Chapter P 1 2 3 4

False Colors

Copyright 1999
ISBN: 0671-57784-0
Publication January 1999

by Wiliam R. Forstchen
& Andrew Keith

•  Chapter 1

"Fortunate is the Warrior who meets Death in Battle; no true Warrior should die in bed with his claws sheathed."

from the Second Codex

Shuttle Port Three, Moonbase Tycho
Luna, Terra System
1228 hours (CST), 2670.275

Commodore (Ret.) Jason Bondarevsky leaned against the railing overlooking the reception area for Shuttle Port Three and shook his head in dismay. It was hard to believe so much could change in a matter of months, but the evidence was there before his eyes. It was the end of an era . . . or perhaps it was the start of a new one. Jason Bondarevsky wasn’t sure he liked either option much.

"Credit for your thoughts, skipper," a soft contralto voice spoke up from behind him.

"Don’t waste your money, Sparks," he said, turning to meet the newcomer. Lieutenant (Ret.) Janet "Sparks" McCullough was dressed in civilian clothes, though like Bondarevsky she was entitled to wear the Terran Confederation Navy uniform if she so desired. Her taste, though, ran to plain coveralls, the garb she’d been comfortable with ever since she’d started out in the service as an enlisted technician. Since then she’d risen through the ranks, and later earned a commission, but Sparks still had a taste for the nuts and bolts of technical work, and dressed to suit that taste.

Still, even her baggy coveralls couldn’t hide the fact that she was an attractive woman, though she often seemed determined to ignore that fact completely.

"Seems strange to have this mausoleum so empty," she said. "You think they’re going to sell the whole place off for scrap, or what?"

"Wouldn’t put it past them," he said.

The last time he’d been here the decades-long war with the Kilrathi Empire had still been raging on, and Moonbase Tycho had been a busy hub of the Terran war effort. That had been only ten months ago, when the fortunes of war had been anything but smiling upon humanity. Bondarevsky had been rotated back to Tycho suffering from multiple wounds suffered during the desperate battle when the Terran Confederation’s monster weapons platform, Behemoth, had been destroyed by the Kilrathi after a traitor had betrayed details of its weaknesses to the Empire. The Coventry, flagship of his beloved destroyer squadron, had been heavily engaged in the fighting and nearly torn apart before the whole thing was through.

Back then, Bondarevsky had been sure the end was near for all Mankind. After a war that had gone on for so long that most of the combatants had grown up never knowing peace, the Kilrathi had been poised for a last strike that would have knocked Earth’s defenses out and left the Empire unchallenged in this part of space. The air of desperation at Tycho Moonbase had been palpable.

And then, abruptly, everything had changed.

Bondarevsky’s gaze sought out the oversized video rig that dominated one wall of the reception area. He remembered watching the ISN news update while he and Sparks awaited the arrival of Admiral Geoff Tolwyn’s shuttle . . . the reports, carefully slanted by a worried Confederation government but all too clearly conveying word of a string of fresh defeats on the frontiers . . . the woman sitting beside him who cursed the Kilrathi and the Administration with equal vehemence as she listened to the newscaster . . .

And then came the bulletin. A daring raid with an experimental planet-busting bomb had penetrated deep into Kilrathi space, to the Imperial homeworld itself, and when the bomb went off it literally shook Kilrah apart. The Emperor and his power-hungry grandson had perished along with swarms of their subjects, and the shocked survivors of the Imperium had sued for peace, a concept alien to their warrior natures until that stunning moment of utter defeat.

That moment had changed everything. The peace talks had dragged on before a treaty was finally signed at Torgo, but from the moment of Kilrah’s destruction everyone had known the war was over at last. Bondarevsky remembered how the same woman who’d been cursing had started cheering, hugging and kissing everyone in sight. She’d embraced him so tightly that his shattered arm had hurt like hell, but in the general euphoria it hadn’t seemed very important. Mankind had won a splendid victory, and with the end of the fighting the citizen-soldiers of the Confederation could lay down their weapons and return to the plow, to the ways of peace.

