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In Fury Born: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 22:41 EST



    "So what do you make of our new larva?" Lieutenant Kuramochi Chiyeko asked. The slightly built, dark skinned lieutenant was tilted comfortably back in her chair, nursing a cup of coffee. Gunnery Sergeant Michael Wheaton, her platoon's senior noncom, sat across the paperwork-littered desk from her, sipping from his own battered, much-used coffee mug.

    "Um." Wheaton lowered his mug and grimaced. "Gotta admit, Skipper, I wasn't very pleased to see her." He shook his head. "I'm a little happier now Abe's had a chance to look her over, but still—! Things are getting hot, and they're sending us one warm body at a time? And a larva straight out of Mackenzie, at that?"

    "Take what we can get," Kuramochi said philosophically, but Wheaton's eyes sharpened.

    "I know that tone, Skipper," he said, just a trifle suspiciously.

    "And what tone would that be, Gunny Wheaton?" Kuramochi's expression was innocence itself.

    "That 'I know something you don't know,' tone."

    "I don't have the least idea what you're talking about," she asserted.

    "Skipper, it's my job to make sure all our round little pegs are neatly fitted into round little holes. If there's something about DeVries I should know, this would be a pretty good time to tell me."

    Wheaton's tone was completely reasonable, but he gave his lieutenant a moderately severe look to go with it. Kuramochi Chiyeko had the makings of a superior officer, or she would never have been given a Recon platoon. And she and Wheaton had established a tight, well-oiled working relationship. But she was still only a lieutenant, and one of a gunny's most important jobs was to occasionally, with infinite respect, whack his lieutenant up aside the head with a clue stick.

    "You mean aside from whose granddaughter she is?" Kuramochi asked.

    "I know all about her grandfather, Skipper. And I know she graduated second over all from Mackenzie. And I know she's got a five-year college degree under her belt when she should still be home shooting marbles, that she's smart as a whip, and that Abe Metternich is impressed with her. None of which changes the fact that she's still a newbie less than eighteen standard-years old in a slot she shouldn't have qualified for for at least another standard year. But you already knew I know all of that, so what is that I don't know?"

    "Well, I don't actually know anything," Kuramochi said. "But take a look at what we've got. As you just pointed out, she's got a five-year degree—from ENC, no less. Plus where she graduated from Mackenzie. My record was nowhere near that good, but the Corps was already recruiting me as an officer before I was completely through Basic. And I've looked at her jacket's available profiles, Mike. She's better qualified for a commission, in terms of basic ability, than I am. In fact, she's probably better qualified than at least two-thirds of the Battalion's officers. And, like you say, Recon isn't a slot they normally offer a newbie, no matter how good her Mackenzie performance might have been. And although I've never met Sar'Major O'Shaughnessy, I've heard enough about him to seriously doubt that he pulled any strings to get her what she wanted. So, why did they give her to us, and why haven't they started gently suggesting to her that OCS lies in her future?"

    "I don't know," Wheaton replied, but he was frowning as he spoke. Then his eyebrows rose. "No way, Skipper!"

    "Why not? You know they like to use Recon as the final filter for the selection process."

    "Of a Mackenzie larva?" Wheaton shook his head. "I dunno, Skip. I've never heard of their even looking at someone who didn't have at least one complete tour under his belt!"

    "Maybe not, but I've been trying hard to figure out any other explanation for why we've got her. And like you say, Abe is impressed with her, and he's seen a lot of larvae over the years." Kuramochi shrugged. "Nobody's told me anything officially, of course. They wouldn't. And I don't have access to her complete profile, even if I knew exactly what the selection criteria are. But it's pretty obvious she's a special case—both in terms of native ability and where they sent her for her very first active-duty tour."

