"What are you looking at, Zira?" Guanamarioch asked.
The Kenstain looked up from the display projected by the Kessentai's Artificial Sentience. "I hope you don't mind my using your AS. The Net is full of news," he answered. "North and west of here the threshkreen have used surface ships to badly damage the clan of Binastarion. Tens of thousands of the People, Kessentai and normals, both, were killed. Worse, from Binastarion's point of view, lunar cycles worth of build up were wrecked beyond hope of repair. He is being pressed from the west by another clan."
"What sort of threshkreen ships can do so much damage to the People?" Guano asked. "These humans didn't even fly among the stars until recently."
"I've wondered about that," Ziramoth admitted. "I don't have a complete theory, but I think it is precisely that they never got off this one planet that made them so good at the Path of Fury. They had to learn to fight, even above their weight, or their own clans—they call them 'nations' or 'countries' or, sometimes, 'states'—would have been exterminated by others. Demons know, though, that whatever it was they have gotten to be fierce. Even here, where there was little aggression from other clans, they practiced by fighting internally almost all the time. I think maybe, too, that it is something inside them, something maybe even more intense than drives the People, that makes them fight so."
Guanamarioch shivered, remembering a seared palm and a threshkreen heavy weapons crew that had died in place rather than retreat an inch.
The God King shrugged then, not wanting to remember in too much detail the initial fighting in which he had taken part shortly after first landing. He changed the subject.
"What other news, Zira?"
"Our clan is being pressed, too, Guano, though not by the threshkreen. South of here the People have not been able to take the mountain city the threshkreen call 'Bogotá.' Not enough food that high to sustain us. And the passes are narrow and easily defended by the threshkreen. Other clans have had no more luck, either. They are beginning to try to expand into the area we have claimed. We may get no more than one harvest, or at most two, before we must move into the Darien to escape destruction at the Peoples' hands."
"So soon?" the God King asked, a note of despair creeping into his voice among the clicks and snarls.
"It is as it has always been, my friend, ever since the Aldenata made us as we are and cast us loose."
"And plenty of times they've been tempted to turn their backs on the enemy—the so-called enemy, that is—and give it to the real one, once and for all. . . . No, my friend, in war the real enemy is seldom who you think."
—Jean Raspail, The Camp of the Saints
La Joya Prison, Republic of Panama
Forget Alcatraz. Get The Shawshank Redemption out of your mind. Think Dachau.
The prison was a rectangle or, rather, two concentric rectangles of six meter high chain link topped by another meter of razor wire. Guards armed with automatic weapons stood atop towers regularly spaced along the exterior fence. Other, equestrian, guards patrolled the space between the fences.
To the north an open garbage fire burned. Fortunately, the prevailing breeze drove the resultant foul smoke and smoldering bits of trash away from both prisoners and guards. Despite the merciful breeze, though, the place still stank as one might expect a prison to stink that was intended to hold just over one thousand prisoners and forced to hold almost three times as many.
Over and above the nearly three thousand criminals, La Joya now contained a new group, international criminals awaiting extradition to the Hague. There were thirty-three of them, so far, thirty-one Panamanians and two Americans. Every few hours a new batch would be added, by threes and fours.
One barrackslike building near the prison's main gate had been cleared for the newcomers, adding to the overcrowding. Around this one building a gateless concertina fence had been erected, two of Cortez's guards standing watch.
Four other guards passed through the gate, two of them bearing arms and two others carrying a small redheaded woman, slumped unconscious. The armed guards, bayonets fixed, entered first, the threat of the bayonets forcing back the other prisoners. The other pair entered after, once a sufficient space had been cleared, and dumped their slight burden unceremoniously on the floor. The four left immediately after that.
Boyd and a dozen of the others crowded around before four of them spontaneously lifted Digna off the floor and carried her to a bed, the lowest layer of a thin-mattressed triple bunk. The mattress, as all such in the prison, stank and carried lice. There was nothing to be done about that; the lice were everywhere and would find even those fastidious souls who chose not to sleep with them.
Beyond the first blows of the initial pounding as Cortez had tried to get the woman to release her dental death grip on his calf, Boyd had not seen the rest. He could surmise though, that the general, not satisfied with pounding the woman's head until her teeth were pried loose from his calf, had had a couple of his goons work her over, first in the helicopter and then, again, here in the prison.
