Back | Next

Chapter Three

“So the inquiry’s officially over?”

“Yes, yes it is, Tomasz. It hasn’t been announced yet, but my office’s seen a preliminary draft.” Szymon Ziomkowski sighed from the other side of the table’s snowy linen cloth and shook his head, his expression unhappy. He picked up his vodka glass and sipped, then set it back down and gazed down into it. “A sad business. Very sad,” he said.

“Yes, I’m sure it was.” Tomasz Szponder leaned back in his chair and gazed at the younger man. “And did the inquiry reach any conclusions about how it happened?”

“Just one of those unfortunate things no one could’ve seen coming,” Ziomkowski replied. “Apparently the airbus driver wasn’t paying attention to the guard frequency. He flew right into the port’s restricted airspace despite repeated warnings, and you know how sensitive the SZW’s been about security since that business last year with the lunatic air limo driver.”

“I see.”

Szponder sipped his own vodka and let his gaze sweep the enormous dining room on the top floor of the Hotel Włodzimierz Ziomkowski. He remembered when it had been the Hotel Orle Gniazdo, the Eagle’s Nest Hotel. But that was before it had been renamed for Szymon’s uncle five T-years earlier. No one called it the Orle Gniazdo anymore.

Not when anyone else might hear them, anyway.

“Has Ludwika officially signed off on the report?” he asked after a moment.

“Not really her job, is it?” Ziomkowski looked up from his vodka glass. “She’s the SZW’s commanding general, Tomasz. I’m sure someone at a lower level—probably Pawlikowski—will issue the final approval on it. Or whatever they call it in the military. In fact, I suppose there’s something official in the military chain of command about that. Not really my area, I’m afraid.”

“No, of course it isn’t.” Szponder smiled and flicked his fingers in a “not that important” gesture, then raised the same hand to signal for the waiter. “I understand the ruskie pierogi is supposed to be especially good today,” he said. “I thought we might start with that and the krupnik. What would you choose for the main course?”

* * *

“Ordering sooner than I expected,” Wincenty Małakowski observed.

“You should pay more attention to the itinerary updates.” Grzegorz Zieliński’s tone was gently chiding. “Mr. Szponder is a busy man today. That speech of his at the hospital got moved up.”

“And even the Przewodniczący has to accommodate his schedule to Mr. Szponder?” Małakowski asked dryly.

“He doesn’t have to, Wincenty. He simply chooses to. It’s all about respect.” Zieliński shook his head. “You younger people have no respect for tradition. Mr. Szponder’s known the Przewodniczący since he was a teenager. He’s almost another uncle.”

“I know. I know!” Małakowski waved his hand in a gesture that mingled acknowledgment and apology. “And I suppose if anyone in the Party’s got a right to a little extra consideration from the Przewodniczący, it’s Mr. Szponder.”

“Probably some truth in that, too,” Zieliński agreed. “And if they’re ordering now, then you and I should probably get our order in, as well.”

“Good idea.” Małakowski nodded and reached out to key the menu, but his eyes were still on the two men at the table in the private alcove. “Wonder what they’re talking about?”

“None of our business,” Zieliński replied, looking at the menu display himself.

“Probably not,” Małakowski conceded.

Zieliński only made a vague sound of agreement as he paged through the menu, although both of them knew that wasn’t strictly true. As hand-picked agents of the Departament Ochrony Przewodniczącego, the Chairman Protection Department, they weren’t supposed to be blind to the political implications of any of the Chairman’s interactions with anyone. And as Małakowski understood perfectly well, their status as sworn officers of the Biuro Bezpieczeństwa i Prawdy, the Bureau of Security and Truth, meant they had responsibilities to Justyna Pokriefke, who headed that bureau. Responsibilities which sometimes—more often than Zieliński would have preferred, really—bore precious little resemblance to the official description of their duties.

