Talk:X: Shots in the Dark

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X: Shots in the Dark

North Americans adore any contraption that moves under its own impetus; they’ve harnessed every conceivable form of energy (and not a few inconceivable ones) to propel that most fantastic of their inventions, the private ground-effect machine. Steam and internal combustion compete with electricity and flywheels; there are fables of “hoverbuggies” run by enormous rubber bands, caged animals, charges of dynamite; and now, nuclear fusion. Secretly playing Prussian Ace in a cloud of turbodust or reading quietly while computers guide them along the Greenway at 300 miles per hour, they don’t care much about the power source. Within the portable privacy of their road machines, they have tapped a greater source of energy, the inner contemplation of a powerfully creative people, which is the source of all their lesser miracles.

—Alistair Brooke

Telly from America

When I was a little kid, I could never get to sleep the night before Christmas. With Dad gone, Mom tried hard to make that day special for me, but she left me with a curse: I’ve never faced a crucial day in my life with a full night’s sleep.

Tonight was going to be like that. Our cocktail party had turned into dinner, then into a few more drinks. Eventually the ladies had gone home, Captain Forsyth, outside to supervise the evening shift. Before taking off, Clarissa had given me the happy news: the cast was coming off tomorrow, and I’d get my first excursion around the city of Laporte.

To me that sounded like a visit from Saint Nick—and I was back in the detective business: Ed came in just as I was getting ready for bed, sorting my pocket contents on the dresser top. Even wearing a bathrobe, I’m a traveling junk collection.

“You’re on your own tonight. I have to go check security for a client.” He watched me disgorge my pockets with the fascination of a small boy watching seventy-three clowns get out of a Volkswagen.

“I guess I can take care of myself—with the help of Forsyth’s finest occupying every foot of the property line.” I pulled out Toward a New Liberty, dog-eared half a dozen places where I’d given up in disbelief, and tossed it on the bed. At least Mary Ross-Byrd was easier to understand than three-quarters of what was on the Telecom, and she never failed to put me to sleep.

Ed shook his head. “Don’t let your guard down. They’re good men, but load that blunderbuss of yours anyway, and tuck it under your pillow—or would you prefer a real gun?” He indicated his autopistol.

I reached for the Smith & Wesson lying amid the ruins of my once functional shoulder holster. “This’ll do fine—it and its little brother. Wish I had some ammunition for the Browning, too.”

“What for?” he asked with a fairly straight face, “—shooting mice?”

“Meiss was shot with a .380, wise guy, I was thinking more of cockroaches, the two-legged kind, and I’ll have you know this fine specimen of Belgian gunsmithing develops over three hundred foot-pounds of—”

“And this”—Ed swept back his cape to uncover the .375—“develops nearly four thousand! Look, Win, we can find somebody to make you ammunition for these toys, but you owe it to yourself—”

“Hell—with any luck, I won’t be needing more ammunition, anyway.”

“We could use some luck like that.” He stood, idly poking through my personal debris: badge carrier, pocket change, empty cartridge cases. I might have objected, but these artifacts must have been as curious to him as the Gallatin coin had been to me. He straightened, took a deep breath. “Well, can’t stand here all night.” He glanced at the bureau again and felt around in his tunic. “So that’s where it got to! Mind if I confiscate my pen?” He held out the one I’d found in Meiss’s desk drawer.

“Welcome to it, brother, but that one I brought with me from the other side. It belonged to my defunct physicist.”

“What? Impossible! I—wait a second.” He slammed out of the room, was gone a few minutes, came back holding his hands like a freshly scrubbed surgeon, in each fist a felt-tip pen. “Found it. Look at this!” They were cheap advertising giveaways, identical right down to the commercial inscription: PARATRONICS, LTD., LAPORTE, N.A.C., TELECOM GRAY 4-3122.

Here, obviously, was a clew (as they spell it here) I shouldn’t have overlooked. I’d carried this damned pen every day without so much as twitching a gray cell. Clarissa could take the cast off my arm and reapply it to my head.

But the upshot was that I’d be employing my newfound mobility tomorrow following a sure-enough lead—asking the Paratronics folks how come their property was winding up in the Twilight Zone. It was more important than it might seem: it was Paratronics, Ltd. that Ed was working for that night, investigating losses somewhat more significant than felt-tip advertising pens. The coincidence bore examination.

