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CHAPTER NINE Ivan the Terrible

The VIP shuttle completed its approach run and settled on the landing platform with a sort of abrupt grace that would have looked inexplicably wrong to anyone who'd lived before the advent of reactionless, inertia-canceling drives. Its hatch slid open and a solitary passenger emerged into the light of Galloway's Sun.

Fleet Admiral Ivan Nikolayevich Antonov was of slightly more than average height but seemed shorter because of his breadth, thickness, and-the impression was unavoidable-density. His size, and the way he moved, suggested an unstoppable force of nature, which was precisely what his reputation said he was. But he stopped at the foot of the landing ramp and saluted, with great formality, the frail-looking old man in civilian clothes who headed the welcoming committee. One didn't ordinarily do that for a cabinet minister . . . but Howard Anderson was no ordinary cabinet minister.

"Well," Anderson growled, "you took your sweet time getting here, EYE-van."

"My orders specified 'Extreme Urgency,' sir," the burly admiral replied in a rumbling, faintly accented basso. "I had certain administrative duties to attend to before departure . . . but Captain Quirino is speculating about a new record for our route."

"So what are you doing standing around here now with your thumb up your ass?" was the peevish reply. The other dignitaries stiffened, and the painfully young ensign beside Anderson blanched. "Let's go below and make all the introductions at once. You already know Port Admiral Stevenson . . . he'll want to welcome you to The Yard." Ever since the First Interstellar War, the sprawling complex of Fleet shipyards and installations in the Jamieson Archipelago of Galloway's World had been called simply that.

"Certainly, sir," Antonov replied stonily.

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