He finished placing his order and looked up from the menu’s display, trained eyes circling the dining room, picking up the other DOP agents strategically stationed to cover every entry and exit. There’d been a time when that sort of security would have been considered overkill. Zieliński remembered watching Włodzimierz Ziomkowski waving back his personal bodyguards—all three or four of them—so that he could wade straight into huge, wildly enthusiastic crowds to shake hands, slap backs, kiss babies, and bend over to present a private ear to some party member with a private message or request.

He missed those days.

“Status check,” he murmured, and nodded ever so slightly in approval as the responses came back over his earbug.

He didn’t really think there were any active plots to assassinate Przewodniczący Ziomkowski, but he was nowhere as certain of that as he’d like to be, and that incident with the airbus might have some nasty repercussions down the road. A tour airbus loaded with school students wasn’t supposed to be shot down in a midair explosion by a military sting ship. Over eighty dead—that was the final death toll, but whatever the official ’faxes might have to say, and whatever open chatter there might be on the electronic channels, he knew there were rumors the government was actually understating the casualties. He didn’t think they were; surely no one could’ve gotten more than eighty or ninety, max, onto an airbus. But the truth was that he wasn’t certain the official number was accurate, and those rumors were taking on an ugly tone. One that was actually directed at Ziomkowski himself for a change.

So, yes, it was possible that this time all the elaborate security might find itself necessary.

He watched the Chairman and his guest’s appetizers arrive, then glanced up as another server reached across his shoulder to set his own plate in front of him. He murmured his thanks and reached for his napkin-wrapped silverware.

“Better dig in,” he advised Małakowski. “If Mr. Szponder makes his schedule and the Przewodniczący decides to walk him out to the garage again, you don’t have long.”

“I know.”

Małakowski reached for his own fork, and Zieliński’s eyes drifted back to the brown-haired, square-faced man sitting across the table from Ziomkowski.

Tomasz Szponder was a good twelve or thirteen centimeters shorter than the Chairman, but then again, Ziomkowski was a very tall man. Szponder was also over thirty T-years older than the Chairman, and he’d been one of Włodzimierz Ziomkowski’s graduate students ten years before Szymon Ziomkowski was ever born. He was also a member in good standing of the Oligarchia, the group of incredibly wealthy families who totally dominated the Włocławek System’s economy. There’d been a time when Tomasz Szponder had been something close to a personal friend of Grzegorz Zieliński, as well, but that, too, had been a long time ago. Back in the heady early days of the Agitacja, when they’d both been enthusiastic members of the newly organized Ruch Odnowy Narodowej. Back before the National Redemption Movement had succeeded in its goal of winning the political power to implement its reforms through the ballot box.

These days, Szponder had settled back into the familiar comfort of his role as an oligarcha and Grzegorz Zieliński had settled back into his familiar role as someone who protected the Oligarchia. There were times, in the privacy of his mind, when he allowed himself to be disappointed in Szponder, but at least he wasn’t one of the łowcy trufli, the “truffle hunters.” It was a nickname bestowed—not approvingly—on Włocławek’s oligarchs as an allusion to the Old Earth swine which had been imported to Włocławek T-centuries ago by the original colonists. The Włocławek trufla was a native fungus with a musky, fruity and yet simultaneously astringent flavor that was almost addictive, not the transplant of the same name, but Old Earth hogs were just as good at rooting it out with their snouts.

