Virginia!"

"Well, now we know what we're doing, anyway," Gabe Medwick said.

"Sн." Jorge nodded. "But one train a day? How big a train is it gonna be? How long we gonna have to wait?" He looked up at the sky, which was sunny and blue. "We ain't that far from Savannah, even now. What if a damnyankee airplane sees us? They come and drop bombs on our heads, that's what."

"Better not happen, that's all I've got to say." Medwick shivered at the idea, though the day felt more like spring than winter.

Down the gangplanks went the soldiers. As corporals, Jorge and Gabe tried to gather their squads together, but they didn't have much luck. The soldiers had got too mixed up in the desperate boarding in Savannah. "Hell with it," Sergeant Blackledge said-he was trying to gather a whole section, and having no more success than the squad leaders. "We'll sort things out when we get wherever the hell we're going."

They marched through Beaufort. Though it wasn't at all far from Savannah, the war might have forgotten all about it. Only some small, shabby houses with broken windows and with doors standing open spoke of the blacks who'd lived here till not long before.

Old men and those too badly maimed to fight-and a few women, too-crewed fishing and oystering boats. Truck gardens grew all around the town. Women and kids and the old and injured tended them, too.

At the station, the railroad agent stared at the long butternut column in unabashed horror. "What in God's name am I supposed to do with y'all?" he said.

"Get on the telegraph. Get trains down here, dammit," an officer answered. "We got out of Savannah. They want us up in Virginia. Fuck me if we're gonna walk."

"Well, I'll try," the agent said doubtfully.

"You better." The officer-he was, Jorge saw, a colonel, with three stars on each side of his collar-didn't even bother disguising the threat.

The agent clicked away on the telegraph. A few minutes later, an answer came back. "They'll be here in two-three hours," he reported.

Jorge would have bet that the time promised would stretch, and it did. The trains didn't get there till midafternoon. He had enough food in his pockets and pouches to keep from getting hungry before then, but he wondered if anybody would feed the soldiers on the way north. He wondered how bad the fighting would be, too. He'd served in Virginia before coming down to Tennessee. Wherever things get tough, that's where they send me. He was surprised at how little he resented that. It wasn't as if he were the only one in the same boat.

On the train, his two stripes won him a seat, even if it was hard and cramped. What with all the men standing in the aisles, he counted himself lucky. No matter how uncomfortable he was, he didn't stay awake long.

His eyes opened again when the train rolled through the town of St. Matthews. Except for a good many women wearing widow's weeds, the place seemed as untouched by the war as Beaufort. Jorge wasn't used to landscapes that hadn't been torn to bits. A town with all its buildings intact, without barricades and foxholes and trenches, seemed unnatural.

"It does, doesn't it?" Gabe Medwick said when he remarked on that. "It's like the place isn't important enough to blow up, almost."

Jorge hadn't looked at it quite like that, which didn't make Gabe wrong. He turned to ask one of the soldiers in the aisle what he thought, only to discover that the man was sound asleep standing up, much deeper under than Jorge had been on the Dixie Princess. How exhausted did you have to be to lose yourself so completely while you were upright?

After that, the train passed into North Carolina. There was a sign by the tracks that said so. The license plates on the autos went from white with blue letters and numbers to orange with black. Other than that, he couldn't see any difference. If the Confederate States had a safe haven, he was rolling through it.

Somebody at the front of the car dished out ration tins from a crate. They weren't good, but they were better than nothing. Drinks were bottles of Dr. Hopper, warm and fizzy. Jorge belched enormously.

Virginia was another sign at the border, and motorcar license plates with yellow characters on a dark green background. It was also, before long, the cratered, shattered, bombed-out landscape Jorge had grown used to. He nodded to himself. He knew what he'd be doing here.

R and R. Armstrong Grimes had gone out of the line in hostile country before. Did the people in Utah hate U.S. soldiers even more than the people here in Georgia did? He wouldn't have been surprised. But the locals here had nastier weapons with which to make their lack of affection known.

That meant Camp Freedom-the name had to be chosen with malice aforethought-had maybe the most extensive perimeter Armstrong had ever seen. Foxholes and barbed-wire emplacements and machine-gun nests and entrenchments gobbled up the fields for a couple of miles around the camp on all sides.

"Shit on toast," Squidface said as Armstrong's weary platoon made its way through the maze of outworks. "What all's inside here, the fucking United States mint?"

"They don't have soldiers, the bad guys go and take the mint away," Armstrong said.

"Well, yeah, Sarge, sure." Squidface spoke in calm, reasonable tones. "But they care about money, and they mostly don't care about us."

Armstrong grunted. It wasn't as if the PFC were wrong. Soldiers got the shitty end of the stick every day of the week, and twice on Sundays. If the other side didn't screw you, the assholes in green-gray who stayed safe behind the line would. The only people he trusted these days were smelly, dirty men in ragged uniforms that said they actually did some fighting. They knew what was what, unlike the jerks who campaigned with typewriters and telephones.

He didn't love MPs, either, not even a little bit. One of the snowdrops-he wore a white helmet and faggy white gloves-pointed and said, "Delousing station and showers are over that way. Where's your officer, anyway?"

"In the hospital." Armstrong jabbed a thumb at his own chest. "This is my outfit now."

The MP sniffed. A platoon with a sergeant in command couldn't be anything much, his attitude said. Somebody from the back of the platoon said, "Boy, Featherston's fuckers'd send him to Graves Registration in nothing flat."

"Who said that, goddammit?" the MP shouted. "I'll kick the crap out of you, whoever you are."

"Don't worry, Sergeant. I'll deal with him," Armstrong promised. All right, so the snowdrop wasn't yellow. But he didn't realize combat troops wouldn't fight fair. They'd ruin him or kill him, and then laugh about it. Getting away in a hurry was the best plan.

Back in the Great War, Armstrong's father said, delousing meant baking your clothes and bathing in scalding water full of nasty chemicals, none of which kept the lice down for long. The spray that a bored-looking corporal turned on the men now was nothing like that. But it had one advantage over the old procedure: it really worked.

There was nothing wrong with showering under scalding water. "Wish I had a steel brush, to get all the dirt off," Squidface said, snorting like a whale.

"Yeah, well, if you didn't have a goddamn pelt there, you could get clean easier," Armstrong said. Squidface was one of the hairiest guys he'd ever seen-he had more hair on his back than a lot of guys did on their chest. "If the Confederates ever kill you, they'll tan your hide for a rug."

"Ahh, your mother," Squidface said. Only somebody who'd saved Armstrong's bacon plenty of times could have got away with that. Squidface qualified. So did several other guys from the platoon.

After the shower, food. Along with canned rations, Armstrong had eaten a lot of fried and roasted chicken in the field-plenty of henhouses around, and you didn't need much more than a skillet or, in a pinch, a sharp stick to do the cooking. But this was fried chicken done right, not half raw and half burnt. The hash browns were crisp and just greasy enough, too. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a regular potato that didn't come out of a can. Yams and sweet potatoes were all right for baking, but they just didn't cut it when you sliced them up and put them in hot lard.

And apple pie! And vanilla ice cream on top! "Goddamn!" Squidface said reverently. "I think I just came in my pants."

"I know what you mean." The size of the bite Armstrong took would have made a boa constrictor jealous.

"I want a slice of cheese to put on my pie, not ice cream," Herk said. The replacement was a veteran now, entitled to a veteran's gripes-and entitled to get razzed like a veteran, too.

"Herk wants to cut the cheese." Squidface held his nose.

"You were the one who came in your pants," Herk retorted. "Me, I want a broad."

Up and down the long table, soldiers nodded solemnly, Armstrong among them. This camp had everything for giving soldiers a good time except a whorehouse. Bluenoses made sure the U.S. Army didn't officially sponsor any such thing. If you wanted a woman, you had to find your own-which could get you killed if you picked the wrong one, and could easily leave you with a disease that would land you in big trouble when the Army found out you'd caught it.

Squidface had several suggestions on how Herk could satisfy himself, each more alarming than the one before. "Shut up already," Armstrong said after a while. "You're making me lose my appetite."

"You better show up for sick call in the mornin', Sarge," Squidface said. "Something's sure as shit wrong with you."

The line for the nightly movie was almost as long as the one for a brothel would have been. Armstrong got a seat just before they showed the newsreel. "Here is the first film from ruined Petrograd!" the announcer said importantly.

Armstrong had seen plenty of ruined cities. He'd seen Provo and Salt Lake City, and you couldn't ruin a place any worse than they got ruined. Or he thought you couldn't, till the camera panned across what was left of Petrograd. The Russian town was leveled, all the way out to the horizon. When the camera got to something that stuck up from the devastation, it moved in for a closer look.

It was an enormous bronze statue of a man on horseback-or it had been. Now it looked melted, melted from the top down. Armstrong tried to imagine what kind of heat could have done such a thing.

"This was the statue of Peter the Great, who founded Petrograd," the announcer said. "Now he demonstrates the power of our allies' scientific accomplishments."

"Fuck our allies," Squidface said. "We don't get one of those ourselves pretty damn quick, the goddamn Kaiser'll drop one on Philly next."

That struck Armstrong as a pretty good guess. He made a guess of his own: "What do you want to bet Featherston's got guys in white lab coats working on one, too? With his fucking rockets, he could throw one anywhere in the USA."

"Shit." Squidface looked around, as if expecting one of those rockets to crash down any second now. "You're right."

As a matter of fact, Armstrong was wrong. The most powerful Confederate rockets reached only a couple of hundred miles. That meant they couldn't touch most of the USA, especially since the areas C.S. soldiers actually controlled shrank by the day. But, with a bomb like that, worry outran reality with ease.

"On our side of the Atlantic…" the newsreel announcer said. The screen showed the charred wreckage of gracious homes that had to date back to long before the War of Secession. It showed sunken ships in a bombed-out harbor district. It showed dirty, unshaven Confederate soldiers shambling off into captivity.

"We was there. We seen that," Squidface said.

"Better believe it," Armstrong agreed.

"On our side of the Atlantic, the capture of Savannah cuts the Confederate States in half," the announcer said proudly. "This on the heels of the loss of Richmond…"

The Stars and Stripes flew over the wreckage of the Confederate Capitol. U.S. soldiers prowled the cratered grounds of the Gray House, walking past twisted and overturned antiaircraft guns. Scrawny civilians got meals at a U.S. field kitchen.

"How long can the enemy hope to keep up his useless resistance in the face of overwhelming U.S. might?" the announcer asked, as if the soldiers watching the newsreel would be able to tell him.

The answer they were supposed to give him was, Not very long. Armstrong had seen enough propaganda to understand that. But this time the newsreel had outsmarted itself. The fearsome bomb that leveled Petrograd made you think twice. It made Armstrong think twice, anyhow. If the Confederates came up with one of those, or more than one, before the United States could, they were liable to win the war in spite of losing their capital and getting their country cut in half. Drop something like that on Philadelphia and New York and Boston, and the United States would really have something to worry about.

Drop one on Birmingham, Armstrong thought savagely. Drop one on New Orleans. Drop one on fucking Charleston. Like most people from the USA, he particularly despised the city where the War of Secession broke out.

After the newsreel came a short feature, with the Engels Brothers involved with an actor plainly meant to be Jake Featherston. "I'll reduce your population!" he yelled, which made the Brothers get into a ridiculous brawl to see which of them would be eliminated. That was all propaganda, too, but it was funny. Armstrong and Squidface grinned at each other in the darkness.

And the main feature was a thriller, with the Confederates after the secret of a new bombsight and the heroine thwarting them at every turn. She was pretty and she had legs up to there, which might have made Armstrong root for her even if she saluted the Stars and Bars.

After the feature, he got to lie down on a real bed. He hadn't done much of that lately-oh, a few times, when he flopped in a house some Georgians had vacated, but not very often. With snoring soldiers all around him, he could relax and sleep deep. Out in the field, he might as well have been a wild beast. The least little noise would leave him not just awake but with his heart pounding and with a rifle or a knife in his hand.

Bacon and eggs and more hash browns and halfway decent coffee the next morning were wonderful, too. So was eating them without peering this way and that, afraid of holdouts and snipers and his own shadow if it caught him by surprise.

"You know, this is pretty damn good. I could really get used to this." He was surprised at how surprised he sounded.

"It is, isn't it?" Squidface sounded surprised, too. Had he been in the war from the start? Armstrong didn't know. But he'd sure been in it long enough to turn into a vet.

"I think this is called peace. We used to have it all the time." Armstrong didn't think about those days very often. He'd gone from high school almost straight into the Army. He'd been a boy then. If he wasn't a man now, he didn't suppose he ever would be.

"Not quite peace," Squidface said. "No pussy around. We went through that when we got here."

