Read The City Who Fought Online

Authors: Anne McCaffrey,S. M. Stirling

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Science fiction; American, #Space ships, #Space warfare, #Sociology, #Social Science, #Urban

The City Who Fought (5 page)

BOOK: The City Who Fought
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SSS-900's finest restaurant was just down from the north-polar docking extension; the outer wall was a hundred-meter sheet of synthmet set on clear. Stars rolled huge and bright beyond—fixed stars and the frosty arch of the Snakeshead Nebula, and the bright moving points of light that were shuttles and tugs.

Within, the floor was of glossy black stone set with squares of gold—SSS-900 processed a lot of gold as a by-product—and the tables were made of real and precious wood, glossy under the snowy linen tablecloths. Waiters moved amid a quiet chinking of silverware, savory smells wafting from the platters they carried. A live orchestra played something soft and ancient.

"Stars and comets—a little rich for this outposter!" Channa said. "I'd
heard
of the Perimeter, but somehow I never expected to actually come here."

Patsy grinned. "C'mon now, Hawking Station wasn't an asteroid minin' center. Leastwise, not of the sort our sainted Simeon cut his teeth on."

"Well, no . . . but I couldn't afford anything like this when I was at home. Didn't have the time, either.

After I graduated and started pulling assignments, I've been mostly at outposts.
Worse
than Simeon's."

Waiters filled water glasses, laid their napkins in their laps, brought warm rolls and softened butter.

Everything except brush our teeth and massage our feet,
Channa thought. It was a little unnerving.

Most places you asked for the selection, told the table what you wanted, and a float brought the meal to you. The sheer
expense
of having live human beings do all this!

"I'd never've et in here if it weren't on the station's ticket," Patsy confessed in a whisper during a lull in the service. "Or unless a date was
really
tryin' to impress me. More relaxin' with another female—you kin concentrate on the food without insultin' 'em."

"If this weren't complimentary, I wouldn't be here now, either."

They grinned at each other.

"Well, thank you fer invitin' me," Patsy said. "I woulda thought you might invite that med-tech you were talkin' to last night."

"Please, I'm looking forward to this meal. I won't be able to eat if I remember him. Have you heard some of his anecdotes?"

"All of 'em," Patsy said, nodding solemnly. "You've a point thar, ma'am. Chaundra's a nice enough feller, but his stomach's a mite too strong fer me."

"Besides, you and I have similar taste in music. You can always talk to someone who likes the same music."

Talk they did, touching on everything from Geranian folk ballads to eighteenth-century Earth composers, eventually matching the personnel of the station to various types of music.

"Simeon? Straight honky-tonk, no question," Channa said firmly.

Patsy laughed. "Oh, c'mon, Channa, there's unplumbed depths there. He's not that simple. It's just that the minin' center assignment came at an impressionable age fer him. Rough, tough rockjack, you know.

His public image."

"Well." She looked down at the menu. It provided motion holos of the dishes as she ran her finger down the page. "I'll start with these grumawns, first, in the fiery sauce. Cleardrop soup. Grilled rack of jumbuk from Mother Hutton's World—good grief, they
do
have everything here!—baby carrots, salad. Spun pastry bluet confection for dessert, with Port Royal coffee. Castiliari brandy."

"Sounds good. I'll go with the jumbuk too, but . . . hmm. Fennel-leek soup first. Wine?"

"I don't usually—" Channa began.

"If I might suggest?" Mart'an appeared at their table.
Appeared,
Channa thought, as if he'd blinked out of some hypothetical subspace. "The Mon'rach '97 to begin with, a half-bottle. Then, with the main course, a Hosborg estate-bottled '85. I'll open it now so it can breathe."

"Sure," Channa said, then sighed with pleasure. "You know, I
was
looking forward to the Perimeter, ever since they told me SSS-900 would be—"

"SSS-900-
C
, now, Ms. Hap."

Channa blushed. "—would be my next assignment."

The first course arrived. The pink grumawns were coiled steaming on top of a bed of fragrant saffron rice, the sauce to one side. Channa took a sip of the wine, chilled and with a faint scent of violets, then lifted one grumawn on the end of a two-tined fork.

