Ojos Amarillos: La Defensa de Panama



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Interlude


"You? You're the one who brought our clan low?" Guanamarioch asked incredulously.

Ziramoth sighed, his head hanging. "It was me. And all over a particularly cute normal who was consumed in the fighting that followed anyway. I ask you, Guano, was there ever a more pointless and sordid waste?"

"I confess . . . friend, that I have never read of any, and I read a lot on the way here."

Guano sat silent for a few moments before continuing, "On the other hand, but for that, who knows? I might have been eaten as a nestling. I might not even have been hatched. We would not be here, at this quiet spot, eating this excellent . . . 'fish,' did you say they were called? We might not be raising crops, which I have discovered I rather enjoy.

"We might not ever have become friends," the God King concluded.

Ziramoth smiled at that. It was rare indeed for a Kessentai and a Kenstain ever to become friends and the young God King had the right of it. They were friends, comrades, as much by raising food as by harvesting thresh or marching side by side along the bloody and fiery Path of Fury. The Kenstain felt a tide of warmth rise and consume him. Indeed, he had not had a friend since those faraway days when the clan had ridden the stars, whole and entire. Kenstain were normally too self-ashamed to mix easily, even among each other. And, of course, they could hardly aspire to comradeship with the normally haughty Kessentai.

A small part of Guanamarioch's oolt passed a half a kilometer away, muzzles down, foraging the ground for insects and edible grasses. The God King perked up immediately, his own eyes wandering over the normals' seductive lines. He arose from where he had lain, body quivering with anticipation.

"Hey, Zira, what say we run over there and fuck us a couple of normals?"

The older, wiser Kenstain put his claw on the younger's shoulder. "No, Guano. Let's walk over and fuck 'em all."


Chapter 22



"Oh, you think so, monsieur?" the colonel objected. "I can see you've never done much fighting. In war the real enemy is always behind the lines. Never in front of you, never among you. Always at your back. That's something every soldier knows. In every army, since the world began."

Jean Raspail, The Camp of the Saints



Palacio de las Garzas, Presidential Palace,
Panama City, Panama


In the presidential office, at the ornately carved desk, surrounded by the tacky and garish artwork, the Rinn Fain and a human sat silently. The Rinn Fain, of course, had unlimited access to the president. He and the human had burst in without any warning, the Darhel placing his AID on Mercedes' desk. The human introduced himself as "Investigative Judge Pedro Santiago."

Without fanfare, filling its role as the Darhel's mouthpiece for unpleasantries, the AID began, "Your country is accused of war crimes beyond number, Señor Presidente. You have employed forbidden weapons. You have used the under-aged as combatants. You have damaged ancient, historical properties. Your forces have slaughtered the wounded. The Galactic Federation has no choice but to sever all diplomatic and commercial relations with the Republic of Panama. This includes, but is not limited to, technology transfers, arms provisions, energy supplies and all space-borne trade and personal and commercial travel."

Presidente Mercedes blanched for a moment. Even his greasy face seemed to congeal. Indeed, he was sufficiently shocked that he did not object when the human withdrew a Gaulois from a package and lit up the nasty thing without so much as a by-your-leave.

"What the fuck is this chingadera machine talking about?" the president asked of the Rinn Fain.

The AID continued to speak, though a slightly huffy tone crept into its artificial voice. "You recently decorated and promoted a woman, one Digna Miranda, formerly a lieutenant and now a lieutenant colonel. Were you unaware that she used children as young as twelve in her battles? Did you not know she had wounded Posleen massacred rather than treating them with medical care equal to that given your own?

"Your chief logistics officer, Major General Boyd, provided casings, detonators and explosives for your soldiers to turn into forbidden self-activating weapons; 'antipersonnel landmines' is your term. Your forces have used frangible projectiles on the Posleen. Several historical sites, to include ancient churches, have been damaged and still others completely leveled by your illegal use of artillery. Ancient sites of the aboriginals of these areas have been left unguarded."

"Bu . . . bu . . . but," Mercedes stammered, "the fucking Posleen eat people! They destroy churches. They smash ancient pyramids. Isn't that against the law as well?"

"The Posleen are not forbidden, by their law, from any of that. You, however, are expressly forbidden by treaties the Republic of Panama has solemnly signed, from doing what your forces have done. There is really no choice but to sever all ties," the AID huffed.

"But I can't try these people myself!" Mercedes exclaimed. "I'd be lynched in the street."