I had a big day ahead of me—which, of course, was the problem. I squirmed restlessly under the blankets, resigned to being something of a zombie the next day, finally drifting into that miserable state where you can’t quite tell if you’re asleep, staying there about a century and a half, sweating into the sheets, then freezing to death, struggling with the pillow, discovering my feet weren’t comfortable in any position …

“YAWWP!” went the Telecom. I jerked awake—both feet on the floor, gun in hand—stuck a speed-loader between my teeth, wishing for my other arm, and dashed into the hall. “INTRUDER AT FRONT GATE! INTRUDER AT FRONT GATE!” I fumbled with the door, found myself on the sidewalk, then the driveway. At the gate a cluster of forms wrestled just inside the entrance. Forsyth’s men, human and otherwise, were rushing in from other posts. I hoped this wasn’t a feint.

One guard lay on the ground, blood seeping ugly black onto the driveway, someone in charcoal-colored coveralls standing over him. Ed was on his back, arms outstretched and empty. A huge figure, also in gray, was pointing a weapon at his face. I lined up on the stranger’s chest and pulled the trigger, launching a blinding fireball in the semidarkness. The figure leaped and crumpled. The first gray-clad tough lifted a gun toward me, did a double take, and lowered his hands for a moment. It cost him his life. I put two ragged holes through him; he was dead before he hit the ground.

The intruders started to scatter. I snapped a shot at one, but misjudged the distance. He stumbled but kept on, hopping on one leg, until the guards piled on top of him. The rest of the bad guys, four, maybe five, were gone.

Ed sat up on the dewy rubber paving, dabbing one side of his face with the hem of his cloak. He winced a little. “Win. How nice to see you—or anything at all, for that matter. Is that a Denver police uniform you’re wearing?”

I looked down and was suddenly chilly, attired in the gun in my hand and the cast on my arm. I took the speed-loader from between my teeth. “Didn’t know this was a black-tie gunfight. That’s a nasty bruise!”

“It’ll mend.” He heaved to his feet, swaying for a moment with one hand on my shoulder, then steadied and took command. “Is the captain all right? Take the other guy into the house.” That other guy, the one I’d winged, clutched his thigh and whimpered. He was on his feet with a little uniformed assistance; must have had a bootful of type O by now. A guard was tying on a tourniquet. Maybe I’d missed the femur. Too bad.

Forsyth had been brained the same as Ed, but more effectively. They were carrying him into the house, but he was “talking,” issuing instructions and calling for reinforcements.

He wasn’t the only simian casualty. My second and third shots of the evening had bagged a gorilla, R.I.P.

AT 2 A.M., Ed didn’t want to bother Clarissa, even though we had three wounded bodies to take care of, plus a couple of deaders out in the driveway. He was willing to let what passes for the authorities handle things.

Lucy, jolted out of bed by the fireworks, came plunging over, frustrated at missing all the excitement. She absolutely insisted on calling my favorite M.D., who was on the way by the time Lucy got out three words and a grimace. The captain frightened us by throwing up—a bad sign with a head wound. By then Ed was glad we’d yelled for help—he was pretty groggy himself.

That left our friend with the hole in his leg parked sullenly in a corner, two angry chimpanzees holding him none too gently and exchanging interesting notions about what to do with him if Forsyth got worse. That gave me an idea, so I went upstairs to put some clothes on. Draped in a bathrobe, I came back with my forty-one. Ed was on the Telecom while Lucy looked after the captain. The prisoner stiffened visibly when I caught his eye, kept looking over at Ed, then back at me, with an occasional wild glance at the S & W.

“Okay, asshole,” I said in my best backroom rubber-hose voice, “You gonna come clean, or do I hafta ventilate you some more?” I aimed at his other leg, resting my thumb on the hammer. The guards got a little wide-eyed, but stood their ground.

“Barbarian!” he spat, “You don’t frighten me!”

“Is that so?” I shifted the muzzle to rest between his eyebrows. “I got two more slugs left. Think the boys here’d mind if I splatter your brains all over their uniforms? I’ll pay for the dry cleaning. Or would you like it somewhere neater, fellas?” I pointed the gun at his crotch.

“Get this savage away!” he screamed. “I stand on my rights!” Every face turned toward us, even Forsyth raised his head, took in what was going on, and sank weakly back. Ed rang off and limped slowly across the room.

I turned and gave him a broad wink out of sight of the prisoner. “Win”—he shook his head wearily—“that’s not the way we do things here.”

