Robert Frezza - [Colonial War 02], page 1
FIRE IN A FARAWAY PLACE
A Del Rey Book BALLANTINE BOOKS • NEW YORK
IN A TALL BUILDING IN THE HEART OF TOKYO’S CHUO WARD, THE
Sankin-kai, the president’s council, of the DKU keiretsu, or group of affiliated companies, met, as it did each month, in the corporate dining room of the Daikichi Sanwa Bank. While the ties that bound the member companies to the Daikichi Sanwa and one another were informal, they were as close as the links between disparate divisions of a conglomerate, and each company proudly displayed the DKU emblem in its advertising.
Among the individuals present were the presidents of the Earth’s largest textile company, its second-largest electronics firm, its second-largest steel maker, its fourth-largest cosmetics manufacturer, and its third-largest automaker. All of them were Japanese and male, and the youngest among them was in his late sixties. The companies they represented accounted for 8 percent of Imperial Japan’s swollen gross national product.
After the plague winds of the crack-up had decimated the populations and devastated the economies of Earth’s continental nations, Japan’s Imperial Keidanren, or Federation of Economic Organizations, had effectively controlled Earth’s economies and, eventually, those of Earth’s colonies. Through their economic power, their manipulation of the Keidanren, and their close financial ties to the various factions of Japan’s ruling Unified Democratic party, the men present and their counterparts in rival keiretsu exercised more power than any oligarchy had enjoyed in Earth’s long history.
First among equals was the president of the Daikichi Sanwa—as main bank and major stockholder for each of the corporations present, the Daikichi held management rights if it chose to exercise them. After several other matters had been discussed, the Daikichi president signaled imperceptibly to the president of United Steel-Standard.
Awkwardly, hesitantly, the USS president addressed his compatriots. “I must mention that there has been an unexpected occurrence on the planet of Suid-Afrika.”
Everyone in the room correctly assumed that “unexpected” meant distressingly costly, and the textile president, a decade older than the USS president and conscious of his superiority, commented, “I recall something about Suid-Afrika. You get fusion metals for our spaceships from there, heh? Five or six years ago, we requested the Imperial Government to send a military expedition there to end disturbances. Is this still a problem? Someone really should take responsibility.”
Visibly embarrassed, the USS president explained, “It is a very difficult matter. The local population, which consists of Afrikaners and a nationally unhomogeneous group of peoples who call themselves ‘cowboys,’ is conspicuously lacking in virtue. A number of years ago, these persons set aside our authority and proceeded to act on their own, which resulted in severe losses. Although the Guardianship Council was ill advised and terminated our corporation’s authority over the planet, it did send a military task force to restore order.”
In a milder age, the Imperial Government had mostly used Japan’s economic might to maintain its power and to further the interests of its constituent groups. Increasingly, outside Japan, that power and those interests were being challenged. Prodded by the keiretsu, the Imperial Government had begun using military force.
The USS man wiped his face and continued. “We have since learned that the rebellious inhabitants destroyed the bulk of the task force sent to control the situation and even destroyed warships in orbit through some trick.”
“Orbiting warships were destroyed? This sounds quite serious,” the aged president of a chemical firm commented.
“Because of the distance and the time dilation between events there and events here on Earth, we did not find this out until a few days ago.” The USS president lowered his voice. “This left a foreign officer with an unpronounceable name—a Lieutenant-Colonel Ver-esh-cha-gin—in command of the task group. Although he claims to have suppressed the rebellion, his first action upon assuming command was to execute our corporation’s planetary director. It appears that the situation there has become completely unendurable.”
The textile man said, “Did I hear someone say that this Lieutenant-Colonel Ver-esh-cha-gin shot your planetary direc-lor for being stupid enough to provide ammunition to the rebels? This disruption has been going on for quite some time. I recall that your predecessor sent mercenaries there some years ago. Your company really has not had much luck with that world.” He added in a politely damning tone of voice, “Perhaps we should have sent some of our guards instead.”