    "Wonderful," Wheaton said sourly. "You know, Skip, sometimes I get so tired of those overly clever . . . professional colleagues of ours. Let them do their own damned recruiting and testing! And leave us—especially Recon—the hell alone. I hate the way they keep skimming off our best people even after they've served their time, but if they're planning on poaching someone this early in her career, it really frosts my chops. If you're right, they're gonna give us just long enough to get her trained up right, bring her along nicely, and then they're gonna steal her from us. You wait and see."

    "My, my." Kuramochi grinned. "Such heat, Gunny Wheaton!"

    "Yeah, right," Wheaton grumbled. "Tell me you won't be just as pissed off as I am if it turns out there's anything to this."

    "Of course I won't," Kuramochi said virtuously. "The very idea is ridiculous."

    Wheaton snorted, and she chuckled. But then her expression sobered.

    "Like I say, Mike, no one's told me anything, and it's entirely possible I'm completely wrong. But I think we—specifically, you and I—need to bear the possibility that I'm not wrong in mind. No corner-cutting, no special treatment—God knows, nothing to suggest to her that we think she's anything more than just one more, possibly above average, larva. But anything we can throw at her to give her that little extra edge of experience would be a good idea, I think."

    "Understood." Wheaton drank some more coffee, then shrugged. "I may not like the idea of playing schoolmarm for someone besides the Corps, Skipper, but if you're right, then I have to agree. Want me to talk to Abe about it, too?"

    "I don't think so." Kuramochi rubbed one eyebrow thoughtfully. "Not yet, anyway. He's going to be too close to her, and we've all got a lot on our minds right now with the local situation. We both know how good he is at bringing newbies along, anyway, so let's not jog his elbow. Let's get her settled in before we suggest to Abe that we may want to keep a special eye on this one."



    "Something new from Gyangtse, Boss."

    Sir Enobakhare Kereku, Governor of the Martinsen Sector in the name of His Imperial Majesty Seamus II, looked up as Patricia Obermeyer, his chief of staff, walked into his office.

    "Why," Kereku inquired after a moment, "does that prefatory remark fill my heart with dread?"

    "Because you know what an idiot Aubert is?" Obermeyer suggested.

    "Maybe. But while you, as a lowly member of the hired help, are casting aspersions upon the capabilities of my less-than-esteemed junior executive colleague, let us not forget the incomparable talent his chief of staff has for making things still worse."

    "Point taken," Obermeyer said, after a moment, and grimaced. "To be honest, I think Salgado may be even more of a klutz than Aubert. Not that achieving such monumental levels of incompetency is easy, you understand."

    "And now that we've both vented, suppose you tell me exactly what new bad news we've got from Gyangtse?"

    "It's not actually from Gyangtse itself." Obermeyer crossed the large, luxurious office to lay a chip folio on the corner of Kereku's desk. "Brigadier Erickson's intelligence people handed it to us, as a matter of fact. According to their reports from Major Palacios—which Colonel Ustanov strongly endorses—the situation in Gyangtse is headed straight for the crapper."

    "I've always known Wasps were bluntly spoken," Kereku observed with a crooked smile. " 'Straight for the crapper' in official correspondence is a bit blunt even for one of them, though, don't you think?"

    "I may have taken a few liberties with the exact wording, but I believe the basic sense of the Colonel's comments comes through my own pithy choice of phrase."

    "I'm afraid you're probably right about that," Kereku sighed. He looked at the chip folio with a distasteful expression, then back up at Obermeyer, and pointed at a chair. "Go ahead and summarize, Pat. I'll read the gory details for myself later, assuming I can find time."

    "Basically," Obermeyer said, seating herself in the indicated chair, "it's more of the same, only worse. Ustanov is actually pretty careful about his choice of words, trying to avoid any sort of polarization between the military and civilian authorities, I think. But he's strongly behind Palacios on this one, and it's pretty clear—especially comparing Ustanov's dispatches to the last one's we've had from Aubert himself—that Aubert doesn't have a clue about the way things are starting to come apart on him. He thinks he's still completely in control of the situation, Eno. He's consistently playing down the threat of this Gyangtse Liberation Front's open avowal of 'the armed struggle' to drive 'the Imperial oppressors from the soil of Gyangtse' as little more than a negotiating ploy. And, despite that, and despite what he and Salgado both know imperial policy has been for centuries now, he's actually welcomed Pankarma's 'participation' in the public debate over the Incorporation vote."