"This is precisely the circumstance for which the International Criminal Court was created," said the bureaucrat, "for when a country cannot or will not prosecute war criminals on its own."

At that moment the Rinn Fain spoke up. "This man," his finger indicated the suit-clad bureaucrat who sat beside him, "is a representative of the European Union, seconded from the Spanish judiciary, here to deliver warrants originating at the International Criminal Court, for the arrest of certain parties, some named, others to be identified."

"Sorry to say," the human interjected, "your name heads the list, Señor Presidente. The ultimate responsibility for these crimes rests with you. That said, it is within my discretion not to serve that warrant—indeed, to drop all charges—provided that you cooperate fully in the investigation and arrest of those that were directly responsible for the commission of these heinous crimes against . . ."

The bureaucrat was about to say "crimes against humanity," but that obviously didn't fit. Nor would "crimes against the Posleen" have worked. Instead he finished, after a moment's reflection, with, "Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, which, as you know or should know, takes precedence over merely domestic or national law."

"Of course," added the Rinn Fain, "proper service of these warrants and delivery of the wrongdoers will put the Republic of Panama back into Galactic good graces, Mr. President. Moreover, the law, as I understand it, basically absolves the political leader who in good faith directs proper legal actions and is disobeyed by willful subordinates, provided he does what is in his power to bring the miscreants to justice."

"That is absolutely correct, Lord Rinn Fain," added the EU bureaucrat.

Give Mercedes his due; he was not an indecisive man. Given the choice between losing his comfortable Galactic vacation surrounded by his family and women and being placed in a, no-doubt, exceedingly comfortable European prison while awaiting the arrival of the Posleen and being placed on their menu, there really was no choice.

"Give me copies of the warrants. I will have the malefactors arrested within the week."

The European nodded his head, respectfully. The AID remained silent. Only the Rinn Fain showed any emotion. He smiled an inscrutable Darhel smile.

CA-134, Bay of Panama


The sisters of the cruiser division slipped out of their docks quietly, without fanfare, on a foggy, moonless night. Des Moines sailed to starboard, with all three main turrets functioning and five of her six secondaries in working order. Two of these could be trained to starboard, two to port or starboard. One could be fired to port but not starboard. Three of the secondaries could fire aft at low elevation or high.

A mile to port, USS Salem steamed in formation, keeping track of Des Moines' by passive means. Salem, too, retained three functioning main and five secondaries. She, too, could train four to one side, port in her case, and three aft.

Approximately halfway between the port and the Isla del Rey, the cruisers veered southwest. In the thermals trained on the island, McNair could see the long, deadly, tapering weapons of the island's Planetary Defense Battery tracking through the night to provide cover to the ships from any spaceborne threat.

Aft, over the ship's hangar and behind number three turret, crewmen prepared balloons that would lift gliders to soar over land and sea to spot for the ships' guns. Another crew worked above the Salem's hangar deck as well.

Deep below Des Moines' armored deck, in CIC, McNair and Daisy briefed young Diaz on the upcoming mission. Actually, McNair briefed while Daisy provided instantaneous and perfect translation.

"We'll take you and your mate on Salem as close to shore as possible," McNair said. "We'll launch an hour before BMNT"—Beginning of Morning Navigable Twilight, when the sun was just below the horizon and provided a bare minimum of light to see by—"to give you a chance to get some altitude and into position, and us a chance to get some space between ourselves and the shore."

Diaz looked down at the map in CIC where his planned route had been marked on Plexiglas. The launch point was marked at about fifteen kilometers south of the former town of El Tigre, near the western tip of the Island of Cebaco. From there, Diaz knew, he and his wingman would ascend by balloon to a height at which tanked oxygen would be needed. Once they released from their balloons, they would proceed almost due north to the general area of the town of Guarumal, then follow the road, assuming it remained, to the town of Sona.

As if reading the young pilot's thoughts, McNair added, "Do not expect there to be any trace of the towns. The Posleen are in the habit of obliterating any trace that remains of the peoples they overrun and using the materials for their own building. Maybe they'll have been lazy and erected their pyramids on the same sites. No way to tell until you get there."

Diaz nodded. "I know that, sir. I am counting on the roads. They seem to leave those alone, mostly."

"Right. You and your wingman should have good updrafts to the north, all along your route. If you need altitude, just break off your spotting, head north, and take advantage of that. We'll zigzag in and out of range.

"The objective is simply to kill Posleen and destroy any industry they may have set up or be setting up. Don't forget that. We are not trying to save any humans they may have captured and be holding over for rations. In fact, any humans are as much targets as the Posleen are."

