This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely




НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
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Soldiers

John Dalmas



This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2001 by John Dalmas

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
www.baen.com

ISBN: 0-671-31987-6

Cover art by David Mattingly

First printing, May 2001

Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America

This novel is dedicated to gamers,
and particularly to Rod Martin,
Cory Rueb and Bill Cooper.


And to an extraordinary warrior

Bill Ashby

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My thanks to novelists David Brin
and Jim Glass for their critiques
of an early draft of this novel.
To the Spokane Word Weavers
for reading critical chapters
in preliminary form.
And to Gail, who as usual,
read and commented on the
very first, very rough draft.


ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THIS
EPIC ADVENTURE


"Too many military SF novels ignore the essential unevenness and tragedy of war. John Dalmas knows better. His Soldiers have both courage and heart."
David Brin

"Rich, inventive world-building and a good solid story from an outstanding writer."
C. J. Cherryh

"Slam bang action . . . with a heart and soul."
William C. Dietz

BAEN BOOKS by John Dalmas

Soldiers
The Regiment
The White Regiment
The Regiment's War
The Three Cornered War
The Lion of Farside
The Bavarian Gate
The Lizard War


Chapter 1

The Wyzhñyñy

Grand Admiral Quanshûk shu-Gorlak waited. "Thirty-nine," the ship counted. "Thirty-eight, thirty-seven . . ." After eleven years in hyperspace, Quanshûk asked himself, how can these final seconds seem so long? Eleven years of wondering what he'd find. Probably, hopefully, nothing basically unfamiliar.

Most of his people had spent the entire eleven years in a sleep so profound that aging was suspended; even he'd spent alternate months in a stasis chamber. Eleven years of hyperspace, mostly between spiral arms. On the screen's display of the F-space potentiality, there'd been whole months without the matric distortion of a single star. Only today had they seen two on a watch, both clearly unsuitable. And now a third. Judging by its mass not a promising third, but it was time to emerge, examine the starscape.

" . . . twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two . . ."

He glanced around at the bridge watch, all of them tense. Not so much as an ear flicked. But Quanshûk was not deceived. Those long brain cases harbored thoughts. Anticipation. Apprehension.

" . . . thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten . . ."

The word "ten" focused him. His eyes gripped the matric distortion caused by the massive stellar object, with a lesser distortion showing "nearby." Unexpectedly he too was gripped by apprehension. Intense apprehension. His bowel wanted to void right there on the bridge.

" . . . five, four, three, two, one . . ."

Stars exploded onto the screen, glorious, a panoply of brilliant points almost stunning in their collective beauty. For a moment Quanshûk's emotions soared, then responsibility took command. Responsibility for 26 million people. What would they find in this distant place, or what would find them? Every earlier swarm, over the centuries, had expanded the empire's existing boundaries into space already probed by scouts. But this—was territory totally unknown.

The brightest star was brilliant blazing red, the primary of this system. Ten degrees to its left was the next brightest, a planet orbiting it.

Reaching, Quanshûk pressed a key, and on the screen, reality was replaced with a system mechanics simulation, and a data menu. Already navcomp was identifying and computing provisonal orbits for the system's planets, along with their masses, spectra, solar constants . . . Perhaps one of them would prove habitable despite the red giant primary.

Shipsmind would inform him promptly of any technically produced electronics.

* * *

The living gas bag was both ancient and young, had identity without a label, and thought without words. For its kind, language had long since become not only needless, but pointless. It floated in the uppermost atmosphere of a Jovian giant, enjoying the radiation—the sunshine—on its huge balloon-like body. Meanwhile it composed/produced what, for lack of a more suitable label, might be termed music. An activity carried out jointly with its play companion, fifteen degrees of arc—10,000 miles—distant on the same latitude.

A sudden awareness interrupted their activity—interrupted the activities of all the gas bags around the planet. Something else sentient—some sapient presence—had manifested within their perception. An armada was not part of their experience, but the concept intuited within the group mind, and expanded to comprehend the beings operating the ships.

Together, the thousands of great globules contemplated this new phenomenon, among other things perceiving its reason for coming there, its purpose and intentions.

They made a decision.

* * *

What happened next intensified the newcomers' earlier apprehension. For brief minutes they'd been in a planetary system which their navcomp made perfect sense of. A locatable system in real space, F-space. Even now, shipsmind could tell Quanshûk where that system was, relative to their home sector. Even though they were thousands of parsecs from it—11.26 hyperspace years, rounding off.

