Outland Exile: Chapter 12; The Sisi

The Sisi


Environs of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin Territory, Restructured States of America (RSA)

Malila awoke, her ears ringing and too dazed to move. The air was redolent of wood smoke. She lay in a small campsite on her side in a lean-to crafted from still-green boughs woven onto saplings rooted into the ground. An ax and sheathed knife threaded onto a broad leather belt hung from a small branch near her head. Only when she moved to retrieve them did she comprehend she had been bound, her wrists tied behind her back and her legs tied at the ankles. A shiver coursed through her when she found she was naked as well. On hearing a faint scuffling behind her, Malila closed her eyes, calmed her breathing, and relaxed her body, sagging into the bonds. She felt the slight breeze of someone’s entrance and then heard nothing but the forest.

“You are awake, lass.” It wasn’t a question. “Open your eyes, or I start to take off toes.”

She detected an alien soft-burred accent. After a few seconds, a hand gripped her left foot by the instep. Her eyes shot open, startled, all pretense lost at the immediate threat.

A Sisi was crouching back on his heels, holding her foot, an odd short curved knife in his other hand, his face concealed in a grizzled beard, his skin burned muddy brown. Over his left cheek he wore a series of blue streaks, faded and indistinct. His hair grew out from under a knitted cap of uncertain design: abundant, lank, white, and to his shoulders. He filled the small space.

After a second to regard her, the old man dropped her foot and turned back to working a small piece of leather. “There you go, lass. Much better. Let’s have your name. I can’t be calling you ‘lass’ all the time, can I?”

Malila calmed herself, waiting until she was confident of her voice. Before she could answer, the old man looked up at her from under his thick eyebrows with such menace that she squeaked, “Chiu, Malila E., E11, S08, lieutenant … acting second lieutenant … serial number 59026169.”

The old man tilted his head back, his face split to show brilliant and sound teeth. He started a low vigorous laugh, stopping after he dabbed at his eyes with a square of rough fabric taken from his leather tunic.

“You should see yourself, lass, trying to look official and all, lying bare-ass naked and trussed up like a prize sow.”

He wiped his eyes again, and his face sobered. “Let me tell you what you’ve told me, so far, Acting Second Lieutenant Chiu, Malila E.

“You are seventeen years old. You’ve been sent on this shit of an assignment because you messed up and they broke you down a rank or three. You have been given the chance to redeem yourself … if you don’t screw up, as you just did. You have been in the service for seven years, and you think you are hot stuff, which you ain’t, as we wouldna be having this here conversation otherwise.

“You have a small scar under your chin, another over your left shin, and one under your right tit, which I should remark is pretty enough, although personally I prefer a little more. The scars under your chin and on your leg are no doubt from training accidents. Your hair is too short for my taste. Your facial features are regular and rather pretty in an exotic way, lass, nice shade of blue in your eyes. Once upon a time, you broke your left forearm as a child from a fall on an outstretched hand, due to some fool game, I should think. You have never birthed a baby. You are sound in heart and limb, but I don’t know about your head yet. Your nutrition could be better, and you would do well to add a few pounds for aesthetic reasons. Have I missed anything, Lieutenant?” he said, again transfixing her with his pale eyes.

Malila’s features creased in revulsion despite herself. A sense of violation inundated her as fear, adding a watery sensation, arrived unannounced. Her empty stomach sent bile surging into the back of her throat. She swallowed but then started coughing.

The man was at her side almost at once, cutting her hands apart and lifting her to a sitting position.

“There you go, Lieutenant. Can’t have you dying on me,” said the old man, almost gently.

Her nausea subsided. She tensed her elbow to swing back into his throat now that her hands were free.

“I wouldna, Malila. I really wouldna do that,” hissed the old man. It was then that she again sensed the cold of the knife pressed against her back. The watery sensation returned.

“Put your arms behind you, lass.”

She complied, and the man bound her wrists again. She took several deep breaths. It seemed to help. The day was almost spent, the scene becoming more hostile and surreal as the dimming light filled it with ominous shadows.

Elderly of the Unity were shepherded into their own enclaves on their fortieth birthday. While Malila supposed they enjoyed their retirement, she and the larger society had little use and scant respect for any of the old, used-up, and worn-out Sisis. That one of these ersatz humans would rise up to touch … to violate a citizen … a DUFS officer … was impossible to imagine.

“I need some water. You, get me water!” she demanded.

She used her command voice, thinking that and the simplicity of the request would gain her the old man’s compliance. If she could get him to abandon his script for even a moment, she increased her chances of escape. If given an opening, her years of training in the killing arts would make short work of this ancient savage. The elderly were supposed to be differential and obedient. This old obscenity needed a dose of reality. The look of dismay on the old face would go far to heal her humiliation.

“I need some water, you fathering Sisi piece of shit.”

“No, Malila, you don’t. And watch your language; there’s a lady present!”

Malila looked around but could see no other person.

“Where are my men? You can’t keep me from my men,” she said, trying to keep her voice low and flat with menace.

“Your troopers? You were given a platoon of dead men, lass. We just did them the kindness of burying them.”

She heard a sharp, gritty sound as a spray of incandescent sparks spurted in a short arc in the darkness. The sound repeated a few times. For a heartbeat, the sparks showed the old man crouching studiously in the dark. After a few attempts, he took up something from the ground and blew on it. It erupted into a red blossom of fire in his hand and the old man placed it back onto the ground before adding small twigs, creating ghastly shadows in the small space. The old man’s eyes became mere pools in a death mask. A moment later a small lamp flared, and the old man hooked the light onto the lattice of the lean-to, illuminating the dirt floor.

