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UNDER THE YOKE

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


Chapter Three

 

... no soldier who has bent to scratch and felt the bullet go crack through the space above him can doubt the role of chance in war. The same applies to larger issues; how would the Domination have fared if we had not pressed ahead with the nuclear-weapons research? It was a long shot, after all; another of Tech Section's crack-brained just-in-case projects, in the beginning no more promising than that absurd 150-ton articulated tank, or the caseless-ammunition project that has been "one year" away from success since 1928. And nuclear physics is not our field of choice; we Draka are competent technologists but simply lack the cultural inclination for really first-rate pure science work. But Security swore that Hitler and the Americans were pressing forward with their reactors, and suddenly the implications of atomic explosives sank in. Then it became a priority project Whatever our other faults, we have seldom passed up a promising weapon, and through great good luck and our initial head start we exploded our first device within months of the Americans. Those first crude bombs proved very useful in breaking the last resistance in Europe...

Yet it was after the war they proved crucial. Whale and elephant, sea power and land power, the Domination and the Yankee-led Alliance have glared at each other under the enforced Truce of the Mushroom Cloud now we curse the technological stalemate that keeps us from the Americans' throats. But in the late 1940's our conquests were potential strength and present weakness: the defeat of Germany and the annexation of mainland China left us desperately overstretched, a billion new-caught serfs to pacify, the whole of Eurasia to guard, while the sheer biological necessity of reproduction forced us to demobilize the Citizen Force to peacetime levels. The Alliance navies could have struck at will, with the Domination forced to shift armies through devastated lands and populations primed to revolt... except that we held the nuclear sword over Melbourne and New York and Rio de Janeiro. Of course, the game of "what if can be extended back indefinitely. For example, "what if our ancestors had followed impulse and revolted in 1833 when the British abolished slavery throughout the Empire? Sober second thought prevailed, and so did slavery under various cosmetic disguises: but the revolt might have happened, and the infant Domination been crushed in its cradle. For that matter, "what if the Netherlands had not joined France and Spain in war on Britain in 1779. giving Britain an opportunity to seize southern Africa? The Loyalists scattering without a new home to welcome them... a weak Dutch colony in place of the great cities of our southern African heartland... a world without the Domination, perhaps?

Fire And Blood: The Eurasian War
V. VIII: Conclusion and Aftermath. 1946-50
by Strategos Robert A. Jackson (ret).
New Territories Press. Vienna.1965

LYON, PROVINCE OF BURGUNDIA
DETENTION CENTER XVII
APRIL, 1947

 

Tanya von Shrakenberg eased herself to her feet, leaving the half-empty cup of coffee on the table and gently uncurling the small solid weight of her daughter into the waiting arms of the nurse. Not so small any more, either; arms and legs just starting to lengthen out, she would have the rangy height of the von Shrakenberg line, even if her coloring took after her father's maternal ancestors. Tanya looked down at the fine-featured oval face, already losing its puppy-fat and firming towards adulthood, and stroked one cheek.

I wonder if I could catch that? she mused, in painter's reflex. Difficult, when so much of an image like this was your own response to it; that was the weakness and strength of representational art, that it relied on a common set of visual codes... Oh, shut up, Tanya told herself. Critics theorize, you're a painter.

The girl murmured without opening her eyes, turning and nuzzling her face into Beth's wide soft chest. Tanya felt a slow warmth below her heart, and reached out to draw a light finger down her cheek. Mother, painter, soldier, Landholder, she mused. All true, but which is really me, the me I talk to inside my head? Knowledge was a thing of words, but you could never really reduce a human being to description. Still less a child, whose self was still potential, before the narrowing of choice. She felt a moment's sadness; children changed so fast, the one you knew and loved reshaping into someone else as you watched.

"Shall Ah wakes her, Mistis?" Beth asked.

"Let her rest," Tanya replied. Not enough sleep last night, and then the long drive down; the family gathering in Paris had been enjoyable but strenuous for all of them, a good thirty adults and more children. The first opportunity since the War, now that travel was getting back to normal and demobilization nearly complete, and most of those still in the Forces able to get leave. A good deal of useful work, besides the socializing: plans had been made, political and otherwise, and the dozen or so younger members who were settling in Europe had compared notes.

