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When navies are forgotten
And fleets are useless things,
When the dove shall warm her bosom
Beneath the eagle's wings. 

—Frederic Lawrence Knowles



Torpedoboat D992's auxiliary thruster was turning at idle, enough to make the water bubble beneath her stern and to take the slack out of the lines. Despite that, if any of the vessel's crew were anxious for their passenger to come aboard, they took pains to conceal the fact.

Johnnie, wearing civilian clothes, and Captain Daniel Cooke in a clean uniform with the tabs of his new rank on its collar paused beneath a tarpaulin for a moment. The sun was a white hammer in the sky, but the storm sweeping west from the Ishtar Basin would lash Blackhorse Base before the afternoon was out.

Heavy traffic sped up and down the quays, carrying materials to repair battle damage and supplies to replace the enormous quantities used up in the action of the previous night. None of the men or vehicles came near the end of Dock 7 where the D992 waited.

Dan said, "I don't want you to misunderstand, John. You can't stay with the Blackhorse, but I can get you a lieutenant's billet with any other fleet on Venus. Flotilla Blanche, for—"

"No," Johnnie said sharply.

He looked at his uncle, then focused on the lowering western horizon. "I wanted to learn what it was like to be a mercenary," he said. "Now I know."

His lips twisted and he added to the black sky, "I thought the Senator was a coward because he left after one battle."

"I told you that wasn't so," said Uncle Dan.

Johnnie met the older man's eyes. "You told me a lot of things!" he snarled.

"Yes," Dan replied calmly. "And none of them were lies."

A railcar carrying a section of armor clanked along the lagoon front, toward the drydock where the Hatshepsut was refitting from her torpedo damage. The dreadnought's gunnery control board had gone down at a critical time. Before the secondary armament could be switched to another console, a pair of Warcock torpedoboats unloaded their deadly cargo.

"Not lies?" the youth said. "Maybe not—by your standards, Uncle Dan."

Then, as his eyes blurred with memories, he said, "You used me. From the time you talked to the Senator, you were planning—what I did!"

"For eight years," Dan said coolly, "I've been raising you to be the man I'd need at my side when there was no one else I could trust. I never forced you to do anything—but I wanted you to have the chance to be the man I needed, if you had the balls for it."

"Oh, I've got the balls, Uncle Dan," Johnnie retorted. "What I don't have is the stomach. I see why you had to get rid of Captain Haynes—he was a normal human being. But I don't—"

The youth been speaking in a controlled if not a calm tone. Now his voice broke.

"—see why you had to pick me to murder him. Wouldn't Sergeant Britten have dropped him in the lagoon some night for you?"

"Captain Haynes killed himself," Dan said. "He'd be alive today if he'd been a man in whose hands the fate of Venus could rest safely."

"He was a decent man!"

"Venus isn't a decent planet, boyo!" the older man snapped. "It's a hellhole—and it's all Mankind has left. I'll pay whatever it costs to be sure that Venus is unified before somebody uses the atomic weapons they figure they need to win a war."

Lightning backlit one, then several of the oncoming cloud masses. Their gray-and-silver forms looked like fresh lead castings. Thunder was a reminder of distant guns firing.

Johnnie stared toward the clouds but at the past. "I don't care if Venus is ever unified," he said flatly. "I just don't want to see more men die."

"Well, you ought to care, boy," said his uncle in a voice like a cobra's hiss, "because if we don't have unity, we won't have peace; and if we don't have peace on this planet, then there's going to be two temporary stars orbiting the sun instead of just one."

Johnnie turned to Dan and blazed, "You don't make peace by killing people, Captain!"

Dan nodded. "Fine, boy," he said in the same cold tone. "Then you go down to the domes and help the Senator unify the planet his way—or some way of your own. It doesn't matter how you do it. But don't forget, boy: it has to be done, whatever it takes."

Johnnie closed his eyes, then pressed his fingers over them. It didn't help him blot out the visions that haunted his mind.

He spun around, though Dan had surely seen the tears dripping from beneath the youth's hands.

"Johnnie," said his uncle in a choking voice, "I told you there were costs. I didn't lie to you!"

I thought you meant I might be killed, Johnnie's mind formed, but he couldn't force the words through his lips.

He stumbled toward the hydrofoil waiting to carry him back to Wenceslas Dome.

"Whatever it takes!" his uncle shouted.

And the thunder chuckled its way across the sky.


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