No, Boyd hadn't witnessed either beating, being unconscious himself for the first while the second had taken place outside the building. Even so, loosened and missing teeth, eyes swollen shut, blood, bruises, welts and cuts spoke eloquently. Indeed, some of the blood was too eloquent. It oozed from between Digna's legs, telltale of a gang rape with Digna as the guest of dishonor.
"Bastards," Boyd muttered, heart full of hate and impotent rage.
"What the hell is this all about?" demanded one of the other prisoners. "It's a nightmare. I didn't do anything."
"Oh, I imagine you did," answered Boyd. "Did you defend your country?"
"That's not the crime," piped in one of the barrack's two gringos. "Even the United Nations hasn't quite succeeded in making self-defense a crime."
Boyd looked over at the gringo who spoke.
"Jeff McNair," the gringo responded, putting out his hand. "Captain of the USS Des Moines. Maybe I should say, the ex-captain. This reprobate beside me is Sid Goldblum, captain or perhaps ex-captain of the Salem."
"Pleased to meet you both, Captains," Boyd answered in New England–accented English, shaking first McNair's hand and then Goldblum's. "What are you charged with?"
McNair answered for both sailors. "In our case we fell afoul of Additional Protocol One to Geneva Convention IV. That one bars engaging guerillas except when they are actively trying to attack. Personally, I think it's a considerable stretch to call the Posleen guerillas. Not that the rule made sense even against human guerillas."
"Ah," Boyd said. "I see. Me, I was making landmines."
"For shame," McNair said. "Bad, wicked, naughty man. You should be ashamed, you know. Landmines are a special no-no to the UN and EU."
McNair chuckled without humor. "Pretty funny, really. A neurotic English princess gets locked into a loveless marriage that has both parties cheating nearly from the outset. Though she was, at best, somewhat pretty, she managed to convince the world she was beautiful. Then she dies and to commemorate her death people create a treaty that is only apparently beautiful and which was guaranteed to have anyone under threat cheating from the outset. Lovely bit of eulogizing cum international statesmanship."
"What did that poor woman do?" Goldblum asked. "And what did they do to her?"
"She led ten thousand or more of her people out of Chiriqui," Boyd answered. "In the process, she used some under-aged boys and girls to fight who would have been eaten if she had lost. As to what they did to her . . . Bastards!"
USS Des Moines
The lights glowed red down in CIC, giving the faces of the ship's division chiefs a satanic cast. Daisy, too, had adjusted her hologram to glow red, rather than its normal flesh tone.
"What do those bastards at the embassy say?" Davis asked of the ship's XO.
The JAG answered for the XO. "They claim their hands are tied, that we do not have an applicable SOFA agreement. They also act as if they never heard of the American Servicemembers Protection Act."
"Huh? What's that?" Davis asked, scratching behind his ear in puzzlement.
"Something the Senate put through early this century," the JAG continued. "At its extreme it authorizes the President literally go to war with someone who either arrests our servicemen and women for prosecution by some foreign court which we have not signed onto or to go after that court itself. Some call it the 'Bomb the Hague' Act. And, it could become so."
"Okay," said Davis. "So we can go in and get our people out 'cause of this Act?"
"Sadly, no," the XO answered. "The President can, or can order us to. We can't."
"You can't," Daisy corrected, enigmatically, before winking out.
Go back to the invisible room where a couple of svelte multi-thousand ton cruisers had once chatted. It was not so plain now, not so much glowing walls and rolling fog. If anything, it had acquired something of a feminine flavor, nautical but with a woman's touch. Daisy and Sally often conversed here, unseen and unsuspected. They had come to call it, "the Club."
"I want my captain back, and I want him back now," Sally fumed. "A ship without a captain is just so . . . wrong."
"I know," Daisy agreed. "I feel exactly the same way. And I can't find out a thing. I don't know where they are. I don't know what's happened to them. I don't even know if my captain is even alive."
"Wherever they are, it is not very close," Sally observed. "I have searched out everything within range and they are not there."
"There is nothing on the telephone system, the cell system, or the local Net either," Daisy spat in frustration. "There is some radio traffic from various sources that suggests it isn't our captains alone that are missing."
"Where is the radio traffic from?"
Daisy projected a map of the country on one wall of the pseudo-room. Red dots appeared marking the points of origin of the questioning radio calls. Even before Sally had a chance to ask "when," timestamps appeared alongside the dots.
The two stood before the map, both sets of eyes flickering rapidly.
"Air traffic beginning with the first distress call?" Sally asked.