I knew. I’d unloaded the revolver after dressing. Now if only Ed would catch on. “What the hell do you mean? This guy and his friends rough you and Forsyth up, and now I can’t even bend him a little? We’d know how to take care of him back home!” I began describing the Spanish Inquisition, the Iron Maiden, certain North Korean variations. I was just warming up the hot pincers when Ed worked himself in between the prisoner and me.

“Look, Win, we’ll do this my way. I’ve just called Civil Liberties Association—”


“What would you prefer, a lynching? He’s got rights, my friend, the same rights you’ll want, if you’re ever accused. The CLA or some other professionally neutral organization takes care of everything. They’ll call his security company, his relatives, friends—”

“Or maybe his employer,” Lucy contributed. “That’d be educational!”

“And what do they do, send him to the country club?”

Ed looked exasperated. “He’ll spend the night in custody, just as I might, under similar circumstances, wind up under Professional Protectives’ supervision. No, they won’t let him go—not the way they’re bonded!”

“Y’gotta admit, Eddie,” Lucy butted in again, “the accommodations’ re pretty accommodatin’. Shucks, the guest pays for ’em—and recovers with interest if he’s proven innocent.”

“Innocent? This son of a—”

“Lucy’s only generalizing. The CLA collects evidence and testimony. There could also be some lawsuits over the bodies outside. The CLA does that, sometimes, just to make sure no one can murder some friendless wino, for instance. Or, if the accused, here, is destitute, they’ll defend him. In that case, they pass official neutrality on to some other group in the business. Then we’ll get together and hire a judge acceptable to all sides. Any appeal will go to a second judge—”

“Paid for by the first!”

“Yes, Lucy, paid for by the first. And if that decision doesn’t stick, a third judge may be called. His vote is final. Any two judges finish the matter. The whole process could take as long as a week.”

A week? Ed spelled out the rest of the procedure. There aren’t any real prisons in the Confederacy. People who hurt others are expected to pay for it, literally. There are no “victimless crimes:” shoot heroin, snort a little coke, ride your bike without a helmet, do anything—to yourself.

The “law” only compels you to restore your victims to the state they’d be in had the crime never occurred. Fail in that, and your name and face get plastered all over, a formidable threat in a society geared to something like the Telecom. Who’ll do business with somebody who refuses his moral debts? No place to purchase food, clothing, shelter, ammunition—any of the necessities of life.

And one certain way to get ostracized is to commit an irrevocable crime, like murder, for which restitution cannot be made.

Insanity is no excuse. The judge is only interested in how you’re planning to make up for what you did. Society never takes the rap: in North America, there are only individuals.

Exiles can take their property and leave. Several countries still accept them, and a number of asteroid colonies. None very pleasant. The bright side is there’s no professional criminal class, no “ex-offenders.” Once you’ve made it good, you’re square. Every day is a fresh start, and that beats hell out of sitting in a concrete box, stamping out license plates.

All of this assumes, of course, that the criminal survives his initial attempt against his well-armed victim, a considerable assumption, and another reason there aren’t many jails and no real prisons. Now that he was safely caught, our prisoner was relying on a highly-civilized system: no Confederate would harm him, but he was afraid of me. And that was intriguing.

“Screw your goddamned CLA!” I bellowed, working up a totally artificial rage, “I’m gonna get some answers the good old-fashioned way!” I waved the gun, brushing the tip of his nose. “You wanna wind up with your friends out there, face down in the driveway?” I shoved the muzzle against his left eye and clacked the hammer backward, grinning like a demon.

He screamed and struggled. The guards had to plant their feet. “Don’t hurt me! Please don’t hurt me!”

“I’m not gonna hurt you—I’m gonna kill you!” I made a production of slow pressure on the trigger. Sweat streamed down my purpled face.

“All right! I’ll tell you!” He jerked from side to side, trying to evade the gun. A stain crept along the legs of his pants. “Anything you want to know—only please don’t let him hurt me!

I let Ed shove me away. “I won’t let him hurt you,” he soothed.

The prisoner sobbed, head forward on his chest. “It was Madison. He said it was for the Cause! Keep that savage away!” I was suddenly afraid he’d faint before he really opened up. “Madison will get you! He’ll take care of you all! He’s—he’s got something, something from the other—” He stared at me, I think in sudden comprehension. “He’ll blast you all to radioactive slag!”

