Nick Seafort returns to power as the secretary general of the United Nations, facing his most fearsome adversary yet: politics
The Transpop Rebellion ended ten years ago with now–Secretary General Nicholas Seafort as a hero. With that political capital, Seafort stepped into place as one of the most powerful men in the world. But political clout isn’t all it seems to be. While Seafort tries to stay true to his moral code, he’s being pulled in every direction. His former colleagues in the Navy demand more ships, while the enviro lobbyists plead with him to repair the planet’s broken ecosystem. Patriarch’s Hope returns the focus to the Seafort Saga’s charismatic and troubled title character. An explosive disaster forces Nick to reexamine his life, his family, and his future as adversaries align against him. To save the planet from itself, he will need cunning, allies, and a large helping of luck.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
". . . and so we gather to commission UNS Galactic, the greatest ship ever built, the pinnacle of human interstellar endeavor."
Surreptitiously, to avoid the attention of the pulsing holocams focused on the dais, I eased my aching leg, fixing a glazed stare at Admiral Dubrovik's broad back and the crowded London auditorium beyond. At my left Derek Carr smiled in sympathy.
Would old Dubrovik ever wind down? As SecGen and nominal Commander in Chief of all U.N. forces I could have blocked his posting to Lunapolis Command, but I'd interfered enough in U.N. Naval appointments over the years. These days, I tried to limit myself to where it would do the most good. Amid the dignitaries and officials patiently listening were a considerable number of officers I'd advanced because of competence rather than connections.
Yet also among the sober blue uniforms and starched dress whites were a few disgruntled Earth First sympathizers, disgusted that I wouldn't support retaking the few interstellar colonies that had achieved independence. There might even have been a few enviro fanatics, although zealots of that stripe were rare in the Navy. No doubt among the audience were quite a number who didn't give Christ's damn, as long as no one tampered with their pay billet.
". . . not since Earth's first convulsive leap into space two hundred fifty years ago have so many individuals, so many thousands of diverse corporations, participated in a public project."
And with good reason; their profits were enormous. Galactic was an error of judgment; I'd let myself be persuaded by Admiralty's unbounded enthusiasm and SenatorRobbie Boland's deal with the Territorial Party, our opposition in the General Assembly, to give us a free hand on the Naval budget through the next Secretarial electionif we shared the lucrative construction contracts with their allies. What we needed were Alpha-class vessels like my first command, UNS Hibernia, not the vast and expensive behemoth we'd constructed.
I grimaced past my wife, Arlene, to my old friend Admiral Jeff Thorne, with whom I'd shared my misgivings.
Yes, Galactic, along with the nearly completed Olympiad and their two sister ships on the drawing boards, would help seed new colonies, but home system had been establishing colonies for nearly two centuries, and the existing colonies needed servicing too. I doubted it would prove efficient to send a huge vessel such as Galactic to supply Derek Carr's home colony of Hope Nation.
I glanced at the huge holoscreen, and the magnificent vessel that dominated its view. Lights blazing, she floated high above the planet, off Earthport Orbiting Station, at whose Naval wing she'd been built.
I shook my head. After the fiasco with UNS Wellington many years past, there was no thought of assembling a throng of dignitaries on ship for her dedication. We'd been lucky to escape with our lives that day, after the fish attacked. The aliens were gone now, victims of the caterwaul stations I'd devised. From time to time, in the dark nights when Lord God reproached me, I wondered whether to add genocide to the roll of my sins.
"Could even SecGen Seafort have imagined just twelve years ago, as he began his second administration, when the world was reeling from the Transpop Rebellion and not yet recovered from the attacks of the dread fish that he did so much to abate"
My breath came in a hiss. Arlene's bony fingers squeezed my right elbow in warning.
I scowled at her. "The damned sycophant! Did you hear what"
My wife leaned close, the ghost of a smile smoothing the wrinkles that caressed her still-bright blue eyes. "Cover your lips, Nick. They'll read you."
"By Lord God, let them. I" Common sense finally intruded. I subsided, seething.
