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In Fury Born: Chapter Six

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



    "So, do you really think anything's going to come of it?" Ang Jangmu Thaktu asked.

    "I doubt it," Pankarma replied. "On the other hand, looking reasonable doesn't hurt us a bit when it comes to public opinion."

    "Maybe not, but this is the first time he's specifically invited you—and me—to sit down privately with him. I think that's a significant change, don't you?"

    "It may be."

    Pankarma walked across his office in the building the Gyangtse Patriotic Association, the "legal" parliamentary branch of the GLF, had rented in the capital. It was near the spaceport, and when he stopped at the office's outside wall and looked out the window, he saw almost exactly the same vista Jasper Aubert had contemplated from his own office. Pankarma gazed at the sight, rocking gently on his heels, and his expression was pensive.

    "No," he said after a moment. "You're right. It is a significant change. Whether its significance is anything more than symbolic, though—that's the question you're really asking, isn't it? And the answer is that I don't have the least idea at this point. For that matter, it may simply be a case of his wanting to appear 'reasonable' in the run-up to the Incorporation vote. The polls all suggest his majority is beginning to slip. Maybe he feels a need to shore up his support by indicating that the Empies are willing to talk even to 'lunatics' like us. That doesn't mean he actually intends to give any ground, though."

    "In fact," Thaktu said, watching his back as he stood before the windows, "I don't think he does, Namkha. Like I said before, I don't think he can. That's why I'm not sure actually accepting the invitation is the smart strategic move. Yes, it could strengthen our own image as a process-oriented group, help offset the government's portrayal of us as gun-waving maniacs. But it could also have exactly the opposite effect, especially if he's rigged the deal. If we sit down in private discussions with him, and if he claims later he offered us concessions, even if he really doesn't, and that we rejected them, it would be our word—the word of a 'terrorist group'—against the word of an imperial planetary governor. That may not be exactly what he has in mind, but if I'm right, and he knows going in that he isn't going to be moving towards our demands, then I have to suspect that he's up to something he expects will benefit him at our expense."

    "I think you're probably right," Pankarma said. Then snorted with bitter humor and turned back from the window to face her. "Actually, I'm pretty sure you are. The problem is, this is a pretty shrewd move on his part. He didn't invite the GLF; he invited me as the head of the Patriotic Association. So, since we're supposed to be participating in the free home-rule democracy the Empies have so graciously theoretically permitted us, I really don't have any choice but to accept. You may be right that he has something in mind, some way to build propaganda of his own out of a 'failed meeting,' but I think the damage we could take by refusing his invitation out of hand would be at least as bad as anything he could manufacture."

    "I don't like it, Namkha," she said flatly, in her strongest statement to date. "It doesn't feel right. It doesn't smell right."

    "Well," he crossed back to his desk and sat down behind it, tilted back his chair, and looked at her seriously, "I've always trusted your instincts Ang Jangmu. On the other hand, I've already sent Salgado a formal communique to the effect that that we accept the invitation. I'm sure he'll announce our acceptance as soon as he gets my response, so we can't change our minds now."

    "I'd feel a lot happier if we could," she said, and he shrugged.

    "I can see you would. In this case, though, I think I have to override your instincts. But given how strongly you seem to feel about this, I think it would probably also be a good idea to take Chepal along instead of you." He raised a hand and shook his head when she frowned quickly. "Not because I think you'd let your feelings get in the way of anything we might actually accomplish. No. I'm thinking that I want you in charge of our own tactical arrangements. I know what kind of advice you'd give me if you were there, anyway. So in this case, knowing that you're watching our backs, as it were, will probably be worth more to both of us then having you actually at the table."



    "They've accepted," Ákos Salgado said.

    "Good!" Lobsang Phurba Jongdomba said, with a most unpleasant expression. "I take it that they've also accepted the location?"

    "They have." Salgado smiled pleasantly at the Gyangtsese officer. No one could have told from his expression that he felt even more contempt for Jongdomba than he did for Palacios. Jongdomba was not simply a representative of what passed for the local military forces, which would have been enough to put him into the "less brains than a carrot" category, but also a thoroughly venal member in good standing of the local oligarchy.

    But any good politician knows that you don't have to actually like someone to work with him. And at least Jongdomba isn't a hysterical paranoiac like Palacios. Of course, he's even more convinced of his own infallibility than she is. 

    Which, of course, was one of the very reasons Salgado had decided to rely upon Jongdomba for this particular operation. Someone with a more . . . realistic appreciation of his abilities might have figured out where Salgado intended to deposit any official responsibility should anything go wrong.

