Authors: Chris Bunch
“Remember that, Yohns, in the future. I’m not pleased with you at the moment. So take this as a lesson, learn to concentrate on the job at hand instead of your own private pastimes, and don’t make the mistake again.”
Njangu bowed, turned, and left.
He was trebly pleased.
anything goes awry, no matter whose fault it is, or if it’s no one’s, there clearly must be someone to blame, and it’s never the Protector. Good. That keeps underlings from wanting to report not only failure, but problems as well
And all the time
, he thought piously,
spent with my companions, hasn’t been hem-hem wasted. Redruth clearly thinks I’m sex-happy, and therefore more of a dolt, and it’s never bad to be thought stupid by an enemy
But his main joy came from what appeared to be the success of the intrusion. The first ship, entering the system far distant from Larix Prime, had been a drone, intended to be discovered, tracked, and destroyed.
Its only purpose was to cover the second ship, which shouldn’t have been discovered at all. It had, which wasn’t good, but it also appeared that the Larissans had lost track of the ship during the critical moments of its insertion. That ship carried a relay satellite, which should have been, and hopefully was, planted on one of Larix Five’s moons.
Now all he had to do was figure out a way to talk to it, assuming it was there.
• • •
Ideally, Njangu had hoped Ab Yohns was entitled to a transceiver, which could be modified to his purposes.
Next most likely would be for him simply to buy a nice, powerful com, slide in one of the chips he’d brought, so the set broadcast on an off-frequency, code his transmissions, use a couple of recorders to transform the transmission into a blurt, and send it, keeping one eye open for any direction finders in the neighborhood.
Njangu had figured he was closely watched, and any such purchase would be regarded with lifted eyebrow. He’d planned to resurrect one of his civilian talents and steal such a receiver.
Protector Redruth, however, had matters well in hand. There were
transceivers in civilian use. All coms were controlled by the security services, and were sealed units, preset on the state’s frequencies. Yoshitaro thought if he could acquire one of those sets, and try to pry it open, either he wouldn’t have the skills to do the mod, or the set would self-destruct on him, probably howling on some frequency that a social misfit was messing with it.
Even the transceivers in aircraft were sealed and preset to the needed frequencies.
As for finding a store that sold electronic parts, none such seemed to exist, nor would Njangu have the slightest idea of what to buy and how to put it together from scratch.
He considered the omnipresent vids, and wondered if they might not be more than a box on which to watch sports, news, or government directives. It would be very simple to add a small spyeye to each set, and further tighten Redruth’s hold on Larix.
One night Yoshitaro pretended to get drunk, no doubt depressed by Redruth’s chiding, a sad and solitary figure with a bottle, glowering at some sports show. Reception was very bad, evidently, for he whacked the set every now and again, without improving the transmission quality.
Finally, after a bottle and a half had vanished, going unobtrusively down various drains instead of his gullet, Yoshitaro could stand no more. He stumbled over, picked up the set, lifted it overhead and sent it crashing to the floor, to explode in flinders.
That would get him a reputation for being illtempered. He assumed there were other more sophisticated eyes in the room continuing to record.
In fact, a few minutes after he examined the wreckage, his eventual reputation was well deserved.
The set did include a primitive lens and transmitter. Yoshitaro had hoped he would be able to replace its chip with one of the ones he’d brought, somehow jack up the power supply, and use that as his transmitter to the satellite and then to Cumbre.
The spyeye was a one-piece block, as was the rest of the television’s guts. No doubt an experienced tech could have figured a way to modify them, but Njangu Yoshitaro was a thug, not an electronics engineer.
He kicked petulantly at the pieces of television, woke Pyder, told her to get certain devices and restraints, and come with him to Brythe’s room.
The next morning, the television had been replaced, and no one made any reference to Yoshitaro’s fit of rage.
But he still had no way of communicating with that satellite, assuming it was there, and Cumbre.
Which meant that all of his scheming and cleverness, so far, was useless.
And the back of his mind kept wondering just what form Redruth’s retaliation against Cumbre would take, and when and how in the hell he could send a warning.
“Nothing from Yoshitaro, Jon?” Garvin asked, trying to sound unconcerned.
“Flipping nothing,” Hedley said. “An E-month, and zed flipping zed.”
“He’s probably having trouble finding a pay com that’ll take Cumbrian coins.”
“Probably,” Hedley said. “So did you have any other reason to bother me, other than to see how cheerfully I lie about not being worried?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Garvin said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be bothering Larix and Kura more than we are. Larix is probably still on alert after our last debacle. So let’s send a nice, small team in on Kura, and bash its rural sleepy head a little bit.”
