Chapters 53, 54, & 55 Outland Exile

CHAPTER 53

ADVICE AND DISSENT

o-breakup-advice-facebook

“I understand. Or rather, I don’t understand, but I know I should,” Hecate said, looking across the cluttered and soiled white linen at Malila.

“Understand what?” Malila said.

“I should understand how seductive babies should be to us, to women. They are to men too, of course, but I don’t think I will understand that.”

Malila look puzzled until Hecate added, “I’ve been reading.”

Malila moved around the table to sit next to her. “You are still going to the warehouse? What is it like?”

“Like a morgue, but the corpses look back at you. The books are only alive when people can read them. They aren’t really alive with just me.”

“So you’ve found some good stories for Victor?”

“Dozens, but … he was denounced. He killed himself last autumn. It was just after you were gone.”

Malila watched her friend openmouthed, expecting her to dissolve into tears. Hecate shrugged and gave a wan parody of a smile.

“Oh … Heccy!”

Malila sought her friend’s hands. They were cool, her warmth slipping away.

“It would have been only another eighteen months. He would have retired,” Hecate added, almost as an apology.

“Yes, he could … retire,” murmured Malila, drifting off into something Xavier had said.

Hecate shifted; a cloud passed over the skylights, darkening her face. “Retire? Yeah … retire. I wonder if that is like your hunt. Do you still think there are whales?”

Hecate continued rapidly, before Malila said anything. “I saw it after you disappeared. They didn’t think to fake the cosmetic production records. I looked. There was no rise in cetyl ester production or a drop in jojoba oil use … No whale-oil derivatives became available after you were supposed to have harvested two big males, and the substitute didn’t decline in use either. It’s all deception.”

“I don’t know what you are trying to tell me, Heccy. I just wanted to get home. There were so many old people there. They acted crazy, and everyone let them.”

“How many old people are we talking about?” Hecate asked.

“One … only one. He was the man who captured me.” Malila, suddenly embarrassed, looked down at her hands.

“What sort of crazy are we talking about?” Hecate’s voice changed, becoming sterner somehow, Malila thought.

“Well, I know he has killed at least seven people, for sure. He used to beat me if I said things … whip me if I made a mistake or walked too slow,” she said, wondering why the statement felt like a betrayal.

“The outlands are a barbaric place,” Hecate agreed. “Still, you haven’t told me crazy yet. Cruel … but not crazy. He was your jailor, right? Did he fuck you?”

The grotesque word seemed to echo off the walls to her.

“No. It was strange. I thought we would. I couldn’t get away from him. He watched me when I was naked. I guess that was just to be sure I wouldn’t escape.”

“So he wasn’t attracted to you … That is crazy enough.” A thin smile chased across Hecate’s lips as Malila looked up, feeling she had to defend Jesse.

“No … I think he would have liked to … have pleasure-sex … with me, but it was like he was keeping a promise. That is like him. It took us six weeks to walk to the … where we were going. He got sick near the end. He went sort of crazy then, but he got better. He was a little boy before the Rampart was built, he said. He must be in his seventies.”

“But …” Hecate prodded.

“He could outwalk me carrying a forty-kilo pack. Everyone called him the ‘old man.’ They meant it as a term of respect, can you believe? I even tried to kill him once. He went against orders to keep me alive. But we became friends, I mean real friends, without the pleasure-sex. I just never really got him, I think. He used to recite poetry, old poetry, for me. I liked him. It got all mixed up. He told me he loved me.”

“Maybe he thought you could love him. That makes a lot of people crazy,” murmured Hecate, looking away as her voice went flat.

Malila felt strange hearing Hecate’s words. “I think I did love him. But he wouldn’t even discuss being a patron. He said he would not shame me by doing that.”

“You offered to be a Sisi’s protégé?”

“It did not seem so bad at the time; Jesse is different—too different. Does that make sense?”

“No, not really, Mally. But I am getting it secondhand, of course. You were there; I wasn’t.”

“But we finally connected, no submission, no patronage … It was lovely and warm and tender, and then … he started talking about some other woman. He wanted to include this Mary Eng person. I think I would have gone along with that, but then he started to scare me, curse me, talking about all kinds of stuff.

Malila felt Hecate press her hands just as despair started to overwhelm her.

“We were half-dressed, and he was going on about another woman. That was so unlike him. I can’t explain. It was just too weird. It was just being cruel. I didn’t take it well. I told him to father himself and walked off,” Malila said and smiled, before weeping.