    The Sector Governor's chief of staff shook her head, her expression grim.

    "He doesn't seem to grasp the fact that the GLF's 'participation' can only be as a voice of opposition. Or that he's talking to criminals as the Emperor's personal, direct representative. Or that the GLF might actually mean what it's saying about armed struggles. I can't tell from here exactly what sort of local contacts and intelligence sources he may have, or think he has, but Palacios' sources indicate that weapons are being stockpiled. In fact, she's got some reports of at least a few arms shipments coming in from off-world, although she admits she's been unable to positively confirm that. Despite that, though, her threat assessment is that things are getting steadily—and rapidly—worse. And Ustanov's reported to Erickson—not to any of his civilian superiors—that his requests to Aubert for permission to reinforce Palacios and authorize her to take a more . . . proactive stance have been persistently denied."

    "So he's keeping it in his own chain of command, trying to avoid any appearance of going over Aubert's head," Kereku mused.

    "I think that's exactly what he's doing," Obermeyer agreed. "At the same time, though, he's been expressing himself pretty strongly, for an officer of his seniority, in his 'in-house' reports to Erickson. And Erickson clearly takes his concerns seriously, since he handed Ustanov's and Palacios' raw reports over to me without sanitizing them."


    Kereku's expression was not that of a happy man. The fact that the team of Jasper Aubert and Ákos Salgado probably would have had trouble zipping its own shoes under the best of circumstances—which these weren't—only made a bad situation worse. The Terran League and the old Federation had never seen eye to eye, even before the Rish got involved. The League had originated in the off-world migration of primarily Asian peoples who had resented the "Western" biases of Old Earth's immediately pre-space first-world cultural template. The fact that the Asian Alliance had lost the last major war fought on the mother world's soil had only made that resentment still worse, although the sharpest edges had finally begun to fade . . . before the Rish came on the scene.

    But after more than a century of careful manipulation by the Rishathan Sphere, followed by sixty more years of bloody warfare, the bitter resentment many citizens of the ex-League planets felt towards the Empire had attained a virulence which persisted with religious fervor. A point which certain individuals—like one Jasper Aubert—seemed capable of missing completely.

    Obermeyer watched his expression for several seconds, then sat forward in her chair.

    "Governor," she said, with unusual formality when just the two of them were present, "we've got to get rid of Aubert. I sometimes think that if we could just get rid of Salgado, we might be able to get through to Aubert —whatever he may act like, he's not a total idiot. But Salgado's been 'managing' him for so long that he might as well have the brains of a carrot. By this time, he and Salgado're like Siamese twins. Where one goes, the other automatically follows, and we can't afford anyone out here who's as persistently blind to reality as they are. Not any longer.

    "I think Gyangtse really is just about ready to move over to Incorporated status. Mind you, I don't think the local oligarchs realize just how bad a deal that's going to be in terms of their ability to control the folks they've been exploiting for so long, but it did look like the climate was just about ripe to carry the referendum when Aubert was sent out here. But that very fact was what lit a fire under Pankarma and his extremists. They were afraid that this time their friends and neighbors really were going to vote to become full subjects of the Empire, and they didn't like that idea one little bit. So they decided to do something about it, and their appeals to the Gyangtsese poor—especially the urban poor—have fallen on some fairly fertile ground. Class resentment and wondering how the hell you're going to feed your family will provide that, especially if the propagandists know hose to use them. Which is a pity, since the people Incorporation would help most would be that same urban poor, if they only realized it.

