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 (52 page)

BOOK: The City Who Fought
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In this instance, Simeon's rewards were many: Joat jumping up and down, gurgling with laughter while tears streamed down her face, as well as Channa's, and Seld crowed like he'd turned rooster. There were expressions of intense relief on the faces of admiral and the commodore.

"I do like to see alternative solutions," Questar-Benn said, "and we'll put a naval courier B & B ship at the disposal of Seld and his father for transfer to the Central Worlds Medstation where Dr. Sorg is currently practicing. Is that the favor you wanted, Simeon?"

"The very one," the station replied.

"Frabjus, Skelly Seld," Joat was saying to Seld, "I'll be right down and we can celebrate together," and she waved a jaunty farewell behind her as she left.

Exhausted as much by this unexpectedly felicitous outcome as the weight of problems still to be resolved, Channa sank back into her float chair.

"One more on the up side," she murmured to reassure herself. "Simeon, I'm sort of tired. Could you . . . ?"

The others murmured apologies and moved aside while Simeon guided her chair away.

"A moment then, Amos ben Sierra Nuevo," Questar-Benn. Amos turned in surprise, shot one anxious look at Channa's disappearing figure but had no choice but to give the Admiral his attention. "If you'd be good enough to accompany the Commodore and me to our quarters . . ."

He was as glad as they appeared to be to leave the sad ambience of the cargo bay, though only one more of his shrinking band of Bethelites lay there.

The Admiral and Commodore noted his interest in the interior of their flagship and explained as they walked through the maze, absently accepting salutes or nods as they passed details of men and women hurrying about their tasks.

None of the Central Worlds' ships had taken much damage though the battle with the desperate Kolnari warships had been fierce, if brief. The guided tour was enough to make Amos wonder anew how Guiyon had managed to get the old
Exodus
anywhere, much less reach SSS-900-C.

He was sighing in semi-despair for all the problems he now faced in giving his poor plundered planet even a semblance of the efficiency and expertise Central Worlds took for granted.

"Ah, yes, here we are, Benisur . . ." the commodore said and Amos with suitable humility corrected him to "a simple Amos, sir." "We've been receiving updates of affairs on Bethel and have need of your assistance."

Five men and women were seated about the lounge, the two youngest—a man and a women in their early twenties, jumping to their feet at the entrance of Admiral, Commodore and their guest.

"Here he is, gentlefolk," Questar-Benn, "Benisur ben Sierra Nuevos, aka Simeon-Amos and the putative leader of the Bethelites."

"No, no," Amos said, shaking head and hand to deny that title. He didn't want that mantle laid on his shoulders. Not now.

"As you will, young man," Questar-Benn said curdy, "but you
were
the leader of the dissidents as well as the defender of Bethel and we need your input." Then while Amos continued to demur, she overrode him by introducing the group. "Senior Counsellor Agrum of SPRIM, Representative Fusto of MM, Observer Nilsdotter, PA's Ferryman for SPRIM and Losh Lentel for MM. Simeon, are you here?"

"I am," Simeon said, his voice issuing from the comunit.

He might have warned me,
Amos thought sourly.
But perhaps swiftly done is best done.
He gave them a dignified greeting, hand to heart and mind. The young woman, the Observer, was both startled and charmed.

Suddenly he was seated and stewards were passing among the group with drinks and finger foods.

Perhaps I'm merely light-headed with hunger,
Amos thought, feeling the better after a sip of a sustaining hot drink and a sample from the plate of delicacies offered.

"Quite simply, ben Sierra Nuevo . . . all right then, Amos," the senior counsellor began with no more to-do, "we need your help to reassure those elements of your people who managed to hide away from the Kolnari. They are terrified and not about to take the word of any strangers even when we holo-ed every surface with 'casts of the Navy taking Kolnari prisoners."

"And making them unload all the loot they'd stored," said the beetlebrowed Representative Fusto. He looked as if he had personally overseen that operation and enjoyed it. He had a narrow face and close-set eyes in a narrow head set on shoulders much too muscular in contrast.

"Some of my people survived?" Amos tried not to wince for this only reinforced the inevitability of his return.