Then for a moment the navcomp had blacked out so to speak, as the Wyzhñyñy had. They had completely lost orientation—and Quanshûk's armada was suddenly at a different location. A location without any recognizable reference point.

The ship insisted that the change had occurred in zero elapsed time, and that they had not left F-space. They'd simply—translocated. Instantaneously. Meanwhile Quanshûk and most of the bridge watch stood frozen, transfixed. Only one had lost consciousness, and toppled to the deck.

For a full half minute—a half minute with millions of star reads and trillions of computations—the navcomp labored to determine their new location. Without success. What it was able to do was begin creating a new star chart, centered on current ship position. Which was effectively stationary, relative to galactic coordinates. Clearly they were not in the outermost fringe of a spiral arm, as they had been moments earlier. They were well within whatever galaxy this was.

Acknowledging that was the first step in recovery. Quanshûk's muscles twitched. Tremors flowed across his hide. His hair bristled from nape to withers to tail. Bypassing the ship's captain, who still stood cataleptic, Quanshûk called the flagship's medical center and ordered the fallen crewman tended to. Then he ordered the ship to generate hyperspace and proceed to the vicinity of the nearest promising star.

To give that order had taken a major effort of will, but he was grand admiral, with all the responsibilities thereof. He tried not to wonder what might happen next, or what it might mean to this migration, this outswarming he led.

Chapter 2

Pirate Base

The planet had no official name; its system hadn't yet been visited by a Survey ship. Unofficially it was called "Tagus"—short for Tagus Cove—by the only humans who knew it existed. Actually, the small part of the planet they were interested in didn't look at all like the historical Tagus Cove, which lay on the west shore of Terra's Isla Isabela, in the Galapagos Archipelago. But both were, or had been, pirate hangouts.

Also like the Terran Tagus Cove, this deep-space location was equatorial and volcanic, though the vulcanism had long been dormant. But the base itself was twelve miles from the planetary ocean, and had no shortage of drinking water. Instead of scrub, it bore magnificent rainforest, with towering trees, lush green foliage, and colorful darting birds—red, yellow, blue—even more vivid than the flowers.

And numerous technological improvements: a system of tunnels and chambers cut deep behind the craggy wall of a basaltic plateau. These tunnels accessed, among other things, comfortable dormitories and mess halls for raiders, and both family-style and bachelor lodgings for base keepers. Caverns sheltered and concealed the fighting craft and "bag ships," whose long absences provided the reason and wherewithal for the base. Entrances were inconspicuous, opening into a narrow gorge eroded into one flank of the plateau. The excavation rubble was visible from overhead, of course, but resembled natural rockfall.

Everything at the base was designed to elude detection from both space and atmospheric reconnaissance. Even the geogravitic power converter, that provided the base's energy, was too deep to be detected. As was the emergence wave detector. Hyperspace emergence waves pass through rock as freely as neutrinos.

Not everything could be concealed, of course, but what couldn't was designed to mislead. The electronics scanners had been installed in the roofs of what looked like a fishing resort, on the coast twenty miles from base. There, except for the scanners, everything was exposed: lush lawns and gardens, tennis courts, comfortable cottages and cabañas, dining hall, large pool, boat houses . . . There were almost always off-duty base personnel and crewmen there, who came on anti-grav scooters to enjoy their free time.

An innocent vacation spot with little to hide, a secluded, low-gravity stop for the space-touring wealthy. Though it was a long way to go for a vacation.

All in all, Tagus seemed a harmless place, without so much as a pod beacon in the system's fringe.

* * *

Henry Morgan was Tagus's founder and (often in absentia) ruler. He'd borrowed his name from a 17th century Welsh buccaneer, and it was the only name he admitted to. Like the original, this latter-day Henry Morgan was Welsh, born in Swansea, but he'd grown up in the North American city of Omaha. Remarkably, his birth name was Edward Teach, a name he shared with an 18th century pirate, but the earlier Teach was more barbaric than his namesake cared for. In fact, this latter-day Morgan and his personnel were generally civilized, even amiable, with a leaning toward nonconformity and adventure. Morgan thought of his crew and himself as gentlemen adventurers—daring, risk-taking, colorful. An attitude shared vicariously by many "good Commonwealth citizens." On Terra, from time to time, pirate dramas were popular, in the form of books, videos, and cinemas.

