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Two days later, Victor Cachat arrived at La Martine. Eight hours after his arrival, Chin and Ogilve and Radamacher were ushered into his presence. The Special Investigator for the Director had set up his headquarters in one of the compartments normally set aside for a staff officer on a superdreadnought.

A part of Citizen Commodore Jean-Pierre Ogilve's mind noticed the austerity of the cabin. There was a regulation bed, a regulation desk and chair, and a regulation footlocker. Other than that, the compartment was bare except for a couch and two armchairs—both of which were utilitarian and had obviously been hauled out of storage from wherever the previous occupant had put them in favor of his or her own personalized furniture. Official Staff Officer Compartment Accouterments, Grade Cheap, Type Mediocre, Quality Uncomfortable, As Per Regulations.

The bulkheads showed faint traces where the previous occupant had apparently hung some personal pictures. Those were now gone also, replaced by nothing more than the official seal of State Security hanging over the bed and, positioned right behind the desk, two portraits. One was a holopic of Rob Pierre, draped in black with a bronze inscription below it reading Never Forget. The other was a holopic of Saint-Just. The two stern-faced images loomed over the shoulders of the young StateSec officer seated at the desk—not that he needed them in the least to project an image of severity and right-thinking.

Ogilve didn't spend much time contemplating the surroundings, however. Nor did he give more than a glance at the other occupants of the now-crowded compartment, who were seated on the couch and armchairs or standing against a far bulkhead. All of them were State Security officers assigned to the StateSec superdreadnoughts, most of whom he barely knew. People who—like the former boss of StateSec in the sector, Jamka—preferred the relative luxury and comfort of staff positions on the huge SDs to the more austere lifestyles of StateSec officers assigned to the smaller ships of the naval task force stationed in La Martine.

The young man sitting behind the desk was quite enough to keep his attention concentrated, thank you, especially after he spoke his first words.

There was this much to be said for Cachat—as least he didn't waste everybody's time playing petty little dominance games pretending to be busy with something else. There was no open dossier before him when they were ushered into the compartment. There were no antique paper dossiers in evidence anywhere, as a matter of fact. The desk was bare other than the computer perched on the corner, whose display was blank at the moment.

As Chin and Ogilve and Radamacher came forward, Special Investigator Cachat's eyes swiveled to Radamacher.

"You're Citizen People's Commissioner Yuri Radamacher, yes? Attached to Citizen Commodore Ogilve."

The voice was hard and clipped. Otherwise it might have been a pleasant young man's tenor.

Yuri nodded. "Yes, Citizen Special Investigator."

"You're under arrest. Report yourself to one of the State Security guards outside and you will be ushered to new quarters aboard this superdreadnought. I will attend to you later."

Radamacher stiffened. So did Admiral Chin and Ogilve himself.

"May I know the reason?" asked Yuri, through tight lips.

"It should be obvious. Suspicion of murder. You were second-in-command to People's Commissioner Robert Jamka. As such, you stood to gain personally by his death, since under normal circumstances you would have—might have, I should say—been promoted to his place."

Ogilve was having a hard time thinking straight. The accusation was so preposterous—

Yuri said as much. "That's preposterous!"

The Special Investigator's shoulders twitched slightly. A shrug, perhaps. Ogilve got the feeling that everything this man did would be under tight control.

"No, it is not preposterous, People's Commissioner Radamacher. It is unlikely, yes. But I am not concerned at the moment with probabilities." Again, that minimal shrug. "Don't take it personally. I am having anyone arrested immediately who might have any personal motive for murdering Citizen Commissioner Jamka."

The hard dark eyes moved to Admiral Chin; then, to Ogilve himself. "That way I can quarantine the possibly personal aspect of the crime in order to concentrate my attention on what is important—the possible political implications of it."

Yuri started to say something else but Cachat cut him off without even looking at him. "There will be no discussion of my action, Citizen Commissioner. The only thing I want from you at the moment is your proposal for who should replace you. I will, for the moment, assume Citizen Commissioner Jamka's responsibilities for overseeing Citizen Admiral Chin, until a permanent replacement is sent from Nouveau Paris. But I will need someone to replace you as Commodore Ogilve's Citizen Commissioner."

Silence. The dark eyes flicked back to Yuri.

"Now, Citizen Commissioner Radamacher. Name your replacement."

Yuri hesitated. Then: "I'd recommend State Security Captain Sharon Justice, Special Investigator. She's—"

"A moment, please." The loose fists opened and Cachat worked quickly at the console. Within seconds, an information screen came up. Ogilve couldn't be certain, from the angle he was looking at it, but he thought it consisted of personnel records.

