Sword and Scepter
Despite its miserable climate, Tanith was an important world. It was first a convenient dumping ground for Earth's disinherited: the rebels, criminals, malcontents, victims of administrative mistakes, and the balance of the wretched refuse of a civilization that could no longer afford misfits; and it was the main source of borloi, which the World Pharmaceutical Society called "the perfect intoxicating drug."
Few men knew that Tanith was also important because many of the borloi plantations were owned by the CoDominium Space Navy, and profits from the drug trade were important in keeping the Fleet in being after the Grand Senate began wholesale cuts in the Navy's budget.
Heat beat down on sodden fields. Two hours before the noon of Tanith's fifteen-plus hours of sunshine the day was already hot; but all Tanith's days are hot. Even in midwinter the jungle steams in late afternoon. In the swamps below the regimental camp Weem's Beasts snorted as they burrowed deeper into protective mud. In the camp itself the air hung hot and wet, heavy, with a smell of yeast and decay.
The Regiment's camp was an island of geometrical precision in the random tumble of jungles and hilltops. Each yellow rammed-earth barrack was set in an exact relationship to every other, each company set in line from its centurion's hut at one end to the senior platoon sergeant's at the other. A wide street separated Centurions' Row from the Company Officers' Line, and beyond that was the shorter Field Officers' Line, the pyramid narrowing inevitably until at its apex stood a single building where the colonel lived. Other officers lived with their ladies, and married enlisted men's quarters formed one side of the compound; but the colonel lived alone.
The visitor stood with the colonel to watch a mustering ceremony evolved in the days of Queen Anne's England when regimental commanders were paid according to the strengths of their regiments, and the Queen's mustermasters had to determine that each man drawing pay could indeed pass muster-or even existed.
The visitor was an amateur historian and viewed the parade with wry humor. War had changed and men no longer marched in rigid lines to deliver volleys at word of command-but colonels were again paid by the forces they could bring into battle.
"Report!" The adjutant's command carried easily across the open parade field to the rigidly immobile blue and gold squares.
"First Battalion present or accounted for, sir!"
"Second Battalion present or accounted for, sir."
"Third Battalion present or accounted for, sir!"
"Fourth Battalion four men absent without leave, sir."
"How embarrassing," the visitor said sotto voce. The colonel tried to smile but made a bad job of it.
"Artillery present or accounted for, sir!"
"Scout Troop all present, sir!"
"Sappers all present, sir!"
"Weapons Battalion, Aviation troop on patrol. Battalion present or accounted for, sir!"
"Headquarters Company present or on guard, sir!"
The adjutant returned each salute, then wheeled crisply to salute the colonel. "Regiment four men absent without leave, sir."
Colonel Falkenberg returned the salute. "Take your post."
Captain Fast pivoted and marched to his place. "Pass in review!"
The band played a military march that must have been old in the Twentieth Century as the Regiment formed column to march around the field. As each company reached the reviewing stand the men snapped their heads in unison, guidons and banners lowered in salute, and officers and centurions whirled sabers with flourishes.
The visitor nodded to himself. No longer very appropriate. In the Eighteenth Century demonstrations of the men's ability to march in ranks, and of the noncoms and officers to use a sword with skill, were relevant to battle capabilities. Not now. Still, it made an impressive ceremony.
"Attention to orders!" The sergeant major read from his clipboard. Promotions, duty schedules, the daily activities of the Regiment, while the visitor sweated.
"Very impressive, Colonel," he said. "Our Washingtonians couldn't look that sharp on their best day."
John Christian Falkenberg, III nodded coldly. "Implying that they mightn't be as good in the field, Mr. Secretary? Would you like another kind of demonstration?"
Howard Bannister shrugged. "What would it prove, Colonel? You need employment before your regiment goes to hell. I can't imagine chasing escapees on the CoDominium prison planet has much attraction for good soldiers."
"It doesn't. When we first came things weren't that simple."
"I know that too. The Forty-second was one of the best outfits of the CD Marine Corps. I've never understood why, it was disbanded instead of one of the others. I'm speaking of your present situation with your troops stuck here without transport-surely you're not intending to make Tanith your lifetime headquarters?"
Sergeant Major Calvin finished the orders of the day and waited patiently for instructions. Colonel Falkenberg studied his bright-uniformed men as they stood rigidly in the blazing noon of Tanith. A faint smile might have played across his face for a moment. There were few of the four thousand whose names and histories he didn't know.
Lieutenant Farquahar, a party hack forced on him when the Forty-second was hired to police Hadley, but who'd become a good officer and elected to ship out after the action… Private Alcazar, a brooding giant with a raging thirst, the slowest man in K company but he could lift five times his own mass and hide in any terrain… dozens, thousands, each with his own strengths and weaknesses, adding up to-a regiment of mercenary soldiers with no chance of going home and an unpleasant future if they didn't get off Tanith.
"You will stay with me and time the men. Trumpeter, sound Boots and Saddles, Full Equipment, and Ready to Board Ship."
"Sir!" The trumpeter was a grizzled veteran with corporal's stripes. He lifted the gleaming instrument with its blue and gold tassels, and martial notes poured across the parade ground. Before they died away the orderly lines dissolved into masses of running men.
There was less confusion than Howard Bannister had expected. It seemed an incredibly short time before the first men fell back in. They came from their barracks in small groups, some in each company, then more, a rush, and finally knots of stragglers. Now in place of bright colors there was the dull drab of synthetic leather bulging over Nemourlon body armor. The bright polish was gone from the weapons. Dress caps were replaced by bulging combat helmets, shining boots by softer leathers. As the Regiment formed Bannister turned to the colonel.
"Why trumpets? I'd think that rather out of date."
Falkenberg shrugged. "Would you prefer shouted orders? You must remember, Mr. Secretary, mercenaries live in garrison as well as in combat. Trumpets remind them they're soldiers."
"Time, Sergeant Major," the adjutant demanded.
"Eleven minutes, eighteen seconds, sir."
"Are you trying to tell me the men are ready to ship out now?" Bannister asked. His expression showed polite disbelief.
"It would take longer to get the weapons and artillery battalion equipment together, but the infantry could board ship now."
"I find that hard to believe-of course the men know this was only a drill."
"How would they know that?"
Bannister laughed. He was a stout man, dressed in inexpensive business clothes with cigar ashes down the front. Some of the ash floated free when he laughed. "Well, you and the sergeant major are still in parade uniform."
"Look behind you," Falkenberg said.
Bannister turned. Falkenberg's guards and trumpeter were still in their places, their blue and gold dress contrasting wildly with the grim synthileathers of the others who had formed up with them. "The headquarters squad has our gear," Falkenberg explained. "Sergeant Major."
"Mr. Bannister and I will inspect the troops."
"Sir!" As Falkenberg and his visitor left the reviewing stand Calvin fell in with the duty squad behind him.
"Pick a couple at random," Falkenberg advised. "It's hot out here. Forty degrees anyway."
Bannister was thinking the same thing. "Yes. No point in being too hard on the men, It must be unbearable in their armor."
"I wasn't thinking of the men," Falkenberg said.
The Secretary of War chose L Company of Third Battalion. The men looked all alike except for size. He looked for something to stand out, straps not buckled, anything to indicate an individual difference, but he found none. Veteran or recruit? Veteran. Bannister approached a scarred private who looked forty years old. With regeneration therapy he might have been half that again. "This one."
"Fall out, Wiszorik!" Calvin ordered. "Lay out your kit."
"Sir!" Private Wiszorik might have smiled thinly, but if he did Bannister missed it. He swung the packframe easily off his shoulders and stood it on the ground. The headquarters squad helped him lay out his nylon shelter cloth and Wiszorik emptied the pack, placing each item just so.
Rifle: a New Aberdeen seven-millimeter semiautomatic, with ten-shot clip and fifty-round box magazine, both full and spotlessly clean like the rifle. A bandolier of cartridges. Five grenades. Nylon belt with bayonet, canteen, spoon, and stainless cup that served as a private's entire mess kit. Greatcloak and poncho, string net underwear, layers of clothing
"You'll note he's equipped for any climate," Falkenberg commented. "He'd expect to be issued special gear for a non-Terran environment, but he can live on any inhabitable world with his gear."
"Yes." Bannister watched interestedly. The pack hadn't seemed heavy, but Wiszorik kept withdrawing gear from it. First-aid kit, chemical warfare protection drugs and equipment, concentrated field rations, soup and beverage powders, a tiny gasoline-burning field stove… "What's that?" Bannister asked. "Do all the men carry them?"
"One to each maniple, sir," Wiszorik answered.
"His share of five men's community equipment," Falkenberg explained. "A monitor, three privates, and a recruit make up the basic combat unit of this outfit, and we try to keep the maniples self-sufficient."
More gear came from the pack. Much of it was light alloys or plastic, but Bannister wondered about the total weight. Trowel, tent pegs, nylon cordage, a miniature cutting torch-more group equipment for field repairs to both machinery and the woven Nemourlon armor. Night sights for the rifle, a small plastic tube half a meter long and eight centimeters in diameter… "And that?" Bannister asked.
"Antiaircraft rocket," Falkenberg told him. "Not effective against fast jets but it'll knock out a chopper ninety-five percent of the time. Has some capability against tanks, too. We don't like the men too dependent on heavy weapons units."
"I see. Your men seem well-equipped, Colonel," Bannister commented. "It must weigh them down badly."
"Twenty-one kilograms in a standard G field," Falkenberg answered. "More here, less by a lot on Washington. Every man carries a week's rations, ammunition for a short engagement, and enough equipment to live in the field."
"What's the little pouch on his belt?" Bannister asked interestedly.
Falkenberg shrugged. "Personal possessions. Probably everything he owns. You'll have to ask Wiszorik's permission if you want to examine that."
"Never mind. Thank you, Private Wiszorik." Howard Bannister produced a brightly colored bandanna from an inner pocket and mopped his brow. "All right, Colonel. You're convincing-or your men are. Let's go to your office and talk about money."
As they left, Wiszorik and Sergeant Major Calvin exchanged knowing winks, while Monitor Hartzinger breathed a sigh of relief. Just suppose that visiting panjandrum had picked Recruit Latterby! Hell, the kid couldn't find his rear without looking for ten minutes.
Falkenberg's office was hot. It was a large room, and a ceiling fan tried without success to stir up a breeze. Everything was damp from Tanith's wet jungle air. Bannister thought he saw fungus growing in the narrow space between a file cabinet and the wall.
In contrast to the room itself, the furniture was elaborate. It had been hand carved and was the product of hundreds of hours' labor by soldiers who had little else but time to give their commanding officer. They'd taken Sergeant Major Calvin into a conspiracy, getting him to induce Falkenberg to go on an inspection tour while they scrapped his functional old field gear and replaced it with equipment as light and useful, but hand carved with battle scenes.
The desk was quite large, and entirely bare. To one side a table in easy reach was covered with papers. On the other side a two-meter star cube portrayed the ninety stars with inhabited planets. Communication equipment was built into a spindly-legged sideboard which also held whiskey. Falkenberg offered his visitor a drink.
"Could we have something with ice?"
"Certainly." Falkenberg turned toward his sideboard and raised his voice, speaking with a distinct change in tone. “Orderly, two gin and tonics, much ice, if you please. Will that be satisfactory, Mr. Secretary?"
"Yes, thank you." Bannister wasn't accustomed to electronics being so common. "Look, we needn't spar about. I need soldiers and you need off this planet. It's as simple as that."
"Hardly. You've yet to mention money."
Howard shrugged. "I haven't much. Washington has damned few exports. Franklin's dried those up with the blockade. Paying for your transport and salaries will use up what we've got. You know this, I suppose-I'm told you have access to Fleet intelligence sources."
Falkenberg shrugged. "I have my ways. You're prepared to put our return fare on deposit with Dayan, of course."
"Yes." Bannister was startled. "Dayan? You do have sources. I thought our negotiations with New Jerusalem were secret. All right, we have arrangements with Dayan to furnish transportation. It took all our cash, so everything else is contingency money. We can offer you something you need, though. Land, good land, and a permanent base that's a lot more pleasant than Tanith. We also offer-well, the chance to be part of a free and independent nation, though I'm not expecting that to mean much to you."
Falkenberg nodded. "That's why you-excuse me." He paused as the orderly brought in a tray with tinkling glasses. The trooper wore battle dress and his rifle was slung across his shoulder.
"Will you be wanting the men to perform again?" Falkenberg asked.
Bannister hesitated. "I think not."
"Orderly, ask Sergeant Major to sound recall. Dismissed." He turned back to Bannister. "Now. You chose us because you've nothing to offer. The New Democrats on Friedland are happy enough with their base, as are the Scots on Covenant. Xanadu wants hard cash before they throw troops into action. You could find some scrapings on Earth, but we're the only first-class outfit down on its luck at the moment. What makes you think we're that hard up, Mr. Secretary? Your cause on Washington is lost, isn't it?"
"Not for us." Howard Bannister sighed. Despite his bulk he seemed deflated. "All right. Franklin's mercenaries have defeated the last organized field army we had. The resistance is all guerrilla operations and we both know that won't win. We need an organized force to rally around, and we haven't got one." Dear God, we haven't got one. Bannister remembered rugged hills and forests, weathered mountains with snow on their tops, and in the valleys were ranches where the air was crisp and cool. He remembered plains golden with mutated wheat and the swaying tassels of Washington's native corn-like plant rippling in the wind. The Patriot army marched again to the final battle.
They'd marched with songs in their hearts. The cause was just and they faced only mercenaries after defeating Franklin's regular army. Free men against hirelings in one last campaign.
The Patriots entered the plains outside the capital city, confident that the mercenaries could never stand against them-and the enemy didn't run. The humorless Covenant Scots regiments chewed through their infantry, while Friedland armored squadrons cut across the flank and far into the rear, destroying their supply lines and capturing the headquarters. Washington's army had not so much been defeated as dissolved, turned into isolated groups of men whose enthusiasm was no match for the iron discipline of the mercenaries. In three weeks they'd lost everything gained in two years of war.
But yet-the planet was only thinly settled. The Franklin Confederacy had few soldiers and couldn't afford to keep large groups of mercenaries on occupation duty. Out in the mountains and across the plains the settlements were ready to revolt again, and it would only take a spark to arouse them…
"We've a chance, Colonel. I wouldn't waste our money and risk my people's lives if I didn't think so. Let me show you-I've a map in my gear."
"Show me on this one." Falkenberg opened a desk drawer to reveal a small input panel. He touched keys and the translucent gray of his desk top dissolved into colors. A polar projection of Washington formed.
There was only one continent, an irregular mass squatting at the top of the planet. From twenty-five degrees North to the South Pole there was nothing but water. The land above that was cut by huge bays and nearly landlocked seas. Towns showed as a network of red dots across a narrow band of land jutting down to the thirty-to fifty-degree level.
"You sure don't have much to live on," Falkenberg observed. "A strip a thousand kilometers wide by four thousand long-why Washington, anyway?"
"Original settlers had ancestors in Washington State. The climate's similar too. Franklin's the companion planet. It's got more industry than we do, but less agricultural land. Settled mostly by Southern United States people-they call themselves the Confederacy. Washington's a secondary colony from Franklin."
Falkenberg chuckled. "Dissidents from a dissident colony-you must he damned independent cusses."
"Independent enough that we're not going to let Franklin run our lives for us! They treat us like a wholly-owned subsidiary, and we will not take that!"
"You'll take it if you can't get somebody to fight for you," Falkenberg reminded him brutally. "Now. You offer us transport out, a deposit against our return, minimum troop pay, and land to settle."
"Yes. You can use the return deposit to transport your noncombatants later. Or cash it in. But it's all the money we can offer, Colonel." And be damned to you. You don't care at all, but I have to deal with you. For now.
"Yeah." Falkenberg regarded the map sourly. "Are we facing nukes?"
"No. They've got some, but so do we. We concealed ours in Franklin's capital to make it a standoff."
"Uh-huh." The situation wasn't that unusual. The CD Fleet still tried to enforce the ban though. "They still got those Covenant Highlanders that whipped you?"
