Then let him be dictator
For six months and no more.
—Thomas Babington Macaulay,
"The Battle of Lake Regillus"
Fort William D. Davis, Panama
If the fighting was not ended at least the emergency was over. The Patria was restored, even expanded a bit since there were no longer any Costa Ricans to contest Panamanian occupation right up to and past the Coto River. The Posleen which had overrun the western provinces were, by and large, dead. Any Posleen left in the Darien, and there must have been a few, had either gone feral—ceased, in other words, to be more of a threat to life than the jungle itself already was—or were nothing more than ant-stripped, bleaching bones slowly sinking in the muck.
Over half a million Panamanians had fallen though; virtually the entire populations of the province of Chiriqui, as well as many of Herrera, and Veraguas were gone, plus substantial numbers of Colonenses and Ciudanos. From a people who had never numbered more than three million this was a knife to the heart.
Boyd felt the knife. He felt it at every list of the missing and presumed dead that had crossed his desk. He felt it in the open files in the ranks of the army. He felt it in the friends and cousins he would never see again.
No more. Let someone else take the responsibility. I've done all I can.
That wasn't quite true. There was one more responsibility Boyd felt, one more thing for him to do.
He had already said his farewells and expressed his deepest thanks to the other American battalions that had stood and bled, from the Armored Combat Suits of First of the Five-O-Eighth and light jungle fighters of Third of the Fifth Infantry at Fort Kobbe, such as were left of them, to the heavy mechanized troops of the 20th Infantry and the Florida National Guard's 53rd Separate Infantry Brigade and Puerto Rico's 92nd, both of which had been moved in by ship and submarine for the mopping up after the final campaign. Fort Gulick's—or Espinar's—Special Forces, who had proven so critical in training the Armada, had been given a special commendation.
The 10th Infantry, at Fort Davis, the "lost regiment of the lost post of the lost side of the lost command," stood to in ranks as the band played and Boyd, Preiss—the regimental commander—and some few other dignitaries made their speeches.
From the troops' bored faces Boyd was pretty sure they would rather be off to continue the "el Moro pacification campaign" than standing in the hot sun.
Ah well, Boyd thought, I was no different at their ages. Still, who knows, maybe it will mean something to them later . . . when they are old men like me . . . if they live.
If any of us live.
Commands were spoken. The band strutted across Davis' trapezoidal parade field. Troops passed in review, sharply for all their boredom.
With the others, Boyd stood to attention as the colors passed. The red, white and blue caused his throat to catch a bit, as it did for some of the other Americans and even for a few others among the Panamanians.
As the last of the massed formations disappeared in the gaps between the long, low barracks Preiss took Boyd's hand and shook it warmly.
"It means more to the boys than they'll ever let on, you know," Preiss insisted.
Boyd wordlessly nodded his head.
As the reviewing party began to break up, Pedro, Boyd's driver, "Ahem'd" to catch the soon to be ex-dictator's attention. With no further signal needed, Boyd followed Pedro to the waiting limousine.
Opening the door for himself, Boyd entered the limo and ordered his driver to take him around the post for one final look. Pedro dutifully started the engine and began to take the palm-lined route from the PX overlooking the golf course to the top of the hill on which stood a sharpened post with a crosspiece (for the 10th had removed Cortez's remains upon returning to the fort). The car passed the NCO club, then Colonel's Row, and then took a right to move along the road backing the southern side of the golf course. A final turn was made onto the back side of the PX complex.
Boyd glanced idly to his left and exclaimed, "Good God, what is that? Pull over, Pedro."
The Posleen God King looked suspiciously at the approaching Boyd through its one remaining yellow eye. Boyd could tell it was a God King, rather than a normal, from the shredded remnants of the alien's fungus-eaten crest. The God King sat on its haunches, surrounded by several score pair of boots, some mud-caked and others shined to a mirror gloss. A boot sat snugly on the Posleen's left claw while it held a black-specked white rag tightly gripped by its right. The rag's excess was twisted around the alien's right forearm.
The alien hissed and snarled at Boyd's approach. As this failed to deter the retired dictator's approach, it lowered its head. One eye, however, remained fixed on Boyd.
"I am allowed to be here," came the defiant announcement, though the major sound came from the dull silver-gray box strapped to its chest, interpreting the Posleen's incomprehensible tongue.
"You are the one who surrendered, aren't you?" asked Boyd.
"I am allowed to be here," the box repeated, the tone more defensive than defiant now.
"It's all right," Boyd said, calmly. "I am not going to send you away. You are the one who surrendered?"
Slowly, ponderously, the Posleen lifted its head nearly perpendicular to the ground and then lowered it in the sign of the affirmative.