Looking at the shuttle port now, Bondarevsky wondered if they hadn’t been far too hasty in their rush to renounce a lifetime of fighting.

The Confederation had started demobilizing even before the final details of the treaty were hammered out at Torgo. Ships were decommissioned; soldiers, spacemen, and marines were mustered out in droves. The Confederation’s military machine was transformed in an incredibly short time.

He’d stood through plenty of ceremonies, heard more high-minded speeches than he’d ever thought he could endure. Thank you . . . credit to the Service . . . conspicuous valor in action against the Kilrathi . . . heroic dedication to duty . . . But in the end it had been clear that the Confed Navy wasn’t looking for heroes any more. They wanted peacekeepers, timeservers, administrators and bureaucrats, men and women who knew how to carry out policy and show the flag, not fighters who would push the envelope in the name of winning at any cost. Bondarevsky hadn’t bothered to wait for the Navy to let him know his services wouldn’t be needed any longer. He’d put in for retirement, with a courtesy promotion to commodore, a half-pay pension, and the prospect of a long and frustrating recovery from his wounds.

He looked down at his right hand and flexed it, frowning. The doctors hadn’t been able to save the arm, and the bionic replacement still didn’t feel like it was really a part of him yet. But he’d been pronounced fit two weeks earlier. If the war had still been on, he’d have been bombarding the brass with daily requests for a chance to return to active duty, and devil take the physical therapist’s recommendations. But Bondarevsky wasn’t in the Navy any more. He didn’t belong any more.

Too many changes . . . In Tycho Moonbase, working on a complement less than a quarter of the wartime establishment. In the Confederation Navy, beating swords into plowshares with dizzying speed.

And in Jason Bondarevsky, who’d looked forward to the day the war ended for most of his life, but found he wasn’t equipped for the peacetime existence he’d always hoped for.

Sparks followed his glance to the plastilimb arm and gave him a quirky half-smile. "Afraid the warranty is running out?" she asked. "Don’t worry about it, skipper. You’ve nearly got it now. All you need is some more practice."

"If I do, it’s because of your help, Sparks," he said. She’d been aboard Coventry during the last battle as Damage Control Officer, and she had led the party that had saved his life after the Kilrathi missile had struck the flag bridge, killing the other six people in the cramped compartment. Bondarevsky would have perished with the others, from blood loss or decompression or lack of oxygen, if it hadn’t been for her quick thinking that day. And when he’d taken retirement after the treaty was signed she’d left the service as well, looking after him during his convalescence and overseeing his physical therapy. "I don’t know how I’d’ve made it without you."

She shrugged and grinned, her very best "Aw, shucks" routine. "The way they were downsizing the fleet, skipper, I wouldn’t have lasted long anyway. During wartime a maverick can come up to officer’s country through the cargo hatch the way I did, but nobody wants you around in peacetime unless you’re an officer and a gentleman . . . or lady, as the case may be. I figured you needed the help."

He studied her for a long moment. Sparks had served with him for a long time now, ever since the days of the Tarawa’s deep penetration raid on Kilrah back before the Battle of Earth. The relationship between a fighter pilot and his crew chief was almost always incredibly close, because the pilot put his life in the crew chief’s hands every time he took his craft out of the hangar. The two had hovered on the edge of a romance for a time following the death of Bondarevsky’s first love in Tarawa’s raid, but he’d pulled back from anything serious. Not only was it a bad idea for a ship’s captain to have a dalliance with one of his officers while on active service, but Bondarevsky hadn’t been willing to risk losing another Svetlana. Since that one brief kiss a few years back, he and Sparks had been friends unwilling to risk anything more.