Bannister winced at the reminder. "God damn it, good men were killed in that fight and you've got no-"
"Do they still have the Covenanters, Mr. Secretary?"
"Yes. Plus a brigade of Friedland armor, and another ten thousand Earth mercenaries on garrison duty." Falkenberg snorted. No one thought much of Earth's cannon fodder. The best Earth recruits joined the growing national armies. Bannister nodded agreement. "Then there are about eight thousand Confederate troops, native Franklin soldiers who'd be no match for our Washingtonians on home ground…"
"You hope. Don't play Franklin down. They're putting together the nucleus of a good fighting force, Mr. Bannister-as you know. It is my understanding that they have plans for further conquests once they've consolidated their hold on New Washington."
Bannister nodded carefully. "That's the main reason we're so desperate, Colonel. We won't buy peace by giving in to the Confederacy because they're set to defy the CoDominium when they can build a fleet. I don't understand why the CD Navy hasn't put a stop to Franklin's little scheme, but it's obvious Earth isn't going to do anything. In a few years the Confederates will have their fleet, and be as strong as Xanadu or Danube, strong enough to give the CD a real fight."
"You're too damn isolated," Falkenberg replied. "The Grand Senate won't even keep the Fleet up to enough strength to protect what the CD's already got-let alone find the money to interfere in your sector. The shortsighted bastards run around putting out fires, and the few senators who look ten years ahead don't have any influence." He shook his head suddenly. "Not our problem. O.K., what about landing security? I don't have any assault boats, and I doubt you've the money to hire those from Dayan."
"It's tough," Bannister admitted. "But blockade runners can get through. Tides on New Washington are enormous, but we know our coasts. The Dayan captain can put you down at night here, or along there…" The rebel War Secretary indicated a number of deep bays and fiords on the jagged coast. "You'll have about two hours of slack water. That's all the time you'd have anyway before the Confederate spy satellites detect the ship."
Roger Hastings drew his pretty brunette wife close to him and leaned against the barbecue pit. It made a nice pose and the photographers took several shots. They begged for more, but Hastings shook his head. "Enough, boys, enough! I've only been sworn in as mayor of Allansport-you'd think I was governor general of the whole planet!"
"But give us a statement," the reporters begged. "Will you support the Confederacy's rearmament plans? I understand the Smelter is tooling up to produce naval armament alloys-"
"I said enough," Roger commanded. "Go have a drink." The reporters reluctantly scattered. "Eager chaps," Hastings told his wife. "Pity there's only the one little paper."
Juanita laughed. "You'd make the capital city Times if there was a way to get the pictures there. But-it was a fair question, Roger. What are you going to do about Franklin's war policies? What will happen to Harley when they start expanding the Confederacy?" The amusement died from her face as she thought of their son in the army.
"There isn't much I can do. The mayor of Allansport isn't consulted on matters of high policy. Damn it, sweetheart, don't you start in on me, too. It's too nice a day."
Hastings' quarried stone house stood high on a hill above Nanaimo Bay. The city of Allansport sprawled across the hills below them, stretching almost to the high-water mark running irregularly along the sandy beaches washed by endless surf. At night they could hear the waves crashing.
They held hands and watched the sea beyond the island which formed Allansport Harbor. "Here it comes!" Roger said. He pointed to a wall of rushing water two meters high. The tide bore swept around the end of Waada Island, then curled back toward the city.
"Pity the poor sailors," Juanita said.
Roger shrugged. "The packet ship's anchored well enough." They watched the hundred-and-fifty-meter-long cargo vessel tossed about by the tidal force. The bore caught it nearly abeam and she rolled her guts out before swinging on her chains to head into the flowing tidewater. It seemed nothing could hold her, but those chains had been made in Roger's foundries, and he knew their strength.
"It has been a nice day," Juanita sighed. Their house backed onto one of the large common green-swards running up the hill from Allansport, and the celebrations had spilled out of his yard, across the greens, and into the neighbors' yards as well. Portable bars manned by Roger's campaign workers dispensed an endless supply of local wines and brandies. To the west, New Washington's twin companion Franklin hung in its eternal place. When sunset brought New Washington's twenty hours of daylight to an end it passed from a glowing ball in the bright day sky to a gibbous sliver in the darkness, then rapidly widened. Reddish shadows danced on its cloudy face. Roger and Juanita stood in silent appreciation. Allansport was a frontier town on an unimportant planet, but they loved it.
The inauguration party had been exhaustingly successful. Roger gratefully went to the drawing room while Juanita climbed the stairs to see to the children. As manager of the Smelter and Foundry, Roger had one of the finest homes on the Ranier Peninsula, a big stone Georgian mansion with wide entry hall and paneled rooms. His favorite was the small conversation-sized drawing room, where he was joined by Martine Ardway.
"Congratulations again," Colonel Ardway boomed. "We'll all be behind you." The words were more than the usual inauguration-day patter. Although Ardway's son Johann was married to Roger's daughter, the colonel had opposed Hastings' election, and Ardway had a large following among the hardline Loyalists in Allansport. He was also commander of the local militia, while Johann held a captain's commission. Roger's own boy Harley was only a lieutenant, but in the regulars.
"Told Harley about your win?" Ardway asked.
"Can't. Communications to Vancouver are out. Matter of fact, all our communications are out right now."
Ardway nodded phlegmatically. Allansport was the only town on a peninsula well over a thousand kilometers from the nearest settlements. New Washington was so close to its red dwarf sun that communications loss was standard through much of Washington's fifty-two-standard-day year. They'd been planning an undersea cable to Preston Bay when the rebellion broke out, and now that it was over they could start again.
"I mean it about being with you," Ardway repeated. "I still think you're wrong, but there can't be more than one policy about this. I just hope it works."
Roger stretched and yawned. "Excuse me. Been a hard day, and it's a while since I was a rock miner-was a time I could dig all day and drink all night! Look, Martine, we can't go on treating the rebels like traitors. We need 'em too much. There aren't many rebels here, but if I enforce the confiscation laws it'll cause resentment in the East. We've had enough bloody war."
Ardway shrugged. Like Hastings he had once been a miner, but unlike the mayor he hadn't kept in shape. He wasn't fat, but he had become a large, balding, round man with a paunch that spilled over his wide garrison belt. It spoiled his looks when he wore military uniform, which he did whenever possible. "You're in charge, Roger. I won't get in your way. Maybe you can even get the old rebel families on your side against this stupid imperialistic venture Franklin's pushing. God knows we've enough problems at home without looking for more. I think-what in hell's going on out there?"
There was a disturbance in the town below. Someone was yelling.
"Good God, did I hear shots?" Roger said. "We better find out." Reluctantly he pushed himself up from the leather easy chair. "Hello-hello- what's this? The phone is out, Martine. Dead."
"Those were shots," Colonel Ardway said. "I don't like this… rebels? The packet came in this afternoon; you don't suppose there were rebels aboard her? We better get down and see to this. You sure the phone's dead?"
"Very dead," Hastings said quietly. "Lord, I hope it's not a new rebellion… Get your troops called out, though."
"Right." Ardway took a pocket communicator from his belt pouch. He spoke into it with increasing agitation. "Roger, there is something wrong! I'm getting nothing but static, somebody's jamming the whole communications band…"
"Nonsense. We're near periastron. The sunspots are causing it." Hastings sounded confident, but he prayed silently. Not more war. It wouldn't be a threat to Allansport and the Peninsula-there weren't more than a handful of rebels out here-but they'd be called on for troops to go east and fight rebel areas like Ford Heights and the Columbia Valley. It was so damn rotten! He remembered burning ranches and plantations during the last flareup. "God damn it, don't those people know they lose more in the wars than Franklin's merchants are costing them?"
He was already speaking to an empty room. Colonel Ardway had dashed outside and was calling to the neighbors to fall out with military equipment.
Roger followed his friend outside. To the west Franklin flooded the night with ten thousand times Luna's best efforts on Earth. There were soldiers coming up the broad street from the main section of town.
"Who in hell-those aren't rebels," Hastings shouted. They were men in synthileather battle dress, and they moved too deliberately. Those were regulars.
There was a roar of motors. A wave of helicopters passed overhead. Roger heard ground effects cars on the greensward, and at least two hundred soldiers were running purposefully up the street toward his house. At each house below a knot of five men fell out of the open formation.
"Turn out! Militia turn out! Rebels!" Colonel Ardway was shouting. He had a dozen men, none in armor, and their best weapons were rifles.
"Take cover! Fire at will!" Ardway screamed. His voice carried determination but it had an edge of fear. "Roger, get the hell inside, you damn fool!"
"But-" The advancing troops were no more than a hundred meters away. One of Ardway's militia fired an automatic rifle from the house next door. The leatherclad troops scattered and someone shouted orders.
Fire lashed out to rake the house. Roger stood in his front yard, dazed, unbelieving, as under Franklin's bright reddish light the nightmare went on. The troops advanced steadily again and there was no more resistance from the militia.
It happened so quickly. Even as Roger thought that, the leather lines reached him. An officer raised a megaphone.
"I call on you to surrender in the name of the Free States of Washington. Stay in your homes and do not try to resist.Armed men will be shot without warning."
A five-man detachment ran past Roger Hastings and through the front door of his home. It brought him from his daze. "Juanita!" He ran toward the house.
"Halt! Halt or we fire! You man, halt!"
Roger ran on heedlessly.
"Belay that order!"
As Roger reached the door he was grabbed by one of the soldiers and flung against the wall. "Hold it right there," the trooper said grimly. "Monitor, I have a prisoner."
Another soldier came into the broad entryway. He held a clipboard and looked up at the address of the house, checking it against his papers. "Mr. Roger Hastings?"
Roger nodded dazedly. Then he thought better of it. "No. I'm-"
"Won't do," the soldier said. "I've got your picture, Mr. Mayor." Roger nodded again. Who was this man? There had been many accents, and the officer with the clipboard had yet another. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Lieutenant Jaimie Farquahar of Falkenberg's Mercenary Legion, acting under authority of the Free States of Washington. You're under military detention, Mr. Mayor."
There was more firing outside. Roger's house hadn't been touched. Everything looked so absolutely ordinary… somehow that added to the horror.
A voice called from upstairs. "The wife and kids are up here, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, Monitor. Ask the lady to come down, please. Mr. Mayor, please don't be concerned for your family. We make no war on civilians." There were more shots from the street.
A thousand questions boiled in Roger's mind. He stood dazedly trying to sort them into some order. "Have you shot Colonel Ardway? Who's fighting out there?"
"If you mean the fat man in uniform, he's safe enough. We've got him in custody. Unfortunately, some of your militia have ignored the order to surrender, and it's going to be hard on them."
As if in emphasis there was the muffled blast of a grenade, then a burst from a machine pistol answered by the slow deliberate fire of an automatic rifle. The battle noises swept away across the brow of the hill, but sounds of firing and shouted orders carried over the pounding surf.
Farquahar studied his clipboard. "Mayor Hastings and Colonel Ardway. Thank you for identifying him: I've orders to take you both to the command post. Monitor!"
"Your maniple will remain here on guard. You will allow no one to enter this house. Be polite to Mrs. Hastings, but keep her and the children here. If there is any attempt at looting you will prevent it. This street is under the protection of the Regiment. Understood?"
The slim officer nodded in satisfaction. "II you'll come with me, Mt Mayor, there's a car on the greensward." As Roger followed numbly he saw the hall clock. He had been sworn in as mayor less than eleven hours ago.
The Regimental Command Post was in the city council meeting chambers, with Falkenberg's office in a. small connecting room. The council room itself was filled with electronic gear and bustled with runnels, while Major Savage and Captain Fast controlled the military conquest of Allansport. Falkenberg watched the situation develop in the maps displayed on his desk top.
"It was so fast!" Howard Bannister said. The pudgy Secretary of War shook his head in disbelief. "I never thought you could do it."
Falkenberg shrugged. "Light infantry can move, Mr. Secretary. But it cost us. We had to leave the artillery train in orbit with most of our vehicles. I can equip with captured stuff, but we're a bit short on transport." He watched lights flash confusedly for a second on the display before the steady march of red lights blinking to green resumed.
"But now you're without artillery," Bannister said. "And the Patriot army's got none."
"Can't have it both ways. We had less than an hour to off-load and get the Dayan boats off-planet before the spy satellites came over.
Now we've got the town and nobody knows we've landed. If this goes right the first the Confederates'll know about us is when their spy snooper stops working."
"We had some luck," Bannister said. "Boat in harbor, communications out to the mainland-"
"Don't confuse luck with decision factors," Falkenberg answered. "Why would I take an isolated hole full of Loyalists if there weren't some advantages?" Privately he knew better. The telephone exchange taken by infiltrating scouts, the power plant almost unguarded and falling to three minutes' brief combat-it was all luck you could count on with good men, but it was luck. "Excuse me." He touched a stud in response to a low humming note. "Yes?"
"Train coming in from the mines, John Christian," Major Savage reported. "We have the station secured, shall we let it go past the block outside town?"
"Sure, stick with the plan, Jerry. Thanks." The miners coming home after a week's work on the sides of Ranier Crater were due for a surprise.
They waited until all the lights changed to green. Every objective was taken. Power plants, communications, homes of leading citizens, public buildings, railway station and airport, police station… Allansport and its eleven thousand citizens, were under control. A timer display ticked off the minutes until the spy satellite would be overhead.
Falkenberg spoke to the intercom. "Sergeant Major, we've twenty-nine minutes to get this place looking normal for this time of night. See to it."
"Sir!" Calvin's unemotional voice was reassuring.
"I can't think the Confederates spend much time examining pictures of the boondocks anyway," Falkenberg told Bannister. "Best to take no chances, though." Motors roared as ground cars and choppers were put under cover. Another helicopter flew overhead looking for telltales.
"As soon as that thing's past get the troops on the packet ship," Falkenberg ordered. "And send in Captain Svoboda, Mayor Hastings, and the local militia colonel-Ardway wasn't it?"
"Yes, sir," Calvin answered. "Colonel Martine Ardway. I'll see if he's up to it, Colonel."
"Up to it, Sergeant Major? Was he hurt?"
"He had a pistol, Colonel. Twelve-millimeter thing, big slug, slow bullet, couldn't penetrate armor but he bruised hell out of two troopers. Monitor Badnikov laid him out with a rifle butt. Surgeon says he'll be all right."
"Good enough. If he's able I want him here."
Falkenberg turned back to the desk and used the computer to produce a planetary map. "Where would the supply ship go from here, Mr. Bannister?"
The Secretary traced a course. "It would-and will-stay inside this island chain. Nobody but a suicide takes ships into open water on this planet. With no land to interrupt them the seas go sixty meters in storms." He indicated a route from Allansport to Cape Titan, then through an island chain in the Sea of Mariners. "Most ships stop at Preston Bay to deliver metalshop goods for the ranches up on Ford Heights Plateau. The whole area's Patriot territory and you could liberate it with one stroke."
Falkenberg studied the map, then said, "No. So most ships stop there… Do some go directly to Astoria?" He pointed to a city eighteen hundred kilometers east of Preston Bay.
"Yes, sometimes. But the Confederates keep a big garrison in Astoria, Colonel. Much larger than the one in Preston Bay. Why go twenty-five hundred kilometers to fight a larger enemy force when there's good Patriot country at half the distance?"
"For the same reason the Confederates don't put much strength at Preston Bay. It's isolated. The Ford Heights ranches are scattered… Look, Mr. Secretary, if we take Astoria we have the key to the whole Columbia River Valley. The Confederates won't know if we're going north to Doak's Ferry, east to Grand Forks and on into the capital plains, or west to Ford Heivlits. If I take Preston Bay first they'll know what I intend because there's only one thing a sane man could do from there."
"But the Columbia Valley people aren't reliable! You won't get good recruits-"
They were interrupted by a knock. Sergeant Major Calvin ushered in Roger Hastings and Martine Ardway. The militiaman had a lump over his left eye and his cheek was bandaged.
Falkenberg stood to be introduced and offered his hand, which Roger Hastings ignored. Ardway stood rigid for a second, then extended his own. "I won't say I'm pleased to meet you, Colonel Falkenberg, but my compliments on an operation well conducted."