    "That would be bad enough, but Aubert's decisions are making the situation incomparably worse. I know it's hard to conceive of any mistakes he could make that he hasn't already made, but I'm sure he'll be able to come up with some more if we just give him time. And we both know Salgado's too busy being 'pragmatic' and practicing 'real politik' to rescue him from himself. Hell, he's probably out inventing brand new mistakes for Aubert to make! I don't think the situation on Gyangtse is past the point of no return yet, but between the two of them, they're going to push it there—or let the GLF do it—and I don't think either one of them has the least clue of just how much trouble they're headed into."

    "I know, I know." Kereku ran a hand through his tightly-curled silver hair. "Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of Salgado is to dump Aubert, and I can't get rid of Aubert on my own authority. His appointment came directly from the Ministry, the same way mine did. And it was confirmed by the Senate, the same way mine was. The Emperor could get away with removing him on his own authority, but I can't. And if I tried . . . ."

    Obermeyer nodded unhappily. Enobakhare Kereku had been selected to govern one of the Empire's crown sectors—the frontier sectors, most of whose planets had yet to attain Incorporated World status and senatorial representation, and which thus came under the administration of the Ministry of Out-World Affairs—because he'd amply demonstrated his qualifications for the position. Jasper Aubert had been selected as a planetary governor in that same crown sector solely because of his political connections, however. And, she suspected in her darker moments, as a means of getting him safely off Old Earth and away from any important policymaking position. Which was all very well for Old Earth, but left Kereku with a hell of a problem in his sector. And as Kereku had just more or less observed, a sector governor who started doing little things like firing Senate-approved appointees on his own authority would not remain in his position long. But still . . . .

    "If we can't get rid of him, then we'd better start getting ready for things to go from bad to worse on Gyangtse," she said gloomily.

    "Ustanov is suggesting that there's being a genuinely significant buildup in weapons by the GLF?"

    "Yes." Obermeyer's tone was flat. "So far he's had reports primarily of small arms, but there are persistent rumors, from what Palacios' intelligence people consider reliable sources, that at least some crew-served weapons are already in place. And that others are in the pipeline. And," she added even more flatly, "reading between the lines, Palacios is pretty damned worried that the local authorities—civil and planetary militia—are persistently disregarding and discounting the sources her people are tapping."

    "Damn." Kereku's jaw tightened, and he shook his head. "What exactly does Ustanov have on-planet? And available for quick reinforcement out of his own resources?"

    "That," Obermeyer admitted, "I don't really know. Not positively. I know he's got his reconnaissance battalion actually on the planet. Those are the only troops, aside from the planetary militia, we actually have in-system. The rest of his regiment , which is at least a little understrength—they always are, aren't they?—is split into battalion-sized detachments covering not just Gyangtse but also Matterhorn and Sangamon.. That leaves him, at best, one battalion in reserve, and he's headquartered in Matterhorn, over a week away from Gyangtse. As for additional supports, my impression is that the Fleet's presence in Gyangtse is limited, at best, and the planetary militia—especially its leadership—doesn't appear to produce a great deal of confidence in him or Palacios. For that matter, Ustanov would be stretched awful thin trying to keep a lid on an entire planet, if something does go wrong in a big way, even if he had everything already on the planet and all of his battalions were technically at full strength."

    Kereku nodded. A full strength Marine line regiment, exclusive of attached transport and artillery, had a roster strength of just over forty-two hundred. Its reconnaissance battalion, on the other hand, had a nominal strength of just under one thousand. That wasn't a lot of warm bodies, even with Marine training and first-line equipment, to cover a planet with a population of almost two billion.

    "The problem, of course, is whether or not we want to reinforce him," the Sector Governor observed. "Or possibly just authorize him to redeploy. He could at least get his reserve into Gyangtse if we gave him the discretion to put it there. But if we send in more troops, then we risk making the locals even more antsy than they already are, especially the hotheads who already regard us as foreign occupiers. That's not the way to encourage them to vote in favor of Incorporation. Worse, the additional manpower might actually make Aubert feel more confident, give him a sense of additional strength."