But one way or another Bondarevsky had always placed absolute trust in Sparks, a trust that had carried over after she’d earner her commission and moved on to other duties. Somehow, though, he’d never really considered what drove her. Fact was, Sparks could have stayed in the service without any trouble at all. After the devastating battles of the decades-long Kilrathi war, technical officers with her talents were much in demand even with the Fleet’s downsizing program. But she had elected to follow him into retirement in the seaside home he’d purchased in Odessa . . . and now into what amounted to a self-imposed exile.

An announcement over the PA system cut short his reverie before he could say anything further. "Attention, attention, Landreich Shuttlecraft Themistocles Alpha now docking at Shuttle Port Three."

"That’s us," he said quietly. "Got your gear?"

Sparks nodded as Bondarevsky hitched his kitbag over his shoulder and turned toward the lift that would take him into the reception area below. She followed him along the empty catwalk, and somehow the fact that she was there made it easier for Bondarevsky to make the short but monumental trek.

He’d put one era behind him. Today it was time to start a new one.

The security doors leading into the shuttle bay still hadn’t been opened when the two officers reached them. Bondarevsky couldn’t tell if that was because the work crews were short-handed, or because of some perverse desire on the part of those in authority to make the new arrivals wait before they could gain admission. Landreich was still regarded as a haven for outlaws and criminals, even though the frontiersmen there had made the difference between victory and defeat when the Kilrathi attacked Earth itself and a Landreich squadron had turned the tide when everything seemed to be coming apart.

The news was full of continuing problems between the Confederation and Landreich these days. The colonials refused to accept Terran authority; the Confederation accused Landreich of deliberately provoking trouble with their neighbors on the frontier, including the newly peace-loving Kilrathi. Knowing President Kruger as Bondarevsky did, it was a sure bet that Landreich would never back down, right or wrong.

Maybe that was why he’d accepted Landreich’s offer of employment. They could be an exasperating bunch, but one and all they were the kind of people he could relate to, fighters who never backed down from a challenge, and threw out the rule book and winged it when they were in a furball.

A marine sergeant behind the desk at the security door cocked his head and raised one white-gloved hand to his earpiece receiver. Then he touched a stud on the console in front of him and stood up, drawing himself to attention. With his crisp dress uniform and his precise motions, he might have been an android responding to a carefully-composed protocol program.

The officer who stepped through the opening doors was a contrast to the wooden-featured sergeant in every possible way. He was young—probably not yet twenty standard years—and he was anything but stiff and solemn as he stared around the shuttle port with wide eyes and a broad, easygoing grin on his open but weather-beaten features. His shock of ginger hair was longer than Confederation regulations would have permitted, and there was a cheerful spark in his eyes. As for his uniform . . . well, the less said about that the better, Bondarevsky decided. Landreich had never had the money, time, or inclination to organize their military forces into anything as rigid as the Confederation’s, and they generally relied on what they could steal, scavenge, salvage, or buy on the cheap when it came to uniforms and equipment. Bondarevsky recognized elements of the young officer’s uniform as coming from Confed supplies, probably salvaged from Bannockburn or one of the other Terran ships that had operated in Landreich space back in the old days. But the man’s jacket was decidedly nonregulation, looking like something out of a holo-vid Western—leather, with plenty of pockets and old-fashioned buttons running down the front. The youngster wore a pistol on one hip, and the holster and the protruding butt of the weapon itself had the look of frequent use. Had they been like that when they’d come to this young man? Bondarevsky had a feeling that was something he shouldn’t take for granted. Young he might be, but growing up in the Landreich with the constant threat of Kilrathi attack only one of many dangers a colonial faced had a way of making a kid grow up fast . . . and dangerous.

The Marine saluted him stiffly, and the newcomer returned it with a casual, offhand flourish. "At ease, man, at ease," he said, the lilt in his voice fitting his appearance. "They tell me there’s a pile of forms I’m to be seeing to, so the sooner you turn me loose on ’em the sooner me and my mates can start putting in some shore leave."

