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The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Thirty Five

       Last updated: Sunday, August 8, 2004 13:50 EDT



    “The Captain’s compliments, Sir, and the pinnace will depart from Boat Bay Three in thirty minutes.”

    “Thank you, Helen.” Bernardus Van Dort smiled and shook his head. “You didn’t really have to come and deliver that message in person, you know. The com would have worked just fine.”

    “First of all, I didn’t mind delivering it in person, Sir. Second, when the Captain ‘suggests’ that a snotty personally deliver a message to an important guest aboard his ship, the snotty in question gets on her little feet, trots right down the passage, and delivers said message.”

    Van Dort laughed out loud, and Helen Zilwicki grinned at him. Their relationship had come a long way in the seven days -- six by Hexapuma’s internal clocks -- since he’d come on board. At first, Helen thought, he’d started out regretting having accepted her as his aide. He seemed, for all his accomplishments and personal wealth, a very private man. And, she thought, a lonely one. He’d certainly been politely distant from her, with a sort of cool courtesy that discouraged any familiarity. Indeed, in some ways he’d seemed even more distant from her than from anyone else in the entire ship, as if he were deliberately keeping her at arm’s length. He’d gotten a bit more comfortable, but he still maintained that sense of distance, of watchfulness.

    Yet she’d come to realize there was a warm and caring person under that isolated, detached shell of his, and she wondered why a man like that lived such a solitary life. No doubt he did have large, capable staffs to serve him at home on Rembrandt. And, equally no doubt, he could call on the RTU staffers on any planet in the Cluster to provide him with secretaries and assistants at need. But he should have had a permanent, personal staff. At least one private aide to travel with him whenever travel was necessary. Someone who was as much a confidant as an administrative assistant.

    Someone to keep him company.

    There had to be a reason he didn’t, and she wished she dared to ask him what it was.

    “Will you be free to accompany me to the meeting, Helen?” he asked, and she looked at him in surprise.

    “I… don’t know, Sir. As far as I know, the possibility hasn’t been discussed. I’m sure that if you’d like me to, the Captain would authorize it.”

    “Well, it’s occurred to me that if I’m going to be continuing aboard the Kitty,” he shared another grin with her, “it would be just as well for my ‘aide’ to be up to speed on what we’re trying to accomplish. And I’ve come to realize you’re actually quite a bright young woman, despite occasional attempts to pretend otherwise.” His expression grew more serious. “I think you could be of even greater assistance if you were fully informed on the parameters of my mission. And there are a few other reasons I think it might be a good idea to have you along.”

    “Sir,” she said, “I’m deeply flattered. But I’m only a middy. I’m not at all sure the Provisional Governor would approve of someone that junior being fully briefed in on a mission was important enough to haul you all the way back to Spindle from Rembrandt.”

    “If I tell her I’ve come to rely on your assistance and that I’d like you informed -- and that you’ll keep your mouth shut about any sensitive information -- I feel sure I could overcome any objections she might have. And you would keep your mouth shut, wouldn’t you?”

    “Yes, Sir! Of course I would!”

    “I rather thought so,” he said with a slight smile. “Then again, I’d hardly expect less from the daughter of Anton Zilwicki.”

    Helen couldn’t help herself. This time she didn’t just look at him in surprise, she gawked at him, and he chuckled.

    “Helen, Helen!” He shook his head. “I’ve made it a priority to remain as closely informed as possible on events in the Star Kingdom ever since Harvest Joy came sailing out of the Lynx Terminus. I know all about that affair in Erewhon. In fact, I probably know more about it than most native-born Manticorans. That feature story Yael Underwood did on your father just before the Stein funeral caught my eye, especially in light of what happened in Erewhon and, later, in Congo. I’m sure he got parts of it wrong, but he obviously got a lot right, too. It took me all of an hour and a half to put you and your surname together with his, especially after I remembered that the newsies said he had a daughter at the Manticoran Naval Academy.”

    “Sir, I’m not a spook. Daddy may be some sort of superspy, although given the fact that everybody in the entire galaxy seems to know now what he does for a living, his active spying days must be pretty much over. But I never even wanted to be a spook.”