    "But if we don't reinforce Palacios, and if it does hit the fan, then it's going to take Ustanov at least two weeks to get any support to Palacios—and we'll need at least another month to get Ustanov additional backup," Obermeyer pointed out.

    "Agreed." Kereku nodded, lips pursed. He stayed that way for several seconds, then brought his chair back fully upright with an air of decision.

    "We can't put any more warm bodies into Gyangtse," he said. "Not yet. But I want to do three things.

    "First, sit down with Erickson. I want him to plan now for an immediate redeployment to support Ustanov if the situation comes apart. I want graduated options. On the low end, I want plans to send in an additional peacekeeping presence—maybe another battalion, a company or so of military police, some additional air assets, that sort of thing—direct to Gyangtse to back Palacios up against low-level incidents. On the upper end, I want plans for a full-scale reinforcement designed to handle a general guerrilla movement on the part of the GLF. But tell Erickson that I very definitely do not want the knowledge that we're considering reinforcing to leak out. Specifically, I don't want Aubert or Salgado to know a thing about it, although Erickson can inform Ustanov, for his personal and confidential information, about what we're working on.

    "Second, I think I need to get on the starcom and 'counsel' Aubert on his situation. I'll want to think about exactly what I say to him, and how I say it, and I'd like you to be thinking about that, as well. I want to talk to him within the next twenty-four hours and see if we can't find some way to make him at least a little bit aware of his situation.

    "Third," Kereku's face hardened, "I need to draft a formal request for Aubert's recall and get it starcommed to the Ministry. And I want to do that within the next twelve hours."

    "Eno, I know I'm the one who just said we have to get rid of him," Obermeyer said after a moment, "but he really does have some influential patrons at Court."

    "I have a few friends of my own, Pat, especially in the Ministry. I may not have his clout in the Senate, but the Earl —" Allen Malloy, the Earl of Stanhope, was the Minister of Out World Affairs "—trusts my judgment. He also has direct access to the Emperor, and he doesn't want the situation to blow up out here anymore than you and I do."

    "I know that. But he—and the Emperor—both have a lot of balls in the air simultaneously. I'm sure you're right that neither of them wants to see some sort of bloodbath out here, or even a low-level insurrection that's no more than moderately messy. God knows how long something like that would hang up Gyangtse's eventual Incorporation! And that doesn't even include all the people who might get themselves hurt or killed in the process. But the dynamic they're going to be looking at back on Old Earth isn't going to be the same one we're looking at here in Martinsen. There's a reason they shoved Aubert out to the backside of nowhere in the first place, and that same reason may make them want to go ahead and leave him here. And if you strongly recommend his recall, Aubert's patrons are probably going to hear about it, whether the Emperor acts on it or not."

    "Maybe. And Gyangtse may be the 'backside of nowhere.' But there are still two billion people on the planet, it's still an imperial possession, and we've still got a responsibility to the people living there. Not to mention the fact that Imperial policy on League separatism is perfectly clear and not subject to renegotiation. If we don't get Aubert out of here, he's going to create a situation in which it's going to be my responsibility to demonstrate that point to the people on Gyangtse, and I'd just as soon not be forced into the position of spanking the baby with an ax."

    "Yes, Sir," Obermeyer said quietly, and he nodded to her.

    "Good. Go get Erickson started on that preliminary planning. Then pull all of our interoffice memos on Aubert and Gyangtse for the last, oh, year or so. Bring them back over here, once you've got them all pulled together, and you and I will spend a couple of delightful hours putting together our best case for getting his sorry ass fired."



    "— and Governor Aubert suggested that we all go piss up a rope," Namkha Pasang Pankarma snarled.

    The founder and self-elected leader of the Gyangtse Liberation Front had never been noted for his fondness for the Terran Empire. At the moment, however, his normally impassive expression had been replaced by a mask of fury. Ang Jangmu Thaktu, his senior adviser, had seen that expression from him more often than most of his followers, but that didn't make her any happier to see it at this particular moment.