With that he collapsed, and to judge from the rumblings in my midsection, my Method acting was about to claim a second victim, too.

WHEN I GOT back from the bathroom, Clarissa was tending our unconscious prisoner. Ed was bandaged and Forsyth asleep, breathing comfortably with an electronic contraption over his eyes. She glared. “Is this the way you treat wounded prisoners in Denver?”

“Not for a long, long time,” I shook my head slowly, “Back home, he’d have more rights than honest people. I’m sorry.”

“My patient in shock, and you’re sorry? I hope you got what you wanted … Lieutenant!”

I winced. “Don’t know yet. Who’s this Madison, Ed? Let’s see what the ’com—”

“Way ahead of you, boys!” Lucy waggled a Telecom pad. “Madisons, a regular epizootic of ’em!” Rows of names and numbers flashed across the little screen.

Clarissa conferred in whispers with the guards. “Lucy, can you take over, here?” She crossed the room to me. “They tell me it wasn’t even loaded.” She looked up, wanting something. I wasn’t sure what.

“Didn’t trust myself with the bastard.”

“That doesn’t excuse you,” she said. “It was a horrible thing you did. Immoral. I’m not sure I like you very much, Lieutenant Win Bear!”

“I’m not sure I like myself very much,” I answered, tasting bile. “And what do you mean, ‘immoral’? After what he did? I’ve had about enough of this self-righteous crap. You’re all so smugly satisfied with your Confederate status quo, you can’t see the lunacy of it flapping right in front of your own silly noses!”

Lucy turned, disbelief on her face. “What’s bitten you, son?”

Suddenly they were all strangers, creatures from another world. “The good doctor here—for something I already feel rotten about, thanks—while everybody in this safe, stable, oh-so-humane society carries a handgun, prepared to kill at the drop of a hat! What the hell are you all afraid of? How come such well-adjusted people cling so hysterically to their perverted phallic symbols?”

Clarissa eyed me with cynical understanding. “I thought. you might be carrying a conflict or two around in there! Snuggled up against that six-gun you use so well is a regular moon-gazing pacifist—”

“Or potential dictator!”

“Let him alone, Lucy! Win, your built-in contradictions will tear you to pieces here. I’ve known a few poor devils, afraid to let others defend—even possess the means to defend—themselves, unable to stand being alone more than minutes at a time, frightened their own shadows will betray them, projecting their fear onto others, interpreting every gesture as a threat.

“Or are you the other kind, who can’t tolerate independence, who secretly burns to control people’s lives and suffers their desire for self-defense with a twinge of guilty conscience?”

“You know better than that!” I spluttered. “But look at you, berating my society, while here, women—my god, even children —are weighted down with weapons!”

“Sonny, anybody with his gears meshed wants to be free,” said Lucy. “Don’t matter what sex or age, and freedom always calls for a little hardware, even—maybe especially—if you’re a little kid.”

Clarissa went on, “Win, that first type, the poor wretch, battles every minute of his life against the temptation to blow his own unhappy brains out. He hates weapons—not because of others, but because of what he might do to himself! The second type, he’s simply afraid he’ll get what he deserves!

“You don’t wear that gun for yourself, as an act of independence; you’re licensed. Some bureaucrat ‘gave’ you a right you were already born with! A right you’re paid to deny everyone else!” I held up my hands to stop her, but she rolled right over me. “I’ve heard that phallic-symbol argument before, and always from ineffectual people driven to make everybody else as helpless as they are. Who’s more confused, those who think weapons are sexual organs, or those who want to take everyone’s sexual organs away?

“Win, civilized people go armed to say, ‘I am self-sufficient. I’ll never burden others.’ They’re also saying, ‘If you need my help, here I am, ready’—yes, a contradiction, but a pretty noble one, I think. Independence is the source of freedom, the first essential ingredient of mental health. You’re good at taking care of yourself, Lieutenant. Why can’t you allow others the same right?

“Armed people are free. No state can control those who have the machinery and the will to resist, no mob can take their liberty and property. And no 220-pound thug can threaten the well-being or dignity of a 110-pound woman who has two pounds of iron to even things out. Is that evil? Is that wrong?

“People who object to weapons aren’t abolishing violence, they’re begging for rule by brute force, when the biggest, strongest animals among men were always automatically ‘right.’ Guns ended that, and social democracy is a hollow farce without an armed populace to make it work.

