Warlord S. M. Stirling and David Drake



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Chapter Two


The floor had vanished, and the pillar of light. There was nothing beneath him, although he could feel the pressure of weight under his feet. The off-white haze of powder smoke cleared rapidly, as if the air was being circulated without a detectable breeze. Thom hung suspended also, still in the first motion of flight, as if this was the Outer Dark where those who rejected the Spirit of Man fell frozen forever.

He heard his throat trying to whimper, and that brought him back to himself. He was a Whitehall of Hillchapel, and a soldier, and a man grown. The worst this whatever-it-was could do was kill him, and a paving stone in the riots could have done that. Or a scropied in his boot on a hunting trip, or a Colonist bullet or a Brigade bayonet. His soul only the Spirit could damn or save.

yes. excellent.

"Who the Dark are you?" Raj said, trying for the tone his father had used on machinery-salesmen back at Hillchapel. Hillchapel, sweet wild scent of the silverpine blowing down from the heights, the sound of a blacksmith's hammer on iron—

I am Sector Command and Control Unit AZ12-b14-c000 Mk. XIV.

Awe struck the human; he tried to genuflect, found himself still immobile. "Are you . . . a computer?" he asked incredulously.

yes. although not in the sense you use the term.

"What do you mean?"

i am not a supernatural being.

"What are you, then?"

i am a sentient artificial entity of photonic subsystems tasked with the politico-military supervision of this sector for Federation Command.

That's what a supernatural being is, dammit. Raj frowned; that was straight out of the Creed, and even the phrasing was the archaic dialect the priests used. First it says it isn't a supernatural being, then it says it's working for the Holy Federation, he thought in bewilderment. An angel.

"What do you want of me?" he continued bluntly. Although the skeletons outside had given him a few grisly notions along those lines.

observe. think.

Thom and the mirrored sphere vanished. This time Raj did cry out, but it was as much wonder as fear; he was hanging suspended in air, flying as men had done before the Fall. It took a moment for him to recognize precisely where; the bird's-eye-view was utterly unfamiliar, and the scene below was not that which he knew. It was the shape of the land itself that finally shocked recognition out of him, known from a hundred maps. The New Residence, the city of the Governors and the capital of the Civil Government. The near-perfect circle of the bay, cut by a single three-kilometer channel; the buildings were laid out on the Silver Antler hills, just in from the passage to the sea. Off south he could see the delta of the Hemmar River, misty in the morning light . . .

But it was not his city, not the city that Governor Vernier ruled in this Year of the Fall 1103. Instead of tight-packed streets within great defensive walls, there were towers and low domed structures scattered through forest and park, as if the whole town was a nobleman's pleasaunce. The streets were merely cleared lanes, with vehicles floating along not touching the thick green turf beneath them; and the city was huge, stretching off into the distance beyond what he could see. Metallic eggs moved across the map-like landscape beneath him in slow-seeming traceries. A ship was making passage in through the channel, a slim thing without sails or oars or fuming smokestack—the perspective snapped home, and he knew it was a thousand meters long or more.

The view swooped down to show people in odd, rich clothing strolling amid unearthly splendors. In a fenced garden with a strange double-helix sign above the gate children played with fabulous beasts, griffins and centaurs, miniature bears and tiny dogs no higher than a man's waist; even the ordinary riding dogs were odd, the usual breeds seeming shrunk to no more than five hundred pounds, smaller even than a lady's palfrey.

"Holy Spirit of Man of the Stars," Raj whispered. Tears of joy formed at the corners of his eyes and leaked downward. "I am not worthy!" A vision of time before the Fall! he exulted inwardly. Why me? I'm just a soldier, not a priest. I . . . I try to live by the Spirit . . . Sins he had neglected to Enter at the Terminal floated up, making him wince.

no. Was there a trace of exasperation in the passionless non-voice? this simulation is of a period roughly twenty years after the events you refer to as the Fall, after the last faster-than-light transit from bellevue. observe.

* * *

Something flashed by him in mid-air, something moving too quickly to see as more than a streak. Fire blossomed below; his heart cried out in shock as the lacy towers crumpled, and he could feel the small hairs along his spine struggling to stand erect as the ball of flame expanded out toward him like a soap bubble of orange and crimson. Thunder rolled impossibly loud and long.

Wait a minute, he thought. I don't feel anything different. The air even smells the same as it did before the vision. Why don't I feel the wind?

this is a simulation. consider it a very good map. you may alter your point of view by concentrating.

