Back | Next


Autumn might be hurricane season in the tropics he'd just left, Henry Havelock thought as he gazed out the car window at the fall foliage, but it was the single decent time of year in Washington. Last time he'd been here, summer had been at its stupefying worst.

The climate was one thing about this town that hadn't changed. Another was the name. At one time, it had seemed that would have to go. The Fifty-seventh Amendment had decreed that no public monuments, institutions, installations, schools, cities or anything else could be named after slaveholders. It had caused consternation at first, as the realization had dawned that quite a few things were named after Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson and others. Then the Fifty-eighth Amendment had saved the day, with its requirement that at least fifty percent of such entities had to be named after women. So the name had been kept, with careful explanations to everyone who'd listen that the capital city was really named after Martha Washington.

But very little else was still the same, Havelock recalled as the car passed the Ellipse and he looked north at the White House. It had been enlarged in accordance with a plan dating back to the late-nineteenth-century presidency of Grover Cleveland. Two new wings had more than tripled the total floor space without sacrificing the building's integrity—an almost aberrational lapse into good architectural taste. So the grandeur of the President's residence had waxed even as his political power had waned. But the palatial edifice seemed an appropriate adornment for the city that was in effect the global capital.

The collapse of the Soviet Union four decades before had only been the beginning. Japan's economic doldrums of the late 1990s had proven permanent, and the island nation had gone from economic superpower status to a chronically depressed equivalent of the old "rust belt," with silicon substituting for steel. For a while, China had seemed to loom like a thundercloud on the future's horizon. But the PRC had gone the way of the USSR, only worse, and the country had reverted to warlordism. By default, America's position as the world's sole superpower had become unassailable.

It had proven unfortunate for the world and for America.

As the car proceeded eastward along Constitution Avenue, past Capitol Hill and beyond into what had been residential areas and were now an array of new government buildings, Havelock reflected—not for the first time—on the way a holiday from history brought out Americans' worst political instincts: isolationism, technophobia, coercive utopianism, and the politics of envy. There was nothing new in any of these impulses. But the newly consolidated Earth First Party had exploited them with unprecedented skill after the turn of the century. Neither the cynical power-junkies who'd led the party nor the zealots who'd followed them had been hampered by any concern for constitutional values. And they'd commanded the unanimous support of the media, which the lumpen electorate had become conditioned to obey. The Forty-fifth Amendment, restricting office-holding to EFP members, had merely legalized an accomplished fact.

Afterwards, not nearly as much had changed as might have been expected, or had been promised. Every four years, with farcical solemnity, a President was elected—always the EFP's officially sanctioned candidate, though any Party member could run. Senators and Congressmen were also elected on the same basis. In fact, the whole governmental structure was still in place, though its only function was to implement the commands of the all-powerful EFP Central Committee. And those commands, for all the pro-environment, anti-multinational corporations rhetoric in which they were couched, had never done anything to improve the former or suppress the latter. This had come as a surprise to the true believers, who'd never grasped a simple truth about government that George Orwell had once distilled into six words: "The purpose of power is power." Those true believers who'd been too vocal with their disappointment had tended to drop from sight, confirming another early-twentieth-century aphorism, widely (but inaccurately) attributed to Trotsky: "The revolution always ends by eating its own."

In one respect, though, the EFP had been as good as its word. It had frozen technological innovation, to the rapturous cheers of the upper-middle-class intellectuals who were the party's backbone, and who'd had no wish to see their comfortable status quo disturbed. The need to pressure the rest of the world into abiding by the same technological strictures had overcome those intellectuals' antimilitary reflex. Even orbital military platforms had suddenly seemed a good idea after all.

And then, nine years ago, the Lokaron had arrived. . . .

The large, gratuitously ugly hulk of Company headquarters came into sight, putting an end to Havelock's musings. He entered, passing through layers of security: palmprint and retina scanners in the outer areas (Havelock wondered how useful they still were) and, as he worked his way inward, illegal Lokaron ranged genetic scanners. Then he was in the one office he was absolutely certain wasn't bugged—except, of course, by its occupant, who glared at him from across a deceptively old-fashioned desk.