To my left, a cough that might have been a chuckle. I shot Derek Carr a steely gaze that would have withered him as a Naval midshipman, but unfortunately those days were decades past. My old friend had a laser glare of his own that had held him in good stead since he'd become First Stadholder of Hope Nation, and he was unimpressed by mine.
". . . with her vast cargo holds, a crew of eight hundred ninety, transporting over three thousand passengers, bristling with armaments, she'll carry U.N. prestige and authority to our far-flung colonies across the infinite reaches of . . ."
Derek leaned close. "He does go on."
I turned to Jeff Thorne, whispering. "Do you hear? Now the idiot's making policy. 'Carry U.N. authority' indeed. As if we need a warship these days to deal with our own dominions."
"With some of them, you might." He raised a hand to forestall my reply. "I think Dubrovik's wrapping it up."
". . . and so, to commission UNS Galactic, I have the honor to present His Excellency Nicholas Ewing Seafort, Secretary-General of the United Nations." Turning, the Admiral flashed me a pleased smile, like a toddler expecting a parent's approval.
Welcoming applause rolled across the crowded hall, whose coolers labored to counteract the sweltering London summer.
I groped for my silver-headed cane, hoisted myself from my seat, and winked at Arlene, graying, gaunt, and lovely. "Shall I fire Dubrovik right now?" I was half-serious.
Her lips barely moved. "Of course, dear. The Territorials would love a martyr as a candidate, next election."
With a sigh, I limped to the waiting microphones.
"Voyager is landing," Mark Tilnitz, head of my security detail, muttered into his throat mike. Our heli set down precisely on the cross that marked the center of Devon Naval Academy's pad.
Tilnitz was an assignee of U.N. Investigations. General Donner was drawn from U.N.A.F., Karen Burns from Naval Intelligence, other security agents from New York Police Command. An odd system, but giving all services a hand in the SecGen's protection deterred the formation of a praetorian guard, with the resultant interservice jealousies.
I climbed out, under the sullen Devon afternoon sun. A security joey was waiting, to hover at my arm lest I slip. "Do I look feeble?" My voice was caustic. Perhaps I feared the answer. "Let me be. Here, Arlene." I extended a hand.
Ducking through the hatchway, she climbed slowly down the steps. "What's wrong, Nicky? You've been cross all day."
"Nothing." My knee ached. "I hate those public ceremonies." I forced a smile as Commandant Hazen hurried to greet us. Overhead, the helis and jets that constituted my unwieldy protection detail moved off.
Normally, security accompanied me everywhere, but from my first administration I'd drawn the line at Academy or the Naval wing at Earthport. Under no circumstances would I allow Tilnitz and his eclectic crew to pretend I needed guarding from the United Nations Naval Service, in which I'd served so memorably. I would wander the Academy grounds unprotected, except by the Commandant or his staff. It wasn't, after all, as if Academy were an open campus.
I looked about. A tall iron fence surrounded the compound, meeting itself at the guardhouse gate. As always, mulberry and juniper abounded, tended by Academy staff and cadets. Above, tall maples lent their shade. Devon Academy had once been far from town, but shops and pubs had sprung up to serve it. Still, our buildings were set well back from the fence, obscured by the extensive plantings, which allowed a modicum of privacy.
Arlene and I had just escaped the huge reception that followed my dedication of Galactic, and my cheeks were sore with the aftermath of my frozen smile. At least, standing about greeting dignitaries, I'd had time for a few amiable words with Derek Carr, before he went off to rejoin his Hope Nation trade legation. I'd be seeing him again in a day or so, at my retreat outside Washington.
"Welcome, Mr. SecGen." Hazen came to attention. Florid, the hint of a paunch lurking underneath his Naval blues, he still managed to look distinguished, a few touches of gray gracing his locks.
I returned his salute. "As you were." For a moment my heart eased. Devon was home to me. I frowned. Had been home, before my betrayal had forfeited all claim to it. Hastily, I turned my thoughts elsewhere. I'd made my peace with my transgressions years before, or thought I had. Either Lord God would forgive me, or He would not.