There was a feeling like a click behind his eyes, and the scene swooped dizzily. Raj tumbled for a moment before regaining control; it was as if he was a disembodied pair of eyes and ears with the power of flight. Cautiously, he swooped downward. The beautiful ancient buildings lay tumbled, or burning, or shattered in zones of overlapping circles out from the center of the fading ball of flame. He moved until the radius of complete destruction was behind him, watching like a god as little swooping vehicles came to collect the wounded; hideously burned figures writhed or lay still, and the ground-cars that had zipped along the roadways of turf were tumbled like toys, some driven through the fronts of houses.

There must have been a wind like a hurricane, he thought; the scene matched the description of the terrible storms of the far southern Zanj Sea. Fire like the heart of a star, then a killing wind. Raj had received the rudiments of a classical education, despite the pragmatism of his country-gentry family. There was only one thing that fit that description: fusion bomb, the agency of the Fall.

Then other flying cars touched down. He grunted in shock as he recognized the blazon on their sides—a double lightning flash, with the numerals 591 between—the insignia of the 591st Provisional Brigade. The barbarians who held the Old Residence, the original seat of planetary government, on the other side of the Midworld Sea. But those aren't barbarians, he thought dazedly, as the hatches opened and troops stormed forth. He could recognize their arms and armor, too. The clockwork and compressed-air automatons that lined the walls of the Hall of Audience were formed in that shape, and bore such arms. Lines of fire stitched back and forth as other troops in similar gear but bearing the insignia of the Federation Guards charged to meet them.

enough. The voice interrupted him as he watched the Brigade troops smash the last resistance and move on to sack a huge structure whose foundation outlines matched those of the Governor's Palace he knew. His viewpoint moved without his willing it, and locked on the face of a man lying with half his chest burned away despite his powered battle-armor; the mouth worked behind the visor, but nothing came out of it but clotted blood.

next.

There was a silent snap, and he was back in his original position. The city was intact again, unscarred by the fusion bomb, but as he looked more closely he could see that the outskirts had been abandoned, overgrown with green Terran vegetation and the reddish brown-green of native plants. Fewer of the flying eggs zipped by . . . This time the attack was from the sea, in giant square vessels that floated on flexible skirts in billowing clouds of mist. Impossibly fast, the ships drove up from the sea to the land; laser fire stabbed out from them, and flashes that ended in explosions where oddly slender cannon pointed. Then ramps dropped, and armored soldiers poured out into the streets. The resistance was even less this time, and the attackers less disciplined; they began to loot and rape almost immediately. He recognized their insignia as well; 3rd Cruiser Squadron, the overlords of the Southern territories. Angry puzzlement grew at the back of his mind; even the Brigade considered the Squadron to be savages, and they had trouble maintaining flintlock shotguns, much less unFallen technology.

Again the swoop, and a lock on a man with visor raised who directed resistance from behind a barricade of wrecked vehicles. A flash, and there were only body-parts mixed inextricably with metal and synthetics.

next.

Again Raj found himself back at his starting point. The city was almost completely overgrown except for a core around the Palace, and that was being disassembled for building material. A checkerboard of farm fields and dirt roads stretched around; walls of rubble on dirt mounds protected the core, and a beaten pathway stretched down to improvised docks where sailboats lay. The broadest road stretched south and east; he estimated distances with an officer's trained eye, triangulating off hills he recognized. Yes, that was the course of the Great River Way, the main highway out of East Residence. Far smaller, and without the superb stone-block paving . . . and there was an army marching up it, fighting its way through the overgrown ruins. He swooped lower.

Colonists, this time: dark men, many in billowing robes, bearded, with the green crescent flag of Islam at their head, alongside the scarlet peacock of the Settlers, the family that claimed to have led the first humans from Terra to Bellevue. Few of the beam weapons this time, and they were being sparingly used. Raj frowned, directing his attention from one unit to the next. Odd, he thought. The Colonists were mortal enemies of the Civil Government—had been the first to rebel after the Fall, in fact—but they were civilized, in their fashion. This looked like a mob, and a badly equipped one. No cavalry at all, not a single riding dog even for the officers; ox-drawn guns, but so primitive! Muzzle loaders all, that looked to have been cobbled up out of some sort of tubing, and the footmen carried everything from spears to matchlocks. Their opponents wore the blue and crimson of the Civil Government, but were no better armed and far less numerous.