"Well, yeah, we did," Armstrong admitted. "All right, it isn't quite peace. But it beats the shit outa where we were at before." Squidface solemnly nodded and stuffed another slice of bacon into his mouth.

T hey gave George Enos shore leave after he helped bring the Tierra del Fuego back to New York City. They gave it to him, and then they forgot about him. He grabbed a train up to Boston, had a joyous reunion with Connie and the boys, and set out to enjoy himself till the Navy decided what the hell to do with him next.

The Navy took so long, George wondered whether he ought to look for a slot on a fishing boat going out of T Wharf. He could have had one in a minute; the Navy had sucked in a lot of first-class fishermen. But he had plenty of money as things were, with so much back pay and combat pay in his pocket. And if he was out a few hundred miles from shore when he got called back to active duty, there would be hard feelings all around. His wouldn't matter. The Navy's, unfortunately, would.

He was back from church one Sunday morning when the telephone in his apartment rang. He'd found he liked Catholic services. He'd converted for Connie's sake, and never expected to take the rigmarole seriously. But the fancy costumes and the Latin and the incense grew on him. If you were going to have a religion, shouldn't you have one with tradition behind it?

"I bet that's my ma," Connie said as she went to answer the call. "She was saying she wants us over for dinner… Hello?" The pause that followed stretched too long. As soon as she spoke again, her tone told George it wasn't her mother on the other end of the line: "Yes, he's here. Hold on… George! It's for you."

"I'm coming," George said. Connie's stricken face told him who the caller was likely to be. He answered formally, something he rarely did: "This is George Enos."

"Hello, Enos. This is Chief Thorvaldson, at the Navy Yard. The Oregon's going to put to sea day after tomorrow, and she's got a slot for a 40mm loader. You fit that slot, and you've had a long leave. Report aboard her by 0800 tomorrow."

"The Oregon. 0800. Right, Chief." George said what he had to say. Standing there beside him, Connie started to cry. He put his arm around her, which only made things worse.

"A battleship, Enos. You're coming up in the world," the CPO said. "You could hide your old destroyer escort in her magazines."

"Sure," George said, and hung up. He didn't much want to sail on a battleship. Like a carrier, it would draw enemy aircraft the way a dog drew fleas. But he couldn't do anything about that, either. With a sigh, he tried to smile at his wife. "We knew it was coming, babe. War's getting close to over, so I probably won't be gone real long now."

"I don't want you gone at all!" She clung to him fiercely. "And things can still go wrong at the end of a war. Look at your father."

He wished he'd never told her that story. Then he shrugged. He would have thought of it himself, too. He jumped when the telephone rang again. Connie picked it up. "Hello?…Oh, hi, Ma. God, I wish you'd been on the line a few minutes ago…Yes, we can come, but we can't stay late. George just got a call from the Navy…The Oregon. Tomorrow morning…'Bye." She hung up. "Pa's got lobsters, so it'll be a good supper, anyway."

"Won't see them in the Navy," George agreed.

Lobsters, drawn butter, corn on the cob…It wasn't quite a traditional New England boiled dinner, which didn't mean it wasn't damn good. "Enjoy it, George," Connie's father said, sliding a Narragansett ale down the table to him. "Navy chow ain't even like what the Cookie makes on a fishing boat. I know that."

"It's the truth, Mr. McGillicuddy," George said sadly. He took a pull at the cold bottle of ale. It wasn't bad, but he'd had better. He didn't say anything about that. Narragansett went back further than he did. "How long have they been brewing this stuff, anyway?"

"It's been around about as long as I have, and I was born in 1887," McGillicuddy answered. "Can't tell you exactly, 'cause I wasn't paying much attention to beer back then, but that's about it, anyhow."

"Sounds right," George said. He was born in 1910, and Narragansett had been a Boston fixture his whole life long. He took another swig from the bottle.

What with all the food and the 'Gansett, he wanted to roll over and go to sleep when he and Connie and the boys got back to their apartment. But he wanted to do something else, too, and he did. Connie would have thought something was wrong with him if he hadn't. And God only knew when he'd get another chance. "Gotta make it last," he said, lighting a cigarette to try to stretch the afterglow.

"I should hope so." Connie poked him in the ribs. "Don't want you chasing after chippies when your ship gets into some port that isn't Boston."

"Not me." George lied without hesitation. Not very often, anyway, he amended silently.

"Better not." His wife poked him again. "Give me one of those." He could reach the nightstand more easily than she could. He handed her the pack. They were Niagaras, a U.S. brand-they tasted of straw and, he swore, horse manure. But they were better than nothing. Connie leaned close to him for a light. He stroked her cheek. "Thanks," she said, whether for the smoke or the caress he didn't know.

He managed an early-morning quickie, too. Connie wouldn't have put up with that except on a day when he was shipping out. He kissed the boys good-bye-they bravely fought against the sniffles-and, duffel on his shoulder, headed across the Charles for the Boston Navy Yard.

Before he got in, Marine guards patted him down and searched the denim sack. Finding nothing more lethal than a safety razor and a clasp knife, they let him through. "Can't be too careful," one of the leathernecks said.

"Last week down in Providence, this shithead showed up in a lieutenant commander's uniform-he'd rolled the officer in an alley behind a bar. He blew up two guards-poor bastards-but he didn't get to the ships, and that's what counts."

"Story didn't make the news," George said.

"No-I guess they sat on it," the guard replied. "But one of the guys who bought a plot was my brother-in-law's best friend since they were kids. I knew Apple a little bit myself. He was a good guy."

"Apple?" George had heard a lot of nicknames, but that was a new one on him.

"Like a baby's arm holding one," the Marine explained. "Be some sad broads around, I'll tell you. Now pass on through."

Finding the Oregon was easy enough. George looked for the biggest damn ship tied up at any of the piers, and there she was: a mountain of steel bristling with guns of all sizes, up to the dozen fourteen-inchers of her main armament. She could smash anything that came within twenty miles of her-but, in these days of airplane carriers, how many enemy ships were likely to?

George shrugged; that wasn't his worry. He went up the gangplank and paused at the end. Catching the officer of the deck's eye, he said, "Permission to come aboard, sir?"

The OOD was a lieutenant. George had had a two-striper for a skipper before. "Granted," the name said. He poised pen and clipboard. "And you are…?"

"George Enos, sir."

The officer checked him off the list. "You're new, then," he said, and George nodded. The OOD went on, "What was your previous duty? And your battle station?"

"I was on a destroyer escort, sir-the Josephus Daniels. My battle station was loader on a 40mm mount. When they ordered me to duty here, they said that was where you'd put me." He knew the powers that be would do whatever they damn well pleased, but he'd got his druthers in. "I can do just about anything if I have to. I was a fisherman before the war, and I came back to the USA in the prize crew of a freighter we took in the South Atlantic."

"Uh-huh. You realize we can check all this?"

"Yes, sir. It's all in my jacket, anyway." George wasn't talking about clothes, but about the paperwork any sailor carried with him.

"Uh-huh," the OOD said again. Then he turned and called, "Caswell!"

"Yes, sir?" A petty officer materialized behind him.

"Here's Enos. Put him on the number-three 40mm mount-he's a loader. Show him where he's supposed to go for general quarters and where he can sling his hammock."

"Aye aye, sir. Come on, Enos." Caswell had a thin, clever face and cold gray eyes. George didn't think getting him mad was a good idea. You'd pay for it, and you'd keep on paying, maybe for years.

He didn't want to get the senior rating mad at him any which way. "Show me where to go and what to do, and I'll go there and do it," he said. He'd hoped for a bunk, given the size of the battlewagon, but he could live with a hammock. It wasn't as if he hadn't had one before…and the Oregon would carry a much bigger crew than the Josephus Daniels did, too.

Caswell took him to his battle station first. That he still had his duffel slung over his shoulder seemed to mean nothing to the petty officer. Caswell wasn't carrying anything himself, after all. George could see right away that the 40mm mounts on the Oregon's deck were added long after the ship was built. That was no surprise; every warship these days piled on as much AA as she could without capsizing. The number-three mount was on the port side, well forward.

George eyed the awesome bulk of the two triple fourteen-inch turrets not far away. "What's it like when they go off?" he asked.

"Loud," Caswell said, and said no more. No shit, George thought. That boom would probably blow the fillings out of your teeth, and maybe the hair off your head. He didn't want to think about the big guns going off when he had a hangover. If that didn't kill you, you'd wish it would.

He looked up and down the deck. Yeah, there was a lot of antiaircraft: 40mms, and.50-caliber and.30-caliber machine guns as well. And the five-inch guns of the secondary armament could fire AA rounds, too. "Anybody bores in on us, we can make him mighty unhappy," he remarked.

"We better," the petty officer replied. "We fuck up once, we're toast." That was nothing but the truth. A well-placed bomb could sink even this floating, fighting fortress. Caswell lit a cigarette. He didn't offer George one, but he did say, "Come on. I'll take you below."

There were bunks on the Oregon. But there were also lots of hammocks. Since George was a new fish here, his getting one was no man-bites-dog story. The sailors on either side of him seemed good enough guys-a hell of a lot friendlier than Caswell, that was for sure.

"Give me the straight skinny," George said to one of them, a broad-shouldered man who went by Country. "Is she a madhouse or is she a home?"

"She's a home…mostly." Country's harsh Midwestern accent said he hadn't grown up near the sea.

"Mostly? When do things go wrong?"

The other sailor tipped him a wink. "You'll find out," he said, and that was all George could get out of him.

L ieutenant-Colonel Jerry Dover looked around at the latest place his supply dump had come to rest. He looked at Pete, who'd done a hell of a lot of retreating with him. "From Edwardsville to Albertville," Dover said. "Reckon that'd make a good title for my memoirs when I write 'em up?"

"For your what?" The quartermaster sergeant gave him a blank look. "This Albertville place don't look like it's good for squat."

"It's bigger than Edwardsville," Dover said. Pete couldn't very well argue. Edwardsville had had only a couple of hundred people in it. Albertville, northwest of the other town-on the road to Huntsville, in other words-had three, maybe even four, thousand. It boasted a cotton gin and a cotton mill and a cottonseed-oil plant and a cornmeal mill. The local high school bragged about how it trained future farmers.

While Pete didn't argue, he didn't seem much impressed, either. "Horseshit's bigger'n dogshit, too, but shit's still shit, you ask me." He pulled out a pack of Raleighs. With Kentucky and Tennessee lost, with North Carolina cut off from Alabama, even good tobacco was getting scarce. Seeing Dover's longing expression, he gave his superior a smoke and a light. After his drag, he added, "And the Confederate States are in deep shit right now, and that's the God's truth."

"You think I'm gonna pat you on the ass and go, 'No, no, everything's fine,' you're out of your tree," Dover answered. "They're already knocking Birmingham flat. If we lose Huntsville, too…"

"We're fucked," Pete finished for him. "Without the rockets, we can't do anything against the damnyankees."

"Yeah." Jerry Dover smoked in quick, worried puffs. "If Birmingham and Huntsville go, what's left? New Orleans and Little Rock and Texas. God Himself couldn't lick the USA with New Orleans and Little Rock and Texas, and I bet He wouldn't be fool enough to try. Which is more than I can say for Jake Featherston."

Pete looked around nervously. "Jeez, sir, careful how you talk. You seen how many soldiers they've hanged from trees with DEFEATIST around their necks?"

"They won't hang me-or you, either," Dover said. "We're still doing our jobs-and we're doing 'em pretty goddamn well, too. That's a hell of a lot more than most people can say-including the President. Wasn't either one of us who lost Richmond."

"He says we'll get it back," Pete said.

"Freedom!" Dover replied-without a doubt, the most sardonic Party salutation in the history of the CSA. In one politically safe word, he called everybody who'd ever believed anything Jake Featherston said an idiot. He'd believed some of those things himself-not all of them, but some-so he knew he was an idiot, too.

Pete cocked his head to one side, like a bird dog taking a scent. "Firing's picking up at the front."

Jerry Dover listened, too. "Shit. You're right. Yankees are laying down more artillery than they've used for a while. If that doesn't mean another push is on its way…"

"Can't afford many more," Pete said.

"Any more," Dover corrected. "If they start shelling Huntsville and bombing it, how's it going to keep doing what it's got to do?"

Before Pete could answer, Dover's field telephone jangled. The noncom sketched a salute and ducked out of Dover's tent. "Albertville supply depot here," Dover said as he picked up the telephone. He listened, then answered, "I'm light on 105 shells, but I'll send you what I've got." He yelled for Pete to come back. Would Cicero Sawyer be able to get him more artillery rounds after he sent off what he had here? He had to hope so.

