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Authors: Walter Jon Williams

Conventions of War

BOOK: Conventions of War
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WALTER JON WILLIAMS
DREAD EMPIRE'S FALL

CONVENTIONS OF WAR

For Kathy Hedges

CONTENTS

ONE

The woman called Caroline Sula watched her commander die. She…

TWO

He could touch the silk of Sula's pale, perfect skin…

THREE

“Laredo is too far,” said Fleet Commander Tork. His melodious…

FOUR

This is the official newsletter of the loyalist government-in-exile.

FIVE

“I have always found tragedy to be the most human…

SIX

The bomb was disassembled and brought up to the High…

SEVEN

Chandra walked into Martinez's office in the middle of the…

EIGHT

Three watches ticked by with nothing for Martinez to do…

NINE

The fourth edition of Resistance flew into the world on…

TEN

Martinez set the wall video to the tactical display, but…

ELEVEN

Martinez marched into Command with his helmet under his arm…

TWELVE

After breakfast Martinez put on his full dress uniform with…

THIRTEEN

Martinez was killed the next morning, during Chandra's maneuver. He…

FOURTEEN

Resistance, with instructions on building a partisan cell network, was…

FIFTEEN

Sula had some morning deliveries on the High City and…

SIXTEEN

Macnamara failed to procure a large stash of food. Police…

SEVENTEEN

A shimmering layer of afternoon heat stretched across the pavement…

EIGHTEEN

The meeting with Julien's father occurred three days after the…

NINETEEN

In the morning, Sula made deliveries with Macnamara and Spence.

TWENTY

Time passed. Martinez dined with Husayn and Mersenne on successive…

TWENTY-ONE

Lord Chen's comm unit began to make an urgent squeak.

TWENTY-TWO

Perhaps, Martinez thought, it was the boredom induced by the…

TWENTY-THREE

Once the Fleet Control Board and their staff had come…

TWENTY-FOUR

Anxiety over the Naxid raid had not improved Tork's appearance.

TWENTY-FIVE

Once Sergius Bakshi allied himself with the secret government, everything…

TWENTY-SIX

Chenforce flashed through the wormhole to join the Righteous and…

TWENTY-SEVEN

The Righteous and Orthodox Fleet of Vengeance grew to thirty…

TWENTY-EIGHT

The technicians at the Ministry of Wisdom were mostly non-Naxids…

TWENTY-NINE

The Battle of Zanshaa was preceded by skirmishes on a…

THIRTY

Sula had thought fighting a war was hard. She discovered…

THIRTY-ONE

Lord Eldey kindly offered Sula the use of his private…

THIRTY-TWO

When Fleet Commander Jarlath advanced toward Magaria at the beginning…

THIRTY-THREE

“I've ordered all squadron commanders to give a complete report…

THIRTY-FOUR

A few hours after passing the wormhole, Lady Michi shifted…

THIRTY-FIVE

Countermissiles lashed out. Antimatter fury raged in the space between…

THIRTY-SIX

There were a few hours for rejoicing, just enough time…

T
he woman called Caroline Sula watched her commander die. She had liked Lieutenant Captain the Lord Octavius Hong, though she had distrusted his orders, and she was thankful that he didn't stand the torture for long. He had been wounded during capture, apparently, and tortured once already to make him give up his communications protocols; and he was now too weak to last long under the knives. When he passed out, the loop of executioner's wire was passed around his neck and he died.

Hong's execution, as well as all the others, were broadcast live on the channel reserved for punishments, one long summer afternoon of blood and torment, entertainment suitable only for sadists and clinicians.
Which am I?
Sula wondered. Because she needed to hear the announcer read the names of the condemned, she couldn't even turn off the sound to insulate herself against the moans, screams, and the eerie discordant chimes of dying Daimong. Though there were moments when she had to turn away, Sula steeled herself to watch as much as she could, and noted the names of every one who died.

So far as she could tell, the entire secret government died that afternoon, from Military Governor Pahn-ko all the way down to his servants. When Sula had first heard of the secret government's existence, she'd pictured an underground bunker packed with communications gear or a lonely cave in the mountains reached only by a hidden path; but it appeared that Pahn-ko had been captured in a country house not far from Zanshaa City.

That
was the secret hideaway? Sula thought with disbelieving scorn. Pahn-ko might as well have painted SECRET GOVERNMENT on the roof in large white letters.

The government's military force died with its leadership. Junior Fleet Commander Lord Eshruq, the head of the action groups that had volunteered to stay behind under occupation, took a long time to die. Perhaps the knobby-limbed gray Daimong body was unnaturally hardy, or perhaps the torturers took special care, since one of Eshruq's action groups had killed some Naxids on the day they rode in triumph into the captured city.

But most of the condemned went quickly. There were nearly two hundred loyalists to execute, and a limited number of torturers. Most of the torments were perfunctory, followed by the garotte, a death merciful compared to what the state could inflict when it had more time and leisure.