"Thank you, Colonel. Gentlemen, please be seated. You have met Captain Svoboda, my provost?" Falkenberg indicated a lanky officer in battle dress who'd come in with them. "Captain Svoboda will be in command of this town when the Forty-second moves out."
Ardway's eyes narrowed with interest.
Falkenberg smiled. "You will see it soon enough, Colonel. Now. The rules of occupation. As mercenaries we are subject to the CoDominium's Laws of War. Public property is seized in the name of the Free States. Private holdings are secure and any property requisitioned will be paid for. Any property used to aid resistance whether directly or as a place to make conspiracy will be instantly confiscated."
Ardway and Hastings shrugged. They'd heard this before. At one time the CD tried to suppress mercenaries. When that failed the Fleet rigidly enforced the Grand Senate's Laws of War, but now the Fleet was weakened by budget cuts and a new outbreak of U.S.-Soviet hatred. New Washington was isolated and it might be years before CD Marines appeared to enforce rules the Grand Senate no longer cared about.
"I have a problem, gentlemen," Falkenberg said. "This city is Loyalist and I must withdraw my regiment. There aren't any Patriot soldiers yet. I'm leaving enough force to complete the conquest of this peninsula, but Captain Svoboda will have few troops in Allansport itself. Since we cannot occupy the city it can legitimately be destroyed to prevent it from becoming a base against me."
"You can't-" Hastings protested, jumping to his feet. An upset ashtray shattered. "I thought all that about preserving private property was a lot of crap!" He turned to Bannister. "Howard, I told you last time all you'd succeed in doing was burning down the whole goddam planet! Now you import soldiers to do it for you! What in God's name can you expect to gain from this war?"
"Freedom," Bannister said proudly. "Allansport is a nest of traitors anyway."
"Hold it," Falkenberg said gently.
"Traitors!" Bannister repeated. "You'll get what you deserve, you-"
"Ten-SHUT!" Sergeant Major Calvin's command startled them. "The colonel said you was to hold it."
"Thank you." The silence was louder than the shouts had been. "I said I could burn the city, not that I intend to. However, since I won't, I must have hostages." He handed Roger Hastings a computer typescript. "Troops are quartered in homes of these persons. You will note that you and Colonel Ardway are at the top of my list. All will be detained and anyone who escapes will be replaced by members of his family. Your property and ultimately your lives are dependent on your cooperation with Captain Svoboda until I send a regular garrison here. Is this understood?"
Colonel Ardway nodded grimly. "Yes, sir. I agree to it."
"Thank you," Falkenberg said. "And you, Mr. Mayor?"
"And?" Falkenberg prompted.
"And what? You want me to like it? What kind of sadist are you?"
"I don't care if you like it, Mr.Mayor. I am waiting for you to agree."
"He doesn't understand, Colonel," Martine Ardway said. "Roger, he's asking if you agree to serve as a hostage for the city. The others will be asked as well. If he doesn't get enough to agree he'll burn the city to the ground."
"Oh." Roger felt a cold knife of fear. What a hell of a choice.
"The question is," Falkenberg said, "will you accept the responsibilities of the office you hold and keep your damn people from making trouble?"
Roger swallowed hard. I wanted to be mayor so I could erase the hatreds of the rebellion. "Yes. I agree."
"Excellent. Captain Svoboda."
"Take Mayor Hastings and Colonel Ardway to your office and interview the others. Notify me when you have enough hostages to ensure security."
"Yes, sir. Gentlemen?" It was hard to read his expression as he showed them to the door. The visor of his helmet was up, but Svoboda's angular face remained in shadow. As he escorted them from the room the intercom buzzed.
"The satellite's overhead," Major Savage reported. "All correct, John Christian. And we've secured the passengers off that train."
The office door closed. Roger Hastings moved like a robot across the bustling city council chamber room, only dimly aware of the bustle of headquarters activities around him. The damn war, the fools, the bloody damned fools-couldn't they ever leave things alone?
A dozen men in camouflage battle dress led a slim, pretty girl across hard-packed sands to the water's edge. They were glad to get away from the softer sands above the high-water mark nearly a kilometer from the pounding surf. Walking in that had been hell, with shifting powder sands infested with small burrowing carnivores too stupid not to attack a booted man.
The squad climbed wordlessly into the waiting boat while their leader tried to assist the girl. She needed no help. Glenda Ruth wore tan nylon coveralls and an equipment belt, and she knew this planet and its dangers better than the soldiers. Glenda Ruth Horton had been taking care of herself for twenty-four of her twenty-six years.
White sandy beaches dotted with marine life exposed by the low tide stretched in both directions as far as they could see. Only the boat and its crew showed that the planet had human life. When the coxswain started the boat's water jet the whirr sent clouds of tiny seabirds into frantic activity.
The fast packet Maribell lay twelve kilometers offshore, well beyond the horizon. When the boat arrived deck cranes dipped to seize her and haul the flat-bottomed craft to her davits. Captain Ian Frazer escorted Glenda Ruth to the chart room.
Falkenberg's battle staff waited there impatiently, some sipping whiskey, others staring at charts whose information they had long since absorbed. Many showed signs of seasickness: the eighty-hour voyage from Allansport had been rough and it hadn't helped that the ship pushed along at thirty-three kilometers an hour, plowing into big swells among the islands.
Ian saluted, then took a glass from the steward and offered it to Glenda Ruth. "Colonel Falkenberg, Miss Horton. Glenda Ruth is the Patriot leader in the Columbia Valley. Glenda Ruth, you'll know Secretary Bannister."
She nodded coldly as if she did not care for the rebel minister, but she put out her hand to Falkenberg and shook his in a thoroughly masculine way. She had other masculine gestures, but even with her brown hair tucked neatly under a visored cap no one would mistake her for a man. She had a heart-shaped face and large green eyes, and her weathered tan might have been envied by the great ladies of the CoDominium.
"My pleasure, Miss Horton," Falkenberg said perfunctorily. "Were you seen?"
Ian Frazer looked pained. "No, sir. We met the rebel group and it seemed safe enough, so Centurion Michaels and I borrowed some clothing from the ranchers and let Glenda Ruth take us to town for our own look." Ian moved to the chart table.
"The fort's up here on the heights." Frazer pointed to the coastal chart. "Typical wall and trench system. Mostly they depend on the Friedlander artillery to control the city and the river mouth."
"What's in there, Ian?" Major Savage asked.
"Worst thing is artillery," the Scout Troop commander answered. "Two batteries of 105's and a battery of 155's, all self-propelled. As near as we can figure, it's a standard Friedland detached battalion."
"About six hundred Friedlanders, then," Captain Rottermill said thoughtfully. "And we're told there's a regiment of Earth mercenaries. Anything else?"
Ian glanced at Glenda Ruth. "They moved in a squadron of Confederate Regular Cavalry last week," she said. "Light armored cars. We think they're due to move on, 'cause there's nothing for them to do here, but nobody knows where they're going."
"Odd," Rottermill said. "There's not a proper petrol supply for them here-where might they go?"
Glenda Ruth regarded him thoughtfully. She had little use for mercenaries. Freedom was something to be won, not bought and paid for. But they needed these men, and at least this one had done his homework. "Probably to the Snake Valley. They've got wells and refineries there." She indicated the flatlands where the Snake and Columbia merged at Doak's Ferry six hundred kilometers to the north. "That's Patriot country and cavalry could be useful to supplement the big fortress at the Ferry."
"Damn bad luck all the same, Colonel," Rottermill said. "Nearly three thousand men in that damned fortress and we've not a lot more. How's the security, Ian?"
Frazer shrugged. "Not tight. The Earth goons patrol the city some, doing MP duty, checking papers. No trouble avoiding them."
"The Earthies make up most of the guard details too," Glenda Ruth added. "They've got a whole rifle regiment of them."
"We'll not take that place by storm, John Christian," Major Savage said carefully. "Not without losing half the Regiment."
"And just what are your soldiers for?" Glenda Ruth demanded. "Do they fight sometimes?"
"Sometimes." Falkenberg studied the sketch his scout commander was making. "Do they have sentries posted, Captain?"
"Yes, sir. Pairs in towers and walking guards. There are radar dishes every hundred meters and I expect there are body capacitance wires strung outside as well."
"I told you," Secretary Bannister said smugly. There was triumph in his voice, in contrast to the grim concern of Falkenberg and his officers. "You'll have to raise an army to take that place. Ford Heights is our only chance, Colonel. Astoria's too strong for you."
"No!" Glenda Ruth's strong low-pitched voice commanded attention. "We've risked everything to gather the Columbia Valley Patriots. If you don't take Astoria now, they'll go back to their ranches. I was opposed to starting a new revolution, Howard Bannister. I don't think we can stand another long war like the last one. But I've organized my father's friends, and in two days I'll command a fighting force-if we scatter now I'll never get them to fight again."
"Where is your army-and how large is it?" Falkenberg asked.
"The assembly area is two hundred kilometers north of here. I have six hundred riflemen now and another five thousand coming. A force that size can't hide!" She regarded Falkenberg without enthusiasm. They needed a strong organized nucleus to win, but she was trusting her friends' lives to a man she'd never met. "Colonel, my ranchers can't face Confederate Regulars or Friedland armor without support, but if you take Astoria we'll have a base we can hold."
"Yes." Falkenberg studied the maps as he thought about the girl. She had a more realistic appreciation of irregular forces than Bannister-but how reliable was she? "Mr. Bannister, we can't take Astoria without artillery even with your Ford Heights ranchers. I need Astoria's guns, and the city's the key to the whole campaign anyway. With it in hand there's a chance to win this war quickly."
"But it can't be done!" Bannister insisted.
"Yet it must be done," Falkenberg reminded him. "And we do have surprise. No Confederate knows we're on this planet, and won't for-" he glanced at his pocket computer- "twenty-seven hours, when Weapons Detachment knocks down the snooper. Miss Horton, have you made trouble for Astoria lately?"
"Not for months," she said. Was this mercenary different? "I only came this far south to meet you."
Captain Frazer's sketch of the fort lay on the table like a death warrant. Falkenberg watched in silence as the scout drew in machine-gun emplacements along the walls.
"I forbid you to risk the revolution on some mad scheme!" Bannister shouted. "Astoria's far too strong. You said so yourself."
Glenda Ruth's rising hopes died again. Bannister was giving the mercenaries a perfect out.
Falkenberg straightened and took a brimming glass from the steward. "Who's junior man here?" He looked around the steel-riveted chart room until he saw an officer near the bulkhead. "Excellent. Lieutenant Fuller was a prisoner on Tanith, Mr. Bannister. Until we caught him-Mark, give us a toast."
"A toast, Colonel?"
"Montrose's toast, Lieutenant. Montrose's toast."
Fear clutched Bannister's guts into a hard ball. Montrose! And Glenda Ruth stared uncomprehendingly, but there was reborn hope in her eyes…
"Aye, aye, Colonel." Fuller raised his glass. "He either fears his fate too much, or his desserts are small, who dares not put it to the touch, to win or lose it all…'"
Bannister's hands shook as the officers drank. Falkenberg's wry smile, Glenda Ruth's answering look of comprehension and admiration-they were insane! The lives of all the Patriots were at stake, and the man and the girl, both of them, they were insane!
Maribell swung to her anchors three kilometers offshore from Astoria. The fast-moving waters of the Columbia swept around her toward the ocean some nine kilometers downstream, where waves crashed in a line of breakers five meters high. Getting across the harbor bar was a tricky business, and even in the harbor itself the tides were too fierce for the ship to dock.
Maribell's cranes hummed as they swung cargo lighters off her decks. The air-cushion vehicles moved gracelessly across the water and over the sandy beaches to the corrugated aluminum warehouses, where they left cargo containers and picked up empties.
In the fortress above Astoria the officer of the guard dutifully logged the ship's arrival into his journal. It was the most exciting event in two weeks. Since the rebellion had ended there was little for his men to do.
He turned from the tower to look around the encampment. Blasted waste of good armor, he thought. No point in having self-propelled guns as harbor guards. The armor wasn't used, since the guns were in concrete revetments. The lieutenant had been trained in mobile war, and though he could appreciate the need for control over the mouth of New Washington's largest river, he didn't like this duty. There was no glory in manning an impregnable fortress.
Retreat sounded and all over the fort men stopped to face the flags. The Franklin Confederacy colors fluttered down the staff to the salutes of the garrison. Although as guard officer he wasn't supposed to, the lieutenant saluted as the trumpets sang.
Over by the guns men stood at attention but they didn't salute. Friedland mercenaries, they owed the Confederacy no loyalty that hadn't been bought and paid for. The lieutenant admired them as soldiers, but they were not likable.
It was worth knowing them, though, since nobody else could handle armor like they could. He had managed to make friends with a few. Some day, when the Confederacy was stronger, they would dispense with mercenaries, and until then he wanted to learn all he could. There were rich planets in this sector of space, planets that Franklin could add to the Confederacy now that the rebellion was over. With the CD Fleet weaker every year, opportunities at the edges of inhabited space grew, but only for those ready for them.
When retreat ended he turned back to the harbor. An ugly cargo lighter was coming up the broad roadway to the fort. He frowned, puzzled, and climbed down from the tower.
When he reached the gate the lighter had halted there. Its engine roared, and it was very difficult to understand the driver, a broad-shouldered seaman-stevedore who was insisting on something.
"I got no orders," the Earth mercenary guardsman was protesting. He turned to the lieutenant in relief. "Sir, they say they got a shipment for us on that thing."
"What is it?" the lieutenant shouted. He had to say it again to be heard over the roar of the motors. "What is the cargo?"
"Damned if I know," the driver said cheerfully. "Says on the manifest 'Astoria Fortress, attention Supply Officer.' Look, Lieutenant, we got to be moving. If the captain don't catch the tide he can't cross the harbor bar tonight and he'll skin me for squawk bait! Where's the supply officer?"
The lieutenant looked at his watch. After retreat the men dispersed rapidly and supply officers kept short hours. "There's nobody to off-load," he shouted.
"Got a crane and crew here," the driver said. "Look, just show me where to put this stuff. We got to sail at slack water."
"Put it out here," the lieutenant said.
"Right. You'll have a hell of a job moving it though." He turned to his companion in the cab. "O.K., Charlie, dump it!"
The lieutenant thought of what the supply officer would say when he found he'd have to move the ten-meter-by-five containers. He climbed into the bed of the cargo lighter. In the manifest pocket of each container was a ticket reading `Commissary Supplies.'
"Wait," he ordered. "Private, open the gates. Driver, take this over there." He indicated a warehouse near the center of the camp. "Off-load at the big doors."
"Right. Hold it, Charlie," Sergeant Major Calvin said cheerfully. "The lieutenant wants the stuff inside." He gave his full attention to driving the ungainly cargo lighter.
The lighter crew worked the crane efficiently, stacking the cargo containers by the warehouse doors. "Sign here," the driver said. "I-perhaps I better get someone to inventory the cargo."
"Aw, for Christ's sake," the driver protested. "Look, you can see the seals ain't broke-here, I'll write it in. 'Seals intact, but cargo not inspected by recip-' How you spell recipient, Lieutenant?"
"Here, I'll write it for you." He did, and signed with his name and rank. "Have a good voyage?"
"Naw. Rough out there, and getting worse. We got to scoot, more cargo to off-load."
"Not for us!"
"Naw, for the town. Thanks, Lieutenant." The cargo lighter pivoted and roared away as the guard lieutenant shook his head. What a mess. He climbed into the tower to write the incident up in the day book. As he wrote he sighed. One hour to dark, and three until he was off duty. It had been a long, dull day.
Three hours before dawn the cargo containers silently opened, and Captain Ian Frazer led his scouts onto the darkened parade ground. Wordlessly they moved toward the revetted guns. One squad formed ranks and marched toward the gates, rifles at slope arms.
The sentries turned. "What the hell?" one said. "It's not time for our relief, who's there?"
"Can it," the corporal of the squad said. "We got orders to go out on some goddam perimeter patrol. Didn't you get the word?"
"Nobody tells me anythin'-uh." The sentry grunted as the corporal struck him with a leather bag of shot. His companion turned quickly, but too late. The squad had already reached him.