"Excuse me, er . . ." Bondarevsky knew from his shoulder patch that the youngster was an officer, but he couldn’t spot anything that looked like rank insignia.

"Harper," the young man replied, turning his easy smile on Bondarevsky. "Aengus Harper, Lieutenant in the Navy of the Free Republic of Landreich, at your service, sir."

"Jason Bondarevsky, Lieutenant. I’m—"

"The Bear himself!" Harper exclaimed. "Should have recognized you from your pictures! After Old Max, you’re one of the biggest names back home, you know. Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir, right pleased!"

Bondarevsky was a little taken aback. He wasn’t used to the younger man’s tone, which hovered somewhere between mocking respect and outright hero worship. "I was supposed to meet one of your passengers, Lieutenant," he said slowly. "Admiral . . ."

"Richards, of course. Never you fear, sir, he’ll be along in a minute or two. Is it true what they’re telling me about you joining up with us, sir?"

That earned Bondarevsky a look from the sergeant. Evidently that was what it took to break through their famous iron reserve—the word that one of Terra’s naval heroes was thinking of joining the renegades of Landreich.

"Nothing’s been signed yet, Mr. Harper," Bondarevsky told him. "But Admiral Richards seemed to think it was something I should look into . . . and I have to admit the offer is tempting." He gestured toward Sparks. "This is Lieutenant McCullough. She’s also interested in a new career."

"Is that young Bondarevsky?" The voice was as strong and well-modulated as Bondarevsky remembered it, and he turned to see the thin form of Admiral Vance Richards striding towards him from the open security door. Unlike Harper, he wore a full-dress uniform that was everything a senior officer of an interstellar power deserved, dazzling silver trim against midnight black with a rack of decorations, from both Terra and the Landreich covering his breast. But the man inside the uniform hadn’t changed much in the last four years, since he’d served as Bondarevsky’s CO in the campaign that culminated at the Battle of Earth. If the last wisps of hair on his nearly bald head were a little bit thinner, and his gait was a little slower, he still had the fire in his eyes that had always marked him out from those around him. "It’s good to see you again. From the reply you sent last month, I wasn’t sure you’d be here."

"Back then I wasn’t sure myself, Admiral," Bondarevsky told him. "But I’ve had time to think about your offer, sir. And it’s a hell of a lot better than signing on a merchant ship or piloting shuttles for PanSystem Passenger Service."

Vance extended a long, slender hand. For a moment Bondarevsky hesitated to take it. He was embarrassed by his bionic arm, which didn’t quite look or feel as natural as advertised, and he still had to concentrate hard to use it for fine manipulation. But after a moment he took the Admiral’s hand in his plastilimb fingers and carefully shook it. The sensors in his palm and fingertips told him that Vance had lost none of his unexpected strong grip since the last time they’d seen one another.

The Admiral met his eyes with a serious look. "I heard about what happened on Coventry. It must have been hell when they told you about the arm."

"Yes, sir," he said, dropping into a formal military tone to hide the emotion those words triggered inside him. "Yes, sir, it was."

Richards looked away. "I know, Jason. Believe me, I know. Everyone lost somebody to that damned war."

In the awkward pause that followed Bondarevsky found himself wondering what the Admiral was thinking about from his own mysterious past. Vance Richards had been the chief of Naval Intelligence for the entire Confederation before taking "retirement" to head up the secret mission that had put Confed ships, including Bondarevsky’s old carrier, under the command of the Landreich during the months leading up to the Battle of Earth. His life had been shrouded in secrecy for years, and he never talked about himself. But the bleak tone of his voice hinted at losses of his own.

"If I might be remindin’ you, Admiral," Aengus Harper broke the mood with a light tone, "it’s late for your appointment you are. And you’ll have to be seeing that flock of VIPs afterward."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Richards said with a faint smile. "And to think I invested all that money in a portable computer secretary."

