Come The Revolution – Snippet 31
“So, Captain Prayzaat, we’re in a tough situation here,” I said once the two of us sat down across a small table in a back room. “Much as we’d like to give you and your men shelter and protection, we have no legal authority to resist the Army if they come for you.”
“The mutineers,” he said without any life in his voice. “Call them what they are.”
I had a cup of hot tea and the Varoki police captain had a mug of redroot soup. He’d made sure his three men had theirs before he would take any. That said something about him. I looked at him carefully. He slouched in his chair, worn down, and not just physically but emotionally as well. Even his ears drooped. I think he figured he’d come to the end of his road.
“Army, mutineers: they are whatever they are, and legally that’s going to be decided later, after the fighting is all over. What we call them now won’t change that.”
He looked away, fear and despair and anger all working over his face, sending weak flashes of color across his skin. “We protected you Humans from the mobs,” he said without looking at me. “I lost men fighting our own kind to protect your miserable lives. We killed Varoki.” He turned and looked me in the eye. “Do you understand? We killed our own people to protect you. If we had not done so, if we had just let them murder you all, I do not believe the Army would have acted against us.”
I figured he was right. Hell, I knew he was right, and it shamed me to sit there and drive a bargain for his and his men’s lives when they’d already paid such a heavy price for us. But theirs weren’t the only lives at stake, so I kept my face cold.
His face tightened with remembered pain and he looked away again. “I have no idea how many of my men the army killed, how many are being held, how many are still hiding somewhere out there. All I have left are those three patrolmen out there. My entire life has come down to keeping those three people alive, and you talk to me about legal technicalities.”
“Well, they won’t be technicalities when the Army comes for us and demands an accounting. But there may be a way.”
He turned and looked at me and for a moment his eyes flickered with hope, but then he remembered who he was talking to, and his lips pressed together in distaste.
“I will not break my oath,” he said. “I will not break the law. The law and the safety of three patrolmen, these things are the only meaning left to me For all I know, I am the senior surviving officer of the Sakkatto Municipal Police not in rebel captivity. I will not finish my career, and probably my life, with an act of dishonor.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to,” I said. “Deputize us.”
He sat up, looked me in the eye, his own eyes suddenly wide with understanding. The anger and shame colors drained from his face and his ears fanned out wide. “Deputize you?” Then he smiled. “Of course! But you understand that would give me direct authority over your armed fighters.”
“Well, if you insist on being a hands-on commander, we may have a problem. See, I think you’re probably a hell of a cop, but this isn’t primarily a law enforcement issue.”
He drew back, suspicion replacing the optimism of a moment earlier in his eyes, but I pushed on.
“This is going to turn into a really tough fight, and it’s probably going to start any time now. We have a lot of folks here who have actually soldiered. Sometimes, like with me when I was a youngster, it was the Army or a few years in detention over something. Even for more honest Humans, the Army or mercenary gigs are fall-back employment. It’s second nature for us, you know?”
He nodded reluctantly. Everyone knew about Humans and their proclivity for violence — ferocious as tigers, but very useful tigers. It was just a stupid stereotype, but right now it might work in our favor.
“Besides,” I went on, “I have an idea how we can get communications out of Sakkatto City, even with the jamming. We can tell our story, and that includes your story.”
That got his attention. “How can you penetrate the jamming? The Army’s electronic assets are far more numerous and capable than those to which even we had access.”
“I don’t think we can penetrate their jamming, but there may be a way to get around it. But here’s the problem: if we start broadcasting your appeals to police in other cities to resist the coup, and to foreign powers to intervene against it, and we advertise the fact that you’re here with us, the Army is going to throw everything they have at us to shut you down, and we’ll just get plowed under.”
He leaned back and nodded. “You would not mention this problem unless you believed you had a solution to it as well.”
“Yeah, we dummy up an office and have you speak from it, claim it’s a remote site. What I got in mind they won’t be able to trace very easily. So let them turn the city upside down. Who says you’re even in the city? We’ll transmit your messages straight to the e-nexus codes of police, public information sites, and some well-known feed heads outside of Sakkatto, and who knows where they’re originating?”
“Yes, that could work,” he admitted, “provided you can actually conjure your miracle with the jamming.”
“Yeah, but it also means you can’t be giving orders here, or even showing your face. This is going to get very scary, and there will be plenty of folks who lose heart. If they think they’ve got a juicy enough bit of information for the Army, they may try to use it to buy their lives, or the lives of their families.”
“You have a low opinion of your own species,” he said.
“No I don’t. You guys have stacked the deck against us, screwed us over for a hundred Earth years, given us the end of the stick that’s so shitty, sometimes the only win that’s possible is just staying alive. We were always survivors, but you made us absolute masters of the art. Next time you feel like clucking your tongue at someone about that, take a look in the mirror.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds but eventually he nodded.
“Your rather insulting argument notwithstanding, the practicalities of the arrangement you propose are undeniable. I agree, provided you can actually arrange communication with the outside world. How will you accomplish that?”
I leaned forward and put my good elbow on his desk. “Can you keep a secret?” I asked in a low voice.
“Good. So can I.”
Once the outlines of the deal were firmed up between Zdravkova, Katranjiev, and Captain Prayzaat of the Munies, I headed over to my first logistics staff meeting, a necessary preliminary to getting part two of my plan working.
The meeting was short because all five of my chiefs were anxious to get back to their work. That was encouraging. Each one turned in a resource list and outline plan, but in terms of accomplishments they were mostly still in the staff recruiting phase.
I went through their priority lists briefly and didn’t see anything crazy, so I approved them and told them to work on that basis for now and we’d fine tune as we went along. I’d see what I could do about resources, but for the most part our philosophy would be to take what we needed, so long as we understood that our key goal — only goal, really — was to give the combatants what they needed to fight and give the noncombatants what they needed to stay alive. Nothing else mattered.
Dolores Wu (rations) and Petar Ivanov (fabrication) took off right away and Doctor Mahajan asked Billy Conklin to stay after and talk about arrangements for an enlarged trauma ward. I buttonholed Moshe Greenwald outside the clinic where he’d stopped to roll a cigarette.
“Greenwald, wait a minute. You were an electrician on a starship, right? You know anything about hard-fiber communication and data transfer systems?”
He gave me a sour look. “Know anything? It’s my specialty. I ran power lines when I needed to, but that’s all brute force stuff. Data flow is art.”
“Okay, suppose somebody had a local hard-fiber comm/data system already up and running. How hard would it be to cut it into the city-wide network?”
He finished rolling the cigarette and then licked the paper before answering. “Impossible,” he said.