Of course, Szponder didn’t really need to go hunting for money. Not that he turned up his nose when it came his way—and it came his way a lot, given his Party connections—but he came from old money, as well, one of the founding families of the Oligarchia. That was one of the things which had made him so useful to the RON, and he’d contributed a great deal to the Party’s coffers in the early days. Hadn’t demanded it back later, either. Then again, demanding anything back from the Party was a bad idea, whoever you were. And he could probably afford to write it off as a good investment, anyway, given how many opportunities came the way of the Trzystu, the Three Hundred. There were actually quite a few less than three hundred of them these days, but they were the remaining members of the RON’s original central committee. Instead of the gorgeous holographic badges issued to newer members with higher Party numbers, the survivors of that committee still wore the battered, enameled lapel pins which had been all it could afford those days. Which made it even sadder that so many of them had—

Zieliński gave himself an internal shake. Yes, Szponder had dived back into his role as one of Włocławek’s elite like a ryby grzmot into water. And, yes, he was richer—a lot richer—than ever as a result. But he also continued to contribute generously to charities, like his work with the Siostry Ubogich, the Sisters of the Poor, who’d founded and continued to staff the Szpital Marii Urbańskiej in downtown Lądowisko. The hospital’s campuses were located in the poorest sections of the capital city, and the Szponder family had been associated with it for over two hundred T-years.

He was also the owner of the Lądowisko Gazety i Kurier, the capital city’s most widely followed newsfax. He’d bought the ’fax for the Party back in the early days and built it into the most influential news channel on the planet, but he was far less active in terms of setting editorial policy than he’d been back in those heady days. These days it was wiser to let the Party control things like that, although Szponder did like to keep his hand in with his street reporters. Zieliński didn’t like to think about how often those newsies picked up on something important even more quickly than the BBP or BDK, and Szponder made a habit of passing those tidbits along to Pokriefke and Teofil Strenk whenever they came his way.

And then there was Wydawnictwo Zielone Wzgórza. No one knew why Szponder had named his publishing house that—there were no “green hills” anywhere near its inner-city location—and he only smiled at some private joke when anyone asked him about it. But “Green Hills Publishing” distributed thousands of copies of old-fashioned hardcopy books, as well as electronic ones, to the kids of working-class families all over the star system, especially in the Projects here in the capital. That kept him in better odor than the rest of the Oligarchia with the less fortunate citizenry.

Which wasn’t saying one hell of a lot.

Be fair, Grzegorz, he told himself. It’s not what you wanted. It’s probably not what he wanted, come to that. And you’re just as bad as he is, in your own way. “Going along to get along,” that’s what it’s called. And it’s not like it should really be such a big surprise. It’s the way things always work in the end, isn’t it? It’s just that you hoped for so much more once upon a time. But “happily ever after” is something that only happens in fairytales.

* * *

“I’m telling you that Teofil isn’t going to be happy with Pawlikowski’s report.” Justyna Pokriefke’s tone was as sour as her expression. “And neither are the troublemakers. Especially not after that bastard hacked the ATC. If we’re not careful about this, Agnieszka, we could be looking at an…unfortunate turn of events, let’s say.”

“You worry too much,” Agnieszka Krzywicka said, sitting back behind the hectare and a half or so of polished desk in her enormous office. “And Teofil can be as unhappy as he wants. He knows which side of the bread his butter’s on, and if we have to remind him of that, I’m sure we can find an appropriate technique.”

Pokriefke didn’t quite glare at her, but then, no one glared at Krzywicka if they knew what was good for them. Not even the Minister Bezpieczeństwa i Prawdy. The BBP was the most feared institution on Włocławek, and Pokriefke had headed it for the last fifteen T-years. That made her a very dangerous person. Despite which, Krzywicka, whose title was simply Pierwszy Sekretarz Partii—Party First Secretary—and who had no official position in government at all, was far more dangerous. Szymon Ziomkowski might get to claim the title of Przewodniczący Partii and play with all the pretty toys of office, but Krzywicka had very quietly become the true power behind the throne even before Szymon’s uncle’s death. Behind her back, she had another title—Pierwszy Aparatczyk, First Apparatchik—the most powerful of the innumerable bureaucrats who administered the Party, and through it the government. The Izba Deputowanych, the nominal republic’s nominal representative assembly met regularly in its magnificent chamber where it nominally transacted the Republic’s business. But no one was eligible for election as a deputy unless he or she was a member in good standing of the Party, and Krzywicka was the keeper of the Party’s portals. No one in the entire Republika Włocławek went anywhere, worked anywhere, dreamed anywhere without the approval of the Sekretariat Partii. The diminutive Krzywicka (she wasn’t quite a hundred and forty-seven centimeters tall) effectively controlled that secretariat, and the political graveyards of Włocławek—not to mention a few real graveyards—were littered with people who’d challenged—or seemed to challenge—her authority.