"I'll get 'em moving," Pete promised when Dover told him what he needed. "We don't have as many as I wish we did, though."

"Yeah, I know. I said the same thing," Dover answered. "Anything is better than nothing, though."

Was anything enough better than nothing? Dover didn't know. Once more, he had to hope. The telephone rang again, and then again. The soldiers farther forward sounded more and more desperate. "Things are falling apart up here!" one of them yelled.

"We can't hold!" another cried.

"I'll send what I can," Dover said, and rang up Huntsville. "Whatever you've got," he told Sawyer. "They're taking it on the chin here."

"I'll do what I can," Cicero Sawyer answered, sounding much like Dover himself. "We aren't getting stuff as fast as I wish we would, either."

"Great." Dover meant anything but what he said. "How are we supposed to fight a war if we don't have anything to fight with?"

"Good question," Sawyer said. "If you don't have any other good questions, class is dismissed." He hung up.

Swearing, so did Jerry Dover. After he finished cussing, he checked to see how many clips he had for his automatic rifle. He had the bad feeling he might need it before long.

The next time he saw Pete, he noticed the noncom was carrying a submachine gun. Pete's eyes went to his weapon, too. Neither of them said anything. If you didn't talk about what worried you, maybe it would go away and leave you alone.

Or maybe it wouldn't.

As he'd learned to do in the last war, Dover tracked the battle with his ears. He didn't like what he was hearing. The Yankees seemed to be pushing forward, straight toward his dump. And they seemed to be outflanking it on both sides.

A corporal came up to him. "Sir, shouldn't we be getting ready to pull out of here?"

"Yeah, I guess maybe we should." He'd had to move or abandon a lot of dumps in the Confederacy's grinding retreat. He wondered why he was dicking around with this one.

A staff car-a butternut Birmingham packed to the gills with officers and men-rattled up to the supply dump. "Get the hell out while you still can!" somebody yelled from inside. "The damnyankees're right on our ass!" The auto jounced away. The load it carried was too much for its springs.

Maybe the load Dover carried was too much for his. But he started shouting the orders he'd used so often before: "Set the time charges in the ammo! Start blowing up the supplies! Come on, dammit! We've got to get out of here, see where else we can make a stand."

Shells started landing close by. Then machine-gun bullets snapped and whined past his head-not aimed fire, not yet, but they meant U.S. soldiers sure as hell were too damn close. Before long, the Yankees would see what they were aiming at, and that wouldn't be good. And the rounds were coming in from three sides, not just from the front.

"Fuck," Dover muttered. He really had waited too long this time. He raised his voice to a shout: "Get out, men! Save yourselves!"

He'd just gotten in a truckload of new-model field telephones, lighter and better all around than the ones that had soldiered through the war. They still sat in their crates; he hadn't had a chance to send any of them forward yet. He shot them up, one short burst at a time. If his own side couldn't use them, he was damned if he'd let the bastards in green-gray get them.

"Come on, sir! Let's get out of here!" Pete sat behind the wheel of another military Birmingham. The irony of the auto's name struck home for the first time, here much too close to the city where it was made. Dover hopped in. Pete headed northwest, toward Huntsville.

They got maybe a quarter of a mile up one of the most godawful roads Dover's kidneys had ever met when a burst of machine-gun fire off to one side made the quartermaster sergeant grunt. Pete slumped over, half his head blown off. The Birmingham started limping as if it had a flat-later, Dover found out it had two. With no one controlling it, it slewed off the bumpy asphalt and hit a pine tree. Luckily, it wasn't going very fast. Dover was bruised and shaken, but not hurt. He bailed out.

"Hold it right there, motherfucker!" somebody with a U.S. accent yelled. "Drop that piece, or you're dead meat!"

Dover froze. He looked around wildly for somewhere to run, somewhere to hide. If he moved, the hidden Yankee could plug him before he took more than a couple of steps. Slowly and carefully, he set the automatic Tredegar on the ground. "I've got a pistol on my belt," he called. "I'm going to take it out and put it with the rifle."

"Don't get cute with it, asshole." That was another U.S. soldier, one with a deep bass rasp. Jerry Dover couldn't see him. "We got enough firepower to saw you in half like a fuckin' board."

"The last person who thought I was cute was my mother," Dover said, which won him raucous laughter from the unseen enemy troopers. Holding his.45 between thumb and forefinger, he laid it down next to the rifle. Then, without being asked, he raised his hands above his head. "You got me."

Not two but four U.S. soldiers cautiously came out of the bushes. Two of them had leaves and branches on their helmets, held in place with strips of inner tube. Two carried ordinary Springfields; one a heavy, clunky U.S. submachine gun; and one a captured C.S. automatic rifle. They all needed shaves. They smelled of old sweat and leather and tobacco and mud: like soldiers, in other words.

"Son of a bitch," one of them said as they drew near. "We got us a light colonel." The two stars on either side of Dover's collar weren't made to be visible from very far off. Why let snipers pick out officers the easy way?

"Cough up your ammo," said the guy with the Confederate weapon. Without a word, Dover gave him the clips he had left after shooting up the field telephones. His captors also relieved him of watch and wallet and cigarettes. He went right on keeping quiet. They weren't supposed to do that, but it happened all the time. And they didn't have to take him prisoner. He could end up dead if any one of them decided to pull the trigger.

"I guess we oughta send him back," said the one with the deep voice. He was a corporal, and one of the pair with leaves nodding above his head. "Officer like that, the guys in Intelligence can squeeze some good shit out of him."

"Maybe." The Yankee with the submachine gun aimed it at Dover's face. "Who are you, buddy? What do you do? C'mon. Sing."

"My name is Jerry Dover. I'm a lieutenant colonel." Dover rattled off his pay number. "I ran the supply dump back there by Albertville." According to the Geneva Convention, he didn't have to say that. Self-preservation argued it would be a good idea.

"Quartermaster, huh? No wonder you got good smokes," the one with the deep voice said. He turned to the guy with the automatic rifle. "Take him back to battalion HQ, Rudy. Don't plug him unless he tries to bug out."

"Gotcha," Rudy said. He gestured with the captured weapon. "Get movin', Pops. You run, it's the last dumbass stunt you pull."

"I'm not going anywhere, except wherever you take me," Dover said. He was so relieved not to get shot out of hand, he didn't even resent the Pops. He was old enough to be the damnyankee's father. "Will you please bury my sergeant there?" he asked his captors, pointing to the Birmingham. "He was a good man."

"We round up some more of you butternut bastards, they can take care of it," the corporal said. The Yankees weren't going to dig for an enemy themselves.

"Move it," Rudy said. Hands still high, Jerry Dover trudged off into captivity.

D uring the last war, Chester Martin remembered, the Confederates had seen the writing on the wall in northern Virginia. As the summer of 1917 went on, the spirit gradually leaked out of the men in butternut. They wouldn't stand and fight till they couldn't fight any more, the way they had earlier. They would throw away their rifles and put up their hands and hope their U.S. opposite numbers didn't murder them.

The same thing was happening in Georgia now. Even some of the Freedom Party Guards had the message: the Confederate States weren't going to win this time around, either. Some of the men in brown-splotched camouflage smocks had a hard time surrendering. But then, anybody who tried to surrender to Lieutenant Lavochkin had a hard time.

Chester admired the platoon leader's courage. Past that…If everybody on the U.S. side were like Boris Lavochkin, the war probably wouldn't have been anywhere near so tough. But Chester didn't think he wanted to live in a country that produced a lot of men like that. Living with one of them was tough enough.

Getting to Savannah seemed to have amounted to the be-all and end-all of General Morrell's strategy. Once the port fell, once the sickle slice cut the Confederacy in half, things were confused for a while. The powers that be needed some time to figure out what to do next. After you went to bed with the girl of your dreams, what did you say when you woke up beside her in the morning?

Martin's platoon, along with the rest of the regiment and a couple of more besides, crossed the Savannah River and went up into South Carolina. The swamps on that side of the river seemed no different from the ones in Georgia. The people over there spoke with the same mushy drawl. They hated damnyankees just as much as the Georgians did, even if they hadn't been able to muster more than a few soldiers to try to keep the invaders in green-gray out of their state.

"South Carolina seceded first, boys," Captain Rhodes told the company. "This goddamn state got the CSA rolling. Been a hell of a long time since then, but we finally get to pay the bastards back."

As far as Martin was concerned, too much water had gone under the bridge to care about which drop went first. What difference did it make now? He despised all the Confederate states equally. Why not? Men from each and every one of them were equally eager to do him in.

What did give him chills were the empty villages through which his outfit passed. He'd seen the like in Georgia. Once upon a time-say, up until a couple of years earlier-Negro sharecroppers had lived in them. Those people were almost all gone. He would have bet dollars to doughnuts they were almost all dead. Before long, their flimsy shacks would crumble and fall down, and then who would remember that they'd ever lived here?

Local whites didn't want to. Lieutenant Lavochkin brought the mayor of a little town called Hardeeville to a nameless village a couple of miles away. The mayor didn't want to come; a rifle to the back of his head proved amazingly persuasive.

"What happened to these people?" Lavochkin demanded.

"Well, I don't rightly know." The mayor was a white-mustached fellow named Darius Douglas. He walked with a limp that probably meant he had a Purple Heart stashed in a drawer somewhere.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" Lavochkin rapped out. "You suppose they all decided to go on vacation at the same time?"

Douglas had fine, fair skin. When he turned red, the flush was easy to see. "Well, I reckon not," he admitted. "But a lot of 'em was gone a while back, off to towns and such. The fancier the farm machinery got, the fewer the niggers we needed."

"How come we didn't see 'em in Savannah, then?" The lieutenant's voice was silky with danger. "How come we don't see 'em anywhere? How many niggers you got in Hardeeville, damn you?"

"Don't have any, I don't reckon, but we never did," Darius Douglas answered. "Hardeeville, it's a white folks' town. Niggers came in to work, but they didn't live there. They lived in places like this here."

"Do you know what you are? You're a lying sack of shit, that's what," Lieutenant Lavochkin snarled. "If you came out and said, 'Yeah, we killed 'em, and I don't miss 'em a fucking bit,' at least you'd be honest. This way…Christ, you know what you assholes did, but it makes you jumpy enough so you don't want to own up to it, not when you're talking to people like me."

"I always knew damnyankees was nigger-lovers," the mayor of Hardeeville said. "Nobody else'd make such a fuss over a bunch o' damn coons."

"Yeah? So who's gonna make a fuss over you?" Lavochkin asked. Before Mayor Douglas could answer, the U.S. officer shot him in the face. Douglas dropped like a sack of beans in the middle of a muddy, overgrown street.

"Jesus!" Chester Martin exclaimed. "What the hell'd you go and do that for…sir?"

The platoon commander looked at him-looked through him, really. "You going to tell me he didn't have it coming?"

"Jesus," Martin said again. "I dunno. He didn't kill any of those coons himself, I don't think." The late Mr. Douglas was still twitching a little, and still bleeding, too. The iron stink of blood mingled with the foulness of bowels that had just let go.

"No, he didn't kill 'em. He just waved bye-bye when they went off to the camps," Lavochkin said. "All these Confederate cocksuckers did the same goddamn thing. Far as I'm concerned, they all deserve a bullet in the head."

As far as Martin was concerned, that had nothing to do with anything. "We deal with that after the war's over, sir. You start shooting civilians for the hell of it, we're going to have reprisals come down on our heads, and we need that kind of crap like we need a root canal."

Lavochkin grunted. "I'm not afraid of these assholes. They're whipped."

"How many replacements do we need right now?" Chester asked. The lieutenant grunted again. "They haven't all quit yet, so let's not fire 'em up. What do you say to that?"

He could tell what Lieutenant Lavochkin wanted to say. Lavochkin wanted to call him yellow, but damn well couldn't. Scowling, the lieutenant did say, "If I'm not a good boy, I don't get promoted, right? You think I give a flying fuck about that?"

Chester shrugged. He hoped Lavochkin did. It was the only hold he had on the cold-blooded young officer. Lieutenant Lavochkin liked killing too much, and Chester didn't know what he could do about it. Yeah, you killed in a war-that was what it was all about. But the guys who enjoyed it caused more trouble than they solved. Martin wondered whether the platoon commander needed to have an unfortunate accident.

He didn't let that show on his face. If he had, he was sure Lieutenant Lavochkin would have plugged him with as little remorse as he'd shot Darius Douglas. If I have to take him out, I can't fuck up, 'cause I'll only get one chance, Martin thought unhappily.

"Let's go back to Hardeeville," Lavochkin said, which was anything but a retreat.

"What will you say when the people ask what happened to the mayor?" Chester wondered.