"I’ll not delay you, Admiral," Bondarevsky said. "I assume we’ll get a chance to see you on the ship later?"

Richards shook his head. "I’d like it if you’d join me, Jason," he said. "I think you’ll be interested in my . . . appointment. Someone you haven’t seen for a while, I’d imagine."

"As you wish, Admiral," Bondarevsky responded.

"You’ll have to get out of practice with all the formalities, lad, if you’re going to join the Landreich. Don’t forget, our President’s a wanted mutineer and our fleet would likely lose an engagement with a squadron of target drones. Isn’t that what you told me, back when we first got a look at Kruger’s little corner of the frontier?"

"Things change, Admiral," Bondarevsky said with a grin.

"Your luggage, sir?" Harper asked before he could turn away. "So I can see to getting it stowed while you hobnob with the great?"

Bondarevsky indicated the kitbag he’d set down beside the desk while waiting for the security doors to open. "It’s all yours, Lieutenant," he said. "Sparks, if you could go with Mr. Harper, I’m sure you can get us settled in by the time I get back."

"Aye aye, skipper," Sparks responded. "I’ll take care of things for you.

"Just this, sir?" Harper asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow as he took the kitbag. "You cut your ties with the Earth an’ all, heading out for a new life on the frontier, and all you care to take is a single kitbag? They say the Spirit urges us to travel light, sir, but I’m thinking this is a mite extreme."

Bondarevsky shrugged. "Coventry took a direct hit in Officer’s Country during the battle, and there wasn’t much left of my personal effects. Since then . . . who has the urge to gather a lot of junk, when you’ve lived your whole life out of a flight deck locker?"

"Well, sir," Harper said, studying him with an appraising eye, " ’tis plain you’ll be fitting in with the rest of us poor but honest colonials. Some of the lads were afraid you’d turn out to be a pompous twit, all rules and regulations and such-like debs."

That made Richards smile more broadly, despite the mild profanity. "Debs"—from debris—was one of those swear words that had entered the lexicon as a result of the war. Most Confederation officers maintained an official air of disapproval when it came to swearing among their juniors . . . but Richards had been out on the frontier for years now, and evidently had cultivated a more relaxed attitude in the interim. "Well, Lieutenant, I’m glad our new recruit has your full approval. I’ll leave you to your duties."

"Aye aye, sir," Harper told him, but the gleam in his eye was mocking.

As they walked together down the concourse Bondarevsky heard the older man chuckling. "Pity young Mr. Harper didn’t know you when you had Tarawa," he said. "Maybe he would have had a . . . less charitable view of you back then."

"Implying I was a pompous twit, Admiral?"

"Not precisely. But I can recall that you weren’t exactly impressed with the way old Kruger ran things. And you didn’t hesitate to let him hear about it. He still talks about you, you know."

"I said what I had to say, sir," Bondarevsky told the admiral, bristling.

"That, my dear Jason, is exactly why he still talks about you," Richards said. "And why you’re still just about the only Confed officer I’ve ever heard him speak of with anything remotely like approval." He paused. "I’ve seen the young lady before, I’m sure, but I can’t place her."

"One of my officers on Coventry, sir," Bondarevsky said. "Before that she was a petty officer crew chief on Tarawa. You probably remember her from back then."

"And she wants to join the FRLN too?" The admiral raised an eyebrow. Bondarevsky remembered that he had a reputation for frowning on loose morals in the people under his command, a legacy of long service in Intelligence where concern over security gave rise to a strong desire to avoid scandal of any sort among sensitive personnel. Was Richards afraid there was some improper relationship between him and Sparks?

The thought made him want to smile. "She’s a top-notch techie, Admiral," he said quietly. "And I owe her more than I could ever pay back. I figured Kruger’s crew could find a place for her holding together some of those old tubs of theirs."

Richards shrugged. "Oh, I’m sure of that. Just so long as there aren’t any . . . entanglements. Things are going to be tricky enough without introducing any extra distractions."

