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Conventions of War
The woman called Caroline Sula watched her commander die. She had liked Lieutenant Captain the Lord Octavius Hong, though she had distrusted his orders, and she was thankful that he didn't stand the torture for long. He had been wounded during capture, apparently, and tortured once already to make him give up his communications protocols; and he was now too weak to last long under the knives. When he passed out, the loop of executioner's wire was passed around his neck and he died.
Hong's execution, as well as all the others, were broadcast live on the channel reserved for punishments, one long summer afternoon of blood and torment, entertainment suitable only for sadists and clinicians. Which am I? Sula wondered. Because she needed to hear the announcer read the names of the condemned, she couldn't even turn off the sound to insulate herself against the moans, screams, and the eerie discordant chimes of dying Daimong. Though there were moments when she had to turn away, Sula steeled herself to watch as much as she could, and noted the names of every one who died.
So far as she could tell, the entire secret government died that afternoon, from Military Governor Pahn-ko all the way down to his servants. When Sula had first heard of the secret government's existence, she'd pictured an underground bunker packed with communications gear or a lonely cave in the mountains reached only by a hidden path; but it appeared that Pahn-ko had been captured in a country house not far from Zanshaa City.
That was the secret hideaway? Sula thought with disbelieving scorn. Pahn-ko might as well havepainted SECRET GOVERNMENT on the roof in large white letters.
The government's military force died with its leadership.Junior Fleet Commander Lord Eshruq, the head of the action groups that had volunteered to stay behind under occupation, took a long time to die. Perhaps the knobbylimbed gray Daimong body was unnaturally hardy, or perhaps the torturers took special care, since one of Eshruq's action groups had killed some Naxids on the day they rode in triumph into the captured city.
But most of the condemned went quickly. There were nearly two hundred loyalists to execute, and a limited number of torturers. Most of the torments were perfunctory, followed by the garotte, a death merciful compared to what the state could inflict when it had more time and leisure.
From the bedroom came the amped sounds of saccharine music, mixed with murmurs and moans. One of Sula's two teammates, Engineer First Class Shawna Spence, lay wounded on the bed watching a romantic melodrama, with the sound turned up so she wouldn't hear her comrades dying.
Sula didn't blame her.
The apartment was close and hot and smelled of dust and gun oil, disinfectant and sadness. Sula felt the walls pressing in, the dead weight of dead air. She couldn't stand it any longer and opened a window. Fresh air flooded in, and the scent of onions frying on a stone griddle just below her window, and the sounds of the street, the music and laughter and shouts of the close-packed neighborhood called Riverside.
Sula took a few welcome breaths as she scanned the slow-moving crowds below. Her nerves hummed as she saw a pair of uniforms, the gray jackets and white peaked caps of the Urban Patrol. Her lip curled, an old instinct. Her upbringing, on faraway Spannan, had not been such as to instill in her the greatest respect for law enforcement.
The police traveled in pairs in a place like Riverside. These two were Terran, but Sula didn't know if she could trust that fact to help her. They might not care who their orders came from, so long as their own position remained intact. They'd subjected people to the arbitrary justice that was a feature of the old regime, and the Naxids' orders might not seem any different.
Nor were these two the sort to build confidence. As Sula watched from the window, one ear cocked for the sound of the announcer on the video, she saw one of the cops collect some graft from the lottery seller on the corner, and the other help himself to some spiced fry bread from a vendor.
Choke on it, she thought at him, and withdrew into the apartment before they could see her.
The executions went on. Sula's stylus jotted names and numbers as she busied herself with calculation. Lieutenant Captain Hong had led Action Group Blanche, which was composed of eleven action teams, each of three Terrans, plus his own headquarters group of six, with his extra servants, runners, and a communications tech. Action Group Blanche therefore had thirty-nine personnel. There were four other action groups, one each for the Cree, Daimong, Torminel, and Lai-own species, and though Sula hadn't met any of their members, she assumed they were organized the same way as Action Group Blanche, so that Eshruq's whole command would have constituted 195 members, plus his own headquarters group.
Those identified as members of the action groups -- "rebel anarchists and saboteurs," as the Naxids called them, as opposed to the mere "rebels" of Pahn-ko's administration -- amounted to only 175. Ten, the announcers said, had been killed while resisting arrest, or in Hong's luckless engagement on the Axtattle Parkway.
Three more -- Sula's own Action Team 491 -- were supposed to have died in an explosion in their apartment atGrandview, a booby trap that Sula had set off to catch the security forces she knew were closing in. The story of their deaths was pure propaganda -- unless by some miraculous coincidence the Naxids actually had found three burned Terran bodies in the wreckage -- but Sula supposed she might wring some advantage in being officially dead.
But even counting Action Team 491, that added up to only 180. This left at least some of the loyalists unaccounted for, and as she added her columns of figures, Sula saw they were all Torminel.Conventions of War. Copyright © by Walter Williams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.