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A sprinkling of new snow had fallen overnight on the western slopes of the Bernese Oberland in central Switzerland, and Security Prefect Jamus Galway found himself squinting against the reflected early-morning sunlight as he walked down the transport's entry ramp. It had taken five months of slow and painstaking investigation, but at last the search was about to come to an end.


A young man was waiting for him at the bottom of the ramp, and even through slitted eyelids Galway could see the other's face go suddenly rigid as the prefect's escort appeared in the shuttle's hatchway behind him. It was the same reaction he'd encountered nearly everywhere he'd gone in the past five months, from the back streets of central Europe to the elite governmental centers of New Geneva. Even here on Earth, after thirty years of Ryqril rule over what had once been the proudly independent Terran Democratic Empire, the vast majority of TDE citizens had never seen a Ryq up close and personal.

Even fewer of those citizens had seen a khassq-class warrior like the one now striding down the ramp a pace behind him. Certainly fewer living citizens. Most people who found themselves facing a khassq didn't survive the encounter.

The young man had his expression under control again by the time Galway reached the bottom of the ramp. "Prefect Galway," he said formally. "I'm Security Lieutenant Albert Weissmann. Welcome to Interlaken."

"Thank you," Galway said, gesturing to his escort. "This is Taakh, khassq-class warrior of the Ryqril."

"Honored, Your Eminence," Weissmann said, bowing low. His voice, Galway noted with approval and mild surprise, was calm and steady.

Approval, because that was how one was supposed to face humanity's conquerors. Surprise, because if there was anyone on Earth right now who could inspire fear and trembling in those around him, it was Taakh. His well-muscled bulk topped Galway's own height by a good thirty centimeters, and even in the cold of central Europe he wore nothing above the waist except the elaborately tooled belt and baldric combination that indicated his rank and authority. Fastened to the belt at his right hip was a large laser pistol, while a wide-bladed short sword with carved hilt rode its sheath on his left. "I trust the region's been locked down?" Galway asked, looking around at the rows of neat homes and businesses stretched out beneath the towering mountains in the distance.

"Yes, sir, since two o'clock this morning," Weissmann confirmed.

Less than half an hour after Galway had sent out the order. "Excellent," he said.

"Thank you, sir," Weissmann said. "We take orders from New Geneva very seriously."

"Of course," Galway said, trying not to sound cynical. Neither Weissmann nor any of his people had any real choice in the matter, of course, any more than Galway himself did. All TDE Security officers, government employees, scientists, and top business people were routinely loyalty-conditioned by the Ryqril to be incapable of revolt, sedition, or even serious misbehavior. There was nothing Weissmann's people could do except take their orders seriously.

Still, there was a certain degree of slack in the conditioning. Galway knew a few of his own officers back on his homeworld of Plinry who never put in more than the bare minimum of effort required. If Weissmann's contingent was as dedicated and efficient as he claimed, perhaps the young officer had reason for pride after all.

"That's his house over there," Weissmann went on, pointing toward a light brown structure at the end of a row of modest homes a block away. His eyes flicked furtively to Taakh, shifted quickly away. "Will you want our assistance in taking him?"

"Yae rill take he," the Ryq rumbled before Galway could answer. "Yae hunans."

"As you command," Galway said, bowing his head in acknowledgment. Either the Ryq didn't want to get his own hands dirty with this one, or he wanted to see how Interlaken's human contingent handled themselves. Either was fine with Galway. "Your people are in position, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Weissmann said. "My thought was to send four men in through the back. We can cut through the garden fence and move in under cover of some small bushes—"

"Whoa, whoa," Galway interrupted. "Any reason we can't just try the front door?"

Weissmann seemed a little taken aback. "Uh ... no, sir, I guess not." Lifting his hand over his head, he gave a series of hand signals. "Whenever you're ready, sir."

Galway gestured, and together he and Weissmann headed down the street, their boots making odd squeaking noises in the fresh snow. "New Geneva didn't say anything about the khassq being involved in this," Weissmann murmured, glancing furtively over his shoulder at the big, rubbery-skinned alien. "Should I have brought more men? I mean, so we would look more professional?"

"If we can take Herr Judas quietly, then by definition you brought enough men," Galway assured him.

Ahead, armed figures were emerging from concealment, converging silently on the target house. Apart from the standard paral-dart pistols each wore at his hip, Galway saw, their weaponry was a mixture of various types of flechette and pellet scatterguns. Yet another reason for Weissmann to feel nervous about Taakh's presence, though the hodgepodge equipment was hardly the lieutenant's fault. "Unusual name this man has, don't you think?" he commented.