Damnation, Tanya thought, rising and catching herself on the back of the chair. Balance going again. Pregnancy always did that to her.

She looked around the office, eager to be gone but reluctant to face the bother of the trip; the air smelled of coffee and food from the buffet and the peculiarly north-European odor of very old damp stone, so different from the dry dust-scent of her birth-province, Syria. At Evendim, her parent's plantation in the Bekaa Valley, the days would already be hot. From her old room in the east wing she could watch the sun set over the Lebanon mountains to the west, down from the snowpeaks and the slopes green with the forests of young cedar her people had planted; over the terraced vineyards in patterns of curving shadow; slanted golden sheets between the tall dark cypress that fringed the lawns behind the manor.

They tossed in the evening cool, the wind down from the mountains faintly chill against your skin while the stone of the windowledge was still blood-warm from the day's sun. Sweetness from the mown lawns, delicate and elusive from the long acres of cherry-orchard blossoming between the greathouse and the main water-channel; sometimes the sound of a housegirl singing at her work, or faint snatches of the muezzin calling his flock to prayer, down in the Quarters.

No use getting homesick, she chided herself. It was probably just this damned depressing city... Tanya had been a Cohortarch in the Archonal Guard Legion when she saw it last, back in '45; burnt-out rubble, and the natives sick and hungry enough to eat each other. Things had improved a little, but not enough.

Or it could just be pregnancy, the aches and itches and the continual humiliating need to pee. It was unfair: some women went into the sixth month hardly showing at all... Thank Freya this was the third; one more and she could count that particular duty to the Race done. Or no more if it was twins again; her family ran to them. Children were delightful and no particular bother; if anything, between the servants and the eight months a year at boarding school required of all young Draka, you scarcely saw them enough. She glanced over at Gudrun, the bright copper hair resting against Beth's dark breast. Sleep was the only time you saw her still; where all that energy came from was a mystery. But having them was something she would rather have skipped; the whole process was stupid and barbaric, like incubating and then shitting a pumpkin. And Almighty Thor knew a Security pen wasn't the most cheerful setting in the world, either; the fear and misery and throttled hatred drifted through the air like smoke. Stimulating, in reasonable quantities, like all clanger, but there was a sickness in too much of it. No point in being sentimental about serfs; this sort of place was necessary enough in new-taken territory, but so were terminal wards in a hospital, and who would live in one by choice?

She nodded politely to the Security Strategos. It was courteous of him to expedite matters; a routine request like hers could have been handled at much lower levels, even if Draka did not set much store by proper bureaucratic channels.

"Thank you for your time," she said. "It'll help; stonemasons and electricians and bookkeepers are in demand. I expect yo'll be glad when the other Directorates and the labor agencies get set up proper an' things normalize.

"It'll be good to get back home." she said more quietly, to Andrew. Her brother looked up, unhooking the borrowed electroprod from his waist and smiling.

"The new place is home already?" he asked, lifting one eyebrow. The movement pulled at the scar on his cheek, exaggerating the quizzical gesture.

"Of course. Chateau Retour's mine, and Edward's,"—she laid a hand on her stomach—"an' our next will be born there. Evendim stopped being home a long time ago; it's Willie's." Draka law and custom demanded a single heir for an estate, usually the eldest. "We can visit, but that isn't the same... I worry about you, brother mine; where's the place yo' can call home?

Officers' quarters in Helsinki? We fought the War, let the next generation do their share. There's still some good landholdings ready for settlement, down in the Loire valley. Yo' should get yourself a mate, stop wastin' all your seed on the wenches, make a place for y'self. The Race has to build, or what's the conquerin' for?"

"Maybe after my next hitch," he said absently, pulling the folded cap from under his shoulder-strap and settling it on his head. "Loki's hooves, I'm barely thirty-odd; still plenty of time, unless I stop a bullet, and good Janissary officers are scarce. An' Finland will be a while bein' tamed. A while, surely." He blinked, and she could see his consciousness returning, pulled back from the forests and snowfields of the Baltic. "Meanwhile, leave the motherin' to Ma, she's been bombardin' me with the same advice since we reached the Channel."