Henry Morgan was eating lunch in his living quarters when his yeoman knocked, audibly agitated. "Commodore," he said, "come quick!"

Morgan stopped his fork in mid course. "What stung your ass, Jerzy?" he called back.

"Sir, it's emergence waves, sir! All over hell, sir!"

Frowning, Morgan lay down his fork, with its morsel of sea turtle fried in nut oil, got to his feet and left, hurrying down the corridor. In his forties and moderately overweight, he still moved well. The wall screen in his office showed a three-dimensional coordinate model of the local solar system and environs. And thousands of hyperspace emergence loci! A footer said 16,297.

Sixteen thousand spacecraft! And Jerzy's "all over hell" summarized the situation nicely: the loci formed a diffuse lenticular swarm in the Tagus System's far-side fringe. Some were out—hell!—close to 5 billion miles, according to the grid. Others were less than 2 billion. Allowing for distance, the size of each locus indicated the mass of the emergent ship, and virtually all were larger than anything his two small squadrons of corsairs had. Larger than anything the Commonwealth admiralty had, excepting a handful of prototypes.

For just a moment Morgan stared, then sat down on his command seat and pecked at his key pad. An overlay, a chart, popped onto the screen, its numbers telling him more than he cared to know. Centuries of galactic radio monitoring had turned up nothing remotely convincing—threatening or otherwise—in the way of alien radio traffic. But in his youth, Morgan had read disreputable novels in which the Commonwealth was invaded by aliens. So the concept of alien invasion was familiar to him, and it seemed the only possible explanation of what he was looking at. Sixteen thousand alien ships! While the Commonwealth had half a dozen squadrons—frigates and (mostly) corvettes—for piracy suppression. That was the sum of its space defenses.

Sixteen thousand! And unless their hyperspace navigation was incredibly poor, they'd come a very long way; otherwise they wouldn't be so dispersed. After—what? Years? After years in hyperspace, it seemed likely they'd explore a bit before moving on. Look over the neighborhood, establish references.

Morgan frowned. "It's going to take them weeks to re-form formations," he said thoughtfully. "Days even to form up an assault group, if they're interested." He turned grinning to his yeoman. "Tell me, Jerzy, if you were me, what would you do about this?"

The young man blinked. "Why, sir," he said, "I'd order all hands to prepare for evacuation. In case the intruders move insystem."

Morgan laughed. "Sounds like a winner. Let's do it."

* * *

Preparing ships would take a day or so. The onworld squadron parked in the hangar caverns had recently returned from a long sweep. The loot was still being transferred to the bag ships, and Morgan was short on AG cargo handlers. And till now there'd been no hurry.

The only data he had on intruder ship positions was when the instantaneous hyperspace emergence waves were received. The emergence loci were an unchanging record of something that had already happened. They told him nothing of subsequent ship movements. Equally important, Morgan was unfamiliar with either the intruders' intentions or procedures, and his working assumptions were incorrect. Nor, of course, could his sensors see into warpspace, to detect ship movements there.

* * *

He left his office and strode back to his apartment. He was someone who didn't hesitate when something was necessary, however unpleasant, and he was about to throw away a secure base he'd developed over a dozen years. Entering his younger brother's room, he stepped into a fragrance much like Terran night jasmine. An orderly on an AG scooter had collected them from the forest roof; she collected some fragrant species or other every morning. It was more than a duty. It was an expression of fondness for Robert Teach. Robert was a pudgy, disarmingly sunny man, a thirty-one-year-old child liked by everyone. Beginning with his older brother, who'd rescued him after their mother suicided.

Just now, Robert was sitting at his computer terminal, playing with the ephemeris for Epsilon Indi. He could compute in his head—if compute was the word—the moment-to-moment positions of the planets of every inhabited system in the Commonwealth, for any moment you'd care to give him. What he could not do was read above the primary level, or write at all beyond a carefully lettered "signature." He even had trouble buttoning his shirt. Med-tech Connie Phamonyong did that for him. Robert didn't like Press Close or pullovers. He liked buttons. They were nicer.

"Hi, Robert," Morgan greeted. Robert didn't reply. The words hadn't registered; he was utterly engrossed. Connie came out of the kitchenette and gave her commodore a hug and kiss. A fond, familiar kiss. They'd been together for fifteen years.

