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Chapter 1


The governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge was one of those antebellum homes that was held together with baling wire and chewing gum. Or, it would have been, if chewing gum were something one could acquire in Louisiana. The Western Confederacy was the poorest nation on the continent, and it could afford to import very little. Its tobacco, seafood, and cotton industries helped somewhat, but without a good way to get the goods to markets in the German, British, or Japanese Empires, many goods that could otherwise have been exported rotted on the docks.

Since Ambassador Pritchard was out fishing with the mayor of New Orleans today, and Governor LeCroix was absent, the second floor of the mansion contained merely Delilah Thorn and Lois Levallier, the governor’s secretary. Lois was hardly a chatterbox to begin with, but she certainly did not gossip or confide in Thorn, a foreigner. Thorn had become quite familiar with the upper class white woman style of freezing others out of their social circle when she’d been in Atlanta. Here in Baton Rouge, the social stigma of being different, in any way, was even worse, and Thorn had committed the sin of being both from another country, and being unashamed of it.

If Lois had even an inkling that Thorn were actually a Yankee, someone so deranged and degraded that she would barely qualify as human, she’d probably faint from shock. Thorn had sometimes imagined what it would be like to walk up to Lois and admit her bosses were in New York and see if she could actually induce Lois to shriek, faint, or even jump out the window, but she had restrained herself. Imagining the scene was fun; actually doing it in person would not be, since it would ruin her cover and probably cost her her life.

She didn’t mind the social repercussions of being from another country. Her job wasn’t to make friends; it was to find out what Governor LeCroix was up to regarding the death camps in Louisiana. The Underground Railroad, with some help from the Free States and the British Empire, had been destroying as many camps as possible, or doing its best to make them impossible to run by convincing people not to work there, or to pull up the train tracks that ran closest to the camps so people couldn’t be transported all the way in windowless rail cars. When people saw hundreds of half-dead people being dragged out of the cars to be loaded onto trucks instead, they could no longer deny the truth of the camps near their towns.

Some didn’t care, of course. Others approved. But Thorn had been surprised at the number of people who had begun to protest their government’s actions. The few white allies of the Underground Railroad had recruited others, or had recruited themselves by showing up to train depots or the camps to tear down fences, block the passage of trains, or even, on occasion, shoot someone.

The violence had been sporadic and unwelcome. The President of the Confederacy, along with the governors of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, had found excuses to mobilize their military units to suppress protests in towns where violence had happened.

Thorn would have liked to do more about the camps directly, but that wasn’t her assignment. She got up from her desk and walked down the hall to the small room where the governor’s staff ate lunch. Lois was drinking her chicory coffee and eating a small meal of greens and pork. One thing Thorn had almost immediately adopted once in Louisiana had been the cuisine. One of the things she had not adopted was the habit of drinking hot coffee in the middle of a miserably hot afternoon. She felt overheated enough.

Greens were a new favorite of Thorn’s, as were local staples like crab and crawfish. It was only when the cuisine got to gumbo that she’d, so far, failed to develop any enthusiasm. Okra was simply too…exotic. By which she meant slimy.

Lois smiled her pasted-on fake smile, the same one she greeted Thorn with every day. “Good morning, Miss Danielle.” Her dark blond hair was limp with sweat even though she had pulled it back tightly to keep it from hanging in her face. Wisps had escaped the bun, though, and that, combined with the flush of her cheeks, managed to give Lois the air of someone who, despite fighting the effects of the heat, had succumbed anyway.

Thorn was posing as an aide named Danielle Ashbury in the staff of the Free States’ Ambassador to Louisiana, Reginald Pritchard. This was the first joint Free States-Union mission, and Thorn felt the pressure of making it go well. The Free States, formerly the Eastern Confederacy, was made up of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Up until two years ago, they and the Union had had nothing to do with each other. That was changing. The Union had placed an ambassador in Atlanta and now this joint spying enterprise had been initiated. Maybe one day soon, the border would even be open enough for people to travel from one country to the other.

