Authors: Jerry Pournelle,S.M. Stirling
Tags: #Science Fiction
"Colonel, I am surprised at how much rebel activity there is," Owensford said. "It's much better run than the average autonomous planet these days. At least I get that impression from Prince Lysander."
Falkenberg sipped at his drink. "Problems of success." His finger tapped Sparta City, on a bay toward the eastern end of the Aegean Sea. "They've managed to keep the population of their capital down."
About two hundred fifty thousand, out of a total three million. They had both seen planets where ninety percent of the people were crammed into ungovernable slum-settlements around the primary spaceport.
"But that means a lot of population in the outback." Falkenberg swept his hand across the map.
"It's pretty easy to live there, too. Not much native land-life, so the Package worked quite well. All too well, perhaps." The Standard Terraforming Package included everything from soil-bacteria and grass seeds to rabbits and foxes; where the native ecology was suitable it could colonize whole continents in a generation. "There's even a fairly substantial trade in hides and tallow from feral cattle and such. Scattered ranches, small mines—plentiful minerals, but no large concentrations—poor communications, not enough money for good satellite surveillance, even."
Owensford nodded. "About like the Old West, sans Indians," he said. "You think some of the bandit activity is political?"
"Of course it's political. By definition, any large coordinated action is political. But if you mean connected with off-planet forces, possibly not. Fleet intelligence says no, anyway. Of course Sparta is a long way away." The Legion had strong, if clandestine, links to Sergei Lermontov, Grand Admiral of the CoDominium Fleet.
"Mostly it's insurrection, which can't be too big a surprise. The involuntary colonists and convicts Sparta gets are a cut above the usual scrapings. They'll be unhappy about being sent to Sparta. Ripe for political organization, and when there's an opportunity, a politician will find it."
BuReloc had been shipping the worst troublemakers off Earth for two generations now . . .
except for the Grand Senators,
Owensford thought mordantly. Earth could not afford more trouble. The CoDominium had kept the peace since before his grandfather's birth, the United States and Soviet Union acting in concert to police a restive planet. The cost had been heavy; an end to technological progress, as the CoDo Intelligence services suppressed research with military implications . . . which turned out to be all research.
For the United States the price of empire had proved to be internal decay; the dwindling core of taxpayers grimly entrenched against the swelling misery of the Citizens in their Welfare Islands, kept pacified by arbitrary police action and subsidized drugs. Convergence with the Soviets even as nationalist hatred between the two ruling states paralyzed the CoDominium.
By the time they destroy each other, there won't be any real difference at all.
The thought startled him; he had been born American and graduated from West Point.
Legio Patria Nostra,
he quoted to himself.
The Legion is our Fatherland.
"Yes, I expect most of the deportees who make it to Sparta bribed the assignment officers," Owensford said. Which indicated better than average resources, of money or determination or intelligence. There were planets like Thurstone or Frystaat or Tanith where incoming deportees ended up in debt-peonage that was virtual slavery. A few like Dalarna where the Welfare provisions were as generous as on Earth, though God alone knew how long
would last. On Sparta able-bodied newcomers had the same civil rights as the old voluntary settlers, and the same options of working or starving.
"So," Falkenberg said, "I don't have anything specific, but something doesn't feel right. And Sparta is just too damned important to Lermontov's plan."
"Our plan," Owensford said carefully.
Falkenberg shrugged. "If you like."
"I thought you were an enthusiast—the Regimental Council approved it, mostly on your insistence."
"Correct. Don't misunderstand," Falkenberg said. "Lermontov is our patron. Whatever the problems with this scheme, we don't have anything better—so we act as if it's going to work and do what we have to do for it."
"But you're not happy even so."
Falkenberg shrugged. "We don't control Sparta, and it isn't our home. I'd be happier with a base we do control—but we don't have one. So we go on putting out fires for the Grand Admiral."
Owensford made a noncommittal sound; Grand Admiral Lermontov's private policy-making was a dangerous game. Essential when the Russki-American clashes paralyzed the Grand Senate, but dangerous nonetheless. Falkenberg's Legion had defended Lermontov's interests for decades, and that too was dangerous.
"Unfortunately, putting out fires isn't enough anymore," Falkenberg said. "The CoDominium is dying. When it dies, Earth will die with it; but I like to think we've bought enough time for civilization to live outside the Solar System. The Fleet can't protect civilization and order without a base."
"And Sparta looks to be it."
"It's the best we have," Falkenberg said. He shrugged. "Who knows, we may find a home on Sparta. People don't usually have much use for the mercenaries they hire, but the Spartans may be different. Given time, who knows? Lermontov doesn't expect things to come apart for ten years, twenty if we're lucky. When the crash comes it's important to have Sparta in good shape."
He paused, finished his drink and frowned at the rapidly melting ice cubes in the bottom of the glass. "I suspect it will take luck to keep things going ten more years."
Peter nodded slowly. "Whitlock's report. You put a lot of confidence in him—"
"It's been justified so far. Peter, what's important is that Sparta stays committed to the Plan, that they see us—the Regiment, and the Fleet, and the rest of us—as part of their solution and not more problems. Otherwise we'd end up with another insular regional power like Frystaat or Dayan or Xanadu, not a seed-crystal of . . . call it Empire for lack of anything better."
Owensford chuckled. "Colonel, are you saying the future of civilization is in my hands?"