    “I never assumed you did. But, as I say, you’re intelligent, you’ve demonstrated tact and initiative in the time we’ve been together, and whether you want to be a ‘spook’ or not, your father’s example when it comes to maintaining operational security has to’ve rubbed off on you at least a little. Besides,” he looked away, “you remind me of someone.”

    She started to ask who, then stopped herself.

    “Well, Sir,” she said, instead, with a crooked smile, “I’m sure you could have your pick of people far better qualified than I am. But if you want me, and if the Captain doesn’t have any objections, I’d be honored to help out anyway I can.”

    “Excellent!” He looked back down at her with a broad smile. “I’ll speak to him immediately.”



    “Bernardus!” Dame Estelle Matsuko swept across the room to greet her visitor. “Thank you for coming!”

    “Madam Governor, anything I can do to be of service is, of course, yours for the asking,” he said graciously, and actually bent over her hand to bestow a kiss upon it.

    The old boy’s got the chivalrous courtesy bit down cold, Helen Zilwicki thought admiringly, trailing along behind the rest of the party as befitted her astronomically junior status.

    “That’s very good of you,” the Provisional Governor said much more seriously. “Especially since I know how badly you wanted to get away from Spindle.”

    “That was a tactical decision, Madam Governor, not a reflection of any desire to quit the fray before the annexation’s completed.”

    “Good,” she said, “because ‘the fray’s’ gotten progressively uglier since you left, and I need you.” She waved her hand at another door, through which Helen could just make out an enormous conference table and at least half a dozen more people, including Rear Admiral Khumalo. “Please, come join us. We have a lot to talk about.”




    “…so unless we can get a handle on the situation in Montana, I’m afraid we’ll be looking at an even greater problem than the ones we faced on Kornati,” Gregor O’Shaughnessy completed his general background briefing somberly. “The steady escalation of the MIM’s operations is heading Westman and his people towards an inevitable direct confrontation with the Montanan security forces. Despite all his efforts to avoid inflicting casualties, he’s going to find himself in a shooting war with his own government, and the fact is, he’s much more dangerous then Nordbrandt ever was. If it does come to a direct military confrontation between him and the Montanan System’s police and military, he’s going to do a lot more damage then Nordbrandt did because he doesn’t believe in terror as a weapon. Put most simply, he’s a guerilla, not a terrorist at all. He’s not going to divert from his attacks on what we might call legitimate targets to waste his time taking out vulnerable civilian targets for the terror effect or just because he can rack up impressive kill numbers.”

    Bernardus Van Dort nodded slowly and thoughtfully, and Dame Estelle cocked her head at him.

    “From your expression, I take it you find yourself basically in agreement with Gregor’s assessment, Bernardus?”

    “Yes, I do,” he admitted. Then he shook his head, his expression rueful. “This is mostly my fault, you know. Where Montana’s concerned, I mean. I let Ineka Vaandrager --“

    He broke off and frowned.

    “No,” he continued after a moment, “let’s be honest. I used Ineka to win the most favorable possible concessions from Montana. I never did like her tactics, but I had rather different priorities at the time, so I gave her her head. Which is one reason Westman hates my guts.”

    “Have you actually met, Sir?” O’Shaughnessy asked. “Do you know one another personally?”

    “Oh, yes, Mr. O’Shaughnessy,” Van Dort said softly. “We’ve met.”

    “Would he agree to meet with you again now if you asked him to?” Dame Estelle asked, and his eyebrows rose in surprise.

    “Madam Governor -- Dame Estelle, I doubt there’s anyone in the entire Cluster he’d be less likely to meet with. For a lot of reasons. But especially not when his operations on Montana seem to be going so well. I’m sure that if I asked him to meet me, he’d see it as further evidence that he’s in a position of strength. And, to be perfectly honest, in his boots, I’d hate my guts, too. Lord knows our ‘negotiators’ gave his entire planet sufficient reason to be . . . unfond of us, shall I say?”

    “What I have in mind,” the Provisional Governor said, “is to send you to speak to him not in your own right, not as a representative of the Trade Union, or even of the Constitutional Convention, but as my direct representative. As, if you will, the direct representative of the Star Kingdom of Manticore. And I would prefer for the invitation to be issued very openly, very publicly, so that he knows everyone else on the planet knows I’ve sent you as my personal envoy.”