"What the devil happened down there?" the Director demanded without preamble, in the unmistakable regional accent.

"Unknown. I can't be certain who they were working for, although I can think of several possibilities."

"Couldn't you have taken one of them alive, for questioning?"

"That might have been awkward. Are you certain you would have wanted to uncover something that might have been impossible to ignore? Any action you'd have had to take in response would have been an unplanned variable, with unpredictable consequences. We hardly need that now, when our operation is about to commence."

The Director still didn't look happy, but she subsided back into her chair.

Colleen Kinsella's surname was that of her late husband. For a married woman to not keep her maiden name was mildly eccentric nowadays, but she had her reasons. She was an EFP member, of course—otherwise she wouldn't have held this or any other office. But she sprang from a dynasty which had been closely identified with one of the two old political parties—Havelock could never remember which one, it was so hard to keep them straight. That family's name was one to conjure with, and had been ever since a President who'd borne it had placed himself beyond criticism by being assassinated. It was a name she would have been ill-advised to flaunt, given the dim view the EFP took of connections with the old political order. So she went by her married name, and kept quiet about her ambition to reassert her blood's political dominance.

Havelock was one of the few who were privy to that secret agenda. And he had to smile at the irony. A woman was now the standard-bearer of a dynasty whose founding patriarch (a bootlegging Nazi sympathizer) and his sons had been noted for treating women like Kleenex.

Now she ran a nervous hand through her graying chestnut hair. "I'm taking an awful risk. You know that."

"To the contrary, Director. This is a win-win situation. Your arguments for the operation were perfectly valid—so much so that they persuaded the majority of the Central Committee to approve it. Anyone but a cretin or an old-line EFP wheelhorse can see that we need state-of-the-art Lokaron technology—kept under strict controls, of course, and restricted to government use—if we're to deal with these aliens other than as supplicants. So the obvious course of action is to infiltrate the Enclave." The Lokaron, with an air of humoring the EFP's desire to minimize contacts between themselves and the citizenry, had agreed to restrict their presence on Earth's surface to a closed extraterritorial settlement. "Their use of human employees provides the opening we need to get our people in: a combination of technical specialists and experienced covert operatives. It all makes perfect sense. In fact, it would redound to your credit even if—contrary to our plans—it actually worked."

Kinsella smiled briefly at the reminder of their real intentions, but then worry closed over her features again. "Yes, and it will be even better if matters go according to plan and the operation fails. It will embarrass the Central Committee and drive a wedge between the government and the Lokaron. But what if we make the Lokaron too angry?"

"So much the better, Director. The more thoroughly discredited the present leadership is, the more complete the turnover will be. There'll be a whole new Central Committee. If you play your cards right, you'll be on it—maybe even chairing it."

"Yes, yes . . . but what if we provoke the Lokaron into an open break?"

"Better still. It would strengthen still further your position with the President. The position you've created so astutely."

Kinsella acknowledged the flattery with a brief smile, even though she knew as well as Havelock did that her position was largely a gift from her enemies on the Central Committee. Unable to get rid of her outright, they'd searched for an office outside the little world of intra-EFP politics—the only world they really knew or cared about. The Directorship of the Company had seemed made to order. Its principal predecessor, the old CIA, had always been a favorite whipping boy among the electoral elements to which the early EFP had appealed. After coming to power, the Party's behavior had been characteristic: it had changed the agency's name, combined it with some others, put it into a new building, and announced it had abolished it. The official name was now an unwieldy bit of euphemism; even the alphabet soup was inconveniently lengthy. So nobody ever called it anything but "the Company," a carryover from the older outfit.

Such was the venue Colleen Kinsella's enemies had chosen for her political exile. But they'd overlooked one thing. The Director, by tradition, had automatic access to the President.

That official's position was a curious one these days. Politically powerless, the President still embodied the nation in the eyes of the people, who knew little of the actual power structure and had little liking for what they did know, although most were too prudent to say so aloud. If anything, the symbolic stature of the office had grown now that its occupant really was "above politics"—once a pious wish, now fact. The EFP had encouraged this tendency, seeking to maximize the Presidency's usefulness as legitimizer of the power the party wielded.