“Are you going to rape me now, you fathering twisted Sisi?” she shouted.

The old man shook his head, more in disgust than negation.

“Why is it that all young women think they are going to be ravished at the drop of a blouse, but no, lass, not yet … even if you ask nice. And watch your language.”

“Flecking moron! Fathering Sisi!”

The blow caught her by surprise, her teeth cutting into her lip, the metallic taste of blood filling her mouth.

The old man smiled. “Now, lass, have I got your attention? Talk nice!”

He went behind her and lashed a hide rope around her bound wrists, leaving a long bight as a lead. He then worked loose her ankle bonds and pulled her to her feet.

“Walk. I’ll tell you when to stop.” When she hesitated, the old man slapped her buttocks with his free hand and pointed the way.

Malila stepped into the dark, one bare foot in front of the other in the heavy, expectant gait of the seldom shoeless. After long minutes, her night vision returned somewhat, and she was able to see that they were in another large meadow, surrounded by a dark line of trees.

“Okay, empty your bladder, and if you can move your bowels, you’ll be more comfortable tomorrow.”

She found to her embarrassment that the mere mention made the sensation of her full bladder overwhelming. Grateful for the darkness, she crouched and relieved herself. As soon as she was finished, the man started to pull her backward off her heels.

“No mischief, girl. I didn’t have an attack of stupid,” he said, stopping her attempts to squeeze her wrists from their bonds.

“Is this how you get your pleasure, old man? Watching women pee?” she hissed.

Rather than responding, the old man told her to walk back to the light.

When they returned, he left her so he could rummage in a pile of skins, coming back with a greasy and malodorous cowhide parcel. After tying one of her ankles to a sapling, the old man released her hands. Malila stood facing him, her breasts quivering with her ragged breathing and the chill air.

He tossed her the parcel.

“Rub this on your chest, girl. Use lots of it.”

When she did not immediately respond, the old man pulled his sheath knife into the lamplight. The blade had to be over twenty-five centimeters long. Its edge blazed in the firelight and moved in small arcs in the old man’s hand. Malila, finding she could not hold his gaze, opened the greasy container and scooped out a small handful of oozing matter. Retching at its rancid odor, she self-consciously spread the soap over her breasts and under her arms, scraping off the excess into the container.

The old man approached her, and Malila’s reserve withered, cringing at his close approach. Malila yelped as he sprayed cold water onto her from a water bag. He threw her a faded square of fabric.

“Scrub it in well, lass.”

Outland Exile: Chapter Eleven; The Presence

Divisional Shop, Nyork, Unity


“Guess what jag Major Khama is on today?” Technical Sergeant Iain Dalgliesh reported as Gunnery Sergeant Jasun Ciszek entered the ops center for Battalion Thirty-Nine.

“Haven’t a clue, fecker. Stopped eavesdropping on that ensign has he?”

Iain laughed. “Nope, this is on top of that. Ya know that maintenance platoon that went missing last week? Well, it appears the looie’s implant is still skidding around the bottom of some outlander river. Khama’s intrigued.”

“One less hero of the Unity. Imagine my sorrow, would ya?” said Ciszek.

“Funny thing, Gunny, is that the lieutenant was an S08, bottom of the barrel.”

“Well, how Major Khama amuses hisself is none of my nevermind. What’s he got ya doing anyway, Doggy?”

“I set up an on the looie’s plug job every few hours. If she comes within a hundred fifty klicks of the Rampart, we get a signal.”

“I need to do anything?”

“As if I could trust you, Gunny.” He smiled. “Nope, the signal goes to Khama himself.”

“Sounds good to me, Doggy. Let’s sit down and go over the new enunciation protocols before ThiZ time, okay?”

“Aye, aye, Gunny!”

Feigning work, Iain watched as Jasun walked over to his workstation and reversed a blue folder from its habitual place. Someone from Ciszek’s faction would notice, no doubt, and would report the odd occurrence to his handler. Iain was sure to meet his own handler, a woman he knew as Shirley, within the day.

The factions were quiet for now. That was good. He had come to like Jasun, even if he belonged to the wrong faction. He really wanted things to be peaceful for a while, at any rate. He was distracted.

Monee’k was quite a distraction.


Jourdaine’s Presence was his own discovery from years ago while he had been a mere ensign. He had told no one about it since. Jourdaine did not have a foolishly generous character. Really, he thought of it as the unintended reward for attempting to rescue the COREd-out protégé of his commander Major General Divny. For reasons that escaped Jourdaine, the old man, almost a Sisi himself, had decided to rescue his E7 boyfriend from a CORE coma.

“You know him, don’t you, Eustace? He was a classmate of yours at the academy, wasn’t he? Olevar Thimosen? You could talk him out of it. It was a mistake, I’m sure. I shouldn’t have been so harsh with him. A bit too much ThiZ, and he looked into the CORE. I found him at my apartment, dead to the world. He’s at Bellvu now. We have to do something!”

“It would mean trying to go into the CORE myself, sir. I-I’m not sure, sir.” Jourdaine had sensed his heart pounding in his ears.