“Wear a gun to someone else’s house, you’re saying, ‘I’ll defend this home as if it were my own.’ When your guests see you carry a weapon, you’re telling them, ‘I’ll defend you as if you were my own family.’ And anyone who objects levels the deadliest insult possible: ‘I don’t trust you unless you’re rendered harmless’!

“I’ll tell you something, Lieutenant. Whenever personal arms have fallen out of fashion, society has become something no sane person would consider worth defending. The same thing happens to individuals: they start rotting, too, becoming helpless, disdaining to lift a finger because it’s ‘beneath them.’ They’re no longer fit to live and are simply proving that they know it!”

She wiped fierce tears away. “Win, is it wrong to be happy with a system that works, virtuous to be uncertain or unsatisfied? Is it wise to pretend you know nothing? What moral cripple, sick at heart with himself, taught you that? I’d like to find out, before I get to know you any better!” Her eyes blazed into mine, and a strange hope stirred within me.

“Give the lady a drink!” Lucy wheeled by with an enormous glass in each hand. “Have one, too, Lieutenant—you earned it!”

“I never drink anything bigger than my head,” I protested, looking again at Clarissa. “Wanna fill me a thimble?”

Clarissa grinned, eyes still brimming and her nose red. “Sorry, Win, I guess I’ve been storing that up all week. Maybe I sort of overstated the case. A little.”

I shifted the drink to my left hand and brushed a damp curl away from her eyes. “Yeah, and maybe ‘overstated’ is an understatement. A little. You were pretty wide of the mark a couple times—I never busted anyone for weapons.”

She laughed. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re one of the few who could adjust to this culture without going off the deep end.”

“Compliments!” I spread my arms helplessly. “Clarissa, someday you’ll take back every syllable of that diatribe—except the bit about hosts, guests, and weapons. That makes sense.” I took a long, long drink. It burned. “And Ed? You see this revolver, my identical friend? I will forget being a charity case. I’ve always felt exactly the same way she put it: I’ll defend your home”—I touched Clarissa’s shoulder a moment—“and those in it, as if they were my own.”

He nodded and took my hand. “Perhaps you understand now how I felt about the knife attack: you certainly didn’t fail—I’ve seldom seen such shooting!”

“Yeah, but now I’ve gone and spoiled it, haven’t I?” I pointed toward our prisoner, who was really in bad shape if he could snooze through Clarissa’s parade-ground lecture.

“’Fraid so, buster,” Lucy absently swirled her ice, “He’ll likely sue our pants off—and you don’t have that much to spare. Ain’t that Eddie’s robe?”

“He can’t get blood out of a turnip. Does that mean Devil’s Island?”

“Asteroids. No, Winnie, it just means we can’t sue him: our claims’ll cancel out.”

Ed’s sour look wasn’t coming out of a glass. “It may have been worth it, if we can find out who the real brains are. Them we won’t sue. We’ll just invite them to coffee and pistols at dawn!”

“Is he serious, or is it only the head wound?”

“You bet your galoshes he’s serious! Say, Eddie, I’m in on this, too. Those uninsurable worm-castings still owe me a front window!”

“You think this was the Frontenac bunch, Ed?” I asked.

“Seems reasonable. Only make it the Frontenac-Rezin bunch.”

“I figured as much, too. Which is some excuse, I guess, for the third-degree, Clarissa. You didn’t hear the big finish, did you?”

“Sonny, we all heard you barfing clear in the front room!”

“I’m not talking about that, Lucy! You know what a tactical nuke is?” Blank looks—Lucy stared deliberately into her drink. “Well, remind me to tell you when my stomach is better. Meanwhile, we’ve got to find this Madison character. Any ideas?”

Ed gingerly fingered the side of his head. “No, but I figure this concussion belongs to you, I—”

“Say, anybody feel like some food to mop up all this alcohol?” Lucy pointed at Ed’s bandaged head. “I’m gonna feel like you, in the morning, unless I shovel in some protein.” General agreement, followed by a brief session at the keyboard. Pleasant smells began issuing from the kitchen.

“Okay,” I said, “now what were you talking about, Ed?”

“Well, you know my cars are still in the shop. That machine gun did a lot of damage.”

“I know, I know!” I waved my cast under his nose.

“When I went out tonight, I caught the underground, did my security check, then headed back. These”—he indicated the prisoner finally coming around—“were waiting for me at the front gate. They’d slugged Forsyth and one was wearing his hat. In the dark I didn’t notice until—Win, they thought I was you!”