    "I wish we could have held out for someplace a bit more isolated," Colonel Sharwa said. In Brigadier Jongdomba's presence, he spoke almost diffidently, but the militia's planetary commander frowned anyway. "I'd really prefer for the operation to go down somewhere without quite so many civilians in the vicinity," the colonel continued, despite his superior's frown.

    "Your concerns are laudable, Colonel," Salgado said smoothly. "I'm confident, though, that the operation will go without a hitch under your command. And suggesting that we use the Annapurna Arms was a stroke of brilliance on Brigadier Jongdomba's part, if I may say so myself. It's the biggest, most luxurious hotel in Zhikotse. That makes it a logical venue for Governor Aubert to meet with Pankarma, and it's big enough for us to preposition our surprise without its being spotted. And the fact that it's right in the middle of town has to have been very reassuring to the GLF, too. In fact, if we'd suggested someplace more 'isolated,' Pankarma might have been suspicious enough to reject the invitation entirely."

    "Exactly," Jongdomba said heartily. "Don't be an old woman, Ang Chirgan! Or are you still brooding over that busted exercise?"

    "I'm not 'brooding' over anything, Sir," Sharwa said a bit stiffly.

    "Nor should you," Salgado said firmly, and looked at Jongdomba with an air of mild reproval. "I've had my own reports about that exercise, Brigadier. It's hardly the Colonel's fault that Major Palacios deliberately misled him—and, I might add, all of the other militia officers involved—as to her own intentions. It's all very well to argue that the enemy will try to surprise you in actual operations, but it's quite another to create your own surprise advantage by lying to your own personnel and allies." He shook his head, his expression turning sad. "I'm really quite disappointed in the Major, and I've made that point to the Governor, as well."

    "As well you should have," Jongdomba growled, clearly diverted from his pique at Sharwa's apparent criticism. "I've made the same point myself, let me tell you—and not just to Governor Aubert. I've addressed my own protest to President Shangup, as well."

    "I appreciate that, Brigadier. But I also assure you that I'm not letting what happened affect my judgment in this case," Sharwa said. "My only concern is that the GLF has already demonstrated that it's capable of carrying out violent actions. However unlikely it may seem, it's still remotely possible that we could wind up with a violent incident on our hands here. That's why I'd prefer not to have any more civilians than we can help in the potential line of fire."

    "If they're stupid enough to resist," Jongdomba's expression was grim, "then there damned well will be a 'violent incident.' But, first, I don't think they are that stupid. And, second, if they are, you'll be well placed to contain any violence that happens. And, to be brutally honest, if there are a few civilian casualties, it will probably work to our advantage."

    Sharwa, Salgado saw, didn't much care for Jongdomba's logic. In an odd sort of way, that actually caused the chief of staff to feel at least a minor twinge of respect for the militia colonel. Of course, Jongdomba was right about the practical consequences of any civilian injuries or fatalities, especially once they were spun the right way for the news media. Still, Salgado supposed that it was to Sharwa's credit that he wanted to avoid those casualties in the first place. Unfortunately, making omelets always used up a few eggs. And, of course, since it was the militia's operation, acting in the name of the planetary government, and not that of Governor Aubert, if there was any . . . unfortunate fallout it wouldn't be falling on Jasper Aubert or Ákos Salgado. Although Salgado would be happier if that particular point never occurred to either of his present guests.

    "I feel confident that the Brigadier is correct, Colonel," the chief of staff said now, making his firm voice radiate assurance. Sharwa looked at him, and he shrugged. "I've read over your plans, and it's obvious to me that you've considered every eventuality. Under the circumstances, not even Pankarma is going to be stupid enough to buck the odds and provoke any sort of violent confrontation.

    "After all," he allowed more than a little contempt to edge into his smile, "people like the GLF are always a lot more willing to kill other people for their beliefs than they are to die for them themselves."



    "What d'you make of this meeting with the GLF of Aubert's, Alley?" César Bergerat asked.

    "What?" Alicia looked up from where she'd been cleaning the trigger group of her M-97. They'd been to the range that morning, and the smell of solvent as they cleaned the residue from their weapons was like an oddly pungent incense as she worked.

    "I asked what you think of this meeting between Pankarma and Aubert," the rifleman said, and Alicia frowned thoughtfully.

    Sergeant Metternich watched the conversation from the corner of one eye, carefully hiding a mental smile. Young DeVries had been with the platoon for almost two standard months, now. She still wasn't an official "wasp"—she hadn't smelled the smoke yet—but she'd slotted into place surprisingly smoothly for a Mackenzie larva. Largely, he thought, that was because she had the trick of keeping her mouth shut and her ears open. And, he admitted, because she didn't make very many mistakes . . . and never made the same one twice.