“I’m not a fool, ensign! I have a CORE tech on the strength. He has an idea. The implants have their own ID number, of course. He can reprogram your implant. Get you to poor Olevar’s locus in the CORE in one shot. Olevar trusts you. He’ll listen to you, and we can put a tracer on you … give you a way back. It’d mean a promotion for you, just for trying. I know I’m asking a lot, but if this works, think what good it would do for all the other COREd-out citizens?”

Jourdaine indeed knew young Olevar. They had been more than classmates but less than lovers. Olevar had abandoned him the month before Jourdaine had gone off to Officer Training School.

After an admittedly long period of self-loathing, Jourdaine had bounced back to what he’d hoped was a competent sober officer. When Olevar had joined Divny’s professional family as a protégé, neither of them had acknowledged their previous attachment.

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. For the good of the service. I am sure he will know me. I consider it a great honor, sir.”

His stomach lurched at what he was saying.

“That’s my boy! I’ll contact Pippitte right away. He’s the CORE tech. One more thing: When was your last ThiZ? Pippitte wants the attempt to be done cold, off ThiZ at least for forty-eight hours.”

“I haven’t had mine today, sir.”

“Good, it will give us some time to set up. Go see to transferring your assignments, and we will contact you. Dismissed.”

Taking ThiZ was the only way he knew to navigate the rest of the day, and now that was taken away as well.

“Sir, yes, sir!”

After the wrenching diarrhea and nausea of the next two days, the little of Jourdaine’s confidence had drained away with the toilet flushings. Nevertheless, he came when summoned.

Pippitte turned out to be a dark little man who talked to himself. Jourdaine was required to wear some sort of orthodontic apparatus that allowed him to hear Pippitte even when he was in the CORE.

The first few attempts were futile. The CORE illusion using the standard O-A was of gleaming mental corridors, branches, turnings, doors, passwords—a net of connections, passages, and information. Jourdaine easily slid along the illusion at Pippitte’s direction, his nausea subsiding as he went on, even as the man’s mutterings grew less helpful. In the end he ignored them.

He reached a blockage. Pippitte’s plan was foolish, really. No two consciousnesses could occupy the same locus at the same time. Jourdaine was preparing himself for failure when he glimpsed the dark line along the wall. It should not have been there. Questing along the line, it moved to his command.

He pushed again; it opened to blackness. He looked around to see if anyone noticed.

He moved through the gap more from frustration than curiosity to find himself in another reality. Nothing was “up” unless he told himself so. He looked back at the defect he had discovered. The bright corridors of the ’net stretched around him but were different from this vantage point, “the outside.” It looked like patchwork, as if made of plates. He expected it was code segments.

He had escaped the interior of the ’net; he was outside. His disembodied bowels began to rebel. He was floating free. He would be lost … like so many others. In panic, his mind yearned … quested … to touch the merest edge of the crack from which he had just emerged, to find a handhold, something solid … and it was so. Gracefully, his Presence swept back to the fissure, and Jourdaine reached out a “hand” to run along the edge. It sizzled coldly at his touch.

Finding Olevar was just as easy. Jourdaine thought of his name and was drawn the short distance to the locus. He could tell it was Olevar somehow; he had the right smell. However, the tornado of swirling thoughts surrounding Olevar battered Jourdaine away. Olevar recognized him.

                                                                                                                                “What are you doing? Why are you here? Useless. I’m so cold. Where are all                                                                                                                                         the pencils? The general … wanting … Don’t! Why? Go away! Og ywaa?”

Olevar was continually terrified of falling, but his frenzy was like a buzz saw to Jourdaine’s touch.

Pippitte’s urgent mutterings broke through to Jourdaine, even here, and ordered him to return. Once back, Jourdaine just told them he had been successful in contacting Olevar. The general was pink with hope. Pippitte wiped his mouth on his sleeve and asked for his apparatus back.

Jourdaine went again. He had to. Divny demanded, cajoled, and eventually ordered him, then fell to wringing his hands during Jourdaine’s attempts. Later, Jourdaine’s questing mind went unsupervised. He stopped using ThiZ. He was learning.

The CORE, outside the limitations of the Unity conventions, was a great temptation.

The lights, sounds, concepts, and jangle of identifiers flashed by, oblivious to Jourdaine’s freed Presence. In the CORE but outside Unity restrictions Jourdaine claimed a new world as his own.

Sitting near Olevar’s turmoil, Jourdaine watched huge magenta engines of commerce chunter by, flaking off RFPs in the same color that scattered in six directions. Svelte ellipses of the arts in myriad colors teemed in a large scintillating ball in the distance, waiting for sponsors, occasionally fountaining off into smaller groups, then recombining. Individuals appeared to him, at a distance, to be wraithlike squiggles, nodes that, while appearing to fill the space, were invisible when he looked past them, varying in appearance only once focused upon. Whole dimensions of meaning were somehow compressed into the scene, obvious to him but near impossible to describe once he had exited.

Only with difficulty did he go back to Olevar.

                                      “Olevar, it is me. It is Eustace. You know me. You liked me once. Remember? You don’t have to do this. You can come back with                                        me. Everything will be all right. Divny wants you to be happy. I want you to be happy. Just take my hand … Olevar, it’s me,”

he said again and again.

At first that had slowed the maelstrom of mirrored thoughts, but only at first. Olevar had stopped talking after the first few times. At intervals, he lashed out with bursts of sensation: heat, cold, a stench of death, quinine bitterness, and pain. But far worse were the memories: memories of Eustace being taunted by his crèche mates, Olevar’s own abandonment, Olevar’s ascendancy as Divny’s protégé, his smug disdain for the plodding Jourdaine.