"I am he," the box duly translated.
"Are you all right? Are you being treated well?"
More hisses and snarls, punctuated by two snaps of the jaw. "I am well," said the box.
Boyd let his eyes wander to the many pairs of boots, then to the door of the shack through which he could see many score more pair.
Without being asked the box offered, "They taught me to do this. Gave me this place to live when I had no other. I make several hundred dollars a month from being the 'boot boy' for the 10th Infantry. And a music company from the island you humans call Ireland has sent me an advance for a translation of the song we Posleen only know as 'The tale of he who farted in the enemy's general direction.' I do all right."
The Posleen looked reasonably well fed. Still Boyd asked, "Is that enough?"
"Yes, although the work never seems to end. I didn't always have to work, you know. I used to have others that did the work for me. Now I have a boss-man and I must work."
Did Boyd detect a trace of wistful sadness in the tone of the words coming from the box? Or had the alien's own snarls, hisses, clicks and grunts seemed somehow sad?
"What are you called?" No reason not to be friendly, I suppose.
"My name, among my people, was Guanamarioch, or Guano for my close friends. Here, they call me 'Apache,' perhaps because of my crest."
As if to punctuate, Guano removed the rag from his right hand and, extending a claw, began to scratch furiously at the shreds of its crest. As it did so, it—more or less doglike—turned its head giving Boyd his first clear view of the missing eye with its still weeping socket.
"It was the jungle took my eye," the box announced solemnly. "Took my eye . . . took my clan . . . took everything."
Noticing the mad glare that had crept into the Posleen's remaining eye, Boyd decided to change the subject, if he could.
"Do you have any relaxation or fun at all?" he asked. "Or do you just shine boots?"
The God King looked around furtively before answering. "Sometimes," he said, "I sneak into the jungle when I think it is asleep and cut down a tree or two. If I can find an ant tree that is even better. But most of the ant trees are pretty deep inside and I am afraid I'll awaken the jungle if I go too deep. And then, on really good days, the boss lets me sneak down to the French cut and hunt for caimen."
Guanamarioch's head lowered and his teeth bared in a half snarl. "I really hate caimen."
Boyd laughed. "The jungle never sleeps, my friend."
"Yes, it does," the Posleen insisted, its ragged crest waving wildly. "It does! It does! Like any living being it must rest. It sleeps. Besides, if it were not asleep it would have killed me as it killed so many of my brothers."
Obviously the God King thought the jungle was a living being. Boyd thought that was pretty ridiculous but saw no point in arguing about it. Besides, the alien seemed too distraught—and way too big and well clawed—to risk antagonizing it.
Suddenly, without warning, the God King picked up and rewound the rag, bent its head over the boot it held and began furiously polishing.
"It's the boss," the box whispered.
Boyd looked around and saw a half naked Chocoes Indian approaching at a leisurely walk. The Indian held a bow in his left hand, beneath a multi-striped brassard that indicated membership in one or another of the Indian Scout groups the Republic had raised in its dire need. There was nothing particularly unusual about that.
What was unusual was the Indian's retinue. Meekly behind him, in double file, walked an even half dozen of every ethnicity one could hope to find in Panama. There was a Cuna Indian girl, short like the Chocoes but wearing an appliqué blouse and a ring through her nose. Beside the Cuna walked a tall slender black woman, descendant of Antillean workers who had labored on the canal and the railroad. Behind the Antillean Boyd could see an equally tall "rubia," a white woman of pure or nearly pure European ancestry. The fourth was probably a Chocoes girl while the last two were plainly mestizas of mixed Euro and Indian blood.
If Ruiz recognized Boyd he gave no sign of it. Instead he announced, "I am chief of my tribe. This one," and a point of the Indian's nose indicated the Posleen, "is owned by us. Why are you disturbing him at his work?"
"Oh, just satisfying my curiosity," Boyd answered. No sense in standing on ceremony, after all. "I was wondering, too, if you might be willing to sell your . . . pet." What an intelligence asset he could be if . . . when we are attacked again.
"Perhaps I would," the Indian answered. "But his price would be high. He owes me and mine much."
"We could . . . negotiate," Boyd answered.
The Indian turned his attention to the Posleen. He was not unwilling to sell, in principle, but wanted the best price possible. A hard working slave is surely more valuable than a lazy one.
"You!" he demanded. "Do I need to take you back into the jungle? It is asking for you, you know."
The box remained silent but the Posleen God King, Guanamarioch of the host, flyer among the stars and leader of a war band, redoubled his efforts to make an American-owned jungle boot shine like glass.