"Specific figures number the survivors as 15,000 . . ."

The population—the former population—of this station, he thought, unable to suppress a groan.

The Observer misinterpreted it with a smile of great sadness and understanding. "Your people have been very brave and suffered terribly. We of SPRIM and MM," and she pointed to the other four, "are empowered to assist the reconstruction of your world. . . ."

Amos groaned again. So much to be done. And his people would resent the intrusion of infidels, no matter how well intentioned.

"We cannot, of course, interfere with the government of any planet," Agrum said, clearing his throat and giving the woman an admonishing glance, "but humanitarian aid certainly falls in our jurisdiction and we are able to provide whatever supplies and materials are needed on an interim basis."

Beetle-brows Fusto gave his opposite number in SPRIM a dark look. "MM requires you to survive on your own efforts but we prevent exploitation of minority groups for any reason whatever. We prefer to establish contact with a senior government official, preferably elected by the minority in question, but you qualify—according to Simeon—as the logical and most accessible representative."

For this I thank you, Simeon,
Amos said, hoping that no one, especially the Observer, would hear him grind his teeth.

"Your planet got pretty well razed to subsoil," the commodore said. "'S going to take
help
to restart," and he, in turn, gave the MM official a quelling look, smiling at Amos as if to say "they mean well but they're heavy-handed." "We had to put up a transmitter," and he shrugged as if such a facility was a mere nothing, "and the engineers put up a temp at the space field—which is littered with a lot of hulls, some of which could well be refitted for whatever lunar mining would put you back on-line there."

A transmitter and space facility? Re-usable hulls for the craft the Kolnari had fused. Amos began to feel less despondent, though half of him resisted.

"Humanitarian aid will be sufficient to see your people through the on-coming winter," Agrum went on,

"using whatever shelters your culture prefers . . ."

"We cannot
land
alter-culturals on Bethel, of course," Fusto half-interrupted, "but orbital staff is not considered by Central Worlds Authority to compromise indigenous integrity . . ."

"If you wish, you may request additional colonials of your own persuasion . . ." from Nilsdotter.

Amos turned from one speaker to the other, half dazed.

"Give the kid a break," Simeon said suddenly. "Why don't you let him read the reports so he knows what you're talking about, huh?"

"Of course," said SPRIM.

"Our intention, I assure you, Station Simeon," MM said defensively.

"Then let it be so," Admiral Questar-Benn said, smiling encouragingly at Amos as she handed him several disk files and led him to another room where he could digest the information in private.

* * *

"Not over until it's over," the Admiral remarked to the commodore as they watched the sometimes contentious delegation leave their quarters.

"And it's never over," Tellin-Makie replied, pouring them both snifters of brandy in the flag quarters. "I didn't have the heart to remind them that those aren't the only bunch of Kolnari running around loose."

"And if you leave a pair, they breed up again," she said wearily. "They know that. Which is the reason I suspect we'll have Simeon and the others on the rolls in a couple of years. The Kolnari will be a menace as long as two of them are left alive."

"The Psych people swear they can be rehabilitated."

"Rehabilitated to E equals M and C squared," she said, taking a sip. "Dam' cockroaches." Another sigh.

"Maybe this little atrocity
will
get us some resources."

"For a while, until the general public become inured to these particular atrocities," Tellin-Makie said,

"then we can go back to peeing on bonfires. It's not as if they were the only serious problem, either."

"Would that it were so. Would that it were so, my friend."

She looked at the screen, which showed an exterior view of SSS-900-C. Repair servos and suited figures were already working on some of the more urgent damage, though it would be a generation before the devastation was fully repaired. She made a mental note to have Engineering help out while the task force was on station here.

"All in all, though, I'm glad we don't have
their
problems, poor heroic sods," she said.

"Amen."

* * *

"Yes, yes," Joseph said eagerly when Amos finished telling him of the help promised by SPRIM and MM, up to and including a Brain Planetary manager to replace Guiyon. "We must return as quickly as possible."

"Yes, you and Rachel must."

"Rachel and I?" Joseph repeated, staring in sudden alarm at Amos.