Instantly a series of lines, useless and confusing even to the AIDs' capable minds, appeared.
"Eliminating those that obviously have no connection to the radio traffic," Daisy said, as the number of lines dropped by a factor of ten or more.
"Eliminating those that are U.S. Army and Navy flights," and the map began to show patterns.
"There!" Sally said, pointing to a spot about fifty miles from Panama City.
"That's it," agreed Daisy. "Our captains, along with between thirty and forty others, are probably being held at La Joya prison."
"I think I've found them," Daisy announced, winking back into apparent existence in the same spot in CIC. She then outlined everything she knew and suspected about the capture and the persons and reasons behind it.
"That's absolute bullshit!" Davis fumed. "Absolute fucking bullshit. You can't shoot at an enemy if he is not actively trying to kill you at the time you shoot? Who came up with that fucking idiotic rule?"
"That particular portion of Additional Protocol One was forced in by the Soviets back in the '70s," the JAG answered. "Interestingly, neither they, their successor states, nor the Europeans who jumped on the bandwagon have ever paid it a lot of attention. The Euros because they do not fight guerilla or counter-guerilla wars anymore. The Russians never intended to pay any attention to it and, from their point of view, it was a useful club to beat the United States with."
Davis asked, "Miss Daisy, are you absolutely sure they are there at . . . La Joya, was it?"
"Not absolutely, Chief, no. But it seems most likely."
"We need to make sure, Chief," the XO said. "Think you can get to La Joya to find out."
"Wrong choice, Exec," piped up Dwyer. He was completely sober, insofar as one could tell. "I'll go."
"You're hardly the Sneaky Pete sort, Chaplain," the exec pointed out, reasonably.
Dwyer scoffed, "Who said anything about sneaking, my son? I'll go as a Priest of the Holy Church. Full vestments and all . . . despite this miserable heat. My Spanish is rather good, you know. And I figure I can borrow a car from the Papal Nuncio. He's an old pal."
La Joya Prison, Republic of Panama
The guards didn't recognize the twin flags flying above the long black limousine. The flags were square, half white, half gold with a crest—crossed gold and silver keys of Saint Peter under the papal miter—on the white side.
There really was no need to recognize the flags, though, nor the diplomatic license plates, nor even the stature implicit in the limo. The eyes of the gate guards, the tower guards and even the equestrian patrol between the wire fences, were all fixed on the very large, very imposing, slightly red-faced man who emerged in clerical garb of more than ordinary magnificence from the limo's back seat.
An attendant, head bowed, held open the door. Father Dan Dwyer, SJ, made a show of blessing the attendant before turning his attention to the guards. Acting as if he owned this world—perhaps more importantly, the next—he walked directly to the gate, followed by the attendant.
The poor guards didn't know whether to present arms, bow or kneel for benediction. Dwyer didn't give them time to wonder.
"I am here to see the prisoners."
"Si, Padre," the senior of the two guards answered, not even bothering to question the priest's right. In a moment, the gate was open and the senior guard had dialed the main guard shack for an escort.
All but the two imprisoned gringos and the woman, still delirious with concussion and fever, rushed over to see the priest. One of the gringos, McNair, looked directly at the priest with one raised eyebrow. Dwyer returned the look with emphasis: Act like you haven't a clue who I am.
McNair understood and placed a restraining hand on Goldblum.
At the door, Dwyer directed the other prisoners to give their names to his attendant. While the attendant was busy scrawling those down in a small notebook, Dwyer asked, "Who is that woman?"
Boyd answered, "She is Lieutenant Colonel Digna Miranda."
"The heroine of Chiriqui?" the priest asked incredulously.
"What is wrong with her?"
"Beaten. Tortured. Raped. She has a fever. I'm not sure what the exact cause of it is."
Dwyer walked over bent to feel the woman's head. Maybe 103 degrees. Maybe 104. Not life threatening but not a good sign either.
The priest stood erect as the commandant of the prison entered the barracks.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded of the priest furiously. "This is a secure facility. You have no right . . ."
"Are you a Catholic, my son?" the priest interrupted, calm and imperturbable.
"Yes. So wha—"
"Then, for the sake of your immortal soul, get a doctor for this woman."
"My immortal what?"
Dwyer raised his right hand and began to speak in Latin, of which language the commandant understood perhaps one word in five, though nine in ten were close cognates of his native Spanish. One phrase he had no trouble understanding, especially when set against the fury on the priest's face, was excommunicatio in sacris. The priest was merely threatening, not actually excommunicating. Yet, so it has been said, a request to take out the garbage sounds like an Imperial Rescript in Latin.