This brought a cluck of disdain from Hecate, but then she stopped. “Wait a moment, Mally. Something I read.”

Hecate looked distracted, then focused on Malila again. “Did he say Mary, a woman’s name, or marry, a verb? What did he mean really? What did you do after he got weird on you?”

“I was just too upset, and I left him there. We never had the chance to talk. I never … didn’t see him before I was rescued. What do you mean ‘verb’? What does marry mean?”

“It doesn’t mean pleasure-sex, or rather it does … It’s complicated. It means he wants you for his wife. Why did he start cursing you?”

“Wife? Like Sally? I didn’t say anything … I don’t remember exactly what he said other than ‘father something.’”

Hecate frowned. “Father hasn’t always been a curse word, Mally. I think he may just have wanted to talk to your actual father,” Hecate answered.

“My father? He’s Sapped and dead. Jesse knew that.”

“I think he wanted to check that people who love you were okay with him … whether he was good for you. At least, that is what I gleaned from some of the books. It is really old style, though.”

“Marry-ing?”

“A pair bond, a contract guaranteed by something like the state. Do they still do that in the outlands?”

“Yeah, they do,” Malila said, remembering the way Moses’s eyes had followed Sally as she’d disappeared into the forest … just before he’d been shot.

“Your Sisi wasn’t asking for pleasure-sex; he was asking to be considered a patron for life … and then have sex,” Hecate said with a smirk. She then sobered after looking into Malila’s eyes.

Hecate took a deep breath. “Mally, I’m glad I could clear this up for you, but you know this is over, right? Nothing good happens with Sisis; it’s just a fact of life. They get quirky as they get older. They start listening to other voices, not the ones the rest of us hear. In the books, the Sisis don’t know what they are saying half the time.”

“I ran away from him. I said terrible things. He must think I’m crazy.”

“It doesn’t matter. It never mattered. You have to stay focused and strong now. You are in danger. You know things … We both do.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you have gotten out of the box. The Unity … it isn’t what we think it is. You have seen the outlands. They’ll notice you’ve changed.”

“Don’t be silly, Heccy. They went to all this trouble to rescue me.”

“Okay, I don’t know why they rescued you, but have you ever talked to anyone else who came back from the outlands? Laborers, technicians, engineers, other DUFS? I’ll bet you never met anyone who was actually there.”

“What are you saying?”

“Old stories … maybe just old stories. They can’t let anyone see the stars,” Hecate said and shook her head before looking down.

Suddenly the air in the room was too warm for Malila. She watched one of the waiters look up and start toward her. The room itself seemed to shrivel around her, compressing her, the scent of the flowers choking her.

She rose. “Hecate, I can’t talk now. It’s too much. Jourdaine wanted me back, and he made it happen!”

She left without looking back, afraid that Hecate would say something more. She did not remember the trip back to her new quarters; Edie just told her where to go, and she went. Later she wept. Malila’s one consolation was knowing that running from Jesse had saved him. The skimmer would have found them together, and Jesse would have died like Xavier … like Moses.

Hecate rose, watching Malila retreat from the table, and gathered her own things.

She had done it again. She had tried to be a friend, to give good advice, and to help Malila avoid her own mistakes. Instead, Malila had backed away, fearful and confused, just when they needed each other. She needed Malila’s strength, and Malila needed her insight. Sometimes, people couldn’t hear the truth. The ministry certainly couldn’t.

Hecate had not known it last fall, but she knew it now.

It was the plum production. She had gotten that data herself, recording the consumption of “plums, dried” in a target population of new retirees. She had been assured that Sisis needed their dried plums, but there was a problem. If every year new retirees were added to the pool, and if the retirees lived just ten more years, the consumption ought to be at least five times greater than what the enclaves requisitioned.

Something was wrong.

In an act of supreme courage, Hecate had submitted a report on the Pamlico River krill effusion harvest. Last year, the effusion had died, a victim to institutional sloth and hierarchical greed. She reported it as unchanged from the previous harvest. She ought to have been fired; instead, Undersecretary Rice had complimented her for an orderly and timely report. The data it contained had been as phony as Hecate’s career.

Malila was changed. She was more vigorous, more vivid, than she ever had been. The sun must have done something to her. Her hands were rough, the nails not quite perfect, her skin darkened. She acted more competent, less talkative. But she seemed so sad. Her stories of the infant were too poignant and of the old man much too sincere.

The amount of comm’net resources expended on Malila was immense. The effort expended on her rescue was already huge. Malila would have to pay for that, in some fashion, before the scales balanced. The factions always wanted the scales to balance.