    “Ah! You believe he’s an astute enough psychologist to recognize that refusing to so much as meet with me under those circumstances would undermine the image of the gentleman guerrilla he’s been at such pains to create?”

    “That’s one way to put it. I prefer to think of it as his recognizing he has to appear e as reasonable and as rational as any outlaw can if he doesn’t want to lose the struggle for public opinion the way Nordbrandt was in the process of losing it in Split. But the way you described it also works. Especially given that he’s just about reached the limit of how far he can go without major bloodshed. He’s got to recognize that. So if he is inclined towards any sort of negotiated settlement, he’s got to be feeling pressure, the awareness that there’s a line he can’t cross without pretty much ruling out any negotiated resolution. I think he’d probably be willing to talk to almost anyone, under those circumstances, before stepping across that line.”

    “So you’ve definitely concluded Nordbrandt is dead?” Van Dort asked.

    “I wouldn’t go that far. I’ll admit that the continued lower tempo of FAK operations and the fact that no one’s heard the slightest claim that she isn’t dead is inclining me strongly in that direction. But that’s not the same thing as feeling confident she’s gone. On the other hand, I have to prioritize threats somehow, and as long as Kornati stays more or less quiet, Montana has to become my first priority.”

    “I can understand that,” he said, nodding again in agreement.

    “Then I hope you can understand this, too, Bernardus,” Medusa said very seriously. “I’ve discussed the situation on Kornati, on Montana, and here on Flax with all the Convention’s major political leaders and reported the results of those conversations to the Foreign and Home Secretaries. I’ve also reported my own observations of the balance of power in the Convention and the apparent -- as opposed, in some cases, to the claimed -- objectives of the various groupings. In return, I’ve received instructions from Her Majesty’s Government, and, on the basis of those instructions, I’m very much afraid the Government’s patience isn’t without limit.”

    Van Dort sat very still, watching her face intently.

    “Aleksandra Tonkovic and her allies,” the baroness continued levelly, “are playing with fire, and they either don’t realize it or else won’t admit it to themselves. Despite the situation in her own home system and in Montana, Tonkovic continues to hold out for a virtual guarantee of total local autonomy for all the systems in the Cluster. Not just in the sense of home rule, but in the sense of picking and choosing -- and mostly rejecting, so far as I can tell -- the provisions of the Star Kingdom’s Constitution which they’ll accept as binding upon them.

    “My analysts --“ she flashed a smile at O’Shaughnessy “-- continue to assure me that much of her apparently total intransigence is a negotiating ploy. They may be right. But what I don’t seem to be able to get her to believe is that Her Majesty has certain standards of her own, which any draft Constitution must meet to be acceptable. Tonkovic’s proposals don’t even come close. And the fact that she may intend at some unspecified future time to relax her demands in the hope of achieving a favorable compromise resolution is, unfortunately, largely lost on the Manticoran public and on the members of Parliament. She isn’t merely polarizing the debate here in the Cluster; she’s also polarizing it at home, in Manticore. And that, Bernardus, is something Queen Elizabeth does not need when she’s in the middle of a war.

    “The bottom line is this. I’ve been informed by Her Majesty’s Government that if an acceptable draft Constitution isn’t voted out of the Convention within the next five standard months, the Star Kingdom of Manticore will withdraw its decision to accept the Talbott Cluster’s request to be admitted to the Star Kingdom. If the delegates to the Convention are unwilling or unable to produce a Constitution which will meet the test of acceptability by the Manticoran Parliament and provide the legal mechanisms for the swift, effective suppression of murderous criminals like Nordbrandt, the Star Kingdom will settle for Lynx and leave the rest of the Cluster to its own devices.”

    Van Dort’s face had gone white, and there was a long moment of silence when Dame Estelle finished. Then he cleared his throat.

    “I can’t blame your Government for feeling that way,” he said quietly. “As a citizen of Rembrandt, as someone who lives here in the Cluster and who knows what Frontier Security will do to us if we don’t obtain the Star Kingdom’s protection, however, the very thought of what you’re describing terrifies me. Have you had this same conversation with Aleksandra, Madam Governor?”