As we walked the unchanged footpath to the administration building I scrutinized the Commandant I'd met but once, at a Rotunda reception. Once, the Navy had been my entire life, and I wouldn't have dreamed of allowing the Board of Admiralty to appoint a Commandant I didn't know well. But since the Transpop Rebellion, I'd been ever more preoccupied with civilian issues, and the nurture of our economy.
I cleared my throat. "You've met Ms. Seafort, I believe?" Arlene, knowing me well, smoothly took over the conversation while I brooded. A former officer herself, she knew Academy as well as I.
We strolled past the Commandant's quarters I'd once occupied, past dorms I'd inhabited as a cadet. Knowing my wishesmy aides had made them clearHazen hadn't interrupted Academy routine to put the cadets on show for me; his charges were at their usual classes. Nonetheless, the compound seemed almost deserted. Typically, a handful of cadets could be found scurrying about on special duty or, as punishment detail, set to manicuring the lawn with meticulous precision.
The Commandant seemed to read my thoughts. "I canceled outdoor activities, Mr. SecGen." He glanced upward, shading his eyes. "Sorry, I should have brought lined umbrellas."
I snorted my disdain. "I don't need shielding." Nonetheless, I hurried my pace.
"We've a radiation alert for the rest of the week, despite the seeding. If the gamma count gets much worse I'll send most of the joeys to Farside." Lunar Academy, whose warrens were on the far side of the moon, where cadets did advanced training.
"Over time, it's getting better."
He shrugged. "So they say, but were you ever kept indoors at Devon?"
"That was a half century ago." I made a face. "Things change." To my relief, we were nearing the Commandant's quarters. My knee throbbed, and besides, I wanted Arlene out of the newly menacing sun.
"How about Grierson?" I looked across the gleaming rosewood conference table.
Sergeant M'bovo replied; the boy was of his barracks. "Good attitude, willing worker, sir. Still waiting to see his Yall." Give your all, we cadets had been exhorted. Over the years the "Navy all" had become a catchword, shortened to the Yall.
"He's only fifteen." Arlene's tone was gentle. Where I was often harsh with green young middies, she tended to be more kind. Her parenting, even more than my own, had nourished our son, Philip. Of course, in his adolescence even P.T. had learned that Arlene's tolerance had limits. Lord God protect the youngster who overstepped them.
Not so many years ago, as Philip had reached manhood, Arlene and I had spoken seriously of having more children. But, with the cares of office . . . I sighed. Over my long career youngsters seemed to seek me out, as if expecting guidance or assurance only I could provide. In return, I'd gotten too many of them killed.
"Mr. SecGen?" Hazen held the file, waiting.
I snapped my attention back to our conference. "Very well, we'll see." I slid his folder into the "undecided" pile. Though a puter screen was inset into the table in front of each seat, the Navy cherished its traditions. One of them was using old-style paper folders for cadet candidate files.
The purpose of my Academy jaunt was twofold. First, Devon was one of the few places outside my own walled home in which I was free of the ubiquitous mediamen. The Academy grounds were closed, and woe betide the heli that overflew it.
My other motive was more complex. Once, as Academy Commandant, I'd selected a few cadets as special aides. It hadn't worked out; I'd gotten them massacred in one of my senseless follies. Yet my successors, blind to my misconduct, continued the tradition.
Years later, when I returned to public life as a Senator, then as SecGen, I'd tired of the self-serving blather of my politically astute assistants, and sought out younger adjutants. I'd coopted midshipmen fresh out of Academy, and to my dismay, watched them grow into political creatures as unacceptable as those they replaced.
The solution I'd devised was to select them at Academy, before they became middies, thenwith an occasional exceptionsend them to a year or two aboard ship. Thereafter, when they were offered a shoreside posting at the U.N. Rotunda, I had at least a hope they'd remember their traditions and the discipline of Naval life. Most of them did, as long as I didn't keep them too long. My current aide, Charlie Witrek, was a willing joey, one I'd come to like, but in a week he would be rotated back aloft, and we'd bring down some middy I'd chosen in previous years.