Raj relaxed slightly, felt his stomach muscles unclench: he could understand this fight, at least. Much like a gigantic brawl, with numbers overwhelming position. The lock on a single commander was expected, this time: a tall elderly man with a hook where his left arm should have been, wearing a primitive version of the Governor's diadem and wielding an energy-weapon in his right hand. It failed, and a wave of Colonists swarmed over him, hacking and stabbing. A minute later and a spear surged up out of the ruck with the man's head on the end.

next.

The ruins were mostly gone, the odd exotic materials of the unFallen weathered into the soil—unable to bear the corruption of the Fallen world, his childhood catechism reminded him—and the central core of the Palace was as he knew it, but shining in new blue limestone, without the patina of centuries. He could see a few of the familiar street patterns, and a bulky stone barn-like structure with the Star on its roof, right where the Temple stood in Raj's own time. A naval battle was raging out on the harbor; galleys only, many open-decked like giant rowboats, not a steamer in sight. There were dozens of flags beside the Civil Government's; Brigade, Squadron, a wild variety of tribal blazons, even the clenched fist with single upright finger of the Skinners, and they were wild nomads on the steppes of the far north. Cannon roared, vomiting a fog of smoke that lay like a dirty carpet on the bright blue of the harbor; ships burned; wreckage floated, some of it still living and moving, until the tentacled mouths of downdraggers sucked them under.

Raj's vision locked on the poopdeck of the largest galley. A man lay there, head cradled in the arms of a subordinate, wearing the insignia of a Civil Government Fleet Admiral. Not much was left of his legs beneath the tourniquets, but he was still trying to give orders when he yawned and slumped into unconsciousness.

next.

East Residence was half-built, and men were laying the foundations of the Temple. Or had been; now they were trying to hold walls that were closer to the Palace than the ones Raj knew, but well-made and of stone. Trying and failing. The banners of the Colony waved over a gate; it swung open and troops poured through on dogback, but the animals were small, no more than six hundred pounds. Like a dream, Raj thought; half-familiar but distorted. The Colonists charged against a line of Civil Government infantry armed with muzzle-loading rifles, percussion models. They had time for a single volley, and then the dogs were snarling and rearing at the line of bayonets.

A counter-attack about— Raj began; then he saw the column of Civil Government riders pouring down the street behind their infantry. The Governor's banner was at the fore, a Mercator-projection world map, and another that looked something like the sandlion flag of the Descott hills; beneath it was a man whose face had the cast of Raj's home district, square, hook-nosed, brown-skinned, and black of hair and beard. The column crashed into the enemy in a saber-swinging melee. The swooping focus centered on the Descott man's face just as a Colonist trooper fired a pistol loaded with buckshot into it.

next.

The disorientation was worse again, as the city grew more familiar. The Inner Walls were complete, as were the Temple, and all of the Palace except the Long Galleries and their gardens. Noblemen's estates stood outside the Inner Walls, with no trace of the workshops and slum tenements that should cover that ground; the harbor was full of sails, with a few tall, thin smokestacks of uncouth design. The walls were under siege, though: a formal affair, zigzag trenches and revetments, with heavy guns pounding the crumbling ramparts and little return fire. Columns of smoke rose from the East Residence streets; mobs moved through them, and the soldiers struggling toward the perimeter seemed to be having more trouble with their own people than the enemy. Outside the wall were the camps of the attackers; a huge, neatly laid out rectangle around a giant pavilion that bore the Settler's flag, surrounded by field-works; a series of clumps and unit-lines for the Brigade, a sprawl of tents and brush shelters for the Squadron. And odds and sods from everywhere; Skinners on lean hounds with their two-meter rifles—but muzzle-loaders, not the ones he was used to. The dogs were full-size this time, many of breeds he could identify, eight hundred to a thousand pounds.

Few of the attackers were in their camps. Columns and groups and swarms flowed forward into the communication trenches; his training told him the final assault was near. The viewpoint swooped; not to a battle, but into the Audience Hall of the Palace. The decoration was different, but the basic layout the same; the ancient sea ivory and gold of the Chair newer, the jewel inlay more lustrous. The man on it was ignoring the chaos below, the shouts and pleas for orders. Instead he touched the Governor's diadem about his brow, then raised the slender muzzle of a single-shot breech-loader pistol, a type that had been declared obsolete in Raj's grandfather's day. He put the barrel in his mouth and . . .