"An' the young fogey should shut up about it, eh?" Tanya reached to stroke her daughter's forehead. "Wake up, sweetlin', time to go down to the cars." To her brother: "Well, doan' forget to visit, before they post yo's back east. Some good huntin', a little up-valley; boar and deer, at least. And we've still got crates of that stuff you picked up, in the attics. Should get it catalogued soon."

Her brother laughed and took the yawning Gudrun from her nurse, tossing her and holding her up easily with his hands beneath her arms; she smothered a smile and responded with an adult glower. "Not too old to play with y'uncle, I hope?" he said, and continued over his shoulder to his sister: "It took a two-ton car to drag the lot you got out of Paris, as I recall."

He turned to the Security officer. "Thanks again, Strategos Vashon."

The secret policeman closed a folder, rose and circled the desk to take the offered hand, give a chuck under the chin to Gudrun as she sat on her uncle's shoulder. "No trouble," he said. "A relief from my other problems, frankly; and I knew your granduncle Karl, we worked together after the last war." Unstated was the fact that Karl von Shrakenberg was now an Arch-Strategos of the Supreme General Staff; there was always an undercurrent of tension between the Directorates of War and Security, the Domination's two armed services. It never hurt to have a favor due. "Nothin" but problems; sometimes I'd be glad to be back home, promotion or no."

Tanya nodded to the murals of rocky hills and and plains covered in long lion-colored grass. "There, Strategos?"

He shook his head, fitting another cigarette into the ivory holder. 'That's North Katanga, where I was born; I meant Bulgaria. Sofia's home, I worked out of there from 1920 until the Eurasian War started. Probably why they sent me here, similar problems." Thrace and Bulgaria had been the western stopping-point of the Domination's armies in the Great War, a generation before. "Although at least we could terrorize Rumania into sending back runaways who tried to make it over the Danube. Sweet fuck-all luck we've been havin' with the English on that score; good thing the Channel isn't swimmable." He puffed a smoke-ring. " 'Course, they've got the Yanks behind them, their damned Alliance for Democracy." For a moment his calm tone became something far less pleasant.

Tanya shrugged. "Ah, Sofia; pretty town, had a leave there durin' the War... '43, I think." A grin. "Gudrun here'll take care of the Yanks, eh, chile?"

Brother and sister nodded approvingly as her hand made an unconscious check of the knife in its leg-sheath.

Vashon laughed dutifully. "Maybe our grandchildren," he said with sour pessimism, "if then."

"That ol' stretched-thin feelin'?" Andrew said, swinging the girl to the ground.

Vashon shruged. "Ah, well, it's only two years since the War ended." He looked out over the city, brooding. "Remember how things looked back in '39? Soviets to the north of us, Germans to the west, Japs to the east? War on three fronts, wouldn't that-there have been lovely, now?" A shake of the head. "Then Hitler conquers Europe an' Russia fo' us, exhausting himself in the process; the slanteyes attack the Yanks—who'd have thought we could end up fightin' on the same side of a war as the U.S.? Enormous victories for negligable cost."

"Didn't seem quite so negligible in the Guard," Tanya said dryly, hitching up the elastic waistband of her trousers. "An' the Fritz didn't seem so exhausted, not when they damn' near shot my tank out from under me, half a dozen times. Four years fightin', total mobilization."

Vashon spread his hands in an apologetic gesture. "Negligible in relation to the booty," he said. "Half the earth, an' half mankind; two-thirds, with what we had before. It's assimilatin' it that's going to be the problem. We aren't a—"

"—numerous people, and nobody loves us," Tanya said, completing the proverb as she crossed to the windows, leaned her palms against the strong armor-glass. "Doin" my best about that, Strategos. Perceptible improvement here, since I saw it last."

The Security officer scowled. "Partly because so many of the labor-force doan' have anything to do but shift rubble." He stubbed his cigarette out with a savage gesture. "Damn that sack! Waste: waste of raw materials, waste of skilled workers, waste of machinery. We could have used it, the Police Zone is still run-down from lack of maintenance durin' the War an' having trouble retooling."

"What's the point of victory, without lootin'?" she said lightly. The clouds were thinning, a good augury for the trip home.

'To take what they make and grow—for which we need them alive, and their tools. More important than stealin' their jewelry, no?"

