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2—The Passengers

Horace Hussein Chamoun al Shamlan Bury pointed out the last of the articles he would take with him and dismissed the servants. He knew they would wait just outside his suite, ready to divide the wealth he was leaving behind, but it amused him to make them wait. They would be all the happier for the thrill of stealing.


When the room was empty he poured a large glass of wine. It was poor quality stuff brought in after the blockade, but he hardly noticed. Wine was officially forbidden on Levant, which meant that the hordes of wine sellers foisted off anything alcoholic on their customers, even wealthy ones like the Bury family. Horace Bury had never developed any real appreciation for expensive liquors. He bought them to show his wealth, and for entertaining; but for himself anything would do. Coffees were a different matter.

He was a small man, as were most of the people of Levant, with dark features and a prominent nose, dark, burning eyes and sharp features, quick gestures, and a violent temper that only his intimate associates suspected. Alone now, he permitted himself a scowl. There was a printout from Admiral Plekhanov's writers on the desk, and he easily translated the formally polite phrases inviting him to leave New Chicago and regretting that no civilian passage would be available. The Navy was suspicious, and he felt a cold knot of rage threaten to engulf him despite the wine. He was outwardly calm, though, as he sat at the desk and ticked off points on his fingers.

What had the Navy on him? There were the suspicions of Naval Intelligence, but no evidence. There was the usual hatred of the Navy for Imperial Traders, compounded, he thought, because some of the Navy staff were Jews, and all Jews hated Levantines. But the Navy could have no real evidence or he wouldn't be going aboard MacArthur as a guest. He'd be in irons. That meant Jonas Stone still kept his silence.

He ought to keep silence. Bury had paid him a hundred thousand crowns with a promise of more. But he had no confidence in Stone: two nights before, Bury had seen certain men on lower Kosciusko Street and paid them fifty thousand crowns, and it shouldn't be long until Stone was silent forever. Let him whisper secrets in his grave.

Was there anything else undone? he wondered. No. What would come would come, glory be to Allah . . . He grimaced. That kind of thinking came naturally, and he despised himself for a superstitious fool. Let his father praise Allah for his accomplishments; fortune came to the man who left nothing to chance; as he had left few things undone in his ninety standard years.

The Empire had come to Levant ten years after Horace was born, and at first its influence was small. In those days Imperial policies were different and the planet came into the Empire with a standing nearly equal to more advanced worlds. Horace Bury's father soon realized Imperialism could be made to pay. By becoming one of those the Imperials used to govern the planet, he had amassed immense wealth: he'd sold audiences with the governor, and hawked justice like cabbages in the market place, but always carefully, always leaving others to face the wrath of the hardnosed men of the Imperial service.

His father was careful with investments, and he'd used his influence to have Horace Hussein educated on Sparta. He'd even given him a name suggested by an Imperial Navy officer; only later did they learn that Horace was hardly common in the Empire and was a name to be laughed at.

Bury drowned the memory of early days in the Capital schools with another beaker of wine. He'd learned! And now he'd invested his father's money, and his own. Horace Bury wasn't someone to laugh at. It had taken thirty years, but his agents had located the officer who'd given him that name. The stereographs of his agony were hidden in Bury's home on Levant. He'd had the last laugh.

Now he bought and sold men who laughed at him, as he bought votes in Parliament, bought ships, and had almost bought this planet of New Chicago. And by the Prophet—blast!—by damn he'd own it yet. Control of New Chicago would give his family influence here beyond the Coal Sack, here where the Empire was weak and new planets were found monthly. A man might look to—to anything!

The reverie had helped. Now he summoned his agents, the man who'd guard his interests here, and Nabil, who would accompany him as a servant on the warship. Nabil, a small man, much smaller than Horace, younger than he looked, with a ferret face that could be disguised many ways, and skills with dagger and poison learned on ten planets. Horace Hussein Bury smiled. So the Imperials would keep him prisoner aboard their warships? So long as there were no ships for Levant, let them. But when they were at a busy port, they might find it harder to do.


For three days Rod worked on MacArthur. Leaking tankage, burned-out components, all had to be replaced. There were few spares, and MacArthur's crew spent hours in space cannibalizing the Union war fleet hulks in orbit around New Chicago.