Outside the room, sokaiya in ill-fitting suits with automatic weapons guarded the doors. Once hoodlums paid to prevent disruption of stockholders meetings, as the nature of Japan’s economic system changed, the sokaiya had gradually been assimilated by the corporations they had simultaneously protected and preyed upon.
“Well, what is required to resolve this matter?” the president of the chemical firm finally asked the USS man.
“It is a passing phase, but a firm response is desirable. In the short term, the news about the rebellion will have an extremely adverse impact on our stock prices. It would be extremely disruptive to allow the price to fall,” the USS president said doggedly. “The Daikichi Sanwa has approved a substantial loan to prevent this.”
The eyes of a few of the presidents danced. “Zaitech, ” the chemical man scrawled on his notepad, Japanese parlance for financial engineering, with emphasis on its less savory aspects.
The USS president pressed his case. “In the long term, it will be necessary to bring the benefits of stability and order to this planet. Due to the unfortunate political situation, metal deliveries have been erratic, and costs have been excessive. The niobium, tantalum, and other fusion metals essential to spaceship technology that Suid-Afrika provides are irreplaceable. This has made it difficult for us to fulfill contracts on schedule. Unfortunately, we have not been able to develop other dependable sources. A stable, dependable local administration would be best.”
To bring the discussion to an end, deliberately eschewing euphemism, the textile man said, “So, we should persuade the Guardianship Council to send another military task force to chastise this planet’s population.”
“Hai,” the USS president replied.
The Daikichi president nodded and began discussing another topic.
Although a respectable number of wars find their genesis in corporate boardrooms, miscalculations cause most of them.
Akashi continent, Suid-Afrika—L-Day plus three
hundred nine weeks
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL ANTON VERESHCHAGIN, AT PRESENT THE
commander of the Imperial Task Group Suid-Afrika, sat on the fallen trunk of a fern tree, meticulously carving a block of fiber from the tree’s core with short, careful strokes. In the forest shadows of abandoned Elandslaagte Farm, the drab rank lozenges on his collar briefly reflected the light as he worked.
From time to time, he looked up into the sky.
For Anton Vereshchagin, it was the first day of the 309th week since the arrival of the First Battalion of the Thirty-fifth Imperial Rifle Regiment, the battalion he had brought to the planet. For the Afrikaner majority of the planet’s population, it was the Day of the Covenant, December 16 on the nonstandard local calendar, a holiday commemorating a three-hundred-year-old victory by Afrikaner voortrekkers over a Zulu impi; and since most of the Afrikaners were staunch Calvinists, they didn’t celebrate many others.
Today was also the fifth anniversary of a singularly ill-organized revol
Now that it was slowly reverting to forest, Elandslaagte Farm was tranquil, with little to suggest that it had once been a battlefield. The Afrikaners who had there died had been reburied in their hometowns and cities; Vereshchagin’s dead had been cremated and either sent home, wherever home was, or interred in the battalion’s own cemetery according to each man’s final instructions in such matters. Growing swiftly in the humid climate, fern trees had risen to replace the ones Vereshchagin’s armored cars had shot apart.
Beads of perspiration dripped down Vereshchagin’s cheeks as he worked. It was a day for remembering. In Vereshchagin’s eyes, two men had knocked the props out from under the rebellion before it consumed Suid-Afrika. One was a politician, Albert Beyers, who had led his people away from fanaticism. Another was a rebel general, Hendrik Pienaar, who had gotten himself murdered in the process of killing the rebellion deader than rifles and 30mm shells could make it.
Vcreshchagin frowned slightly. He disliked owing debts to I he living, and he disliked even more owing debts to the dead.
As he gently formed the soft, native “wood,” his wrist mount emitted a very mild hum precisely on the hour. Sighing, lie triggered his personal radio. “One slash thirty-five point one. Break. Vereshchagin here. Malti, is this you?”
