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Genji Yoshinaka had never seen Sonja Desai so angry. To be honest, he couldn't swear he'd ever seen her display so much of any emotion.

"The Admiral must be out of his mind!" she muttered through clenched teeth. "No," she continued, answering herself before Yoshinaka could get a word in, "of course he's not. But we all know what a strain he's been under. . . ."

"Now, Sonja," Yoshinaka interrupted, all diplomacy, "you know the political rationale for what the Admiral is doing. We've discussed it often enough since arriving in the Rim. And if you feel so strongly about it, why didn't you voice your objections to him when he was on Gehenna?"

"Oh, yes, I've heard all the political arguments, and I'm only to happy to defer to the Admiral's judgment on that sort of thing." Her voice held an infinity of exasperation with politics and the other incomprehensible interactions of her fellow humans. "But," she continued, suddenly almost venomous, "I always assumed we were talking about some ceremonial parliamentary talkfest that would give the local political gasbags an outlet for their self-importance while we get on with the important work. I never dreamed that we were going to be expected to take the farce seriously!" She glared across the room at the cluster of civilians . . . and, it seemed to Yoshinaka, at one of them in particular.

The room she glared across was deep in the heavily shielded core of Government House in Prescott City. The shielding-like the architecture, which was what public buildings had looked like in the days of the Fourth Interstellar War-reflected the structure's origins. Its security aspects had been largely habit, given an enemy from whom nuclear warheads were more to be expected than espionage, but they'd made this particular conference room the natural site for Trevayne's first joint meeting with both his military staff and the leaders of the newly inaugurated Rim Provisional Government. Both groups now stood awaiting him . . . and, as if by gravitational attraction, had clumped themselves into opposite corners of the large chamber.

The thought of security got Desai off to a fresh start.

"Damn it, Genji," she said, low-voiced and intense, "I don't really mind the idea of setting up a civilian government for the Rim; I suppose I wouldn't even want us to have to carry the whole burden of administration, which we would under martial law. But I simply can't believe that the Admiral really plans to grant security clearances to the members of this 'Grand Council' who're directly connected with the war effort. Is that even legal?"

"Matter of opinion," Yoshinaka opined. "He's doing it while wearing his Governor-General's hat, which puts it in what might tactfully be called an ill-defined area of the law. As he's fond of saying, the Cabinet can tell him if they don't like it-after contact is reestablished."

Desai waved a hand impatiently. "That's not really the point anyway. You haven't been out to Gehenna, but you know what's at stake here. We're not talking about some kind of minor engineering refinements! We're talking about a whole new order of technology!" She paused and took a breath. "I've got to make him see that we don't dare compromise security on this thing . . . not after what's happened on Gehenna."

Yoshinaka nodded soberly. He could understand her feelings, after what she'd been through mere days before. But, as always, he found her intensity oppressive. She had no lightness in her. And this vehemence wasn't like her at all.

"I've got to make him see!" she repeated. "Surely it must be clear now that he can't trust these . . . colonials!"

Yoshinaka was shocked. Abrasive Desai might be, but he'd never heard a remark even remotely like that from her. It didn't even make sense; her own ancestors hadn't exactly evolved from the primordial ooze of Nova Terra! And Sonja Desai never talked nonsense. What was her problem?

He drew himself up slightly. (He still had to look upward at her, as he did at most people.) "I think," he began, in his best conversation-closing voice, "that the Admiral is committed to the course he's taken, Sonja. And I think you missed your chance to talk him out of it when you had him to yourself on Gehenna. And I definitely think that, in spite of what's happened since then, it would do far more harm than good to raise the point at this time, in this company. I strongly advise against it."

Desai's rejoinder was lost forever as an old-fashioned double door swung open and an usher intoned "The Governor-General!"

Trevayne was wearing an expensively tailored civilian suit, making clear which of his figurative "hats" he was wearing. The point was not lost on the officers and politicians as they took their places on opposite sides of the large conference table. The glance he shared with Miriam Ortega, on the other hand, went unnoticed by almost everyone.

"Please be seated, ladies and gentlemen," Trevayne invited, all affability. They did so, military crispness opposite civilian casualness, and Miriam absently lit a cigarette.

"Filthy habit," Desai muttered to Yoshinaka, just below the threshold of public audibility. Miriam, almost directly across the table from her, raised a single eloquent eyebrow and blandly put out the cigarette.

Introductions and other preliminaries completed, Trevayne turned to specifics.

"We all know what's occasioned this meeting," he began, "and I know everyone shares my relief that Captain Desai is able to be with us." A murmur of agreement ran around the table. Trevayne resumed, addressing Desai. "Sonja, I apologize for having to bring you here from Gehenna on such short notice, particularly straight from sickbay." He indicated her left arm, still immobilized even though the wound was, by the standards of modern medicine, minor. "But we need your input, as you were closer to the incident than anyone . . . closer than you would have liked, I daresay!"

Desai didn't share in the general chuckle. "Thank you for your concern, Admiral," she replied. "But there is one preliminary point which I feel it is my duty to raise before the discussion enters areas of sensitive military information. I refer to the matter of security . . . especially in light of what has just happened on Gehenna."