Andrew snorted. "My Legion was in on that sack, Strategos. We took twenty, thirty percent casualties between the Rhine crossin's an' here. Janissaries aren't field-hands or houseserfs; yo' needs to give them proof-positive of a victory. Lettin' them loose in a town, drinkin' themselves wild, pickin' up pretties and riding the wenches bloody is the best way I know. Does wonders for morale, sir; wish there was somethin' equivalent on antipartisan duty."

Vashon composed himself and donned a smile. "At least with yo' settlers gettin' agriculture in order, we won't have to sell much more oil to the Yanks for wheat to feed Europe with... how's it going, over there along the Loire, Cohortarch?"

She stretched. "Jus' Tanya, Strategos; I'm in the Reserve now. Well as can be expected, all in all; the French were good farmers, but they pushed the land too hard durin' the war. Shortages of fertilizer and livestock, equipment, horses... We're producin' a surplus and it should increase pretty steady-like. Our place is all yo' could ask, on the basics. North bank of the river, just west of Tours; first-rate light alluvial soil, with some hills on the north. Lovely country, fine climate, grow anythin', well kept... but Frey and Freya, the way things are cut up! Fields the size of handkerchiefs, little hamlets 'n villages all over the place, goin' take a generation or two to get things in order."

He nodded. "Same on the industrial front, or so the people from the Combines tell me. Overall output about equivalent to ours, or nearly, but the methods are so bloody different, it's a mess. Had a fellah in from the Ferrous Metals Combine, actually broke down an' cried after doin' a survey; said the Poodles had thirty-six times the number of different machine-tools we did, all of 'em needin' a skilled operator, all split up in tiny little factories. Puttin' together a compound system for the factory-serfs is a nightmare, either dozens of little ones and supervisory costs eat you alive, or you pen the workforce in a few big ones and have to spend hours a day truckin' them back and forth to their jobs. Or consolidate the machines, means losin' months of production..."

Andrew raised a brow. "Yo're beginnin' to sound like my distressingly liberal cousin Eric, he thinks we should hold off on modernizin' the Europeans, at least the Western provinces, supervise 'n tax them instead." A laugh. "Maybe-so I should report yo' to Security, sir?"

Vashon forced himself to echo the laugh. Eric von Shrakenberg was a sore point with the Security Directorate, but after all, he was Arch-Stategos Karl von Shrakenberg's son. And he had never quite qualified for a Section-IV detention, "by administrative procedure." Not quite. He sighed, clicked heels:

"Service to the State," he said in formal farewell as the von Shrakenbergs turned to leave.

"Glory to the Race," they replied; the adults, at least. Gudrun put her head back through the door for a brief instant, stuck out her tongue and fled giggling.

They will definitely bear watching, Vashon thought, seating himself again and propping one hand under a chin. Damn planters should teach their children more respect. The closed-circuit monitor was still flicking on its random survey of posts important enough to rate surveillance; an indulgence he found restful when he needed to concentrate, even if the system was supposed to be primarily for accessing records from the basement filerooms.

Aristocrats, his mind continued. A relic of the Domination's early years, when wealth meant acres of cotton and sugar and tobacco, and the younger son's drive for an estate of his own had been the motive force for expansion. Oh, granted, the conquered territories' farmland had to be reorganized into line with the Domination's practice, although he had privately thought some sort of large scale state-farm system might be more efficient. But this was not the 1780's, or southern Africa; in these times power grew out of mines and forges, machine shops and steel mills... better to concentrate scarce personnel on Security work and getting Europe's industrial machine back into full production: that was the real prize of the War, not the vast reaches of Russia and Siberia and China. The Domination and the United States had been roughly equal in GNP before the war, but the long struggle with the Yankee-dominated Alliance would need all the productive capacity that could be had, the Americans grew so fast.

He shook his head. His were a conservative folk, where circumstance allowed; even if three-quarters were city-dwellers now, the white-pillared mansion and its fields still had too strong a grip on their imagination. And to be sure, the officer corps was still infused with the planter-aristocrat ethos; most of the Janissaries were recruited from the estates as well; and the Supreme General Staff were no fools, sitting there in their aerie at Castle Tarleton overlooking Archona.

Archon, the title of the Draka head of state; Archona, the city named for that office. An old town by the Domination's standards, founded in the 1780's; the first of the string of industrial centers that ran north to Katanga, core of the Domination's strength, mines and hydro-dams, universities and steel mills and power-plants...