When Vereshchagin had elevated himself to Imperial task group commander, his executive officer, the irrepressible Major Matti Haijalo, had inherited command of the l/35th Rifle Battalion. “Hello, Anton.” Haijalo chuckled. “Having fun communing with nature?”
Vereshchagin smiled involuntarily. “I am. How successful have you been at kissing babies?”
The little radio conveyed a rude noise. “We had a very nice parade.”
“And the bagpipes?” Vereshchagin took a childish interest in the battalion’s pipe band, originally formed from survivors of a destroyed battalion of Gurkhas whose traditions embraced Highland Scottish music.
Haijalo made a noise in his throat. “The natives loved them. At least they clapped, and nobody started shooting, which I would have done if somebody had started playing bagpipes at me.”
“Indeed,” Vereshchagin murmured.
“After the parade, President of the Republic Albert Beyers made a nice, uplifting speech. Then Speaker of the Assembly Hanna Bruwer-Sanmartin made a nice, uplifting speech. Then four or five other politicians made nice, uplifting speeches. Then Christos Claassen and some of the loyal opposition got up on a street comer and started rousing the rabble, so Albert and Hanna got back up on the podium, figuratively rolled back their sleeves, and pitched in. A fun time was had by all.” “Was there any overtly hostile activity?”
“The Scheepers girl and some of her people went around with banners saying violently anti-imperial things. My executive officer, one Acting Major Raul Sanmartin, handed her a bouquet of flowers and said something polite to the effect that he had bought them for his wife, but that Scheepers needed them more. The Scheepers girl has absolutely no sense of humor.”
“We transported her uncle and half of her relatives for their role in the uprising,” Vereshchagin inteijected quietly.
“Well, she lost her composure completely and tried to hit Raul with the flowers. The cameramen caught it for the evening news and made her look at least twice as silly as God and nature intended. As I say, a fun time was had by all.”
As he listened, Vereshchagin could hear singing in the background. Vereshchagin’s battalion, originally recruited in Finland from Russians and Finns, had been leavened by personnel acquired on a half-dozen worlds and was now nearly 50 percent Afrikaner—in some cases the sons and brothers of Afrikaners killed during the rebellion. Despite this, the battalion had kept its traditions intact. Making a virtue out of necessity, for several years now they’d held their Pikkujoulu or “Little Christmas” parties on the sixteenth. The wines and vodka that Suid-Afrika produced in quantity were undoubtedly flowing.
“What about the Afrikaner Resistance Movement?” Vereshchagin asked Haijalo softly.
“Our information was correct. A couple of them tried to set off a car bomb. We have them and the bomb. Aksu interrogated them, and we were able to fold one of their safe houses. We kept it quiet—so far; Albert and Raul are the only ones who know.” “How badly did you damage them?”
“The woman we picked up is intact. The police only shot her boyfriend once, and it wasn’t serious, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That is precisely what I am asking. Please ensure that they are fit to stand trial. What about the cowboys?”
“No one in the southern half of the continent has quite forgiven the Afrikaners for nuking them during the rebellion, and they dislike being reminded by these little holidays, but Uwe Ebyl’s battalion kept them quiet and reasonably contented. Albert sent his treasury minister out in a radiation suit to the former town of Reading to lay a wreath. I’ll let you know if anything happens.”
Uwe Ebyl’s light attack battalion was the only other major Imperial combat unit to survive the Afrikaner rebellion. For five years, Uwe had been the uncrowned king of the rancher country. Even before the Afrikaners had rebelled, he and Vereshchagin had stamped out a half-hearted rebellion by some of the cowboys, and the rancher magnates knew better than to try his patience.
“Thank you, Matti,” Vereshchagin said thoughtfully. “Is there anything else noteworthy?”
“Not just yet. Enjoy your vacation, Anton. Haijalo out.”
Vereshchagin resumed his careful carving, closing his mind to Suid Afrika’s political ferment. Above him, the oldest surviving lorn trees formed a cool, green canopy fifty meters over his head. A small amphtile similar to the one he was carving slowly looked its head out of a pile of mold to appraise his work.