"Shot resisting U.S. authority." The lieutenant's voice remained hard and firm. He didn't sound the least bit guilty. Chester wondered whether he knew how to feel guilty. The first sergeant wouldn't have bet on it. As far as Lavochkin was concerned, anything he did was right because he did it. How did that make him any different from Jake Featherston, except that Featherston had more scope for running wild than an infantry lieutenant did?

"Come on, you guys," Chester called to the men in the platoon. "You heard the lieutenant-we're heading back to Hardeeville. Keep your eyes open when we get there, in case of trouble." In case the locals go nuts because we scragged the mayor. He didn't say that, but he hoped the men could work it out for themselves.

Most of them seemed able to. They tramped back toward the little town as if advancing into battle. They moved in small groups, warily, keeping an eye out ahead and to all sides.

Hardeeville was a block of shops, a filling station, a saloon, and a few houses. Before the war, it might have held two or three hundred people. With the men anywhere close to military age gone, it was smaller than that now. When the mayor's wife saw the U.S. soldiers coming back without him, she screeched, "Where's Darius?"

"Dead," Lavochkin said flatly. "He resisted our authority, and-" Whatever he said after that, Mrs. Douglas' shriek smothered it. She made a fuss over the late mayor.

A shot rang out from one of the houses. A U.S. soldier went down, grabbing his leg. "Shit!" he yelled. Chester didn't think the cartridge was anything more than a.22, but that didn't mean it felt like a kiss.

Three soldiers with automatic rifles emptied their magazines into the front of the house. Glass and chunks of wood flew. A woman and a twelve-year-old boy staggered out. Both of them were bleeding. The boy still clutched the.22. He tried to raise it and shoot at the U.S. soldiers again, but he fell over instead, blood puddling under him.

"Fuck," said one of the men in green-gray. He was no happier about shooting a kid than anyone else would have been. Yeah, the kid had fired first. Yeah, he was an enemy. That didn't make it much better.

Had things ended there, they would have been bad. But they didn't. They got worse. Somebody fired from another house. A Featherston Fizz came flying out of nowhere and burst at the feet of a U.S. soldier. He screamed like a damned soul as flames engulfed him. And one of the old men in Hardeeville laughed.

"Take 'em out!" Lieutenant Lavochkin yelled. "Take 'em all out!"

Chester's first shot knocked over the old man who thought watching a Yankee burn was funny. His second shot hit the old woman next to the old man right in the middle of the chest. She crumpled before she had a chance to screech. Of course, Chester's wasn't the only bullet that hit her-not even close. All the soldiers in the platoon were letting go with everything they had.

They started throwing grenades into the houses closest to them. A couple of men had grenade launchers on their rifles. They lobbed grenades all over Hardeeville, almost at random. "It'll come down on somebody's head!" one of them whooped as he pulled the trigger and sent one off…somewhere.

The men and women and kids on the street went down as if scythed. Their dying cries-and the gunfire, and the grenades bursting randomly all over the little town-brought more people out to see what was going on. The U.S. soldiers shot them down, too.

It was madness, red-hot madness. Chester Martin felt it as he fired and reloaded, fired and reloaded, and slapped in clip after clip. He didn't know how many Confederates he killed. He didn't much care, either. Along with his buddies, he went through the town. By the time they got done, there wasn't much town left-it burned behind them. And just about everybody who'd lived in Hardeeville was dead.

Chester stood there shaking his head, like a man whose fever had suddenly broken. "Wow," he said, looking back on the devastation. "What did we just do?"

"Settled their hash," Lieutenant Lavochkin answered. "I don't think too much of this needs to go into the after-action report, do you?"

"Christ, no!" Chester thought about some of the things he'd just done. He wished he hadn't. He wished he hadn't done them, too. So, no doubt, did Hardeeville. Well, it was too late for him, and much too late for the little town. He had the rest of his life to try to forget. Hardeeville…didn't, not any more.

C onfederate Connie was on the air again. To most people in the USA, the music the propaganda broadcaster played was hot stuff, at or past the cutting edge. Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Moss-he was still getting used to the silver oak leaves on his shoulder straps-had heard stranger, wilder rhythms when Spartacus' guerrillas got their hands on a guitar and a fiddle.

Here he was, at a big air base just outside of Dayton, Ohio, not far from where the Confederates swarmed over the border not quite three years before. The base didn't exist then. Now, unless the Kaiser's airmen had something fancier, it was the biggest training center in the world.

The song ended. Like most of the other guys at the base, Moss thought listening to Confederate Connie was more fun anyway. She had a contralto like a wet dream.

"Well, you Yankee boys, aren't you proud of yourselves?" she said, as if she were waiting for you to get back into bed with her and didn't want to wait very long. She was probably fifty-five and frumpy, but she sure didn't sound that way. "Your brave soldiers went and wiped Hardeeville right off the map."

"Where the hell's Hardeeville?" somebody asked.

"Shut up," said Moss and two other men. Listening to Confederate Connie didn't just remind you why you fought. It reminded you why you were alive.

"That's right," she went on. "They marched into a defenseless town and they murdered everybody in it-men, women, children, everybody. Then they burned it down on top of the bodies. No more Hardeeville, South Carolina. Gone. Right off the map. Some fun, hey? Aren't you proud to live in a country that does stuff like that?"

Nobody could keep the men around the wireless set quiet after that. "Oh, yeah, like the CSA never murdered anybody!" a pilot said.

"Where's your coons, you lying cunt?" somebody else added.

"If they killed everybody, how come you know it happened?" demanded yet another flier.

Confederate Connie actually answered the last question, saying, "The Yankees missed a couple of women, though. They played dead in the blood and then got away. And now, to make you feel good about what your boys in green-gray managed to do, here's a tune by Smooth Steve and the Oiler Orchestra, 'How about That?'"

Music blared from the wireless, more of the syncopated noise the Confederates liked better than most people in the USA did. Jonathan Moss listened with at most half an ear. He wasn't the only one; plenty of people were still telling Confederate Connie what a liar she was.

Moss wasn't so sure. He'd heard enough war stories to believe a unit could go hog wild and massacre anybody who got in its way. He didn't believe troops would do anything like that just for the fun of it. If somebody in Hardeeville had fired at them, though…In that case, the town was what soldiers called shit out of luck. Probably all the men who'd torn up the place wished they hadn't done it-now. That was liable to be a little late for Hardeeville's innocent-and not so innocent-civilians.

A fellow with a bombardier's badge above the right pocket of his tunic said, "What's she getting her tit in a wringer for, anyway? I bet I blow up more people three times a week than those ground-pounders did. But I do it from twenty thousand feet, so I'm a fuckin' hero. It's a rough old war."

Along with the bombardier's badge, he wore the ribbons for a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with an oak-leaf cluster. If he wasn't a hero, he would do till the genuine article came along. He also had a view of the war cynical enough to give even Moss pause.

The next morning, Moss got summoned to the commandant's office. He wondered how he'd managed to draw that worthy's notice, and what kind of trouble he was in. Major General Barton K. Yount was a sixtyish fellow who might have looked like a kindly grandfather if he weren't in uniform. "Have a seat, Moss," he said. His accent suggested he'd been born somewhere not far from here.

"Thank you, sir," Moss said cautiously, and sat with just as much care. The condemned man got a hearty meal went through his mind.

General Yount must have realized what he was thinking. "I didn't call you in here to ream you out, Colonel," he said. "I want to ask you a question."

"Sir?" The less Moss said, the less he might have to regret later on.

But Yount came straight to the point: "You've flown a lot of different airplanes, haven't you?"

"Well, yes, sir. I started with a pusher job in 1914, and I'm still doing it, so I must have, eh?"

"That's right." Yount smiled and nodded. "How would you like to add a turbo job to the list?"

A crazy grin spread across Moss' face. "Sir, I'd kill for a chance like that. Only reason I haven't is, I didn't know who needed bumping off."

Turbos were going to turn propeller-driven airplanes obsolete as soon as the boys with the slide rules and the thick glasses worked the gremlins out of them. They were already sixty or eighty miles an hour faster than the hottest prop-driven fighters. The drawbacks were unreliable engines and landing gear, among other things. Turbos were widowmakers on a scale that hadn't been seen since the early days of the Great War. Moss was one of thousands of pilots who didn't give a damn. He wanted that chance so bad he could taste it.

Major General Yount's smile got wider. He knew Moss was kidding…up to a point. "You've got it, Colonel. You can call it a reward for a hard time, if you like. There's one thing I do have to warn you about, though."

"What? That it's dangerous? I already know, sir. I'm ready to take the chance."

"No, no." The training commandant shook his head. "I assumed you knew that. But you also have to know that for the time being we aren't using turbo fighters anywhere except above U.S.-occupied territory. If you get shot down or forced to crash-land because of engine trouble, we don't want this machinery falling into enemy hands. You must agree to that before you begin flight training here."

"Oh." Moss didn't try to hide his disappointment. "I wanted to go hunting."

"I understand that. You wouldn't be a good fighter pilot if you didn't. But I hope you follow the reasoning behind the order."

"Yes, sir," Moss said reluctantly. Even more reluctantly, he added, "All right, sir. I agree to the condition."

"Good. In that case, report to Building Twelve at 0730 tomorrow morning. You'll learn about the care and feeding of your new beast."

Several turbo fighters sat on the runway outside of Building Twelve. Moss got there early so he could walk around them before he went in. They looked weird as hell. The fuselage was almost shark-shaped. The wings swept back from root to tip. He'd never seen or imagined anything like that before. The turbos had no tailwheel. They sat on a nosewheel instead, so the fuselage rested parallel to the ground instead of sloping down from nose to tail. The engines sat in metal pods under the wings. Yeah, the new fighter was one peculiar bird. But the longer Moss stared, the more he nodded to himself. It might look different, but it also looked deadly.

He wasn't the only pilot giving the new airplanes a once-over. "Fly one yet?" he asked a much-decorated major.

"Yeah," the younger man answered.

"What's it like?"

"Like your first girl after you've been jacking off too goddamn long."

Moss laughed. That wasn't what he'd expected, but he liked the way it sounded. He went into the building to hear about the care and feeding of the Boeing-71, as the new turbo was officially known. The major doing the lecturing had some fresh and nasty burn scars on his left arm, and walked with a limp. Moss wondered if he'd got hurt in a turbo, but didn't ask. He didn't really want to know. Nobody else seemed curious, either.

He learned about the instruments, about the guns (four 30mm cannon in the nose-one hell of a punch), about the strange and temperamental landing gear, about what to do if an engine quit or caught fire, about what to do if both engines went out (not the most encouraging bit of instruction he'd ever had), about tactics against the Confederates' hottest prop-driven Hound Dogs, about everything he needed to know before he plopped his butt down in the cramped-looking cockpit.

He had to make himself listen. He knew he was hearing all kinds of stuff that would help keep him alive. He was a pro; he understood that. Even so, all he wanted to do was get in there and find out what the bird could do.

After what seemed forever and was only a week, he got his chance in a two-seat trainer. U.S. armies had driven the Confederates out of Petersburg. Birmingham and Huntsville were under artillery assault. Moss wondered if there'd be any enemy airplanes left for him to face when he finally went on duty in the new turbo-people were calling them Screaming Eagles, and the brass didn't seem to mind too much.

The noise inside the cockpit was different. He felt it all through his body instead of just hearing it. He gave the turbo some throttle. It raced down the runway-it needed half again as much tarmac as a prop job. As he came up to takeoff speed, the instructor said, "Ease the stick back. Not too much, now. You do everything by little bits with this baby."

"Right," Moss said, and then he was airborne. He gunned the turbo a little. When he felt what happened, he whispered, "Ohh." Sure as hell, the murmur wasn't much different from the one he'd made as he first slid into Beth Sullivan when he was seventeen. He'd forgotten you could mix so much delight and awe and astonishment.

The instructor chuckled. How many other pilots had made that same sound in his earphones? "It's something, isn't it?" he said.

"Wow," Moss answered, which wasn't a hell of a lot more articulate. After a moment, he tried again: "It's like angels are pushing."

"It is, isn't it?" Now the instructor sounded thoughtful; he hadn't heard that before, anyway. He paused for a moment, then said, "Remember, they can turn into devils in nothing flat if you screw up-or even if you don't. Sometimes only God knows why the engines flame out or throw a rotor or just up and quit. And if you don't want to be asking Him face-to-face, you've got to get out of the bird in a hurry."

"I understand," Moss said. The single-seat Screaming Eagle had one of the nicest cockpit canopies he'd ever seen, a sleekly streamlined armor-glass bubble. The trainer's canopy was longer and more bulbous, to accommodate the longer cockpit with two men. Could you yank it back quick enough to bail out? He hoped so.