Morgan nodded toward Robert. "I need his help," he told her. "I need to contact the prime minister and the Admiralty."

Her eyes widened, but she asked no question, simply nodded. Turning, she spoke to Robert, the words a command hypnotically programed years earlier. He didn't hesitate, didn't even blink, simply turned his chair, got up, stepped to a nearby couch (it once had graced a yacht owner's saloon) and lay down. Connie pulled the computer chair over to it and sat, then looked questioningly at Morgan.

"Just the two for now," he said, "the PM and the Admiralty."

She turned to Robert, and spoke with a calm she did not feel, a standard prolog to whatever the message would be. Then she looked again at Morgan, and briefly they waited.

* * *

On Terra, in the palace penthouse at Kunming, a young man not basically unlike Robert Teach sat at a keyboard, playing a flowing improvisation based on a Chopin nocturne. Abruptly he stopped, and turned to his attendant. "It is something for Mr. Peixoto," he said. Then getting to his feet, he stepped to a nearby lounge and lay down. The attendant clicked a switch on his belt and sat down beside the young savant.

At the same moment, half a mile away, a tiny aging woman at a computer screen broke off her inspection of a commercial freight schedules at the Kinshasa terminal; she could have recited it verbatim, it and numerous others. Turning, she spoke to her attendant, not a frequent event. When a communication triggered a trance, her speech was quite clear, not at all like her usual lisping voice that resembled a three-year-old's. Her attendant helped her to her couch; the old woman couldn't walk unassisted. She'd never been able to.

* * *

When the two communicators on Terra had responded, Robert Teach spoke again. "They are ready," he said. Then his elder brother began to dictate, identifying himself by both his legal name and pseudonym, Robert passing them on precisely, mentally. Instantaneously. Without a qualm, Morgan gave his galactic coordinates, then described what his emergence wave detector had shown. Those same emergence waves had reached Terra at the same instant, of course, but at that distance—hundreds of parsecs—they'd been far too slight to register.

* * *

It would be an historic event: the first planetary capture by the Seventh Wyzhñyñy Swarm. The flagship's bridge was bright with officers of the exalted genders, their fur blue, except for the ridge of cardinal that began at the withers, and in the master gender culminated in a cranial crest. Amongst the tan or reddish-brown of the crew and subordinate officers, they were vividly dominant.

Their flagship was equipped with the best sensory system the empire could provide. Within minutes, the grand admiral knew the location and approximate orbits of all the system's planets, and their first-order environmental parameters—mass, solar constant, magnetic field, surface temperature, approximate atmospheric composition . . . Also the presence of technical electronics—that had been recorded almost at once—and the curious absence of any apparent pod beacon.

With those data established, Grand Admiral Quanshûk shu-Gorlak had ordered the fleet of one preselected tribe—transports, cargo ships, armed escorts—to head insystem. While inbound, all colonists were to be revived; all but the matrons were soldiers. The bombardment ships and ground-assault craft would emerge from warpspace close to the inhabited planet, move in, and wipe out all military installations and population concentrations. That accomplished, ground forces would seek and destroy all remaining native sophonts. With mop-up under way, they would commence base construction.

Nothing was said about prisoners. The only prisoners the Wyzhñyñy ever took were for interrogation, and only as ordered by their high command. Without such an order, all alien sophonts would be killed. Of course.

* * *

The tribal fleet, or most of it, emerged from warpspace and approached quickly in gravdrive. Its scouts quickly found the sole source of technical electronics—the "resort." Eight miles out, Support Force Commander Kraloqt stood on the bridge of his flagship, frowning. Was this all? The place didn't appear dangerous. He ordered a single pulse fired, adequate to obliterate the central building, hopefully drawing fire from any defense forces.

It did the first but not the second.

Perhaps the defenders were in subsurface installations. Kraloqt ordered a spray burst, each pulse more powerful than the single first shot. The resort site exploded, lofting a large cloud of smoke and dust, leaving a twenty-acre crater field.

He then ordered in an elite infantry battalion, to scout the surrounding forest and flush out the enemy. The first assault lander had barely put down when a small spacecraft emerged unexpectedly at the surface, twenty miles east-northeast of the landing zone, accelerating outbound as strongly as its crew could tolerate. Another quickly followed, then a third, a fourth. By that time the first had generated warpspace on the run, and was essentially out of harm's way. The others followed suit.

