SOLACE OF MANTICORE
Part 11: Last Mosh in Paris
Previously: A Gavot, A Foxtrot, and The Twist
TIMESTAMP: 1889 PD
“Those bastards finally did it,” Minerva commented over breakfast, looking at the news feed playing across her fantascopic glasses.
“Mm?” Solace asked, looking up from tickling Ruth and unable to hear the sound that was reaching her lover’s ears through the dermal contact patches at the back of the glasses’ earpieces. “Bastards? Which ones, there are ever so many of them these days. Are we talking about the Conservative Association, the Liberal Party, Manpower, Jessyk, Axelrod, The Brotherhood of Odin, the Aparatchiks who run the Solarian League, The Hauptmans, Stephan Jordan, Ravinder and Mika Jankowski, Sean-Michael Dempsy… give me a hint here, babe. There are an awful lot of people we don’t like, either collectively or individually, or just because they’re business rivals.”
Minerva, who had started the rant looking annoyed at Solace, was smirking by the end of it. “Ohh hooo… it’s us now, is it?” She’d slid the glasses down her face so she could peer at the younger woman over the top of the frameless-rims.
Solace blinked, trying to figure out where that had come from and then rolled her eyes. “That was a year ago, you bitch,” she humphed. “And I was talking about sports teams where I’m not on the team. Sure, I might not work for Andros-Brandyne, but I’m… call me a cheerleader of theirs. Plus, I own a vast quantity of stock.”
“Since when?” Minerva asked, sliding the glasses back up and commanding, “VIvian, what’s the Commander’s current stock investment at?”
The Household Computer Intelligence, one of Andros-Brandyne’s major products, was normally named VIctoria, where the VI stood for Virtual Intelligence. VIvian was the prototype that had been upgraded again and again over the last century and now essentially was a shadow member of the board. Only by Crown order were the two systems kept seperate, with VIvian having to make direct requests to VIctoria just like every flesh and blood person had to.
VIvian’s voice, clear as a bell, said, “Commander Solace owns 503 common stock shares, which, as of the current time are worth 20,645 Manticoran Dollars and 63.5 cents. They represent just under 1/25,000,000th of the common stock or 1/982,174,860th of the total value of the Cartel. Her Uncle, Earl New Temple, owns-”
“Yes, thank you, VIvian, that’s enough,” Minerva said, smirking. “What was that about vast quantities of stock?”
Solace grinned, “Hey, it’s vast for me… that’s a third of my salary now that I’m on half-pay!”
“Isn’t your trust-fund huge?”
Solace considered that. Her Uncle was one of the twenty or so richest people in the Star Kingdom, or so people said… but that was largely because he was the head of the New Temple Group, the kingdom’s largest investment and banking house. His wealth was always something removed from the man himself and her family never really talked about it. Mary and Hope lived simply off their combined incomes. Mary had been written out of her parents will long before even Loyal was born for some mysterious incident in her youth, and had steadfastly refused all financial aid from her vastly more wealthy sibling. Solace realized she hadn’t answered when Ruth nipped her fingers and she blushed, then shrugged. “Umm… I guess. I mean I know Uncle set up a fund for all of us, but I’ve never touched it… why? I think it doesn’t mature until next year.”
“I’m curious,” the mogul replied. “You’ve never looked into your finances?”
“I give Loyal half my paycheck and all the prize money I’ve earned. Up until these last nineteen months, I’ve either lived at home or on the Navy’s dime. I didn’t exactly have a lot of expenses. The most expensive things I owned were my dress uniforms, the armored rescue pods for Ruth and Naomi, and my first edition copy of DUNE.”
“No. DUNE… all caps. Ancient ancient book. First printed in 138 AnteDiaspora… it was a gift from my Uncle. Insane thing to give a child. He also gave me a digital copy because the other is two thousand years old. Can’t even take it out of its protective case.”
“What’s it about?” Minerva asked, leaning forward with her elbows on the table. Naomi, finishing her breakfast of smoked salmon and poached eggs, eyed the woman, then licked her paws as she rolled her eyes. The ‘cat had had to listen to this conversation or one very like it more than once.
“Hard decisions, necessity, and how being able to see the future as a terrible burden. It’s a fantasy novel… though I imagine when it came out it was what would have been called ‘speculative fiction’. Technically, it’s set in the far far future, at least 10,000 years in the future even today. It’s about how a hard world can make a strong people, and how even one bred for a specific task can accomplish more than his creators ever thought he could.”
“Ah… I can see why your uncle gave it to you. Now, as for the Bastards I was talking about… Haven’s formally annexed San Martin.”
Solace made a face and nodded. “Knew it was coming. The invasion was a fait accompli within a week. That the resistance held out this long is a miracle… We should have held the line then, but the Navy wasn’t ready. I think that’s why the Government was so willing to get involved in the Midgard Crisis.”
Minerva considered that, then asked, “What? As some kind of testing ground to see how well a junction system could be defended?”
“Partly, but also to give us experience in fighting an enemy that’s more than just pirates. Fleet exercises are all well and good, but they’re not real.”
“True…. But ideally, no one dies in a fleet exercise.”
“That’s the reality of war, I’m afraid. It’s a duel between nations to determine whose will is stronger.”
“And whose pockets are deeper.”
“Perhaps, but economic warfare is no less bloody and cruel than open warfare. Someday soon, the Star Kingdom and the Republic will duel to see if their will to conquer is greater than our will to remain free.”