It was a long time since he had seen the capital, away south in its bowl of hills, where the high plateau began its descent toward the Limpopo river. Not since the victory celebrations; he had had a good seat, in the bleachers erected in front of Transportation Directorate headquarters on the Way of the Armies, a kilometer short of Victory Gardens and the two-hundred-meter stained-glass dome of the Assembly building. A bright summer's day, the sky a blue curved ceiling, light blinking off colored marble, tile and brick and glass, shimmering on the leaves of the roadside trees and massed flowerbanks. He remembered the noise all around him, shouting, crying, laughing. The old, the young, the wounded, who had waited and worked here on the home front, and the first scattering of demobilized veterans. Crazed with release, victory, the return of sons, daughters, lovers, with the memory of the dead scattered from the English Channel to the South China Sea. Himself crying out with them through a throat gone right and dry, one with the many-throated beast, pouring out its triumph and its grief.

The ground shook beneath him as the tanks of the Archonal Guard thundered slowly by. Filling the air with the burbling throb of their engines, trim in silver and black parade paint, the red bat-winged dragon of the Domination on their glacis plates, its claws clutching the slave-chain of mastery and the sword of death. Black squat beetling shapes of the infantry carriers, with the helmeted heads of the crews rigid in the open hatches; long-barreled self-propelled cannon; other legions of the Citizen Force with battle-honors hanging from their eagle standards; endless cohorts of marching Janissaries expressionless as automatons. Roses and frangipani and streamers of colored paper flung like sprays of summer rain from the sidewalks and the windows of the buildings, the surf-roar of massed voices louder than engines. Thunder overhead as well, fighters and strike-planes, the new jet-propelled models and clattering helicopters, still a dazzling innovation then; the stink of burnt hydrocarbons, flowers, the heavy smell of dense-packed humanity.

The floats had followed, drawn by chained and naked prisoners of war from a dozen armies, decked with captured flags, bearing symbolic booty. Russian furs and grain and timber, Finnish glassware, ingots of Norwegian aluminum heaped about jade Buddhas and katanas and kimonos, Flemish lace like piles of snow-froth, silk tapestries of Lyon, paintings and sculptures, machine tools, crates of priceless vintages, sturdy workers and picked wenches in national costumes or nudity emphasized by silver manacles. Musicians and dancers and tumblers walking alongside, throwing golden eggs into the crowd. Message-eggs with slips of paper that might grant anything, from a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem to a Leonardo plundered from the Louvre to an estate in Tuscany. Last of all a train of older men, bewildered in their dunces' caps and fools' motley, bearing signs on poles listing their ranks and titles: enemy leaders on their way to the ceremonial pistol-bullet through the head on the steps of the Archon's palace.

He sighed; that had been a good time. A time to be at one with the Race, when they could relax from the long years of grinding effort and feel the pride of a great accomplishment. Limitless vistas of power and possibility opening out before them... Another sigh. The warriors fought their open battles against uniformed opponents, and when the foreign armies were beaten retired to their estates; he was left with the endless twilight warfare against the enemy within, ferreting out the last maquisards in the hills, breaking up sabotage rings, policing the pens and labor-compounds of the administrative Directorates and the industrial Combines. Routine work back in the Police Zone, but it took extreme measures to get any worthwhile effort out of the newly conquered territories.

Strategos Vashon adjusted the controls of the monitor; now it was showing one of the interrogation chambers, belowground in another bow to tradition. A chamber of antiseptic white tile, easy to wash, scattered instruments of chromed steel and wire; a frame for lowering subjects slowly head-first into a vat, the old-fashioned stretch-and-break models. Two Psy-Ops officers in green, with the usual dark bib-aprons, but the procedure was something new, outlined in last month's circular from headquarters.

The subjects were seated facing each other, two Poodles, locals; a father and son, both probably couriers for what was left of the underground. A more important case than most, since their network was suspected of contact with the American OSS, Office of Strategic Services, the Alliance's secret-intelligence and covert operations apparat. He leaned closer, adjusted the grainy black-and-white picture until the dark stubbled face of the older man came close, sweat and rolling eyes above the gag; he was strapped naked into a steel chair with electrodes at the classic points, testicles, anus, nipples, ears, toes, wires and copper disks taped to his olive skin. The passive partner. The secret policeman worked the controls to swivel the camera; the younger subject was similary outfitted, with one difference. There was a switch under his right hand, a simple pressure-activated on-off plaque. One of the officers was explaining in slow bored French:

"... as long as you keep that pushed down, the current will flow through your father. Release it, and it will flow through you. The current increases each time you push or release the button. When that meter"—he pointed—"goes into the red zone, it will be approaching the killing range. Understand?"