Cachat studied the screen for a moment. "She's attached to PNS Veracity, one of the battleships in Squadron Beta. A good service record here, according to this. Excellent, in fact."

"Yes, Special Investigator. Sharon—Citizen Captain Justice—is easily my most capable subordinate and she's—"

The hard, clipped voice cut him off again. "She's also under arrest. I will notify her as soon as this meeting is over and order her to report herself to this ship at once."

Yuri ogled him. Jean-Pierre was pretty sure his own eyes were just as round with disbelief.

Genevieve's eyes, on the other hand, were very narrow. Some of that was her pronounced epicanthic fold, but Ogilve knew her well enough to know that most of it was anger.

"For what possible reason?" she demanded.

Cachat's eyes moved to her. There was still no expression on his face beyond a sort of detached severity.

"It should be obvious, Citizen Admiral. People's Commissioner Radamacher may be involved in a plot against the state. The murder of his immediate superior Robert Jamka suggests that as a possibility. If so, under the circumstances, he would naturally name a trusted member of his cabal to replace him."

"That's insane!"

"Treason against the state is a form of insanity, yes. Such is my private opinion, at least, although it certainly wouldn't serve as a defense before a People's Court."

Genevieve, normally a model of self-composure, was almost hissing. "I meant the accusation was insane!"

"Is it?" Cachat shrugged. The gesture, this time, was not so minimal. And whether Cachat intended it or not, the easy heaving of the shoulders emphasized just how square and muscular those shoulders were. Much more so than Ogilve would have guessed from the holopic he'd seen a few days earlier. Ogilve was quite sure the man was a fanatic about physical exercise, too. Cachat's frame was naturally that of a rather slimly built man, and the muscle he had added was not massive so much as wiry. But the force of his personality was driving home to the commodore just how ruthlessly this young man would tackle any project—including his own physical transformation.

Cachat continued. "I can tell you that I spent most of my time on my voyage here studying the records on La Martine, Citizen Admiral Chin. And one thing that is blindingly obvious is that the proper distance between State Security and the Navy has badly eroded in this sector. As is further evident by your own anger at my actions. Why should a Navy admiral care what dispositions State Security makes of its personnel?"

Chin said nothing for a moment. Then, her eyes became sheer slits and Ogilve held his breath. He almost shouted at her. For God's sake, Genevieve—shut up! This maniac would arrest a cat for yawning! 

Too late. Genevieve Chin didn't often lose her temper. Nor was it volcanic when she did. But the low, snarling words which came out now contained all of the biting sarcasm of which she was capable.

"You arrogant jackass. Leave it to a desk man to think that in combat you can keep all the rules and regulations in tidy order. Let me explain to you, snotnose, that when you put people together in hard circumstances—for years we've been out here on our own, damn you, and done one hell of a good job—"

The State Security officers enjoying the privilege of being seated in the Special Investigator's presence began spluttering outrage. Two of the StateSec officers standing against the wall stepped forward, as if to seize Chin. The admiral herself, despite her age, slid easily into a martial artist's semi-crouch.

It's all going to blow! Ogilve thought frantically, trying to find some way to—


He jumped. So did everyone in the room. The palm of Cachat's hand, slamming the desk, had sounded like a small explosion. Jean-Pierre Ogilve studied the Special Investigator's hand. It was not particularly large. But, like the shoulders, it was sinewy and square and looked . . . very, very hard.

For the first time, also, there was an actual expression on Cachat's face. A tight-eyed, tight-jawed, glare of cold fury. But, oddly enough, it was not aimed at Admiral Chin but at the two StateSec officers stepping forward.

"Were you given any instructions?" Cachat demanded harshly.

The two officers froze in mid-step.

"Were you?"

Hastily, they shook their heads. Then, just as hastily, stepped back and resumed their position against the wall. Standing at rigid attention, now.

Cachat's hard eyes moved to the StateSec officers seated on the couch and two armchairs.

"And you. In case you have difficulty with simple geometry, it should be obvious that the proper relations between StateSec and Navy could not have collapsed in this sector without the participation of both parties involved."

One of the two StateSec officers granted an armchair in what Ogilve was coming to think of as The Fanatic's Presence began to protest. Jean-Pierre knew her name—Citizen Captain Jillian Gallanti, the senior of the two captains in command of the superdreadnoughts Hector Van Dragen and Joseph Tilden—but nothing else about her.