Diaz cringed. He knew he might be called on to direct fire on his countrymen. The knowledge made him more ill than even the uncontrolled ascent by balloon was going to.

McNair went silent for a moment. Damned terrible thing to ask a young man to do; engage his own people. But there's no help for it, if he spots any.

Daisy spoke for herself. "Julio, I know it's an awful thing we're asking of you. But, I want you to think of what those people must be feeling, just waiting for the moment that a Posleen points to them and indicates they are next on the menu. Imagine children seeing their parents butchered before their eyes, and parents watching their children turned into steaks and chops. Believe me, Julio, it will be a mercy for you to kill them."

Julio looked ill as he answered, "I know that, Miss Daisy . . . intellectually. The problem is it won't be an intellectual exercise."

"Are you able to do it, though, Lieutenant Diaz?" McNair asked.

"I won't like it, sir," the young man answered, "but, yes, I can do it . . . since I must."

But it will still hurt because any one of them might be like my Paloma . . . well, the Paloma who used to be mine. And it will hurt me to think of her, or someone like her, under the fire of the guns.

Palacio de las Garzas, Presidential Palace,
Panama City, Panama


Paloma Mercedes usually knocked before entering her father's home office. She was about to when she heard voices inside. Instead of knocking, then, she simply waited outside, listening through the door.

Four men stood in the president's office: Mercedes, the European Union representative for the International Criminal Court, the inspector, and Cortez.

Cortez stood quietly behind the president. He had good reason to be quiet. He had, after all, failed his uncle and failed his family. Unstated but understood, his job had been to see to the destruction of his division and the loss of the war. While his division had been very badly damaged, it had—miraculously—survived, at least in cadre. Moreover, the war was far from lost. Indeed, nothing had fallen to the aliens except Chiriqui and the western corner of Veraguas. Why his uncle wanted the war lost, Cortez didn't know. But he was the head of the clan, and doubtless knew what was best for them.

Mercedes' reaction when a salt-soaked Cortez had shown up in his office had not been precisely unrestrained joy. Indeed, if the president had felt any joy that his nephew had survived it was tolerably hard for Cortez to tell, what with the repeated blows with a riding crop the president had rained upon his head and shoulders.

Those bruises and welts were very nearly healed now.

"Do you understand your orders, Inspector?" the president asked.

"Frankly, no, Mr. President, I do not understand them at all. I can see no sense in arresting half the heroes and decent military leaders of the country, especially at a time like this."

"It is very simple. These people," and the president's riding crop pointed at a stack of warrants, "have violated the law. Do you believe in the law or not, Inspector?"

The inspector was not, had never been, what anyone would call "a nice man." He knew it and was not bothered by it. He also knew that, technical skills aside, he had one great virtue, one supreme idea around which his life had evolved and revolved since late boyhood. This idea was the law, its support, its advancement, its upholding, come what may.

Sensing that he had won, the president offered some small balm to heal the inspector's sensibilities.

"My nephew, here," he said, pointing his crop at Cortez now, "will take a detachment of soldiers to back you up as you arrest these criminals."

The inspector glanced at Cortez, hiding his disgust. The rumors had flown, sure enough, when the escaped commander of a wrecked division had returned, seemingly from the dead.

Sighing, the inspector agreed. He took the warrants and wordlessly, departed the president's office.

On his way out he passed the president's daughter, Paloma, sitting quietly in a chair, her face turned white.

I wonder what she heard, the inspector thought. Well, not my place to suggest anything.

Not by coincidence, not one of Cortez's troopers were from his semi-defunct division. These would have been as likely as not to shoot their former commander as to follow his orders. Truth be told, they would have been more likely to shoot.

Fortunately, the 1st Mechanized Division, what was left of it under Suarez's command, was currently engaged in holding a portion of the line running along the San Pedro River from Punta Mutis to just west of Montijo. North of that, the 6th Mech had responsibility all the way to the Cordillera Central. Behind those, four infantry divisions were digging in frantically.

In any case, none of Cortez's former soldiers could be spared to help him enforce the ICC's warrants. Instead, the guardhouses and the Carcel Modelo had been scraped for soldiers, most often bad ones, who could still be counted on to face down unarmed, unwarned people for a good price. For some, the price included a pardon for any crimes committed.

Some were going to be tougher than others, Cortez and the inspector both knew. These had to be taken by stealth.