Cynical? Yes, Hecate supposed she had become cynical. The death of Victor, the unmasking of the uselessness of her job, and the books … indeed, the books.

What she had read in the last six months had given her a cynicism, perhaps a realism, about herself and her country. Right now Malila, as much as Hecate loved her, could not see it. Perhaps Malila would never see the reality of the Unity. In a few months, maybe a few years, Malila’s bill would come due, and she would pay for her rescue and her current celebrity. The price would be steep. Hecate could not help her and could not stand to watch her fall.

More importantly, she could not stay to watch her fall. Hecate was going to be denounced. There were too many things … coincidences: meetings that people talked about to which she had never been invited, small changes in who reported to whom, and, most telling, how the guy from CORE ignored her requests. The CORE guys always seemed to know whom they could ignore without reprisal.

Even so, it took her a week to gather the courage to call Tiffany.

Hecate met her in the lobby of the Mid-Manatten Euthanatorium, the all-purpose mortuary, nursing home, clinic, skilled-care facility, and hospital where Tiffany worked.

The lobby was almost deserted. A few low stone benches crouched on the metal gray floor. Posters in pleasant shades of gold and aqua decorated the walls and proclaimed:

Shorten the Misery!

Dignify Your Death!

Live Proudly … Die Proudly!

Copies were on sale in the gift shop.

Tiffany was there waiting for her. She had been the voice of compassion in their group since childhood; it was to her that Hecate had spilled her list of disappointments, disillusions, and fears.

“Have you ever thought of killing yourself, like Victor?” Tiffany asked.

“Yes.”

“So what are you going to do?”

Hecate had been reticent to tell her at first, but only at first.

“Suicide is treason, you know, Hecate.”

“Are you turning me in, Tiffany?”

“Of course not. I am your friend, aren’t I? But why are you leaving us? Don’t we mean enough for you to stay?”

“Please, Tiff, this is going to be hard for me. If you make me answer, I will just start crying. Everything I do here is useless. They are going to denounce me.”

“You don’t know that. We love you; I love you. You will find someone else. Victor was a good man, but there are other men.”

“It’s not just Victor … It’s everything. Life shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t be like this. Tiffany, just help me … You’re the only one I can trust.”

Nodding, Tiffany finally agreed. It took weeks to organize Hecate’s suicide.

CHAPTER 54

KLEOPHIRRA BANKS!

Jourdaine sat in his austere darkened office, the city displaying its garish wares to him from his perch thirty floors above the street. His campaign against Suarez was coming along nicely, but his timing would have to be perfect. Chiu was now an asset and no longer a liability. She might even become the centerpiece.

The major uncontrolled variables now were the ’net commentators, especially James J. Gordon. The commentators acted as an independent political force outside the factions. Where Gordon led, others followed. At least one Solon-elect had underestimated Gordon and had been denounced, at the very moment of his elevation, by an exposé from the “satirist in chief.”

While Gordon’s concurrence was critical, timing was of greater concern. If Jourdaine started too soon, Gordon might let him twist in the wind, an early martyr before the main battle was even joined. But if he started his attack after Gordon came out against Suarez, then Jourdaine’s actions would appear subordinate, perhaps even submissive to Gordon’s.

Chiu could make a difference. Pompous editorials, including his own, crowded in one upon the other, escalated her importance. She was plausible. If the truth about her denunciation last October could be quashed, it would justify all the trouble rescuing her. After six months as a captive of the savages, he had expected to find a brutalized cinder of an officer. Instead he had found Malila: young, attractive, and compliant.

She had possibilities. A coup d’état needed a face. Among the best revolutionaries were those who sealed their fame by dying … just as victory was proclaimed. So the very best coup d’état should be led by a pretty—and pretty expendable—face.

Malila fit on both counts. She had but two career paths open to her at the moment, he thought: denunciation for cowardice in the face of the enemy or elevation as a plucky young heroine destined for high office. It was indeed fortunate for her that she had an éminence grise already in position to advise her.

Malila now commanded a platoon of line troopers—a combat platoon and not a support platoon. An experienced un-Sapped platoon sergeant, Natan Grauer, offered the prospect of an effective and well-run platoon command organization. Malila’s new commanding general was Brigadier General Ingamar Magness, a man, she discovered, who had had a dazzlingly unremarkable career. She would not get a free pass up the hierarchy on Magness’s coattails. Nevertheless, promotion led through combat command. It was a step up, any way she looked at it.