"Wait!" The shot crashed out; the man's body slumped sideways, showing the cratered exit wound and a fan of gray spatter and pink boneshards across the gold and iridescence of the Chair's back. Memory returned, of a portrait in the Gallery of the Governors. "Wait, that's Muralski IV, he died of the Trembling Plague campaigning on Stern Island, two hundred and twenty years ago, there wasn't a siege of East Residence in his reign!"

next.

Raj opened his mouth to protest, closed it again. There was no battle, and the city was as he knew it; a sprawling chaos of avenues and alleys, streets and plazas, running down from the garden-greened heights of the Palace to the tarry bustle of the docks, all within the double circuit of the walls. He swooped his invisible eyes down to ground level. A lumbering traction engine drew a heavy load from a foundry; a litter went by, and then a squad of Palace Guards, jingling and arrogant on their curriecombed Collies. He withdrew to bird-height again, and looked more closely, felt a prickle up his spine; not quite as he knew it now. The East Railway was still under construction. As it had been on his first visit to the city, a six-year-old in from the provinces, with his brigadier father to show him the sights. A mental push, and he was beside the embankment. Just as he remembered, from that never-to-be-forgotten day, the dirt and gravel, the crossties, the long timber rails with their top-strap of rolled iron; engineers in tailcoats, craftsmen, slave gangs swinging picks and hoes and shovels.

The scene slid away, and he was in a room he knew. The Governor's council chamber, the smaller informal one used for the real work, high up over the Long Galleries. And . . .

"Father," he whispered.

Young again, in his thirties, wearing a Corps General's epaulets, which was five ranks higher than Huego Whitehall had ever risen. Standing braced to attention before the old Governor, Govenor Morris Poplanich. Thom's childless uncle, who had died a decade ago. There was a campaign map on the table; Raj focused, saw the wooden counters arranged to show a massive thrust of Colony troops over the passes of the Oxhead Mountains, down into the Hemmar Valley that was the heartland of the Civil Government.

"No!" Raj shouted.

"And I don't know if you're a traitor or just criminally incompetent, Whitehall," the Governor was saying. "And it doesn't matter. I'm removing you from command."

"But, sir, I know that if you do . . . !" Huego Whitehall began. He stopped with a resigned shrug, and made no objection when the Guards seized his arms and began stripping him of insignia and sidearms.

"No," Raj whispered. Time blurred: East Residence burned, and Colonist soldiers dragged his father from a prison cell, through corridors thick with smoke and littered with the bodies of Civil Government troops. Huego wrenched free as they emerged, onto a vantage point that showed a panorama of East Residence in flames. He leaped to the balustrade of the terrace, but the guards bore Colony lever-action repeaters; they managed to shoot him at least three times before he went over the edge.

"Lies!" Raj shouted. "All lies!"

calm yourself. consider.

Raj fought his breathing under control, felt the sheen of sweat dry on his skin in the unmoving dead air. "Those . . . battles. They're what might have occurred if . . . If what?"

if one earlier than you had been allowed to leave this place, with my help.

He felt the grip on his body relax, and found he could move torso and arms and head. It was inexpressible relief to rub a palm across his face.

"Your help doesn't seem to be worth much," he said bluntly.

consider a general with faultless intelligence staff, who always knows the most probable results of his actions, The mental voice of . . . Center, he supposed . . . continued, yet the universe is a structure of probabilities, if the probability of success is sufficiently low, even my assistance is not enough. sociopolitical and economic factors often count for more than winning a battle. outside this complex i can only advise and observe through my agent, not compel. my calculations indicate the time is ripe at last, for your mission.

"What mission?" Raj asked.

to unite bellevue, as a preliminary to the rebuilding of the Tanaki Spatial Displacement Net. Even in the soundless voice, he could hear the capitals on the Holy Name of Faster Than Light Travel.

"To unite Earth?" Raj said incredulously, touching his amulet.

bellevue, Center corrected pedantically. earth will come later.

The young man's lips shaped a soundless whistle. The Whitehalls of Hillchapel had served the Governor in arms for half a thousand years, riding at the head of troops recruited from their home county's tough hill-farmers; the Descott district bred soldiers, not tax-broken peons like the lowlands. He remembered vague boyish dreams of glory, dreams that had grown more specific as he passed into manhood. Beating back a Colony grab at the disputed territories in the southeast, perhaps; there was a border war with the rag-heads every generation or so. Or smashing a raiding column of Brigade troops, over northwest across the Kelden Straits, where the Civil Government kept a foothold in the Middle Territories.