Fort William D. Davis, Panama


The post had once had a golf course. This had been allowed to revert to jungle after some decades, a point the 10th Infantry's sergeant major had once noted and dismissed as irrelevant. It had now again been cleared for the two thousand odd tents that housed the people Digna had brought out with her from Chiriqui, along with several thousand refugees from farther south who had come in by sea. It wasn't much of a life, surely, but it was arguably better than being turned into snacks. The former golf course, itself, was relatively flat and had good drainage, to include a roughly ten foot deep, concrete lined drainage ditch more or less down the center.

In the dim, filtered glow of the early morning twilight, thousands of those people turned out of their hot, stuffy and mildewy tents to watch the Russian-built MI-17 helicopter descend upon the landing pad near the post headquarters. Not that there was anything unusual about the helicopter; gringo helicopters came and went all the time. It was, if anything, the non-gringoness of the chopper that attracted attention.

Once down, the helicopter reduced its power to an idle. The rear clamshell door opened up to permit Cortez and the inspector to debark. There was no vehicle for them. One could have been arranged with the gringos, of course, but that might have led to the gringos—nosey sorts—asking too many questions. Cortez and the inspector walked the half mile or so from the helipad to the refugees' tent city.

Digna had seen the helicopter descend. She, as much as her charges, noted the model and colors. From her tent in the center of the encampment she began walking toward the pad to investigate. She paused along her way to briefly watch Edilze, herself now holding a battlefield commission as a captain, put eighteen artillery crews through their paces on the central parade ground of the post, between the headquarters and the tent city.

The old and well loved Russian 85mm guns were long lost and not to be replaced. Instead, the gringos had been forthcoming with newer, lightweight 105mm guns. Still, a gun was a gun; a sight, a sight; a collimator, a collimator. A couple of days' intense training from the gringos had been enough for Edilze and her original crews to be able to use the guns and teach others how to use them.

Good girl, Edilze, the grandmother thought.

Cortez took one look at the gun crews and their neatly stacked rifles and began to turn around to go back to the helicopter. The inspector, made of sterner stuff (which was not hard), grabbed the general by the arm and forced him back to the path.

"Smile," directed the inspector. "Act normal. We are doing nothing but bringing this woman in for consultations with the president. Everything is normal. And it will stay normal as long as you don't lose your nerve."

"This is insane, ridiculous," Cortez insisted. "She will resist. Those soldiers of hers will tear us limb from limb."

"If you do not shut up and put a warm and friendly smile on your face," said the inspector, "I will shoot you here and now and then ask her to help me carry your body to the helicopter and arrest her there."

"You wouldn't!"

"Not only would I, I should," answered the inspector. "Maybe others do not know, but I am a policeman and I do know. I make it my business to know. You are a coward, a disgrace to the Republic, and a disgrace to a proud name. Now shut up, we are almost upon her," the inspector concluded.

Digna recognized Cortez, from a picture she had seen once in the paper. She didn't know anything about him, except that his division had taken appalling casualties in its hopeless drive to save as much of her home province of Chiriqui as possible. He seemed nervous to her.

Perhaps, she wondered, he is embarrassed that he couldn't save my home. Well, he tried and that counts for something.

The inspector she knew little more of; just that one, dimly remembered entrance into her death room at the hospital, followed by her resurrection and rejuvenation, and the meeting where she had been given her assignment. He had seemed a very cold and logical man then, though he smiled now. Perhaps the smile was in recognition of her promotion and the medal she wore at her neck.

Shaking hands with Digna, the inspector announced, "I've been sent here with General Cortez to bring you to Presidente Mercedes. He has a serious problem with assimilation of the new refugees and, noting the success you are having with them, and the prestige you have with them, he has asked to consult with you and perhaps put you on the televisor."

Digna shrugged. "When does he want to see me?"

"Now, if possible," answered the inspector. "That is why the helicopter is waiting."

"Just one moment then," Digna said. "Edilze!"

Looking up from where she was instructing a new gunner on some of the finer points of the new gringo artillery sights, Edilze patted the young woman on the shoulder and began to trot over.

"Yes, Mamita?"

"I have to go the City for . . . for how long, Inspector?"

"Not more than a few days, surely, señora."

"For a few days then," Digna continued. "You are in charge while I am gone. Listen to Tomas Herrera in my absence."

"Si, Mamita," the younger women agreed.