Her new orders had included the phrase “making yourself available to vetted media interviews, as consistent with good military order and discipline.” After her introductory audience with her new commanding general, a bearlike man who seemed to confuse obstinacy for integrity, Malila was made to understand that she had better show up for every interview her CO suggested and no other interviews whatever.

She received the first request that very day, with a copy of her gracious signed acceptance letter already affixed. Edie tsked.

At the appointed time, Malila arrived at what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. She entered through a half-opened door. A light at the extreme end of the dark interior flashed above a sign reading, “NO ENTRANCE WHILE LIGHT IS FLASHING.”

Malila waited until a harried little man with a meticulous blond mustache burst out.

“Where is that jotting bizzle?” he called over his shoulder.

“She was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago. These guys are on the fathering clock!”

He stopped at once and looked up at her. “Are you Lieutenant Shoe?”

“Lieutenant Chiu, Malila E., reporting as ordered!” she recited.

“Yeah … right. Get in here and see Glenda for makeup. Kleo’s running late, so you got a couple minutes.”

Malila found Glenda, a tall, heavy woman sporting peacock-feather implants from her forehead to the base of her neck. She clucked over Malila for a few minutes before releasing her to the attentions of a production underling. Malila was positioned in the wings to be introduced.

A tall, shapely, chocolate-skinned blonde eventually swept onto the stage and arranged herself on the taller of two stools.

Malila heard an off-stage announcer recite, “… most-popular news personality of the early-evening, upper-middle-class demographic in the Nyork district … Kleophirra Banks!”

Simulated applause filled the stage, and Kleophirra started her monologue: no doubt, a witty, sardonic, and knowing summation of the current scene. Rather too soon, however, Kleophirra made the introduction, and Malila pushed out onto the stage to take the shorter and narrower stool. Having no idea what was expected of her, Malila tried to maintain the shavetail’s facial mask.

Kleophirra wended her way through a highly colored and dramatic version of her captivity as Malila stared at the camera’s lens, mesmerized. Smart and savage at times, Kleophirra, despite being classed among the C-list of political analysts on the ’net, was no slouch.

At last, Kleophirra turned to her. “And we have with us today the young DUFS officer whose story should stir us all. Lieutenant Chiu spent over six months in the hands of these barbarians before being rescued. Your entire platoon was murdered, is that right?”

“Yes, Citizen Banks.”

“Just call me Kleophirra, please. Tell us about your captivity, Malila. Were you assaulted?”

Malila was speechless. How much of the colony could she reveal? How much of what she did say now would condemn her in the eyes of the people or her superiors? Her disquiet was sliding to panic when she became aware of the Presence.

The Presence did not identify itself, but she could tell it was Jourdaine. He dropped down into her consciousness with the warm treacle of reassurance.

“Breathe, Malila. This woman needs your words. You do not need hers.”

“I am just so glad I am at home now,” Malila said to the camera. “The outlands are a barbaric place. I am lucky to be alive.”

It was true, she thought.

“Outlanders killed my men after I was already captured. I couldn’t stop them. Then I was marched under guard for six weeks before I was turned over. That nearly killed me.”

Again, she thought, all true. I nearly killed as well.

“Excellent, Malila. More-personal things now: the starvation, the beatings?”

The Presence’s suggested responses to her alternated between humble and noble, funny and grave, witty and nonchalant. He congratulated her after each exchange. Jourdaine added a commentary about the “wounds she could not show on prime time.” It was a brilliant stroke, she thought.

Malila returned to her quarters in time to see her interview. In postproduction, her performance sparkled. Moreover, Kleophirra’s laudatory epilogue swelled Malila with pride, despite herself. She basked in congratulations and Jourdaine’s approval for days until the next interview, The Sofistree DeGeorge Experience.

After DeGeorge came The Tiffanie Breaux Crew. After that, the names and the personalities blurred, coming about every third day. She never got used to it. Some smiled as they set traps for her, and others just sneered. Some used her as text for the host’s current rant. Each time, the Presence would slide next to her, his responses perfectly calculated to throw back each jibe. After every interview, approval and acceptance … almost of love … flooded her senses.

Nevertheless, she slept poorly; odd, mostly unremembered dreams exhausted her.

At times they woke her. In her darkened bedroom, she surrendered to wakefulness, stretching and slipping out of her bed to sit on the edge. She remembered that last dream, seeing herself bronzed, a living statue, unable to move, pigeons sitting on her head and whitewashing her face. Glory had been embossed on the plinth.