From the bedroom came the amped sounds of saccharine music, mixed with murmurs and moans. One of Sula's two teammates, Engineer First Class Shawna Spence, lay wounded on the bed watching a romantic melodrama, with the sound turned up so she wouldn't hear her comrades dying.

Sula didn't blame her.

The apartment was close and hot and smelled of dust and gun oil, disinfectant and sadness. Sula felt the walls pressing in, the dead weight of dead air. She couldn't stand it any longer and opened a window. Fresh air flooded in, and the scent of onions frying on a stone griddle just below her window, and the sounds of the street, the music and laughter and shouts of the close-packed neighborhood called Riverside.

Sula took a few welcome breaths as she scanned the slow-moving crowds below. Her nerves hummed as she saw a pair of uniforms, the gray jackets and white peaked caps of the Urban Patrol. Her lip curled, an old instinct. Her upbringing, on faraway Spannan, had not been such as to instill in her the greatest respect for law enforcement.

The police traveled in pairs in a place like Riverside. These two were Terran, but Sula didn't know if she could trust that fact to help her. They might not care who their orders came from, so long as their own position remained intact. They'd subjected people to the arbitrary justice that was a feature of the old regime, and the Naxids' orders might not seem any different.

Nor were these two the sort to build confidence. As Sula watched from the window, one ear cocked for the sound of the announcer on the video, she saw one of the cops collect some graft from the lottery seller on the corner, and the other help himself to some spiced fry bread from a vendor.

Choke on it,
she thought at him, and withdrew into the apartment before they could see her.

The executions went on. Sula's stylus jotted names and numbers as she busied herself with calculation. Lieutenant Captain Hong had led Action Group Blanche, which was composed of eleven action teams, each of three Terrans, plus his own headquarters group of six, with his extra servants, runners, and a communications tech. Action Group Blanche therefore had thirty-nine personnel. There were four other action groups, one each for the Cree, Daimong, Torminel, and Lai-own species, and though Sula hadn't met any of their members, she assumed they were organized the same way as Action Group Blanche, so that Eshruq's whole command would have constituted 195 members, plus his own headquarters group.

Those identified as members of the action groups—“rebel anarchists and saboteurs,” as the Naxids called them, as opposed to the mere “rebels” of Pahn-ko's administration—amounted to only 175. Ten, the announcers said, had been killed while resisting arrest, or in Hong's luckless engagement on the Axtattle Parkway.

Three more—Sula's own Action Team 491—were supposed to have died in an explosion in their apartment at Grandview, a booby trap that Sula had set off to catch the security forces she knew were closing in. The story of their deaths was pure propaganda—unless by some miraculous coincidence the Naxids actually
had
found three burned Terran bodies in the wreckage—but Sula supposed she might wring some advantage in being officially dead.

But even counting Action Team 491, that added up to only 180. This left at least some of the loyalists unaccounted for, and as she added her columns of figures, Sula saw they were all Torminel.

Relief eased her taut-strung nerves. She and her team weren't entirely alone: there were at least some other Fleet personnel out there, armed and presumably ready to make the Naxids pay for the capital. Torminel might
look
like fat-bottomed plush toys come to life, but that was only until you saw their fangs. They were a species that Sula would rather have on her side than not.

The problem was, she had no means of contacting them. There were backup communications protocols, but these were the very procedures the Naxids had used to capture most of her comrades. Sula didn't dare use them, and she presumed the Torminel wouldn't dare either.

Nor could she communicate with any of her superiors. They were all off-planet, and none of the action teams were provided with appropriate transmitters. Hong had such a transmitter, but it had probably been captured along with him.

The executions continued, messy and bloody now that the executioners were tired. Sula told the video wall to turn off. She had learned all she could.

Despair fell on her like soft rain. Her mouth was dry. She dragged herself to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, and saw the bottles of iarogüt piled casually on a shelf. Iarogüt was the cheapest drunk available, a palatesearing rotgut with a sickening herbal scent, the least attractive form of alcohol Sula knew, but still the sudden urge to drink struck her with the force of a hammer. One or two bottles, she thought, and the whole nightmare afternoon would spin away into chemical oblivion…

Her heart throbbed in her chest. Her knees felt watery. She turned and walked back to the front room, clutching her glass of water as if it were her savior. She took a sip, and then another.

Jangly music floated into the room through the open window. “It's
you,
” cried a voice from the bedroom. “It's never been anyone but
you!

Sula opened the bedroom door and looked at Spence, who was sprawled on her bed, her wounded leg on one pillow, her straw-colored hair strewn over another. “It's over,” Sula said. “You can turn down the volume now.”

Her voice probably had more bite than she'd intended. Over the last few days she'd had her fill of Spence's romantic videos.

“Yes, my lady!” Spence said in proper military style, and from a position on the bed that approximated attention commanded the wall to silence.