                                   “Olevar, it is me. It is Eustace. You know me. You liked me once. You don’t have to do this. You can come back with me.                                                         Everything will be all right. Divny wants you to be happy. I want you to be happy. Just take my hand … Olevar, it’s me. It is                                            Eustace.”

It was all he could offer, unarmed as he was before the mounting violence of his friend’s circular thoughts. Battered, he would leave for a few hours, only to be forced back by Divny’s mounting anxiety and threats.

Jourdaine recounted to Olevar his own memories, random but always containing something that he should recognize: a teacher, a matron, a lost friend. Eventually, mercifully, it worked. Jourdaine never knew what it was that stopped Olevar’s whirling intensity of self-loathing. The chaos slowly petered out like a dying top.

For the first time, Eustace saw what had become of Olevar in the mirrored corridors of his thoughts. Wizened, sapped of vitality, feral, his face in the illusion of the CORE was nevertheless unmistakable. Jourdaine still shivered anytime he thought about it. The face was there, the same smooth brow and gentle mouth, but now creased with rage, guile, and savagery. In repose, the face relaxed almost to beauty—until Olevar recognized Jourdaine.

                                                                           “Little Useless, come to fumble, have you? Clueless Useless, fathering baby. Feck off someplace and fumble                                                                              yourself!”

                                          “Olevar, I came to help you come back.”

                                                                           “You help me? Help me? You have nothing! Nothing to help me!”

Jourdaine had tried again and again, but that one thought was the only one he got from the creature that Olevar had become. Pippitte told him to return. By then, Jourdaine was weary and repulsed by the creature.

In his disgust, Jourdaine killed Olevar just before he left.

Sacrifices had to be made.

The boy’s body died a few days later. Jourdaine’s report to the general described how the damage was too severe. It gave no mention of the illusion of Jourdaine’s hand sliding along the slender silver tether of Olevar’s life and severing it with a paroxysm of disgust.

The exercise had gained him rewards. Divny had given him an excellent efficiency report and, after being denounced, had not suspected Jourdaine’s betrayal. In his grief, the man had no longer cared.

Thus, Jourdaine learned to be a thinking Presence, a resident phantom in a land peopled by tourists. He alone had plumbed the possibilities of the CORE. He could project his Presence into the CORE itself and thence to another O-A recipient.

Cadets for generations had been warned that they might contract CORE fever. He wondered if the CORE had been warned that it might catch a case of Jourdaine.

The Smell Test




Something is rotten and it smells bad.

Yes, I am aware that it is an election cycle. (When has it NOT BEEN an election cycle since 2000?)

Yes, I am aware that most people vote for the “lesser of two evils.” (Any student of history would have figured out that one after the election of 1844 (Polk vs Clay, Birney and Ellmaker)

Yes, I am aware that now is an historic moment to demonstrate American inclusiveness, by electing a woman. (People voted for some other guy based on the racist idea that his skin color made a difference and see how that panned out.)

Yes, I am aware that that it is Hillary’s Turn. As a recovered progressive, the idea of personalities having turns rather than ideas always bothered me. Eventually the smell got so bad … but I digress.

But how long can you stand the SMELL?

The long list of mistakes while in the employ of the people never seems to have had a beginning and now it appears it will never have an end.

I will discount, for the time, the suspicious number and convenience of the untimely deaths of so many associated with the Clintons. Some of them surely are due to natural causes.

I will discount the odious behavior of Bill Clinton, betraying the trust of young women, Arkansas, and the highest office in the land to his most base and degraded of impulses. What transpires between spouses is, if not sacred, certainly privileged.

I will discount the numerous shady dealings like Whitewater. Avarice, can fool us all … at least once. It is the failure to learn rather than the fall  that is most heinous.


Are Americans so depraved that we can ignore the overwhelming evidence, again and again, which is wafted under our public nostrils?

Hillary has lied about each and every step that follows and then lied about the lying:

  1. Laughs at the legal machinations she used to get a child rapist acquitted
  2. Lies when she says that she and President Clinton left the White House “flat broke.” (This is not only wrong but stupid. Five minutes research is sufficient to put the lie to that. Who LIES about stuff like this?)
  3. Setting up a private server is violation of her oath and regulations of her own department even as she compels others to abide by them under threat of prosecution.
  4. Sells her office for contributions to the Clinton fund, which although some monies get to appropriate charities, is essentially a laundry for foreign contributions
  5. Demonstrates negligence in her brief and lackluster career as Secretary of state, Benghazi being the most egregious. (Last week she claimed that NO LIVES were lost in Libya. What were these 4 Americans? Gerbils?)
  6. Willfully lies about the cause of the Benghazi attack and persists in that lie while repeatedly telling others the real truth
  7. Lies about having emails to deliver, REPEATEDLY
  8. Lies about delivering the emails once discovered REPEATEDLY
  9. Lies about losing emails when she purposely had them destroyed AFTER they were subpoenaed (a federal offense). REPEATEDLY
  10. Lies about her medical conditions and presents a self-composed letter as proof
  11. Lies about scrubbing the server
  12. Lies about the content of the emails
  13. Lies about the classification of the email
  14. Lies about the header on the email about the classification of the email (OR is getting early senility as she lectured others about ist meaning in the past)
  15. Compels her people to refuse to testify
  16. Compels a witness to even APPEAR before congress (When has that ever happened before?)
    When will the people of America, whatever our politics, say enough is ENOUGH?
    If this person, in her long political life, has never learned to speak the truth but whose “go to” response in any situation is dishonesty, then how can we trust her with the levers of power?A greater wisdom than I said “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater.”