Slowly MacArthur was put back into battle worthy condition. Blaine worked with Jack Cargill, First Lieutenant and now Exec, and Commander Jock Sinclair, the Chief Engineer. Like many engineering officers, Sinclair was from New Scotland. His heavy accent was common among Scots throughout space. Somehow they had preserved it as a badge of pride during the Secession Wars, even on planets where Gaelic was a forgotten language. Rod privately suspected that the Scots studied their speech off duty so they'd be unintelligible to the rest of humanity.

Hull plates were welded on, enormous patches of armor stripped from Union warships and sweated into place. Sinclair worked wonders adapting New Chicago equipment for use in MacArthur, until he had built a patchwork of components and spares that hardly matched the ship's original blueprints. The bridge officers worked through the nights trying to explain and describe the changes to the ship's master computer.

Cargill and Sinclair nearly came to blows over some of the adaptations, Sinclair maintaining that the important thing was to have the ship ready for space, while the First Lieutenant insisted that he'd never be able to direct combat repairs because God Himself didn't know what had been done to the ship.

"I dinna care to hear such blasphemy," Sinclair was saying as Rod came into range. "And is it nae enough that I ken wha' we hae done to her?"

"Not unless you want to be cook too, you maniac tinkerer! This morning the wardroom cook couldn't operate the coffeepot! One of your artificers took the microwave heater. Now by God you'll bring that back . . ."

"Aye, we'll strip it oot o' number-three tank, just as soon as you find me parts for the pump it replaces. Can you no be happy, man? The ship can fight again. Or is coffee more important?"

Cargill took a deep breath, then started over. "The ship can fight," he said in what amounted to baby talk, "until somebody makes a hole in her. Then she has to be fixed. Now suppose I had to repair this," he said, laying a hand on something Rod was almost sure was an air adsorber converter. "The damned thing looks half-melted now. How would I know what was damaged? Or if it were damaged at all? Suppose . . ."

"Man, you wouldna' hae troubles if you did nae fash yoursel' wi . . ."

"Will you stop that? You talk like everybody else when you get excited!"

"That's a damn lie!"

But at that point Rod thought it better to step into view. He sent the Chief Engineer to his end of the ship and Cargill forward. There would be no settling their dispute until MacArthur could be thoroughly refitted in New Scotland's Yards.

Blaine spent a night in sickbay under orders from the surgeon lieutenant. He came out with his arm immobile in a tremendous padded cast like a pillow grafted on him. He felt mean and preternaturally alert for the next few days; but nobody actually laughed out loud in his hearing.


On the third day after taking command Blaine held ship's inspection. All work was stopped and the ship given spin. Then Blaine and Cargill went over her.

Rod was tempted to take advantage of his recent experience as MacArthur's Exec. He knew all the places where a lazy executive officer might skimp on the work. But it was his first inspection, the ship only just under repair from battle damage, and Cargill was too good an officer to let something pass that he could possibly have corrected. Blaine took a leisurely tour, checking the important gear but otherwise letting Cargill guide him. As he did, he mentally resolved not to let this be a precedent. When there was more time, he'd go over the ship and find out everything.


A full company of Marines guarded the New Chicago spaceport. Since the city's Langston Field generator had fallen there had been no resurgence of hostilities. Indeed, most of the populace seemed to welcome the Imperial forces with an exhausted relief more convincing than parades and cheering. But the New Chicago revolt had reached the Empire as a stunning surprise; resurgence would be no surprise at all.

So Marines patrolled the spaceport and guarded the Imperial boats, and Sally Fowler felt their eyes as she walked with her servants through hot sunlight toward a boat-shaped lifting body. They didn't bother her. She was Senator Fowler's niece; she was used to being stared at.

Lovely, one of the guards was thinking. But no expression. You'd think she'd be happy to be out of that stinking prison camp, but she doesn't look it. Perspiration dripped steadily down his ribs, and he thought, She doesn't sweat. She was carved from ice by the finest sculptor that ever lived.