The system worked well, overall. Of course, none of the selectees must have any idea he'd been chosen to ripen in the fleet, else he wouldn't take his shipside duties seriously. For that I needed the cooperation of Academy's staff, and of course I had it. They too wanted their minions to mature as young midshipmen, and if that weren't enough, none cared to risk a SecGen's enmity.
Still, I found the selection process uncomfortably reminiscent of Final Cull, the miserable job of choosing who, among the myriad of applicants, was to attend Academy. One of my great pleasures as SecGen had been to return to the Navy the long-sought privilege of selecting its own officer candidates.
Today, for two hours, Hazen, Arlene, and I reviewed files with the staff sergeants, noting which youngsters showed promise.
Over the years Arlene and I had developed a fine working relationship. By my authority, she sat in on many of the conferences I was required to endure. Here, at Academy, her views were particularly valuable; we'd been cadets together and shared a knowledge and love of the Navy.
I opened another folder. "What about"
The door flew open. "Commandant!" A sergeant, his breath coming hard. A red-haired midshipman was close behind.
Hazen reared up. "How dare you burst in like"
"We couldn't reach you; your caller was set to 'don't disturb.' We've had an, uh, accident. Suit training, the pressure room. Five cadets . . ."
I grimaced, recalling cadet days. First, Sarge had taught us how to suit up. We'd endured his drills several days in a row, skylarking when his eye wasn't on us. Then, one day, after suiting, Sarge sent us one by one into a foggy room with an airlock at each end. About half of us, when we emerged, turned green. The other half had known how to seal their suits properly.
The five cadets who'd gotten a whiff of the gas would suffer no more than a day's sore stomach and the indignity of losing their lunch. A tough lesson, but far more gentle than that of unforgiving space.
"Take them to sickbay, Gregori." Hazen shot me an apologetic glance. "I'm sorry, Mr. SecGen."
"Sir, two are dead. The rest . . . the medics are working on them, but"
"Oh, Lord God." My voice was strained.
The Commandant blinked. "Impossible! How? What . . ."
"I don't know!" Gregori sounded near tears.
I scrambled to my feet, lurched to the door.
"Nick, wait." Arlene.
I paid her no heed. Leaning heavily on my cane, I strode through the admin wing, outside to the late-afternoon sun, along the walkway toward the classrooms, the dorms, the suiting chamber halfway across the base.
By interfering, I was muscling in on Hazen's prerogatives, but anxiety drove me onward. Cadets didn't die in suiting practice. Not at Devon. Farside was another matter; there was no appeal from the laws of vacuum. If some of our charges were deadI took a deep breathAcademy faced a scandal. Someone had been unforgivably negligent. And the Commandant would write letters this night, that would ravage families' lives.
By the time I neared the classroom area, all had caught up with me: the staff sergeants who'd joined our conference, the Commandant, Arlene, the agonized Sergeant Gregori, the middy who'd burst in with him.
Hazen panted to Gregori, "Full report!"
"Aye aye, sir. I took Krane Barracks to the suiting room at seventeen hundred hours. Later than usual, but we were keeping them out of the sun." The sergeant paused for breath. "Twenty-nine cadets; Cadet Robbins was confined to barracks. I had them help each other suit up. Same as always, sir."
"Get on with it!"
I opened my mouth for a rebuke, but held my peace. Hazen was in charge, not I.
"Then I sent them through. Midshipman Anselm, here, was helping. A canister of the emetic was already in place; Sergeant Booker used the chamber this morning. The first four cadets went through without incident."
Where in God's own Hell was the suiting chamber? I'd never remembered it as so distant.
Gregori slowed his pace, to match mine. "Cadet Santini doubled over as she came out the lock. I helped with her helmet and gave her a piece of my mind, but my eye was on the cadets going through the room." Abruptly he came to a halt, his gaze withdrawn to a private hell.
"I told you to report!" Hazen.
"Belay that!" My voice was a lash. Protocol be damned. I was Commander in Chief, and could do as I pleased. I limped to Gregori. "Are you all right, Sergeant?" He was responsible for the cadets' safety. Lord God knew what he must be feeling.