Occasionally, though, the Party had reason to have second thoughts. There was little that could be done when a President actually spoke his or her mind in public—as the previous incumbent had, in opposition to signing the Lokaron treaties. That President had been one of the old hard-liners of a party whose name, originally an environmentalist slogan, had come to have a second meaning: doctrinaire opposition to all space exploration. To her and others like her, the notion of the stars coming to Earth had been no more palatable than its reverse. The Central Committee had gotten rid of her at the next "election" and installed John Morrison, now a year into his second term. He'd kept his mouth shut as was expected of him . . . until recently. Then he'd let it be known that he shared his predecessor's views on the Lokaron treaties. He'd done so on the clandestine advice of his chief intelligence advisor, acting in turn on the advice of the man now sitting across the desk from her.

"It wasn't hard," she allowed. "Sitting in that damned ivory tower of his"—she gestured vaguely in the direction of the White House— "he can afford to ignore the reality of our military helplessness. But the Central Committee can't—and neither can I! Those goddamned inhuman freaks own our orbital space!"

"Military strength and weakness are relative concepts, Director. It is possible for the stronger side to place itself in a position of vulnerability . . . as the Lokaron have by putting their personnel into the Enclave here on the surface, where overwhelming numbers could outweigh technological superiority."

For a space, Kinsella seemed incapable of speech. "What are you saying?" she finally asked, very quietly.

"I'm merely suggesting that you command considerable paramilitary forces." This was true; the Company had been given the capability to respond directly to foreign infringements of the ban on "dangerous" technologies. "And additional support could be arranged. A sudden attack, made without regard to losses, could sweep the Enclave into oblivion before the Lokaron could react."

"And then what? Where would that leave us? Up shit creek without a paddle, that's where! Jesus Christ, have you gone mad? They could retaliate from orbit. We don't even know what they've got up there—nukes may be the least of it. They could burn this planet down to bedrock, and there's not a damned thing we could do about it!"

"Ah, but would they? They've made it clear that they're here to make a profit. They couldn't trade with a radioactive desert. And evidently trading is a more economical proposition for them than outright conquest and enslavement would be. The expense of a military occupation might well eat up any profits they could hope to make. No, I think they'd be amenable to an apology . . . and a scapegoat."

Curiosity overcame Kinsella's rage. "What are you hinting at now?"

Havelock's reply was oblique, as his replies often were. "A few minutes ago, when we were discussing the attack on me in the Caymans, I mentioned I had some theories as to who may have been behind it. Actually, I have a leading suspect: the Eaglemen."

There was silence, but Kinsella's expression couldn't have made her feelings much clearer. To high-ranking government officials, the Eaglemen were troublemaking terrorists. To the upper military brass, they were all of that and also insubordinate puppies, idolized by scruffy popular musicians and their even scruffier fans. The latter aspect especially worried the EFP hierarchy, whose predecessors had used the popular culture as a tool to subvert the old American system. More than most, they appreciated the truth of the old saying that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

But it was difficult to act too decisively against the secret organization. Officials who did so had a way of being assassinated.

"What would their motive have been?" Kinsella demanded. "And what does this have to do with . . . what we were discussing?" Even in her sanctum, the Director shrank from speaking aloud the possibility Havelock had voiced.

"To the first question, the answer is, `I don't know.' And as for the second . . . it occurs to me that these pipsqueaks could be useful to us. Properly infiltrated—and I already have an operation in the works to do precisely that—they might be manipulated into believing that the attack I've suggested is their own idea, and that they're leading it. Matters could be arranged in such a way that most of them would die even if the attack succeeded. Thus, we could kill two birds with one stone: drive a serious wedge between the Lokaron and the present Central Committee, and destroy the Eaglemen. Afterwards, a new Central Committee dominated by you could renegotiate the treaties."