So far, Thorn felt she had succeeded in pulling off being Miss Danielle.

Thorn smiled broadly in the same wide and insincere smile she had been practicing since she’d arrived, and nodded. “Good morning to you, Miss Lois. Those greens from your own garden?” The attribution “Miss” was something she was still trying to accept without embarrassment, and she felt strange using it herself, but she wasn’t going to let people like Lois be superficially friendly with her without being superficially friendly in return.

Thorn had learned early on everyone in Baton Rouge liked to brag on their home garden. This was about as foreign a concept as Thorn had ever encountered. Few people in the Union raised gardens, and no one she knew personally in the Free States did, either. Yet here, everyone had to supplement their diet with whatever they could grow at home. Food scarcity was a problem in the Confederacy, even in the capital cities.

Lois nodded. “The greens are growing real good. Real good. Maybe because Jubal shot all the rabbits that were eating them up last year. They made a great stew.”

Thorn hoped she looked appropriately impressed rather than appalled. Shooting guns within the city limits, much less killing the local wildlife in order to cook it on one’s stove, was simply something she had not encountered in the Union, or even during her tenure as a quasi-ambassador in Atlanta. The casualness of an armed populace and the importance of being self-sufficient in terms of acquiring vegetables and meat for your family was still something that felt entirely alien.

She was sure the stew had been tasty, though. One thing every woman in Baton Rouge seemed to know how to do was cook well.

“I’m sure they did,” she said in her cultivated Atlantan accent.

“I’m heading home in a bit,” said Lois. “Sammy’s been sick and Miss Bridget can only watch him until around two. You’ll be okay here by yourself?”

It was phrased as a question, and Thorn nodded, though she thought she was supposed to take the question more as a warning. You’ll be here all alone, foreigner. She wasn’t sure why that was supposed to be something that frightened her, but Lois had made it clear that being alone in the governor’s mansion was something a Free States’ woman really ought to avoid.

She supposed it was a warning that any locals who didn’t appreciate the Free States having a woman in the governor’s mansion, even if she were only an aide, would feel free to come by and teach her a lesson. The men of the Confederacy were quite comfortable with managing women and minorities with violence. All men, not just those with the police or military. What had always struck Thorn as odd was that the authorities appeared to approve of this random violence committed by citizens.

Well, if some local jackass thought to come here this afternoon to rough Thorn up, he’d get a surprise. Thorn had started out her undercover career without much knowledge of weapons or fighting, apart from being able to shoot a pistol at a target with moderate accuracy. These days, she could shoot almost anything, and fight. She wasn’t an expert at hand-to-hand combat, but she’d learned enough to take care of herself under most circumstances.

“I’ll be just fine,” she said, pasting on an even-wider smile. “It’ll be me and the mosquitoes. Could you direct me to a place to find a lotion or herb concoction to help repel them? They’re driving me crazy and I’m covered in bites.”

“Bellman’s down the street has some stuff,” said Lois.

Thorn shrugged. The staff at Bellman’s had been outright hostile to someone who didn’t sound local. But Thorn was, in any case, more interested in learning about the back alleys of Baton Rouge, not the more official businesses. “I’ve been there. They don’t seem to have what I need. They mentioned there might be other places to go, but wouldn’t direct me to any.”

Lois stared at her for a few seconds, then shrugged. “Try the Madame’s place. Just across the street, in the back of the yellow building. There’s a crooked door with no markings but a splash of red painted above it. Go in there, ask for what you need.”

That was more like what Thorn wanted to hear. She’d been cooling her heels too long in the office without opportunity to really explore the city or learn why Louisiana was doing things differently from the rest of the Confederacy these days. To understand Baton Rouge, she needed to understand more about the local population and their eccentricities.

“I appreciate the directions,” said Thorn. “I’m sure I’d never have found it on my own.”

