virile, alien to Terra and rather contemptuous thereof–a culture
influenced by Merseia, both directly and through the, uh, zmay element
in your population.
“Aye, granted, you’ve long been in the forefront of resistance to the
Roidhunate. However, such attitudes can change overnight. History’s
abulge with examples. For instance, England’s rebellious North American
colonies calling on the French they fought less than two decades before;
or America a couple of centuries later, allied first with the Russians
against the Germans, then turning straight around and–” He stopped.
“This doesn’t mean anything to you, does it? No matter. You can see the
workings in your own case, I’m sure. Dennitza is where your loyalties
lie. What you do, whom you support, those depend on what you judge is
best for Dennitza. Right? Yes, entirely right and wholesome. But
“Are you, then, a Terran loyalist?” she demanded.
He shook his head. “A civilization loyalist. Which is a pretty thin,
abstract thing to be; and I keep wondering whether we can preserve
civilization or even should.
“Well. Conflict of interest is normal. Compromise is too, especially
with as valuable a tributary as Dennitza–provided it stays tributary.
Now we’d received strong accusations that Dennitzans were engineering
revolt on Diomedes, presumably in preparation for something similar at
home. His Majesty’s government wasn’t about to bull right in. That’d be
sure to bring on trouble we can ill afford, perhaps quite unnecessarily.
But the matter had to be investigated.
“And I, I learned a Dennitzan girl of ranking family had been caught at
subversion on Diomedes. Her own statements out of partial recollections,
her undisguised hatred of the Imperium, they seemed to confirm those
accusations. Being asked to look into the questions, what would I do but
bring you along?”
He sighed. “A terrible mistake. We should’ve headed straight for
Dennitza. Hindsight is always keen, isn’t it, while foresight stays
myopic, astigmatic, strabismic, and drunk. But I haven’t even that
excuse. I’d guessed at the truth from the first. Instead of going off to
see if I could prove my hunch or not–” His fist smote the table. “I
should never have risked you the way I did. Kossara!”
She thought, amazed, He is in pain about that. He truly is.
“A-a-ah,” Flandry said. “I’m a ruthless bastard. Better hunter than
prey, and have we any third choice in these years? Or so I thought. You
… were only another life.”
He ground out his cigarette, sprang from the bench, strode back and
forth along the cabin. Sometimes his hands were gripped together behind
him, sometimes knotted at his sides. His voice turned quick and
“You looked like a significant pawn, though. Why such an incredibly
bungled job on you? Including your enslavement on Terra. I’d have heard
about you in time, but it was sheer luck I did before you’d been thrown
into a whorehouse. And how would your uncle the Gospodar react to that
news if it reached him?
“Might it be intended to reach him?
“Oh, our enemies couldn’t be certain what’d happen; but you tilted the
probabilities in their favor. They must’ve spent considerable time and
effort locating you. Flandry’s Law: ‘Given a sufficiently large
population, at least one member will fit any desired set of
specifications.’ The trick is to find that member.”
“What?” Kossara exclaimed. “Do you mean–because I was who I was, in the
position I was–that’s why Dennitza–” She could speak no further.
“Well, let’s say you were an important factor,” he replied. “I’m not
sure just how you came into play, though I can guess. On the basis of my
own vague ideas, I made a decoy of you in the manner you’ve already
heard about. That involved first deliberately antagonizing you on the
voyage; then deliberately gambling your life, health, sanity–”
He halted in midstride. His shoulders slumped. She could barely hear
him, though his look did not waver from hers: “Every minute makes what I
did hurt worse.”
She wanted to tell him he was forgiven, yes, go take his hands and tell
him; but no, he had lied too often. With an effort, she said, “I am
His grin was wry. “Less than I am.” Returning, he flopped back onto the