|Patriarch's Hope |
|excerpt courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing|
"Sir, the lab report." Hazen.
"So soon?" I glanced at my watch. I'd been staring into the mirror a full hour. "I'll be right there."
I smoothed my graying hair. Decades ago, Father Ryson had saved my sanity, in the hard peace of his neo-Benedictine monastery. Brother Nicholas would be at Lancaster yet, but for the desperate pleas of Eddie Boss, my transpop shipmate, whose tribe was under attack by the Territorial Administration. I couldn't refuse him. Leaving my haven, I'd used my notoriety to enter politics. As Senator from northern England, then as SecGen, I managed to have the relocations halted.
Despite my best intentions, my life had been political ever since. I'd left office in the Port of London scandal, and been glad. But the Transpop Rebellion of 2229 sucked me into its madness. I'd had no choice; my son Philip was caught up in it, and missing. His life was worth more than mine. I still thought so, despite what he'd become after.
When the rebellion was settled, given the attitude of the Territorial Party toward our urban masses, I'd had no choice but to declare my candidacy once more.
I thrust on my jacket, limped to the Commandant's office.
"Nerve gas." Hazen jabbed a thick finger at the holoscreen. "Deadly toxin."
Stunned, I sank into my chair. I'd dreaded something of the sort, and the confirmation left me dazed. I grasped at straws. "Contaminating the emetic?" I peered at the screen.
"No, sir. Nerve gas in concentrated form. One canister, if opened in dining hall, could have killed the whole lot of us."
"Gregori said Booker had used the same canister earlier."
"His cadets are fine. I sent Anselm to check."
I asked, "Where is the emetic made?"
His face was grim. "I put in a call to the manufacturer. Chemgen Corporation specializes in hospital supply. They claim even if they'd made some sort of error, they produce nothing that could kill so fast."
"And the canister?"
"I already thought of that. They construct their own."
I let my eyes meet his. "Commandant, do you understand what you're saying?"
"Yes, sir. It was deliberate."
For a moment we were silent. Then I slammed the table. "That sergeant who used the suiting room this morning, Booker, was it? Send him and Gregori to P and D!"
"Sir, we can't."
"Cadets are dead."
"But there's no evidence. Nothing at all."
"They both used the canister."
Hazen took a deep breath. "That's not evidence of a crime, sir, and you know it!"
My jaw clenched. It had been a long while since anyone had spoken to me so. After a time, my fury abated.
He was right.
A defendant had no right to silence, not since the Truth in Testimony Act of 2026. If there was other evidence against him, he could be sent for polygraph and drug interrogation. If the tests proved he had told the truth, charges were dismissed. If he admitted the charges, as sophisticated drugs forced him to do, his confession was of course introduced as evidence.
But to keep authorities from fishing in the recesses of a prisoner's mind, the law was quite clear. There had to be independent evidence of guilt before P and D could be ordered.
I sighed. "Sorry. Confine Booker to barracks until we sort this out. And call in the middy, would you?"
Together, we grilled the hapless Anselm until he was drenched with perspiration, and his lip beginning to tremble. At last, I relented. The boy was telling the truth: he'd seen nothing out of the ordinary before the cadets went down, and had no reason to suspect Gregori or anyone else.
"Pardon me, sir?" He addressed his Commandant.
"Could you tell me what this is about?"
Hazen and I exchanged astonished glances. Middies, questioning their commanding officers? What was the Navy coming to? Reddening, the Commandant took breath, but I intervened. There was no reason the boy shouldn't know. "The cadets didn't die by accident. It was murder."
"Oh, no!" The boy's anguished cry was from the heart.
"We don't know." Abruptly I added, "Any ideas?"
"Lord God, it's impossible. Jimmy Ford? Santini? Who'd want to kill them?" His eyes were wet. "Yesterday was Ronny Eiken's birthday."
"You're to tell no one," I said. "It's quite important the news not get out." Not until we learned what had befallen us.
"Aye aye, sir."
I glanced at the Commandant. "Special duties?" The boy could be isolated from the other middies, to remove all temptation to gossip.
To his credit, Hazen shook his head. "Mr. Anselm is an officer, and his word is sufficient."
Coloring, I accepted the unstated rebuke, knowing it was warranted. A Naval officer's word was his bond. The entire Service was based on trust. Had I not been so distraught by the bloodstained children lying in the grass, I'd have remembered I was dealing with my cherished U.N.N.S., not a pack of amoral politicians.