Kraloqt's battlecomp had peripheral attention better than any living organism's; it was never distracted. In the same moment that its alarm system squalled, his flagship fired a series of pulses at the location from which the alien craft had appeared. Kraloqt ordered a bombardment ship into action.

To hunt fleeing craft in warpspace was impractical, and at any rate not Kraloqt's responsibility. His job was to destroy the planet's surface defenses and prepare it for occupation. He radioed a report to the grand admiral (it would take a dozen hours to reach him), then ordered another elite battalion to the site of the alien launch. In less than a minute, the battalion's armored assault landers were on their way, with gunships flying cover.

* * *

When the resort's electronics reported bogies entering F-space only 90,000 miles out, the surprised Morgan had ordered all base personnel to board their assigned ships for evacuation. They were to be fully secured for flight within ten minutes, and depart on his command. His own yacht would leave after the others were clear.

But again the invaders surprised him. While the transports and cargo ships entered F-space 90,000 miles out, the assault force had continued in warpspace, and emerged unexpectedly overhead at only 63,000 feet.

Despite his surprise, the intruders' haste grabbed Morgan's curiosity, which at times could be stronger than his good judgement. Thus, though Connie and Robert were still in his apartment, he was reluctant to leave his office. The intruders might try to communicate via computer. It seemed probable.

Before the ten minutes were up, communication with the resort was cut off. Two minutes later the shock wave of its destruction hit the subterranean pirate base, and Morgan's hopes crashed and burned. He knew at once there'd be no negotiation, or even an ultimatum, just destruction. A touch on his key pad showed he still had communication within the base. Biting the words out, he called Flight Control. "Drago, it's time to vamoose. Are all ships secured and ready?"

"All but yours, boss."

"Leave without me. Now! No delay! I'll follow when I can. Till then, you're in charge."

"You're the boss, boss." Drago paused. Morgan could hear him talking laconically to someone else—Hideo Pienaar, Morgan's own first officer, who would serve as launch control till Morgan boarded the Delight with Robert and Connie.

Then Drago was speaking through the base communication system. "Emergency evacuation! Emergency evacuation! Standard rendezvous! Standard rendezvous! All cradles except the commodore's yacht cradle will power up to launch. NOW!" There was a brief lapse, then Pienaar was speaking. "Launch one!" Pause. "Launch two!" Pause. "Launch three." Pause. "Launch four."

Morgan felt the rock shudder much more severely than before, a series of heavy shock pulses hammering the plateau top directly overhead, and the upper face of the gorge. He hadn't imagined such a quick response. His hands clenched the arms of his chair. Objects fell from shelves. A vase waltzed briefly and toppled, spilling flowers and water across the surface of his desk, wetting his lap. He swore. Jabbing a key on his pad, he called, "Damage report!"

"Boss, this is Hideo. Ships one through four got out. Then we took multiple hits, and a lot of rock came down. Both ports are blocked by rockfall. Doesn't seem to be any interior damage though."

Thank God for any favors, Morgan thought. "How long will it take to clear the ports?"

"An hour at least. Likely four or five. We need to get the dozer running."

"Okay, do it."

It was as if the invader had been listening. There was another, longer series of shocks, and Morgan's line with damage control cut off. Along with any prospect of getting the ports cleared at all, he told himself.

Opening a desk drawer, he took out a remote control and shoved it into a pocket. He had no doubt intruder scouts would be along soon, checking the target area. We'll really be in the soup then, he told himself, unless the ports are so thoroughly blocked, the bastards don't notice them. We'll likely have their version of marines in the tunnels with us. Or worse, some explosive aerosol that would blow the base all to hell from the inside out.

Defense was out of the question. Moving more quickly than he had for years, Morgan headed for his apartment, to find Connie standing round-eyed with worry, Robert beside her. Pointing at Morgan, Robert laughed. "You wet your pants!"

Morgan looked down where the water from the vase had spilled on him. "Well, I'll be darned," he said. "Look at that." Then he stepped to the phone and keyed base security. That line was working. The speaker was on, and Connie and Robert listened.

"Prieto," a voice answered.

"Have we got visitors yet, Léon?"

