'I know,' he agreed.

Headquarters, Tauran Union Security Force-Balboa, Building 59, Fort Muddville, Balboa

No matter what that Old Earth bimbo told me before she left, I know I could take these peasants out now. So thought an elegantly slender man dressed, perhaps absurdly, in the reproduction blue velvet uniform of a marshal of the army of Napoleon. Impatiently and repeatedly, General Janier, Army of the Republic of Gaul, slapped his unawarded marshal's baton into the palm of his left hand. The baton, like the uniform, was reproduction. Fake or not, both captured something of the spirit of the man, as did his hawk-like, pugnacious nose.

Not that Janier had much of the republican sentiment of a Lannes or the family fidelity of a Davout (Janier's mistress lay asleep nearby in a suite of offices he'd had converted to an apartment for her) or the stoic loyalty of a MacDonald. He had some of the sheer courage of a Ney. And he had the one thing virtually all of Napoleon's marshal's had shared, love of glory.

And why shouldn't I? I am related to half of them and descended from more than one.

Sad, sad it is; to be a man of my inclinations and breeding, and be saddled with the wretches who rule the Tauran Union. Pacifist swine. Eunuchs, the lot of them.

A flash in the distance lit Janier's sneering face. In this case, the flash came not from the more distant lightning, but from an explosion somewhere across the Transitway, at Balboa's premier training facility, the Imperial Range Complex, nestled in the corner formed by Lago Chagres and the Transitway, rather, that portion of it called the 'Gallardo Trench.' The Legion and the Tauran Union troops shared the complex, not always amicably.

Mine, preparing to fight theirs, or theirs, preparing to fight mine, I wonder. No matter. No one is going to fight anyone right now. With their leader incapacitated, the locals won't start anything—more's the pity— and with my political masters unwilling to fund me or give me the troops I need, I can't start anything. That Wallenstein woman was wasting her time telling me not to do something I can't do anyway.

Still, this is all a house of cards. I sit athwart the Transitway. Ultimately, the Balboans—the ones in power—won't accept that state of affairs. The Balboans who will accept it rule over a tiny corner of the country and dream of ruling it all again. And why should they not dream? There's little for them to steal where they are. And theft is in their very genes.

The general ceased slapping his baton into his palm. He shook his head. As is crime, generally. Even now, they fund themselves—they think I don't know, the fools—by assisting in the drug trade and taking their cut.

Well, if they're criminals at least they're good at it. They cover their tracks well. All the pressure to stop the trade, all the pressure coming from the Federated States, falls on those who have nothing to do with it. And them, the peasant Parilla and his defunct renegade Carrera? They can't deal with the real problem because that real problem is guarded by us and guaranteed by the Federated States.

A house of cards; let one thing come loose and it will all crumble.

On the other hand, the sinister hand, if it all crumbles while the Balboans—the enemy Balboans— are ready and I am not, I just might lose. No glory, no name, no place in the history books. Simple defeat and a footnote to avoid my example. That is intolerable.

Perhaps things will improve when the permanent High Admiral of the United Earth Peace Fleet comes to us, be it Wallenstein or someone else. At least the filth in the Tauran Parliament will listen to him or, if Wallenstein's appointment becomes permanent, her.

SS Hildegard von Mises, Lago Chagres, Balboa Transitway, Balboa, Terra Nova

A dozen or so miles to the southeast of Janier's headquarters there was a ship anchored in the lake, rocking violently in the wind-driven waves. It was well guarded at all times, though the guards only changed at night. It hadn't moved in at least a year. Someday, it would, but only to get rid of the last traces of evidence when it was finally sunk into a deep ocean trench.

Whether the ship would have any people aboard when it went down was a matter of some speculation for the group of guards who manned it in rotation. They reported to Carrera's chief of intelligence, Omar Fernandez, and he was noted for tying up loose ends neatly.

Loose ends?

* * *

There was an evil-looking, weasel-faced man waiting in one of the ship's offices when former High Admiral Martin Robinson and the Marchioness of Amnesty, Lucretia Arbeit, were escorted in. Both of the Old Earthers bowed deeply and respectfully to the man. They'd long since had their arrogance beaten out of them.

'I have a little problem,' said Legate Omar Fernandez, weasel face splitting in an unpleasant grin.

'A problem, sir?' asked Robinson, worriedly. Arbeit merely shivered in place. Though both measured their years in centuries, and both, as Class Ones and members of the Peerage, had received the best anti-aging therapy Old Earth could offer, both looked to have aged like cheese left in the sun, all wrinkled and hard and dry. This despite neither of them having been subjected to real torture in many months. Indeed, they'd been wrung dry long ago.

'A couple of problems, really,' Fernandez said, his eyes flickering once at Arbeit, and then a second time, at Robinson. 'One is that we haven't been able to get your old shuttle working again. I don't suppose you know anything about the flight computer?'

Robinson gulped. 'No, sir. It wasn't anything in my training. I can fly one but . . .'

Arbeit shivered still more; her naval rank came from her civil position. She didn't even know how to fly one.

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