Two men stood erect in the starlight at the posts abandoned by the sentries. Astoria was far over the horizon from Franklin, and only a faint red glow to the west indicated the companion planet.
The rest of the squad entered the guardhouse. They moved efficiently among the sleeping relief men, and when they finished the corporal took a communicator from his belt. "Laertes."
On the other side of the parade ground, Captain Frazer led a group of picked men to the radar control center. There was a silent flurry of bayonets and rifle butts. When the brief struggle ended Ian spoke into his communicator. "Hamlet."
There was no answer, but he hadn't expected one.
Down in the city other cargo containers opened in darkened warehouses. Armed men formed into platoons and marched through the dockside streets. The few civilians who saw them scurried for cover; no one had much use for the Earthling mercenaries the Confederates employed.
A full company marched up the hill to the fort. On the other side, away from the city, the rest of the Regiment crawled across plowed fields, heedless of radar alarms but careful of the sentries on the walls above. They passed the first line of capacitance wires and Major Savage held his breath. Ten seconds, twenty. He sighed in relief and motioned the troops to advance.
The marching company reached the gate. Sentries challenged them while others in guard towers watched in curiosity. When the gates swung open the tower guards relaxed. The officer of the watch must have had special orders…
The company moved into the armored car park. Across the parade ground a sentry peered into the night. Something out there? "Halt! Who's there?" There was only silence.
"See something, Jack?" his companion asked.
"Dunno-look out there. By the bushes-and-my God, Harry, the field's full of men! CORPORAL OF THE GUARD! Turn out the Guard!" He hesitated before taking the final step, but he was sure enough to risk his sergeant's scathing displeasure. A stabbing finger hit the red alarm button and lights blazed around the camp perimeter. The sirens hooted, and he had time to see a thousand men in the field near the camp; then a burst of fire caught him and he fell.
The camp erupted into confusion. The Friedland gunners woke first. They wasted less than a minute before their officers realized the alarm was real. Then the gunners boiled out of the barracks to save their precious armor, but from each revetment bursts of machine-gun fire cut into them. Gunners fell in heaps as the rest scurried for cover. Many had not brought personal weapons in their haste to serve the guns, and they lost time going back for them.
Major Savage's men reached the walls and clambered over. Alternate sections kept the walls under a ripple of fire, and despite their heavy battle armor the men climbed easily in Washington's lower gravity. Officers sent them to the parade ground where they added their fire to that of the men in the revetments. Hastily-set machine guns isolated the artillery emplacements with a curtain of fire.
That artillery was the fort's main defense. Once he was certain it was secure, Major Savage sent his invaders by waves into the camp barracks. They burst in with grenades and rifles ready, taking whole companies before their officers could arrive with the keys to their weapons racks. Savage took the Confederate Regulars that way, and only the Friedlanders had come out fighting; but their efforts were directed toward their guns, and there they had no chance.
Meanwhile the Earth mercenaries, never very steady troops at best, called for quarter; many had not fired a shot. The camp defenders fought as disorganized groups against a disciplined force whose communications worked perfectly.
At the fortress headquarters building the alarms woke Commandant Albert Morris. He listened in disbelief to the sounds of battle, and although he rushed out half dressed, he was too late. His command was engulfed by nearly four thousand screaming men. Morris stood a moment in indecision, torn by the desire to run to the nearest barracks and rally what forces he could, but he decided his duty was in the communications room. The capital must be told. Desperately he ran there.
Everything seemed normal inside and he shouted orders to the duty sergeant before he realized he had never seen the man before. He turned to face a squad of leveled rifles. A bright light stabbed from a darker corner of the room, nearly blinding him.
"Good morning, sir," an even voice said.
Commandant Morris blinked, then carefully raised his hands in surrender. "I've no sidearms. Who the hell are you, anyway?"
"Colonel John Christian Falkenberg, at your service. Will you surrender this base and save your men?"
Morris nodded grimly. He'd seen enough outside to know the battle was hopeless. His career was finished too, no matter what he did, and there was no point in letting the Friedlanders be slaughtered. "Surrender to whom?"
The light flicked off and Morris saw Falkenberg. There was a grim smile on the colonel's lips. "Why, to the Great Jehovah and the Free States of Washington, Commandant…"
Albert Morris, who was no historian, did not understand the reference. He took the public address mike the grim troopers handed him. Fortress Astoria had fallen.
Twenty-three hundred kilometers to the west at Allansport, Sergeant Sherman White slapped the keys to launch three small solid rockets. They weren't very powerful birds, but they could be set up quickly, and they had the ability to loft a hundred kilos of tiny steel cubes to a hundred and forty kilometers. White had very good information on the Confederate satellite's ephemeris; he'd observed it for its past twenty orbits.
The target was invisible over the horizon when Sergeant White launched his interceptors. As it came overhead the small rockets had climbed to meet it. Their radar fuses sought the precise moment, then they exploded in a cloud of shot that rose as it spread. It continued to climb, halted, and began to fall back toward the ground. The satellite detected the attack and beeped alarms to its masters. Then it passed through the cloud at fourteen hundred meters per second relative to the shot.
Four of the steel cubes were in its path.
Falkenberg studied the manuals on the equipment in the Confederate command car as it,raced northward along the Columbia Valley Road toward Doak's Ferry. Captain Frazer's scouts were somewhere ahead with the captured cavalry equipment, and behind Falkenberg the Regiment was strung out piecemeal. There were men on motorcycles, in private trucks, horse-drawn wagons, and on foot.
There'd be more walking soon. The captured cavalry gear was a lucky break, but the Columbia Valley wasn't technologically developed. Most local transport was by animal power, and the farmers relied on the river to ship produce to the deep-water port at Astoria. The riverboats and motor fuel were the key to the operation. There wasn't enough of either.
Glenda Ruth Horton had surprised Falkenberg by not arguing about the need for haste, and her ranchers were converging on all the river ports, taking heavy casualties in order to seize boats and fuel before the scattered Confederate occupation forces could destroy them. Meanwhile Falkenberg had recklessly flung the Forty-second northward.
"Fire fight ahead," his driver said. "Another of them one-battery posts."
"Right." Falkenberg fiddled with the unfamiliar controls until the map came into sharper focus, then activated the comm circuit.
"Sir," Captain Frazer answered. "They've got a battery of 105's and an MG company in there. More than I can handle."
"Right. Pass it by. Let Miss Horton's ranchers keep it under siege. Found any more fuel?"
Frazer laughed unpleasantly. "Colonel, you can adjust the carburetors in these things to handle a lot, but Christ, they bloody well won't run on parafin. There's not even farm machinery out here! We're running on fumes now, and damned low-grade fumes at that."
"Yeah." The Confederates were getting smarter. For the first hundred kilometers they took fueling stations intact, but now unless the Patriots were already in control the fuel was torched before Frazer's fast-moving scouts arrived, "Keep going as best you can, Captain."
"We got some reserve fuel with the guns," Sergeant Major Calvin reminded him. The big RSM sat in the turret of the command caravan, and at frequent intervals fondled the thirty-millimeter cannon there. It wasn't much of a weapon, but it had been a long time since the RSM was gunner in an armored vehicle. He was hoping to get in some fighting.
"No. Those guns have to move east to the passes. They're sure to send a reaction force from the capital, Top Soldier."
But would they? Falkenberg wondered. Instead of moving northwest from the capital to reinforce the fortress at Doak's Ferry, they might send troops by sea to retake Astoria. It would be a stupid move, and Falkenberg counted on the Confederates acting intelligently. As far as anyone knew, the Astoria Fortress guns dominated the river mouth.
A detachment of Weapons Battalion remained there with antiaircraft rockets to keep reconnaissance at a distance, but otherwise Astoria was held only by a hastily-raised Patriot force stiffened with a handful of mercenaries. The Friedlander guns had been taken out at night.
If Falkenberg's plan worked, by the time the Confederates knew what they faced, Astoria would be strongly held by valley Patriot armies, and other Patriot forces would have crossed the water to hold Allansport. It was a risky battle plan, but it had one merit: it was the only one that could succeed.
Leading elements of the Regiment covered half the six hundred kilometers north to Doak's Ferry in ten hours. Behind Falkenberg's racing lead groups the main body of the Regiment moved more ponderously, pausing to blast out pockets of resistance where that could be quickly done, otherwise bypassing them for the Patriot irregulars to starve into submission. The whole valley was rising, and the further north Falkenberg went the greater the number of Patriots he encountered. When they reached the four-hundred-kilometer point, he sent Glenda Ruth Horton eastward toward the passes to join Major Savage and the Friedland artillery. Like the Regiment, the ranchers moved by a variety of means: helicopters, trucks, mules, and on foot.
"Real boot straps," Hiram Black said. Black was a short wind-browned rancher commissioned a colonel by the Free States Council and sent with Falkenberg to aid in controlling rebel forces. Falkenberg liked the man's dry humor and hard realism. "General Falkenberg, we got the damnedest collection in the history of warfare."
"Yes." There was nothing more to say. In addition to the confused transport situation, there was no standardization of weapons: they had hunting pieces, weapons taken from the enemy, the Regiment's own equipment, and stockpiles of arms smuggled in by the Free States before Falkenberg's arrival. "That's what computers are for," Falkenberg said.
"Crossroad coming up," the driver warned. "Hang on." The crossing was probably registered by the guns of an untaken post eight kilometers ahead. Frazer's cavalry had blinded its hilltop observation radars before passing it by, but the battery would have had brief sights of the command car.
The driver suddenly halted. There was a sharp whistle, and an explosion rocked the caravan. Shrapnel rattled off the armored sides. The car bounded into life and accelerated.
"Ten credits you owe me, Sergeant Major," the driver said. "Told you they'd expect me to speed up."
"Think I wanted to win the bet, Carpenter?" Calvin asked.
They drove through rolling hills covered with the golden tassels of corn-like plants. Genetic engineering had made New Washington's native grain one of the most valuable food crops in space. Superfically similar to Earth 'maize, the "corn" had a growing cycle of two local years. Toward the end of the cycle hydrostatic pressures built up until it exploded, but if harvested in the dry period it was high-protein dehydrated food energy, palatable when cooked in water, and good fodder for animals as well.
"Ought to be getting past the opposition now," Hiram Black said. "Expect the Feddies'll be pulling back to the fort at Doak's Ferry from here on."
His estimate was confirmed a half hour later when Falkenberg's comm set squawked into action. "We're in a little town called Madselin, Colonel," Frazer said. "Used to be a garrison here, but they're running up the road. There's a citizens' committee to welcome us."
"To hell with the citizens' committee," Falkenberg snapped. "Pursue the enemy!"
"Colonel, I'd be very pleased to do so, but I've no petrol at all."
Falkenberg nodded grimly, "Captain Frazer, I want the scouts as far north as they can get. Isn't there any transport?"
There was a long silence. "Well, sir, there are bicycles…"
"Then use bicycles, by God! Use whatever you have to, Captain, but until you are stopped by the enemy you will continue the advance, bypassing concentrations. Snap at their heels- Ian, they're scared. They don't know what's chasing them and if you keep the pressure on they won't stop to find out. Keep going, laddie. I'll bail you out if you get in trouble."
"Aye, aye, Colonel. See you in Doak's Ferry."
"Can you keep that promise, General?" Hiram Black asked.
Falkenberg's pale blue eyes stared through the rancher. "That depends on how reliable your Glenda Ruth Horton is, Colonel Black. Your ranchers are supposed to be gathering along the valley. With that threat to their flanks the Confederates will not dare form a defense line south of Doak's Ferry. If your Patriots don't show up-" He shrugged. Behind him the Regiment was strung out along three hundred kilometers of roads, its only flank protection its speed and the enemy's uncertainties. "It's up to her in more ways than one," Falkenberg continued. "She said the main body of Friedland armor was in the capital area."
Hiram Black sucked his teeth in a very unmilitary manner. "General, if Glenda Ruth's sure of something, you can damn well count on it."
Sergeant Major Calvin grunted. The noise spoke his thoughts better than words: it was a hell of a thing when the Forty-second had to depend for its life on a young colonial girl.
"How did she come to command the valley ranchers anyway?" Falkenberg asked.
"Inherited it," Black answered. "Her father was one hell of a man, General. Got himself killed in the last battle of the first revolution. She'd been his chief of staff, and old Josh trusted her more than he did most of his officers. So would I, was I you, General."
"I already have." To Falkenberg the Regiment-his Regiment, formed from the Forty-second CoDominium Marines he'd commanded before his court martial-was more than a mercenary force. It was an instrument perfectly forged, its existence and perfection its own reason for existence like any work of art. Because it was a military force it had to fight battles and take casualties, and the men who died in battle were mourned-but they weren't the Regiment, which could exist when every man now in it was dead.
The Forty-second had faced defeat before and might find it again-but this time the Regiment itself was at hazard. Falkenberg was gambling not mere lives, but the Forty-second.
He studied the battle maps as they raced northward. By keeping the enemy off balance, one regiment could do the work of five. Eventually, though, the Confederates would no longer retreat. They were falling back on their fortress at Doak's Ferry, gathering strength and concentrating for a battle that Falkenberg could never win. Therefore that battle must not be fought until the ranchers had concentrated. Meanwhile, the Regiment must bypass Doak's Ferry and turn east to the mountain passes, closing them before the Friedland armor and Covenant Highlanders could debouch onto the western plains.
"Think you'll make it?" Hiram Black asked. He watched as Falkenberg manipulated controls to move symbols across the map tank in the command car. "Seems to me the Friedlanders reach the pass before you can."
"They will," Falkenberg said. "And if they get through, we're lost." He twirled a knob, sending a bright blip representing Major Savage with the artillery racing diagonally from Astoria to Hillyer Gap while the main force of the Regiment continued up the Columbia, then turned east to the mountains, covering two legs of a triangle. "Jerry Savage could be there first, but he won't have enough force to stop them." Another set of symbols crawled across the map. Instead of a distinctly formed body, this was a series of rivulets coming together at the pass. "Miss Horton has also promised to be there with reinforcements and supplies-enough to hold in the first battle, anyway. If they delay the Friedlanders long enough for the rest of us to get there, we'll own the entire agricultural area of New Washington. The revolution will be better than half over."
"And if she cain't get there-or they cain't hold the Friedlanders and Covenanters?" Hiram Black asked.
Sergeant Major Calvin grunted again.
Hillyer Gap was a six-kilometer-wide hilly notch in the high mountain chain. The Aldine Mountains ran roughly northwest to southeast, and were joined at their midpoint by the southward-stretching Temblors. Just at the join was the Gap, which connected the capital city plain to the east with the Columbia Valley to the west.
Major Jeremy Savage regarded his position with satisfaction. He not only had the twenty-six guns taken from the Friedlanders at Astoria, but another dozen captured in scattered outposts along the lower Columbia, and all were securely dug in behind hills overlooking the Gap. Forward of the guns were six companies of infantry, Second Battalion and half of Third, with a thousand ranchers behind in reserve.
"We won't be outflanked, anyway," Centurion Bryant observed. "Ought to hold just fine, sir."
"We've a chance," Major Savage agreed. "Thanks to Miss Horton. You must have driven your men right along."
Glenda Ruth shrugged. Her irregulars had run low on fuel a hundred and eighty kilometers west of the Gap, and she'd brought them on foot in one forced march of thirty hours after sending her ammunition supplies ahead with the last drops of gasoline. "I just came on myself, Major. Wasn't a question of driving them, the men followed right enough."
Jeremy Savage looked at her quickly but there was no trace of laughter. The slender girl was not very pretty at the moment, with her coveralls streaked with mud and grease, her hair falling in strings from under her cap, but he'd rather have seen her than the current Miss Universe. With her troops and ammunition supplies he had a chance to hold this position. "I suppose they did at that." Centurion Bryant turned away quickly with something caught in his throat.
"Can we hold until Colonel Falkenberg gets here?" Glenda Ruth asked. "I expect them to send everything they've got."
