"War is fought by human beings."
General Karl von Clausewitz, On War
De facto capital of the Rim Worlds or no, Prescott City wasn't much of a city by Innerworld standards. But it was the largest one on Xanadu, and it was large enough to have traffic problems. Ground traffic was bad enough, but the aerial traffic patterns were even worse, despite the best efforts of overtaxed controllers, human and robotic.
It might not have been so bad had the Provisional Government not established itself here. Not only had the city's population risen by almost fifty percent, but more and more military skimmers reduced its traffic patterns to chaos as they cut across them, their shrill transponder signals clearing a path through the carefully nurtured order. To the air traffic authorities, the Peaceforcer skimmer approaching Government House was only one more flaw in the jigsaw puzzle of their job.
Government House, located on a hilltop in what had been the outskirts of town two years earlier, was the city's most imposing edifice. Silhouetted against the bustling traffic of Abu'said Field, it took on an even more imposing air when the Fleet was in port. Unlike the newer buildings surrounding it, Government House dated back to the Fourth Interstellar War and the initial settlement of Xanadu. Constructed of natural materials, its facade dominated by the addition of Admiral Prescott's monumental bronze column, Government House had been built to last for centuries-and on a far larger scale than it had needed to be. For it had been more than a mere headquarters for a new planetary government. It had been a grand gesture of defiance, thrown in the faces of the Arachnids, one warp transit away.
Ian Trevayne had once told Miriam Ortega that Government House reminded him of a certain Peter the Great, who'd constructed a new capital city on the territory of a country he was then fighting for possession of that very land. Miriam, to his delight, had responded with a pithy phrase from her late mother's lexicon: Government House, she'd said, had chutzpah.
The Peaceforcer skimmer slid down onto the Government House roof just at sunset. (At least, Zephrain A was setting. Zephrain B remained high in the sky, glowing as a very tiny sun or a very bright star, depending on how one chose to view it.) A Marine major in undress dark-green trousers and black tunic stepped onto the roof to meet the brown-uniformed Peaceforcers who emerged from the skimmer. With punctilious formality-the two services wasted little love on one another-he took custody of their prisoner, addressing her with a noncommittal "ma'am." Whether Li Han was a captain or an admiral-or, in fact, whether an admitted rebel and mutineer was entitled to a military rank at all-involved political questions the major preferred to leave to older, wiser, and better-paid heads.
Li Han looked even smaller than usual between her two guards. They towered above her, and their combined body weight outmassed her by a factor of over five. Her cheeks were slightly sunken (the food at the prison compound was adequate, but not always appetizing), emphasizing her clean facial structure, and she moved with her habitual grace, thanks to a rigidly self-imposed exercise schedule, but she looked like a child in an adult's pajamas in her standard-sized gray prison garb. The major eyed the unprepossessing little figure with a measure of curiosity mingled with contempt-anything less like a Navy flag officer was hard to imagine.
Until she opened her mouth.
"Good evening, Major," she said crisply. "You may escort me to the Governor-General."
The major's hand was halfway into a salute before he caught himself. He managed to maintain his military bearing, but there was a brief pause before he mumbled, "This way, ma'am." He turned on his heel and led the small, ramrod-straight figure to the elevator, glaring at any of his subordinates who looked like they might even be thinking of smiling.