"Yes, it is," Weissmann agreed distantly, his mind clearly concerned with his command's preparedness. "I don't think I've ever met anyone with such a surname."

"And for good reason," Galway agreed. "Note the pattern here. First they gave us Allen Caine, obviously named for history's first murderer, and now here we have Karl Judas. The Resistance leaders aren't without a sense of ironic humor."

Weissmann snorted. "If you can call plotting to betray and destroy their own people humorous," he said darkly.

That was the loyalty-conditioning speaking, of course. Galway felt the same way, though a small part of his mind wondered if under other circumstances he might see things differently. "Every era has its share of malcontents," he reminded Weissmann. "This one's no different."

"Except that the Resistance has gone far beyond simple malcontentment," Weissmann countered. "I heard a rumor the other day that some of them actually tried to get into the old Aegis Mountain stronghold in Western North America this past summer."

"There was a team working in the Denver region, yes," Galway confirmed, wincing at the memory. "But they never got into the base, and I doubt they ever will."

"I hope not," Weissmann said, turning his head slightly to look back at Taakh. "There could be all sorts of weapons still in there. We certainly don't want them in Resistance hands."

"Agreed," Galway said. "And as to the concern you haven't yet voiced, Taakh's presence isn't a sign that the Ryqril are planning to set up shop here in Interlaken. He's with me, and he'll leave when I do."

"I see," Weissmann said, his carefully neutral voice not quite able to hide his relief. "Thank you, sir. I have to admit that ... well, when they took most of our lasers away two months ago, I wondered if there was some sort of reorganization in the works."

"Not as far as I know," Galway said. "And it wasn't just you. I gather that most of the Security forces around the TDE have gone back to flechettes and slug weapons."

"I didn't know that," Weissmann said again, a frown in his voice. "Any idea why?"

Galway shrugged, trying to make the gesture look casual. The dark fact of the matter was that the Ryqril had lost three of their colony worlds to the advancing Chryselli forces over the past six months, and suddenly their long-standing space war had taken on a serious land component as well. With close-combat weapons in short supply, the Ryqril high command had ordered that the lasers be collected from their conquered worlds' security forces and rushed to the ground troops now fighting to push back the Chryselli beachheads.

But that was hardly something to be discussed with a junior officer in a remote sector. "Not really," he said.

A pair of Weissmann's men were in position at the front of the house by the time they arrived, crouching in flanking positions by the walkway as they trained their paral-dart pistols watchfully on the door. Others, Galway knew, would be guarding all the windows. "Shall I call for a ram?" Weissmann murmured.

Galway didn't bother to answer, but simply stepped up onto the small porch and rang the bell.

One of the flanking guards muttered something under his breath. Apparently, the polite approach hadn't occurred to any of them.

Or maybe they simply thought breaking down the door would look more professional in front of Taakh.

He rang the bell again. This time there was the click of a lock, and the door opened a crack. "Yes?" a disheveled young man asked, blinking sleep-heavy eyes as he finished tying a sash around his robe.

Galway smiled tightly. After five months, the search was indeed over. "Good morning, Herr Judas," he said, holding up his ID. "I'm Security Prefect Galway. May I come in?"

Judas looked pointedly at the guns aimed at him, then silently pulled the door fully open and stepped back out of the way. "You and your men wait here," Galway ordered Weissmann, and followed Judas inside.

The door opened into a plain but neat conversation room. "Am I in some sort of trouble?" Judas asked as he backed up to the middle of the room beside what appeared to be a handcrafted center table.

"That depends on your point of view," Galway said. Even the man's voice was the same. "I've come here to offer you an opportunity. Please; sit down."

Judas hesitated, then crossed to an upholstered comfort chair and sat down. The chair frame, too, appeared to be handmade. "Nice furniture," Galway commented as he took a double seat a quarter of the way around the center table from him. "Your work?"

"Yes, it's my hobby," Judas said. "What sort of opportunity?"

"The sort that can guarantee safety and security for you and your family for the rest of your lives," Galway said.

Judas snorted gently. "Sounds way too good to be true," he said. "Why don't we start by hearing what exactly this wonderful deal will cost me."

Galway leaned back in his chair, studying the man closely. The face and voice were perfect, but what he could see of the man's physique through his robe would definitely require some work. At least four months of it, he estimated, plus the other training the man would need.