None of which meant she was made of armorplast, although there were times she seemed unaware of that fact.

“I’m not saying Teofil will cross us or officially question the inquiry’s findings,” the commander of Włocławek’s secret police told her now. “I’m saying he won’t be happy with it, and there’s a difference between not questioning the findings and supporting them with a straight face.”

“Are you suggesting there’s anything questionable about them?” Krzywicka smiled archly, and Pokriefke snorted.

“For God’s sake, Agnieszka, everybody with a working brain knows it’s a whitewash.” She carefully omitted the word “another” in front of “whitewash,” but she knew Krzywicka heard it anyway. “That airbus driver never had a clue he was in restricted airspace. For that matter, he wasn’t—not legally, anyway—and by now, thanks to that air-traffic hack, at least two thirds of Lądowisko knows there was no warning at all. By the end of next week, two thirds of the planet will know! I told you even before the hack that it would be a whole lot smarter to just admit Lewandowska screwed up and throw her to the wolves. God knows she deserves it! I still think that’s the smart move, especially now that the cat’s out of the bag on the gray web. But once this inquiry’s report’s been made official, there won’t be any way in hell we can do it later.”

“Oh? And do you want to explain to Hieronim why his cousin is facing one hundred and twenty-three counts of reckless homicide?”

Krzywicka tipped farther back in her chair and raised her eyebrows as she steepled her fingers across her chest, and Pokriefke felt her jaw tighten.

Of course she didn’t want to be the one to tell Hieronim Mazur anything of the sort! Krzywicka might be the most powerful person in Włocławek’s government, but as the head of the Stowarzyszenie Eksporterów Owoców Morza, Mazur was the most powerful person on Włocławek…period. The “Seafood Exporters’ Association’s” name was even more innocuous—and misleading—than many another Włocławekan institution’s title, but it was the true stronghold of the Oligarchia. It was just over three hundred T-years old, and despite its name it actually represented a broadly diversified alliance of fishing interests, bankers, industrial magnates, and interstellar shipping houses.

And Wiktoria Lewandowska, the head of Mazur’s personal security—and the SEOM’s in-house security forces—also happened to be Hieronim’s third cousin. That would have been enough to inspire any self-respecting oligarcha to quash any investigation into her actions, and the fact that Mazur knew he could count on her to follow any instruction he gave without questioning it or even thinking about it—assuming she could think, which seemed even more doubtful than usual, given recent events—only made him even more…disinclined to permit anything like an honest inquiry. He certainly wasn’t going to allow anything that concluded she had not, in fact, warned the airbus before she ordered her people to shoot it out of the sky. And especially not when it had been in a public transit lane across privately owned airspace rather than in the closed spaceport airspace cited in the soon-to-be completed inquiry.

Which also just happened to conclude that it had been an SZW sting ship covering the air above the Lądowisko spaceport which had fired the fatal shot rather than the SEOM private security air car two a half kilometers outside the spaceport’s eastern perimeter.

Of course, it also didn’t mention what had happened to that air car ten seconds later, did it? That sting ship pilot had better be thanking his lucky stars Mazur was more interested in keeping the heat off Lewandowska than in hammering him. Bringing that lieutenant up on charges for shooting the bastard who’d pulled the trigger out of the sky would risk opening the entire can of worms to public scrutiny, and they couldn’t have that, could they? No, no. Best to handle this discreetly and quietly, one hand washing the other, as always.