"I
did
do a lot of work today," she murmured to herself. She opened her mouth, and—

* * *

The Confederate armor was grinding through the woods and fields north of Indianapolis. The burning city cast a pall of smoke into the sky behind them. Diesel engines pig-grunted as the smooth low-slung shapes of the tanks and tank-destroyers crashed through brush and twelve-foot high cornstalks, past the flaming shards of a farmhouse and barns. The long 90mm barrels of the tank guns swung toward the thin strung-out lines of the Union convoys, caught in the flank as they attempted to switch front. The fighting vehicles surged back on their tracks at each monster
crack
of high-velocity cannon fire, and the air filled with the bitter scent of cordite. Chaos spread through the blue ranks as tracer and cannon fire sent trucks exploding into globes of magenta fire. A Northern tank dissolved, the turret flipping up like a frying-pan, a hundred meters into the air.

Behind the fighting vehicles, long lines of men in gray uniforms followed, advancing with their semiautomatic rifles carried at the port. Here and there an officer carried a sword, or the Stars and Bars fluttered from a staff.

"Now!" General Fitzroy Anson-Hugh Beauregard III said into the bulky mike hung from his vehicle helmet.

His command tank was a little back from the edge of the combat, hull down; the general stood head-and-shoulders out of the commander's cupola. The turret pivoted under him, the massive casting moving smoothly on its bearing race. The long cannon fired in a flash that seared his vision, just as the opening salvos of artillery went by overhead. Down along the road, tall poplar-shapes of black dirt gouted skyward. Another explosion shook the earth and sent heavy vehicles pinwheeling like a child's models under a careless boot; the command-tank's round had hit the tracked carrier for a Unionist self-propelled gun.

The general nodded. "Nothing to stop us short of the Lakes," he said. Nothing to stop them linking up with the British Guards Armored Corps, driving southeast out of occupied Detroit, cutting the Union in two. . . .

* * *

"Conceded," Florian Gusky said, and lifted the visor of the simulation helmet. He sighed heavily and took a pull of his beer, then looked around the room as though surprised to find himself alone with Simeon, blinking away the consciousness of a world and war that had never been. There was a slight sheen of sweat on his heavy-browed face and he worked the thick muscles of his shoulders to loosen the tension.

"You could play it out to the end," Simeon's image said from a screen above his desk.

"No dam' point. You've whipped my butt in that simulation
twice,
from both Union and Confederate sides."

"I could take a handicap," Simeon said with much less enthusiasm, Gus noted.

So he nodded. The last time he had beaten Simeon was in a Caesar vs. Rommel match on the site of Carthage, with the shellperson commanding Caesar's spear-armed host against Panzers and Stukas.

Even then he had inflicted embarrassing casualties.

"Where is she?" Gus asked. There was no need to identify the female in question.

"She's dining at the Perimeter."

Gus raised his eyebrows in astonishment. "The Perimeter? That's some salary she gets." The Perimeter attracted two sets of guests: the rich, and spacers looking to blow six months' pay on one night.

Simeon laughed. "Nah, she's a guest of the management. Patsy's with her."

"Yeah, Patsy likes her," Gus said, his tone indicating that this revealed a serious and heretofore unsuspected flaw in Patsy's character. "Can you see them?"

"Yup."

"What're they doing?"

"Talking."

"About us?"

"I don't know. I'm not listening. Now they're laughing."

"They're talking about us, alright," Gus said gloomily.

"Geesh, Gus, let's get back to the game."

There was a plaintive edge to Simeon's voice. Gus reached for the helmet and then stopped, a slow grin creasing his heavy features.

"Isn't it about time we had a drill?" he said, thoughtfully.

"We just had one. About four hours ago, remember?"

"When I was in the Navy we had 'em six times a day, sometimes," Gus replied.

He knew that Simeon badly wanted to pull Navy duty. Only a few staff-and-command vessels used shell controllers and Simeon didn't rate, yet. In the meantime, he put a lot of weight on Gus' experience as a fire-control officer on a patrol frigate. That had been some time ago—Florian Gusky had spent a decade's hard work clawing his way up to regional security chief for Namakuri-Singh, the big drive-systems firm—but Simeon had a bad case of military romanticism.
And real talent,
he told himself without envy of the brain's abilities.

"I know it's early," Gus went on persuasively, "but it's important not to have predictable intervals. So we don't get complacent."

"Well . . ."

"I'd love to see the look on their faces."