    “I haven’t discussed it quite as openly and frankly as I have with you,” she said. “I’ve never been on the same terms of intimacy and confidence with her that I have with you and Henri Krietzmann and Joachim Alquezar. Not surprisingly, I suppose, given her basic political platform. But I’ve informed her that an outside time limit exists.”

    “And her reaction?”

    “Ostensibly, she accepts the warning and assures me she’s working diligently to resolve all existing problems as quickly as possible. Actually, I think, she believes I’m lying.”

    Van Dort looked shocked, and Dame Estelle waved one hand.

    “What I mean, Bernardus, is that I believe she’s convinced herself any hard time limit is my own invention, a ploy I came up with to pressure her into accepting Joachim’s draft. I may be wrong, and I hope I am. But even if I’m not, she seems to be missing the point that the time limit I’m talking about is the last one the Government is prepared to accept. If the polarization she’s creating here, and that’s spilling over into domestic debate on this issue in the Star Kingdom, continues to grow stronger, official time limits will cease to matter. It will become politically impossible for the Crown to carry through the annexation, whatever the Queen’s personal desires, in the face of powerfully opposed domestic opinion. That’s one reason I believe it’s essential for us to make the strongest possible effort to bring about at least a cease-fire on Montana and Kornati. If we can just stop the fighting and prevent further bloodshed, we ought to be able to put the brakes on at least some of the steadily growing domestic opposition to the annexation. And that, Bernardus, is why I need you. Badly.”

    “I understand, Madam Governor. And I assure you, I'll do everything in my power to get you those cease-fires.”




    HMS Hexapuma accelerated steadily away from the planet of Flax once again. Her magazines had been topped up -- in fact, they were at 110 percent of nominal wartime levels -- and her crew was supremely confident of its ability, and its Captain’s, to deal with any threat she might encounter.

    Not all the people aboard her were quite so optimistic. Her Captain and senior officers -- and one lowly midshipwoman -- knew too much about the ticking political clock. Some threats couldn’t be blown out of space with a salvo of Mark 16 missiles. Nor could they be solved by a quick sortie by a company of Marines. And somehow aiming a single anxious man, be he ever so smart, determined, and politically savvy, at problems like that seemed a frail hope.

    Unfortunately, he appeared to be the only weapon they had.



    Admiral Gregoire Bourmont and Admiral Isidor Hegedusic, Monican System Navy, stood side-by-side in the space station gallery and watched reaction thrusters flare as the first of the long, lean ships slid gracefully to a stop relative to the station. Tractor beams reached out for her, nudging her bow hammerhead into the station’s waiting space dock, and Hegedusic shook his head with a bemused expression.

    “When you told me about it, I didn’t really believe you. It just didn’t seem possible.”

    “I know what you mean,” Bourmont agreed. “I had much the same reaction when Roberto -- I mean, President Tyler -- told me about it.”

    Hegedusic glanced sideways at the Republic of Monica’s chief of naval operations. That “slip of the tongue” was typical of him. Bourmont was part of the unfortunately sizable percentage of the MSN’s officer corps who owed his successful career more to connections than to ability. Hegedusic had always suspected that somewhere inside the man knew it, too. Despite his exalted naval rank, Bourmont’s ego simply wouldn’t permit him to let anyone forget he was on a first-name basis with the President. And the CNO didn’t seem to have a clue how petty and insecure it made him look.

    Of course, Hegedusic thought, turning back to the armorplast as a second, identical shape approached the station, sometimes even the most petty of people hit a goddamned jackpot.

    “It’s going to take at least a week or so for all of them to get here,” Bourmont continued. “We should be able to get the first of them into yard hands within the next ten to twelve days. After that, we’ll have to see exactly how long the necessary alterations actually take. Between you me, I think this Levakonic is grossly optimistic, Technodyne bigshot or not. This isn’t a Solly yard. Even with the assistance of his ‘tech reps,’ it’s going to take longer than he keeps assuring everyone it will. Bardasano and Anismovna apparently came to the same conclusion, because I’ve been informed that an additional draft of a hundred and twenty Jessyk Combine technicians will arrive shortly aboard one of the Combine’s ‘special ops’ ships. Apparently, she’s passing through on business of her own, so Bardasano decided to reinforce Levakonic’s Technodyne people on her own. They’re primarily civilian techs, but they should still be of considerable assistance.”