“Atlanta must be very different,” said Lois.

Thorn smiled. Lois probably hadn’t been farther from Baton Rouge than twenty or thirty miles in her life with the sole exception of going to New Orleans, which it seemed most Baton Rouge citizens did at least once in their lives. She’d more than likely never set foot outside Louisiana.

“People are the same everywhere,” said Thorn with a smile. “But shops do have signage, and licenses, and are regulated by the government. A shop off the street with no markings wouldn’t be allowed.”

“This is Louisiana,” said Lois, as if that explained everything.

“So it is,” said Thorn evenly. “I’ll stop by there in a bit. I suppose the shop is open in the afternoons.”

Lois shrugged. “They’re open when they’re open. I don’t know when that might be.”

That was the answer Thorn had expected. She had not yet determined any rhyme or reason for when governmental offices, businesses, schools, churches, and other institutions were open or not. Every day was a holiday to someone, it seemed, and no one much cared to keep track of them all.

Thorn walked back to her office, and stared out the window at the street. Baton Rouge had few paved roads, but at least the street outside the governor’s mansion rated that luxury. Most of the people who walked by wore hats to ward off the sun. A sole police officer stood in front of the mansion; he appeared to be dozing on his feet.

Security here in Baton Rouge was non-existent, even by Atlantan standards. It was the twenty-first century elsewhere, but here, it might as well have been the nineteenth still. In the Union, there would be surveillance cameras on every office and focused on every corridor, with guards, retinal scans, and badge identification scanners nearly everywhere. Even in the Free States, there would have been cameras on at least the entrances to government buildings and multiple police officers and other security outside the governor’s residence.

But here, security cameras didn’t exist. Closed circuit television wasn’t even a dream. Lois had probably never even heard of retinal scanners or biometric technology. The single telephone line worked well enough, but it only went to Lois’ desk. This afternoon while Lois was out, there would simply be no one to pick up any calls.

It wasn’t just the lack of technology that made Lois, and the other people Thorn had met here in Baton Rouge, seem alien. It was also that they didn’t even seem curious about such things. If people like Lois wanted to have more than they did, they kept it to themselves.

Soon enough, Lois went down the creaky wooden staircase to the first floor. Thorn watched the other woman walk down the oak- and myrtle-lined street. Lois nodded to every white person she passed and studiously ignored everyone else.

Thorn left the window and went down the hall to the governor’s office. She opened the door slowly, surprised, as always, that it was not locked. Security here depended more on social expectation and the threat of violence from the police than locks and surveillance.

Thorn had been taking any opportunity she could find to get into the governor’s office and begin going through whatever files she could find there.

The files on governor LeCroix’s desk contained routine paperwork that did not interest Thorn. As she was leaving, she spotted a wadded-up piece of paper back in the corner, peeking out from behind the trash can. The governor had tried to throw something away and had missed.

It was probably unimportant, but Thorn was curious. She scooped up the paper and took it back to Pritchard’s office. If LeCroix had thrown it away, he wouldn’t be looking for it, so there was no reason to put it back where she’d found it.

She flattened out the note. It read simply We know. Next to that was a crude sketch of a man hanging from a noose.

Thorn shuddered. This was a threat, apparently on the governor’s life. But who would want to kill LeCroix, and why? What was it that they knew?

Someone was plotting violence. How could she figure out who it was, and what their goals were? This was just the sort of thing the Union needed her to find out.

Thorn folded the paper and slipped it into her shoe. Tonight, she’d see what she could find out about LeCroix and who his main enemies might be. It might be that the Union would approve of whoever was plotting against the life of a Confederate governor, but on the other hand, they might not. She wouldn’t know until she could figure out who was threatening LeCroix and why. Then she’d be able to make a report and possibly take action.

Thorn went back to the ambassador’s window and watched the street again for a while, but then decided it would be best to continue her exploration of Baton Rouge. She went down the stairs and headed toward the shop Lois had recommended.

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