The boat was big, and two-thirds empty. Sally's eyes took in two small dark men—Bury and his servant, and no doubt about which was which—and four younger men showing fear, anticipation, and awe. The mark of New Chicago's outback was on them. New recruits, she guessed.

She took one of the last seats at the back. She was not in a conversational mood. Adam and Annie looked at her with worried expressions, then took seats across the aisle. They knew.

"It's good to be leaving," said Annie.

Sally didn't respond. She felt nothing at all.

She'd been like this ever since the Marines had burst into the prison camp. There had been good food, and a hot bath, and clean clothes, and the deference of those about her . . . and none of it had reached her. She'd felt nothing. Those months in the prison camp had burned something out of her. Perhaps permanently, she thought. It bothered her remotely.


When Sally Fowler left the Imperial University at Sparta with her master's degree in anthropology she had persuaded her uncle that instead of graduate school she should travel through the Empire, observe newly conquered provinces, and study primitive cultures first hand. She would even write a book.

"After all," she had insisted, "what can I learn here? It's out there beyond the Coal Sack that I'm needed."

She had a mental image of her triumphant return, publications and scholarly articles, winning a place for herself in her profession rather than passively waiting to be married off to some young aristocrat. Sally fully intended to marry, but not until she could start with more than her inheritances. She wanted to be something in her own right, to serve the realm in ways other than bearing it sons to be killed in warships.

Surprisingly, her uncle had agreed. If Sally had known more of people instead of academic psychology she might have realized why. Benjamin Bright Fowler, her father's younger brother, had inherited nothing, had won his place as leader of the Senate by sheer guts and ability. With no children of his own, he thought of his brother's only surviving child as his daughter, and he had seen enough young girls whose only importance was their relatives and their money. Sally and a classmate had left Sparta with Sally's servants, Adam and Annie, headed for the provinces and the study of primitive human cultures that the Navy was forever finding. Some planets had not been visited by starships for three hundred years and more, and the wars had so reduced their populations that savagery returned.

They were on their way to a primitive colony world, with a stopover at New Chicago to change ships, when the revolution broke out. Sally's friend Dorothy had been outside the city that day, and had never been found. The Union Guards of the Committee of Public Safety had dragged Sally from her hotel suite, stripped her of her valuables, and thrown her into the camp.

In the first days the camp was orderly. Imperial nobility, civil servants, and former Imperial soldiers made the camp safer than the streets of New Chicago. But day after day the aristocrats and government officials were taken from the camp and never seen again, while common criminals were added to the mixture. Adam and Annie found her somehow, and the other inhabitants of her tent were Imperial citizens, not criminals. She had survived first days, then weeks, finally months of imprisonment beneath the endless black night of the city's Langston Field.

At first it had been an adventure, frightening, unpleasant, but no worse. Then the rations had been reduced, and reduced again, and the prisoners began to starve. Near the end the last signs of order had disappeared. Sanitary regulations were not enforced. Emaciated corpses lay stacked by the gates for days before the death squads came for them.

It had become an unending nightmare. Her name was posted at the gate: the Committee of Public Safety wanted her. The other camp inmates swore that Sally Fowler was dead, and since the guards seldom entered the compound she was saved from whatever fate had overtaken other members of governing families.

As conditions became worse, Sally found a new inner strength. She tried to set an example for others in her tent. They looked to her as their leader, with Adam as her prime minister. When she cried, everyone was afraid. And so, at age twenty-two standard years, her dark hair a tangled mess, her clothes filthy and torn and her hands coarse and dirty, Sally could not even throw herself into a corner and weep. All she could do was endure the nightmare.

Into the nightmare had come rumors of Imperial battleships in the sky above the black dome—and rumors that the prisoners would be slaughtered before the ships could break through. She had smiled and pretended not to believe it could happen. Pretended? A nightmare was not real.

Then the marines had crashed through, led by a big blood-covered man with the manners of the Court and one arm in a sling. The nightmare had ended then, and Sally waited to wake up. They'd cleaned her, fed her, clothed her—why didn't she wake up? Her soul felt wrapped in cotton.