"We sincerely hope they do," Jeremy,Savage answered. "It's our only chance, you know. If that armor gets onto open ground…"
"There's no other way onto the plains, Major," she replied. "The Temblors go right on down to the Matson swamplands, and nobody's fool enough to risk armor there. Great Bend's Patriot country. Between the swamps and the Patriot irregulars it'd take a week to cross the Matson. If they're comin' by land, they're comin' through here."
"And they'll be coming," Savage finished for her. "They'll want to relieve the Doak's Ferry fortress before we can get it under close siege. At least that was John Christian's plan, and he's usually right." Glenda Ruth used her binoculars to examine the road. There was nothing out there-yet.
"This colonel of yours. What's in this for him? Nobody gets rich on what we can pay."
"I should think you'd be glad enough we're here," Jeremy said.
"Oh, I'm glad all right. In two hundred and forty hours Falkenberg's isolated every Confederate garrison west of the Temblors. The capital city forces are the only army left to fight-you've almost liberated the planet in one campaign."
"Luck," Jeremy Savage murmured. "Lots of it, all good."
"Heh." Glenda Ruth was contemptuous. "I don't believe that, no more do you. Sure, with the Confederates scattered out on occupation duty anybody who could get troops to move fast enough could cut the Feddies up before they got into big enough formations to resist. The fact is, Major, nobody believed that could be done except on maps. Not with real troops-and he did it. That's genius, not luck."
Savage shrugged. "I wouldn't dispute that."
"No more would I. Now answer this. Just what is a real military genius doing commanding mercenaries on a jerkwater agricultural planet? A man like that should be Lieutenant General of the CoDominium."
"The CD isn't interested in military genius, Miss Horton. The Grand Senate wants obedience, not competence."
"Maybe. I hadn't heard Lermontov was a fool and they made him Grand Admiral. O.K., the CoDominium had no use for Falkenberg. But why Washington, Major? With that Regiment you could take nearly anyplace but Sparta, and give the Brotherhoods a run for it there." She swept the horizon with the binoculars, and Savage could not see her eyes.
The girl disturbed him. No other Free State official questioned the good fortune of hiring Falkenberg. "The Regimental council voted to come here because we were sick of Tanith, Miss Horton."
"Yeah. Look, I better get some rest if we've got a fight coming-and we do. Look just at the horizon on the left side of the road." As she turned away Centurion Bryant's communicator buzzed. The outposts had spotted the scout elements of an armored force.
Glenda Ruth walked carefully to her bunker. Born on New Washington, she was used to the planet's forty-hour rotation period, and the forced march hadn't been as hard on her as some others, but lack of sleep made her almost intoxicated even so. She acknowledged the greeting of her bunker guards-her ranchers didn't use military formalities like salutes-and stumbled in side to wrap herself in a thin blanket without undressing.
Falkenberg. Bannister had no right to offer a regiment of mercenaries permanent settlement. There was no way to control a military force like that without keeping a large standing army, and that cure was worse than the disease. Without Falkenberg the revolution was doomed, but what could they do with him?
There was no one to consult. Her father was the only man she'd ever respected. Before he was killed he'd tried to tell her that winning the war was only a thin part of the problem. There were countries on Earth that had gone through fifty revolutions before they were lucky enough to have a tyrant gain control and stop them.
As she fell asleep the thought she'd tried to avoid poured past her guard. What if we can't get better than what we had? In her dreams Falkenberg's hard features formed in swirling mist. He was wearing military uniform and sat at a desk, Sergeant Major Calvin at his side. "These can live. Kill those. Send these to the mines," Falkenberg ordered.
The big sergeant moved tiny figures which looked like model soldiers, but they weren't all troops. One was her father. Another was a group of ranchers. And they weren't models at all. They were real people reduced to miniatures whose screams could barely be heard as the .toneless voice continued to pronounce their dooms…
Brigadier Wilfred von Mellenthin waited impatiently for his scouts to report. He had insisted that the Confederacy immediately send his armor west on the report that Astoria had fallen, but the General Staff waited for more information. It was, they said, too big a risk to send the Confederacy's best forces blindly into what might be a trap.
Now the General Staff was convinced that they faced only one regiment of mercenaries, and that must have taken heavy casualties in storming Astoria. Von Mellenthin shrugged. Someone was holding the Gap, and he had plenty of respect for the New Washington ranchers. Give them rugged terrain and they could put up a good fight.
The scouts reported well-dug-in infantry, far more of it than von Mellenthin had expected. That damned Falkenberg-the man had an uncanny ability to move troops. He turned to the chief of staff. "Horst, do you think he has heavy guns here already?"
Oberst Carnap shrugged. "Weiss nicht, Brigadier. Every hour gives Falkenberg time to dig in at the Gap, and we have lost many hours."
"Not Falkenberg," Mellenthin corrected. "He is now investing the fortress at Doak's Ferry. We have reports from the Commandant there." He studied the displays on the command table of his caravan. They changed constantly as the scouts sent in reports and staff officers interpreted them.
"We go through," he said in sudden decision, "with everything. Boot them, don't spatter them."
"Jawohl." Carnap spoke quietly into his communicator. "It is my duty to point out the risk, Brigadier. We will take heavy losses if they have brought up artillery."
"I know." Mellenthin regarded the maps again. "But if we fail to get through now, we may never relieve the fortress. Half the war is lost if Doak's Ferry is taken. Better casualties immediately than a long war."
He led the attack himself. His armor brushed aside the infantry screens, his tanks and their supporting infantry cooperating perfectly to pin down and root out the opposition. They moved swiftly forward to cut the enemy into disconnected fragments for the following Covenanters to mop up. Mellenthin was chewing up the blocking force piecemeal as his brigade rushed deeper into the Gap.
The sweating tankers approached the irregular ridge at the very top of the pass. Suddenly a fury of small arms and mortar fire swept across them. The tanks moved on, but the infantry scrambled for cover. Armor and infantry became separated-and at that moment his tanks reached the minefields. Brigadier von Mellenthin began to get a case of nerves.
Logic told him the minefields couldn't be either wide or dense, and if he punched through he would reach the soft headquarters areas of his enemy. Once there his tanks would make short work of the headquarters and depots, the Covenanter infantry would secure the pass, and his Brigade could charge across the open fields beyond.
But-if the defenders had better transport than the General Staff believed, and thus had thousands of mines, he was dooming his armor. Meanwhile his, supporting infantry was pinned and taking casualties.
"Send scouting forces," Oberst Carnap urged.
Mellenthin considered it for a moment. Compromises in war are often worse than either course of action, inviting defeat in detail. He had only moments to reach a decision. "We go forward."
They reached the narrowest part of the Gap. His force bunched together and his drivers, up to now avoiding terrain features which might be registered by artillery, had to approach conspicuous landmarks. Von Mellenthin gritted his teeth.
The artillery was perfectly delivered. The Brigade had less than a quarter minute warning as their radars picked up the incoming projectiles, then the shells exploded among his tanks, brushing away the last of the covering infantry.
As the barrage lifted, hundreds of men appeared from the ground itself. A near perfect volley of infantry-carried antitank rockets slammed into his tanks. Then the radars showed more incoming artillery-and swam in confusion.
"Ja, that too," von Mellenthin muttered. His counterbattery screens showed a shower of gunk. The defenders were firing chaff, hundreds of thousands of tiny metal chips which drifted slowly to ground. Neither side could now use radar to aim indirect fire-but Mellenthin's armor was under visual observation, while the enemy guns had never been precisely located.
The Brigade was being torn apart on this killing ground. The lead elements ran into more minefields.
Defending infantry crouched in holes and ditches, tiny little groups which his covering infantry could sweep aside in a moment if it could get forward, but the infantry was cut off by the barrages falling behind and around the tanks.
There was no room to maneuver and no infantry support, the classic nightmare of an armor commander. The already rough ground was strewn with pits and ditches. High explosive antitank shells fell all around his force. There were not many hits yet, but any disabled tanks could be pounded to pieces and there was nothing to shoot back at. The lead tanks were under steady fire, and the assault slowed.
The enemy expended shells at a prodigal rate. Could they keep it up? If they ran out of shells it was all over. Von Mellenthin hesitated. Every moment kept his armor in hell.
Doubts undermined his determination. Only the Confederate General Staff told him he faced no more than Falkenberg's Legion, and the Staff was wrong before. Whatever was out there had taken Astoria before the commandant could send a single message. At almost the same moment the observation satellite was killed over Allansport. Every fortress along the Columbia was invested within hours. Surely not even Falkenberg could do that with no more than one regiment!
What was he fighting? If he faced a well-supplied force with transport enough to continue this bombardment for hours, not minutes, the Brigade was lost. His Brigade, the finest armor in the worlds, lost to the faulty intelligence of these damned colonials!
"Recall the force. Consolidate at Station Hildebrand." The orders flashed out, and the tanks fell back, rescuing the pinned infantry and covering their withdrawal. When the Brigade assembled east of the Gap Mellenthin had lost an eighth of his tanks, and he doubted if he would recover any of them.
The honor guard presented arms as the command caravan unbuttoned. Falkenberg acknowledged their salutes and strode briskly into the staff bunker. "Ten-shut!" Sergeant Major Calvin commanded.
"Carry on, gentlemen. Major Savage, you'll be pleased to know I've brought the Regimental artillery. We landed it yesterday. Getting a bit thin, wasn't it?"
"That it was, John Christian," Jeremy Savage answered grimly. "If the battle had lasted another hour we'd have been out of everything. Miss Horton, you can relax now-the colonel said carry on."
"I wasn't sure," Glenda Ruth huffed. She glanced outside where the honor guard was dispersing and scowled in disapproval. "I'd hate to be shot for not bowing properly."
Officers and troopers in the command post tensed, but nothing happened. Falkenberg turned to Major Savage. "What were the casualties, Major?"
"Heavy, sir. We have two hundred and eighty-three effectives remaining in Second Battalion."
Falkenberg's face was impassive. "And how many walking wounded?"
"Sir, that includes the walking wounded."
"I see." Sixty-five percent casualties, not including the walking wounded. "And Third?"
"I couldn't put together a corporal's guard from the two companies. The survivors are assigned to headquarters duties."
"What's holding the line out there, Jerry?" Falkenberg demanded.
"Irregulars and what's left of Second Battalion, Colonel. We are rather glad to see you, don't you know?"
Glenda Ruth Horton had a momentary struggle with herself. Whatever she might think about all the senseless militaristic rituals Falkenberg was addicted to, honesty demanded that she say something. "Colonel, I owe you an apology. I'm sorry I implied that your men wouldn't fight at Astoria."
"The question is, Miss Horton, will yours? I have two batteries of the Forty-second's artillery, but I can add nothing to the line itself. My troops are investing Doak's Ferry, my cavalry and First Battalion are on Ford Heights, and the Regiment will be scattered for three more days. Are you saying your ranchers can't do as well as my mercenaries?"
She nodded unhappily. "Colonel, we could never have stood up to that attack. The Second's senior centurion told me many of his mortars were served by only one man before the battle ended. We'll never have men that steady."
Falkenberg looked relieved. "Centurion Bryant survived, then."
"Then the Second still lives. Miss Horton, von Mellenthin won't risk his armor again until the infantry has cleared a hole. Meanwhile, we have the artillery resupplied thanks to your efforts in locating transport. Let's see what we can come up with."
Three hours later the defenses were reorganized. When the final orders were given, Glenda Ruth excused herself. "I have to get my battle armor."
"That seems reasonable, although the bunkers are built well enough."
"I won't be in a bunker, Colonel. I'm going on patrol with my ranchers."
Falkenberg regarded her critically. "I wouldn't think that wise, Miss Horton. Personal courage in a commanding officer is an admirable trait, but-"
"I know." She smiled softly. "But it needn't be demonstrated because it is assumed, right? Not with us. I can't order the ranchers, and I don't have years of traditions to keep them-that's the reason for all the ceremonials, isn't it?" she asked in surprise.
Falkenberg ignored the question. "The point is, the men follow you, and I doubt they'd fight as hard for me if you're killed-"
"Irrelevant, Colonel. Believe me, I don't want to take this patrol out, but if I don't take the first one there may never be another. We're not used to holding lines, and it's taking some doing to keep my troops steady."
"I'll loan you a centurion and some headquarters guards."
"No. Send the same troops you'll send with any other Patriot force. Oh, damn. John Christian Falkenberg, don't you see why it has to be this way?"
He nodded. "I don't have to like it. All right, get your final briefing from the sergeant major in thirty-five minutes. Good luck, Miss Horton."
The patrol moved silently through low scrub brush. Glenda Ruth led a dozen ranchers and one communications maniple of the Forty-second's band. Sergeant Major Calvin had also assigned Sergeant Hruska to assist. The ranchers carried rifles. Three of Falkenberg's men had automatic weapons, two more had communications gear, and Sergeant Hruska had a submachine gun. It seemed a pitifully small force to contest ground with Covenant Highlanders.
They passed through the final outposts of her nervous ranchers and moved into the valleys between the hills. Glenda Ruth felt completely alone in the total silence of the night. She wondered if the others felt it too. Certainly the ranchers did-what of the mercenaries? They were with comrades who shared their meals and bunkers, and as long as one was alive there would be someone to care. Did they think about such things? She tried to imagine the thoughts of a mercenary private, but it was impossible.
They were nearly a kilometer beyond the lines when she found a narrow gully two meters deep. It meandered down the hillside along the approaches to the outposts behind her, and any attacking force assaulting her sector would have to pass it. She motioned the men into the ditch.
Waiting was hardest of all. The ranchers continually moved about, and she had to crawl along the gully whispering them to silence. Five hours went by, each an agony of waiting, glancing at her watch to see that no time had elapsed since the last time she'd looked, staring out into the night until she could see shapes that weren't there.
In the starlit gloom she could almost see the miniature figures again. Falkenherg's impassive orders rang in her ears. "Kill this one. Send this one to the mines." Now the miniatures were joined by larger figures in battle armor. With a sudden start she knew they were real. Two men stood motionless in the draw below her.
She touched Sergeant Hruska and pointed. The trooper looked carefully and nodded. As they watched, more figures joined the pair of scouts, until soon there were nearly fifty of them in the fold of the hill, two hundred meters away. They were too far for her squad's weapons to have much effect, and a whispered command sent Hruska crawling along the gully to order the men to stay down and be silent.
The group continued to grow. She couldn't see them all, and since she could count nearly a hundred she must be observing the assembly area of a full company. Were these the dreaded Highlanders? Memories of her father's defeat came unwanted and she brushed them away. They were only hired men-but they fought for glory, and somehow that was enough to make them terrible.
After a long time the enemy began moving toward her. They formed a V-shape with the point aimed almost directly at her position, and she searched for the ends of the formation. What she saw made her gasp.
Four hundred meters to her left was another company of soldiers in double file. They moved silently and swiftly up the hill, and the lead elements were already far beyond her position. Frantically she looked to the right, focusing the big electronic light amplifying glasses-and saw another company of men half a kilometer away. A full Highlander battalion was moving right up her hill in an inverted M, and the group in front of her was the connecting sweep to link the assault columns. In minutes they would be among the ranchers in the defense line.
Still she waited, until the dozen Highlanders of the point were ten meters from her. She shouted commands. "Up and at them! Fire!" From both ends of her ditch the mercenaries' automatic weapons chattered, then their fire was joined by her riflemen. The point was cut down to a man, and Sergeant Hruska directed fire on the main body, while Glenda Ruth shouted into her communicator.
"Fire Mission. Flash Uncle Four!"
There was a moment's delay which seemed like years. "Flash Uncle Four." Another long pause. "On the way," an unemotional voice answered. She thought it sounded like Falkenberg, but she was too busy to care.
"Reporting," she said. "At least one battalion of light infantry in assault columns is moving up hill 905 along ridges Uncle and Zebra."
"They're shifting left, Miss." She looked up to see Hruska. The noncom pointed to the company in front of her position. Small knots of men curled leftward. They hugged the ground and were visible only for seconds.
"Move some men to that end of the gully," she ordered. It was too late to shift artillery fire. Anyway, if the Highlanders ever got to the top of the ridge, the ranchers wouldn't hold them. She held her breath and waited.