"Since you put it that way—"

* * *

Channa started as the klaxons rang. They sounded like no other she had ever heard, a harsh repeated
ouuuuga-ouuuuga
sound. The elegant minuet of movement among the waiters turned to an inelegant but efficient scramble for the exits; some moved to assist guests. Thick slabs hissed up out of the floor along the outer wall and the lights flared bright.

"BREACH IN THE PRESSURE HULL!" a harsh male voice tone announced. "EMERGENCY

PERSONNEL TO THEIR STATIONS. SECURE ALL SUBSECTION REFUGE AREAS."

Patsy stood and looked at her barely touched entree with dismay. "Damn! That's the second time this shift!" She threw her napkin down with disgust. "Simeon pulls these drills like a boy kickin' over an anthill to see the bugs scurry."

"Simeon!" Channa shouted.

"Yeah?" The klaxons dimmed in a globe around them.

"Is this a genuine emergency or just a test?"

"Excuse me, brawn-o'-mine, but you're not supposed to be privy to that information." There was the hint of a smug smile in the brain's voice.

"If you think I'm getting up from the best meal that's ever been put in front of me just because you're feeling your oats, you've got another thing coming. Cut it!"

As the klaxon abruptly ceased, people stopped, puzzled, and milled around uncertainly.

"Tell them it's over, Simeon. Don't just leave them standing there."

"This has been a test," Simeon informed them in the feminine tones he used for such announcements.

"Return to your stations. This has been a test."

"We will discuss this later," Channa assured him icily. "Overdoing drills is dangerous, irresponsible and generally counterproductive."

Ah, hell,
Simeon thought exhaustedly,
why did I listen to you, Gus? I don't think you like the looks on
their faces after all, buddy. I know I don't.
He wondered what he could do to make it impossible for her to gain access to him for the next week.

Patsy sat down slowly, her wide eyes fixed on Channa's flushed countenance. "You really don't lahk him, do ya?" she said with some astonishment.

Channa looked at her blandly. "Whatever makes you say that?"

Patsy shook her head. "Just a hunch."

Channa sighed and smiled ruefully. "Well, to be fair, there may be a touch of 'transference' there. You see, I've always wanted to work planet-side. I love the feel of wind in my hair and rain on my face. I enjoy splashing in an ocean, and the feel of earth under my feet. So, for the past two years I've been campaigning for a particular assignment." She looked up at Patsy inquiringly. "Have you ever been to Senalgal?"

Patsy nodded and smiled warmly in reminiscence. "I sher have. I had my first honeymoon thar. What a gorgeous place! Beautiful beaches, warm ocean, flowers eve'rwhar, and the
food.
I'd love to live thar, at least fer a while." She sighed. "So, go on."

"Well, as you can imagine, the competition was incredible. I'd been through twelve interviews, including one with Ita Secand, the city-manager of Kelta, whom I would have been working with. God! What I wouldn't give to work with her. She's witty, charming, sophisticated. I felt that I could learn so much from her. It had come down to two of us, myself and someone else."

She shook her head. "I never did know who the other candidate was, but my feeling was that it was going to be an extremely difficult choice. When suddenly, after holding on for twelve years, Tell Radon decides that he has to retire right now! And that sweet little plum, that was almost in my hand, was snatched away so fast it left scorch marks on my nail polish. 'You're station born and bred,' they told me.

'You're perfect for this assignment,' they said. 'It's an extremely important and prestigious post,' they assured me. Rurrrgh! As the saying goes, I could just spit."

Patsy looked at Channa's bitter face.

"It's a gyp, alright. Looks like yer skills ah goin' against you instead of helpin' you out. So, maybe you ah takin' it out on Simeon jest a teensy bit?" She grinned and held up a hand that measured out a micrometer between thumb and forefinger. "Hey, maybe that's good fer him. Now, I think," she placed a hand on her bosom, "that we need you mo'n Senalgal does. I mean, Senalgal's gonna be special whoever runs it, right? But a station, well, it can be just a big ol' factory with the wrong people in charge. You don't need Ita Secand t' teach you to be witty and sophisticated—you already ah. We need some a' that right here, Ms. Hap, an I'm not kiddin'."

Channa blushed and grinned, taking a sip of her wine to hide her embarrassment.

"Well, thank you. That's quite a challenge you've set me," she murmured, and changed the subject. "Who was that big, handsome, gray-haired fellow you were talking to last night? Somehow I never met him."

"Florian Gusty?"

BOOK: The City Who Fought
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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