    "Namkha Pasang," she said, "that doesn't sound like Aubert's usual style to me." Her tone and manner were both much firmer than most of Pankarma's followers would have been prepared to show him, especially when he was obviously so angry, but she met his irate glare calmly.

    "I know he's an unmitigated pain in the ass," she continued. "Even more so than most Empies. But one of the problems I've always had with him is the way he talks his way around problems instead of addressing them directly. Personally, I've always suspected that what he's really got in mind is just to keep us talking long enough to keep us out of the field until after the Incorporation vote. Either he's spinning things out to accomplish that, or else he really is a complete and total idiot. Or maybe it's a combination of the two. Either way, I've never heard him say anything quite that . . . direct."

    "It's what he meant, whatever he may have said!" Pankarma shot back.

    "That may be true. But if we're going to expect our people to follow our lead, we've got to be certain that what we tell them about our contacts with Aubert and his people doesn't get dismissed as exaggeration," Thaktu said firmly. "We can interpret all we want to, but we've got to give them the original text the same way it was given to us."

    Pankarma's glare intensified, and she shrugged.

    "Sooner or later what he actually said—his exact words, I mean, not what he may really have meant—is going to get out. Better that our people should hear those words from us, and not start to wonder if we've been . . . embroidering all along."

    "All right," Pankarma said finally. He inhaled deeply, then let the air out explosively. "All right," he repeated. "You're right. I know that. But he just pisses me off with that sanctimonious, oh-so-civilized, nose-in-the-air attitude of his."

    "Namkha, he'd piss you off no matter what his attitude was," Thaktu replied, smiling at him at last. "Admit it. You've never met an Empie yet that you didn't hate on sight."

    "Maybe. All right," Pankarma actually chuckled, "certainly. But he's a special case, even for an Empie." The Liberation Front's leader shook his head. "At any rate, he did agree to sit down and 'discuss my position' with me again. But that was as far as it went. He's ready to 'discuss' till the sun goes nova, but he's not about to meet any of our demands. He's not even willing to come halfway! Basically, we can talk all we want, but in the end, we're going to go right on doing things his way."

    "To be fair—which I don't want to be any more than you do—he may not have a lot of wiggle room," Thaktu observed. "The Empies' fundamental policy towards people like us is pretty well established, after all."

    "But there's always been some room for local adjustments, Ang Jangmu," Pankarma argued. "He could modify the more objectionable aspects of his own policies if he really wanted to!"

    "Probably," Thaktu allowed. "But Out-World Affairs has to sign off on that, even if it's only by looking the other way, and the ministry won't do it unless the local Governor convinces his boss that he's not going to get a vote in favor of Incorporation anytime soon."

    "Exactly," Pankarma growled. "It's how they try to bribe the poor benighted locals into voting in favor next time around. Getting them to do that in our case is the whole point of the Movement!"

    Thaktu nodded. She didn't actually share Pankarma's belief that they could ultimately convince the Terran Empire that Gyangtse was enough more trouble than it was worth for it to simply go away and leave them alone. But if the GLF and its adherents could produce enough resistance to Incorporation, they might at least be able to win enough concessions to prevent the total disappearance of their traditional way of life and liberties into the Empire's voracious maw.

    "From what you're saying," she said, after a moment, "Aubert made it pretty clear he doesn't intend to give any ground at all, right?"

    "I think you might say that," Pankarma agreed in a tone of massive understatement. "From what I can see, he expects the Incorporation referendum to pass this time. Which means there's not a chance in hell of our ever getting our independence back, as far as he's concerned. And there's sure as hell not any reason for him to ask his own masters to let him grant us any greater local autonomy as a Crown World if he thinks we're all about to vote to become good little helots living on an Incorporated World."

    "Well," Thaktu said, her expression suddenly darker, "I suppose that means it's time we decided just how far we're really prepared to go to change his mind about us, isn't it?"

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