"Wai–wai–wait!" exclaimed the commandant, holding up his hands, palms out, against the perceived threat. "I'll get the woman medical care, Padre. I had no idea there was anything wrong with her. I had no idea she was even here. Women are supposed to go the Carcel Feminino, not here. My men and I were forbidden entrance and, until you walked in, I simply didn't dare enter. My family were under threat."
The priest stopped speaking in Latin and lowered his hand.
"You will get this woman medical care." It was not a request.
"I will, Padre, be sure of it." The commandant turned to an aide and ordered, "Get the camp surgeon. Immediately."
Dwyer weighed carefully the odds of success of trying to browbeat the commandant into releasing some or all of the prisoners to his care on the spot. Ultimately, he decided against, primarily because there was probably a point beyond which the commandant could not be pushed. The Jesuit's experience with Latins was that given a choice between saving their souls and saving their family . . . well, hasta la vista, mi alma. Farewell, my soul.
And besides, it didn't look like the commandant even had control over the building guards, wrong uniforms, for one thing.
"Very well, my son. See to the woman. It will be well."
USS Des Moines
"You've seen them, Father?" Daisy's avatar asked breathlessly. Sally was in easy range. Her avatar stood in Dwyer's office, just slightly behind Daisy's. Dwyer had removed the ornate vestments back at the Papal Nunciate and reverted to simple navy chaplain's garb.
"They're both fine. For now. The commandant of the prison told me, though, that they're supposed to be extradited to Europe in the next few days. He thought it would be sooner but for the fact that it is difficult and dangerous to bring an airplane into Tocumen Airport. Howard is just as dangerous."
"So how are they planning on moving them?" Sally asked.
"The commandant didn't know" Dwyer answered in a mild Irish brogue. "That said, my dears, since airplanes are right out, might I suggest either ship or submarine, or maybe space ship?"
Daisy's voice was firm. "Not by ship. The Navy would stop any attempt to take our people out by surface. And since the Euro's haven't helped us here a jot, one of their ships suddenly showing up would be suspicious. So would a merchie full of armed guards. Besides, though a merchie's gestalt is very faint there's still a good chance we could read if they were holding our people. Maybe they'll try by submarine."
Sally's eyes blinked rapidly for a short moment. "I just passed the word to the Jimmy Carter and the Benjamin Franklin to be on the look out for submarines. They'd be French, if anything, wouldn't they, Father?"
Dwyer considered for a moment, then said, "The Frogs are the only ones with the range and the sheer chutzpah, both, I think, Sally. But, despite the EU being implicated in this, I don't think the French would go quite so far. Besides, they have good reason to be afraid of our subs."
"Spaceship, then," Sally summarized.
"A Himmit spaceship," Daisy corrected.
"We can't track Himmit spaceships," Sally said sullenly.
"I was afraid you'd say that," Dwyer finished.
Pedrarias Line, Veraguas Province, Republic of Panama
"I was afraid you'd say that," Suarez said, gloomily contemplating the idle combat engineers scattered in groups along the fortified line. Others were working, digging trench, building bunkers, and stringing barbed wire. The minelayers, however, were just sitting around with their collective thumbs up their butts.
"I'm sorry, Coronel." Suarez was still a colonel despite having taken over the rump of the 1st Mechanized Division, a rump he, as much as anyone, had saved. There were rumors, rumors that had the remaining third of the division sharpening bayonets somberly, that Cortez was alive and might be placed back in command.
That Cortez was alive, Suarez knew to be a fact. That he might be placed back in command of the division that he had abandoned? Suarez would shoot the bastard first.
His Logistics Officer, or S-4, a good infantry major who had made it out of the inferno and been stuck with the job against his will and wishes, continued, "I'm sorry, sir, but the mine factory has been closed down. And I heard a rumor."
"It seems General Boyd has been arrested for running it," the "Four" said. "Sir, if he's been arrested for that, how long before we are arrested for moving them, in my case, or ordering them emplaced, in yours?"
As the major asked the question, a very youngish and worried-looking captain—Suarez knew he was a rejuv like himself—came up and saluted.
"Sir, Captain Hector Miranda requests permission to speak to the regimental, er, division commander."
Suarez returned the salute, informally. "Yes, what is it, Captain? Stand at ease."