But this one’s different, Pokriefke thought bitterly. This time it’s kids who got killed. Maybe just a load of kids from the Projects, but still kids, damn it! People’re willing to accept a lot—or to at least keep their heads down, their mouths shut, and their opinions to themselves—but this one’s different. There’s a lot of anger out there already, and there’s going to be more. Especially when people start comparing the official conclusions to that bootleg copy of the air-traffic transcript. And wouldn’t I love to know how the hell that got out!

She thought about saying that out loud, but not very hard. She hadn’t headed Biuro Bezpieczeństwa i Prawdy for so long without learning how the game was played. And she really didn’t want Krzywicka or Mazur to ask her how the files in question had been hacked. Technically, security for those files belonged to the Policja Federalna under the umbrella of Teofil Strenk’s Wydział Kryminalno-Dochodzeniowy, the Criminal Investigation Department. But the Policja Federalna had never had custody of the files in question, and the last thing Pokriefke wanted was to give the KOD an opportunity to go poking around inside her files, instead. Once upon a time she’d been Strenk’s junior partner and protégée in the Wydział Kryminalno-Dochodzeniowy. She knew exactly what he thought of what she’d done with her life since then, and the thought of how an investigation under his aegis might play out was enough to make her stomach hurt.

Besides, it wasn’t as if any further protest on her part was going to make a difference in the end. Mazur had already decided how it was going to play out, and Krzywicka wasn’t going to argue with him over something as unimportant as an airbus load of dead kids when none of them had been hers.

* * *

“God, it’s good to be home,” Tomasz Szponder said, dropping into the worn leather chair in the tiny office at 7707 Bulwar Heinleina. Its old-fashioned springs creaked as he leaned back and ran his fingers through his brown hair, and he puffed his lips and exhaled noisily. “The food’s always good, but it tasted like sawdust today.”

He shook his head, and pointed at the equally aged chair on the far side of the desk.

“Sit,” he said, and Jarosław Kotarski settled into the indicated chair a bit more gingerly than Szponder had flopped into his. Partly that was because Kotarski was a considerably larger man, with limited faith in the chair’s physical integrity. It might also have been due to his awareness that the chair in question was over three T-centuries old and had once sat in the office of the very first Prezydent of the Republika Włocławek. As a former professor of Włocławekan History at Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika he had rather more respect for the chair’s lineage than Prezydent Tomasz Szponder’s namesake seemed to feel.

Or perhaps not. Even after all these years, there were parts of the current Tomasz Szponder which had never been shared with anyone except, possibly, his wife, Grażyna.

“Why do I think it took more than just the food to spoil your dinner?” Kotarski asked as Szponder opened a refrigerated desk drawer and extracted two frosted glasses and a bottle of vodka.

“Because you know me so well?” he suggested as he uncapped the bottle and poured. “Or is it because I’m such a transparent fellow?”

“‘Transparent’ isn’t the very first word that comes to mind when I think of you…thank God.” Kotarski accepted one of the glasses and raised it in a brief, silent toast, then threw back its contents and slapped the glass back down on the desk. “So! Aside from indigestion, how did it go?”

“About the way we expected.” Szponder massaged his temples wearily. “I talked to Szymon—uselessly, of course. It was like talking to Krzywicka’s sock puppet!”

“That’s not really fair, you know, Tomasz. I know how frustrating it is, and he’s certainly not the man Włodzimierz was. But then,” Kotarski smiled sadly, “Włodzimierz wasn’t the man he used to be by the end, was he?”

“No.” Szponder sighed, lowering his hands to his chair arms. “No, he wasn’t.”

“Did you get a chance to talk to any of the others?”