"They just landed. They will be knocking at our door in a few minutes. Our monitor eyes are all inop, but I have men peeking over the rubble blocking the work port." Prieto laughed. "Maglie says they are the centaurs from hell. Then he said no, they are centaurs from the Jurassic." Léon paused, then continued: "I think they will blast their way in."

"Look, Léon," Morgan said, "if you think it's best, surrender to them. I'm giving you full authority. Meanwhile I need to get Robert out of their reach. One way or another."

"Got it, boss."

Morgan switched off. "Robert, Connie, let's go." They followed without questions. Nearby was a dead-end corridor. As they approached it, he took the remote from his pocket, and aiming it at what appeared to be solid rock; he touched the switch. Groaning, the rock slid aside about five feet, a steel panel with rock slab veneer. He gestured Connie and Robert through the gap ahead of him. "Hurry!" he said, and even Robert hurried. Then he pointed the remote again, and the gap closed.

The tunnel on the other side was narrow, crudely finished, and unlit. It smelled moist and fusty, as if not serviced by the base's ventilation system. Morgan pressed a second switch, and the remote became a flashlight. Turning, he directed the beam down the tunnel. Blackness swallowed it a hundred feet ahead.

"Morgan," Robert said, "I'm scared." His voice was a little boy's now, despite its tenor pitch.

"It's okay to be scared, but you'll be all right. I'm your brother; I take care of you." Gently he rumpled Robert's close-cut hair. "We're going to a secret place. The bad guys don't know about it. No one does except us three."

Then he led off along the tunnel.

* * *

It went farther than Connie had expected. Half a mile at least, she decided, and except for the first hundred yards or so, it climbed. Not steeply, but enough that Robert got a bit querulous. "You'll make it, brother," Morgan told him. "You're doing great. Our father used to climb mountains, and we inherited his legs, you and I."

"Really? What mountains?"

"He used to climb Mount Snowden every chance he had. When I was little, back in Wales. A couple of times he even went to Scotland to climb; he climbed Ben Nevis there, and Ben Macdhui. Once, after we moved to Nebraska, he took Mother and me to Colorado, where there were even bigger mountains. He climbed one of them, too. I wanted to go with him, but I was too . . ."

A faint tremor shivered the rock beneath their feet, interrupting Morgan's recitation. He didn't get back to it, simply walked faster.

Connie's knowledge of Terran geography pretty much ended with what was taught in middle school, and in high school in connection with history. It didn't go much beyond the more important places and historical events. Her mind couldn't create an image of Wales on the map, but she was pretty sure it was part of Great Britain. Scotland she could image. On the map it looked like the profile of a dowager, with a feathered hat from some far-back time—the 20th or 21st century. Before "the Troubles." As for Colorado—she'd heard of it. It was in North America.

She wondered if Henry was telling Robert the truth. She'd never known him to kid his brother, but over the years she'd learned he could lie when it suited him.

After what might have been twenty minutes, the flashlight picked up a steel door ahead, with what looked like a wheel on it. Like much else in the base, it was from a waylaid ship—the security vault door of a luxury cruise ship. It wasn't locked; Henry simply spun the wheel and pulled, then ushered them in and closed it after them.

He didn't take time to show them around. Leaving them in the dark, he disappeared through another door. Half a minute later she could hear humming from wherever the machinery resided that provided the utilities—a small geogravitic power converter, water pump, sump pump, air circulation . . . Lights turned on. Seconds later she heard water running.

After Henry returned, the rock shuddered again, this time more strongly than in the tunnel, though nothing like they'd felt in the apartment. He went back into the machinery room, and while he was gone, the shudder repeated strongly enough to worry her.

They made love that night for the first time in a week. Afterward, over brandy—short drinks; they needed to be frugal with it—Henry told her more about what had happened. Including the tremor in the tunnel, and those they'd felt since then. The first, he believed, was the intruders blasting their way into the base. The second was the use of concussion to kill everyone inside. "And the third—" He exhaled gustily through pursed lips. "If the alien charges didn't collapse the base, I wouldn't want them to find this place. And years ago I had charges set to bring down the corridor leading here."

He reached, and patted her hand. "There's a way out though, and enough food to keep the three of us for a couple of years if need be. Meanwhile I'll be doing things, finding things out, and you and Robert can help me communicate what I learn to Terra." Though what it might be, he told himself, or what good it might do them, God only knows. Sixteen thousand, for godssake!
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