"Sir . . ." His eyes beseeched mine. "Other cadets were falling ill. It's not their fault, they're young, they don't know to double-check the seals. I was trying to watch them all, and Santini had her helmet off. I knew she'd be all right. Except . . ." He shuddered. "When I looked down she was in convulsions. There was nothing I could do. Nothing!" His voice broke.
Awkwardly, I let my hand brush his shoulder.
He began to walk again, this time more slowly. "In the chamber, Ford pitched flat on his face. Then Eiken went down. I realized something was terribly wrong and yelled at Anselm to purge the room, but he didn't hear me, or didn't understand."
The middy stirred.
I raised a hand. "In a moment, Mr., ah, Anselm. Go on, Sarge."
"By the time I ran round to the other door and triggered the emergency oxygen flush, two more were down. I ordered Anselm to pull them outhe was suited, I wasn'tand ran back to Santini. She was staring at the sky." Gregori's mouth worked. "By the time we got the others out, three more were dying. I called sickbay, and rang for Lieutenant LeBow."
At last, the suiting chamber, a low, windowless, gunmetal gray building behind the nav training center. I recalled the suit room, with its rows of lockers where the cadets would enter. The airlock to the main chamber, the waiting lock at the far exit.
A covey of cadets milled about. I said, unbelieving, "You left your squad there?"
"Lieutenant LeBow told me to report to you, flank." And the sergeant would, of course. In the Navy, orders were obeyed.
My knee ached abominably. I bit back a foul imprecation as we neared the dazed cadets. Some were weeping. A few slumped on the grass. Among them were five motionless forms in gray. Three med techs worked over them, from scramble carts. A lieutenant watched, arms folded.
A cadet corporal saw us coming. "Attention!" His voice was ragged.
"As you were," I rasped. Then I had a glimpse of one of the casualties. "Oh, Lord." Blood had flowed, from her mouth and eyes. "You, there, any survivors?"
The med tech looked up, his eyes grim. He shook his head.
"What caused it?"
"I don't know." Wearily, he knelt on the grass. "We couldn't have been three minutes responding to the call. They were gone. We never had a chance."
I turned. "Sergeant M'bovo, escort the squad to barracks." The sooner the joeykids were removed from the sight, the better.
"Let me take them, sir. They're mine." Gregori.
"No, I want you here." If it was Gregori's blunder that had killed his cadets, he should be kept far from them. "Stay with them, Sergeant M'bovo. See that they're on light duty for three days."
"Aye aye, sir." There was little else he could say, to a direct order. Civilian I might be, and outside the chain of command, but I was SecGen. "You joeys, back to barracks. Double-time!"
When the cadets were out of earshot Hazen grated, "I'd have laid on extra drills, to keep them occupied."
So might I, in my younger days. "Let them grieve." I turned to the redheaded middy. "Let's hear your version." My wife flinched, and too late, I realized it sounded an accusation.
Anselm stammered out his story, but it corroborated the sergeant's in all details.
Arlene pulled me close, to whisper in my ear. "Nick, let Hazen handle it. You're stepping on his toes."
True, but I was beyond that. "Where's the emetic canister?"
"Still in the dispenser." Sergeant Gregori swung open the panel.
"Don't touch that!" I lowered my voice to a normal tone. "Commandant, have the gas analyzed. A party of three to take the canister to the lab. Send LeBow, there. And two sergeants who had nothing to do with the incident. Get these poor children's bodies to sickbay, we can't have them lying here. Well, what are you staring at? Get moving, flank!"
"Aye aye, sir." As if dazed, Hazen reached for his caller. Gregori said nothing, but his eyes bore mute reproach.
"And autopsies on the cadets. Tonight." I tried to think what else. "Seal the base." If rumors got out, we'd be besieged with mediamen, to the Navy's detriment. All mediamen were ghouls. "Gregori, Anselm, wait for us at the Commandant's office."
Hazen was busy on his caller.
The lieutenant jumped as if shot. "Yes, sir!"
"Suit up, and go into the chamber. Check out"
"I won't need a suit, sir. It's been purged."