“I managed to ‘bump into’ Teofil in the lobby, but I wouldn’t say we really had a chance to ‘talk’ about it. From his expression when I took the opportunity to drop a cautionary word in his ear about the rumors I’d heard from the street, though, he’s not very pleased with where this is headed. I took the opportunity to drop in on Justyna and Bjørn while I was at the Kancelaria Partii, too. I don’t think either of them was exactly overjoyed to see me, but they were civil enough. And I don’t know about Bjørn, but Justyna is obviously worried about something. At the moment, I only see one real candidate for what that something might be.”

“Kudzinowski isn’t worried about it? That’s interesting,” Kotarski said. “I’d’ve thought it would be more on his plate than Pokriefke’s right now.”

“Apparently he doesn’t think so,” Szponder said sourly and poured more vodka.

Kotarski nodded, but his eyes were thoughtful. Bjørn Kudzinowski headed the Komisja Wolności i Sprawiedliwości Społecznej, the Commission for Freedom and Social Justice, which was the most powerful non-police agency in the Republic. The combined functions of the old ministries of industry, labor, and commerce had been folded into his commission, and the airbus school tours were part of a KWSS outreach program. One would have thought…

“I wonder how much hand he had behind the scenes in crafting Krzywicka’s and Sosabowska’s response to this,” he murmured out loud.

“I don’t think Sosabowska wants to come within a thousand kilometers of ‘this,’” Szponder said, recapping the vodka bottle. “As Szymon pointed out, the actual inquiry’s being conducted by the Inspektorat Sił Zbrojnych. That’s Brigadier Pawlikowski’s shop, and he’s a hard-core career officer. Unfortunately, that means he’ll sign whatever he’s told to sign, whether he agrees with it or not. I’m pretty damn sure he doesn’t, but he’s got a wife and kids of his own. And, after all, it’s not like his objecting to it would change anything, would it?” He shook his head unhappily and sipped vodka. “He’ll sign off on this one, too, and that insulates Sosabowska from the entire mess. I doubt she could do anything about it if she wanted to, but this gets her off the hook so she doesn’t even have to try. And,” he added grudgingly, “it does get her pilot out of the line of fire, too. That young man did exactly what I’d’ve done in his place. I’m just as happy he’s not going to stand trial for it in the end.”

“They can’t really think this is all just going to…go away, can they?”

“I don’t think they care whether or not it goes away.” Szponder set his glass very precisely in the center of his blotter, formed his index fingers and thumbs into a triangle around its base, and stared down into it for several seconds, like an oracle consulting his crystal ball. Then he looked back up. “I think they think it doesn’t matter how the man or woman in the street reacts to this—or to anything else, anymore. They’re that far gone, Jarosław.”

“Damn.” The single word came out with sorrow, not surprise, and Kotarski drew a deep breath, then shook his head.

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this coming, Tomasz,” he said. “There was a reason you set up the Krucjata—yes, and gave me a job after the University threw me out on my ass.”

“I know. It’s just that…that it hurt so much, sitting there across from Szymon this evening. He looks so much like Włodzimierz, and he was totally oblivious to any reason he ought to be doing something about this. That’s the worst part of it, Jarosław. I think he’s genuinely oblivious to it, not just closing his eyes and pretending he doesn’t see, like the rest of the aparatczyków. He’s that far removed from everything his uncle ever tried to accomplish. You know as well as I do that even at the very end Włodzimierz would never have stood by and watched the Party sweep more than a hundred dead kids under the carpet! Never!”

“Probably not,” Kotarski agreed, although deep inside he wasn’t so sure. He’d known Ziomkowski even longer than Szponder had, and he wanted to agree. But by the end, the man who’d created the Ruch Odnowy Narodowej had been so thoroughly captured by the system—and been so tired and worn out—he might, indeed, have let this pass. Yet perhaps he wouldn’t have, either, and one of Tomasz Szponder’s greatest strengths was his loyalty. It would have been not just unrealistic but cruel to argue with him about a friend so many years dead.