Palacio de las Garzas, Presidential Palace,
Panama City, Panama


Young Paloma Mercedes tried frantically to telephone Julio. He had to know, he had to be told, what was coming, what her father was doing.

There was no answer at any of the numbers she tried, neither his, nor his family's. She had no clue where else to look. Even Julio's friends had disappeared into the hungry maw of la Armada.

I thought I hated him. I thought he was being a fool. The more fool I for thinking that my father was worth a bucket of spit.

And he was right all along, I see that now.

USS Des Moines, off Isla Cebaco

"Oh, God, I hate this part," whispered Diaz as the restraining cord was released and his glider was hauled upward by the balloon. As usual, the glider began to spin underneath the balloon immediately.

"Oh, fuck," Diaz muttered, as he felt his gorge beginning to rise. The glider was spinning clockwise, giving the lieutenant the unpleasant view of the two cruisers spinning below. Experimentally, Diaz nudged the glider's stick slightly to the left. The rate of spin slowed. He nudged it a bit more and the spin reversed itself from slightly clockwise to slightly counterclockwise. Diaz eased up until the spin became imperceptible. At the angle at which he managed to stabilize the glider, the two cruisers were lost to view. He played with the stick a bit more, swinging the glider back toward the cruisers. Perhaps more importantly, at the same time he placed the body of the glider between himself and the just rising sun.

Why the hell didn't I think of this sooner? he asked himself.

Santiago, Veraguas, Republic of Panama


Santiago, a substantial town and the provincial capital, had become the main logistics base for the defensive line being constructed to the west. Here the supplies were stored and directed forward. Here the flow of replacements was managed. Here, also, Boyd had set up a surreptitious antipersonnel landmine factory.

The factory used aluminum soft drink cans, plastic containers, wooden boxes turned out by local carpenters, and glass bottles. These were filled with explosives. In that form they were moved to the defense line being constructed behind 6th Mechanized Division and the remnants of the First. Detonators moved separately; it would have been the height of folly to transport detonators that relied on the sensitivity of their explosive rather than mechanical action in company with the truckloads of unarmed mines that left the factory daily.

Bill Boyd knew, in the abstract, that he was breaking the spirit of international law to which his country had agreed by overseeing the manufacture of antipersonnel landmines. He simply didn't care; the laws that prevented a people from defending itself were simply bad laws, unworthy of respect, worthy—in fact—of being flouted at every opportunity.

Still, somehow he was not surprised when a half a dozen uniformed and armed men, plus one in plain clothes who may or may not have been armed, showed up at his headquarters to arrest him.

Boyd was even less surprised to see Cortez aboard the helicopter. He looked at the West Point trained general with disgust that almost equaled Cortez's disgrace.

"So . . . your uncle's found a job for which you're temperamentally suited, has he?" Boyd asked rhetorically and with a sneer.

"He's a filthy coward and a traitor," piped up a woman's voice from deeper in the helicopter's hold. At this, half a dozen voices, all sounding male, joined in with agreement.

Cortez turned red and furiously stomped into the helicopter. He raised his hand over a small, redheaded woman who spit on him. The hand descended and the woman fell to the floor.

Cortez turned away, apparently satisfied with the blow.

"And that goes for the rest of you filth, too," he announced. "One word and . . . AIII!"

Digna may have been down; she was not out. From the cold metal floor, even handcuffed, she had slithered, snakelike, into range of the coward's ankles. Since one of the side benefits of rejuvenation was a brand new set of teeth . . .

"Bitch! Cunt!" Cortez saw with horror that the hateful woman had found a spot low on his calves, just above where his boots began, and sunk her teeth right through the cloth of his uniform to bury themselves in the soft flesh beneath.

Still screaming, Cortez tried to shake her off without success. Every move of his leg merely seemed to shred the tortured flesh more. Blood poured from his calf over the she-devil's face. Cortez bent over and began to beat the woman's head with his fists. At first, this too increased his torment. Eventually, though, the beating began to take hold and the woman's grip to slacken.

Shouting, "You fucking worm," Boyd began to leap to Digna's defense as soon as his mind registered what was taking place. A rifle butt, applied to the back of his skull laid his body, also, out on the helicopter's deck.

Eight kilometers northwest of Sona, Republic of Panama


Diaz could barely believe his eyes. The ferocious aliens he had previously seen only killing and butchering seemed to have put away their weapons. On both sides of the road connecting the towns of Sona and El Maria gangs of them built housing, cleared fields, tended crops and engaged in any of a thousand other mundane activities.