Like a biologist observing the activities of a specimen, Havelock watched the struggle of greed and fear reflected in Kinsella's face—the face he'd always been so adept at reading. As though in search of support from her ancestors, her eyes strayed to the wall. The direction they strayed was perhaps ominous, for the portrait they settled on was hardly the most inspiring one: her great-uncle, a shapeless mound of alcohol-saturated fat who'd been the Senator for life from the family's home-state fiefdom in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

But, Havelock philosophized, perhaps she saw it differently. After all, it had been her life's work to dredge the family up out of the sewer of degeneracy into which it had fallen in that era. It had to be the reason she kept that particular portrait on her wall; Havelock could think of no other.

He decided a little encouragement was in order. "So you see, Director, whether the operation succeeds or fails, you're presented with another win-win situation."

Kinsella glowered at him. "You use that expression a lot. It worries me, sometimes." Havelock presented a poker face to her, while reminding himself that she wasn't stupid—merely obsessional, which could sometimes have the same effect. After a moment, she resumed. "All right. Continue preparations for infiltrating your people into the Enclave. Also, continue your efforts to penetrate the Eaglemen organization. Keep me abreast of both operations. As for . . . the other thing, I'll reserve judgment until we have some definite reports on how the other two matters are progressing."

"Very wise, Director." Havelock departed.

He proceeded to the residential hotel on Massachusetts Avenue where he had permanent quarters, to be used whenever he was in Washington. (At no cost to the Company's discretionary funds; the management owed it a favor, in exchange for not being prosecuted for certain national security violations.) He settled into his room in a perfectly normal way. He could have scanned the premises for listening devices, but that would have been bad form. After all, the advantage of knowing Kinsella had him under surveillance (of which he was pretty sure, anyway) would have been canceled by her knowing that he knew it. So he simply went to the bar and ordered a Scotch and soda, as per his established behavior patterns, and waited for the woman who was also part of those behavior patterns.

He didn't have long to wait. He didn't even have to look at the neighboring bar stool to know it was her. The sound of her movements—swift and decisive and economical, beneath the song of sliding nylon—identified her. He turned and smiled, as was expected, at the Hispanic face—predominantly Castilian, but with a certain Native American sharpness to the cheekbones and African duskiness to the skin—under the unfashionably short bristle of black hair. She smiled back, and leaned forward in a way that, with the outfit she was wearing, couldn't help but be provocative. He occasionally wondered what it would be like to actually have sex with her.

He also leaned forward, and whispered into her ear. "Is everyone present?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good." They spent a few more moments miming the expected byplay, then she led the way toward the elevators. Following her, Havelock frowned with worry. The bimbo getup only revealed her lithe muscularity. Surely, he fretted, not even Kinsella's stupidest surveillance monitors could be fooled. But she was the only available woman of the type he'd spent years establishing—falsely—as his preference.

They reached the elevators, and went to one in particular—one that never seemed to come for anyone else. The bar was on the street level, with nothing below. After they got in and the elevator door slid shut, the lights above that door blinked through floor after floor, stopping at the fourteenth, where a couple who strongly resembled them got out of what was to all appearances an elevator car, and proceeded to a room.

In the meantime, the genuine elevator car descended through levels that only a very few people knew existed.

As they emerged, the woman fell into a military stride that seemed natural to her, however little it accorded with her clothing. They walked along a dimly lit corridor of rough concrete walls, to an equally unprepossessing room. Half a dozen young men sat around a table. All had short military haircuts, but all wore civilian clothes—none as glaringly incongruous as those of the woman, who took one of the two vacant seats. Havelock took the other, at the head of the table, and spoke without preamble.

"All right, why did they fail?"

They all came to a kind of seated position of attention at the whipcrack in his voice. One of them, slightly older than the others and the cell leader, cleared his throat and spoke. "We're not sure, sir. But statements by the local Caymanian cops—before they clamped the lid down—indicated that there may have been a laser weapon involved."

A kind of angry gloom settled over the room.

The woman spoke up, with what might have been taken for asperity had she been addressing anyone else. "We were hoping you could shed some light on it, sir. Weren't you down there in the same area at the time?"

"If I knew, Captain Rivera, I wouldn't be asking you, would I?"