"I can assure you, Admiral, that entanglements are about the last thing I’d want right now, myself. You can count on my full attention, sir. But if you have any doubts, I’ll tell her I didn’t have any authority to suggest she sign on with the Republic."

"That won’t be necessary, Jason," Richards said. "Even if you were involved with her . . . sometimes my new-found casual Landreich face slips and I revert to type. You’ll have to put up with it sometimes, I’m afraid, if you’re going to be working with me again."

The admiral changed the subject to ask for details about the Behemoth fighting and Coventry’s brush with the Kilrathi. From long experience of Richards and his secretive ways Bondarevsky didn’t ask where they were going or who they were supposed to meet. Instead he answered the older man’s questions, and the talk shifted to postwar politics and the question of defense policy as they continued to walk through the long, empty corridors. It was no surprise that Richards took a dim view of the situation that had developed in the three months since the signing of the peace treaty.

"I’m telling you, Jason, the Confed government won the war and then turned right around and lost the peace," Richards said angrily. "Instead of making sure the Cats finally got the idea of what it really means to surrender, those dumb bastards pulled back at the last minute and left so damned many loopholes I wouldn’t be surprised to find they were right back where they started in another ten or twenty years."

"Admiral?" Bondarevsky fixed him with a surprised look. "Everything I heard about the treaty sounded pretty damned good." He hesitated. "And if we’d made the terms any harsher we might have ended up with another Versailles."

"Twentieth Century, right? You were always the history buff."

"Yes, sir," he answered. "World War One. The Allies toppled the Germans and then imposed an impossible peace settlement on them. Twenty years later they were at war again, and one of the big factors was the German anger over the way they’d been treated. When the Second World War ended, treaty terms to Germany and Japan were a lot less restrictive, and both powers evolved into stable allies for the Western powers."

"Yeah," Richards said. "I’ve studied the period too, lately. Max Kruger likes history as well, you know. Well, there’s a big difference. After World War Two the Allies moved in on the Axis powers. Occupation. Foreign aid. Enforced development of Western-style democracies. But the Confederation didn’t do that with the Kilrathi, Jason. We wiped out their leadership and damn near destroyed their entire culture when we took out Kilrah with the Temblor Bomb. But we didn’t offer anything constructive to replace what they lost. Since the end of the war the Kilrathi clans have been allowed to do pretty much whatever they please, and what a hell of a lot of them please involves trying to put together petty clan-run states that don’t care about the treaty at all. There’ve been raids all along the frontier, and the Confederation doesn’t do a damn thing about them. That’s my real reason for being here, you know. Max Kruger wants me to deliver another protest to the Confed government over the latest string of Kilrathi raids across the Landreich border. Not that it’ll do a damn bit of good."

"You’re sure the government won’t act?"

"We’ve got our sources, Jason. Fact is, the level of collective guilt inside the government is so damned high right now that I doubt they’d stop a Kilrathi fleet if it raided Terra right now."

"Guilt, sir?"

Richards nodded. "Over using the Temblor Bomb. Think about it, Jason. It wasn’t quite genocide—blowing up one planet isn’t going to wipe out a star-faring race as widespread as the Kilrathi, after all—but any way you look at it we took out a hell of a lot of innocent civilians just to get rid of Thrakhath and his doddering grandfather. And the effect on the Kilrathi culture . . . I’ve seen copies of some of the studies made when the strategy of going after Kilrah was first hatched, and most of them predicted the Kilrathi race wouldn’t be able to weather losing their cultural center nearly as well as they’ve managed. Even so, the effects are serious. We took out their Emperor, their homeworld, their religious and cultural shrines, most of their major clan leaders and everything they recognized as holding their civilization together. What we’ve got left out there are a bunch of angry warriors who are likely to become barbarians of a sort . . . but barbarians who still have plenty of spaceships and high-tech weapons to use when they decide it’s time for revenge." Richards stopped and looked at Jason with bleak eyes. "But what the Confed leaders are seeing doesn’t go that far. They’re just looking at the short-term effects. And they’re bending over backwards to not seem to be kicking the Kilrathi while they’re down. Did you notice how quickly the media started calling the peace accord the ‘Treaty of Ko-bar Yagar’? It was originally announced as the Treaty of Torgo. That’s their name for the system, even though they only captured it from us near the end of the war. Originally they were supposed to be out of there in six months, but rumor has it they’ve been given an indefinite extension on pulling out. And meantime we use their nomenclature ‘to preserve the dignity of the Kilrathi people.’ " He gave an undignified snort.