Sula was embarrassed by Spence's overreaction. “Lucy,” Sula said. “Call me Lucy.” It was her cover name. Then, “Do you need anything?”

“I'm all right, Lucy, thanks.” Spence shifted her sturdy hips on the bed.

“Right,” Sula said. “Call if you want something.”

Sula closed the door and returned to the figures she'd scribbled on her pad. There was a tap on the door, and then it opened to reveal Constable Second Class Gavin Macnamara, the third member of her action team. Tall and curly-haired and ingenuous, he had been Team 491's runner, traveling through the city on his two-wheeler to collect and distribute messages. But that had been in the days when there were people to send messages
to.
Now he wandered Zanshaa's Lower Town at random, collecting what information he could.

He glanced at the video wall as he entered, his expression tentative. “Is it over?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“How was it?”

She gave him a look. “A hundred and seventy-five reasons not to surrender.”

Macnamara nodded and sat on a chair.

“How are people taking it?” she asked.

Macnamara's open, friendly face clouded over. “They're trying to ignore it, I think. I think they're telling themselves that the condemned were all military, and that it doesn't apply to them.”

“And the hostages?”

On arrival in the city the Naxids had grabbed over four hundred hostages from the streets, and announced they would be killed if any more acts of resistance were mounted.

“People are still angry over the hostages,” Macnamara said. “But they're starting to be scared too.”

“There are thirteen Torminel unaccounted for,” Sula said. “At least three action teams, plus their group commander.”

Macnamara absorbed this news thoughtfully. “How do we find them?”

Sula could only shrug. “Hang around in Torminel neighborhoods till we hear something?”

It had been a facetious suggestion, but Macnamara took it seriously. “A good way to get arrested. Torminel cops are going to wonder what we're doing there.”

Especially as the Torminel were a nocturnal species. Terrans would very much stand out in their neighborhoods, both at night when the Torminel were active or in the day when they weren't.

Sula gave it some thought. “Maybe it's better if we
don't
contact them,” she said. “They've got all the supplies they need to conduct a war right where they are. So do we. If we're not in touch, we can't give each other away.”

Macnamara nodded. “So we're going to keep on fighting then,” he said.

The option to quit had always been there. To stay where they were and do nothing, to wait for the war to end one way or another. No one would blame them, not once their superiors had died.

“Oh yes.” Sula could feel the tension twitching in her jaw muscles. “We're still at war. And I know just where we're going to start.”

“Yes?”

“With Lord Makish of the High Court,” Sula said. “The Naxid judge who sentenced our friends to death.”

An expression of satisfaction settled onto Macnamara's face. “Very well, my lady,” he said.

 

H
igh Judge Makish lived in the Makish Palace in the High City, and for anyone who wasn't a mountaineer, there were only two ways onto Zanshaa's granite acropolis: a funicular railway for pedestrians, and a switchback road for vehicles. Since the seat of the entire government was in the High City, in the midst of a hostile population, Sula supposed the Naxids would be very careful about who got onto the acropolis and who didn't.

After buying Spence supper from Riverside vendors, Macnamara and Sula went to the lower terminus of the funicular railway at suppertime, when many of the High City's servants and workers would be returning to the Lower Town. The usual vendors and street performers had been cleared from the broad apron in front of the terminus, and Sula saw Naxid guards on the roof of the Central Station across the street, but otherwise civilian traffic seemed normal, and the line of buses and cabs on the street was reassuring, though fewer than usual.

“See if you can talk to someone at the bus stop,” Sula told Macnamara. “I'll go inside the terminal.”

“Are you sure?”

Macnamara's attempts to protect her from danger were endearing in their way, but in the end annoying. Sula said she was sure and walked across the highway.

In the funicular terminus she stood on the far side of the polished onyx rail and tried to act as if she were waiting for someone. Access to the funicular was controlled, she saw, by a squad of Naxids, all carrying rifles and wearing armor over their centauroid, black-beaded bodies. A petty officer with a hand terminal checked some manner of list as his subordinates checked the identification of anyone trying to board.

Only a squad,
she thought, but she knew more Naxids were on hand: they had requisitioned a number of hotels and apartments in this vicinity, and these were probably packed with troops.

Nearly half the departing passengers were Naxids, scuttling over the polished floors and dodging between the other commuters. Many wore the brown uniform of the civil service. Apparently, employment prospects had improved for their species.

Sula pretended she'd seen the person she'd come to meet, then joined a complete stranger for the walk to the outside. She found Macnamara waiting for her.

“Right now the Naxids are working off a list of everyone who lives in the High City,” he said. “Workers have to provide documentation from their employers that they're needed. But the rumor is that special identification will be required soon.”

Sula gave the matter some thought. “That's good,” she said. “A letter would have to come from a
real
employer, one already on the list—and they might check. It'll be easier to get the special badges.”

BOOK: Conventions of War
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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