Captain Ada Rivera, U.S. Army Special Forces, swallowed. "Of course not, sir," she admitted in an uncharacteristically small voice.

"Actually," Havelock went on, "I was in Cuba, on other business. I'm not sure who it was Kinsella sent to the Caymans to recruit Roark. But the laser fits. We know Kinsella has gotten hold of some illegal Lokaron weaponry, and sometimes uses it. This time, she used it on our people."

Now the anger that pervaded the room intensified into audible form, a low collective rumble of uncomplicated fury. How easy they are to manipulate, Havelock reflected, with a touch of genuine sadness.

"Yes," spat Rivera, always the fiery one in the councils of the Eaglemen. (Must do something about that name, Havelock made a mental note.) "And now the bitch is out to get more alien technology, to use for her own filthy ends . . . which will just make her more dependent on them. And the more power she accumulates—"

"I'm not altogether unfamiliar with this line of argument," Havelock said dryly.

"Sorry, sir," Rivera murmured. "It was only through your access to Kinsella that we knew about her plot."

"But can't she see?" The outburst came from the youngest-looking member of the group. "The more we use Lokaron technology, the more we become addicted to it. . . . " The boy's fair skin was flushed, and he seemed on the verge of tears. "We'll never get rid of them!"

"Kinsella doesn't want to get rid of them, Jens," Rivera snarled. "All she wants is to get a better deal out of them."

"And," Havelock said quietly, "we'll never restore the governmental system the framers of the Constitution intended. Kinsella isn't interested in that either. She has no objection to the present system, as long as she's in charge of it. That's the limit of her vision." He let the depression in the room's air thicken for a heartbeat or two, then resumed briskly. "So as usual it's up to us. We have to be prepared to act . . . against the Lokaron themselves, if necessary."

After a moment, the cell leader hesitantly broke the stunned silence. "Sir, you don't mean—?"

"I know, Major Kovac. It's an old idea of ours—an old dream, actually, because we've always ended up regretfully consigning it to the dustbin of the impractical, especially since our contact inside the Enclave, who provided us with the layout of the place, stopped reporting. But now there's a new factor in the equation. We'll have inside help . . . thanks to Kinsella and her infiltration project!"

An excited hubbub began. Havelock raised a hand to quell it and hurried on. "I've been able to persuade Kinsella that direct action against the Enclave may become necessary. If it happens, I'll have a hand in choosing the personnel. Which means some of you, and the members of the cells you control, will be involved. You'll be in a perfect position to obtain state-of-the-art Lokaron hardware, as Kinsella plans . . . but obtain it for us!"

The blond young officer seemed to have passed beyond bewilderment. "But, sir—"

"Think about it, Lieutenant Jensen, and all the rest of you. Kinsella is right about one thing: we need Lokaron technology. We need it if we're ever going to expel them from this planet . . . and resume humanity's own conquest of space!"

Havelock watched their eyes ignite. The Eaglemen's determination to get rid of the aliens and the humiliating treaties they'd imposed didn't imply agreement with the EFP's return-to-the-womb policy of banning space exploration and redirecting the funds into "socially useful" patronage. Most of these young officers burned with a desire to recommence the space program of the previous century. Knowing he had them, Havelock continued. "Kinsella's mistake—aside from wanting to use the technology only for her own self-aggrandizement—is that she thinks only in terms of stealing or buying what the Lokaron make. As all of us here realize, that will just make us an economic dependency of theirs. What we need isn't the hardware but the knowledge. We have to learn the principles, the techniques, and then manufacture the hardware ourselves. Then we'll be able to order them off Earth. And we'll go out into the universe, rather than submit passively as it comes to us!"

He let them babble their excitement for a few moments, smiling and revealing no hint of the thoughts behind that smile. They really are splendid young people. Rather a pity that they'll all have to die.

Finally he got their attention and resumed. "The chief obstacle at present is Kinsella's caution. So, before any of this can occur, it will be necessary for us to force matters. . . . "

Back | Next

Title: Eagle Against the Stars
Author: Steve White
ISBN: 0-671-57846-4
Copyright: © 2000 by Steve White
Publisher: Baen Books