Hector relaxed, partially. "Sir, it's my mother. She's disappeared. You've met her, sir. Señora Digna Miranda, back at the hospital after rejuvenation."
"Yes, Captain, I remember. Little bitty woman, right? Red hair?"
"Yes, sir, that's her. Well, my daughter sent me a message. My mother went off with some civilian and someone that I suspect is General Cortez a couple of days ago and she hasn't returned. She hasn't sent word. She's just disappeared. Sir, it isn't like her. I'm worried."
"Wasn't she the same woman who led ten or fifteen thousand refugees out of Chiriqui? The one the president decorated and promoted."
"Same one, sir. My mom's one tough bitch."
Suarez mused, Interesting. One hero of the Republic disappears. Another man, as responsible as anyone for us not being totally destroyed in that bound-to-fail attack to the west, is arrested. I wonder who else . . .
USS Des Moines
Julio Diaz knocked on the door to Dwyer's office then entered. He saw two avatars and the chaplain.
Breathlessly, he said, "The XO sent me to find you, Padre. My father has been arrested. Mother has no idea why. She is frantic. It usually means something very bad in this country when a prominent citizen is taken into custody."
Mentally, Dwyer tallied up the people he had seen at La Joya, then added General Diaz to the list.
"Right," he announced. "This isn't just a series of arrests for 'war crimes.' This is a deliberate effort to sabotage the defense of Panama and the Canal. Oh . . . and since the United States needs the Canal and the world needs the United States, I'd have to surmise that it's intended as an attack on all of Earth. But why?"
"It's the Darhel," Sally said.
Daisy nodded vigorously. "They attacked Sally and myself. They nearly took Sally out of the fight permanently. I mean, Father, it has to be them. Even the Posleen just don't operate that way."
Diaz was more than a little in awe of Daisy, whom he knew fairly well by now, having sailed in her and directed her guns. He was possibly more in awe of Sally, whom he didn't know. Even so, he spoke freely.
"I swear, I'll kill the bastards. If they've hurt my father, I won't be quick about letting them die, either."
"Calm down, son," Dwyer commanded. "Daisy, Sally, what do we know about the Darhel?"
A hologram appeared in the chaplain's office. Dwyer didn't know who had projected it but assumed it was Daisy.
As if to confirm, Daisy spoke up. "I pulled this off the Net. This is the local representative of the Galactic Federation to the Republic of Panama. His title is 'Rinn Fain.' This is not a unique title to this person. Rather it represents a mid level bureaucrat or executive, lower than a Tir and considerably lower than a Ghin."
"Do we know anything about the background of this one?" Dwyer asked.
"Nothing," Daisy and Sally answered together. Sally continued, "His background could be medicine, or business, or law. There is no telling."
Dwyer frowned. "Could it be military, or intelligence?"
"That is a faint possibility," Daisy said. "There is, strictly speaking, no military profession among the Darhel. Nonetheless, they raised a sort of suicide corps from among their kind early on in the Posleen War. They have always had strong capabilities in intelligence, though it was normally of the industrial and mercantile espionage variety."
Darhel Consulate, Paitilla, Panama City, Panama
The specially programmed shyster-AID projected a chart of the existing chain of command of the forces of the Republic of Panama, with a similar chart of United States' forces next to it. The Rinn Fain was pleased to see the number of blocks crossed with an X, indicating that the chief of those sections was firmly in custody. Still others were highlighted, indicating that the heads of those were on the list to be picked up. Others, particularly at the very top, were outlined in purple, indicating they were already working for the Darhel and could be expected to continue to do so.
"What is the projection of recovery time, once the local barbarians have filled those holes?" the Darhel enquired of his AID.
"Analysis of personnel records and nepotistic connections indicates that few of those positions can be filled," the AID answered. "Rather, they will be filled, to a certainty, by humans who will use the powers for their own gain. Once these other people are safely in the hands of the humans' International Criminal Court the collapse of the defenses of this area will follow at the first push from the Posleen."
"Any rumblings from the United States about the two of their people the government of Panama has taken in?"
"The local United States embassy is ignoring the entire issue, except that their ambassador has enquired again about off-world travel. Their Southern Command seems to be trying to reach their president but our humans in Washington are deflecting the inquiries, so far."
"And when is the Himmit transport scheduled to arrive?"
"Three of the local days, milord," the AID answered.
"The prosecutor at their International Criminal Court is ready to receive the prisoners?"
"She claims to be, but she too seems frantic to travel off-world with her family."