At the instructor's command, he swung the turbo into a turn. You couldn't come close to turning as tight as you could in a prop job. But you wouldn't want to dogfight in a Screaming Eagle anyway, not when you could outdive, outclimb, and just plain outrun anything else in the air.

Landing with a nosewheel as the first flight ended felt strange, but he did it. He couldn't stop smiling when he got out of the fighter. If this wasn't love, what was it?

IX

G eorgia. Now Alabama. Cincinnatus Driver didn't care where they sent him. That he could drive through states which didn't come close to bordering the USA shouted louder than any words that the Confederacy was cracking up.

Enemy wireless programs still denied the obvious. They promised vengeance on the United States and swore C.S. victory lay right around the corner. "Those bastards are so full of bullshit, no fuckin' wonder their eyes are brown," Hal Williamson said. He paused to drag on a cigarette. The smoke, like the battery-powered wireless set, was loot from a captured Confederate supply dump. The enemy had destroyed what he could, but he'd had to retreat too fast to get rid of everything.

"We will take our revenge on the damnyankees!" the announcer brayed. "Our rockets will drop from the skies and punish them as they only dream of punishing us! We will wipe their corrupt and filthy cities off the map one after another!"

Cincinnatus lit up a Raleigh of his own. "Turn him off," he said. "Screechin' like that'll ruin my digestion."

"I hear you," Williamson said, and turned the power knob till it clicked. The ranting Confederate broadcaster-he must have studied at the Jake Featherston school of drama-fell silent. Williamson made as if to throw a rock at the set. "Goddamn lying cocksucker."

"Yeah," Cincinnatus said, and hoped he was right. U.S. newscasters went on and on about the German bomb that leveled Petrograd. If the Germans could do something like that, could the Confederates match them? You didn't want to think so, but was it impossible?

Hal's thoughts ran along a different train track: "Besides, where'll the dickheads get their rockets once we're done with Huntsville?"

"Yeah!" This time, Cincinnatus sounded much happier. Everybody knew the enemy rockets came from there. If the Confederates couldn't throw their superbomb at the USA, what good would it do them?

And, even before Huntsville got overrun, it was catching holy hell. Battery upon battery of 105s pounded away at the town. Their muzzle flashes brightened the horizon from the north all the way around to the southeast. The deeper crump! of bursting bombs said U.S. airplanes came over Huntsville, too. How anybody could go on working while high explosives were knocking his city flat was beyond Cincinnatus. The Confederates seemed intent on trying, though.

Before the drivers settled down for the night, they cut cards to see who would stand sentry when. Cincinnatus got a three-hour shift right at the start. That was good news and bad mixed together. He would have to stay awake longer when he was hungrier for sleep than for a good steak. But when he did climb into the cabin of his truck and roll up in blankets, he wouldn't have his sleep interrupted…unless Confederate raiders hit.

And they might. He knew that too well, which was why he carried his submachine gun with the safety off. C.S. regulars were thin on the ground. Raiders, damn them, popped out of nowhere. Some were bypassed soldiers, others civilians with a chip on their shoulder. If they could throw a few grenades or stitch a burst of automatic-weapons fire through a truck park, the damage they did more than paid for itself even if they got scragged.

A lot of the time, they didn't. They disappeared into the darkness and were never seen again. "Bastards," Cincinnatus muttered. His leg hurt. So did his shoulder. They did a lot of the time, even though he took enough aspirins to give himself a perpetual sour stomach. Run out in front of a motorcar and you weren't the same again afterwards.

He prowled around the parked trucks, doing his best to move quietly. Not far away, he heard a sound like crazy screeching. He froze for a second before realizing it was a raccoon. Those unearthly noises could get you going.

His wristwatch had numbers and hands that glowed in the dark. When his stretch on patrol ended, he shook his replacement awake and curled up on the seat of his truck. Whatever happened from then till sunup happened without him.

Somebody had liberated a ham. Toasted over a fire, a thick slab of it was delicious, and beat the hell out of the canned scrambled eggs Cincinnatus also ate. The coffee tasted as if it was at least half chicory. He'd had blends like that when he lived in Covington. He was used to it; he even kind of liked it. Some of the white drivers grumbled.

Hal Williamson put things in perspective: "Shit, guys, it's better than no coffee at all." Nobody found any easy way to argue with that.

The drivers headed for the closest dump to load up with whatever the troops might need today (or whatever the quartermaster had, which wasn't always the same thing). Before they got there, a bird colonel in a command car waved them down. "You men have empty trucks, right?"

"Yeah? So?" the lead driver asked. Being technically a civilian, he could get away with things that would have put a soldier in the stockade. Cincinnatus was only two trucks behind, and could hear everything that went on between the driver and the officer.

That worthy didn't even blink at the near-insubordination. "So you're going to come with me instead of going wherever the hell you were going."

"We can't do that!" the lead driver exclaimed. "They'll have our heads."

"No, they won't," the colonel said. "Whatever you were doing, what I've got for you is more important. Unless you're on your way to pick up a bunch of those kraut superbombs, this trumps everything. And I will have your guts for garters if you fuck with me, buddy-I promise you that."

The lead driver considered, but not for long. "Colonel, you talked me into it," he said. Cincinnatus would have said the same thing; he didn't think the colonel was bluffing.

All the man said after that was, "Follow me." He got into the command car, nudged the driver, and took off. The truck convoy rumbled after him.

They headed straight for Huntsville-straight for the front, in other words. Cincinnatus began to wonder if the colonel wasn't one of those Confederate impostors who showed up every now and then. Even more than raiders, they caused trouble all out of proportion to their numbers. If this son of a bitch was leading a whole column of trucks into an ambush…

Cincinnatus glanced over to the submachine gun beside him. He had as many bullets as he could for the Confederates, and one more for himself afterwards. They wouldn't take him alive no matter what.

The command car pulled up in front of a nondescript factory building-or it would have been, except for the barbed-wire perimeter surrounding it. Soldiers stood at the doorway, soldiers in green-gray uniforms. Cincinnatus breathed a sigh of relief.

"Let them come out!" the colonel shouted. The soldiers waved and nodded. They threw the doors wide.

"Do Jesus!" Cincinnatus gasped. His next thought after an ambush had been that the USA might have overrun another camp where the Confederates got rid of their Negroes. He turned out to be wrong, but what he saw was just about as bad. He hadn't imagined anything could be.

The men who came shambling out were white. They wore striped uniforms, the way convicts had back when Cincinnatus was a kid. The trousers and shirts looked as if they were made for some much larger species. And so they had been-Cincinnatus didn't think any of these skeletons on legs weighed more than 120 pounds. Most of them weren't anywhere close to that. A powerful animal stench came from them.

"Do Jesus!" Cincinnatus said again. He was out of the truck and limping toward them before he thought about what he was doing. He had several ration cans in pouches on his belt. "Here!" he called, and tossed them to the closest captives.

He wasn't the only driver doing the same thing. Anyone who had enough himself-even someone who was only hungry-would have wanted to feed these bright-eyed walking skeletons.

But the food almost touched off a riot. The drivers didn't have enough with them to give everybody some. The starving men who didn't get any tried to steal from the ones who did. Finally, the U.S. guards had to break things up with rifle butts. "Hate to do it," one of them said. "It's like hitting your puppy 'cause he wants a bone. These guys can't help it-they're that hungry. But what can you do? Otherwise, we'll have an even bigger goddamn mess on our hands."

"You'll all get some soon!" the colonel shouted. "Honest to God, you will! That's what the trucks are here for-to take you to where there's food."

That turned the trick. The boneracks in stripes swarmed onto the trucks, which could hold many more of them than of human beings of ordinary dimensions. "Who are you poor bastards?" Cincinnatus asked.

"We're politicals," a scrawny man said, not without pride. "I'm a Whig. I was mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansas." He looked more like a disaster than a one-time public official. A weak breeze-never mind a strong one-would have knocked him over in a heap. "I didn't like the Freedom Party. Still don't, by God. And this is what it bought me."

"What were you doin' in there?" Cincinnatus asked. But the mayor of Fayetteville didn't hang around to chat. That might have cost him a place in a truck, and he wasn't about to take a chance.

One of the guards answered for him: "They were putting rockets together, that's what-the big mothers that go miles and miles. Featherston's fuckers figured they might as well work 'em to death as just shoot 'em."

"Oh," Cincinnatus said in a hollow voice. When the guard said work 'em to death, he wasn't kidding. Some of the men still coming out of the factory would plainly die before they got fed. The dreadful odor that accompanied them from the building said more than a few men were already dead in there.

And yet…What happened to these political prisoners was horrible, no doubt about it. But they still got to try to stay alive. Some of them might have staved off death since before the war began.

The Confederacy's Negroes never got even that much of a chance. They went into camps-and they didn't come out. The politicals who hated the Freedom Party still labored for the Confederate States. Negroes would have done the same…had anyone asked them to.

Nobody seemed to have. The Freedom Party and a lot of white Confederates wanted their Negroes dead-and they got what they wanted. As horrible as this was, it could have been worse. That was, perhaps, the scariest thought of all.

As Cincinnatus got back into the cab of his deuce-and-a-half, he also wondered whether that bird colonel would have made such a fuss if the rocket factory were full of Negro laborers. He shrugged; he couldn't be sure one way or the other. But if he had his doubts-well, who could blame him, considering all the things he'd seen, all the things he'd escaped?

None of which made the plight of the starving, stinking politicals who jammed the back of the truck anything less than dreadful. Yes, if they were black they would have been dead already. But they couldn't last long as things were. Cincinnatus put the truck in gear and drove them off toward whatever help the U.S. Army could give.

E ven with no more than a scratch force of guards, Camp Humble went right on doing what it was designed to do: reducing population. Jefferson Pinkard was proud of that. He was proud of the men he had left, and he was proud of the way he'd designed the camp. It was so smooth, it almost ran itself. You just didn't need a whole lot of guards to herd Negroes from the trains to the trucks and bathhouses, and then to chuck bodies into the crematoria. Everything went as smoothly as it did in any other well-run factory.

Every few weeks, the latest batch of Negro trusties who thought they'd dodged death by playing along discovered they'd made their last mistake. The only thing Jeff kept on being unhappy about was the ovens. The company that made them had come out a couple of times to try to get them to perform better, but without much luck. Pinkard's conclusion was that the contractor had sold him a bill of goods from the start. The greasy black smoke that belched from the stacks and the burnt-meat stench that went with it were part of the operation, and he couldn't do a thing about it.

Trains still brought Negroes to the camp, trains from Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and Arkansas and Texas. He'd also had loads of blacks from Florida and Cuba arrive. The local authorities rounded up their Negroes and sent them to Houston or Galveston by ship. He'd heard reports that subs operating in the Gulf of Mexico had sunk some of those ships. That was funny, in a grim way: the damnyankees were doing some of the Confederacy's work for it.

The telephone on his desk rang. He scowled. Why couldn't people just leave him alone and let him take care of his job? It rang again. Scowling still, he picked it up. "Pinkard here," he rasped.

"This here's Lou Doggett, General," the mayor of Humble said. Pinkard wasn't a general; he had a Party rank instead. But he didn't argue. He'd been a PFC the last time around. If somebody wanted to call him General, he didn't mind a bit.

"What's up?" he asked now.

"Well, I'll tell you, General-the wind's blowing this way from your camp, and it's pretty bad," Doggett answered. "This ain't how you told me it was gonna be when you put that camp in."

"It ain't the way I thought it was gonna be, neither," Jeff answered. "But it's the way it is. I don't know what else I can tell you."

"If it don't get better pretty damn quick, I'm gonna talk to the Governor," the mayor warned.

Jeff Pinkard laughed. "Go right ahead. You do that. Be my guest. You reckon the Governor amounts to anything when you set him next to Ferd Koenig and Jake Featherston?"

To his surprise, the mayor of Humble answered, "Matter of fact, General, I sure do. Richmond's gone. Even if it wasn't, there's damnyankees in between here and there. What the hell can Koenig and Featherston do way out here?"

He might be right. A nasty chill of fear ran through Pinkard when he realized as much. Like any government, the Confederacy ran because people agreed it ought to. What happened if they stopped agreeing? What happened if Texas Rangers came out here with guns? How could you know ahead of time?

"Let me ask you a question, your Honor," Pinkard said heavily. "Who went down on his knees beggin' for me to put this here camp where it's at? Who damn near jizzed in his dungarees when I said I would? Was that anybody who looks like you?"

"That was then," Doggett returned. "You didn't tell me it was gonna stink the way it does and belch out black smoke you can see for miles."

"I didn't know, goddammit. Those bastards who put in the ovens and the stacks went and rooked me," Jeff said. "But even if it does stink, it's doing something the country needs. You gonna try and tell me I'm wrong?"

