Dedication To Jim Baen, my mentor, my publisher and my friend. Just trying to pay forward. Acknowledgements




НазваниеDedication To Jim Baen, my mentor, my publisher and my friend. Just trying to pay forward. Acknowledgements
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big young man. Dark red hair and a hard face. And clearly no slouch in the gym. "But I'm told you already know about the Bane Sidhe."

"Killers of Elves," Mike said then barked a laugh. "Killed any good Darhel lately?"

"Bit of an oxymoron," the man said. "It's not until they're dead that they're good, sir. Call me Kyle. It's not my name but it's one I've used."

"Well, Kyle, what now?" Mike asked.

"I have no clue, sir," Kyle replied. "I was told to hold you here pending disposition. Since you are, I'm given to understand, the most quietly wanted man in the galaxy . . . I'm not sure what the disposition is going to be. Normally, we can disappear someone fairly easily, and to make that clear I mean hide them not kill them. In your case, sir . . ."

"Every friggin cop and bounty hunter in the galaxy is going to be after my ass," Mike said. "So I guess there's only one question, Kyle."

"Sir?"

"You guys got any weights around here? They've been unavailable where I was before."

* * *

"Oh my God," General Wesley said, looking at the flimsy.

Fleet Strike was said to run on paper. It was not a compliment. Whereas Fleet was almost entirely paperless, but for the occasional award one of the admirals gave himself, Fleet Strike had continued to generate reams of paper.

The "enlightened" officers in Fleet pointed to this as evidence of the stupidity and conservatism of Fleet Strike officers, many of whom remained rejuvs from before the invention of the computer. Such officers were simply more comfortable with good old fashioned paperwork. Fleet officers would sometimes insult their counterparts behind the latter's back by motioning like counting on fingers.

And there was some truth to that. Many of Fleet Strike's senior officers never really got comfortable with electronic technology. But it was also a very good cover. From early on all the senior officers, at least, of Fleet Strike had been uncomfortably aware that their friendly AIDs reported everything to the Darhel. And sometimes orders that were given on one end were not exactly the same orders that came out the other end.

Using the "neanderthal" officers among Fleet Strike as an excuse permitted the officers who were not so neolithic to have paper backups.

Which meant that there was a paper trail on the trial of General O'Neal. After the dramatic end of what had been an ugly and boring, but necessary, task, each of the officers had of the courtmartial had signed the sentencing document and it, along with the entire paper record of the proceedings, had been put into a sealed container and transported to the vaults for storage. It should never have seen the light of day.

So he was very surprised to see what was either a precise facsimile or a very good forgery of that same document sitting on his desk.

"Those are all over Heinlein base and have turned up as far away as Titan and, of course, on Earth," Colonel Branden Trovato said. The commander of the Fleet Strike Criminal Investigation Division was not a man to scare easily. He had survived the latter part of the Siege as an infantry officer in the Ten Thousand, the most elite 'light' infantry unit on the planet and one of the ones with the highest death toll. But he was clearly nervous now. "And to say that they're causing a stir is an understatement."

"Where in the hell did they come from?" General Wesley snapped.

"Warrant Officer Paulina Weidemann was the courier officer tasked with carrying the recordings to the vault," Colonel Trovato said, looking at his paper notes. "One of my men timed the walk from the courtroom to the vaults. It took him precisely four minutes and thirty-two seconds. You turned over the records at fourteen twelve hours, Lunar, sir. Give or take a minute."

General Wesley nodded. He remembered a vague impression of a slight woman with dark hair. He wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on at the time, running more or less on automatic and just wanting to find a quiet place to vomit.

"Warrant Officer Weidemann logged into the vault-room at precisely fourteen thirty five, seventeen seconds and some miliseconds that don't really matter."

"So either she stopped to use the lady's room or . . ."

"A trusted courier officer somehow opened a plasteel secure box sealed by a Fleet Strike General – which means some pretty sophisticated lock-picking – copied some or all of the documents and then resealed it. Then turned it in. And walked on her merry way."

"And Warrant Officer . . .?"

"Weidemann, sir."

"Where is she, now?"

"She requested and was granted a three day pass, sir. She took a shuttle to earth last night. Her current whereabouts are unknown, sir."

"When did the first of these surface?" General Wesley asked.

"This morning, sir. My office became apprised at eleven twenty-two. My first action was to determine who had chain of custody and do the investigation I've outlined. Then I reported to you, sir."

Tam didn't have to look at the clock. He knew it was slightly after noon. His stomach was telling him that he'd have to eat, someday. And that it still wasn't sure it wanted to.

"Fast work."

"Thank you, sir."

"And no damned good at all, is it?"

"No, sir," the colonel admitted. "We can, of course, charge Warrant Officer Weidemann. If we ever catch her. But . . ."

"That would be closing the barn door after the fire's burned it down," the general said.

"More or less, sir."

"Define 'not being taken well,'" Wesley said.

"I have, while involved in the investigation, gotten two messages from undercover personnel who were approached by Fleet Strike members and sounded out about the possibility of mutiny," the CID officer said. "Based upon very rough statistics, that means at least half of the Strike personnel on the Moon are discussing mutiny. Discussion is, of course, not the same as doing, sir, but . . ."

"But just that it's being discussed," the general said, grinding his teeth. "Anything else?"