The young Poodle was not screaming, not yet; you could hear the effort it took to force reason into his voice.

"What do you want? What do you want me to do? For the love of God, tell me what you want, please—"

The Security officer continued: "Current on in five seconds. Five, four, three—"

The boy was shrieking even before the current hit; his father's head was moving back and forth in the padded clamp, a silent nonononono. Vashon smiled. The treatment would continue until the passive subject was dead, of course; the Psy-Ops theorists swore that it was more effective at breaking the will than any amount of raw pain, better even than sensory deprivation. Once it was over, the subject knew, right down to the subconscious level, that he would do anything, absolutely anything, rather than stay in that chair... and then they would bring in his sister and mother, and explain what he was going to do after they released him. The Security Directorate would have another conduit, ready to be activated if the Americans tried... oh, to smuggle out more of the captive scientists working for the War Directorate's Technical Section, or to get saboteurs into the plutonium-refining plant at Le Puy. There would be no repetition of that embarrassing affair with Heisenberg and the rocket-ramjet researchers, in the chaotic period right after the War. Credit where credit was due—this technique was based on German Gestapo research, but it had the malignant beauty of a concealed razor-blade in a melon.

His smile broadened. Perhaps they would get an American. The ancient enemy, the hereditary foe; the Domination had been founded by refugees from their Revolution, its self-evident lie that all men were created equal. Loyalists from Virginia and Georgia and the Carolinas, hounded from their homes and plantations by the vengeful Whigs... The smile became a grin as the first incredulous gut-deep grunt came from the speaker, as the subject felt the electricity having its way with him. The Vashons were much the same mixture as most Draka, American Loyalist, Hessian, Icelander, miscellaneous nineteenth-century immigrants. But their male line had been French, originally; emigres in 1793, one step ahead of the Committee of Public Safety's guillotines.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, he thought with a stirring of almost sensual pleasure at the base of his stomach. You thought you'd won, you peasant filth; now you're going to pay. "Ahh, how you will pay," he murmured aloud.

He turned down the volume and pulled another file from the in-stack. There was the work of the day to attend to.

In the corridor outside the office Tanya took her brother's arm. "You know, Andrew, I was never particularly squeamish," she said meditatively. "Killed my share in the War, Wotan knows, an' not all of 'em were shootin' at me. We grew up in the New Territories, after all." Syria had been pacified and settled during the Great War, but not officially transferred to the Police Zone, the area of civil government, until 1937. "Is it my imagination, or is Security goin' hog-wild these days?"

He spread his hands as they strolled toward the elevator, their bootheels scrunching in the carpet. "Necessity, sister mine: if yo' think this-here's bad, you should see Finland. We're applyin' a methodology of conquest developed while we overran Africa, Iron Age barbarians, an' the Middle East, mostly starvin' diseased peasants subjected to somebody since Babylon an' before. We killed the native elites an' stepped into their shoes; what freedom did those villagers around Evendim have, before Pa 'stablished the plantation? Not that they just rolled over an' spread—read his journals: plenty of trouble with religion an' wenches an' so forth in the first few years; we're too young to remember it. But once they'd submitted, if anythin' they were better off; higher standard of livin', certainly, better housin' and medical care.

"These West-Europeans, they doan' have that Asian sense of bein' victims of Fate; not yet, at least. They're literate, these were real democracies at least until the Fritz conquered them back in '40. The Russians are damn-sure easier, Stalin cleared the way for us. Breakin' the countries west of the Elbe to the Yoke goin' be a long, bloody business. Three generations, minimum, even after we've wiped out mass literacy; folk tradition can be almost 'z bad."