    Is not it time for the SMELL TEST to reach its natural conclusion:

    Hillary Rodham Clinton lacks the moral integrity to be president.

Chapter Ten: Suarez and the Gray Man


DUFS Divisional HQ, Nyork,

Unity 07.11.43.local_17_10_AU76

The skimmer accepted its passenger and traced a seemingly random pattern on empty streets before entering the S30-and-above armored carriageway under the city. It delivered its passenger to an anonymous beige office building three minutes later.

A senior officer of the DUFS strode through the lobby and to the elevator. The elevator moved. Lieutenant Vivalagente Suarez remained brooding.

The Chiu woman had delivered another black eye. The failure of a sensor station was a triviality, and if Chiu had admitted her failure instead of trying to ape her superiors, nothing more would have occurred … other than her demotion. Foolishly, Chiu had jeopardized Miro, knowingly or unknowingly, and there was nothing for it. It had taken years to find him, and Suarez was not going to let this girl mess it up. Looking after Miramundo was the least she could do for her dead parents.

But she had let her anger affect her judgment. In a moment of pique, she’d sent Chiu to fix the station herself. A squad of CRNAs and an OAA would have been sufficient, and Chiu should have been able to put the station to rights in a few days. Instead, the jumped-up little fool had gone missing. Most of the platoon identifiers had died within minutes of each other. The scout craft had discovered Sunprairie still smoldering. The few operating implants had come from the bottom of a mass of charred bodies in a half-submerged stairwell.

It had taken a day to ensure that Chiu was not within the death pit. After recalibration, they had picked up her O-A signal. That had led to a wasted day tacking back and forth across a patch of muddy water on some nameless river in the outlands.

As she stepped from the elevator, she said, “Get Jourdaine in to me as soon as you can, Adrianna,” without breaking stride as she entered the security portal of her office. It was time to see what her new adjutant was good for.


Lieutenant Colonel Jourdaine noted the summons and, turning, emptied the contents of his desktop into a secure drawer. He fastened his own ElectoMag lock onto it and pressed his thumb to the surface to secure it. He left his austere office and began to trot the several floors to his audience with Suarez.

Jourdaine Eustace Tilley, lieutenant colonel, DUFS, E21, S29, had made himself a very useful man, he thought. He had made his career by being useful to his superiors, to the DUFS, and to the nation. One commanding officer after another had given him the jobs that had no glamor if successful and immense disgrace if not successful.

Yet nothing about him had ever seemed to snag the recognition of his superiors. He had gone a full year in General Suarez’s staff before she’d remembered his name reliably. Nonetheless, after his recent elevation to adjutant, he would be the officer to whom Suarez gave the jobs that required subtlety, judgment, and ingenuity. Her demands would serve him well … for a while, at least.

He never stayed within any one command very long. They would name him to a post, he would be quietly proficient for a year or so, and then he would quietly start the rumors. Sometimes his superiors had taken excessive liberties in the distribution of spoils. On other occasions, unit money had been misapplied. Sometimes exposés of darker political ambitions among his fellow officers had surfaced. There was always something. With some clever manipulation on his part, he would enlarge any potential wrongdoing and expose the perpetrators. Then those higher up would promote him and quietly transfer him to another unit. His old commander would retire “for the good of the service.” Thus did Eustace Jourdaine prosper.

Jourdaine smiled more broadly at the irony of it as he exited onto Suarez’s floor.


Even as Jourdaine was shown in, Suarez said, “Tell me about Sunprairie.”

Jourdaine came to parade rest.

“It was a trap, sir. An entire platoon is dead, and Lieutenant Chiu is missing and presumed captured. I assume that was the object of the outages all summer long … to capture an officer for questioning.”

“How many pulse rifles were lost?” she asked.

“Uhh … forty-two plus Lieutenant Chiu’s sidearm.”

“They weren’t recovered when the sensor station was retaken?”

“No, sir. We had to excavate the stairwell to recover the bodies …”

A faint grimace of distaste crossed Suarez’s features. “Spare me the details. Any disfigurements of the bodies, Colonel?”

He stopped for the beat of a heart. She already knew! “Yes, sir, the right forefingers were removed at the DIP joint, as well as skin and tissue of the thenar eminence.”

Suarez looked at Jourdaine and raised an eyebrow.

“Ah, DIP … They cut through the first knuckle … here. And the thenar eminence is where we insert the ID-chip on version S72.” He indicated the base of his thumb.

“So how many signature chips have these savages obtained?”

“Forty-two, sir.”

“How many weapons with their signature chips have we lost in the outlands prior to this?”

This was not going as he had expected. “I don’t immediately know the answer to that question, General Suarez.”

“Five since the start of the Unity. Five total. So now the savages have forty-two Springfield model 72s, our best field weapon, and the lieutenant’s sidearm. Chiu has delivered this disaster into our laps. I hope for her sake she’s dead.”

“May I ask, General, what you propose to do?” Jourdaine kept his face bland for the woman to inspect.

