Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 34

Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 34

That reminder seemed to give even Karaxis pause, and the general nodded soberly.

“At least Floyd never got prolong in time,” Shuman continued. “He’s — what? Thirty? Thirty-five? — by now. Give him a few more T-years, and he’s likely to decide this ‘liberation movement’ of his is a game for younger men. Looked at that way, time’s on our side, wouldn’t you say?”

Karaxis gave an unconvinced-looking nod. Shuman suspected the general was thinking about Simon Allenby, Floyd’s grandfather. Old-age hadn’t slowed Simon up noticeably. According to tradition — and Shuman was pretty sure the tradition was correct — Simon Allenby had fought his last duel at the tender age of ninety.

And he’d won.

Handily.

Hadn’t even had to kill his opponent, only crippled him for life.

“Either way, Felicia,” the president said with a shrug, “I couldn’t green light that kind of operation right now even if I were completely convinced it was a good idea. Not with that pain-in-the-ass Luther and his other Nixon Foundation buddies here in the system.”

Karaxis’ frown turned into an active glower. Shuman understood perfectly, since she, too, would have liked nothing better than to arrange a creative (and hopefully fatal) accident for Jerome Luther and the rest of the Nixon Foundation team investigating all those ridiculous allegations of human rights violations here in Swallow. She would have gone ahead and authorized the accident without hesitation if Parkman hadn’t warned her that the Nixon Foundation’s expedition was being financed by one of Tallulah’s competitors in hopes of turning up something egregious enough to justify Frontier Security intervention. Tallulah was currently involved in a bidding war to buy OFS off, but until that was resolved, they had to be cautious about creating pretexts Frontier Security could use to mandate régime change…and hand Swallow (and its cash flow) over to someone else. Or, even worse, turn the entire system into a direct OFS protectorate, which would put the bulk of the system economy straight into Frontier Security’s pocket.

“That’s why I said I don’t like it,” Shuman continued. “If we let ourselves be provoked into a large-scale operation in the Cripples, it’s bound to get out and that busybody from Nixon will jump right onto it. I think he genuinely believes his foundation can ‘make a difference’ out here, and if we give him a toehold…”

She let her voice trail off and shrugged, and Karaxis glowered some more.

“All right,” the general said finally. “I understand your reasoning, and I don’t want to upset the apple cart any more than anyone else does. But if these rumors my people are picking up are accurate — if Allenby and the others are genuinely planning to start some kind of active guerrilla campaign — we’re going to have to respond. And when we do, it’s going to escalate. That’s why I’m still convinced it would be better to go in fast and hard now, break as many eggs as we have to nip this thing in the bud, instead of letting it drag on and turn into something even bigger and messier.”

“I agree there’s a risk of that happening, and I’ve pointed that out to Parkman. His theory is that as long as we restrict ourselves to reactions to the other side’s provocations, we can pass it off as a standard law enforcement response to criminals, not a military campaign against some kind of political resistance organization. To be honest, I think what he’s really hoping is that Luther and those other Nixon pests will get tired and go home before this reaches the messy stage. Once we get them out of here, I’ll be a lot more willing to go ahead and turn you loose. We just need to keep a lid on things for a few more T-months. Maybe a whole T-year.”

“I’m willing to keep a lid on it,” Karaxis said sardonically. “The question is whether or not Allenby is!”

* * *

“What do you reckon the odds really are, Floyd?” Jason MacGruder asked.

“Odds of what?” Floyd Allenby hawked up a gobbet of phlegm and spat it into the campfire. “Whether or not it’s going to snow? Or what the snow bear hunting’s going to be like this year?”

“How ’bout whether or not we’re gonna be alive this time next year?” MacGruder suggested.

“Oh, that.” Allenby shrugged and looked back down at the snowshoe he was mending. “Couldn’t tell you that, Jason. Looks to me like there’s only one way to find out.”

“Figured that was what you were gonna say,” MacGruder said gloomily, and Allenby smiled down at his work.

MacGruder was his second cousin, with the same brown hair and brown eyes — not to mention the beak-like Allenby nose — although MacGruder favored the tall and lanky side of the family while Allenby came from its compact, broad shouldered, fireplug side. There wasn’t much to choose between them in a lot of ways, but MacGruder did have a positive gift for looking on the gloomy side.

Not that there was all that much of a side that wasn’t gloomy at the moment.

Allenby finished replacing the broken rawhide lacing, knotted it, and carefully trimmed off the excess length. He set the repaired shoe aside and leaned closer to the fire to pour a cup of coffee from the battered black pot. Then he sat back again, leaning against the flat stone face which helped to both conceal their fire and to reflect its heat back into their tiny encampment.

“You know,” MacGruder said in a thoughtful tone, leaning back against his own bedroll and folding his arms behind his head, “our mighty liberation movement’s bitten off quite a mouthful here, Floyd.”

“Yep,” Allenby agreed.

“‘Pears to me we’re just a tad outnumbered,” MacGruder continued. “Something like, what, around three or four-thousand-to-one?”

“‘Bout that.”

“With air cars, recon drones, sting ships, armored personnel carriers, tri-barrels. Heck, Floyd, they’ve even got tanks, I hear!”

“Heard that, too,” Allenby agreed, sipping the scalding hot coffee.

“Don’t think those odds might be a little steep even for an Allenby, do you?”

“Maybe just a little.”

MacGruder made a disgusted sound, but his lips twitched, and Allenby smiled down into his cup. Then he stopped smiling and looked back up.

“The truth is, Jason,” he said much more seriously, “this is probably a losing hand. You sure you want to sit in?”

“You don’t want to go around insulting people by asking a man a question like that,” MacGruder pointed out, looking up at the huge, brilliant starscape above the Cripple Mountains’ thin atmosphere.

“I’m serious, Jason. I think we’ve got a chance, or I wouldn’t be doing this, but having a chance isn’t the same as having a good chance.”

“And what does Vinnie have to say about that?” MacGruder inquired politely.

“You know what Vinnie has to say about it.” Allenby’s voice was suddenly harsher and much colder than it had been, and a look of apology filled MacGruder’s eyes as they flicked to his cousin’s face.

Vincent Frugoni was the brother of Sandra Frugoni Allenby, Floyd Allenby’s dead wife. Like Sandra, he’d been born off-world. He’d been ten T-years younger than Sandra when Doctor Frugoni had come out to Swallow after their parents’ deaths. Sandra had been in the Tallulah Corporation’s employ at the time, but it hadn’t taken her long to realize what was going on in Swallow, at which point she’d resigned and set up her own practice in the Cripples. Vincent had been delighted with her decision, and they’d both always felt comfortable around the stubborn, hard-working, bloody-minded folk of the Cripple Mountains. In fact Vincent was even more stubborn and bloody-minded than most of Swallow’s clansmen. In a lot of ways, killing his sister had been just as big a mistake as killing Floyd Allenby’s wife.

Leave it to that bitch Karaxis to piss both of them off with one frigging SAM, MacGruder thought now. And me, too, come to that.

Blood and family meant a lot up in the Cripples. Sandra Allenby had been as treasured for who she was as for her medical skills or the fact that she’d married one of their own, and MacGruder was an old-fashioned clansman, just like Allenby himself. He’d have rallied around his cousin even if he’d never met Sandra, but like everyone else who’d known her, he’d loved her. It would have been personal for him, anyway, but he was honest enough to admit to himself that it was even more personal than it might have been.

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