Yoshinaka groaned silently.

Everyone at the table-everyone in the Zephrain system, for that matter-knew what had happened, only hours after Trevayne had left Gehenna to return to Xanadu and announce the formation of the Provisional Government. The security advantages of an uninhabitable planet were part of the reason Zephrain RDS was located on Gehenna. But, inevitably, a city had grown up, under domes and burrowed beneath Gehenna's reddish sands, in response to the presence of the Station and a fair number of miners . . . a city whose lower levels had sheltered a surprisingly well-organized rebel underground with carefully developed plans to sabotage the Station.

Still, the rebels had moved before they were quite ready, unable to resist the temptation of bagging Trevayne during his inspection tour. Desai's media disinformation concerning his departure schedule had prevented that, at least. He'd been in space when the rebels had struck, heavily armed and using access codes obtained by blackmail of certain key personnel.

Of course, they hadn't expected a walkover. The vicious, utterly unexpected boarding actions of the Theban War had cured the TFN of its habit of relegating small arms-and training in their use-to the Dark Ages and to such present-day Dark-Ages types as Marines. Side arms were now part of the service uniform . . . but they were laser side arms, ideal for space but subject to many inherent limitations on the ground, which was why hand-held laser weapons had never entirely supplanted slugthrowers. The rebel attackers had used slugthrowers . . . and anti-laser aerosol grenades. Surprise had been nearly total, and the Station's upper levels had, for a time, resembled a scene from Hell. Desai herself had been caught in a surrounded office block, where she'd had good use for the personal combat training she had detested and never expected to use. But Marine quick-response teams had been on standing alert for Trevayne's visit and hadn't quite had time to stand down. Reinforcements had arrived-in combat zoots-before any crucial data or equipment had been destroyed, and no attackers were believed to have escaped. Damage had been extensive, however . . . especially to Desai's temper.

"And so," she concluded her description of the attack, "our schedules have been set back by weeks. I think this incident reveals a very serious security problem involving . . . certain elements of the Rim populations." The civilian side of the table was utterly quiet.

"I wonder," Desai finished, looking straight at Miriam, "if the Grand Councilor for Internal Security would perhaps care to comment on the fact that this conspiracy arose among the civilian population of Gehenna . . . without being detected."

At the head of the table, Trevayne frowned. Sonja was obviously in one of her moods . . . but he'd thought she had understood the necessity of tact in dealing with the Provisional Government. And she was being utterly unfair; Miriam hadn't even held the internal security portfolio at the time the attack took place, much less while it was being prepared. There hadn't been a Rim Provisional Government to hold it in!

But he couldn't dress Desai down publicly, for any of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Miriam had to handle this on her own if she was to command any sort of respect from the military people. So he held his tongue and let her respond.

"First," she said, slowly and deliberately, to the room at large, "let me say that I share the Governor-General's relief that Captain Desai escaped serious injury, and that I deeply regret the casualties that occurred . . . casualties that might have been avoided if our people had been given a free hand to investigate certain early leads which were duly passed on to Navy security on Gehenna. Correct me if I'm wrong, Captain Desai, but I believe that this information was what led you to take the very sensible precaution of leaking a false itinerary for the Governor-General's tour."

She gazed levelly at the naval officer, and Desai's eyes might have hardened just a tiny bit more. But she refused to rise to the bait, and after a moment, taking her tight-lipped silence as confirmation, Miriam continued.

"Jurisdiction over the civilian population of Gehenna has always been unclear. The Navy considers the entire planet a military reservation, and regards civilian law-enforcement officials as being there more or less in an advisory capacity. This is unfortunate, as local people with an intimate knowledge of local conditions would have access to sources of information beyond the normal compass of Navy security. They would be in a better position to ferret out the small lunatic fringe that I can't deny exists, and whose very powerlessness (as I've mentioned to the Governor-General) makes it more apt to reckless acts of violence. The solution is to give my new organization, representing the loyal mainstream of the Rim, full authority to police our own few renegades."

A confident rumble arose from the civilian side of the table. Miriam sat back and, after a moment's hesitation, lit a cigarette. She didn't-quite-blow the smoke in Desai's direction.

"Well," Trevayne said, stepping in to fill the gap before Desai could speak, "I think Ms. Ortega has raised some valid points. At the very least, we need to address the jurisdictional question posed by the civilian habitats on Gehenna . . . which, of course, didn't exist when the RDS was founded. Comments, anyone?"

Discussion proceeded without anything provocative from Desai. Trevayne, relieved, exchanged a quick smile with Miriam. No one but Yoshinaka noticed that Desai grew even stiffer than was her wont.

"I don't think your Captain Desai likes me very much."

Trevayne waved a negligent hand as he and Miriam walked together down the corridor after the meeting had broken up.

"Oh, don't feel singled out," he said airily. "I'm afraid Sonja's like that with everyone. It's just the way she is. Don't give it another thought."

"Maybe," Miriam replied dubiously.

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