"Well, no. I got no more use for coons'n any other decent, God-fearing white man does," the mayor said. "But godalmightydamn, General, it sure does stink. Makes the whole town smell like a barbecue pit some stupid fool went and forgot about. You're in a fancy uniform, so you get to give orders. Me, I got voted in, and I got a hell of a lot of people here in Humble who sure ain't gonna vote for me again 'cause of that smell. I mean, gettin' rid o' niggers is one thing. Doin' it so you can smell 'em roast-that's a whole different story."

"You want to eat roast beef, but you don't want to butcher your cow," Jeff said. "Camp's gotta be somewhere. I liked it where it was at before, too, but the damnyankees went and ran us out of there. That ain't my fault."

"I didn't say it was, but it's another problem. Suppose we go and lose the war."

"That's defeatism," Jeff said automatically.

The mayor of Humble astonished him by replying, "Oh, cut the crap, General. We're fucked, and you know it as well as I do. Like I said, Richmond's gone. They chopped us in half in Georgia. The President's on the run. How are we gonna win? I wish we could, but I ain't a blind man. And suppose we lose, like I said. What if the damnyankee soldiers march in here and ask, 'What the devil were you doin' with a murder camp there on your doorstep, Mr. Mayor?' What do I tell 'em then, hey?"

"Fuck," Pinkard muttered under his breath. That was insubordination so bad, it was damn near treason. Or it would have been, if it weren't such a good question.

Suppose we do go and surrender. Suppose the Yankees do come marching in. What do I tell them? The only answer that came to mind was, I was just doing what the bigwigs in Richmond told me to do. Would they buy that? What would they do to him if they didn't?

"General? Hey, General! You there?" How long had Doggett been yelling in his ear? A little while, evidently. He'd had other things to worry about.

"Yeah? What is it?" he managed, dragging himself back to the business at hand.

"You don't get that camp cleaned up in jig time, I will talk to Governor Patman. You see if I don't."

"You'll be sorry if you do." Jeff thought he meant that, anyway. He knew damn well he had more firepower than the Texas Rangers could bring to bear against him. But whether his guards had the will to fight other Confederate white men…He wasn't so sure about that. He hoped like anything he wouldn't have to find out.

"If you're smart, General, you'll take off your uniform, put your wife an' young 'uns in a civilian motorcar, and head for some town where nobody knows your face. You think the damnyankees'll have questions to ask me? What'll they say to you?"

Pinkard hung up. He did it by sheer reflex. The mayor's thoughts didn't just run parallel to his. They'd got ahead of them on the same road. If U.S. soldiers came here, they would have things to say to him.

Unpleasant things.

"But I can't leave," he said aloud. No matter what the Yankees had to say to him, he was proud of everything he'd done here, and over in Snyder, and outside of Alexandria, too. He'd had an important job to do, and he'd done it well. If not for him, the whole population-reduction program would have been a hell of a lot less efficient. Didn't that count for anything?

The Attorney General thought so. Hell, the President of the Confederate States of America thought so. What else mattered?

Nothing else mattered-as long as his side was calling the shots. Never mind Texas Rangers. U.S. soldiers wouldn't like what he'd done. And the main reason they wouldn't like it-or so things seemed to him-was that his own side did.

"Fuck 'em," Jeff muttered. "Fuck 'em all."

He wondered whether Mayor Doggett would send cops around to give Edith and the boys a hard time. He didn't intend to put up with anything like that. Maybe his guards would have trouble against the Rangers. Against this little town's one-lung police force, though, they could start a reign of terror.

No sooner had that crossed his mind than the telephone rang again. He said some things that should have melted the glass out of the windows in his office. What did Doggett want now? "Pinkard here," he snarled.

"Jeff, it's me." That wasn't the mayor-it was Edith. "My pains have started. We're going to have us a baby."

"Oh, good God!" Jeff said, mentally apologizing to the Lord whose name he'd done worse than take in vain a moment before. "You ready to go down to Houston?"

"I sure am!" his wife answered. "Miss Todd next door, she'll take care of Willie and Frank till you can get home."

"I'll send a guard with an auto for you right away," Jeff said. He couldn't leave the camp himself right now, especially not after the brawl with the mayor. Humble wasn't big enough to boast a hospital of its own. But it was only twenty miles from Houston, so that shouldn't matter.

He summoned a reliable troop leader to drive one of the Birminghams attached to Camp Humble. As he gave the three-striper his orders, he thought, Damn, I wish Hip Rodriguez was still around to do this for me. His old Army buddy would have done it right, one hundred percent guaranteed. Oh, Porter was more than reliable enough, but still… As always, Pinkard knew a moment of pained incomprehension when he thought about Hipolito Rodriguez. What the devil made Hip eat his submachine gun? He was doing a good job, and doing a job that needed doing.

That was something to brood on as he poured himself a big snort from the highly unofficial bottle in a desk drawer. He couldn't have taken the whiskey along if he had torn himself away from this and gone to the hospital. What could he do in the waiting room, anyway? Worry. He could do that here, too. He could, and he did.

Dammit, what possessed Hip to do that? He didn't see any damnyankee writing on the wall; things were going well enough when he shot himself. Why, then? It was as if he'd suddenly decided he'd made some vast mistake, and blowing off the top of his head was the only way he could fix it.

"But that's crazy," Jeff said, taking a slug from the drink. "Just plain old crazy." It wasn't as if Hip didn't believe in getting rid of Negroes. He couldn't have had woman troubles, either. Jeff knew Hip got laid every once in a while on the women's side. Not many male guards didn't. (For that matter, the same was true of female guards.) He felt guilty about fooling around on his wife-Jeff remembered as much from the Great War. But he didn't feel all that guilty, which Jeff also knew.

So what went wrong, then? The obvious answer-that Hip couldn't stand killing people any more even if they were black-stared Pinkard in the face. It had ever since Rodriguez shot himself. And ever since then, Jeff had stubbornly refused to look at it.

He didn't change now. He'd come too far down this road to change…unless he put the barrel of a gun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger. He refused to look at doing that, either. Instead, he finished the drink and poured another one.

He kept on drinking for the next seven hours. The camp didn't fall to pieces in that time, which was just as well, because he wouldn't have cared if it had. He spilled whiskey when the telephone rang. "Pinkard here," he slurred.

"Congratulations, sir! Your wife is fine, and you've got a boy!" Troop Leader Porter said. "What'll you name him?"

"Raymond," Jeff answered at once-drunk or sober, he knew. "Raymond Longstreet Pinkard." He knew where he stood, too, even now.

E very time Irving Morrell came into Philadelphia, the city looked worse. The Confederates kept finding new ways to hit the de facto capital of the USA. U.S. forces had driven the Confederates from their own capital and held bridgeheads across the James. The rocket factories in Huntsville were history. But Jake Featherston's forces kept launching their damn birds. Not all of them had been driven out of range of Philly, not yet. Their bombers still managed to sneak up here by night, too. Fresh craters and wrecked buildings loudly insisted the war wasn't over yet.

But the people in Philadelphia had a jaunty spring in their step that wasn't there the last time Morrell came into town. Maybe it was all the general's imagination, but he didn't think so. Folks figured things were on the downhill slope. And, by God, they had plenty of good reasons to think so.

Not without pride, Morrell knew he'd given them more than a few of those good reasons himself.

His driver, a sergeant with a Purple Heart and three oak-leaf clusters-not the kind of decoration anybody in his right mind would want to win-said, "We've got those cocksuckers whipped, don't we, sir?"

"Well, we'd have to screw up pretty good to blow things now," Morrell allowed. "Are you on permanent light duty, Sergeant, or will you go back to the front? You're two wounds ahead of me, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

"I'll be at it again in a couple of weeks, sir," the noncom answered. "None of 'em's been real bad. I limp a little from the latest one, and I've lost a finger, but the other two…hell, I don't even notice 'em if I don't see the scars. For a guy who's not real lucky, I'm pretty lucky, you know?"

"Yeah," Morrell said, and he did. The way the sergeant put it was kind of loopy, but it made sense anyway. The Ford rolled past a wall with a few bomb scars and a big splash of dried blood. Morrell was afraid he knew what that meant: "People bomb?"

"Afraid so, sir. They think this one was a diehard Mormon. He took out four or five soldiers when he went."

"Damn," Morrell said. How long would the USA-and other countries all over the world-have to worry about people willing, even eager, to die for their cause? Get some dynamite, some nails or scrap metal, and there you were: your own artillery shell. And you could aim yourself better than the best gunner in the world. The assumption in war had always been that the other guy didn't want to die. How were you supposed to protect yourself against somebody who did?

"Mormons. Canucks. Confederates," the sergeant said mournfully. "Even what they call peace won't be the same."

"I was just thinking the same thing," Morrell said. "I don't know what to do about it. If you get any brainstorms, for Christ's sake tell the War Department. You'll be a captain faster than you can blink."

"No offense, sir, but I don't know if I want to be an officer." With some relief, the noncom hit the brakes in front of the War Department. "Here you go. You don't even have to tip me."

"Heh," Morrell said. He stepped between concrete barriers that kept autos from getting too close: they could carry a lot more explosives than mere people could. The War Department building had a big chunk bitten out of a corner. Those C.S. rockets weren't supposed to be real accurate, but one seemed to have landed right on the money.

Not even stars on his shoulder straps kept him from having to show his ID, or from getting patted down after he did. He submitted without a murmur; times were still dangerous. Once he'd placated the entrance dragons, an escort took him down to General Staff headquarters.

It hadn't been buried so deep the last time he came to the War Department. Of course, if it weren't now, it might have gone sky high when that rocket came down. "Here's General Abell's office, sir," the escort said. "Telephone when you need to come up again, and somebody will take you."

"Thanks," Morrell said. The kid gave him a crisp salute and hurried down the corridor. Morrell was much less eager to enter John Abell's sanctum, but he did.

"Welcome," the General Staff officer said with what passed for warmth from him. Brigadier General Abell sometimes reminded Morrell of a ghost mostly congealed into the real world. He was tall and thin and pale, and so cool of manner that he sometimes hardly seemed there at all. The General Staff suited him perfectly; he was a dab hand at moving divisions around, but would have been hopeless with dirty, smelly, wisecracking, foul-mouthed soldiers.

"Thanks," Morrell answered, and couldn't help adding, "See? It wasn't a two-year campaign after all."

"So it wasn't. Congratulations." Yes, Abell was in a gracious mood. "We managed to attrit the enemy so he couldn't resist with as much persistence as I thought he might utilize when we first broached the issue early last year."

Morrell distrusted officers who said utilize when they meant use. As for attrit…Well, obviously it came from attrition, but that didn't mean he ever wanted to hear it again. He managed a nod.

That seemed to satisfy John Abell. "The question now, of course, is, Where do we go from here?"

He could speak clear English when he wanted to. Why didn't he want to more often? "On the western flank, Birmingham and Huntsville are pretty much in the bag," Morrell said. "We're hitting Selma and Mobile hard from the air. We'll get to 'em before too long. New Orleans…Well, we can bomb it. If we smash the levees, we can flood a lot of it. But we won't get soldiers there any time soon."

"A reasonable estimate," Abell agreed. "And in the east?"

"I'm shifting most of the effort there up into South Carolina," Morrell replied. "Charleston, Columbia…If the General Staff has a different idea, I expect you'll let me know." He wondered if that was part of the reason he'd been summoned to Philadelphia. What did they think he would do if he stayed down in the Confederacy and got orders he didn't like? Set up on his own? He admired Napoleon as a soldier, but not as a politician.

"At present, no. That seems adequate, or more than adequate," John Abell said. He acted nervous, though.

For a moment, that made no sense at all to Morrell. The United States was manifestly winning the war. They'd cut the CSA in half. The campaign in Virginia was going well at last. Even the minor struggles in Arkansas and Sequoyah and west Texas all inclined toward the USA. So why wasn't Abell even happier?

Morrell didn't expect hosannas and backflips from the General Staff officer. He'd known Abell too long and too well for that. But still…Then a light went on, a light as bright and terrible as the sun. "That goddamn superbomb!" Morrell exclaimed. "How close is Featherston?" He didn't ask how close his own country was. That, he assumed, would be a secret more tightly held than the other.

"Ah. Good. You do understand the basic difficulty under which we labor," Abell said. "The answer is, we just don't know-and that is our principal area of concern at this point in time."

"I can see how it might be," Morrell said dryly. If the Confederates could blow a city off the map with one bomb, they hadn't lost yet, not by a long chalk. "We are trying to do something about this?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," John Abell said. "Before too much longer, the question may be moot, but at the moment it remains relevant."