Tanya frowned, slowing her pace and letting Cudrun and her nurse move forward out of earshot before dropping her voice."Tell the truth, I'm a little concerned about Timmie and Gudrun, an' the new baby. Wouldn't want any of 'em soft, but watching too much killing and pain too soon isn't good either; serfs are inferior, but they're not dumb beasts or machinery. Think of them like that an' you start underestimatin' them; also... yo' can lose something, a sort of basic respect fo' life, I've seen it happen. Then y'lose respect for yo' own life, an'—" She stopped, shook off worry as they overtook the others. "Ah, well, take the days as they come."

The wire door of the elevator cage scissored open. "And I miss yo', brother, I really do; it's not just the War and different postin's, we've been drifting apart and yo've been getting too wrapped up in hard an' bitter things. I'm not naggin', leave the future to itself, but drop by after the harvest this fall. The wine's fantastic, the place grows everythin' to perfection, I've got old Cindy from Evendim as head-cook and three of the best chefs in France... Nice bunch of neighbors, too, when we get the chance to socialize; three-quarters of the Guard who weren't heirs took out grants thereabouts when they stood the veterans down. Plantations, mostly; construction partnerships, restaurants... Hell, the crew of the Baalbeck Belle took estates on both sides of me; my gunner spent the War fightin' with my loader and then they went'n married, and the same with the driver an' Sparks. Come down, party a little, hunt, feast, let yore heart have room to breath." A smile and a gentle pinch on the arm. "And you really should get that booty tallied."

"I'll drop by; put those two wenches I found you to work on the loot, if you want, 'n can spare them from bookkeepin'." He winked. "An" bedwenchin'."

Tanya smiled sourly, recognizing the signs of a gentle but firm refusal to pursue a subject further. "Not for me; doctor's orders, nothin' rough or deep. I'm not even sleeping with Edward, much less teachin' a wild mare how to play pony for me. Ah, well, Solange is sweet and willin', but it's a bit like living on Turkish Delight; tasty and nourishing, but after a while you crave meat." A wiggle of eyebrows. "Plenty for you, though; one good thing about this-here inconveniently advanced country, they're not worn-out hags at twenty-five." She laughed. "Edward and I're going to need them, in a year or two, when Timmie hits puberty. Recallin' you at thirteen, y'had half the wenches on Evendim sittin' down careful."

"Ah," he said with a nostalgic chuckle, "nothin' like that first fine flush of hormonal frenzy. Not that you felt that way at the time," he added thoughtfully.

She shrugged. "Gender difference, I suppose. Seems to take males twenty years to learn that personalities are what makes it more interestin' than masturbation. Though," she added, with a mock-malicious smile, "there's women I could name that never did grasp the distinction either. Present company excepted."

"What, never?" he said slyly.

"Weeell, after a battle sometimes, just to remind myself I's alive."

They exited into an internal alleyway, a narrow street closed off when the Security complex was established. Tanya looked up at the gaps of blue sky between the long tatters of cloud and breathed deeply; the chill was leaving the wet air, and some hopeful soul had hung pots of flowering impatiens from the eaves on either side, slashes of hot pink, coral and magenta against the browns and greys of the stone. The alley was lined on both sides with agency showrooms, the Settlement and Agriculture Directorate liaison office, a few restaurants, outfitters. It was crowded to the point of chaos, not least with construction crews making alterations; civil settlement in France was just getting under way and receiving priority as a matter of State policy. Every settler needed labor, even if it was only a few household servants. Planters in soft dark working leathers, bureaucrats in the four-pocket khaki working dress of the civil service, Combine execs in suits of white linen and Shantung silk, serfs of every race and kind and degree pushed through.

Sort of irregular, she thought, as she stopped before the Stevenson & de Verre office, a converted house. That was the largest agency in the Domination, with hundreds of branches. Back—she stopped herself—back near the old home, even in a small provincial town like Baalbeck, it would have been much larger. Showrooms and auction-pits, holding pens, workshops, medical facilities; in a major city like Alexandria or Shahnapur, a complex of creches and training-centers... Here there were only the offices and catalogs and a simple fitting-out room, with the serfs in the Security cells. Of course, Europe was still too raw for the usual procedures, only recently out from direct military government; still in the initial process-and-sort stage, the mass transfers to the Combines just beginning to hit full stride. Direct sales to private holders would continue until the situation stabilized; for that matter, Tanya and her husband had rounded up the basic labor force for Chateau Retour directly, with only a few lochoi of Order Police to help with the culling and neck-numbering and registration.