    At the same time, it hadn't taken long for the rest of Third Squad to figure out that she was the best educated of them all, despite her youth. She'd never said a word about it herself, but it had quickly become painfully evident that there was an agile, fully engaged, and remarkably well informed brain behind those emerald eyes of hers. And while she was careful about showing off, as befitted someone as junior as she was, her squadmates had developed a surprisingly acute respect for her judgment as they discovered that she seldom answered a question without thinking about it carefully, first.

    "Well," she said finally, her long, graceful fingers continuing to work with independent skill while she focused her thoughts elsewhere, "I know I haven't been out here anywhere near as long as the rest of you. Still, I'd have to say I'll be surprised if anything comes of it." She shrugged. "You know, my dad's a senior analyst with the Foreign Ministry. I was never that interested in that sort of a career myself, but I've heard a lot of table conversation about situations like this one. I don't think there's very much room in either side's positions for any sort of compromise. In fact —"

    She broke off, shook her head, and smiled, then turned her attention back to the trigger group.

    Several of the other members of Third Squad looked at one another, then at her.

    "Don't stop there," Bergerat said.

    "Excuse me?" Alicia glanced back up.

    "I said don't stop there. You were about to say something else, and then you thought better of it, Larva."

    It was the first time in at least a week that anyone had used the term "larva" in addressing Alicia, and he used it now with an almost humorous air. But his tone was still pointed. His question was obviously serious, and she sighed.

    "I was just going to say that I don't think Dad would approve of this meeting of the Governor's," she said, just a bit reluctantly. "The GLF's officially designated a terrorist organization. That means people like planetary governors aren't supposed to talk to them at all. The Empire officially excludes them from the political process under any circumstances."

    "She's right," Metternich said quietly. All eyes swiveled in his direction, and he snorted. "Come on! All of you know that as well she does! We're Recon, remember? Who always gets handed the dirty end of the stick when some League neobarb gets a wild hair up his ass, or some bureaucratic puke from Out-Worlds screws the pooch? You mean to tell me you've all been over the river and through the woods as often as I know you have without learning how many ways the politicos can fuck up?"

    "Well, yeah, Sarge," Gregory Hilton said. "But, I mean, he is the Planetary Governor. Doesn't that mean he can shave the rules, even bend them a little, if that's what it takes to get the job done?"

    "Of course he can," Metternich agreed. Alicia watched him, trying not to look wide-eyed. She was surprised at how bluntly the sergeant appeared prepared to speak his mind about the Empire's appointed governor for Gyangtse.

    "The point, though," Metternich continued, "is that he's supposed to do it to 'get the job done.' And also that there are some rules he's not supposed to bend, ever. You know how thoroughly it's pounded into our heads that we don't negotiate with terrorists. Never. Oh, sure, we do it anyway, in a sense. But there's a difference between trying to talk a bunch of terrorists holed up with a batch of civilian hostages into surrendering on the best terms they can get and sitting down to talk political deals with the bastards! And that's supposed to be just as true for a planetary governor as it is for a Marine first lieutenant."

    Several other Marines were looking at Metternich as if his acid tone had surprised them almost as much as it had surprised Alicia. Leo Medrano, she noticed, was not one of them, and she felt an inner chill at the realization that the two men she had decided were Third Squad's most thoughtful observers felt nothing but contempt for Governor Aubert.

    No, it's worse than that, she thought. They're not just contemptuous. They're worried. They think he's going to be one of the politicos who 'screw the pooch.' And Grandpa wasn't too happy about my getting sent out here, either, now was he? 

    She finished cleaning the trigger group, set it aside, and picked up the bolt, and her brain was busy.



    Namkha Pasang Pankarma smiled for the cameras in front of the Annapurna Arms Hotel with a pleasure he was far from feeling as he stepped out of the first of the three ground cars into the brisk autumn morning. Gyangtse's news media was scarcely what he considered a standardbearer for freedom of the press. Too many of the local newsfaxes and public news channels were owned by members of the planetary elite for that. Their editorial staffs—to their credit, he supposed—made no real secret of their own biases when they pontificated on local politics and events, but everyone pretended that they at least tried to be neutral in the way they reported those events.

    Pankarma was willing to concede that at least some of the street reporters tried to be neutral, but it would have required something very much like a miracle for that effort to succeed. And miracles, he thought, were in short supply upon Gyangtse these days.