“With you, of course, on point.”
“Why not?” Garvin said. “I’ll let Penwyth, who hasn’t been doing squat lately except making sure Angara meets the proper number of Rentiers, take over II Section, and go out with some of Njangu’s thugs.”
“ ‘Kay,” Hedley said. “I’m listening. Insert shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and I don’t mind the idea of pulling the tiger’s tail a little. What about getting out?”
“If we mess with them just on the ground,” Jaansma said confidently, “they shouldn’t be looking to space. Plant a relay satellite like we just did for Njangu, and when I holler, come in with three or four
, a couple of the new destroyers, and we scamper, with no casualties except to the goblins.”
Hedley gnawed at his upper lip. “Could work. But I’ll run it past the old man.”
• • •
“It’s a wash,” Hedley said. “Angara says way, way too risky without any more data on Kura. Sorry.”
“Goddamit, boss, the only way we’re going to lick Redruth is to hit him here, there, and everywhere. Like that old song has it, ‘call me the wind or whatever, since I keep blowing down the road.’ ”
“Wind,” Hedley said. “Try a serious bit of storming. Praise the Buddha without a flipping bellybutton that we’re not in the bad old days when you first came aboard, or somebody’d be putting out bulletins calling us Stormforce or some other rabid-ass piece of silliness. Remember, we used to be, what, Swift Lance, or whatever?”
“You’re changing the subject and trying to cheer me up,” Garvin complained.
“I am that.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Keep waiting on Njangu to call in?”
• • •
Three days later, Protector Redruth’s response to the two pinpricks came.
A ship patrolling off D-Cumbre reported three ships, one an unknown destroyer-class, the other two Nana-class Confederation patrol crafts in-system, not having been reported by any of the outer planets’ warning posts. The report had barely been made, and alarms were gonging, when the patrol reported a missile launch from the larger ship. All three intruders fled, using the closest nav point to vanish back into N-space.
The missile was aimed at D-Cumbre, and projections of its orbit suggested it was homing on Dharma Island.
The patrol ship launched countermissiles, and the attacking missile evaded them. A second launch missed as well.
The missile’s orbit was further analyzed, and Leggett City, D-Cumbre’s capital, was determined to be the target.
, two piloted by Musth, drove for space. Just out-atmosphere they were in range of the missile, and fired countermissiles.
Two struck home. Nuclear fire in D-Cumbre’s skies brought early dawn to the planet.
• • •
“Change one,” Hedley said. “Angara’s approved your run against Kura. PlanGov’s in major hysteria with what happened this morning. Nobody wants to grow up and glow in the dark, and nukes are for barbarians anyway.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“For what? A chance to get flipping killed?” But Hedley said that under his breath. “Go get your goddamned volunteers.”
• • •
“There’ll be me,” Monique Lir said. “Nectan, Irthing, Heckmyer, Jil Mahim for medic, Montagna as sniper, al Sharif, a couple more with electronics cross-training.”
“Mostly noncoms, I see,” Jaansma said.
“You don’t think we’re gonna let the pooptitties in the rear ranks have all the fun, do you?”
• • •
“Might I ask what you two want?” Garvin said, rubbing his eyes. “It’s late, I’m sleepy, I’m only half-through with … with whatever I’m doing, and I don’t have a lot of time to waste playing.”
Ben Dill slid into the chair in front of Garvin’s desk, Dr. Danfin Froude remained standing.
“Understand you’re going out looking for trouble,” Dill said.
“And that you could use a couple of volunteers,” Froude added.
“Doesn’t this frigging Force have any goddamned security?”
“Not against Ben Dill.”
“My answer’s a swift, unqualified go away. I’m full up on hee-roes.”
“Not a chance,” Dill said calmly.
“You’re a ship driver,” Garvin said. “We’re going to be hoofing it. You always snivel when you’ve got to lug all that poundage around on primary drive.”
“I’ve been known to walk through a jungle or two,” Dill said. “Carrying a couple of fagged-out I&R types, come to think about it.”
“And you didn’t see me falling back when we were stranded on that Musth world,” Froude added. “Besides, you’ll need someone capable of analysis when you’re down on Kura.”
“Yeesh,” Garvin said. “You, Doctor, I could probably use. But you still ain’t convinced me, Ben. Don’t you want to stick around here playing zoomie? Think of all the medals and glory and nice clean uniforms, not to mention your fan club. Jungle sluts are definitely not for high-class folks like you.”