Still, they had at least five more months before the rest of the operation would be ready. Plenty of time. "It'll cost six to eight months of your life," he said. "Under the circumstances, hardly worth mentioning."

"Oh, hardly," Judas agreed with the cynical smile of a man who's been offered a card from a magician's deck. "And what exactly would I be doing during those six to eight months?"

"A job only you can do," Galway said. "We want you to impersonate someone for us."

"What, I've got a twin brother walking around?"

"Actually, you have two twin brothers," Galway corrected, watching him closely. "Maybe more. You see, Herr Judas ... you're a clone."

The other's smile vanished. "That's a lie," he said, his voice suddenly stiff.

It was, Galway knew, the correct reaction. But it was a little too quick, a little too practiced, a little too perfect. Judas had already known who and what he was. And there was only one place where he could have learned the truth. "I'm afraid it's your friends who've been lying to you," he said. "Not me."

"What friends?"

"Your contacts in the Resistance," Galway said gently. "The ones who've been grooming you since childhood for some special mission, then suddenly and inexplicably abandoned both you and the project a little over two years ago."

Judas was good, all right. His face barely registered the emotional shock he must surely be feeling at hearing supposedly secret parts of his life being calmly listed by a Security prefect. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Of course you don't," Galway agreed. "That's the other thing I'm offering: the chance to get a little of your own back in return for their shoddy treatment. Interested?"

"Why bother to ask?" Judas countered. "Fifteen days of loyalty-conditioning and I'll do whatever you want anyway."

Galway shrugged. He was certainly right on that score. "Personal ethics, I suppose," he said. "An effort to allow you a certain dignity in this."

"False dignity."

"Perhaps," Galway conceded. "And, for the record, the loyalty-conditioning will take a little longer than that. If we quit after the standard fifteen days, the psychor barriers your Resistance friends gave you might still leave some cracks in the wall. Nice try, though."

Judas grimaced. "Touché," he conceded. "Do I have time to dress and say good-bye to my wife and daughter?"

"Certainly," Galway said, gesturing toward the curved stairway leading to the second floor. "That was my other reason for not simply hauling you out of bed."

For a moment Judas studied Galway's face, perhaps wondering if it was genuinely possible for a loyalty-conditioned puppet of the Ryqril and the collaborationist government to have a conscience. Galway had often wondered the same thing, and wondered now what Judas would conclude. "Thank you," the other said, standing up. "Give me fifteen minutes."

He was back in twelve, dressed for travel. "I didn't bother to pack anything," he said as Galway ushered him out into the cold morning air. "I assumed you wouldn't let me keep any personal items anyway."

"Quite right," Galway said. Taakh had moved up to join Weissmann at the end of the walk, and Judas's step faltered briefly as he caught sight of the big alien. But he recovered quickly and continued on. The two Security men flanking the door formed up behind them, paral-dart guns still held at the ready.

"Any trouble?" Weissmann asked as the group reached him.

"None," Galway said. "As soon as we're gone, you can lift the lockdown—"

And without warning, a pair of high-velocity flechettes whistled past his back and head.

"Cover!" he snapped, grabbing Judas's coat collar and hauling him toward the ground. With his other hand he yanked his own paral-dart gun from its holster, his eyes searching for the source of the attack.

"Corner!" Weissmann barked, his gun tracking that direction.

There were two of them, Galway saw, crouched low beside a pair of houses on opposite sides of the street, the muzzles of their long-barreled hunting rifles dipping as they corrected their aim. He swung his own gun toward them, knowing instinctively that neither he nor Weissmann would make it in time.

And in that single frozen heartbeat, Taakh moved.

He wasn't as fast as a blackcollar, a detached part of Galway's mind noted. Nor was he as graceful, and his movements didn't carry the same ultrarefined precision and elegance theirs did. But he was fast enough, and more than precise enough. One of his huge hands grabbed the nearest of Weissmann's Security men by the collar, pulling him on top of Judas and sending both men sprawling onto the ground. The bits of snow from their landing were still flying when there were two silent bursts of green light from the laser in the Ryq's other hand, and both attackers collapsed on top of their guns.

"You all right, Prefect?" Weissmann demanded. The rest of his men were on the move now, three hurrying toward the would-be assassins, the rest spreading out for a sweep of the area.

"I'm fine," Galway assured him, watching Judas and the Security man as they untangled themselves and stood up again. "Judas?"

"I'm all right," Judas said, his voice shaking. "What in hell was that all about?"