He again felt the quiet hum of his personal radio and reached up to touch the induction plate on his temple.
“I assume this is not a social call.”
Harjalo’s bantering tone had disappeared. “It’s not Get yourself in, Anton. I have a helicopter on its way. There’s an Imperial warship in our sky. People on Earth haven’t forgotten us.”
Because of the distance from Earth and the time dilation, no new orders had come since Anton Vereshchagin had assumed command of the Imperial Task Group Suid-Afrika. This was about to change.
“Will they land?”
“Not today. There’s only one ship so far, and from the orbit it’s taking I doubt that the new task group commander is on it.
I expect we’ll see more ships over the next few hours. I’ve contacted Albert. After he gets out of his fancy president-of-the-republic clothes, he’ll want to see you. Haijalo out.”
Vereshchagin nodded, a small gesture. Time dilation between colonial campaigns on eight different worlds gave Vereshchagin a unique perspective. On Earth, men bom long after he had left for the colonial wars had risen to positions of authority, grown old, and died. The Imperial system had changed. Vereshchagin had not.
Vereshchagin had done well with Suid-Afrika by his own lights. Although the cowboys and Afrikaners who made up the planet’s population were far from being model Imperial subjects, they were reasonably happy and prosperous. For good or ill, Vereshchagin had done as much in six years to mold the world and its people as any man could, and he sincerely doubted that the Imperial government that had inherited the results would be even moderately happy with them.
He looked up carefully far overhead into the evening sky, searching for what might have been a new star. In a curiously gentle motion he jabbed his knife into the log beside his knee. Picking up his rifle, he strode off toward the lights of Pretoria to greet the newly arrived Imperial forces and give account of his stewardship.
The rains would rust his knife, but its imprint would remain
* * *
THE LITTLE GIRL RAN INTO THE ROOM AS FAST AS HER STUBBY LEGS
would carry her, chasing the kitten. She hit the edge of the rag and sprawled, shrieking with laughter, as the kitten climbed the curtains and peered down.
“Hendricka, are you chasing the kitten?”
“Yes, Tant Betjethe child answered obediently.
“You stop it, or he will scratch you,” Albert Beyers’s wife said placidly from the next room in the stilted English she had learned late in her life. “Please pick up your books before your mother comes home from work.”
“No,” Hendricka said.
“You say no, and I say yes. My yes is bigger than your no, so you pick up your books. Hurry, or your mother will be here!” Vroew Beyers stopped what she was doing and went into the entry room.
The three-year-old nodded solemnly, lifted herself to her feet, and toddled off to collect her books.
Betje Beyers looked up at the kitten. “You come down from there.” The kitten suddenly let go and came sliding down as fast as it had gone up. It plopped at her feet, and she bent to pick it up. “If the president of the Republic must listen to me, you do, too, little one,” she murmured to the kitten.
Someone knocked on the door. “Da!” Hendricka shouted, recognizing who was at the door by the sound.
Raul Sanmartin opened the door and stepped inside, wearing battle dress. His daughter wrapped herself around his knees, and he picked her up and swung her. Then he looked at Vroew Beyers, and the pleasure left his face. “Mother, the Imperials are here. Don’t wait dinner for any of us.”
Raul Sanmartin called Betje Beyers “Mother.” So did her husband and half the planet. Sanmartin’s own mother was long dead far away. He kissed the child and told her, “I have to work late and so does your momma. Again. Afraid so. Be good for Tant Betje.” When he left, Vroew Beyers hugged her newest adopted granddaughter very tightly.
IN THE MOTOR POOL IN A BUNKER ON THE CASERN AT BLOEMFON-
tein, Major Paul Henke, the commander of Haijalo’s D Company, peered into the engine compartment of his Type 97 armored car and held his head six centimeters away from the little turbocompressor. “We should pull the third and fourth rotors,” he said, straightening and wiping oil from his hands.