Cachat gave her as short a shrift as he was giving everyone else.

"Silence. Whether or not you can handle geometry, your grasp of simple arithmetic leaves much to be desired. Since when do two SDs need to keep their impellers up to handle a task force of battleships and cruisers? Leaving aside the useless wear and tear on the people's equipment"—the words somehow came out in capital letters, People's Equipment—"you've also kept the People's Navy paralyzed for weeks. Weeks, Citizen Captain Gallantithereby giving the Manticoran elitists free rein to wreak havoc on the commerce in this sector. All this, mind you, in the midst of the Republic's most desperate hour, when the blueblood Earl of White Haven and his Cossacks are ravening at our door."

Cachat's eyes narrowed a bit. "Whether your actions are the product of incompetence, cowardice—or something darker—remains to be determined."

Gallanti shrunk down in her chair like a mouse under a cat's regard. All the StateSec officers in the compartment now looked like furtive mice. Their eyes moving, if nothing else; desperately trying to avoid the cat's notice.

Cachat studied them for a moment, like a cat selecting its lunch. "I can assure all of you that Citizen Chairman Saint-Just is no more pleased with the state of StateSec-Navy relations in this sector than I am. And I can also assure you that the man who created our organization understands better than anyone that it is ultimately State Security which is responsible for maintaining those proper relations."

After a moment, he looked back at Yuri Radamacher. "Name another replacement."

Yuri's lips twisted slightly. "Since Citizen Captain Justice didn't suit you, I'd recommend Citizen Captain James Keppler."

Cachat's fingers worked at the keyboard again. When the appropriate screen came up, he spent perhaps two minutes studying the information. Then:

"I will warn you only once, Citizen Commissioner Radamacher. Trifle with me again and I will have you shipped back immediately to Nouveau Paris and let you face the investigation in the Institute instead."

Mention of the Institute brought a chill to the compartment. Before the Harris assassination, the Institute had been the headquarters of the Mental Hygiene Police, and its reputation had become only more sinister since the change in management.

Cachat allowed the chill to settle in before continuing.

He pointed a finger at the screen. "Citizen Captain Keppler is an obvious incompetent. It's a mystery to me why he wasn't relieved of his duties months ago."

Like the admiral, Yuri seemed to have decided that he was damned anyway. "That's because he was one of Jamka's toadies," he snarled.

"I'll have Keppler assigned to escort my first set of dispatches to Nouveau Paris. Presumably the man can handle a briefcase shackled to his wrist. Which means I still want your recommendation for a replacement, Citizen Commissioner Radamacher. Your opinions on any other subject are not required at this time."

"What's the use? Whoever I recommend—"

"A name, Citizen Commissioner."

Yuri's shoulders slumped. "Fine. If you won't trust Captain Justice, the next best would be Citizen Commander Howard Wilkins."

A couple of minutes passed while the Special Investigator brought up another screen and studied it.

"Give me your assessment," he commanded.

By now, it was clear to Ogilve that Cachat had hammered Yuri into . . . not submission, exactly, so much as simple resignation. "Take my word for it or don't. Howard's a hard-working and conscientious officer. Quite a capable one, too, if you overlook his occasional fussiness and his tendency to get obsessed with charts and records."

The last was said with another little twist of the lips. Not sarcastic, this time—or, at least, with the sarcasm aimed elsewhere.

Cachat didn't miss it. "If that jibe is aimed at me, Citizen Commissioner, I am indifferent. Charts and records are not infallible, but they are nevertheless useful. Very well. I can see nothing in Citizen Captain Wilkins' record to disqualify him. Your recommendation is accepted. Now report yourself under arrest."

After Yuri was gone, Cachat turned to Genevieve. "I'll overlook your personal outburst, Citizen Admiral Chin. Frankly, I am indifferent to the opinion anyone has of me other than the people of the Republic"—again, it came out in capital letters: The People Of The Republic—"and their authorized leaders."

Cachat gestured to the screen. "I spent a portion of my time on the voyage here studying your own records, and those of La Martine since you assumed command of naval forces here six years ago. It's an impressive record. You've succeeded in suppressing all piracy in the sector and even managed to keep Manticoran commerce raiding severely under check. In addition, the civilian authorities in the sector have nothing but praise for the way you've coordinated with them smoothly. Over the past six years, La Martine Sector has become one of the most important economic strongholds for the Republic—and the civilian authorities unanimously credit you for a large part of that accomplishment."