    Nonetheless, the newsies had turned out in strength to cover this series of private discussions with Planetary Governor Aubert. There was a lot of speculation in the editorials, and it was even possible that some of the newsies covering this meeting actually believed something might come of it all. At any rate, it was incumbent upon all of the participants to pretended that they believed it.

    So he stood there, smiling and waving through the blustery gusts of wind, while Chepal Dawa Nawa and the rest of his delegation followed him out of the ground cars. Although he was the one who'd suggested to Ang Jangmu that she not be a member of the delegation, Pankarma still missed her presence. Nawa had been with him almost as long as she had. His seniority had made him Pankarma's second ranking lieutenant, and the GLF founder had no doubts about the man's loyalty and determination. But for all his many virtues, Nawa was a plugger, not really a thinker, and he lacked Thaktu's quick, alert intelligence.

    Still, it wasn't as if it were going to matter. Pankarma had come to the conclusion that Ang Jangmu had been right from the beginning. This entire meeting was nothing more than a bit of political theater, something Aubert had arranged because he expected it to benefit his own political agenda.



    "I think that's all of them," Lieutenant Salaka said softly. He was speaking over a secure landline link, but he kept his voice down anyhow, as if he thought Pankarma might somehow overhear him.

    "You think that's all of them?" Captain Chiawa repeated from his command post.

    "I mean, it's the right number of bodies," Salaka replied a bit defensively. "I can't see them all that well from here. You know that."

    Chiawa rolled his eyes, then made himself draw a deep, steadying breath. Salaka, he knew, hadn't been any happier about drawing this assignment than he'd been himself. Unfortunately, Brigadier Jondgomba had been willing to call up only two companies for the operation, and Colonel Sharwa had decided that Chiawa's company deserved the chance to show its mettle as a "reward" for Chiawa's alertness during their last disastrous exercise against Major Palacios' Marines. Personally, Chiawa suspected that it was also a form of punishment for what those same Marines had done to his company despite his alertness.

    "I realize you may not be able to see their faces, Tsimbuti," the captain said after a moment, his tone much more relaxed. He even managed to inject a little humor into it as he continued, "On the other hand, we're supposed to get this right, and I'm sure the Colonel will be grateful if we manage to pull that off."

    "I know," Salaka said. "All I can tell you for sure, though, is that the right number of people got out of the cars. They're headed into the hotel now, and the cars are pulling off towards the parking garage."

    "Understood." Chiawa nodded, even though there was no way Salaka could possibly see the gesture. The militia captain's belly muscles tightened as he felt the moment rushing towards him. A part of him—most of him, really—was eager. Pankarma and his lunatic fringe followers had caused enough grief for Karsang Dawa Chiawa's planet, and for him personally. Their boycott had cost him business, making it harder to put food into his own children's mouths, and if their constant prattle about "the armed struggle" ever amounted to anything, guess who they'd be actively shooting at? Besides it was one of the militia's job to suppress criminal activities, wasn't it? And decapitating the only organized association of violent felons opposed to Gyangtse's Incorporation into the Empire obviously fell under the heading of suppressing criminals, didn't it?

    The one question in Chiawa's mind, the concern that awoke a tiny kernel of internal doubt, was the way they were doing it. Gyangtse was a planet where people who gave their word were expected to keep it . . . even when they gave it to criminals and traitors.

    None of which mattered very much at this point, he reflected. He sat for a moment longer, then nodded to his communications tech.

    "Send the execute," he said.

    "Yes, Sir!" the corporal said crisply, and keyed his microphone.

    "All units, this is the command post. Execute Scoop," he said clearly. The transmission went out over the militia's radio net, because it simply hadn't been possible to establish a landline connection to all of Chiawa's people.

    "I say again," the corporal repeated. "Execute Scoop."



    ". . . cute Scoop."

    Ang Jangmu Thaktu's head snapped up as her com unit picked up the transmission. The GLF had its sympathizers, even in the ranks of the militia. Even if it hadn't, there was always a militiaman somewhere who needed a little extra money and was prepared to "lose" equipment for the right price. Which was the reason her com was official militia issue, with the same signal encryption protocols as the one Captain Chiawa's com tech had just spoken over.

    Thaktu had no way of actually knowing what the code word "Scoop" signified, but she could think of at least one ominous application of that particular verb. More to the point, she hadn't picked up a single hint of its existence from any of their militia sympathizers, nor a single scrap of communications chatter up to the moment the order to execute the operation was transmitted, which represented far tighter security than the militia normally achieved. There had to be a reason for that, and she snatched up her own civilian com.

    "It's a trap!" she barked. "It's a trap! Breakout! I repeat, Breakout!"