But to reunite the world!

"That's a job for a hero-saint," he protested.

I am Sector Command and Control Unit AZ12-b14-c000 Mk. XIV. Without sound, the words roared like the thunder of massed cannon. I say you are the One.

Raj genuflected. You did not argue with an angel. "I know my duty," he said, straightening.

that is one of your qualifications, Center observed.

A thought struck the young man. "You don't mean I have to be Governor, do you?" he asked, worry in his voice. "Governor Vernier has my oath. And Vice-Governor Barholm, too; I swore allegiance as his Guard."

vernier will die within the year, Center said, his nephew barholm will take the chair. That was no news; Barholm was the real power now, not his ailing kinsman. And Raj was Barholm's man. you will act as governor barholm's shield and sword, and in any case you will be abroad on campaign for many years: your talents are military and administrative, not political.

Raj nodded in instant agreement; he could keep his feet in the snakepit intrigues of the Palace, but knew he lacked the gift to excel. Perhaps only the interest, but that was enough. Politics was like fencing, one mistake, one momentary lapse of attention, and you were dead. He thought of having to deal with the Chancellor, Robert Tsetzas, and shuddered; that would be like having a spitting fangmouth grafted on your hand. There was a joke, whispered rather than told, that a fangmouth actually had bitten the Chancellor one afternoon, at a levee: Tzetzas hadn't even missed a nibble on his truffle, while the poison-lizard had died in convulsions . . .

"I took an oath," he said, "to uphold the Civil Government against all enemies, to restore it to its rightful place as the Holy Federation's agency on this world. I guess this covers it."

excellent.

A cone of light focused on Raj's forehead; he slitted his eyes, but honor forbade him to flinch. There was a moment of intense pain, that vanished in a lingering sensation of cold between his eyes and behind the skin. Thoughts moved just below the surface of consciousness, fragments of memories of events that he had never experienced. They died away, leaving a residue of dizziness, a ringing in the ears that was wholly non-physical; he felt as if his body was slightly too small to contain him.

the sensations will fade, Center said, you will now be in constant communication with me at all times, remember that your actions must be yours: my help is informative only.

Raj nodded, still dazed by the echoes within his head, wanting nothing so much as a long sleep, and . . .

"I'll have to tell Suzette; she'll . . ."

observe.

There was a blinking before his eyes, and suddenly he was in his rooms, near the Vice-Governor's section of the Palace. Suzette was across from him, and he could see bewilderment giving way to horror on the smooth aquiline features. She nodded, smiled, left: then the priests came, the Healers of the Troubled speaking soothingly and maneuvering him toward the coat with the crossed arms.

The chamber snapped back. "Shit," he said disgustedly, then blushed at the sacrilege of swearing here. "I thought she'd believe me."

not without proof which i will not furnish, Center replied, knowledge of my existence would render further calculation impossible.

Raj shrugged. "All right, let Thom go."

no.

The man remembered the bones outside the door; it suddenly occurred to him what it would be like, waiting in the dark unable to control so much as the expression of your face. Unable to blink, feeling your eyes drying out, waiting for thirst or madness to take you.

"Oh, yes you will, angel or no," Raj said flatly. His hand fell to the butt of the useless pistol, not so much a threat as a statement of intent. "A Whitehall doesn't abandon a friend, not for any reward."

poplanich is too close to the old dynasty. Which Vernier had overthrown; old Morris Poplanich had died without male issue . . . of natural causes, or so most thought. Vernier Clerett had been CIC, Residence Area Troops, which had usually counted more than heredity in succession disputes, throughout the Civil Government's history, now thom poplanich is of age, and is popular, widely respected among the older families. Which the Cleretts were not; Vernier had been no wealthier or better born than Raj Whitehall himself, an upstart to the ancient kindreds. Just another uncouth Descotter, who wore his spurs indoors, when barholm clerett assumes the chair, poplanich dies, observe.