The Special Investigator glanced at Jean-Pierre. "Citizen Commodore Ogilve also seems to have excelled in his duties. I gather he's the one you normally assign to leading the actual patrols."

The sudden switch to praise startled Ogilve. It was all the more disconcerting because the words were spoken in exactly the same cold tone of voice. Not even that, Jean-Pierre realized. It wasn't cold so much as emotionless. Cachat just seemed to be one of those incredibly rare people who really were indifferent to anything beyond their duties.

From the expression on her face, he thought Genevieve was just as confused as he was.

"Well. I'm glad to hear it, of course, but . . ." Her face settled stonily. "I assume this is a preface to questioning my loyalty."

"Do you react emotionally to everything, Citizen Admiral? I find that peculiar in an officer as senior as yourself." Cachat planted his hands on the desk, the fingers spread. Somehow, the young man managed to project the calm assurance of age over an admiral with three or four times his lifespan. "The fact that you were an admiral under the Legislaturalist regime naturally brought you under suspicion. How could it be otherwise? However, careful investigation concluded that you had been made one of the scapegoats for the Legislaturalist disaster at Hancock, whereupon your name was cleared and you were assigned to a responsible new post. Since then, no suspicion has been cast upon you."

Seemingly possessed of a lemming instinct, Genevieve wouldn't let it go. "So what? After McQueen's madness—not to mention Jamka found murdered—"

"Enough." Cachat's fingers lifted from the desk, though the heels of his palms remained firmly planted. The gesture was the equivalent of a less emotionally controlled man throwing out his arms in frustration.

"Enough," he repeated. "You simply can't be that stupid, Citizen Admiral. McQueen's treachery makes it all the more imperative that the People's Republic finds naval officers it can trust. Do I need to remind you that Citizen Chairman Saint-Just saw fit to call Citizen Admiral Theismann to the capital in order to assume overall command of the Navy?"

The mention of Thomas Theismann settled Ogilve's nerves a bit. Jean-Pierre had never met the man, but like all long-serving officers in the Navy he knew of Theismann's reputation. Apolitical, supremely competent as a military leader—and with none of Esther McQueen's personal ambitiousness. Theismann's new position as head of the Navy emphasized a simple fact of life: no matter how suspicious and ruthless State Security might be, they had to rely on the Navy in the end. No one else had a chance of fending off the advancing forces of the Star Kingdom. The armed forces directly under StateSec control were enough to maintain the regime in power against internal opposition. But White Haven and his Eighth Fleet would go through them like a knife through butter—and Oscar Saint-Just knew that just as well as anyone.

Genevieve seemed to be settling down now. To Ogilve's relief, she even issued an apology to Cachat.

"Sorry for getting personal, Citizen Special Investigator." The apology was half-mumbled, but Cachat seemed willing enough to accept it and let the whole matter pass.

"Good," he stated. "As for the matter of Jamka's murder, my personal belief is that the affair will prove in the end to be nothing more than a sordid private matter. But my responsibilities require me to prioritize any possible political implications. It was for that reason that I had Citizen Commissioner Radamacher and Citizen Captain Justice placed under arrest. Just as it will be for that reason that I am going to carry through a systematic reshuffling of all StateSec assignments here in La Martine Sector."

The StateSec officers in the room stiffened a bit, hearing that last sentence. Cachat seemed not to notice, although Jean-Pierre spotted what might have been a slight tightening of the Special Investigator's lips.

"Indeed so," Cachat added forcefully. "Running parallel to an overly close relationship between StateSec and the Navy here, there's also been altogether too much of a separation of responsibilities within State Security itself. Very unhealthy. It reminds me of the caste preoccupations of the Legislaturalists. Some are always assigned comfortable positions here on the capital ships in orbit at La Martine"—his eyes glanced about the compartment, as if scrutinizing the little luxuries which he had ordered removed—"while others are always assigned to long and difficult patrols on smaller ships."

His eyes stopped ranging the bulkheads and settled on the StateSec officers. "That practice now comes to an end."

Jean-Pierre Ogilve had occasionally wondered what Moses had sounded like, returning from the mountain with his stone tablets. Now he knew. Ogilve had to stifle a smile. The expressions on the faces of the superdreadnoughts' officers were priceless. Just so, he was certain, had the idol-worshippers prancing around the Golden Calf welcomed the prophet down from the mountain.

"Comes—to—an—end." Cachat repeated the words, seeming to savor each and every one of them.



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