“There was a car parked across the street, waiting—no, not the Frontenac.”

“It wouldn’t have been a white station wagon?”

“Hmm? No, no. Just as I got under the gate light, I heard somebody say, ‘That’s him—that’s the cop!’ Somebody else said, ‘Shut up, Bealls!’ The next thing I heard was BONG!—then you, blasting away with your flintlock, there.”


CONFEDERATES HAVE A sensible attitude about time, having recognized long ago that, while some folks can function in the morning, others better not even try until 2 P.M. And people who stayed up until dawn scrubbing bloodstains out of the carpet, and trying to make up with pretty physicians who think they’re uncivilized, postpone their appointments and sleep in.

By the time I got to bed, the authorities had carted off the bodies, living and otherwise, along with depositions in living color and stereophonic sound, from every witness and participant—a lengthy process, but not without its rewards.

I wasn’t going to the asteroids, after all. Our damaged guest denied being intimidated—was downright vehement about it. I wasn’t looking any gift horses in the mouth, but everybody else was curious as the CLA shook him down.

“What’s this?” The representative removed a medallion from the prisoner’s neck. She may have been a Civil Libertarian, but she looked all police matron to me, maybe even All-America. At least Most Valuable Player.

“Private property!” he snarled. “Give it back!”

“Once you’re bonded out.” She handed it to Ed. “You make anything of this?”

“Eerie sort of thing. Take a look, Win.” He passed it across the coffee table. Different societies use symbols different ways—there’s a limited number of simple designs, and they show up over and over. The swastika, for example, has never been anything here but an Indian goodluck sign. On the other hand, our European street sign indicating “Men Working” means “Don’t open your umbrella in a subway.” The medallion was bronze, an inch and a half in diameter, featureless on one side except for the number 1789. The obverse, cut deeply into the metal, was very familiar indeed.

“The Eye-in-the-Pyramid. It appears on paper currency back home. Never could figure why.”

“I’ll tell you!” Lucy almost upset her plate snatching for the medal. “Check those bodies out there! This is all starting to make sense!”

The prisoner thrashed his way toward Lucy. “Shut up, old lady! Shut up or we’ll get you!”

“You want to open that leg again, fella?” The matron held him back. “Hey, Louie! Go out to the wagon and see if those stiffs’re wearing any jewelry, willya?” She addressed Lucy, “Don’t let this guy worry you, ma’am.”

“I’ve seen this type before”—Lucy chuckled grimly—“back in the War in Europe. Coulda collected a mess of those medals if I’d been the souvenir type.”

Ed looked exasperated. “There you go again, Lucy, that was seventy years ago, and the Confederacy was neutral. The only Americans over there were volunteers in—”

“The Thousand Airship Flight! Bloody Huns shot us to pieces, but I got my passengers down okay, and joined the fighting. That’s how I met Pete!”

“Pete?” My eyebrows did a little dance at the top of my skull.

“Her late husband—some kind of Prince, to hear her tell it!”

“And a prince of a fellow he was! Started fightin’ Prussians in thirty-eight—that’d be nineteen-fourteen to you, Win—an’ tended the sick ones through the flu afterward. A philosopher of no small repute, and a hell of a good shot. Sure miss the skinny little so-and-so.”

“Nineteen-fourteen? Lucy, we had a war back then, against the Germans! And influenza, too! It’s a strange universe.”

“Stranger’n you know.” Lucy handed the medal back. “Never thought I’d see one of these again, ’specially in this country. Kinda makes a body sick.”

“It’s Prussian?” I asked.

“Misfires and malfunctions, no! Belongs to the schemers behind those goose-steppin’ sadomasochists. Thought we’d cleaned ’em all out in the last war—Antarctica. Last place anybody heard of ’em was the postwar coup they tried in Luna—naked through the airlock, deader’n dollars.”

Ed goggled. “You mean it’s really—”

“That’s right, Eddie, it’s them. And Win, I do know what an atom bomb is. I helped move Phobos into synchronous orbit over Coprates.” She jerked an unkind thumb toward the prisoner. “If these crablice’re plannin’ t’use thermonuclear earth-movers as weapons …”

“Who the hell are you talking about?” I demanded. “Who’s them?”

“The Hamiltonians,” Ed answered quietly. “They’re the ones trying to kill you, Win.”

“Federalists?” Clarissa whispered with horror. “Right here in Laporte?”