There was the scream of incoming artillery, then the night was lit by bright flashes. VT shells fell among the distant enemy on the left flank. "Pour it on!" she shouted into the communicator. "On target!"
"Right. On the way."
She was sure it was Falkenberg himself at the other end. Catlike she grinned in the dark. What was a colonel doing as a telephone orderly? Was he worried about her? She almost laughed at the thought. Certainly he was, the ranchers would be hard to handle without her.
The ridge above erupted in fire. Mortars and grenades joined the artillery pounding the leftward assault column. Glenda Ruth paused to examine the critical situation to the right. The assault force five hundred meters away was untouched, and continued to advance toward the top of the ridge. It was going to be close.
She let the artillery hold its target another five minutes while her riflemen engaged the company in front of her, then took up the radio again. The right-hand column had nearly reached the ridges, and she wondered if she had waited too long.
"Fire mission. Flash Zebra Nine."
"Zebra Nine," the emotionless voice replied. There was a short delay, then, "On the way." The fire lifted from the left flank almost immediately, and two minutes later began to fall five hundred meters to the right.
"They're flanking us, Miss," Sergeant Hruska reported. She'd been so busy directing artillery at the assaults against the ridge line that she'd actually forgotten her twenty men were engaged in a fire fight with over a hundred enemies. "Shall we pull back?" Hruska asked.
She tried to think, but it was impossible in the noise and confusion. The assault columns were still moving ahead, and she had the only group that could observe the entire attack. Every precious shell had to count. "No. We'll hold on here."
"Right, Miss." The sergeant seemed to be enjoying himself. He moved away to direct the automatic weapons and rifle fire. How long can we hold? Glenda Ruth wondered.
She let the artillery continue to pound the right-hand assault force for twenty minutes. By then the Highlanders had nearly surrounded her and were ready to assault from the rear. Prayerfully she lifted the radio again.
"Fire Mission. Give me everything you can on Jack Fire-and for God's sake don't, go over. We're at Jack Six."
"Flash Jack Five," the voice acknowledged immediately. There was a pause. "On the way." They were the most beautiful words she'd ever heard.
Now they waited. The Highlanders rose to charge. A wild sound filled the night. My God, Pipes! she thought. But even as the infantry moved the pipes were drowned by the whistle of artillery. Glenda Ruth dove to the bottom of the gully, and saw that the rest of her command had done the same.
The world erupted in sound. Millions of tiny fragments at enormous velocity filled the night with death. Cautiously she lifted a small periscope to look behind her.
The Highlander company had dissolved. Shells were falling among dead men, lifting them to be torn apart again and again as the radar-fused shells fell among them. Glenda Ruth swallowed hard and swept the glass around. The left-hand assault company had reformed and were turning back to attack the ridge. "Fire Flash Uncle Four," she said softly.
"Flash Uncle Four!"
"Uncle Four. On the way." As soon as the fire lifted from behind them her men returned to the lip of the gully and resumed firing, but the sounds began to die away.
"We're down to the ammo in the guns now, Miss," Hruska reported. "May I have your spare magazines?"
She realized with a sudden start that she had yet to fire a single shot.
The night wore on. Whenever the enemy formed up to assault her position he was cut apart by the merciless artillery. Once she asked for a box barrage all around her gully-by that time the men were down to three shots in each rifle, and the automatic weapons had no ammo at all. The toneless voice simply answered, "On the way."
An hour before dawn nothing moved on the hill.
The thin notes of a military trumpet sounded across the barren hills of the Gap. The ridges east of Falkenberg's battle line lay dead, their foliage cut to shreds by shell fragments, the very earth thrown into crazyquilt craters partly burying the dead. A cool wind blew through the Gap, but it couldn't dispell the smells of nitro and death.
The trumpet sounded again. Falkenberg's glasses showed three unarmed Highlander officers carrying a white flag. An ensign was dispatched to meet them, and the young officer returned with a blindfolded Highlander major.
"Major MacRae, Fourth Covenant Infantry," the officer introduced himself after the blindfold was removed. He blinked at the bright lights of the bunker. "You'll be Colonel Falkenberg."
"Yes. What can we do for you, Major?"
"I've orders to offer a truce for burying the dead. Twenty hours, Colonel, if that's agreeable."
"No. Four days and nights-a hundred and sixty hours, Major," Falkenberg said.
"A hundred and sixty hours, Colonel?" The burly Highlander regarded Falkenberg suspiciously. "You'll want that time to complete your defenses."
"Perhaps. But twenty hours is not enough time to transfer the wounded men. I'll return all of yours-under parole, of course. It's no secret I'm short of medical supplies and they'll receive better care from their own surgeons."
The Highlander's face showed nothing, but he paused. "You wouldn't tell me how many there be?" He was silent for a moment, then speaking very fast, he said, "The time you set is within my discretion, Colonel." He held out a bulky dispatch case. "My credentials and instructions. 'Twas a bloody battle, Colonel. How many of my laddies have ye killed?"
Falkenberg and Glenda Ruth glanced at each other. There is a bond between those who have been in combat together, and it can even include those of the other side. The Covenant officer stood impassively, unwilling to say more, but his eyes pleaded with them.
"We counted four hundred and nine bodies, Major," Glenda Ruth told him gently. "And-" she looked at Falkenberg, who nodded. "We brought in another three hundred and seventy wounded." The usual combat ratio is four men wounded to each killed; nearly sixteen hundred Covenanters must have been taken out of action in the assault. Toward the end the Highlanders were losing men in their efforts to recover their dead and wounded.
"Less than four hundred," the major said sadly. He stood to rigid attention. "Hae your men search the ground well, Colonel. There's aye more o' my lads out there." He saluted and waited for the blindfold to be fixed again. "I thank you, Colonel."
As the mercenary officer was led away Falkenberg turned to Glenda Ruth with a wistful smile. "Try to bribe him with money and he'd challenge me, but when I offer him his men back-" He shook his head sadly.
"Have they really given up?" Glenda Ruth asked.
"Yes. The truce finishes it. Their only chance was to break through before we brought up more ammunition and reserves, and they know it."
"But why? In the last revolution they were so terrible, and now-why?"
"It's the weakness of mercenaries," Falkenberg explained crisply. "The fruits of victory belong to our employers, not us. Friedland can't lose her armor and Covenant can't lose her men, or they've nothing more to sell."
"But they fought before!"
"Sure, in a fluid battle of maneuver. A frontal assault is always the most costly kind of battle. They tried to force the passage and we beat them fairly. Honor is satisfied. Now the Confederacy will have to bring up its own Regulars if they want to force a way through the Gap. I don't think they'll squander men like that, and anyway it takes time. Meanwhile we've got to go to Allansport and deal with a crisis."
"What's wrong there?" she asked.
"This came in regimental code this morning." He handed her a message flimsy.
"FALKENBERG FROM SVOBODA BREAK BREAK PATRIOT ARMY LOOTING ALLANSPORT STOP REQUEST COURT OF INQUIRY INVESTIGATE POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS OF LAWS OF WAR STOP EXTREMELY INADVISABLE FOR ME TO COMPLY WITH YOUR ORDERS TO JOIN REGIMENT STOP PATRIOT ARMY ACTIONS PROVOKING SABOTAGE AND REVOLT AMONG TOWNSPEOPLE AND MINERS STOP MY SECURITY FORCES MAY BE REQUIRED TO HOLD THE CITY STOP AWAIT YOUR ORDERS STOP RESPECTFULLY ANTON SVOBODA BREAK BREAK MESSAGE ENDS"
She read it twice. "My God, Colonel-what's going on there?"
"I don't know," he said grimly. "I intend to find out. Will you come with me as a representative of the Patriot Council?"
"Of course-but shouldn't we send for Howard Bannister? The Council elected him president."
"If we need him we'll get him. Sergeant Major."
"Put Miss Horton's things on the troop carrier with mine. I'll take the Headquarters Guard platoon to Allansport."
"Sir. Colonel, you'll want me along."
"Will I? I suppose so, Sergeant Major. Get your gear aboard."
"It's probably already there, of course. Let's move out."
The personnel carrier took them to a small airfield where a jet waited. It was one of forty on the planet, and it would carry a hundred men; but it burned fuel needed for ammunition transport. Until the oil fields around Doak's Ferry could be secured it was fuel they could hardly afford.
The plane flew across Patriot-held areas, staying well away from the isolated Confederate strongpoints remaining west of the Gap. Aircraft had little chance of surviving in a combat environment when any infantryman could carry target-seeking rockets, while trucks could carry equipment to defeat airborne countermeasures. They crossed the Columbia Valley and turned southwest over the broad forests of Ford Heights Plateau, then west again to avoid Preston Bay where pockets of Confederates remained after the fall of the main fortress.
"You do the same thing, don't you?" Glenda Ruth said suddenly. "When we assaulted Preston Bay you let my people take the casualties."
Falkenberg nodded. "For two reasons. I'm as reluctant to lose troops as the Highlanders-and without the Regiment you'd not hold the Patriot areas a thousand hours. You need us as an intact force, not a pile of corpses."
"Yes." It was true enough, but those were her friends who'd died in the assault. Would the outcome be worth it? Would Falkenberg let it be worth it?
Captain Svoboda met them at the Allansport field. "Glad to see you, sir. It's pretty bad in town." "Just what happened, Captain?" Svoboda looked critically at Glenda Ruth, but Falkenberg said, "Report."
"Yes, sir. When the provisional governor arrived I turned over administration of the city as ordered. At that time the peninsula was pacified, largely due to the efforts of Mayor Hastings, who wants to avoid damage to the city. Hastings believes Franklin will send a large army from the home planet, and says he sees no point in getting Loyalists killed and the city burned in resistance that won't change the final outcome anyway."
"Poor Roger-he always tried to be reasonable, and it never works," Glenda Ruth said. "But Franklin will send troops."
"Possibly," Falkenberg said. "But it takes time for them to mobilize and organize transport. Continue, Captain Svoboda."
"Sir. The governor posted a list of proscribed persons whose property was forfeit. If that wasn't enough, he told his troops that if they found any Confederate government property, they could keep half its value. You'll see the results when we get to town, Colonel. There were looting and fires which my security forces and the local fire people only barely managed to control."
"Oh, Lord," Glenda Ruth murmured. "Why?"
Svoboda curled his lip. "Looters often do that, Miss Horton. You can't let troops sack a city and not expect damage. The outcome was predictable, Colonel. Many townspeople took to the hills, particularly the miners. They've taken several of the mining towns back."
Captain Svoboda shrugged helplessly. "The railway is cut. The city itself is secure, but I can't say how long. You only left me a hundred and fifty troops to control eleven thousand people, which I did with hostages. The governor brought another nine hundred men and that's not enough to rule their way. He's asked Preston Bay for more soldiers."
"Is that where the first group came from?" Glenda Ruth asked.
"Yes, Miss. A number of them, anyway."
"Then it's understandable if not excusable, Colonel," she said. "Many ranches on Ford Heights were burned out by Loyalists in the first revolution. I suppose they think they're paying the Loyalists back."
Falkenberg nodded. "Sergeant Major!"
"Put the Guard in battle armor and combat weapons. Captain, we are going to pay a call on your provisional governor. Alert your men."
"Colonel!" Glenda Ruth protested. "You-what are you going to do?"
"Miss Horton, I left an undamaged town, which is now a nest of opposition. I'd like to know why. Let's go, Svoboda."
City Hall stood undamaged among burned-out streets. The town smelled of scorched wood and death, as if there'd been a major battle fought in the downtown area. Falkenberg sat impassive as Glenda Ruth stared unbelievingly at what had been the richest city outside the capital area.
"I tried, Colonel," Svoboda muttered. He blamed himself anyway. "I'd have had to fire on the Patriots and arrest the governor. You were out of communications and I didn't want to take that responsibility without orders. Should I have, sir?"
Falkenberg didn't answer. Possible violations of mercenary contracts were always delicate situations. Finally he said, "I can hardly blame you for not wanting to involve the Regiment in war with our sponsors."
The Patriot irregular guards at City Hall protested as Falkenberg strode briskly toward the governor's office. They tried to bar the way, but when they saw his forty guardsmen in battle armor they moved aside.
The governor was a broad-shouldered former rancher who'd done well in commodities speculation. He was a skilled salesman, master of the friendly grip on the elbow and pat on the shoulder, the casual words in the right places, but he had no experience in military command. He glanced nervously at Sergeant Major Calvin and the grim-faced guards outside his office as Glenda Ruth introduced Falkenberg.
"Governor Jack Silana," she said. "The governor was active in the first revolution, and without his financial help we'd never have been able to pay your passage here, Colonel."
"I see." Falkenberg ignored the governor's offered hand. "Did you authorize more looting, Governor Silana?" he asked. "I see some's still going on."
"Your mercenaries have all the tax money," Silana protested. He tried to grin. "My troops are being ruined to pay you. Why shouldn't the Fedsymps contribute to the war? Anyway, the real trouble began when a town girl insulted one of my soldiers. He struck her. Some townspeople interfered, and his comrades came to help. A riot started and someone called out the garrison to stop it-"
"And you lost control," Falkenberg said.
"The traitors got no more than they deserve anyway! Don't think they didn't loot cities when they won, Colonel. These men have seen ranches burned out, and they know Allansport's a nest of Fedsymp traitors."
"I see." Falkenberg turned to his provost. "Captain, had you formally relinquished control to Governor Silana before this happened?"
"Yes, sir. As ordered."
"Then it's none of the Regiment's concern. Were any of our troops involved?"
Svoboda nodded unhappily. "I have seven troopers and Sergeant Magee in arrest, sir. I've held summary court on six others myself."
"What charges are you preferring against Magee?" Falkenberg had personally promoted Magee once. The man had a mean streak, but he was a good soldier.
"Looting. Drunk on duty. Theft. And conduct prejudicial."
"And the others?"
"Three rapes, four grand theft, and one murder, sir. They're being held for a court. I also request an inquiry into my conduct as commander."
"Granted. Sergeant Major."
"Take custody of the prisoners and convene a General Court. What officers have we for an investigation?"
"Captain Greenwood's posted for light duty only by the surgeon, sir."
"Excellent. Have him conduct a formal inquiry into Captain Svoboda's administration of the city."
"What will happen to those men?" Glenda Ruth asked.
"The rapists and murderer will be hanged if convicted. Hard duty for the rest."
"You'd hang your own men?" she asked. She didn't believe it and her voice showed it.
"I cannot allow rot in my Regiment," Falkenberg snapped. "In any event the Confederacy will protest this violation of the Laws of War to the CD."
Governor Silana laughed. "We protested often enough in the last revolution, and nothing came of it. I think we can chance it."
"Perhaps. I take it you will do nothing about this?"
"I'll issue orders for the looting to stop."
"Haven't you done so already?"
"Well, yes, Colonel-but the men, well, they're about over their mad now, I think."
"If previous orders haven't stopped it, more won't. You'll have to be prepared to punish violators. Are you?"
"I'll be damned if I'll hang my own soldiers to protect traitors!"
"I see. Governor, how do you propose to pacify this area?"
"I've sent for reinforcements-"
"Yes. Thank you. If you'll excuse us, Governor, Miss Horton and I have an errand."-He hustled Glenda Ruth out of the office. "Sergeant Major, bring Mayor Hastings and Colonel Ardway to Captain Svoboda's office."
"They shot Colonel Ardway," Svoboda said. "The mayor's in the city jail."
"Jail?" Falkenberg muttered.
"Yes, sir. I had the hostages in the hotel, but Governor Silana-"
"I see. Carry on, Sergeant Major."
"What do you want now, you bloody bastard?" Hastings demanded ten minutes later. The mayor was haggard, with several days' growth of stubble, and his face and hands showed the grime of confinement without proper hygiene facilities.
"One thing at, a time, Mr. Mayor. Any trouble, Sergeant Major?"
Calvin grinned. "Not much, sir. The officer didn't want no problems with the Guard-Colonel, they got all them hostages crammed into cells."
"What have you done with my wife?" Roger Hastings demanded. "I haven't heard anything for days."
Falkenberg looked inquiringly at Svoboda but got only a headshake. "See to the mayor's family, Sergeant Major. Bring them here. Mr. Hastings, do I understand that you believe this is my doing?"