"Suit up." My tone was icy. "We'll take no chances."
"Aye aye, sir." At least he seemed abashed, as well he should, quarreling with a direct order. On the other hand, as a civilian I had no right to give him orders.
"Look around, report by radio anything that seems out of place." As he turned to the suiting-room door I added, "Careful with your seals!"
LeBow's expedition found nothing. By the time he emerged, the lifeless cadets had been carried to sickbay, and two staff sergeants had arrived to escort the canister to the lab. We all watched LeBow disconnect it from the intake. Ignoring common sense, I held my breath to inspect it gingerly. The customary factory label, the usual warnings. If the manufacturer had inadvertently sent us a contaminated canister, I'd see the culprit hanged. I hoped that was the case. The alternatives didn't bear thinking about.
There was work ahead, and I'd realized I didn't trust Hazen to do it alone. This was one of the moments I regretted refusing to carry a personal caller. An old habit, dating from my days as Commandant. As I'd learned on Hibernia, a commander who carried a caller had no peace.
"Would you give Branstead a call?" I gave Hazen my chief of staff's code. "Tell him to cancel my suborbital. I'll spend the night in Devon."
"Nick, we have to get home." Arlene looked apologetic. "Derek's coming, and tomorrow there's the delegation from Dutch Relief."
"Belay that, Commandant. Let me talk to him." I took the caller. "Jerence? Arlene's on the way home, I'll stay here." Arlene shot me a look of annoyance. "Lay on transport tomorrow, I'll let you know when. No, I'm fine. There's been an . . . incident. What? I don't care, reschedule him. Next week." I rang off, gave my wife an awkward hug. "Get ready for Derek, listen to the Hollanders for me. I'll see you soon."
Somewhat mollified, she rested her chin on my shoulder. "Nick, those cadets . . ."
"Yes, I know. Terrible."
"I mean the survivors."
"Death happens, Arlene. We've both seen it. They have to get used"
"They're bewildered, and in pain."
"It's not my responsibility."
"You remember, don't you, Nick?" Her voice was soft.
I looked away. At last I said, "I'll do what I can."
In the gathering dusk Hazen and I walked slowly back to his office. "How well do you know Gregori, Commandant?"
"He's a good man. Even if he wasn't watching carefully, how could he have caused their deaths? We've used the emetic for years."
My smile was grim. "Generations."
"It was surely an accident, Mr. SecGen. Contaminants."
"Do you believe that?" My own doubts were growing.
A long silence. "I want to."
Abruptly I liked him more. "I'm sorry. I know I've been taking over."
"That's your privilege, sir. You're SecGen."
I grinned, remembering an Admiral who'd commandeered my ship, long past. "That doesn't make it easier."
"No," he said. I admired his honesty. He added, "You don't remember me, do you?"
I cast about in my memory. "I was notified of your appointment. You had UNS Churchill, am I right?"
"I was in Valdez Barracks." He spoke as if he hadn't heard. "When you took command." He slowed his pace, so I'd have less difficulty keeping up. "Sergeant Ibarez."
"Ah." How could I make him change the subject? I loved Academy, truly I did. Yet . . .
"I was one of the few left here when you took the cadets to Farside. Else I'd have volunteered. I know I would." His face was red, and his gaze was carefully averted. "I'd fallenwe were skylarking in barracks. About a week before the fish attacked. I broke three ribs. Sarge said you were furious."
"It's a cool night," I said desperately. "After the sun goesCommandant, I atone every night of my life for what I did to those wretched cadets. Be thankful you weren't among them." During the final alien attack I'd called for volunteers, knowing, but not telling them, I was sending them to their deaths. At least, with effort, I now could speak of it. For years I could not.
"Sir, do you know what it's like, to be class of '01, the last class Nicholas Seafort commanded? They say you called the cadets to Farside dining hall." His eyes were distant, as if reliving a memory he couldn't have known. "You said there'd be danger, and asked for cadets willing to go to the Fusers. Your voice . . . hushed, urgent, almost desperately casual. Even as joeykids, they understood."