"You really don't know?" Galway countered.

Judas's hands paused in the act of brushing the snow off his chest. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that wasn't a rescue attempt," Galway said bluntly. "Not with just two men. Certainly not with two men armed with lethal weapons."

Judas looked over at the sprawled bodies, a sudden tightness in his throat. "Are you saying they were trying to kill me?"

"Why not?" Galway said. "You're of no use to them anymore. They might as well make sure you're no use to us, either."

Which wasn't entirely true, he knew, a twinge of conscience tugging at him. The Resistance didn't have to actually kill Judas to make him useless for Galway's purposes. All they had to do was mark him somehow, either with a fresh scar or some minor but noticeable bit of muscle damage. The fact that the first shots had missed strongly implied that that was indeed what they'd been going for.

But jumping to the wrong conclusion would help cut Judas's last emotional connection to the Resistance. And it certainly wasn't Galway's job to rectify any faulty reasoning.

Taakh turned to Weissmann, his eyes flashing with anger. "Yae rill 'urn down the town," he ordered. "All o' it."

Weissmann's eyes widened. "Burn down—? But Your Eminence—"

"Dae yae kestion ne?" the Ryq snarled, lifting his laser warningly.

"No, Your Eminence, of course not," Weissmann said hastily. "But—"

"I don't think we need to destroy the town, Your Eminence," Galway jumped in, gesturing Weissmann to keep quiet. "We'll simply have Lieutenant Weissmann keep the area locked down for the next eight months."

Weissmann transferred his stunned expression to Galway. "Eight months?" he hissed.

"Yae rill 'e silent," Taakh ground out.

For a long moment no one spoke. Taakh gazed across the snow at the Security men as they examined the would-be assassins; and though Ryq expressions were nearly impossible for humans to read, Galway had no trouble seeing the conflict raging behind the alien's eyes. On the one hand, his pride demanded that he utterly obliterate the town that had dared to raise a fist against their Ryqril overlords.

But on the other hand, he also knew that the war was going badly, and that his people needed an influx of spirit and imagination and tactical skill.

They needed the blackcollars. And without Galway, they would never get them. "'Ery rell," Taakh said at last. "Yae rill seal the region. Re rill tell yae ren it rill 'e o'ened again."

Weissmann took a deep breath. "As you command, Your Eminence," he said.

Galway suppressed a grimace. So that was how the alien's pride was going to work itself out. He would allow Weissmann to seal the district as Galway had requested, cutting it off completely from the outside world. But it would be the Ryqril who would decide when that lockdown would be lifted. Until then, it would be the local government's job to figure out how to keep the people inside the ring area alive and fed.

But at least they would be alive. That was the important thing.

For another moment Taakh gazed at Weissmann, perhaps wondering if the humans were getting off too easily. Then, apparently dismissing the thought, he turned to Galway and gestured toward the transport with his laser. "Re rill go," he ordered.

"As you command, Your Eminence." Stepping to Judas's side, Galway took his arm. "Come on, Herr Judas," he said. "Time to go."

"Yes," Judas said, his eyes on the dead men in the snow. Men who'd once been his colleagues and allies. "Maybe even past time."

* * *

For a moment Sam Foxleigh lay in his narrow bed in the darkness, wrapped tightly in his blankets, wondering what had awakened him. The wind had picked up since he'd gone to bed, whistling cold and wet off the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Probably that was what it was, he decided; the wind tearing around the corners of this one-room shack that old Toby had built to hide out in so long ago.

Or maybe it was the dropping temperature. The fire in the wood-stove in the center of the cabin had burned down, with only glowing ashes visible through the slats of tempered glass in the cast-iron door.

He peered at the old wind-up clock sitting on the rough nightstand beside his bed. Just after two in the morning. If he didn't restock the fire, it would get a lot colder in here before it got any warmer.

With a sigh, he unwrapped himself from his blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He winced as his feet hit the cold wooden floor, winced even harder as he carefully put weight on his bad left leg. The leg, he'd told his rescuers down in the tiny community of Shelter Valley, that had been damaged when he parachuted out of his crippled fighter in the midst of Earth's last, futile defense against the Ryqril.

And the villagers, simple folk that they were, had swallowed the story whole.

Hobbling over to the stove, he popped open the door and fed in a few sticks and a small piece of log. The snows had come early this year, and he just hoped he had enough wood cut and stacked to make it until spring. Cutting wood in the dead of winter with a bad leg would be a great deal less than fun.