“Unfortunately,” he said aloud, “we have to deal with Szymon—or, rather, with Krzywicka and Mazur—not Włodzimierz. And from what you’re saying, that situation’s about to get a whole lot uglier. If they’re willing to ignore something like this, it’s only a matter of time until they ignore something even worse. And from what we’re hearing from the lower level cells, there’s enough anger building over this one for genuine disturbances. Tomek and I went over the latest reports while you were not enjoying dinner, and it’s pretty clear there’s a lot of pressure building out there. We could see riots coming out of the Projects…and that doesn’t even count our people’s reaction.”


Szponder stood and crossed to the small office’s single window and gazed down on the street so far below. It looked so calm and peaceful at the moment, but it wasn’t hard for him to imagine a very different scene. He’d seen street carnage enough when he, Włodzimierz Ziomkowski, and the idealistic college students who’d provided so much of the National Renewal Movement’s initial fiery enthusiasm had assailed the corruption of the old Republic.

Much as he’d loved Ziomkowski, he’d have shot him dead in the street himself if he’d even suspected then what the RON would become in the end.

“It’s going to be bloodier than the Agitacja ever was,” he said softly, leaning his forehead against the crystoplast. “The BBP and the KWSS are a hell of a lot more deeply embedded than the old police and security services were. And more ruthless. And the Oligarchia’s learned its lesson, too. If they’d been willing to resort to the sort of tactics Pokriefke and Krzywicka are willing to embrace, we’d never have seen the Party legalized in the first place. They won’t make that mistake a second time.”

“Of course they won’t, and you knew that from the beginning. That’s why we’re organized the way we are. The question is whether or not the time’s come for us to get more…proactive.”

Szponder nodded against the window, his eyes closed, because Kotarski was right. He would so much have preferred to be able to agitate for new elections the way he and Włodzimierz had agitated so many years before, but he’d known long before Włodzimierz’s death that that wasn’t going to happen a second time. That was why he’d started building the Krucjata Wolności Myśli, the Free Thought Crusade, three T-years before Ziomkowski’s final stroke. He hadn’t taken that step lightly, but he’d taken it with his eyes wide open. And he’d known then that it had never been a question of whether or not the time would come, only a question of when.

“We’re not ready yet.” He turned from the window to face the man he’d recruited as the Krucjata’s intellectual leader and raised one hand as he saw the protest forming in Kotarski’s eyes. “I don’t mean our people aren’t ready, don’t know what we’re going to ask of them, Jarosław. I mean we’re physically not ready. We’ve done—you’ve done—an outstanding job of building the willingness, the discipline we’ll need, but we don’t have the tools. And, frankly, I’m afraid it’s going to be a lot harder to get those tools into our people’s hands than I’d thought it would be. Pokriefke and her people—and Mazur’s people, for that matter—have made it a hell of a lot harder to smuggle anything in or out of the system. Getting weapons past them will be what Tomek would call a copper-plated bitch.”

“We’ve already stockpiled quite a few weapons,” Kotarski protested, and Szponder snorted.

“‘Quite a few’ isn’t remotely like ‘enough,’ Jarosław. Especially not when our ‘stockpiles’ consist of obsolete pre-Agitacja pulse rifles and less than two thousand civilian firearms. For a riot or a revolt, that might be plenty. But aren’t you the one who used to teach students the difference between ‘revolts’ and ‘revolutions’?”

“Yes, I am. And you’re right.”

“Exactly. Revolutions are revolts that succeed and revolts are the ones where everybody dies, instead. I’m not going to be a party to that, Jarosław, but I hadn’t expected this airbus business, so I never imagined something like this might come along so soon. I’ve been moving funds out-system a little bit at a time, but I don’t have remotely enough out there to buy the kind of firepower we’re going to need. Worse, I don’t have any idea how to get weapons on-planet even after I find someone to sell them to us!” He smiled thinly. “So dust off your researching skills, Professor. Figure out where we can buy what I need to rip the throat out of my best friend’s political monument.”

Back | Next