“I plan to give you the problem,” she said finally.

“Yes, sir. How would you like me to proceed? Shall I call a committee meeting of … ‘interested’ parties?”

“Good start, Jourdaine.” She gave him an odd look, hawk-like. He was beginning to feel increasingly mousy.

“Keep me posted,” she said. “The advantage to this is that the disaster is big enough that most other commands within the service will want to help us minimize the damage.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, Colonel, tell me your views of the Aroostook Campaign.”

The hawk was showing him her talons, but he’d come prepared for this one.

“Sir, the Aroostook Campaign is winding down. The Quebecers have pretty much gotten what they wanted. My opinion is that the war has been a nightmare and was probably never winnable. Getting a rail line to an ice-free port is a realpolitik goal for Canadians. Northern Main is just blueberries and pulpwood for us. My understanding is that General of the Army Emanuel is awaiting a vote of confidence.”

Suarez smiled. “So suddenly, the Unity has a stable northern border, and we will have to recycle these troopers within eighteen months,” Suarez said.


“If you are going to be an effective adjutant, there are a few things you should know. You have just passed into the senior staff, Eustace. Here is point number one: CRNAs don’t last more than about four to six years after Sapping. They do improve with training … slowly, of course. So currently half of our experienced troopers will be compost in eighteen months.” She looked down to brush at her sleeve, as if giving him time to consider.

“Then it is imperative that we use the army now rather than waiting.”

“You understand. Excellent. Where would you use them?” she asked quietly.

Jourdaine hesitated. Anywhere from the ruins of Detroyt to Bangor, Main, would be part of a treaty settlement with the Canadians. An attack anywhere west of the Rampart, roughly the crest of the Applach, from Pensy to NorKarolyna, would require logistical support through the Unity’s own farmlands and power grid. A counterattack, although improbable, would be damaging to the Unity’s breadbasket. Moreover the entire area west of the Applach had been Scorched and was still useless for agriculture. Attacking west, they would be fighting uphill, at risk, for nothing more than ashes.

“Aytlana, Jorja Province,” he concluded aloud.

The Scorching had not been as devastating farther south. Jorja remained a prize now that the Unity was to make peace with the truculent Canadians.

Suarez smiled. “Excellent, Colonel. Tell me how you would proceed.”

Jourdaine hesitated before continuing. Suarez’s question might be a trap. A little too much candor in a subordinate was not seemly. He looked at her and caught for the least slice of time her rapt expression. Her eyes gleamed, and she licked her lips as she waited. He suddenly understood that Suarez wanted a partner in this, someone with whom she could share the hard decisions. The way ahead appeared clear.

“Make an air strike to take power and communication centers in Aytlana with forces following up on the ground with munitions and pulse cannons. Then fortify Aytlana and wait to receive a counterattack.”

“Why would they attack us? Why not just seal us off and starve us out?” the hawk asked the mouse.

“It’s classic Unity analysis, sir, Center of Gravity. They would have no choice but to attack. Aytlana is the center of all ground transport in the region, a manufacturing center, the capital of Jorja, and a bastion against an attack on Florida. They either attack or surrender.”

“Then what?” she asked.

“They would attack and lose. As they retreat, we pursue and destroy them in detail. We would have a hundred and fifty thousand hectares of new land.”

“Problems?” asked Suarez.

“You have to convince the council and avoid the Solons’ veto.”

Suarez smiled.

Go for broke, he thought.

“You have three obstacles,” he said. “One is that the Unity has become complacent, and the other generals will not like being reminded of it. Since the shooting war up north cooled off in 72, the DUFS have become more a police force than an army.

“The second is that the outlands have become an enigma, and no one likes walking into a dark room. Once we stopped patrolling the outlands, we lost touch with the tactical situation. Forty-two sensor stations work well but never show any activity whatever. Sunprairie works only when the barbarians let it, and then it sees nothing until the next attack.

“And finally, with all due respect, the third reason is you, sir. You will gain power if the council approves the plan. Concentrated power in one individual makes the council nervous. You have had too much success in the past to make them want to give you more.”

Suarez looked pleased, and, in turn, Jourdaine was pleased—for different reasons.

Suarez stood from behind her desk for the first time. “The council will have to agree, Colonel. The Unity is at its most fragile state since the start of the new republic. Food reserves are falling, despite whatever the gray suits tell us. We need more food and more power production. Both those things need land.”

“Why don’t we just get rid of the Sisi? Fewer nonproducers could only help us sooner, General.”

“That’s the one thing we dare not do, Colonel!”

She explained.

“Oh, I see, sir. We are in a trap, aren’t we?” replied Jourdaine. Obviously a new balance needed to be reached.

“Pretty much, Colonel. But it is worse,” Suarez continued. “Recruiting all the men and infertile women only nets about one in three as a CRNA. The other two enter a sort of catatonia and have to be recycled as fertilizer. Last year, we changed the process, sacrificed a little of the operational specs for better recruitment and longer life span, but that only helps a little. We need more land and water in the short run and better recruitment methods in the long run.” She paused. “Sit down, Colonel, and let me show you the plans for Jorja.”

Jourdaine accepted the seat gratefully. “What of the Solons, General?” he asked.

Indeed what of the Solons? The council discussed, planned, and proposed. The Solons disposed. The original Solons had offered stability in return for loyalty. Now they were anonymous, selecting their members from those about to retire.