"Yes, because there is much to organize on the ground before we may accept the beneficence . . ."

"But it is you, Amos ben Sierra Nuevo, who
must
return!" Joseph's face was stricken. "It is
your
duty.

Our world is but a lake of mourning. They need
you
. They need a hero—and their Prophet."

Amos paced, hands behind his back, clenching and unclenching, up and down the floor of his room in Simeon's quarters.

"They need a hero, granted, Joseph," he said, stopping in front of his friend, "but if I am a hero, then so are you!"

"Me?" Joseph laughed. "I am your henchman. Your right hand, and proud to be so. Your friend, and prouder still of that. But you are the prophet, the hero, the one the people follow."

Amos took him by the shoulders. "You are my brother, as truly as if the same mother bore us."

Joseph blinked as Amos drew him into the double cheek-touch of close kin to emphasize his words.

"And it is
you
who will return while I deal with these infidels and make certain that what charity they would foist on us will not weaken our people but allow them to become strong in such ways that no other scavenger can ever catch us unawares."
Who saves the saved from the savior?
he thought.

"And I . . . I wonder," Amos went on aloud. "I wonder if it is good, that the new leader is of the old Prophet's line—may God smile on him! Too many generations have the people followed the old families."

He winced. "And followed them to ruin."

"You would lead us to greatness!" Joseph said forcefully.
The more so if you doubted yourself less,
he added to himself. "You have shown your strengths as a self-thinker, a defender of his planet, a guileful strategist . . ."

"History does not show many
battle-leaders
who had the same talent for being
peace-leaders
!"

"But you are of a peaceful nature until roused to defend what you hold dear," Joseph said, "even as you have seen your duty now to protect us against those who
wish
to protect us!" Joseph turned sternly grim now. "It is the blind face of Channa that hides your way."

Amos looked so fiercely at him that Joseph turned his face away, his shoulders sagging in acknowledgement.

"I also cannot abandon these here to whom
we,
for our very lives, owe a debt of gratitude. If, in this one instance, duty and honor are both served, let me serve it." Amos sighed deeply, torn between love and duty. "Are Simeon, Joat and Channa to be merely a chapter of my life because fourteen generations ago the Prophet fathered my many-times great grandfather? We saw on Bethel what comes of that."

"Yes, Amos, in all truth we did. And you are right to wish to be indebted to
all
," and Joseph laid a subtle emphasis on the word, "the stationers even though the need for
your
special role is now over."

"Yes, that is over. In its place, I must assume several roles and do each well in all honor." Then he gave the younger man a sudden smile, the son that had always drawn the required response from any recipient.

"And I give Rachel the chance to restore honor to her name."

Joseph gave him a sudden stare as fierce as the one Amos had given him. "What do you mean?"

"She was, after all, trained as an infosystems administrator. It is
her
duty to assist
you
in calling our people from their hiding places, to organize the reports that I must receive to know what is most needed. With you two side by side—that is what you wish, is it not, Joseph? Rachel by your side?"

The younger man laughed and blushed, which seemed to embarrass him more.

"You know it is what I wish but, Amos, do not blame her for what she did."

"I do not," Amos lied stoutly, "but she will need to redeem herself in her own eyes!"

"Ah, yes," said Joseph with a sigh. "She is anxious to do that. She talks to me about it," he went on in a softer voice. "She talks of you but she also talks of you to me."

"Then go to her, Joseph my brother, my friend. If you insist on making me wear the mantle of a leader, then I have issued an order to you. But think also of what I have told you, brother hero. You return to Bethel as my brother and my equal, not my retainer—not even first among my retainers. The time for those petty protocols is past."

"I go," Joseph said. He turned on the threshold. "And you, too, have earned a little happiness, I think.

God willing, may you find it!"

* * *

Channa had insisted on returning to her brawn's quarters, pointing out that there was nothing else Chaundra or his staff could do for her in sickbay.

"I'll be much better off there," she told him, "because I know my way around. Simeon can remind me where I put things so I can find what I need. Only time will make a difference now."

BOOK: The City Who Fought
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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