Glory was no longer a concept she knew. Power she understood. It had been visited upon her more than once, but glory?

Certainly, the Unity was glorious; vast expanses of city, marvelous technology, and potent armies all spoke to “glory.”

Malila thought back to her winter of captivity. There had been no glory there. The Unity had stories of glory, but it usually meant that someone had died; there was no one left to tell the real story.

Glory … it was not enough.

CHAPTER 55

THE BLOODY SHIRT

North of Citadel Bangor, Main, Unity

23.49.51.local_19_05_AU77

DUFS Captain Lucien Delaheny was irked after being pulled out of a warm, comfortable bed. Collecting some green ensign who had wandered into enemy territory was a job for a lieutenant.

Ensign Samuel Idaban had, contrary to orders, DUFS protocol, and fecking common sense, malingered off into the fog along the river in Bangor and been captured four days ago. Served the kid right. The cease-fire line in Main had been stable since forever. Every shavetail should have known where to walk! The scuttlebutt was that Idaban was lovesick over some failed patronage. Invidious system! Bad for discipline and corrosive of command, but what could you do?

Delaheny looked out the window at the long lines of pines passing down the edges of the headlights as they plowed forward into the blackness. The problem for the iceheads and for Idaban was that the kid was as dumb as he looked. The Canadian interrogators were good, ruthless, and good. They would wring him dry and then do it again a few times to make sure. He wondered how much of Ensign Idaban would be left.

“Coming up now, Captain. They’re already here.”

Delaheny leaned forward and picked up the reflective strips of the Canadian staff car. He could see two burly men wrestle a smaller hooded figure out of the backseat as an officer looked on.

Later, he would report how the hood came off and how Idaban looked around before staring into the approaching lights … into Delaheny’s own eyes.

Delaheny would not report how he could almost taste the boy’s terror.

He watched in the odd slow motion of doom: the boy breaking loose, his hand coming up with the officer’s sidearm, his backing away, the shot, the officer going down, and the boy’s look of surprise slumping to fear. He watched as Idaban turned and ran from the approaching lights.

He saw how the boy’s head disappeared into a sudden small cloud of pink.

Delaheny reported the death of Idaban, Samuel A., shot while trying to escape. Delaheny was the only one there when Samuel Idaban was cremated.

This should not be a significant event, Jourdaine thought. Foolish young men and women were getting themselves killed for foolish reasons all the time. This fool just happened to have worn a DUFS uniform. Somebody had leaked Idaban’s death to the ’nets. The story had already been cast on a few major outlets.

It was now real. All the other outlets would follow suit. In a week, it would be old news … no longer real.

But for the next cycle, Jourdaine could use it. If he used it well, this immediate insult to the honor and dignity of the Democratic Unity should prompt closer inspection of the entire trajectory of current events. One lost officer was an embarrassment; two was the sign of gross negligence … or worse.

Ensign Idaban, Samuel A., would have immortality, if ever so briefly, in the annals of the Democratic Unity.

It was time to move.

Jourdaine contacted his man inside the media. In this case, his man was an E31, S22 transvestite known as Shirley, who personed the human-interest desk of the more-prominent and less-scrupulous of the media conglomerates. The conversation was brief and cryptic. The data package was bundled and flash-transmitted to Shirley’s aliased mail slot. Equally cryptic would be Shirley’s assignment to cover a prestigious film festival, with a generous expense allowance.

The media attacks on Suarez started within the hour. Several of the more-prestigious outlets produced attacks of their own without prompting. Suarez had trodden upon more than her fair share of toes during her long years of service. The owners of the toes were lining up to add their denunciations.

With this much bile already spilled, Jourdaine was correct that Gordon’s active and early support would not be necessary, as long as he did not oppose. His Presence would shepherd Malila Chiu through an interview with Gordon without a hitch.

At the artlessly appropriate time, Jourdaine released his own statement to the comm’nets:

I confirm my unswerving and wholehearted support for Lieutenant General Suarez for her many, many years of dedicated service to the defense forces and to the nation.

I am confident that when all the facts are known, they will exculpate the reports of General Suarez’s apparently reactionary behavior. It is regrettable that such questions are even being raised about one of her stature.

The service and the country are larger than the concerns of any one officer, no matter how talented she or he might be. There could be but one honorable conclusion for anyone justifiably accused of such behavior. No doubt the numerous reports will be found to be fabricated.

As expected, Suarez came out fighting. The first few of her gambits were spectacular but predictable and easily refuted. Her fiery counterattack prompted allegations of her obvious emotional instability.