“There ain’t many medals when nothing’s going on, and especially since somebody else got all the glory for zotting that A-boomer of Redruth’s,” Dill said. “Look at it this way, Garvin. I’m bigger than you, faster than you, I used to be your CO, and I’ll bust your frigging arm if you don’t change your mind, and then
gets to go play in the bushes.”
Garvin snarled in wordless defeat. “Go wake up Lir, and draw the gear she’ll tell you to.”
• • •
“How long will you be gone?” Jasith asked.
“I’m not sure,” Garvin said. “A month. Maybe more.”
“Was this whole thing your idea?”
Garvin shifted uncomfortably on the soft couch, looked out across the Heights, across the bay at Camp Mahan. “Uh, yeh. It was.”
“You really want to get killed, don’t you?”
“I don’t believe,” Garvin said honestly, “there’s anybody mean enough to kill me, yet.”
Jasith got up, went to the sideboard, started to pour herself another drink, changed her mind.
“I know what you are,” she said slowly. “Probably, I guess, what you always will be. So there’s no good in my saying anything.
“Except this, you bastard. You are going to take one day, and one night, off before you go. I’ll make sure you eat nothing but your favorite foods, so you have something to remember, out there on whatever horrible world you’re going to, eating dried bat shit.
“And I want to make sure I walk bowlegged when you leave, so
have something to remember, ‘til you get back.”
• • •
The first ship to lift clear of Camp Mahan was a newly commissioned light destroyer, Garvin’s team aboard. Two
hanging from them like remoras.
Off D-Cumbre, they flickered into hyperspace, six jumps from the nearly unknown system of Kura.
Njangu Yoshitaro beavered on, scudding back and forth across Larix. He found problems, areas where the system was vulnerable. Small ones were reported to Redruth as he’d been ordered, potential big ones were noted for when — when, not if, Yoshitaro insisted to himself — he was able to find reliable offplanet communications.
He fell into the habit of working out in the same government gym Celidon used. When they sparred, as they did occasionally, Njangu was carefully less quick, less skilled than the other man.
Sometimes they met for dinner at one or another of the restaurants the government’s elite favored. Celidon was hardly a gourmet, his standard order underdone beef and raw vegetables. This, Njangu discovered the hard way, wasn’t spartanism — Larissan cooking preferred everything either cooked gray, or buried under a highly spiced sauce.
Their conversations were mostly fencing matches, which Njangu quite enjoyed, neither man willing to talk in specifics about his ideas or past or ambitions.
Yoshitaro did learn, however, at least one interesting series of facts:
Redruth had done exactly as Danfin Froude theorized: When the “troubles” started in the Confederation, Redruth had responded instantly, not wanting a “plague of anarchy” to intrude on his domain. As the situation worsened within the Empire, Redruth had banned most shipping into the Confederation. The few ships permitted out-system returned reporting planetary systems pulling out of the Confederation, and using the chaos to seize neighboring worlds, systems.
“It looked to the Protector,” Celidon went on, “as if civil war, if civil war can have a dozen different sides, was spreading. When Centrum itself screamed for support, Redruth refused, saying that war was raging through his own worlds, and he had no soldiers to spare. Cleverly, he saw nothing to be gained by losing his best troops in a distant galaxy, or, worse, having them come home infected with whatever ideas were destroying the stability of the Confederation.
“Redruth followed that up with garbled messages that suggested the situation was worsening.”
“Would one of them maybe have been that Cumbre had fallen out of contact?”
“Something like that,” Celidon said, washing down the last of his meat with ice water. “Ships coming from your … sorry, the worlds you were reporting from or the Confederation were taken.”
Njangu remembered that a ship called the
, which he and Garvin had been aboard as raw recruits, had been seized by Celidon’s men.
“But you knew that,” Celidon said. “Weren’t you the bright lad who suborned that official on Centrum to let us know anytime something interesting in the way of materials would be passing our way?”
Njangu hid his surprise and smiled blandly.
“Eventually, I suppose, the Confederation assumed Larix/Kura/Cumbre had fallen into the same shitter as everyone else,” Celidon continued, “and so they stopped signaling and sending ships.
“Of course,” Celidon went on, “this isn’t just game-playing on the part of the Protector. In five or six years, maybe more, maybe less, when things have had a chance to get much worse, Redruth wants to start nibbling at the closer bits of the Confederation. He wants Cumbre taken so he won’t have to worry about his back, plus it’s ripe for exploiting, both in men and minerals.