"Mr. Hazen . . ." How could I divert him?
"For years, those who refused cast blame one on another, or you. Only Boland and Branstead could be proud. And Tenere." The pitifully few survivors, who'd sailed with me in the Mothership.
"And whenever it came up, I was hurt and defensive." His tone was conversational. "I would have gone, but how could I prove it? We fought, at times. I lost friends." He chopped off his words, cleared his throat. "When I was posted here, I couldn't fathom the honor. To walk where you walked, sit at your desk, command men you"
"Stop it!" My cry echoed through the quadrangle.
He faced me, determined. "I wanted so to impress you. To make you see I had matters well in hand. You think I don't know what an idiot I sounded, shouting at Gregori? I could have bitten my tongue off."
"It's all right, Mr. Hazen. I've done the same."
"Not in front of your . . ." He muttered something unintelligible.
"Idol." His gaze was a challenge, as if daring me to object.
I muttered, "Lord God preserve us." We'd reached the steps. I took his arm, leaned my weight on it as we climbed. "I really ought to have this leg looked at."
"May I ask what it is, sir? I noticed you began to carry a cane a few years ago."
"Arthritis. The Helsinki crash aggravated it." Arthritis was curable, and had been for generations. But I deserved my infirmities.
He paused at the door to his office. "Will you see Gregori and Anselm now, or wait for the lab report?"
"Wait, I think."
"I could show you to the VIP suite."
"I know the way. Ring my quarters when you have the report." I limped to my apartment.
I peeled off my jacket, washed my face, combed my hair. I caught a glimpse of the aging visage in the glass, and paused. Wrinkles on my forehead, and my hairline was creeping upward. I hadn't let them give me cosmetic enzymes, though I'd had the primary anti-aging compounds. They were universally disseminated through drinking water.
Still, even past sixty, I wasn't all that old. The relentless extension of life was the main cause of Earth's overcrowding, and a terrible strain on our resources. I had another quarter century of active life, if I wanted it. Perhaps even more. These days, retirement benefits didn't start until eighty-five.
I passed a hand over the faint outline of the hideous scar that had once adorned my cheek. Many years ago I'd let them remove it, at the insistence of Admiralty. Joeykids had started to emulate my appearance, and that was intolerable.
Nearly fifty years, since Father had brought me to Academy's gates, guided me within, and strode off without a backward glance. The U.N. Navy had been thenand still wasthe glamorous service youngsters dreamed of joining. The Army was a poor relative, and resented it.
Of course, the Navy had the advantage of starting its officers young. The discovery in 2046 that N-waves travel faster than light, and the accompanying revision of physics, led to the fusion drive, and superluminous travel. But the stars came at a cost: melanoma T, a vicious carcinoma triggered by long exposure to Fusion fields. It was an occupational hazard for spacefarers.
Fortunately, humans whose cells were exposed to N-waves within five years of puberty seemed almost immune. But the Navy couldn't put untrained children aboard its great starships. And so cadets were recruited barely into their teens, as I had been. After two years at Academy they were shipped off as green young middies to get their sea legs aboard a starship.
Gaunt eyes stared at me from the mirror.
As a middy, I'd been catapulted to Captain of UNS Hibernia on the death of her other officers. Later, on Challenger, I'd fought off relentless attacks by the alien fish. We'd survived to see home system, but not before I'd damned myself by breaking my sacred oath, to save my ship.
By then, to my infinite disgust, I was a media hero. Eventually, Admiralty appointed me Commandant of Naval Academy. And at Farside, when the fish attacked, I engaged in the greatest betrayal since Judas. I sent my cadets to their deaths with lies.
The caller chimed. "Yes?"
"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.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
All of Feintuch's books are AMAZING! They sadly are mostly forgotten, and Feintuch died before he could write the last book. However, I highly recommend this whole series They are: 1. Midshipman's Hope 4. Fisherman's Hope 7. Voices of Hope 2. Challenger's Hope 5. Voices of Hope 8. Galahad's Hope (unpublished as of May '13) 3. Prisoner's Hope 6. Patriarch's Hope