And what was that supposed to mean? Were the United States about to capture the CSA's superbomb works? Or was his country close to getting a superduperbomb of its own? "Anything you can tell me without bringing the wrath of the great god Security down on your head?" Morrell inquired.

"Our own research along those lines is making good progress," Abell said, and not another word.

Even that much was more than Morrell expected. "Well, all right," he said, and took out two packs of Dukes. He pulled a cigarette from one and stuck it in his mouth; the other he tossed on Abell's desk. "Here you go. Spoils of war."

"Thanks." Abell opened the pack and held out a cigarette. Morrell gave him a light. The General Staff officer never went near the front. He probably got sick of the nasty U.S. tobacco-unless other officers who wanted to stay on his good side kept him in smokes. Maybe his desk was full of them. You never could tell.

"Those bombs are going to change the way we fight. They'll change the way everybody fights," Morrell said.

"We are commencing studies on that topic," Abell said.

"How? We don't know enough yet," Morrell said. "And that reminds me-how come the Kaiser hasn't flattened London or Paris? Did he only have the one bomb? How long till he gets another one?"

"I don't know the answer to that," Abell replied, "but I do have an idea why Petrograd went up in smoke and the Western capitals haven't."

"I'm all ears," Morrell said.

"Prevailing winds," Abell told him. "These bombs spew poison into the air, and the wind can carry it a long way. From Petrograd, the stuff goes deeper into Russia. From London or Paris, the Germans could give themselves a present."

"A present they want like a hole in the head," Morrell said. John Abell nodded. Morrell stubbed out his cigarette and shuddered. "That makes these damn things even worse than I thought."

"The only thing worse than using them on somebody is somebody else using them on you," Abell said.

"Have we stopped the Confederates from using one on us?"

"We hope so."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Morrell asked.

"They're working on this thing in a Virginia mountain town. We have bombed it so heavily, next to nothing is left aboveground," the General Staff officer replied.

Morrell had listened to a lot of presentations. He could hear what wasn't said as well as what was. "What are they doing underground?"

"Well, we don't precisely know." Abell sounded as uncomfortable as he ever did. "They've burrowed like moles since the bombing started. That's why I hope we've kept their program from producing a uranium bomb, but I can't be sure we have."

"Terrific," Morrell said. "How do we find out for sure?"

"If they use one on us, we failed," Abell said. "It's as simple as that, I'm afraid."

"Oh, boy," Morrell said in distinctly hollow tones. "That's encouraging." He looked up at God only knew how many feet of steel and concrete over his head. "If they drop one on Philadelphia, will it get us all the way down here?"

"I don't think they can do that, anyhow," Abell replied. "I'm told a uranium bomb is too heavy for any airplane they have. We're having to modify our bombers to carry the load."

"Mm. Well, I guess that's good news. So they've got to wait till their rockets get out of short pants, then? Or do they have an extra-special rocket ready to go?"

"We don't believe so," John Abell said. "But then, we didn't know about the ones they do have till they started firing them at us."

"Tell you one thing," Morrell said as he lit another cigarette. Abell made a questioning noise. Morrell explained: "You sure know how to cheer a guy up."

Y ankee bombers still didn't come over Lexington, Virginia, very often in the daytime. C.S. fighters and heavy flak made that an expensive proposition. Clarence Potter thanked God for small favors. He would have thanked God more for big ones, but the Deity didn't seem inclined to give the Confederate States any of those nowadays.

A crane swayed a crate into the cargo bed of a truck that looked ordinary but wasn't. This machine had a very special suspension. Even so, the springs groaned as the crate came down.

Potter watched the loading process with Professor Henderson FitzBelmont. "You're sure this damn thing will work?" Potter said.

FitzBelmont looked at him. "No."

"Thanks a lot, Professor," Potter said. "You sure know how to cheer a guy up."

"Would you rather have me lie to you?" FitzBelmont asked.

"Right now, I really think I would," Clarence Potter told him. "I hate to try this if there's an even-money chance we'll get nothing but a squib."

FitzBelmont shrugged. "It's untested. Ideally, we would have more time and more weapons. Things being as they are…"

"Well, yes. There is that," Potter said. Just getting back to Lexington from Petersburg had been nightmare enough. "All right. We'll try it, and we'll see what happens, that's all. Wish us luck."

"I do," Professor FitzBelmont said. "In my own way, I'm a patriot, too." His way wasn't so different from Potter's. Neither man went around shouting, Freedom! They both loved the Confederate States all the same.

Potter climbed into the cab of the truck next to the driver, a sergeant. "We ready, sir?" the noncom asked in accents not much different from Potter's own.

"If we're not, we never will be-which is, of course, always a possibility," the Intelligence officer said. The sergeant looked confused. "We're ready, Wilton," Potter assured him. "Now we see what happens."

Several command cars and armored cars rolled north and slightly east with the special truck. Everybody in them spoke the same kind of English as Clarence Potter: all the men could pass for Yankees, in other words. Both sides had used that trick during the war whenever they thought they could get away with it. One more time, Potter thought. It's coming down toward the end, but we're going to try it one more time.

In the War of Secession, Stonewall Jackson had played the Shenandoah Valley like a master violinist. In his hands, it turned into a dagger, an invasion route aimed straight at the USA's heart. The same thing happened again during the Great War, with the Confederate charge that almost got to Philadelphia. After 1917, the United States occupied the northern end of the Valley and fortified it so the Confederate States couldn't try that again. And Jake Featherston didn't; he drove up through Ohio instead.

The Shenandoah Valley was also the CSA's granary. The United States, busy elsewhere and fighting for survival, hadn't tried to take the Valley away from the Confederacy. They had dropped a hell of a lot of incendiaries on it. One U.S. wag was supposed to have said that a crow flying up the Shenandoah Valley would have to carry its own provisions.

Things weren't quite so bad as that-but they sure weren't good. Potter drove past too many fields whose main crops were ash and charcoal, past too many barns and farmhouses that were nothing but burnt-out skeletons of their old selves. Even after a wet winter, the air smelled smoky.

He had bigger worries than the way the air smelled. The first time they came to a bridge, he said, "This is what they call a moment of truth."

"Sir?" Sergeant Wilton said. "They're supposed to have strengthened it."

"I know." Potter left it right there. The Confederate States were in their death agony. He knew it, even if Wilton didn't. Things that were supposed to get done might…or they might not. You never could tell. And if they didn't…I'm screwed, Potter thought. Only one way to find out. "Take it across," he said.

"Yes, sir." The driver did. The bridge held. Potter breathed a sigh of relief. Now-how many more bridges across the winding Shenandoah before they got to the head of the Valley? How many bridges beyond that? Again, only one way to find out.

They made it over, again and again. The truck's transmission and engine weren't happy; they'd been beefed up, too, but they were even more overstrained than the suspension. If the damn thing crapped out…well, they had some spare parts, but it wouldn't be good news.

Potter tensed again-for the millionth time-when they came into Luray, the northernmost town in the Valley the CSA held, just as the sun was setting. If things there weren't ready, they were screwed again. But the stuff they needed was waiting for them. Potter let out one more sigh of relief.

But for the caves outside of town and a nitrates plant that had drawn its share of U.S. bombs, Luray's chief claim to fame was a two-and-a-half-story brick courthouse near the center of town. Potter's convoy stopped there. A work crew dashed out and spread canvas over the truck and the vehicles accompanying it. Then, under that cover, they got to work, slapping green-gray paint over the butternut that had identified them. As soon as the paint was even close to dry, they put U.S. markings all over the machines. Those couldn't hide their Confederate lines, of course, but after almost three years of war both sides were using lots of captured equipment.

And the disguise didn't end with the truck and the armored cars and command cars. Potter and his comrades put on U.S. uniforms. He became a major, which suited him well enough. If the damnyankees captured him in their togs, they'd shoot him. He shrugged. At the moment, that was the least of his worries.

"You have the passwords and countersigns?" he asked the veteran first sergeant in charge of the unit there.

"Yes, sir, sure do. We went out and took a couple of prisoners less than an hour ago," the noncom answered. He was of about Potter's vintage, a man who'd been through the Great War and didn't flabble about anything. He gave Potter what he needed.

Potter wrote it down to be sure. "Thanks," he said. The retread sergeant nodded. The patch over his left eye and the hook sticking out of his left tunic cuff told why he was in a backwater like this. Despite them, he was a better man than most at the front.

The chameleon convoy rolled out of Luray before sunup. Potter wanted to get into U.S.-held territory while it was still dark. That would help keep his vehicles from giving themselves away right where people were most likely to get antsy about them.

Yankee country started just a couple of miles north of Luray. If somebody'd spilled the beans-not impossible with the CSA visibly coming to pieces-a couple of companies of real U.S. soldiers could have swooped down and ended a lovely scheme before it really got rolling.

But no. The sergeant's raid for prisoners hadn't even made the U.S. forces jumpy. Potter and his merry band got several miles into Yankeeland before they came to a checkpoint. The passwords he'd picked up in Luray worked fine. A kid second lieutenant asked, "What is all this crap, uh, sir?"

"Matйriel captured from Featherston's fuckers," Potter answered crisply-he knew what the enemy called his side. "We're taking it north for evaluation."

"Nobody told me," the shavetail complained.

"It's a war," Potter said with more patience than he felt. "They wouldn't tell you your name if you hadn't had it issued ahead of time."

"No shit!" the lieutenant said, laughing. "All right, sir-pass on."

On they passed. The sun came up. They crossed over the Shenandoah again at Front Royal. Nobody on their side had specially reinforced that bridge. "Think it'll take the strain, sir?" Wilton asked.

"If they ever sent a barrel over it, it will," Potter said. "Barrels are a hell of a lot heavier than this baby."

They made it. They stopped at a fuel dump and gassed up, then went on. The farther they got from the front line, the less attention U.S. soldiers paid them. They just seemed to be men doing a job. One nine-year-old kid by the side of the road gaped, though. He knew they were driving C.S. vehicles-Potter could tell. He probably knew every machine and weapon on both sides better than the guys who used them did. Plenty of kids like that down in the CSA, too. It was a game to them. It wasn't a game to Clarence Potter.

Harpers Ferry. John Brown had come here, trying to start a slave uprising. Robert E. Lee led the men who captured him. And, three years later, Lee came through again on the campaign that won the Confederate States their independence. Maybe this trip north would help them keep it.

Over the Potomac. Into Maryland. Into the USA proper. Potter had come this way almost exactly thirty years earlier, with the Army of Northern Virginia's thrust toward Philadelphia. They'd fallen short then. Had they taken the de facto capital, they might have had a triumphant six weeks' war. Jake Featherston had hoped for the same thing this time around. What you hoped for and what you got weren't always the same, dammit.

Maryland looked prosperous; Pennsylvania, when they got there, even more so. Oh, Potter spied bomb damage here and there, but only here and there. This land hadn't been fought over the way so much of the CSA had. It had got nibbled, but not chewed up. The United States was too big a place for bombing alone to chew them up. Pittsburgh, now, Pittsburgh probably looked as if it had had a proper war, but Potter and his band of cutthroats headed east, not west.

Drivers in military vehicles coming the other way waved to him and honked their horns as they passed. He always waved back. They figured he was returning from the front with something important. Nobody bothered checking his papers or asking him where he was going or why. The United States were a big place. Once beyond the usual military zone, security for people who looked and sounded like U.S. soldiers eased off. He'd counted on that when he put this scheme together.

Jake Featherston wanted him to go all the way into downtown Philadelphia. He didn't intend to. There of all places, security would tighten up again. He couldn't afford to have anybody ask questions too soon. Some overeager goon with a Tommy gun or a captured automatic Tredegar could mess everything up if he got suspicious at just the wrong time.

No, not downtown. Potter stopped west of it, on the far side of the Schuylkill River. At his order, Wilton pulled into a parking lot. Potter ducked into the back of the truck and set two timers on the side of the crate-he wasn't going to take chances with only one. The driver, meanwhile, raised the hood.

"What's going on?" somebody called.

"Damn thing's broken down," Wilton answered. "We've got to round up a mechanic somewhere."

He and Potter jumped into one of the command cars. "Back the way we came," Potter said. "Fast as you can go." He eyed the man who'd questioned them. The fellow only shrugged and ambled into a shop. Maybe he'd seen breakdowns before.

"How long, sir?" asked the corporal behind the command car's wheel.

"Not long enough," Potter said. "Step on it."

Fifteen minutes later, the world blew up behind them.

I rving Morrell wasn't looking west when the bomb went off. He was standing at a counter, trying to decide between a chocolate bar and a roll of mints. All of a sudden, the light swelled insanely, printing his shadow on the wall in back of the sidewalk stand. The fat little old woman behind the counter screeched and covered her eyes with her hands.