“It’s good that you got away from Cumbre in time, Yohns. Although I’ll give you a suggestion. When we move against Cumbre, next year or the year after, of course you’ll want to accompany the Protector.
“He’ll reward you, after the fall, making you possibly the head of his government there. That’s well and good, if your ambition is limited.
“But if it were offered to me, I’d find an excuse to refuse. The real prize, Yohns, will be however much of the Confederation the Protector can carve off. Maybe a little … maybe a lot. Maybe as far as Centrum itself. Take and hold Centrum, and how many systems will come a-begging for protection?” Celidon smiled. “That’s where the real power will lie, power beyond anyone’s dreams.
“And there’s no reason the Protector won’t succeed. He comes from a
• • •
Njangu’s country estate sat on the edge of a man-made lake, about two hours’ flight from Agur. It was quite a compound, with formal gardens, pools, stables, and all the rest that a rich country squire could want.
Njangu hated it.
He was city, through and through, and still had to stop himself from grabbing for a gun when a night bird sang unexpectedly, in spite of his time on jungle patrols with I&R.
Nevertheless, he went to his estate as often as he could, and was seen pacing, dictating into recorders, making notes, preparing reports for the Protector. He made sure he left those notes about, so whichever servants were in Redruth’s pay — he assumed all — could read them and testify as to his loyalty and hard work.
Njangu was starting to feel agent paranoia, with every hand against him, and never anyone to relax around. He recognized his twitch, thought he’d gotten soft since he’d been with the Legion, actually having friends he could be honest with for the first time in his life.
To relieve it, he played harnhuns with Goons Alpha and Beta, always as the quarry, which kept him not only in shape, but maintained his cunning as well.
And it was during one harnhuns game that he found a solution to his greatest problem.
Njangu had taken ten minutes lead before his bodyguards came after him, and tried a new escape. He ran to a creek, splashed down it, trying to stay on rocks, until it ended in the lake. He waded out, then swam parallel with the shore, away from the compound, toward the edges of the estate.
He came out of the water, across the gravel beach, and planned to move in a wide circle back toward the compound. If he made it without being caught, he would have won. Currently his record was one in three.
He was moving slowly through brush when he heard the snap of a gun safety. Njangu froze, saw a man wearing a camo suit come from behind a bush, blaster leveled.
Njangu obeyed. Two other men came out from his flanks, and three from behind him.
Ab Yohns,” Njangu said. “And what are you doing on my estate?”
“You are not on your grounds, if you are
Yohns, but on those belonging to
Appledore,” the man who’d stopped him said. “Show identification.”
“I have none.” Njangu wore only one-piece drab overalls, with a small hydration system on his back. He felt hands move over his back, between his legs, around his stomach, kept from reflexively killing the searcher or pitching him overhead into the first man with a gun.
“Nothing,” the man said. The first man frowned.
“STILL!” someone shouted. The first man started to turn, and a blaster bolt slammed into the ground next to him. Clearly a professional, his fingers opened, and his gun dropped. Njangu heard the thud of other weapons falling.
A gun barrel came from behind a tree, and Njangu recognized a bit of Alpha’s face.
“Identities?” Alpha snarled.
Appledore’s security element,” the man said. “You … whoever you are … are on his property.”
Beta slid out of the brush, a gun in his hand.
Njangu almost started laughing. Beta went to the first man, searched
, found ID.
“They’re who they say they are,” he said. Alpha came out of cover, putting his pistol away.
“I assume this is really
Yohns?” the first man asked.
“You assume right,” Beta said.
“My apologies, sir,” the man said, voice thin. Njangu assumed that meant Yohns outranked Appledore in the hierarchy. “But you set off our perimeter alarms, sir, and we responded as ordered.”
Njangu saw barely hidden fear on the faces of Appledore’s men, realized he could probably have them sent to the undersea mines or whatever other hellhole he wished.
“Don’t apologize for doing your job,” he said. “Go ahead and pick up your guns.”
“Thank you, sir,” and the others chorused their thanks.
“One question, though. You said perimeter security, and I didn’t see anything.”
All of them, including Alpha and Beta, showed amusement.
“Here, sir,” and Appledore’s man took Njangu to what looked like a boulder. Njangu couldn’t tell it wasn’t real until he examined it closely.
“Ah,” he said. “Thanks. You can tell
Appledore from me that he has most alert men. I won’t have to worry about ever being attacked by social misfits from this side of my estate.”