"Well," she said, stopping on the worn stone steps of the shop. "Take care, brother mine; y'all remember the door's always open."

"An' yo've got to see my new white Caramague horse, she's a beauty. Uncle," Gudrun said. "Pa gave me a real Portuguese bullfighter's saddle, with silver studs."

"So yo've been tellin' me for the last week, sweetlin'," he said, stooping for her hug. "Maybe-so I will; been a while since I done any riding."

Tanya embraced him as he straightened, feeling the huge and gentle strength of his arms as they closed around her, the slight rasp of his mustache on her neck, smelling cologne and soap and leather. She dug her fingers fiercely into the hard rubbery muscle of his neck.

"I love you, brother," she whispered.

"An" I you, sister," he replied quietly; stepped back, saluted and strode away into the crowd.

She looked down, to find Gudrun scowling at the unseemly adult display of emotion, took her hand despite an effort at evasion, pushed through the swinging doors. While I can, she thought, giving it a quick squeeze. They grow so quick.

The waiting room was quiet and dim, walled in rose silk and eighteenth-century tapestries, with lecterns bearing photo-catalogs. The attendant at the desk in the corner was busy with an argumentative exec from Capricorn Textiles who was waving a requisition for a thousand loom-tenders; Tanya idly flipped open one of the leather-bound catalogs, leafing through the front-and-side shots and brief descriptions of skills.

"Ma," Gudrun said.

"Hmmm?" Tanya looked down; her daughter was craning sideways to see the photographs.

"Ma, could I buy a serf?"

"Whatever fo', my heart?"

"Well, for a maid."

"Yo've already got two body-servants, sweetlin'."

The red brows frowned, drawing a crease between them; Tanya felt her heart turn over with warmth at the gravely serious expression. Gudrun had the innocent greed of childhood; horses had been her latest passion, she would have filled the stables at Chateau Retour if she could... but clothes and attendants had been a matter of profoundest indifference, until now. They do grow up, she thought wistfully.

"Well, Beth's nice," Gudrun said, reaching behind to pat the nursemaid on the arm, "but I's too grown now to be looked after by a nurse. An' Miriam's good at fixin' up my things, but she's so old, she never wants to do stuff like run or swim or ride or climb things an' it's no fun telling her to."

Her mother winced inwardly; Miriam was all of twenty-two, eight years younger than herself. Well, to ten a parent is ancient beyond worlds anyway, she told herself.

Gudrun continued, as if checking off a carefully thought-out list. " 'Sides, Ma, Beth 'n Miriam were gifts; at school, the older girls are tellin' us that we need to learn serf-handlin' with one of our own. I've saved up my allowance, honest."

Tanya controlled a smile. Why not, she decided. Good news should come in twos.

'Tell yo' what, daughter," she said seriously. " 'S true that a new maidservant's a good idea, but buyin' here isn't; quality's uneven, an' we don't have rightly enough time to check. When we get back to the plantation, we'll go over the young wenches together"—she held up a hand at the beginnings of a pout—"an" when you pick one, I'll sell her to yo', right proper an' legal, with the papers and everythin', an' you can take her along to school for the fall term. Thirty aurics. Deal?"

Gudrun considered, nodded. They slapped palms in the countryside gesture for sealing a bargain, and Tanya continued.

"Now fo' some news; yo're moving schools." She laughed at the expression of surprise; Gudrun had been attending back in Syria Province. All Citizen schools in the Domination were boarding institutions, but usually in the same province as the child's home, at least; it was a long trip from the eastern Mediterranean.

"New one being put in, jus' north of us, to match the boy's school down near Chinon." Draka schooling was sex-segregated below the University level. In theory to allow children and adolescents undistracted time for their studies and premilitary training, although she suspected it was just as much a simple case of institutional inertia: the system worked well and nobody had reason enough to push for a change. "Yo'll only be two hours' drive away, close enough to visit home on weekends."

The girl gave a squeal of joy and bounced up to hug her with arms and legs. "Whoa, darlin', I'm not shaped right for that right now!" Tanya picked her daughter up, tossed her in the air, placed her down on her feet and tousled the bright bowl-cut hair. "I'm happy too, darlin'." She sighed. "Well, let's pick up the goods an' get home."

 

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