Silly man. Come to me and, for a while, at least, I will make you forget. Come to me and give me another son.

* * *

In his own room, on the same floor, Hamilcar Carrera, eight years of age, stirred. His eyes opened and focused on the ceiling, onto which a home planetarium, the best model made on Terra Nova, painted stars. The planetarium was a gift of the boy's father. Instantly, sensing that their charge was stirring, the turbaned Pashtun who slept on the floor to either side of the boy, guarding him as if he were a god, were on their feet. They had weapons in hand as their eyes searched for the threat.

'It's nothing, Karim, nothing, Mardanzai,' the boy assured his followers, as he sat up. The Pashtun did not relax for an instant. 'The thunder awakened me,' Hamilcar explained further. Not that the guards needed explanations, oh, no. If it was their lord's will to awaken and walk, then it was their merest duty to follow and protect.

'Where is my father?' Hamilcar asked.

'I saw him on the balcony, Lord,' Karim answered.

'I will go to him, then,' the boy said, sitting up and placing his feet to the throw run beside his bed. 'He shouldn't be left alone too long.'

'I sent two men to watch over him after I saw he was awake,' Karim said. 'Alena, the witch, insists we watch over those you love, Lord, as we watch over you.' The boy nodded his thanks. He'd long since given up trying to break the guards of their form of address.

He was about to leave when a series of cautionary coughs from the Pashtun reminded him. Nodding again, the boy turned and walked to a corner of his room, taking in hand his rifle, a hand-made gift of the Balboa Arms Corporation, over in Arraijan, in honor of the boy's eighth birthday. The rifle was a full caliber F-26, but specially lightened and shortened and with a muzzle brake to reduce recoil. Likewise were the pistol grip and foregrip carved to fit an eight year old's hand. Under the black paint the Pashtun had laid on to reduce shine, the thing was ornately inscribed.

Hamilcar checked the rifle to ensure it was loaded, then padded out the door and down the corridor to his father's office from which a glass-paned doorway led to the balcony. The two guards, joined immediately by two others who had stood alert at the boy's door, followed.

Ciudad Balboa, Republic of Balboa, Terra Nova

Caridad Cruz followed her own husband from the bedroom to the living room. She found him there, seated in his chair, admiring his sole badge of rank, his centurion's baton.

'And they say we women are vain,' Cara said to Ricardo, smiling and shaking her head.

Cruz looked up, his heart suddenly warming at the sight of his short, brown and still very pretty wife. 'Men are just as vain, no doubt about it, queridisima esposa,' he admitted, lowering his baton to his lap and smiling at her. 'We're just as vain, only in different ways.'

The centurion was as brown as his wife, and, at about five-seven not all that much taller. She found him handsome and assumed everyone else did, too.

Cara glanced about the walls of the living room. On two wooden pegs driven into one wall rested Ricardo's rifle, an F-26. Below it, on similar pegs, was his very first rifle, a simpler and cruder Samsonov, purchased for a very nominal price from the Legion in which her husband served, as a memento of that service and of his first campaign. On the opposite wall hung his battle scarred and stained lorica, the silk and liquid metal body armor he worn for years. Cara tried to keep the thing clean. But not too clean. I love the smell of my man.

On a third wall hung Ricardo's decorations. She heard the citations read off for some of them, those awarded formally when he was home from the wars. The knowledge of the things her husband had done both filled her with pride and chilled her to the marrow. She never read the citations themselves, lest that refreshed knowledge drive her to try, once again, to talk Ricardo out of the Legion. She'd done that before. He'd acquiesced, too. The loss of purpose had nearly killed him.

He must be free to do the work he loves, she reminded herself, glancing over the wall holding the awards. He must be free if, for no other reason, because when he's miserable, I'm miserable.

And, too, it's not like I'm ashamed when other women come over, and have to pass under his corona civilis to come into the house. I like their envy of the courage of my man. Is that so wrong?

'What's wrong, Ricardo?' she asked. 'Did the thunder awaken you?'

Cruz shook his head. 'No . . . I never really got to sleep.' Seeing that that wasn't really an answer to her question, he added, 'Things are not right with the Legion since the duque had to . . . take a sabbatical. It worries me. We are not the kind of force that deals well with inaction.'

'But the war is over,' she said. 'We won.'

'One war is over,' Ricardo corrected, picking up the baton again to admire it. 'There will be others.' He seemed very certain of that.

Please let it not be so, God, the wife silently prayed, even as she knew the prayer was futile. For there would be other wars, and her man would fight in them. It was the way of the world just as it was the way of Ricardo Cruz. Between the Santandern guerillas infesting Balboa's province of La Palma, the Tauran Union troops occupying the Transitway, the old government cowering in the old section of Ciudad Balboa under Tauran Union protection, or the drugs passing daily through the country, there would be war.

Cara shivered at the thought. 'Any word on the duque?' she asked, changing the subject slightly.

'No, none. I'm tempted sometimes to ask you to presume on your friendship with Lourdes . . .'

'I can't. She has enough troubles.'

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