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David Weber

The Short Victorious War

'What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.'

V.K. Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior to General A.N. Kuroparfon, Minister of War, 200 Ante-Diaspora (1903 C.E.J, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War)

'The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.'

Robert Lynd (224-154 Ante-Diaspora)

PROLOGUE

Hereditary President Sidney Harris watched the long cortege wind out of sight along the Promenade of the People, then turned his back upon it. The conference rooms two-hundredth floor height had transformed the black- draped vehicles into mere beetles crawling harmlessly along an urban canyon, but their implications showed only too clearly in the grim faces that looked back at him.

He crossed to his chair and sat, propping his elbows on the long table and leaning his chin into his palms while he rubbed his eyes. Then he straightened.

'All right. I've got to be at the cemetery in an hour, so let's keep this short.' He turned his eyes to Constance Palmer-Levy, Secretary of Security for the People's Republic of Haven. 'Anything more on how they got to Walter, Connie?'

'Not specifically, no.' Palmer-Levy shrugged. 'Walter's bodyguards stopped the gunman a bit too permanently. We can't question a dead man, but we've identified him as one Everett Kanamashi... and what little we have on him suggests he was a fringe member of the CRU.'

'Wonderful.' Elaine Dumarest, the secretary of war, looked ready to chew splinters out of the table edge. She and Walter Frankel had been adversaries for years—inevitably, given the budgetary-conflicts between their ministries—but Dumarest was an organized individual. She preferred a neat and tidy universe in which to make and execute her own policies, and people like the Citizens' Rights Union were high on her list of untidy individuals.

'You think the CRU leadership targeted Walter?' Ron Bergren asked, and Palmer-Levy frowned.

'We've got our moles as deep into them as we can,' she told the secretary of foreign affairs. 'None of them suggested the leadership was contemplating anything drastic, but there's been a lot of rank-and-file anger over Walter's BLS proposals. They're getting more security conscious, too. I'm seeing signs of a real cellular organization, so I suppose it's possible their action committee authorized it without our finding out.'

'I don't like the sound of that, Sid,' Bergren murmured, and Harris nodded. The Citizens' Rights Union advocated 'direct action in the legitimate interest of the people' (meaning a perpetually higher Dolist standard of living) but normally limited itself to riots, vandalism, occasional terrorist bombings, and attacks on lower-level bureaucrats as object lessons. The assassination of a cabinet minister was a new and dangerous escalation... assuming the CRU had, indeed, authorized the attack.

'We ought to go in and clean those bastards out,' Dumarest growled. 'We know who their leaders are. Give the names to NavSec and let my Marines take care of them—permanently.'

'Wrong move,' Palmer-Levy disagreed. 'That kind of suppression would only make the mob even less tractable, and at least letting them go on meeting lets us get a read on what they're up to.'

'Like this time?' Dumarest asked with awful irony, and Palmer-Levy flushed.

'If—and I emphasize if—the CRU leadership did plan or authorize Walter's murder, then I have to admit we dropped the ball. But as you just pointed out, we've been able to compile lists of members and sympathizers. Drive them underground, and we lose that capability. And, as I said, there's no direct evidence Kanamashi wasn't acting on his own.'

'Yeah, sure.' Dumarest snorted.

Palmer-Levy started to answer hotly, but Harris' raised hand stopped her. Personally, the President tended to agree with Dumarest, but he could see Palmer-Levy's point as well. The CRU believed the Dolists had a God- given right to an ever higher Basic Living Stipend. They blew up other people (including their fellow Dolists) to make their point, and it would have done Harris' heart good to shoot every one of them. Unfortunately, the Legislaturalist families who ran the People's Republic had no choice but to permit organizations like the CRU to exist. Quite aside from the potential for even greater violence inherent in any open move against them, they'd been around for so long, become so deeply entrenched, that eliminating one would only make room for another, so it made sense to keep an eye on the devil they knew rather than rooting it up for a devil they knew nothing about.

Yet Walter Frankel's assassination was frightening. Dolist violence was almost legitimized, part of the power structure which kept the mob satisfied while the Legislaturalists got on with the business of running the government. Occasional riots and attacks on expendable portions of the Republic's bureaucratic structure had become a sanctioned part of what passed for the political process, but there was—or had been—a tacit understanding between the Dolist leaders and the establishment that excluded cabinet-level officials and prominent Legislaturalists from the list of acceptable targets.

'I think,' the President said finally, his slow words chosen with care, 'that we have to assume, for the moment at least, that the CRU did sanction the attack.'

'I'm afraid I have to agree,' Palmer-Levy conceded unhappily. 'And, frankly, I'm almost equally worried over reports that Rob Pierre is sucking up to the CRU leadership.'

'Pierre?' Surprise sharpened the President's voice, and the security chief nodded even less happily. Robert Stanton Pierre was Haven's most powerful Dolist manager. He not only controlled almost eight percent of the total Dolist vote but served as the current speaker of the Peoples Quorum, the 'democratic caucus' which told the Dolist Managers how to vote.

That much power in any non-Legislaturalist's hands was enough to make anyone nervous, since the hereditary governing families relied on the People's Quorum to provide the rubber-stamp 'elections' which legitimized their reign. But Pierre was scary. He'd been born a Dolist himself and clawed his way from a childhood on the BLS to his present power with every dirty trick ambition could conceive of. Some of them hadn't even occurred to the Legislaturalists themselves, and if he followed their instructions because he knew which side his bread was buttered on, he was still a lean and hungry man.

'Are you certain about Pierre?' Harris demanded after a moment, and Palmer-Levy shrugged.

'We know he's been in contact with the CRP,' she said, and Harris nodded. The Citizens' Rights Party was the political wing of the CRU, operating openly within the People's Quorum and decrying the 'understandable but regrettable extremism to which some citizens have been forced.' It was a threadbare mask, but accepting it gave the Quorum's managers an often useful pipeline into the CRUs underground membership.

'We don't know exactly what they've been talking about,' Palmer-Levy went on, 'and his position as Speaker of the Quorum means he could have any number of legitimate reasons for meeting with them. But he seems to be getting awful chummy with some of their delegates.'

'In that case, I think we have to look very seriously at the possibility that he knew the assassination was coming,' Harris said slowly. 'I'm not saying he had anything to do with planning it, but if there was official CRU involvement, he could have known—or suspected—what they were up to. And if he did know and didn't tell us, it could have been because he saw a need to cement his own relationship with them, even at our expense.'

'You really think things are that bad, Sid?' Bergren asked, and the President shrugged.

'No, not really. But we can live with being overly pessimistic, whereas if the CRU did okay it—and if Pierre knew something about it but chose not to tell us—and we assume they didn't, we could talk ourselves into a serious domestic policy error.'

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