Acceleration was heavy on her chest. The shadows in the cabin were sharp as razors. The New Chicago recruits crowded at the windows, chattering. They must be in space. But Adam and Annie watched her with worried eyes. They'd been fat when first they saw New Chicago. Now the skin of their faces hung in folds. She knew they'd given her too much of their own food. Yet they seemed to have survived better than she.

I wish I could cry, she thought. I ought to cry. For Dorothy. I kept waiting for them to tell me Dorothy had been found. Nothing. She disappeared from the dream. A recorded voice said something she didn't try to catch. Then the weight lifted from her and she was floating.

Floating. Were they actually going to let her go?

She turned abruptly to the window. New Chicago glowed like any Earthlike world, its distinctive patterns unreadable. Bright seas and lands, all the shades of blue smeared with the white frosting of cloud. Dwindling. As it shrank, she stared out, hiding her face. Nobody should see that feral snarl. In that moment she could have ordered New Chicago burned down to bedrock.


After inspection, Rod conducted Divine Worship on the hangar deck. They had only just finished the last hymn when the midshipman of the watch announced that the passengers were coming aboard. Blaine watched the crew scurry back to work. There would be no free Sundays while his ship wasn't in fighting trim, no matter what service traditions might say about Sundays in orbit. Blaine listened as the men went past, alert for signs of resentment. Instead he heard idle chatter, and no more than the expected grumbling.

"All right, I know what a mote is," Stoker Jackson was saying to his partner. "I can understand getting a mote in me eye. But how in God's Name can I get a beam there? You tell me that, now, how can a beam get in a man's eye and him not know it? Ain't reason."

"You're absolutely right. What's a beam?"

"What's a beam? Oh ho, you're from Tabletop, aren't you? Well, a beam is sawn wood—wood. It comes from a tree. A tree, that's a great, big . . ."

The voices faded out. Blaine made his way quickly back to the bridge. If Sally Fowler had been the only passenger he would have been happy to meet her at the hangar deck, but he wanted this Bury to understand their relationship immediately. It wouldn't do for him to think the captain of one of His Majesty's warships would go out of his way to greet a Trader.

From the bridge Rod watched the screens as the wedge-shaped craft matched orbit and was winched aboard, drifting into MacArthur between the great rectangular wings of the hangar doors. His hand hovered near the intercom switches. Such operations were tricky.


Midshipman Whitbread met the passengers. Bury was first, followed by a small dark man the Trader didn't bother to introduce. Both wore clothing reasonable for space, balloon trousers with tight ankle bands, tunics belted into place, all pockets zipped or velcroed closed. Bury seemed angry. He cursed his servant, and Whitbread thoughtfully recorded the man's comments, intending to run them through the ship's brain later. The midshipman sent the Trader forward with a petty officer, but waited for Miss Fowler himself. He'd seen pictures of her.

They put Bury in the Chaplain's quarters, Sally in the First Lieutenant's cabin. The ostensible reason she got the largest quarters was that Annie, her servant, would have to share her cabin. The menservants could be bunked down with the crew, but a woman, even one as old as Annie, couldn't mingle with the men. Spacers off-planet long enough develop new standards of beauty. They'd never bother a senator's niece, but a housekeeper would be something else. It all made sense, and if the First Lieutenant's cabin was next to Captain Blaine's quarters, while the Chaplain's stateroom was a level down and three bulkheads aft, nobody was going to complain.

"Passengers aboard, sir," Midshipman Whitbread reported.

"Good. Everyone comfortable?"

"Well, Miss Fowler is, sir. Petty Officer Allot showed the Trader to his cabin. . ."

"Reasonable." Blaine settled into his command seat. Lady Sandra—no, she preferred Sally, he remembered—hadn't looked too good in the brief moments he'd seen her in the prison camp. The way Whitbread talked, she'd recovered a bit. Rod had wanted to hide when he first recognized her striding out of a tent in the prison camp. He'd been covered with blood and dirt—and then she'd come closer. She'd walked like a lady of the Court, but she was gaunt, half-starved, and great dark circles showed under her eyes. And those eyes. Blank. Well, she'd had two weeks to come back to life, and she was free of New Chicago forever.