"If you hadn't taken this city-"
"That was a legitimate military operation. Have you charges to bring against my troops?"
"How would I know?" Hastings felt weak. He hadn't been fed properly for days, and he was sick with worry about his family. As he leaned against the desk he saw Glenda Ruth for the first time. "You too, eh?"
"It was none of my doing, Roger." He had almost become her father-in-law. She wondered where Lieutenant Harley Hastings was. Although she'd broken the engagement long ago and no longer loved him, their fights had mostly been political, and they were still friends. "I'm sorry."
"It was your doing, you and the damned rebels. Oh, sure, you don't like burning cities and killing civilians, but it happens all the same-and you started the war. You can't shed the responsibility."
Falkenberg interrupted him. "Mr. Mayor, we have mutual interests still. This peninsula raises little food, and your people cannot survive without supplies. I'm told over a thousand of your people were killed in the riots, and nearly that many are in the hills. Can you get the automated factories and smelters operating with what's left?"
"After all this you expect me to-I won't do one damn thing for you, Falkenberg!"
"I didn't ask if you would, only if it could be done."
"What difference does it make?"
"I doubt you want to see the rest of your people starving, Mr. Mayor. Captain, take the mayor to your quarters and get him cleaned up. By the time you've done that, Sergeant Major Calvin will know what happened to his family." Falkenberg nodded dismissal and turned to Glenda Ruth. "Well, Miss Horton? Have you seen enough?"
"I don't understand."
"I am requesting you to relieve Silana of his post and return administration of this city to the Regiment. Will you do it?"
Good Lord! she thought. "I haven't the authority."
"You've got more influence in the Patriot army than anyone else. The Council may not like it, but they'll take it from you. Meanwhile, I'm sending for the Sappers to rebuild this city and get the foundries going."
Everything moves so fast. Not even Joshua Horton had made things happen like this man. "Colonel, what is your interest in Allansport?"
"It's the only industrial area we control. There'll be no more military supplies from off-planet. We hold everything west of the Ternblors. The Matson Valley is rising in support of the revolution and we'll have it soon. We can follow the Matson to Vancouver and take that-and then what?"
"Why-then we take the capital city! The revolution's over!"
"No. That was the mistake you made last time. Do you really think your farmers, even with the Forty-second, can move onto level, roaded ground and fight set-piece battles? We've no chance under those conditions."
"But-" He was right. She'd always known it. When they defeated the Friedlanders at the Gap she'd dared hope, but the capital plains were not Hillyer Gap. "So it's back to attrition."
Falkenberg nodded. "We do hold all the agricultural areas. The Confederates will begin to feel the pinch soon enough: Meanwhile we chew around the edges. Franklin will have to let go-there's no profit in keeping colonies that cost money. They may try landing armies from the home world, but they'll not take us by surprise and they don't have that big an army. Eventually we'll wear them down."
It would be a long war after all, and she'd have to he in it, always raising fresh troops as the ranchers began to go home again-it would be tough enough holding what they had when people realized what they were in for. "But how do we pay your troops in a long war?"
"Perhaps you'll have to do without us."
"You know we can't. And you've always known it. What do you want?"
"Right now I want you to relieve Silana. Immediately."
"What's the hurry? As you say, it's going to be a long war."
"It'll be longer if more of the city is burned." He almost told her more, and cursed himself for the weakness of temptation. She was only a girl, and he'd known thousands of them since Grace left him all those years ago. The bond of combat wouldn't explain it, he'd known other girls who were competent officers, many of them-so why was he tempted at all? "I'm sorry," he said gruffly. "I must insist. As you say, you can't do without us."
Glenda Ruth had grown up among politicians, and for four years had been a revolutionary leader herself. She knew Falkenberg's momentary hesitation was important, and that she'd never find out what it meant.
What was under that mask? Was there a man in there making all those whirlwind decisions? Falkenberg dominated every situation he fell into, and a man like that wanted more than money. The vision of Falkenberg seated at a desk pronouncing dooms on her people haunted her still.
And yet. There was more. A warrior leader of warriors who had won the adoration of uneducated privates-and men like Jeremy Savage as well. She'd never met anyone like him.
"I'll do it." She smiled and walked across the room to stand next to him. "I don't know why, but I'll do it. Have you got any friends, John Christian Falkenberg?"
The question startled him. Automatically he answered. "Command can have no friends, Miss Horton."
She smiled again. "You have one now. There's a condition to my offer. From now on, you call me Glenda Ruth. Please?"
A curious smile formed on the soldier's face. He regarded her with amusement, but there was something more as well. "It doesn't work, you know."
"What doesn't work?"
"Whatever you're trying. Like me, you've command responsibilities. It's lonely, and you don't like that. The reason command has no friends, Glenda Ruth, is not merely to spare the commander the pain of sending friends to their death. If you haven't learned the rest of it, learn it now, because some day you'll have to betray either your friends or your command, and that's a choice worth avoiding."
What am I doing? Am I trying to protect the revolution by getting to know him better-or is he right, I've no friends either, and he's the only man I ever met who could be- She let the thought fade out, and laid her hand on his for a brief second. "Let's go tell Governor Silana, John Christian. And let the little girl worry about her own emotions, will you? She knows what she's doing."
He stood next to her. They were very close and for a moment she thought he intended to kiss her. "No, you don't."
She wanted to answer, but he was already leaving the room and she had to hurry to catch him.
"I say we only gave the Fedsymp traitors what they deserved!" Jack Silana shouted. There was a mutter of approval from the delegates, and open cheers in the bleachers overlooking the gymnasium floor. "I have great respect for Glenda Ruth, but she is not old Joshua," Silana continued. "Her action in removing me from a post given by President Bannister was without authority. I demand that the Council repudiate it." There was more applause as Silana took his seat.
Glenda Ruth remained at her seat for a moment. She looked carefully at each of the thirty men and women at the horseshoe table, trying to estimate just how many votes she had. Not a majority, certainly, but perhaps a dozen. She wouldn't have to persuade more than three or four to abandon the Bannister-Silana faction, but what then? The bloc she led was no more solid than Bannister's coalition. Just who would govern the Free States?
More men were seated on the gymnasium floor beyond the council table. They were witnesses, but their placement at the focus of the Council's attention made it look as if Falkenberg and his impassive officers might be in the dock. Mayor Hastings sat with Falkenberg, and the illusion was heightened by the signs of harsh treatment he'd received. Some of his friends looked even worse.
Beyond the witnesses the spectators chattered among themselves as if this were a basketball game rather than a solemn meeting of the supreme authority for three quarters of New Washington. A gymnasium didn't seem a very dignified place to meet anyway, but there was no larger hall in Astoria Fortress.
Finally she stood. "No, I am not my father," she began. "He would have had Jack Silana shot for his actions!"
"Give it to 'em, Glenda Ruth!" someone shouted from the balcony.
Howard Bannister looked up it surprise. "We will have order here!"
"Hump it, you Preston Bay bastard!" the voice replied. The elderly rancher was joined by someone below. "Damn right, Ford Heights don't control the Valley!" There were cheers at that.
"Order! Order!" Bannister's commands drowned the shouting as the technicians turned up the amplifiers to full volume. "Miss Horton, you have the floor."
"Thank you. What I was trying to say is that we did not start this revolution to destroy New Washington! We must live with the Loyalists once it is over, and-"
"Fedsymp! She was engaged to a Feddie soldier!"
"Shut up and let her talk!" "Order! ORDER!"
Falkenberg sat motionless as the hall returned to silence and Glenda Ruth tried to speak again. "Bloody noisy lot," Jeremy Savage murmured.
Falkenberg shrugged. "Victory does that to politicians."
Glenda Ruth described the conditions she'd seen in Allansport. She told of the burned-out city, hostages herded into jail cells-
"Serves the Fedsymps right!" someone interrupted, but she managed to continue before her supporters could answer.
"Certainly they are Loyalists. Over a third of the people in the territory we control are. Loyalists are a majority in the capital city. Will it help if we persecute their friends here?"
"We won't ever take the capital the way we're fighting!"
"Damn right! Time we moved on the Feddies."
"Send the mercenaries in there, let 'em earn the taxes we pay!"
This time Bannister made little effort to control the crowd. They were saying what he had proposed to the Council, and one reason he supported Silana was because he needed the governor's merchant bloc with him on the war issue. After the crowd had shouted enough about renewing the war, Bannister used the microphone to restore order and let Glenda Ruth speak.
The Council adjourned for the day without deciding anything. Falkenberg waited for Glenda Ruth and walked out with her. "I'm glad we didn't get a vote today," she told him. "I don't think we'd win."
"Noisy beggars," Major Savage observed again.
"Democracy at work," Falkenberg said coldly. "What do you need to convince the Council that Silana is unfit as a governor?"
"That's not the real issue, John," she answered. "It's really the war. No one is satisfied with what's being done."
"I should have thought we were doing splendidly," Savage retorted. "The last Confederate thrust into the Matson ran into your ambush as planned."
"Yes, that was brilliant," Glenda Ruth said.
"Hardly. It was the only possible attack route," Falkenberg answered. "You're very quiet, Mayor Hastings." They had left the gymnasium and were crossing the parade ground to the barracks where the Friedlanders had been quartered. Falkenberg's troops had it now, and they kept the Allansport officials with them.
"I'm afraid of that vote," Hastings said. "If they send Silana back, we'll lose everything."
"Then support me!" Falkenberg snapped. "My engineers already have the automated factories and mills in reasonable shape. With some help from you they'd be running again. Then I'd have real arguments against Silana's policies."
"But that's treason," Hastings protested. "You need the Allansport industry for your war effort. Colonel, it's a hell of a way to thank you for rescuing my family from that butcher, but I can't do it."
"I suppose you're expecting a miracle to save you?" Falkenberg asked.
"No. But what happens if you win? How long will you stay on the Ranier Peninsula? Bannister's people will be there one of these days-Colonel, my only chance is for the Confederacy to bring in Franklin troops and crush the lot of you!"
"And you'll be ruled from Franklin," Glenda Ruth said. "They won't give you as much home rule as you had last time."
"I know," Roger said miserably. "But what can I do? This revolt ruined our best chance. Franklin might have been reasonable in time-I was going to give good government to everyone. But you finished that."
"All of Franklin's satraps weren't like you, Roger," Glenda Ruth said, "and don't forget their war policies! They'd have got us sucked into their schemes and eventually we'd have been fighting the CoDominium itself. Colonel Falkenberg can tell you what it's like to be victim of a CD punitive expedition!"
"Christ, I don't know what to do," Roger said unhappily.
Falkenberg muttered something which the others didn't catch, then said, "Glenda Ruth, if you will excuse me, Major Savage and I have administrative matters to discuss. I would be pleased if you'd join me for dinner in the officers' mess at 1900 hours."
"Why-thank you, John. I'd like to, but I must see the other delegates tonight. We may be able to win that vote tomorrow."
Falkenberg shrugged. "I doubt it. If you can't win it, can you delay it?"
"For a few days, perhaps-why?"
"It might help, that's all. If you can't make dinner, the Regiment's officers are entertaining guests in the mess until quite late. Will you join us when you're done politics?"
" Thank you. Yes, I will." As she crossed the parade ground to her own quarters, she wished she knew what Falkenberg and Savage were discussing. It wouldn't be administration-did it matter what the Council decided?
She looked forward to seeing John later, and the anticipation made her feel guilt. What is there about the man that does this to me? He's handsome enough, broad shoulders and thoroughly military-nonsense. I am damned if I'll believe in some atavistic compulsion to fall in love with warriors, I don't care what the anthropologists say. So why do I want to be with him? She pushed the thought away. There was something more important to think about. What would Falkenberg do if the Council voted against him? And beyond that, what would she do when he did it?
Falkenberg led Roger Hastings into his office. "Please be seated Mr. Mayor."
Roger sat uncomfortably. "Look, Colonel, I'd like to help, but-"
"Mayor Hastings, would the owners of the Allansport industries rather have half of a going concern, or all of nothing?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I will guarantee protection of the foundries and smelters in return for a half interest in them." When Hastings looked up in astonishment Falkenberg continued.
"Why not? Silana will seize them anyway. If my Regiment is part owner, I may be able to stop him."
"It wouldn't mean anything if I granted it," Hastings protested. "The owners are on Franklin."
"You are the ranking Confederate official for the entire Ranier Peninsula," Falkenberg said carefully. "Legal or not, I want your signature on this grant." He handed Roger a sheaf of papers.
Hastings read them carefully. "Colonel, this also confirms a land grant given by the rebel government! I can't do that!"
"Why not? It's all public land-and that is in your power. The document states that in exchange for protection of lives and property of the citizens of Allansport you are awarding certain lands to my Regiment. It notes that you don't consider a previous grant by the Patriot Government to be valid. There's no question of treason-you do want Allansport protected against Silana, don't you?"
"Are you offering to double-cross the Patriots?"
"No. My contract with Bannister specifically states that I cannot be made party to violations of the Laws of War. This document hires me to enforce them in an area already pacified. It doesn't state who might violate them."
"You're skating on damned thin ice, Colonel. If the Council ever saw this paper they'd hang you for treason!" Roger read it again. "I see no harm in signing, but I tell you in advance the Confederacy won't honor it. If Franklin wins this they'll throw you off this planet-if they don't have you shot."
"Let me worry about the future, Mr. Mayor. Right now your problem is protecting your people. You can help with that by signing."
"I doubt it," Hastings said. He reached for a pen. "So long as you know there isn't a shadow of validity to this because I'll be countermanded from the home world-" he scrawled his name and title across the papers and handed them back to Falkenberg.
Glenda Ruth could hear the Regimental party across the wide parade ground. As she approached with Hiram Black they seemed to be breasting their way upstream through waves of sound, the crash of drums, throbbing, wailing bagpipes, mixed with off-key songs from intoxicated male baritones.
It was worse inside. As they entered, a flashing saber swept within inches of her face. A junior captain saluted and apologized in a stream of words. "I was showing Oberleutnant Marcks a new parry I learned on Sparta, Miss. Please forgive me?" When she nodded the captain drew his companion to one side and the saber whirled again.
"That's a Friedland officer-all the Friedlanders are here," Glenda Ruth said. Hiram Black nodded grimly. The captured mercenaries wore dress uniform, green and gold contrasting with the blue and gold of Falkenberg's men. Medals flashed in the bright overhead lights. She looked across the glittering room and saw the colonel at a table on the far side.
Falkenberg and his companion stood when she reached the table after a perilous journey across the crowded floor. Pipers marched past pouring out more sound.
Falkenberg's face was flushed and she wondered if he were drunk. "Miss Horton, may I present Major Oscar von Thoma," he said formally. "Major von Thoma commands the Friedland artillery battalion."
"I-" She didn't know what to say. The Friedlanders were enemies, and Falkenberg was introducing her to the officer as his guest. "My pleasure," she stammered. "And this is Colonel Hiram Black."
Von Thoma clicked his heels. The men stood stiffly until she was seated next to Falkenberg. That kind of chivalry had almost vanished, but somehow it seemed appropriate here. As the stewards brought glasses von Thoma turned to Falkenberg. "You ask too much," he said. "Besides, you may have fired the lands from the barrels by then."
"If we have we'll reduce the price," Falkenberg said cheerfully. He noted Glenda Ruth's puzzled expression. "Major von Thoma has asked if he can buy his guns back when the campaign is ended. He doesn't care for my terms."
Hiram Black observed drily, "Seems to me the Council's goin' to want a say in fixin' that price, General Falkenberg."
Falkenberg snorted contemptuously. "No."
He is drunk, Glenda Ruth thought. It doesn't show much, but-do I know him that well already?
"Those guns were taken by the Forty-second without Council help. I will see to it that they aren't used against Patriots, and the Council has no further interest in the matter." Falkenberg turned to Glenda Ruth. "Will you win the vote tomorrow?"
"There won't be a vote tomorrow."
"So you can't win," Falkenberg muttered. "Expected that. What about the war policy vote?"
"They'll be debating for the next two days-" she looked nervously at Major von Thoma. "I don't want to be impolite, but should we discuss that with him at the table?"