“What of them, Colonel? I expect they can do the math as well as we can.”

“Don’t you think they will be unwilling to drop one war just to pick up another somewhere else?” Jourdaine was authentically curious as to what his commander might say.

“They don’t think like us … or maybe they do,” Suarez said. “What happens in an offensive war, Colonel? You spend men and matériel on the chance you get more resources to feed the survivors. If you win, the country has more food to share among fewer mouths, less likelihood of a rebellion but more of a coup d’état from your successful generals.”

“I see, sir, and if you lose, you can eliminate your most likely competitors, the generals, but will be more likely to suffer a rebellion with less resources to put it down. But you still have fewer mouths to feed.”

“So as a Solon, if the Unity wins?” asked the Hawk.

“Placate the generals with bribes and honors and then make them the face of retribution with the people.”

“And if we lose?”

“Execute the generals and placate the people with the resources of those killed already,” Jourdaine said promptly, exhilarated, looking behind the curtain of power.

“So, Colonel, given the information, do you think the Solons will agree?” Suarez asked. Jourdaine could detect no right answer from her face or attitude.

“They will agree. Regardless, win or lose, they will have fewer mouths. In the long run, they win, as CRNAs are always improving.”

The hawk smiled at the mouse and called out for tea.


Two hours later, after leaving his commander’s office, Jourdaine took the stairs three at a time. Suarez’s desire to bury the news of the Sunprairie debacle was predictable. As a loyal subordinate, Jourdaine would work tirelessly to accomplish that end. He would also have one more piece of black capital when it came for her denunciation. Suarez, if he pitched it to the right people, would show herself to be the architect of an embarrassing Unity defeat and cover-up. Moreover, he now had an idea of Suarez’s real goal, and that fact was invaluable.

Returning to his office, he entered and locked his door, checked the telltales for any unauthorized entry in his absence, and unlocked his desk. The Chiu woman had played her unenviable part in his own elevation. She was a messy detail. If alive, she could show, if anyone asked, that she had never intended to implicate Miramundo Morales in her own plot. That would lead Suarez to discover how he, Jourdaine, had faked the original committee list. That would, in turn, be … unfortunate.

Inside the Unity, he could have contained her. She was no longer contained, if she was alive at all. The odd behavior of Chiu’s implant indicated a certain amount of craft. It suggested that she was a great deal more resourceful than expected or that someone else thought her worth the effort. This required his immediate Presence.

Jourdaine composed himself at his desk and contacted Major Rajesh Khama via their mutual O-A contact.

Khama was a lucky early discovery of Jourdaine’s, useful beyond expectations. No faction claimed him. To Jourdaine, it was like having a direct line to an unknowing coconspirator, the adjutant for General Ingamar Magness, a man noted for his political longevity and careful avoidance of both risk and excellence. Any action from Major Khama would be imputed to Magness and discounted as trivial. On the surface, Khama and Jourdaine’s relations were cordial if somewhat distant.

After some banter, Jourdaine’s Presence skipped across the connection and ransacked the recent memory of the other officer. He numbed the growing panic and increased the appropriate neurotransmitters a bit before placing the necessary command and erasing Khama’s labile memory of himself. Instead, Khama would have warm fuzzy thoughts about Jourdaine for days.

Free Read: Chapter Nine


Nyork, Unity


Hecate ran down the stone steps of the museum and into the street without looking back, glad that a real excuse compelled her to leave Malila and go where she might think. She hurried along the sidewalk under the awnings put up to catch the buildings in their inevitable decay. After taking the descender for the belt trip uptown, she looked at her watch. She’d get back only a few minutes early, and it made her nervous. She would feel much better if she arrived at her usual fifteen minutes before the end of lunchtime.

Maneuvering to the fastest belt, she started walking whenever she could, dodging small groups of people as she went, and emerged into the towering lobby of the People’s Building at 148th.

Malila was so frustratingly dense at times! It came from her finding things so easy. She had never needed to study at school, had never needed to practice. It gave her a blind spot, almost a cruelty. It also made Malila blind to the failings of the Unity. Hecate supposed that was only reasonable for a DUFS. The whole society heaved and groaned, toiled and struggled, merely to give the soldiers their next shiny toy. Certainly, no one was going to dispute their position of supremacy. Data readouts and ponderous reports were no match for a couple of pulse mortar shells lobbed into a ministry.

Hecate absentmindedly walked to her elevator and announced her floor before settling back into thought.

She had gotten much up too upset about the krill farm and could not blame Malila, or her boss, for not sharing her concern. She supposed Undersecretary Rice herself was engaged in an unseen battle with her own superiors, just as Hecate was engaged with Rice. While Hecate had to contend with awkward facts coming in from the field, Rice had to contend with a couple dozen S22s, like Hecate herself. Rice had to keep the S22s moving forward and had to make her own bosses happy with an analysis of the analyses. Hecate wondered if she would ever have the ruthlessness needed for Rice’s job.

Exiting the elevator, Hecate entered the bustle of her office, dodging the kid from CORE as he sped by on skates.

“Kazzen! Can I talk with you?” she said to the disappearing back of the computer tech.

“Get back to you in a minute, Jones,” echoed back to her in the nearly empty office.

She finally was able to wend her way to the small desk in a windowless corner, and her stomach lurched.

“Jervani-ah, can I help you?” she said, and the young man looked up.