For a minute he stood at the stove, stirring the ashes with the poker until the sticks caught. Then, closing the door again, he limped over to the south-facing window and pushed aside the shade, feeling a soft breeze on his fingers from the small leaks around the glass. A quarter kilometer downslope, Shelter Valley was mostly dark, but he could see a couple of lights still burning. Insomniacs, probably, up reading or watching television.

Or perhaps someone was tending to the Ryqril sensor pylon.

He gazed down at the lights, old memories burning at his throat. He'd been up here with Toby when the Security men had come by with their offer to allow the villagers to stay if they would accept the pylon and handle its day-to-day upkeep. Toby's family had argued against it, but the rest of the twenty-odd families had decided they had no choice.

Foxleigh's own opinion, of course, hadn't even been part of the discussion. For that matter, neither had Toby's.

One of the lights blinked off, the darkness flowing in to fill the spot where it had been. Toby's family had offered to run a power line up here back when the old recluse was still alive, a power line and phone line both. But Toby would have none of it. The closest he would come to communication had been letting them rig up the multiple multicolored window shades over this particular window that he could use to signal whether he needed food or medical attention or—rarely—wanted some company.

He hadn't wanted company very often, that was for sure. Eventually, even his family had mostly given up coming here and left him to his chosen lifestyle.

And what had been good enough for Toby was good enough for Foxleigh. Distantly, he wondered how many of the people down in the village even knew that Toby was dead.

He lifted his eyes from the town, turning his attention to the southeast and the dark mass of Aegis Mountain framed against the faint haze of swirling clouds, glowing with the reflected lights of Denver and civilization so many kilometers beyond it. Once upon a time, that mountain had been mankind's last stronghold against the Ryqril invaders, a place full of grim men and women and weapons.

But the men and women had died or disappeared, and the weapons had gone silent, and the mountain had gone dark. The Ryqril had taken over the small town of Idaho Springs ten kilometers west of Aegis and set up a pleasant little enclave for themselves, with their ring of sensor pylons guarding against even the possibility of an air attack. The mountain itself they'd ignored entirely.

But a year and a half ago, that had abruptly changed. They'd set up a heavily armed camp by the main entrance at the north end of the mountain and had begun picking carefully at the compressed hull metal of the door, trying to avoid the deadly booby traps that had been built into it so long ago by the humans.

So far, they hadn't gotten through. But someone else had.

They'd been young looking, for the most part, young and scrappy and full of the energy Foxleigh himself had once possessed. He'd seen them from the cabin, several groups of them over the past few years, working like ants at some unknown project a kilometer beyond his east window. Their view of Shelter Valley itself—and vice versa—had been blocked by a low ridge, and it was doubtful they'd even known the village was there. It was for sure that the villagers themselves had never known about the visitors. For the first month or two they'd worked on the surface, and after that had simply hiked in with their equipment and disappeared somewhere, emerging days or even weeks later.

And then, all of a sudden, they'd stopped coming.

Over the next few months Foxleigh had occasionally toyed with the idea of going over there himself to see if he could figure out what in hell's name they'd been doing out on the back molar of nowhere. But given his bad leg, there was no guarantee he could manage such a trek on his own.

He'd just about decided that whatever they'd been doing was over and done with when, in the middle of last summer, the others had suddenly showed up. Not the original workers—not those kids—but someone else.


There'd been no doubt about it. He'd seen them as clear as day with his compact little spotter telescope, and there'd been no mistaking the color and texture of the glimpses of flexarmor he'd seen beneath their outer clothing.

And with that, suddenly the whole thing had become clear.

He'd watched for days after the group had left, waiting for them to return, or for Resistance troops to arrive and reactivate the fortress under the distant brooding mountain.

But they never had. At least, not when he was watching.

He sighed, letting the shade fall back over the window. That had been five months ago, and now that it was winter he knew they wouldn't be back any time soon. Shelter Valley's sensor pylon was designed solely to watch for aircraft, but Security techs came by at irregular intervals, and fresh tracks in the snow leading nowhere would be a trail too obvious and too intriguing to ignore.

But maybe when spring came and the snow melted they'd be back.

He hobbled back to the stove. The sticks had mostly burned down, but the log had caught. That ought to bring the temperature in the cabin back to a decent level. Maybe once the weather turned nice again he would see about re-siding the whole place. Maybe add some insulation to the ceiling, too.

And while he worked he would keep an eye on the mountain.

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