    “I’m sure they will, Sir. And we’ll certainly do everything we can to expedite.”

    “I know, Isidor. That’s one reason I picked you for the command.” Bourmont slapped the junior admiral on the shoulder. “And I imagine the thought of actually getting to command them in action has to be what they call an efficiency motivator, doesn’t it? I know it certainly would be for me, if I were twenty T-years younger!”

    “Yes, Sir. It certainly does,” Hegedusic agreed, despite the fact that Bourmont had never commanded anything in action. The closest he’d ever come was escorting transports full of Monican mercenaries from their home system to wherever OFS needed to employ them.

    “Good man!” Bourmont slapped his shoulder again. “You and I also need to go over the manning requirements again,” he said. “We’re going to be short of trained personnel however we go about it, and I think it’s important to begin cycling our people through as soon as we can get the first two or three of the new ships back into service. We’ll use them as schools and, hopefully, we’ll have basically competent cadres to place aboard each successive ship as she leaves the yard.”

    “Yes, Sir,” Hegedusic said, exactly as if he hadn’t already written a memo to Bourmont’s office proposing exactly the same thing. He watched the docking battlecruiser for a moment longer, then turned his head to look at his superior.

    “One question, Sir. Even if we get cadres trained the way you’re talking about, we’re going to be in an awkward position during the actual transition. We’ll have lots of battlecruisers waiting for crews, and lots of personnel training to crew them, but most of our existing ships are going to be undermanned and in the process of being laid up as their people transition to the battlecruisers.”

    “And your point is?” Bourmont asked when he paused.

    “I’m just a little worried about our home security while we’re in that position, Sir. It would be embarrassing if an emergency came up and the Navy wasn’t able to respond.”

    “Um.” Bourmont frowned, tugging at his lower lip, then shrugged. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any way around it, Isidor. Oh, we’ll schedule things to keep our more powerful and modern units manned longest, but there’s no way to avoid the draw-down you’re talking about.”

    “No, Sir. But I was wondering if we might ask Mr. Levakonic if it would be possible to deploy some of his ‘missile pods’ to cover our more important installations. As I understand it, they’re pretty much suited to indefinite deployment, as long as they can be serviced regularly, so it wouldn’t be as if we were actually expending them. And I’d feel a lot better with some additional firepower to back us up.”

    “Um,” Bourmont said again, frowning. “I think you’re probably being overly concerned, Isidor,” he said finally, “but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. And it would be embarrassing to be caught out that way, however unlikely I might think it would be. The missile pods won’t be arriving for a couple of months, but I’ll discuss the idea with Levakonic. And if it won’t throw us behind schedule, I think it’s a good one.”

    “Thank you, Sir. It would make me feel a lot better.”

    “Me, too, now that you’ve brought it up,” Bourmont conceded, and grimaced. “It’s going to be a real strain to pull this one off,” he went on. “And I’ll be honest, the thought of actually mounting the operation’s enough to make me nervous. But I think the planning’s fundamentally sound, and the President’s convinced the potential gains far outweigh the risks. On the whole, I’m strongly inclined to agree. But it’s going to be up to you to actually make all the parts fit together and work, Isidor. Are you ready for the challenge?”

    “Yes, Sir,” Hegedusic replied, his eyes clinging to the second battlecruiser as she nuzzled into her own space dock. “Yes sir, I am.”




    Agnes Nordbrandt sat in the safe-house’s kitchen, sipping hot tea, and waited.

    She liked kitchens, she reflected. Even small, cramped ones like this. It was something about the soothing, sustaining ritual of preparing food. The smells and tastes and textures that wrapped a comforting cocoon around the cook. She got up and crossed to the lower of the two stacked ovens, bending over to peer in through the glass window in its door, and smiled. The Kornatian “turkey” really did rather resemble the Terran species which had given it its name, and the one in the roasting bag had turned a rich, golden brown. It would be ready for the celebratory dinner soon.