"There is a very wide-spread rumor, starting last night, that General O'Neal had nothing to do with the destruction of the 11th Corps and that it was, in fact, Fleet forces that fired upon them. There had been, prior to his trial, a very strong sentiment against his being responsible for the destruction of the corps and even rejection of the idea that they were destroyed. Subsequent to the release of this document . . . Members have put two and two together. Since there is no mention of his being responsible for the destruction of the corps in this document and given what he was charged with . . . The broad consensus is that he has been railroaded and that the corps is either still intact, and probably in its own state of mutiny, or was destroyed by someone or something other than in battle with the Posleen." The colonel stopped for a moment and frowned, holding his hand up to his earbud. "Sir, we have a developing situation . . ."

"General we've got a problem!"

Colonel Elvin Paul, Chief of Staff to the Chief of Staff, Operations, Fleet Strike, did not regularly burst into his boss' office. So despite his increasing annoyance level, General Wesley did not eat him a new asshole.

"Go," Wesley said, picking up his AID and wrapping it around his wrist.

"There was a gathering of enlisted in the Moonbase mess," Colonel Paul said. "They were arguing about something; what is unclear. Fleet MAs were ordered by Admiral Sie to break up the gathering. They didn't send enough. Moonbase is basically in one giant riot. I'm not exactly getting why from any of the officers I've spoken to. In fact, I'm having a hard time getting ahold of anyone at all. Nobody seems to want to talk to us."

* * *

"Colonel, we have control of the tram-port."

Colonel Glennis LeBlanc had been a colonel a looong time. Everybody else who had been her rank, major, 'back in the day' was either a general or retired.

Glennis wasn't sure why she'd stayed in Fleet Strike so many years, watching younger officers pass her by on the ladder of promotion. Hell, General Wesley, God curse his name, had been a fricking captain at the end of the Siege. With damned little to his credit. He sure as hell hadn't gotten the Distinguished Service Cross for the final battle in North Carolina.

But such were the vagaries of service. And maybe it was just shear bloodymindedness that her kept her bumping from one meaningless position to another. Or maybe it was because she had sensed, deep in her ample bosom, that there was a day when Fleet Strike was going to need her.

Planning a mutiny had been more of a hobby than anything over the years, a way to pass the time in jobs that were far beneath her skills. A background in intel hadn't hurt. She had established lines of communication with other officers, lines that did not use electronic communication for anything other than code phrases. She had built a network of informants. She had mentally mapped out the necessary steps to taking over each base she was on. Some of that she had moved to paper and left with very trustworthy friends on stations throughout the system. Oh, the purposes had been cloaked as games to pass the time. But one thing the AIDs still didn't read well was body-language and secondary phrasing. All of "her" people knew that what was building was something other than a game.

She had looked at each of the problems inherent in a mutiny under the current structure and found passable work-arounds. She hoped. Today was the day to find out.

"Capturing a critical prisoner" was only one of the many potential flash-points she had mapped. As soon as the riots started she had activated her cells. From her desk in the Morale and Welfare Support Center she had spread the word. Waterloo. As in "It was a near run thing."

Moonbase was secure and the means to recapture the General were in hand. Phase One complete. She had no particular liking for General O'Neal. She sort of remembered him from "in the day." And they'd met a couple of times over the decades. But he was just another brass from her perspective. The only thing that mattered was a chance to do something worthwhile. It was time to dust off the combat training and lead for a change.

The next step, though, was going to be a doozy. There was a whole Fleet in the system not to mention the orbital defenses of the Earth and Luna. Those were Phase Two, Three and Four, not necessarily in that order.

"Where are we on getting around the AID lockouts on the combat systems?" she asked.

"Going slow," Warrant Officer Three Pruitt replied. Having Pruitt around was a multiplier for her models. She'd known him since the final battles on Earth and trusted him like armor on a tank. He was sort of a clown from time to time, but he seriously hated the Darhel and the current state of affairs. "We can bypass the lockouts easy enough. But the AIDs do much of the processing for the systems. Replacing that is turning out to be the tricky part."

"Tell Paul to go faster," Colonel Leblanc snapped. "He's the wiz kid. Tell him to wiz."

"Will do," the former SheVa gunner said, grinning. "We're gonna chop 'em up like Bun-bun at a beach party."

"Colonel," Chief Warrant Officer Five Sheila Indy said. "Are you ready for calls from home?"

"I take it General Wesley is calling?" Glennis said, grinning.

"The same."

"Put him on," the colonel replied, pulling back her hair and spreading the top of her uniform just a bit. Cleavage strikes again.

* * *

General Wesley blinked at the view from the moon. The officer on the viewscreen was a short-coupled brunette with the most startling chest he'd ever seen. Fleet Strike uniforms specifically de-emphasized any trace of the sexual. It was apparent that nothing short of, maybe, an ACS suit could do it with this officer.

"Colonel . . .?"

"Leblanc," the officer replied. "Morale and Welfare. How can I help you, General?"

"When I attempted to contact General Hart I was put through to you," Wesley replied. "May I ask why?"

"General Hart is unavailable, General," Colonel Leblanc said, smiling toothily. "And will remain so for the duration."

"The duration of what, Colonel?"

"Why the duration of the War, General," the colonel replied. "Officers and men of Heinlein base, less a remarkably limited number of hold-outs, are in insurrection against the Galactic Federation. They remain so pending a positive disposition of our demands. Which are quite numerous and so onerous I doubt your Darhel puppet-masters are going to accede to them. So you are faced with a choice, General. You can join us - and trust me the best job I'm going to be able to give you is floor-washer; I'll be lucky to keep you alive - or you can try to beat us. And in the latter case,
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