Images. The gongs of the Temple ringing out in mourning, black headbands in the streets. Barholm ascending the steps to the Chair, cheeks flushed, a hard triumph glittering beneath the mask of grief. Troopers of the 2nd Gendarmerie dragging Thom Poplanich out the gate of his family's townhouse; the young man wrenching his arms free and smoothing his coat, walking with quiet dignity toward the black two-dog wagon. Raj watching in the ranks of Barholm's Guard as Thom was strapped to the iron column in Remembrance Square, with the heralds reading out his crimes—"treason against the Civil Government and the Spirit of Man of the Stars"—while the bare-chested executioner in his black hood stood by the scissor-switch to the thumping generator. Barholm stood; the crowd jeered and pushed behind a threatening line of dragoons. The thunder-growl of five hundred wardogs was the louder, until the switch went home and Thom screamed, screamed and sizzled and smelled like roasting pork.

Raj felt sweat on his palms, trickling down his flanks, but there was no controlling these visions. More: Raj with officers he recognized, talking quietly in the rear room of a tavern. Older men there; Berzetayz of the Governor's Council, leader of the Hemmar River clique, the big landowners. Alois Wijolska the iron-smelting magnate. Gunfire in the Palace; men falling before the two-meter cast-bronze doors of the inner chamber, and his own dog rearing to crash it open with its forepaws. Barholm startled out of bed, standing back naked against the tapestries with his hands before his face. His wife Anne, equally naked and cursing defiance as she raised a pistol. Volley fire from behind him.

Fragments. A view that it took him a second to recognize as being from the Chair, and the High Priest raising the Diadem over his own head. Suzette dying—Suzette!her lips blue with poison. Chancellor Tzetzas going to the pillar himself; the crowd cheering this time, and the Chancellor spitting at the executioner's feet as Governor Raj Whitehall raised his arm. Raj leading troops, but the enemies were Civil Government forces, others in the outfits of noblemen's household retainers. Other battles, a kaleidoscope.

One final scene. Raj Whitehall stumbling at the stirrup-iron of a man he recognized all too well, from Intelligence reports, his hands tied to the leather. Tewfik, amir of the Army of the South, one-eyed eldest son of the Settler; not his heir, no man not whole in body could be, but certainly his commander in the field, and not because of his blood, either. This field was the East Residence, burning, with bodies lying in the rough heaps as the death-squads had left them. Another row fell before a Colonist firing squad as he watched, and a white-bearded imam preached from an open Koran behind them as a new batch marched up. Others, women and children mostly, stumbled by chained neck-and-neck under the whips of mounted guards. Wagons of white salt rumbled up the street.

"We will sow it with salt," Tewfik said, looking down at the bloodied face of his captive. "But do not worry. The hot irons will ensure you see no more."

* * *

"No," Raj said. He could taste the iron-and-copper of his own fear, smell it. Suzette had died hard, blind animal pain in her eyes, nothing human left. "No. I still won't let you kill Thom. A man who doesn't stand by his friends is no man." And if I give in on this, I'm a dove. I'll serve the Spirit of Man, but damned if I'll be a dove even to a god.

again, excellent. Amusement at his indignation. a successful general must know loyalty, before he can evoke it. poplanich will come to no harm: i can hold his body in complete stasis, and provide more than sufficient mental stimulation. Was that some sort of joke?

you may return and visit occasionally, when this will not excite suspicion.

He hesitated.

remember that if he leaves here now, he dies, and not him alone.

"Raj." Whitehall's head shot up. Thom's voice; the smaller man turned to face his friend. "Raj, I'm all right . . . it's showing me the most amazing . . . the most amazing things. . . ."

He froze again, but this time the expression was one of wondering delight, not fear. Raj took a tentative step forward, and found that he could. His fingers reached out and touched his friend's skin; it was already cooling, slightly rubbery under his palm. There was a slight shimmer in front of Thom's eyes, like a trick of vision seen out of the corner of the eyes, and Raj could see his pupils expanding and contracting, as if they were moving across a landscape of light and shadow.

"Goodbye," he said; and saluted, for some reason he could not have explained even to himself.

* * *

The corridor of bones was as he had left it, save that the door two meters above its surface was open. No other help was offered; evidently Center expected him to make his own way in the world.

Raj Whitehall nodded once, and stopped to reload the revolver before he jumped to plant fingers on the edge. It was lucky not many knew Thom and he had gone exploring together; he had not even told Suzette, she had been dropping more and more hints about how dangerous Poplanich was to know.

Not that dangerous, Raj thought, grinning humorlessly into the dark as he chinned himself and threw a knee over the doorsill. Not nearly as dangerous as knowing me seems to be.


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