Hazen took pity. "Dismissed, Mr. Anselm."
The boy fled.
I cleared my throat. "Question the sergeants."
"Gregori already told us his story."
"Then we'll hear it again." And so we did. During his recitation Sergeant Gregori eyed me with downright hostility. I could hardly blame him.
"As I said, sir, I have no idea what went wrong. The canister was in place, everything looked as it should."
"Did your cadets quarrel among themselves, or with other barracks?"
He balled his fists, checked himself. "Commandant, permission to speak freely?"
"No one hated my cadets, in Krane or any other barracks. Even if he's SecGen, how do you stand such nonsense?"
"Sergeant!" The Commandant was scandalized.
"I've had enough! Court-martial me if you don't like it!" Gregori subsided, breathing heavily.
Hazen blinked. "I understand your feelings, but SecGen Seafort and I have to know"
A knock on the door. A breathless middy saluted and came to attention. "Midshipman Andrew Payson reporting, sir. Sergeant Booker isn't at Valdez Barracks. His cadet corporal hasn't seen him since lunch."
I snarled to Hazen, "The gate!"
He punched the code into his caller. When he was through, he rose slowly from his seat. "Booker signed out early this afternoon. That God damned son of"
I snapped, "Don't blaspheme!"
"a bitch! The fucking whoreson! That"
"All right!" I slapped the table hard enough so my hand stung. "Sarge, we owe you an apology."
"Bloody right you do!" Gregori looked ready to launch himself across the table. I had to admire his courage. Either the Commandant or I could break him.
The middy glanced between us as if we were all demented.
The caller chimed. Muttering an epithet, the Commandant answered. After a few words he handed it to me.
"Sir? Branstead here. Have you heard of an Eco Action League?"
"I'm busy, Jerence. Can this wait?" Even as I spoke, I knew better. My chief of staff wouldn't interrupt unless the matter was urgent.
"We've had a communiqué. They claim they've killed half a dozen Academy cadets."
My knuckles were white on the caller. "Go on."
"As long as you continue wasting funds on colossal boondoggles like Galactictheir phrasewhile tides continue to rise, they'll strike. It goes on for pages in the same vein."
"The sons of" I marshaled my whirling thoughts. "Keep it quiet as long as you can. Get me out of here, before the media hear of my visit and make a circus of Academy."
"Sorry, sir. I got a copy of the communiqué from Holoworld. They want a comment, and verification that you're at Devon. The Action League says they struck during your visit to show that no one was safe from the wrath of the people. You have twenty-four hours to announce a change in policy, or they'll strike again, and disregard the cost in lives."
I cursed long and fluently.
When I wound down, Branstead said, "I'll send your heli."
"No, I'll see this through." I swallowed bile; my visit had caused the deaths of unwitting children. I cared not a fig for my reputation. By leaving I'd hoped only to spare Academy, and the Navy. If the news was out, my presence didn't matter.
"I'm sending in the heli; I want Tilnitz at your side. Security has nothing on an Eco Action League. Whoever they are, if they can strike at Academy, you're not safe."
"No. We've been through that."
For a moment I thought he would argue, but to my relief he didn't press the point. Instead, he said, "I rang up Winstead at the Enviro Council, and they're mystified as well."
"No doubt." My sarcasm was evident; the Council's hands were always clean, no matter what vileness their cohorts perpetrated. "Find the Eco League. Pull out all the stops."
"I'll notify Naval Intelligence, Academy's their bailiwick. By the way, I'll have to set up a news conference. As soon as you get back."
"Have Carlotti handle it." Let my portly press secretary appease the vultures of the media.
"Sorry, it's too big a story. They'll expect you."
I sighed. "Delay as long as you can." I rang off.
"Well, now." I glared at Gregori. "Are you an enviro, Sarge?"
"No." His gaze held contempt.
"I thought not."
The caller chimed again. I suppressed an urge to smash it. Hazen listened a moment, rang off. "That was sickbay. Autopsies confirm the lab report."
"Go home to your cadets, Sarge. Commandant, call up the file on Booker, flank. Send a copy to Branstead. Midshipman, you're dismissed."
Sergeant Gregori favored me with a frosty glare as he stalked off. Well, I wasn't surprised, despite my apology. I'd as much as accused him of murder.
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