Falkenberg grinned slightly, but he didn't answer.
"All right, why me?"
"An honest question," Falkenberg said. "Because you'll get the job done. You won't be ashamed to take advice. Just remember, you won't be alone in this."
"I hope not—John Christian. Who else is in on this conspiracy?"
"Not so much a conspiracy as people who think alike. An alliance. Incidentally, including some people from our side. I've just got word, Colonel Slater will reach Sparta about the same time you do. You'll remember him."
Falkenberg smiled thinly. "Don't worry, he's not there to outrank you. Hal's mission is to set up the Spartan War College."
"He's recovered, then?" Lt. Col. Hal Slater had been shot up badly enough that he'd been forced to retire from the Legion and go back to Earth for therapy.
"Well, maybe not completely," Falkenberg said. "But enough that he can command a war academy. Hal even managed to get himself a Ph.D. in military history from Johns Hopkins while the medicos were putting him back together."
"He was with you a long time—"
Falkenberg nodded. "Since Arrarat. Before I was posted to the Forty-second. I have a request."
"I'd like to swap you a company commander. George Slater for Brainerd. Only you'll have to ask, I wouldn't want it thought I'd set this up myself."
"No problem. I'd rather have Hal Slater's son than Henry in a training command anyway."
"Right. Thank you."
Owensford looked away in embarrassment. Falkenberg didn't often ask for favors.
Hal Slater must be his oldest friend, now that I think of it.
"As to the conspiracy," Falkenberg said, "there aren't any secret passwords, nothing like that. Just people who think alike. Lermontov and his immediate staff. Most of the Grant family. The Blaines, although they hope the CoDominium will survive the collapse, and they work in that direction. The Leontins." Falkenberg took a message cube out of a drawer. "The file name is BIGPLAN. The password is 'carnelian.' Don't forget that the file erases itself if you try to access it with the wrong password. Study it on your way. Then erase it."
"Yes, sir. Carnelian."
"The most important allies from your point of view are Prince Lysander and his father. His Majesty Alexander Collins First was one of Admiral Lermontov's first partners."
Owensford nodded. Sparta had a dual monarchy like the ancient Greek state. There were two royal families, the Collinses and the Freedmans; three generations away from being ordinary families of American college professors, but any royal line had to start somewhere. It was a change from the usual lucky soldier as a founder, anyway.
"But the Freedmans are inclined to isolationism. So you see it's not
a training command I'm giving you."
"Well," Owensford said, finishing his drink and picking up his swagger stick. "At least we won't have the Bronsons to worry about."
" . . . and we both know you're a pompous, spoiled, inbred, insufferable
," Grand Senator Adrian Bronson concluded. He was a tall man, still erect in his eighty-fifth year; the blue eyes were very cold on his grandnephew. "Did you have to make it known to the entire
A hint of Midwestern rasp roughened the normally smooth generic-North-American accent. The Grand Senator represented a district that included Michigan and several other states in the CoDominium Senate, and led a faction whose votes were the subject of frantic bidding in that perpetually deadlocked body. That was power, even more power than the Bronson family's wealth could buy. The quarter-million acres centered around this Wisconsin estate were more symbol of that authority than its source, but on this land Adrian Bronson governed more absolutely than any feudal lord. A man who angered him sufficiently here could disappear and never be heard of again.
The Honorable Geoffrey Niles swallowed and unconsciously braced to attention, a legacy of Sandhurst. He was sixty years younger than the man on the other side of the table, blondly handsome and muscular, but there was no doubt about who was dominant here.
Don't remind me!
Bronson shouted, slamming a fist down on the polished teak of the table. The crystal and silver of the decanter set jumped and jingled. "Don't remind me that my little sister's daughter managed to produce
won't die of the grief, but by
He turned to the other men present; there were three, one in the plain blue overall of a starship captain, the other in a trim brown uniform with a pistol at his belt, a third elaborately inconspicuous.
"Captain Nakata," he said. "Report in this matter."
The spacer was Nipponese, from Meiji; Bronson had hired him away from that newly independent planet's expanding space navy. His loyalty was expensively bought and paid for, but would be absolute for the duration of his contract.
"Sir," he said, bowing. "While in orbit about Tanith, waiting to receive the shipment of borloi"—the perfect euphoric drug, and vastly profitable—"Lieutenant Commander Niles, on his own authority, contacted the authorities in Lederle for, ah, a hunting permit."
"A hunting permit." Bronson waited a moment, meeting his grandnephew's eyes. They were steady.
No coward, at least,
he thought grudgingly.
"Mr. Wichasta," Bronson continued. Chandos Wichasta coughed discreetly into a hand; he was a small brown man, a confidential agent for many years.
"Senator, until this communication—apparently a bureaucrat flagged it as a routine measure and grew curious—until this communication, our agents in Governor Blaine's office had kept the Governor and Colonel Falkenberg in complete ignorance of
presence. Apparently, the request began a chain of discoveries which led to Governor Blaine and Falkenberg's mercenaries discovering that Rochemont plantation was the headquarters of the rebel planters and
mercenaries. And that we were in contact with the rebels and planning to lift the borloi they had denied the official Lederle monopoly. The timing was very close; if your grandnephew had not made that call, we would in all probability have been able to secure the drugs, and we certainly could have destroyed them."