Never mind that, Diaz thought. They can pick up their weapons easily enough and quickly enough. And besides, that land is ours.

"Miss Daisy?"

"Here, Julio. What have you got?" the ship answered.

"I'm turning on the camera now."

After some long minutes of silence McNair's voice came over the radio.

"Lieutenant Diaz, I see the Posleen. We're ready to fire."

Diaz answered, "Let's start our shoot at Sona then, sir, and work our way west along the road."

"Sounds good to me. How quickly will you be in position to spot?"

"A few minutes, sir. No more than that. Diaz, out."

The lieutenant twisted his stick around and swung the glider back in the direction from whence he had come.

Ordinarily, a ship firing indirectly could use map coordinates but would rely on a spotter like Diaz to make corrections. In the case of the AID-enhanced Des Moines class cruisers the AIDs could make their own fine adjustments. They just needed the spotters to find the targets and track them as they tried to escape.

"I'm in position now," Diaz sent.

"Shot, over," Daisy answered. After nearly two minutes she again transmitted, "Splash, over."

Diaz had his glider's camera trained on the town. He'd been impressed by the ship's firepower before but that had been without any objective point of reference. It shocked him though, now, to see the substantial town of Sona simply disappear as one volley of shells after another slammed into it. In less than a minute, the town was completely obscured by smoke, dust and flame.

It was immensely satisfying to see a thousand or more Posleen survivors, terrified, scampering for the Rio San Pablo, east of the town. The river was deep this time of year. The Posleen began to wade into it and stopped when the water reached about chest high. Still more built up on the western bank.

"Do you see that, Miss Daisy?"

"I see it, Julio. Shot over . . . Splash."

Diaz couldn't help exclaiming in joy when the shells began exploding in angry black puffs above the river to send their shrapnel down onto the helpless Posleen below.

"I'm heading west," Diaz announced.

For long minutes the boy was silent. When he returned to his radio it was to announce, "I've got what looks like a parking lot of the bastards' flying sleds. Must be forty or fifty of them."

"We see them, Julio. You need to back off before we fire."

"Huh? Why?"

With a minor note of exasperation in his voice, McNair answered, "It's their power sources. Antimatter. There's a better than even chance we'll disrupt a containment field. The result will be indistinguishable, from your point of view, from a mid-sized nuclear explosion."

Diaz immediately twisted his glider's stick to the right and forward, dumping some altitude to gain speed. He could pick up more altitude from updrafts at the Cordillera Central.

"How far should I get away?" he asked.

"Mars?" McNair answered, sardonically. "Seriously, Lieutenant, if one goes they might all go. No telling."

The flyer swallowed and answered, "I'll take my chances, Captain. Just give me a couple of minutes and kill the bastards."

Daisy came back on. "Julio, head east and see if you can't get into the San Pablo River Valley. Do you have enough altitude for that?"

Diaz looked to the right, made a couple of quick mental calculations, and answered with a definitive, "Maybe. How much protection with that give me?"

"Maybe enough."

"Best we can do," Diaz answered and even he was surprised at how calm his voice was, considering the risk. He headed east again, easily clearing the western ridge of the valley and descending a few hundred feet to gain some cover.

"Fire 'em up," he said while silently praying.

Somewhat to Diaz's surprise, there was no antimatter explosion. After a few minutes Daisy called again to say, "We lucked out that time, Julio. Continue the mission."

It was nearly morning again when the Salem and the Des Moines returned to base and slipped without fanfare back into their moorings. Both ships were nearly shot out of high explosive ammunition. Only once had the Posleen tenar risen to contest their voyage of destruction. That one attack had been halfhearted. The firepower of the two cruisers together had easily brushed it aside.

Diaz and his wingman had, at about three in the afternoon, turned southward and found the cruisers again. They had ditched their gliders gently into the sea and were awaiting a pickup that was soon forthcoming. Father Dwyer was standing by on Des Moines to hand Diaz a generous glass of "Sacramental Rum," as soon as he was hauled aboard. The gliders were left to sink.

Both McNair and the captain of Salem had been pleased when word had come, halfway through the trip home, that the President of the Republic of Panama wished to meet them at the dock to offer his congratulations. Thus, as soon as the ships were safely docked both captains descended the brows to meet with a long, sleek, black limousine that awaited.

Imagine their surprise when a squad of Panamanian police surrounded them. Imagine their further surprise when a Spanish accent announced, "You two are under arrest for violation of Additional Protocol One to Geneva Convention IV."


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