The men thanked him again, and hastily trotted away.
“We have those gimmicks, too?” Njangu said.
“Show me some of them.”
Alpha showed Yoshitaro other rocks, false dead logs, and such.
“Interesting,” he said. “I assume they’re self-powered, and transmit by radio? Heat- and motion-sensitive?”
“Active or passive?”
“Completely passive in their base setting, sir, so you could walk past them with a sensor and not get a readout until they begin reporting. The only way they can be spotted is visually, although maybe they put out enough power you could get them with an infrared from close enough. Plus they can be remotely modified by the operator to lie doggo if there’s sensors around, just like it can be set to go off for two men, and ignore three or one.”
“Sophisticated little sucker,” Njangu said. “Are these standard … I mean, are you issued a certain number of logs, rocks, stumps per estate?”
“We have several varieties of cases we can put the guard units into. The units themselves are pretty standard, but a technician can modify them for whatever sensing security wants, then make up the exterior depending on what camouflage is required. We keep a dozen or so on hand, since weather’s hard on them.”
• • •
The perimeter alarms, built for custom modification, yielded easily to exploration. It took no more than two hours for Njangu to finish eyeballing the guts of the one he’d gotten from a storeroom and sketch out what was what. The components were linked by simple universal plugs, so it took little additional time to remove the transmitter chip and slide one of Njangu’s specials in, a minimum of cursing and bending required.
The chips had been built by technicians on D-Cumbre, who’d carefully scanned the electronic records of the first intrusion Cumbre had made into Larix’s space, examining all frequencies in use. They set their chips to use frequencies close, but not too close, to those common wavelengths. The chips would accept input from any standard recorder via a tiny cord. Njangu kept several recorders handy, using them to dictate his notes into.
The hard part for Yoshitaro was wrangling the power converter from the vid he’d smashed into the circuit as a booster. Now, finished, wanting a drink, he hoped he’d done it right, hoped he’d just built himself a neat little transmitter.
The next day, he went for a stroll, telling his bodyguards he wanted to be alone. He wanted to find as many of the perimeter alarms as he could, see if there were any holes in the perimeter that he could spot.
Careful searching and logical thought located half a dozen, and he found a seventh in a remote spot. It took only a few moments to replace that sensor with his special rock and clip it into the estate’s wiring.
Since the alarms were passive, no one should notice his device wouldn’t broadcast squat even if a dinosaur wandered past.
The only time the transmitter would be noticeable is when its antenna was strung, and then Yoshitaro would be very close, with a gun ready.
Njangu spent the rest of the day writing a signal with what he felt was the most essential data, including the confirmation of Froude’s theory about the Confederation. II Section’s cryptanalysts had decided on an archaic book cipher. They’d given him four, all based on religious books common throughout the worlds of man. Njangu had found, in the same library he’d done his research, a copy of the
, standard translation. The agreed code began with sura VI.
Message ready, he shot it back and forth between his recorders, slow to fast, again and again, until it was no more than five seconds long.
The next day, he took the tape out to the device, quickly strung wire from trees into an exotic antenna as he’d been taught, plugged in the recorder, and blurted the message into space.
Njangu Yoshitaro, superspy, was back in business.
All he needed next was to figure a way to receive messages. But, with his confidence restored, he figured that would come with time.
That night, to reward himself, he had sparkling wine with his four companions and let the evening deteriorate into a disgustingly sensual, but extremely interesting marathon that didn’t end until well after dawn.
• • •
Yoshitaro spent the next three days waiting to see if there were any signs of alarm or detection vehicles responding to his com. There was nothing, or nothing he discovered.
He returned to Agur and his duties, again traveling across Larix, trying to see and evaluate everything.
His second stop was with the Protector’s Own, the elite palace guard. He pretended interest in their motivation, what sort of background they came from, whether he thought they could be subverted by one of the infamous social misfits.
They fell, largely, into two categories: dedicated fanatics, whose life would be fulfilled if they had a chance to take a blaster bolt in the guts for Redruth; and a scattering of people pretending zealotry with a cool eye for the main chance and staying close to the center of power.
Those people he was very interested in, for obvious reasons, and tried to figure out what trigger he could use to make them his, without being betrayed to Celidon, wanting to be sure his eventual spiel wouldn’t be something that’d be prize testimony at his trial for treason.
Njangu was heading back to his lims, where his bodyguards waited, when a very striking, redheaded officer, wearing the tabs of a hundred-group-Leiter, came up.