"I understand." Von Thoma got unsteadily to his feet. "We will speak of this again, Colonel. It has been my pleasure, Miss Horton. Colonel Black." He bowed stiffly to each and went to the big center table where a number of Friedland officers were drinking with Falkenberg's.
"John, is this wise?" she asked. "Some of the Councillors are already accusing you of not wanting to fight-"
"Hell, they're callin' him a traitor," Black interrupted. "Soft on Fedsymps, consortin' with the enemy-they don't even like you recruitin' new men to replace your losses." Black hoisted a glass of whiskey and drained it at one gulp. "I wish some of 'em had been ridin' up the Valley with us! Glenda Ruth, that was some ride. And when Captain Frazer runs out of fuel, Falkenberg tells him, cool as you please, to use bicycles!" Black chuckled in remembrance.
"I'm serious!" Glenda Ruth protested. "John, Bannister hates you. I think he always has." The stewards brought whiskey for Falkenberg. "Wine or whiskey, Miss?" one asked.
"Wine-John, please, they're going to order you to attack the capital!"
"Interesting." His features tightened suddenly and his eyes became alert. Then he relaxed and let the whiskey take effect. "If we obey those orders I'll need Major von Thoma's good offices to get my equipment back. Doesn't Bannister know what will happen if we let them catch us on those open plains?"
"Howie Bannister knows his way 'round a conspiracy better'n he does a battlefield, General," Black observed. "We give him the Secretary of War title 'cause we thought he'd drive a hard bargain with you, but he's not much on battles."
"I've noticed," Falkenberg said. He laid his hand on Glenda Ruth's arm and gently stroked it. It was the first time he'd ever touched her, and she sat very still. "This is supposed to be a party," Falkenberg laughed. He looked up and caught the mess president's eye. "Lieutenant, have Pipe Major give us a song!"
The room was instantly still. Glenda Ruth felt the warmth of Falkenberg's hand. The soft caress promised much more, and she was suddenly glad, but there was a stab of fear as well. He'd spoken so softly, yet all those people had stopped their drinking, the drums ceased, the pipes, everything, at his one careless nod. Power like that was frightening.
The burly Pipe Major selected a young tenor. One pipe and a snare drum played as he began to sing: "Oh Hae ye nae heard o' the false Sakeld, Hae ye nae heard o' the keen Lord Scroop? For he ha' ta'en the Kinmont Willie, to Haribee for to hang him up…"
"John, please listen," she pleaded.
"They hae ta'en the news to the Bold Bacleugh…"
"Perhaps you should listen," he said gently. He raised his glass as the young voice rose and the tempo gathered.
"Oh is my basnet a widow's curch, or my lance the wand o' the willow tree! And is my hand a lady's lily hand, that this English lord should lightly me?"
After the song John forbade talk of politics. They spent the rest of the evening enjoying the party. Both the Friedlanders and Falkenberg's mercenary officers were educated men, and it was very pleasant for Glenda Ruth to have a roomful of warriors competing to please her. They taught her the wild dances of a dozen cultures, and she drank far too much; but all during the party, and even in Falkenberg's quarters later, the old border ballad haunted her.
When she left Falkenberg's room the next morning she knew she could never warn Bannister, but she had to do something. Finally she persuaded the president to meet John away from the shouting masses of the Council Chamber.
Bannister came directly to the point. "Colonel, we can't keep a large army in the field indefinitely. Miss Horton's Valley ranchers may be willing to pay these taxes, but most of our people won't."
"Just what did you expect when you began this?" Falkenberg asked.
"A long war," Bannister admitted. "But your initial successes raised hopes, and we got a lot of supporters we hadn't expected. They demand an end."
"Fair-weather soldiers," Falkenberg said. "Common enough. Why did you let them gain so much influence in your Council?"
"Because there were a lot of them."
And they all support you for President, Glenda Ruth thought. While my friends and I were out at the front, you were back here organizing the newcomers…
"After all, this is a democratic government," Bannister said.
"And thus quite unable to accomplish anything that takes sustained effort." Falkenberg activated his desk top map. "Look. We have the plains ringed with troops. The irregulars can hold the passes and swamps practically forever. If there is a threatened breakthrough my Regiment stands as a mobile reserve to meet it. They can't get at us-but we can't risk battle in the open with them."
"So what can we do?" Bannister demanded. "Franklin is sure to send reinforcements. If we wait, we lose."
"I doubt that. They've no assault boats either-they can't land in any real force on our side of the line, and what good does it do to add to their force in the capital? Eventually we starve them out. Franklin itself must be hurt by the loss of corn shipments."
"A mercenary paradise," Bannister muttered. "A long war and no fighting-you must attack while we have troops! I tell you, our support is melting away."
Falkenberg had a vision of armies thrown against the Friedland armor. He made no answer.
"John, he may be right," Glenda Ruth said. "The Council is going to insist…" His look was impassive, and she felt she was losing his respect. But he had to understand, these were only civilians in arms, and they hadn't money to pay them properly, while all the time they were guarding the passes their ranches were going to ruin… was Howard Bannister right? Was this a mercenary paradise, and John Falkenberg wasn't even trying?
The vision she'd had that lonely night at the pass came unwanted again to her mind. She fought it with the memory of the party, and afterwards…
"Just what in hell are you waiting on, Colonel Falkenberg?" Bannister demanded.
Falkenberg said nothing, and Glenda Ruth wanted to cry.
The Council had not voted six days later. Glenda Ruth used every parliamentary trick her father had taught her during the meetings, and after they adjourned each day she hustled from delegate to delegate. She made promises she couldn't keep, exploited old friendships and made new ones, and every morning she was sure only that she could delay a little longer.
She wasn't sure herself why she did it. The war vote was linked to the reappointment of Silana as governor in Allansport, and she did know that the man was incompetent; but mostly, after the debates and political meetings, Falkenberg would come for her, or send a junior officer to escort her to his quarters-and she was glad to go. They seldom spoke of politics, or even talked much at all. It was enough to be with him-but when she left in the mornings, she was afraid again. He'd never promised her anything.
On the sixth night she joined him for a late supper. When the orderlies had taken the dinner cart she sat moodily at the table. "This is what you meant, isn't it?" she asked.
"That I'd have to betray either my friends or my command-but I don't even know if you're my friend. John, what am I going to do?"
Very gently he laid his hand against her cheek. "You're going to talk sense-and keep them from appointing Silana in Allansport."
"But what are we waiting for?"
He shrugged. "Would you rather it came to an open break? There'll be no stopping them if we lose this vote. The mob's demanding your arrest right now-and for the past three days Calvin has had the Headquarters Guard on full alert in case they're fool enough to try it."
She shuddered, but before she could say more he lifted her gently to her feet and pressed her close to him. Once again her doubts vanished, but she knew they'd be back. Who was she betraying? And for what?
The crowd shouted before she could speak. "Mercenary's whore!" someone called. Her friends answered with more epithets, and it was five minutes before Bannister could restore order.
How long can I keep it up? At least another day or so, I suppose. Am I his whore? If I'm not, I don't know what I am. He's never told me. She carefully took papers from her briefcase, but there was another interruption. A messenger strode quickly, almost running, across the floor to hand a flimsy to Howard Bannister. The pudgy president glanced at it, then began to read more carefully.
The hall fell silent as everyone watched Bannister's face. The President showed a gamut of emotions, surprise, bewilderment, then carefully controlled rage. He read the message again and whispered to the messenger, who nodded. Bannister lifted the microphone.
"Councillors, I have-I suppose it would be simpler to read this to you:
"PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT FREE STATES OF WASHINGTON FROM CDSN CRUISER INTREPID BREAK BREAK WE ARE IN RECEIPT OF DOCUMENTED COMPLAINT FROM CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT THAT FREE STATES ARE IN VIOLATION OF LAWS OF WAR STOP THIS VESSEL ORDERED TO INVESTIGATE STOP LANDING BOAT ARRIVES ASTORIA SIXTEEN HUNDRED HOURS THIS DAY STOP PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT MUST BE PREPARED TO DISPATCH ARMISTICE COMMISSION TO MEET WITH DELEGATES FROM CONFEDERACY AND CODOMINIUM INVESTIGATING OFFICERS IMMEDIATELY UPON ARRIVAL OF LANDING BOAT STOP COMMANDING OFFICERS ALL MERCENARY FORCES ORDERED TO BE PRESENT TO GIVE EVIDENCE STOP BREAK BREAK JOHN GRANT CAPTAIN CODOMINIUM SPACE NAVY BREAK MESSAGE ENDS"
There was a moment of hushed silence, then the gymnasium erupted in sound. "Investigate us!?"
"Goddam CD is-"
Falkenberg caught Glenda Ruth's eye. He gestured toward the outside and left the hall. She joined him minutes later. "I really ought to stay, John. We've got to decide what to do."
"What you decide has just become unimportant," Falkenberg said. "Your Council doesn't hold as many cards as it used to."
"John, what will they do?"
He shrugged. "Try to stop the war now that they're here. I suppose it never occurred to Silana that a complaint from the Franklin industrialists is more likely to get CD attention than 'a similar squawk from a bunch of farmers…"
"You expected this! Was this what you were waiting for?"
"Something like this."
"You know more than you're saying! John, why won't you tell me? I know you don't love me, but haven't I a right to know?"
He stood at stiff attention in the bright reddish tinted sunlight for a long time. Finally he said, "Glenda Ruth, nothing's certain in politics and war. I once promised something to a girl, and I couldn't deliver it."
"We've each command responsibilities-and each other. Will you believe me when I say I've tried to keep you from having to choose-and keep myself from the same choice? You'd better get ready. A CD Court of Inquiry isn't in the habit of waiting for people, and they're due in little more than an hour."
The Court was to be held aboard Intrepid. The four-hundred-meter bottle-shaped warship in orbit around New Washington was the only neutral territory available. When the Patriot delegates were piped aboard, the Marines in the landing dock gave Bannister the exact honors they'd given the Confederate governor general, then hustled the delegation through, gray steel corridors to a petty officer's lounge reserved for them.
"Governor General Forrest of the Confederacy is already aboard, sir," the Marine sergeant escort told them. "Captain would like to see Colonel Falkenberg in his cabin in ten minutes."
Bannister looked around the small lounge. "I suppose it's bugged," he said. "Colonel, what happens now?"
Falkenberg noted the artificially friendly tone Bannister had adopted. "The captain and his advisers will hear each of us privately. If you want witnesses summoned, he'll take care of that. When the Court thinks the time proper, he'll bring both parties together. The CD usually tries to get everyone to agree rather than impose some kind of settlement."
"And if we can't agree?"
Falkenberg shrugged. "They might let you fight it out. They might order mercenaries off-planet and impose a blockade. They could even draw up their own settlement and order you to accept it."
"What happens if we just tell them to go away? What can they do?" Bannister demanded.
Falkenberg smiled tightly. "They can't conquer the planet because they haven't enough troops to occupy it-but there's not a lot else they can't do, Mr. President. There's enough power aboard this cruiser to make New Washington uninhabitable. You don't have either planetary defenses or a fleet to oppose it. I'd think a long time before I made Captain Grant angry-and on that score, I've been summoned to his cabin." Falkenberg saluted. There was no trace of mockery in the gesture, but Bannister grimaced as the soldier left the lounge.
Falkenberg was conducted past Marine sentries to the captain's cabin. John Grant, nephew of Grand Senator Martin Grant and son of the late chief of United States security services, was a tall thin officer with prematurely graying hair that made him look much older than his forty-five standard years. As Falkenberg entered Grant stood and greeted him with genuine warmth. "Good to see you again, John Christian." He extended his hand and looked at his visitor with pleasure. "You're keeping fit enough."
"So are you, Johnny." Falkenberg's smile was equally genuine. Captain Grant brought his chair from behind the desk and placed it facing Falkenberg's. Unconsciously he dogged it into place. A steward brought brandy and glasses. The marine set up a collapsible table between them, then left.
"The Grand Admiral all right?" Falkenberg asked.
"He's hanging on," Grant said. He drew in a deep breath and let it out quickly. "Just barely, though. Despite everything Uncle Martin could do the budget's lower again this year-I can't stay here long, John. Another patrol, and it's getting harder to cover these unauthorized mission is in the log. Have you accomplished your job?"
"Yeah. Went quicker than I thought- I've spent the last hundred hours wishing we'd arranged to have you arrive sooner." He went to the screen controls on the cabin bulkhead.
"Got that complaint signaled by a merchantman as we came in-surprised hell out of me. Here, let me get that, the code's a bit tricky." Grant played with the controls until New Washington's inhabited areas showed on the screen.
"Right." Falkenberg spun dials to show the current military situation on the planet below. "Stalemate as it stands," he said. "But once you order all mercenaries off-planet, we won't have much trouble taking the capital area."
"Christ, John, I can't do anything as raw as that! If the Friedlanders go, you have to as well. Hell, you've accomplished the mission. The rebels may have a hell of a time taking the capital, but it won't matter who wins. Neither one of them's going to build a fleet for a while after this war. Good work." Falkenberg nodded. "That was Grand Admiral Lermontov's plan. Neutralize this planet with minimum CD involvement and without destroying the industries. Something came up, though, Johnny, and I've decided to change it a bit. The Regiment's staying."
"Just hold on," Falkenberg said. He grinned broadly. "I'm not a mercenary under the definition in the Act. We've got a land grant, Johnny-you can leave us here as settlers, not mercenaries."
"Oh, come off it," Grant said. His voice showed irritation. "A land grant by a rebel government? Look, nobody's going to look too closely at what I do, but Franklin can buy one Grand Senator anyway-I can't risk it, John. Wish I could."
"What if the grant's confirmed by the local Loyalist government?" Falkenberg asked impishly.
"Well, then it'd be O.K.- how in hell did you manage that?" Grant was grinning again. "Have a drink and tell me about it." He poured for them. "Where do you fit in?"
Falkenberg looked up at Grant.
Slowly his expression changed to something like astonishment. "I've got a girl, Johnny. A soldier's girl, and I'm going to marry her. She's leader of most of the rebel army. There are a lot of politicians around who think they count for something, but-" he made a sharp gesture with his right hand.
"Marry the queen and become king, uh?"
"She's more like a princess. Anyway, the Loyalists aren't going to surrender to the rebels without a fight. That complaint they sent was quite genuine. There's no rebel the Loyalists will trust, not even Glenda Ruth."
Grant nodded. "Enter the soldier who enforced the Laws of War. He's married to the princess and commands the only army around-what's your real stake here, John Christian?"
Falkenberg shrugged. "Maybe the princess won't leave the kingdom. Anyway. Lermontov's trying to keep the balance of power. God knows, somebody's got to. Fine. The Grand Admiral looks ahead ten years-but I'm not sure the CoDominium's going to last ten years, Johnny."
Grant slowly nodded agreement. His voice fell and took on a note of awe. "Neither am I. It's worse just in the last few weeks-one thing, the Grand Senators are trying to hold it together, John. They've given up the Russki-American fights to stand together against their own governments. Some of them, anyway."
"Can they do it?"
"I wish I knew." Grant shook his head in bewilderment. "I always thought the CoDominium was_the one stable thing on old Earth," he said wonderingly. "Now it's all we can do to hold it together-the nationalists keep winning, John, and nobody knows how to stop them." He drained his glass. "The old man will be sorry to lose you:"
Falkenberg nodded agreement. "But there's worse places to be-do me a favor, Johnny. When you get back to Luna Base, ask the admiral to see that all copies of that New Washington mineral survey are destroyed, will you? I'd hate for somebody to learn there really is something here worth grabbing. If things break up around Earth we won't have any fleet protection at all. On the other hand, if you need a safe base some day, we'll be here. Tell the old man that too."
"Sure." Grant gave Falkenberg a twisted grin. "King John First-what kind of government will you set up, anyway?"
"Hadn't thought. Myths change, maybe we're ready for monarchy again. We'll think of something."
"Yeah." Grant filled their glasses again and stood. "One last, eh? To the CoDominium."
They drank the toast while below them New Washington turned, and a hundred parsecs away Earth armed for her last battle.