"I presume you'll demonstrate acceleration stations for Miss Fowler?" Rod asked.

"Yes, sir," Whitbread replied. And null gee practice too, he thought.

Blaine regarded his midshipman with amusement. He had no trouble reading his thoughts. Well, let him hope, but rank hath its privileges. Besides, he knew the girl; he'd met her when she was ten years old.

"Signal from Government House," the watch reported.

Cziller's cheerful, careless voice reached him. "Hello, Blaine! Ready to cast off?" The fleet Captain was slouched bonelessly in a desk chair, puffing on an enormous and disreputable pipe.

"Yes, sir." Rod started to say something else, but choked it off.

"Passengers settled in all right?" Rod could have sworn his former captain was laughing at him.

"Yes, sir."

"And your crew? No complaints?"

"You know damned well— We'll manage, sir." Blaine choked back his anger. It was difficult to be angry with Cziller; after all he'd given him his ship, but blast the man! "We're not overcrowded, but she'll space."

"Listen, Blaine, I didn't strip you for fun. We just don't have the men to govern here, and you'll get crew before any get to us. I've sent you twenty recruits, young locals who think they'll like it in space. Hell, maybe they will. I did."

Green men who knew nothing and would have to be shown every job, but the petty officers could take care of that. Twenty men would help. Rod felt a little better.

Cziller fussed with papers. "And I'll give you back a couple squads of your Marines, though I doubt if you'll find enemies to fight in New Scotland."

"Aye aye, sir. Thank you for leaving me Whitbread and Staley." Except for those two, Cziller and Plekhanov had stripped off every midshipman aboard, and many of the better petty officers as well. But they had left the very best men. There were enough for continuity. The ship lived, although some berths looked as if she'd lost a battle.

"You're welcome. She's a good ship, Blaine. Odds are the Admiralty won't let you keep her, but you may get lucky. I've got to govern a planet with my bare hands. There's not even money! Only Republic scrip! The rebels took all the Imperial crowns and gave out printed paper. How the blazes are we going to get real money in circulation?"

"Yes, sir." As a full captain, Rod was in theory equal in rank to Cziller. A brevet appointment to admiral was for courtesy only, so that captains senior to Cziller could take orders from him as fleet Captain without embarrassment. But a naval promotion board had yet to pass on Blaine's admission to post rank, and he was young enough to worry about the coming ordeal. Perhaps in six weeks time he would be a commander again.

"One point," said Cziller. "I just said there's no money on the planet, but it's not quite true. We have some very rich men here. One of them is Jonas Stone, the man who let your Marines into the city. He says he was able to hide his money from the rebels. Well, why not? He was one of them. But we've found an ordinary miner dead drunk with a fortune in Imperial crowns. He won't say where he got the money, but we think it was from Bury."

"Yes, sir."

"So watch His Excellency. OK, your dispatches and new crewmen will be aboard within the hour," Cziller glanced at his computer. "Make that forty-three minutes. You can boost out as soon as they're aboard." Cziller pocketed the computer and began tamping his pipe. "Give my regards to MacPherson at the Yards, and keep one thing in mind: if the work on the ship drags, and it will, don't send memos to the Admiral. It only gets MacPherson mad. Which figures. Instead, bring Jamie aboard and drink scotch with him. You can't put away as much as he can, but trying to do it'll get you more work than a memo."

"Yes, sir," Rod said hesitantly. He suddenly realized just how unready he was to command MacArthur. He knew the technical stuff, probably better than Cziller, but the dozens of little tricks that you could learn only through experience. . .

Cziller must have been reading his mind. It was an ability every officer under him had suspected. "Relax, Captain. They won't replace you before you get to the Capital, and you'll have had a lot of time aboard Old Mac by then. And don't spend your time boning the board exams, either. It won't do you a bit of good." Cziller puffed at the huge pipe and let a thick stream of smoke pour from his mouth. "You've work to do, I won't keep you. But when you get to New Scotland, make a point of looking at the Coal Sack. There are few sights in the galaxy to equal it. The Face of God, some call it." Cziller's image faded, his lopsided smile seeming to remain on the screen like the Cheshire cat's.



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