    She turned away and walked out of the kitchen. The onr-sun’s narrow hall was dark, even though it was only midafternoon, because her apartment was located at the very back of the building. The lack of sunlight bothered her sometimes, but there were advantages to her apartment’s location. Among other things, it had permitted her to cut an emergency escape hatch from her bedroom to an old sewer tunnel which connected with the Karlovac storm drains she and the Movement had used so often and to such good effect. Sooner or later, they were going to lose that mobility advantage -- or, at least, have it significantly reduced. But for the moment, they still knew their way around the capital city’s underbelly far better than the KNP did.

    She climbed the steep, narrow stair at the back of the one-sun. It was supposed to serve as an emergency stair to be used only if the elevators were out. Given that the elevators hadn’t worked once in the entire time she’d been in the building, the stairs saw a lot more use than they were supposed to. She grimaced wryly at the thought as she made her steady way upward.

    I wonder how Rajkovic and Basaricek are going to feel when they find out I’m alive after all? I’d love to see their faces. Then again, I’d love to see their reaction to the knowledge that I’ve been hiding right under their noses from the very beginning. They just don’t seem to get it. Maybe they figure I have to have some big, elaborate command post to be effective? But that would be stupid. I can handle everything I need to handle with nothing more than one personal com and a couple of trustworthy runners. And that lets me disappear tracelessly into the capital’s population -- just one more poor, anonymous young widow, struggling to keep a roof over her head on the miserable social support payments the government makes available. And I actually collect the credit drafts, too. She grinned at the thought. Setting that up before I went underground wasn’t easy, but it’s paid off big time.

    She shook her head, still bemused by the opposition’s myopia. Maybe it was the fact that the people looking for her knew she’d always been relatively affluent. Her adoptive parents had been well enough off to send her to private schools and pay most of her tuition when she went off to college. Her parliamentary career had paid pretty well, too, not to mention the non-economic perks that had gone with it. So maybe it simply never occurred to the people looking for her that she would quite cheerfully hide in plain sight simply by becoming poor.

    It had been one of her better ideas, she decided yet again as she crossed the one-sun’s flat roof to the clothesline. Drawing a regular social support stipend turned her into the purloined letter so far as government agencies were concerned. She was right there, in plain sight, yet hidden and anonymous behind an absolutely legitimate social support account number and case file. They knew exactly who she was, and that she was harmless, so they ignored her completely.

    And the same principle applied to her choice of safe-houses. When a woman was poor enough, she became effectively invisible, and the densely populated tenements of the Karlovac slums became an infinitely better hiding place than some camouflaged bunker tucked away in the mountains.

    Not to mention the fact that the tenements are much more convenient to my work.

    She walked along the clothesline, blinking against the bright sunlight, her short hair -- auburn now, not black -- blowing on the brisk breeze that flapped the sheets and towels pinned to the line. The vanes of the mushroom-headed ventilators whirred, and she enjoyed the warmth on her skin. She tested each sheet, each towel, for dampness with her hand, thus explaining to anyone who happened to glance in her direction what routine, harmless task had brought her to the roof at this particular moment.

    She glanced at her chrono. That was one of her few concessions to her role of terrorist commander. It was a very good chrono, worth more than a full year of her one-sun apartment’s rent. But she’d had that expensive timepiece remounted in a cheap, battered case suited to the sort of chrono a poverty-stricken widow might reasonably possess. She didn’t care what it looked like; only that it kept perfect time.

    Which it did.

    The first explosion thundered across the capital precisely on schedule. A thick cloud of debris, flame, and smoke shot up near the city’s center, and Nordbrandt ran to the front edge of the one-sun’s roof. There was no risk of giving herself away now -- everyone who could was moving, craning her neck, trying to see what was happening. Indeed, shed have aroused suspicion if she hadn’t rushed to stare off towards the plume of smoke rising out of the swelling mushroom of dust.

    Then the second explosion bellowed.

    The first had been a delivery truck, parked -- in the same parking space in which it had been parked every day for the last three weeks -- outside the main city post office. Had anybody examined that truck on any day except today, they would have found it loaded with legitimate parcels and packages being delivered to the post office by the courier service whose name was painted on its sides. But last night the courier service employee, who belonged to one of Nordbrandt’s cells, had loaded his vehicle with something else before he parked it, set the timer, locked it, and walked away. And the truck had simply sat there, waiting until mid-afternoon, when the post office would be most crowded.