    Namkha Pasang Pankarma froze between one step and another as the doors to the elevator at the end of the hall slid smoothly open. The uniformed militiamen in the elevator car sat behind a tripod-mounted calliope, and the multi-barreled autocannon was aimed straight at him. At almost the same instant, four more doors opened—two on each side of the corridor—and more militiamen, armed with assault rifles, appeared in them.

    "This is Colonel Sharwa, of the Planetary Militia," a hard voice which managed to sound pompous, even now, announced over the luxury hotel's intercom system. "You are surrounded. You are also under arrest, as directed by President Shangup in the name of the Planetary Government, for treason and the commission of terroristic acts. I call upon you now to surrender, or face the consequences."

    Pankarma simply stood there, unable to believe what was happening. Despite Ang Jangmu's fears, despite his own reservations, he'd never anticipated anything like this. Surely even idiots like Jongdomba and Shangup knew better than to violate a promise of safe conduct this way!

    "You will surrender now," Sharwa's amplified voice said harshly. "If you do not, we will employ deadly force."



    Sergeant Lakshindo nodded to the troopers of his militia squad.

    "You heard the man," he said. "Let's go!"

    The squad filed out of its place of concealment in the Annapurna Arms' basement and took up its planned position to cover the hotel's main entrance. That entrance led to the hallway in which, Lakshindo knew, the GLF delegation was being taken into custody at that very moment, and under Captain Chiawa's ops plan, Lakshindo's squad was responsible for crowd control and for blocking the only possible path of retreat for Pankarma and his fellows. They were also supposed to be alert for any external threat, though exactly what sort of "external threat" they might face was more than Lakshindo could imagine. After all, operational security had been so tight on this one that even the members of Lakshindo's squad hadn't known what was going to happen until they reported this morning,.

    The sergeant stood with his back to the street, watching his people take up their posts, and grimaced in satisfaction. He would have preferred an opportunity to rehearse it all at least once, but his troopers moved briskly, their expressions and body language calm enough to disguise their excitement from anyone who didn't know them as well as Lakshindo did.

    He nodded mentally as they settled into place, then keyed his own microphone.

    "Command post, Lakshindo," he said crisply. "We're in position."

    "Command post copies you are in position, Sergeant," the com tech replied.

    Lakshindo released the transmission key with a sense of profound relief. He'd been more than a little anxious when he was first briefed on Operation Scoop, and it was a vast relief to discover that his anxiety had been misplaced.

    "Excuse me, Sergeant?" a voice said politely.

    Lakshindo turned to the man who'd spoken. It was one of the reporters, he saw, taking in the other's press badge and the camera crew behind him.

    "Yes, Sir? Can I help you?" Lakshindo said, equally politely, mindful of Captain Chiawa's admonition that everything had to be kept as calm and low-key as possible.

    "Could you tell me what's happening?" the newsy asked, extending a microphone in Lakshindo's direction.

    "I'm afraid not," Lakshindo replied. "Not yet, at any rate. I understand a statement will be issued shortly by Brigadier Jongdomba's headquarters. In the meantime, however, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to step back from the lobby entry."

    "Of course, Sergeant," the reporter said, with a respectful nod.

    He stepped back and to the side, gesturing for his camera crew to follow him. But the cameraman and his two assistants appeared to have been taken by surprise by the gesture. They started to follow their newsy, but as the cameraman turned hastily, he bumped into the closer of his assistants and dropped his camera. It hit the pavement and shattered, and the sudden disaster to such an expensive piece of equipment drew Lakshindo's eye like a magnet.

    Which was why the sergeant was looking in exactly the wrong direction as both the cameraman's assistants produced sawed-off assault rifles from under their jackets and opened fire.

    Lakshindo felt the impact of at least half a dozen rounds. The tungsten-cored penetrators of the discarding sabot ammunition penetrated his antiballistic, unpowered armor effortlessly at such point-blank range. The sledgehammer blows battered him backwards, and he went down, eyes huge with disbelieving shock and agony as the penetrators—tumbling after slamming through his armor—shredded his heart and lungs.

    The rest of his squad was frozen in total disbelief. They were still staring, brains numbed by the shock of their sergeant's sudden, brutally efficient murder, when the cameraman and reporter produced their own machine pistols. Then all four of the "newsies" opened fire, even as two nondescript civilian vans screeched to a halt and at least a dozen more armed men and women began erupting from each of them.

    Three of Lakshindo's troopers actually managed to return fire before they died. None of them hit anything, and as the last of them was slammed to the ground, Ang Jangmu Thaktu led her attack force across their bodies and into the building.

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