"Good God!" Morrell said, even before the roar of the explosion reached him. His first thought was that an ammo dump somewhere had blown sky high. He didn't think of a bomb. The explosion seemed much too big for that.

He forgot about the candy and ran out into the street. Then he realized just how lucky he'd been, because a lot of windows had turned to knife-edged flying shards of glass. The magazine stand and snack counter where he'd been dithering didn't have a window of any sort, so he'd escaped that, anyhow.

He stopped and stared. He wasn't the only one. Everybody out there was looking west with the same expression of slack-jawed disbelief. No one had ever seen anything like that rising, boiling, roiling cloud before. How high did it climb? Three miles? Four? Five? He had no idea. The colors put him in mind of food-salmon, peach, apricot. The top of the cloud swelled out from the base, as if it were a toadstool the size of a god.

The roar came then, not just in his ears but all through his body. He staggered like a drunken man. But it wasn't his balance going; the ground shook under his feet. A blast of wind from nowhere staggered him. Also out of nowhere, rain started pelting down. The drops were enormous. They left black splashes when they hit the ground. When one hit his hand, he jerked in surprise-the rain was hot.

"Where's it at?" somebody asked.

"Across the river, looks like," a woman said.

It looked that way to Morrell, too. The rain shower didn't last more than a couple of minutes. It hadn't ended before he started trying to scrub the filthy drops from his skin. He remembered what John Abell had told him a few days before: uranium bombs put out poison. And what else could that horrible thing be? No ammunition dump in the world blew up like that.

How much poison was in the rain? How much was in that monstrous toadstool cloud? Am I a dead man walking? he wondered.

"We gotta go help," said the man who'd asked where the blast was. He hurried toward the Schuylkill River.

His courage and resolve shamed Morrell. Of course, the stranger-who was plump and fiftyish, with a gray mustache-didn't know what Morrell did. If ignorance was bliss…

After a moment's hesitation, Morrell followed. If he was already poisoned, then he was, that was all. Nothing he could do about it now. Overhead, that cloud grew taller and wider. Winds began to tear at it and tug it out of shape…and blow it toward downtown Philadelphia.

Crowds got worse the farther west Morrell went. Everybody was pointing and staring and gabbling. You fools! Don't you realize you might all be dead? No, Morrell didn't shout it out. But it filled his thoughts.

Damage got worse the farther west he went, too. All the windows that had survived years of Confederate air raids were blown out. Motorcars and trucks had windows shattered, too. Drivers, their faces masks of blood, staggered moaning through the streets. Many of them clutched at their eyes. Morrell knew what that was bound to mean: they had glass in them.

As he neared Philadelphia's second river, he saw buildings brutally pushed down and vehicles flipped onto their sides or upside down. Some men stopped to help the injured. Others pressed on.

And then Morrell got a chance to look across the Schuylkill. That part of the city was almost as heavily built up as downtown. Or rather, it had been. Next to Morrell, a skinny woman crossed herself. He felt like doing the same thing. Almost everything over there was knocked flat. A few buildings that must have been uncommonly strong still stood up from the rubble, but only a few.

A bridge across the Schuylkill survived, though it leaned drunkenly to one side. How long it would stay up, God only knew. People staggered across it from the west. Some had had the clothes burned off of them. Morrell saw several with one side of their face badly seared and the other fine: they must have stood in profile to the bomb when it went off.

"His shadow!" a dreadfully burned man babbled. "I saw his shadow on the sidewalk, all printed like, but not a thing left of George!" He slumped down and mercifully passed out. Morrell wondered whether he would ever wake. He might be luckier not to.

A loudspeaker started to blare: "All military personnel! Report at once to your duty stations! All military personnel! Report at once to-"

Morrell didn't exactly have a duty station. He headed back to the War Department. The catastrophe across the river was bigger than any one man. And he had a better chance of finding out what was going on at the military's nerve center.

So he thought, anyway. But one of the guards who patted him down asked, "What the hell happened, sir? Do you know?"

"Not exactly," Morrell answered. "I was hoping people here did."

Before a private took him down to John Abell's office, he paused in a men's room and washed off as much of the filthy rainwater as he could. "Why are you doing that, sir?" asked the kid, who went in with him.

"Just in case," Morrell answered. Getting rid of the horrible stuff wouldn't hurt. He was sure of that.

Abell always looked pale. He seemed damn near transparent now. He might have aged ten years in the few days since Morrell last saw him. "My God!" he said. "They beat us to the punch. I didn't think they could, but they did."

"Have you been up top?" Morrell asked. "Did you see it with your own eyes?"

"No." Abell had always wanted to deal with things from a distance. Was that a strength or a weakness? Probably both at once, Morrell thought. The General Staff officer went on, "How did they get it here? They couldn't have used an airplane-I swear to God they don't have a machine that can carry it. And our Y-ranging gear didn't spot a thing coming up from the south."

"They must have sneaked it in, God damn them," Morrell said. "Remember how they broke through in eastern Ohio? They had a whole battalion of guys in our uniforms, in our vehicles, who could talk like us. What do you want to bet they did the same damn thing again-and made it work?" He'd made it work himself, getting over the Tennessee River in front of Chattanooga.

Abell managed a shaky nod. Then he reached for a telephone. "With a little luck, they won't get away. We can shoot every last one of them if we catch them in our uniforms."

Morrell nodded. That was what the laws of war said. Whether the USA would want to shoot those Confederates if it caught them might be a different story. How much could they tell interrogators about their uranium-bomb project?

"We'd better catch them," Abell said as he slammed down the telephone after barking into it with unaccustomed heat. "They can't get away with that. How many thousands of people did they just murder?"

Would it have been better had the enemy dropped the bomb out of an airplane and then flown away? Would it have been better had he dropped ton after ton of ordinary bombs instead, or machine-gunned as many people as he'd killed in this one blast? Morrell found himself shaking his head. It wouldn't have been any better, but it would have been more familiar. That mattered, too. The uranium bomb was something brand new. Poison gas had carried some of that same whiff of horror during the last war. People took it for granted now.

Would they come to take uranium bombs for granted, too? How could they, when each one could devastate a city? And these were just the early ones. Would next year's model level a whole county, or maybe a state?

"My God," Abell said again. "Those stinking crackers…and they beat us. There won't be one stone left on top of another one by the time our bombers get through with Lexington-I'll tell you that."

The last time he and Morrell talked about uranium bombs, he'd waltzed around the name of the town where the CSA was working on them. This time, he'd slipped. He was human after all, and would probably have to do penance before the altar of Security the Almighty.

He realized as much a few seconds too late. "You didn't hear that from me," he said in some embarrassment.

"Hear what?" Morrell asked innocently.

"I wonder if we could drive down the Shenandoah Valley and take that place away from them," Abell said. Even though he was embarrassed, now that the cat was out of the bag he was letting it run around.

"Wouldn't take long to pull an assault force together." Morrell spoke with the assurance of a veteran field commander. "Don't know how hard the Confederates would fight back-hard as they can, I bet. Now that they've used one bomb, how long do they need to build another one?"

"That I can't tell you, because I don't know. I wouldn't tell you even if I did, but I don't," Abell said. "Days? Weeks? Months? Twenty minutes? I just have no idea."

"All right," Morrell said. The General Staff officer was liable to lie about something like that, but Morrell didn't think he was, not this time. He went on, "This would have been a lot worse if they'd brought it here by the government buildings instead of blowing it up across the river."

"I don't think they could have-it wouldn't have been easy, anyhow," Abell said. "We search autos and trucks before we let them in here. Auto bombs are bad enough, but put a couple of tons of high explosive in a truck…" He didn't finish, or need to. "One of those was plenty to make us clamp down."

"Good for you, then. You just saved the President and Congress and us. I mean, I hope you did." Morrell told him about the black rain. "Exactly how dangerous is that stuff, anyway?"

"We'll all find out. I don't know the details. I'm not sure anybody does." Abell looked down at his own soft, immaculately tended hands. "I do believe you were wise to wash off as much as you could. It's like X-rays: you want to keep the exposure to a minimum."

Morrell looked at his own hands and at his uniform, which still bore the marks of those unnatural drops. Were there little X-ray machines in them? Something like that, he supposed. Maybe there were more in the dust in the air. "We sure never learned any of this stuff at West Point," he said.

"Who knew back then?" John Abell said. "Nobody, that's who. Half of what we learned just went obsolete."

"More than half," Morrell said. "New rules from now on."

"If we live long enough," Abell said.

"Yeah. If." Morrell looked at his splotched uniform again. "I think the new Rule Number One is, Don't get in a war with anybody who's got this damn bomb."

"A little too late for that now," the General Staff officer pointed out.

"Don't remind me," Morrell said.

I 'm Jake Featherston, and I'm here to tell you the truth."

This wasn't the familiar studio in Richmond, from which Jake Featherston had bellowed defiance at the world since the days when he was a discredited rabble-rouser at the head of a withering Freedom Party. He had no idea whether that wireless studio still stood. He would have bet against it. Richmond had fallen, but the Confederates put up a hell of a fight before they finally pulled out.

Portsmouth, Virginia, then. It wasn't where Featherston wanted to be-he'd always wanted to broadcast in triumph from Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. And I will yet, goddammit, he thought savagely. But Portsmouth would have to do for now. The station had a strong signal, and somehow or other Saul Goldman had patched together a web to send Jake's words all over the CSA-and up into Yankeeland, too. If Saul wasn't a wizard, he'd do till a real one showed up.

The speech. "Truth is, we just showed the damnyankees what we can do. Just like the Kaiser-one bomb, and boom! A city's gone. Philadelphia will never be the same." He didn't exactly say the uranium bomb (no, from the reports he got from FitzBelmont, it was really a jovium bomb, whatever the hell jovium was) had blown up all of Philly. If his Confederate listeners wanted to think he'd said that, though, he wouldn't shed a tear.

"Maybe St. Louis the next time. Maybe Indianapolis or Chicago. Maybe New York City or Boston. Maybe Denver or San Francisco. Who knows? But one bomb, and boom! No more city, whatever it is."

He didn't say when the next C.S. jovium bomb would go off. He had excellent reason for not saying anything about that: he had no idea. Henderson FitzBelmont didn't even want to guess. U.S. bombers were hitting Lexington harder than ever. Some of the bombs had armor-piercing noses, too, so they dug deep before going off. They were causing trouble.

But the CSA got in the first lick anyway!

"The damnyankees reckoned they had us down for the count," Jake gloated. "They forgot about how much we love…freedom! They'll never lick us, not while we can still load our guns and fire back. And we can."

As if on cue, cannon boomed in the distance. The studio insulation couldn't swallow all of that noise. Some were antiaircraft guns banging away at the U.S. bombers that constantly pounded the whole Hampton Roads area. And others were the big guns from the few surviving Confederate warships, now turned against land targets rather than enemy cruisers and destroyers. The damnyankees were pushing toward Portsmouth and Norfolk by land. Anything that could slow them down, the Confederates were using.

Since some of that artillery noise was going out over the air, Featherston decided to make the most of it. "You hear that, people?" he said. "That noise shows we are still in the fight, and we'll never quit. They say our country doesn't have a right to live. I say they don't have a right to kill it. They won't, either. If you don't believe me, ask what's left of Philadelphia."

He stepped away from the mike. Behind the glass wall that took up one side of the studio, the engineer gave him a thumbs-up. This wasn't the fellow he'd worked with for so long in Richmond, but some stranger. Still, Jake thought he'd given a good speech, too. Nice to find out other folks could tell.

"Well done, Mr. President," Saul Goldman said when Jake stepped out into the corridor. "What a speech can do, that one did."

"Yeah." Featherston wished the Director of Communications hadn't put it like that. What a speech could do…A speech might make soldiers fight a little longer. It might make factory hands work a little harder. All that would help…some.

No speech in the world, though, could take back Kentucky or Tennessee. No speech in the world could take back Atlanta or Savannah, or unsever the divided body of the Confederacy. No speech could take back the rocket works in Huntsville, and no speech could keep Birmingham from falling any day now.

No speech, not to put too fine a point on it, could keep the Confederate States of America from being really and truly screwed. "Dammit," Featherston said, "I didn't reckon things'd end up like this."

"Who would have, sir?" Goldman was loyal. Not only that, he didn't aspire to the top spot himself, maybe because he knew damn well no Confederate general or Party bigwig would take orders from a potbellied little Hebe. The combination-and his skill at what he did-made him invaluable.

They also meant Jake could talk more freely to him than to anyone else except perhaps Lulu. "No, this ain't how things were supposed to work," the President repeated. "Swear to God, Saul, if the Yankees lick us, it's on account of we don't deserve to win, you know what I mean?"