“Oh, uh, hi, Hecate! I was just looking. Nice holos, really,” he said, rapidly putting down. Then he moved it and put down a paper he was carrying. “I should check up on something … Bye,” he said as he walked off.

Dumb and clumsy, Jervani-ah was somebody’s new henchman. It might just be a mind game, but it might be someone trying to gather the innocent coincidences that fueled office politics. It had taken Hecate only a short time to realize that politics was the true product of her whole division.

Rearranging her pictures back to where they should be, she picked up a holo of her friends and herself in a frame she’d made in school as a child, all improbable flowers and pink hearts. A younger Malila smiled back at her from midair as the projection sensed her regard and activated itself.

The image, giving her a faint buzzing feedback as it appeared to rest on her palm, enlarged as she moved it nearer. Malila smiled broadly at her from an age ago. Malila was the true believer of the group and never saw the problems others did. If she led, people followed.

Luscena, next to her in the holo, possessed the sheer vitality to lead, but her talent had seduced her. She preened herself as long as others applauded. Alexandra, next to her, had the smarts but not the personality to make a stand on her own. Alex spun stories to spec, fooling the less wary … and herself along with everyone else.

Hecate moved a finger along the contours of the holo to the last of her friends, Tiffany’s auburn hair off-color in the image. Tiffany was such a good person, bumbling along with her head down, doing good things for less worthy people, and not looking where she was going. It was always so good to have them together again, just like today. It spoke to old times and confidences.

She loved them all, with a childish ardent love that she could never really examine. And she loved Victor.

Hecate’s coworkers started arriving, coming back from lunch the usual thirteen minutes late. She put the holo image down; it faded slowly as she moved to the next holo of Victor himself, looking a bit absentminded as he received the Osmian Prize in 74.

Doctor Victor di Lorenzo was her first patron … her only one for the four years since they’d met. He was one of the people her teachers had helped her choose among the more senior staff when she was an E7, just starting government guild school.

The whole thing had terrified her younger self. Hecate could see the utility of the system easily enough, of course. Take the new kids straight out of the crèche, and have them mentored by the experienced bureaucrats. In exchange for guidance and protection, the thirteen-year-olds provided loyalty and pleasure-sex.

But she had not enjoyed offering herself. It must have shown. In the morning, after each submission ceremony, the other patrons-elect had wished her well and wished her elsewhere. None had accepted her as a protégé.

Victor had been an S31 and an E28 when they’d met. She’d followed the protocol precisely: disrobing, then enunciating the submission speech while looking into his eyes. Victor had held her by the hand before leading her to his bedroom.

He’d held her all night in a warm embrace, listening to her fears and hopes, sharing stories of his life, and letting her sleep. She had risen the next morning to leave, thinking he had rejected her as a protégé, only to be surprised as he gently had pulled her back to his bed and told her of his acceptance.

They had been inseparable ever since. He was not a particularly good patron for someone in the bureaucracy. His area of expertise was in bacteriology, but his work was important and well regarded. Their prolonged relationship had amused and then concerned her teachers. It was a joke among his friends. Neither she nor Victor cared. They were both happy to remain each other’s sole pleasure-sex partner and nearly constant companion.

Victor reminded her of Tiffany, in a way. He was a good man who dealt with the problems at hand and expended little regard for the commotion of life around him. He lived, in his way, a life of quiet seclusion: doing his experiments, collating the data, writing his insightful papers, publishing them, and defending them with humor and dignity. Fame surprised him.

With Victor now an S33 their lives should be easier, but Victor was probably not as good an administrator as he was an investigator. He depended too much on others’ good will and integrity.

Her world revolved between these three centers of gravity: Victor, her friends, and work.

Work … She had found her work fulfilling until Undersecretary Rice had arrived. Her last boss, Wiscoll Root, had always maintained that their job was to get the best information into the most understandable package for the ward leaders and district supervisors to argue over and let the chips fall where they may. As long as the information was sound, he did not care what happened to it.

Undersecretary Rice cared what happened to it … sometimes. She would devote endless efforts to craft a report one day. On another, she would shovel critical findings into an obscure footnote in a huge routine report. Victor had sniffed when Hecate had told him Rice was her new boss.

Hecate replaced Victor’s holo in line and straightened them all again before sitting down to start the report for the now-defunct krill farm. It would be a short report.

A group of touring schoolchildren had arrived to discover the entire effusion was dead or lost back into the ocean. The nets had rotted in the water. The workers had been long gone, their names fictional, the manager a well-protected career bureaucrat in Nyork who most likely had no idea where Negzed was located in the first place. Victor had somehow known something was wrong.

Victor always knew a great deal more than he admitted, which was odd, as he was so nonpolitical. Even granting he was a brilliant man, his influence seeped into odd places, like the book warehouses. Hecate always wondered why they had not just burned the books for fuel during the chaotic days of the Meltdown. Instead, the books had been bundled up and tossed into old warehouses near the wharves. Victor had obtained the pass on a whim when they had been lazing away a Sunday morning in bed.

The volume of old books, the really old ones on paper, was huge. Many had been destroyed by mildew and rats, but some of the books in the interior of the bundles had been saved from destruction. Those she read. She brought the stories back to Victor, and he loved them … but then again, Victor loved her. Hecate mined the warehouses for tales and stories to make Victor laugh and, on occasion, to make him appear as young as when they’d first met. Victor would be forty years old in April AU 78, months from now. Then he would be gone.