"You’re starting to sound a lot like President Kruger, Admiral," Bondarevsky commented. "You haven’t turned against the Confederation entirely, have you?" Inwardly he couldn’t help but feel disturbed by the old spymaster’s words. They dovetailed with his own reservations about the direction the Confederation had taken since the war . . . and he respected Vance Richards too much to simply dismiss the man’s opinion.

"There’s plenty who’d say that’s exactly what I’ve done, Jason," the old man said softly. Every day of his sixty-five-plus years was evident in his tired voice. "But the fact is, I’m still doing the same job I was doing when we took the Free Corps out to the Landreich. The best hope for old Terra is a strong defense on the frontiers, especially now when the Confederation seems determined to drop the ball. Out there in the Landreich Max Kruger’s trying to hold the line, and I figure if I can help him, I’m still doing my part for Earth as well." He fixed Bondarevsky with a steely eye, and all at once seemed to gather his old energy again. "What about you? You had your doubts about joining us, but you showed up here anyway. What kind of a life do you want to lead, now that the war is over?"

"Admiral, I respect you too much to lie to you," Bondarevsky said slowly. "For a while all I wanted was to see the war over, but once it was done with I found out I don’t really know what to do with my life. Maybe if Svetlana had made it . . ." He pushed aside that memory, too. "So I decided to take you up on your offer of a job in the Landreich because it looked like the closest thing to the old life I was likely to find. Now . . . I don’t know what to think any more. To hear you talk, the war might as well not be over at all. But I can’t say if my motive is selfish, or if I can share the vision you’re laying out, or what. If you’re looking for sincere converts, maybe I’m not your man after all."

Richards smiled. "I’m too cynical to want converts, my boy. I’d rather put my faith in enlightened self-interest. It pays better dividends in the long run. I don’t care about your motives, as long as you’re willing to get back out there where you belong and make sure the Kilrathi don’t cross the frontier again."

They had reached the door of one of the base VIP lounges, and Richards gestured for Bondarevsky to precede him into the large, opulent room. Like so much else in Moonbase Tycho it was almost empty, and the figure seated at the table near the center of the room caught his eye immediately. A stocky man with a shock of graying hair and the aquiline features of a born aristocrat, the figure wore the dress uniform of a Confederation rear-admiral and had decorations every bit as impressive as the ones Richards wore. He stepped forward with a welcoming smile on his face, extending his hand, his words coming in the clipped British accent Bondarevsky remembered so well.

"Vance! Good to see you again, after all this time. You still like the rustic life on the frontier?" Then he turned to Bondarevsky with an equally hearty greeting. "And you, my boy. I’m glad to see you, too."

Again he had to force himself to take the other man’s hand in his bionic grip. "It’s . . . good to see you again, Admiral," he said, trying to hide his surprise.

He hadn’t thought to see Rear Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn again, certainly not at a Confederation military base. Not Tolwyn, the man who had come so close to losing the war . . . the man whose Behemoth project had shattered a Terran squadron and cost Bondarevsky his command and his arm.

The man whose court-martial had been a sensation across the Confederation, and whose acquittal had aroused indignation on nearly every world in the human sphere.

Copyright 1999 by William R. Forstchen & Andrew Keith
Chapter P 1 2 3 4

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