    She shaded her eyes with her hand, staring towards the post office. Or, rather, towards the flaming, tumbled heap of rubble which had been the post office. She could see one or two people staggering around, clutching broken limbs or bleeding wounds. More lay writhing -- or motionless -- on the sidewalks, and half a dozen ground vehicles added their own smoke and flame to the hellish scene. Kornati’s tech base was sufficiently primitive that most vehicles still used petrochemical fuels, and tendrils of liquid fire flowed across the pavement, seeking the storm drains, as bleeding fuel tanks gushed flame. And she could see other people already beginning to rip and tear at the wreckage in frantic efforts to rescue anyone who might be trapped under it.

    Gutsy of them, a cold, thoughtful corner of her brain acknowledged. Especially after the way we set up the Nemanja bombing. Maybe it’s time we started setting follow-up charges again.

    She turned her attention towards the second explosion, but it was further away. She could see the smoke, hear sirens, but she couldn’t actually see anything. Not that she needed to. Another truck, from the same courier service, had been parked in a basement garage under the city’s largest department store. Judging from the smoke and dust cloud, the bomb must have been even more successful than she’d hoped.

    Then the third bomb detonated -- the one in the stolen ambulance parked under the marquee of the Sadik Kozarcanic Army Hospital. She’d had her doubts about that one. There’d been a far higher chance that the team charged with placing the ambulance would be detected and intercepted, which would have alerted the authorities to the fact that an operation was underway. And even if they weren’t, security remained too tight, despite the growing certainty she and the Movement had both been killed, for them to get the ambulance close enough to do the kind of structural damage they’d managed at the post office and department store. But she’d decided it was still worth the risk as a psychological blow. They hadn’t attacked hospitals before. And, in fact, she had no intention of adding hospitals to the list. Not civilian hospitals, anyway. But there was no way for the government or the general public to know that, now was there?

    The fourth bomb went off, but it was clear across the city, too far away for her to see it from here. Not that she needed to. The neat operational planning file in her head checked it off as sharp, harsh thunder rattled the one-sun’s windows.

    First Planetary Bank, she thought cheerfully. Again, they hadn’t been able to get the bomb actually inside the building perimeter, and the Bank building itself was built more like a bunker than a commercial establishment. But, knowing they wouldn’t be able to place the bomb as close as they wanted, she and Drazen Divkovic, Juras’ brother, had put the bomb under a tanker truck. In theory, it contained fuel oil; in fact, Drazen had sealed the tank and filled it with natural gas, creating what was in effect a primitive fuel-air bomb.

    Then Drazen himself had driven the truck into position, stopped it, gotten out, and opened the hood to bend over the turbine, obviously checking for malfunction. He’d tinkered with it until he heard the first explosion. Then he’d smashed the fuel line with a single, carefully placed blow from a wrench, to make sure no one else could drive it away, and vanished into a subway station. By the time anyone realized the “driver” had abandoned his truck, Drazen had been kilometers away. And by then it was much too late for anyone to move the deadly vehicle before it exploded like a tactical nuclear warhead.

    The vaults may survive. I don’t think any of the rest of the building will, though.

    She looked out at the plumes of smoke one more time, then, shaking her head in obvious disbelief and horror, turned and headed back towards the stairwell. She wanted to get back to her apartment and its cheap, tiny HD in time to see if the news channels played her pre-recorded message claiming responsibility for the bombing attack in the name of the FAK. And, just incidentally, informing the Kornatian public that she wasn’t dead, after all.

    She was halfway down the stairs when the fifth and final bomb of this attack exploded in yet a third delivery truck. That one was parked outside the Karlovac Metropolitan Museum, and she spared a moment to hope the museum’s fire suppression systems would save most of its artworks. It was probably a little schizophrenic to hope one of her own attacks would be less than totally successful, but she couldn’t help it.

    She shook her head at her own perversity as she reached the bottom of the stairs and checked her chrono again. Assuming her delivery arrangements worked, the news outlets wouldn’t have her recorded message for another few minutes. It would be interesting to see how long it took the first news service to get it on the air.

    And while she waited, she just had time to check the turkey again and put the bread into the other oven.

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