General Suarez’s real offensive began with her calling in all her markers, her own legion of black capital. While potent, it appeared undisciplined. Her defense, no doubt formidable at one time, had not been kept up to date. Jourdaine had seen to that. She called upon politicians who had been marginalized already and could bring little influence to bear.

Her career, designed around rooting out and preventing faction spies, meant she had no subordinates to throw to the wolves now. Indeed, the number of people who could help her might well have dropped below the effective horizon already, Jourdaine estimated. Suarez’s personal and heartfelt appeals to her few friends were impudently ignored or imprudently accepted by those less adept at the art of politics. At some tipping point, Suarez would merely enlarge the hole into which she fell.

Jourdaine was having the time of his life.

Heather had done that little thing she did that was going to be the death of him. Dalgliesh was almost ten minutes late when he slid into his workstation smelling of her scent, running on ThiZ and hormones.

“Nice of you to join us in the campaign for a better Democratic Unity, Technical Sergeant Dalgliesh! About to send the provost guard out for you.”

“Sorry, Gunny. It won’t happen again.”

“Only if I cut it off, Doggy, and even then I’ll still give it even odds,” he replied. Then he smiled.

“Sorry, you know how it is.”

“I do. That’s why we are having this conversation. Last time I cover for you, understood?”

“Thank you. Last time, I promise.”

“At any rate, Doggy, seems the major wants us to dump all the data from that auto ping we started last fall, the one for … Shoe?”

“Chiu. Didn’t they find her? Doing a dump isn’t going to hide anything! You know that. Every purge just means that the file is closed and flagged for some intelligence S20. Better off just ignoring it and letting the CORE decide it is useless … get rid of it on its own.”

Jasun replied, almost as if he were talking to a trainee, “I told him so, face-to-face. So he knows it, I know it, and you know it. I am following orders, just like you had better.”

“Yes, of course. Right now!”

This was something his handler needed to know at once. The factions were at it again.

The technical sergeant was about to wet himself, Jourdaine noted. That might give Jourdaine an edge in the interrogation.

The belt station was deserted at this time of night. No surveillance camera recorded the little corner of the platform now occupied by the two men.

“Don’t turn around, Sergeant Dalgliesh. Shirley called me. Let’s just call me Mr. Smith, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, start from the beginning. Tell me everything you remember about Major Khama since last … October, shall we?”

Jourdaine listened impassively. It was all there. Khama’s order for the auto ping on Chiu, his diversion of the data to a CORE locus, and then, surprisingly, his actual visitation to Ciszek, or rather a report of his actual visitation. The tech sergeant, Dalgliesh, was exceptionally well trained, observant … even meticulous.

“Excellent work, Sergeant. This is extremely valuable. You will be well rewarded for your effort.”

“Thank you, sir. Can I go now?”

“Of course. In the future, we will not use this meeting site again. Use the next drop site on the list if you see the flag go up, understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jourdaine watched the man walk hurriedly away down the belt platform and disappear into a toilet.

He had underestimated Suarez. He was sure now. His own hoard of black capital had been massive, but it had not been enough. His major debtors had done what they could and been denounced in turn.

Jourdaine reached the street and signaled for his skimmer. Waiting, he eased back away from the curb and into the shadows.

Khama, one of his oldest allies, was a Suarez plant. That was now certain. Khama had had excellent protection for the auto ping and had then thrown it away by ordering a data dump. Jourdaine’s carefully concealed rescue of Chiu would look like a cover-up. How much did Khama really know, or was he just throwing wrenches into the works?

Jourdaine’s skimmer arrived, and he slid into the passenger compartment with a sigh of relief. He quested his destination, and the vehicle moved off without signaling.

Years of waiting had brought Jourdaine to this point. He would not fail for lack of audacity or energy. Now was the time to strike. He had one more weapon.

The Unity needed to meet young Lieutenant Miramundo Morales, Suarez’s natural brother and proof of her nepotism. They needed to meet Morales now before Suarez could use Khama as a weapon against him.

It would mean unmasking himself. It would mean Suarez must be seen as the sole author of all the Unity’s disasters of late: the loss of Sunprairie, Idaban’s death, drops in production, Morales, Chiu’s capture, and even the debacle in Main. They all needed to fit into a cohesive story, sealing Suarez’s fate.

Jourdaine arrived at his headquarters and walked up to his office. Gordon was supposed to interview Malila Chiu, and she expected his Presence.

Sacrifices had to be made.

Leave a Reply