“And is it?”
Solace opened her mouth and said, “I certainly hope so.” but it was little more than a pro forma response. Her mind was running through what she knew of the variables and it didn’t take her long to determine that she simply didn’t know enough. That realization would stay with her for the next few months until, finally, she made a phone-call.
“First time on Haven, Ma’am?” the driver asked as he met her at the diplomatic gate on Isle d’Haven, the largest of the space stations in orbit around the planet of Haven. The Isle was in geosync above Nouveau Paris, the capital of the People’s Republic of Haven and one of the largest and most economically depressed slums anywhere in the known galaxy.
Nouveau Paris was a city of contradictions, home to most of the Legilaturalist Families that were Havenite Nobility in all but name, there were parts of the sprawling metropolis that were full of art and light and obscene displays of the wealth Haven had gained by raping the economies of its neighbors… and yet, cheek by jowl with those museums and palaces in some kind of hideous parody of social structure were towering megascrapers a kilometer or more on a side crammed full of crushing poverty and rotting slowly from within and without… like the nation in microcosm if the analyses she’d read were to be believed.
“Yup. Figured I’d see that all the fuss was about… you the guy the Embassy was supposed to send to pick me up?” She waved to the valet who was pushing her bags down the jetway… what a strange thing to call it, jetway. It had been more than two centuries since any jets had flown on any significant world in the galaxy and this was a space-station… and yet… jetway… “Over here, Zane… I found the driver.”
If the driver, whose uniform tunic had the name Webster on the breast, found it at all odd that the valet gave the woman he was there to collect a meaningful glower, he didn’t remark on it. To be fair, he was looking at the small mountain of bags and gulped. “Ma’am… I don’t know if we can fit all that in the shuttle…”
Using skills honed watching the spoiled wealthy sprogs of Manticore’s elite, Solace waved the comment aside as a trifling thing beneath her concern. “Oh, of course they will. They all fit on the shuttle up to Haephestus, didn’t they Zane?”
“My name is Abraham, Miss Smythe,” the Valet corrected.
“Is it? Is it really,” she teased, then smiled as a Havenite Internal Security Goon sneered at the trio and the mountain of bags as they approached the end of the diplomatic concourse and the security checkpoint which led to the rest of the station.
“Ello, and Welcome to Haven,” the woman who was not wearing any formal uniform besides an Internal-Security armband said. “Passport?”
Solace rolled her eyes, then leaned forward until her nose was actually touching the other woman’s nose, and peered over her sunglasses. “Passport? Do you know who I am? Does she know who I am?” she said, breaking eye-and-skin-contact just as the woman was about to respond, spinning around to face Webster. “I’m a special diplomatic attache! I don’t do ‘passports’,” she sneered, actually making air-quotes even as she drawled the final e in attache.
The goon… who was actually fairly attractive, opened her mouth to tell this preening popinjay that everyone entering Haven territory had to sign in and present credentials… even if they arrived at the diplomatic concourse on a diplomatic courier ship… or in this case a monstrously huge space-yacht that someone had clearly paid someone else a very large amount of money to get declared a diplomatic courier ship… but stopped as she saw what was on the back of the towering and clearly deranged woman’s jacket.
In glittering emeralds and rubies, the white jacket’s back read ‘Je Suis un ESPIONAGE!’ and beneath that was a stylized representation of a domino mask with targeting reticles in the eyeholes.
Biting off every word to make certain this aristocratic… overbred… cretin understood, Solange McQuarry half-snarled, “Everyone who enters ‘Avenite territory must present their credentials and be verified. We cannot zhust take your word for it that you are oo you say you are!”
“Okaaaay… then who are you? I don’t see no uniform or nothing. You could be a papazzo trying to see how horrible my passport picture is,” Solace snapped, then turned to Webster, “It’s totally not horrible. It’s amazing. Eric Jon-Carlo came in from New Tuscani to take it. We did a whole shoot… cost my uncle an arm and a leg, but it was WOOORTH IIIT!” She threw up both arms, her handbag nearly bonking the valet, knocking his hat off, and if the InSec woman didn’t notice the family resemblance, she could be forgiven, since that resemblance was entirely on the inside.
“My name Inspector McQuarry, Department of Internal Security,” Solange snapped, flipping open her badge. “If you do not present your passports immediately, I shall ‘ave to insist that you return to your ship and leave ‘Avenite space immediatement! “
“Sheeesh, what crawled up your bonnet… a bonnet’s a hat, BTdubs… and died?” Solace said, flipping the hair she’d let grow out over the last two and a half years since they’d taken her ship away. “Here,” she snapped, thrusting four passports at the woman.
“Four? I do not under… oh, mon deu… you ‘ave brought Aliens to ‘Aven?”
“Non!” Solace proclaimed, “We are all aliens to Ayvon! My treecats, they are citizens of the Star Kingdom, yes? They are my wards, they come where I go, so they come here… and those passports are direct from the office of the Foreign Secretary.”
“This one claims that one of these… cats, as you call them, is a Fleet Admiral!” Solage sputtered.
“But of course! You see, she was appointed to that position by the Emperor of the Andermani himself! Would you like to see a picture of the two of them together?” Solace almost laughed aloud at the outraged expression on the woman’s face and leaned in, hugging the woman around the shoulders and pulling her in so they could both see the scrreen of Slace’s personal comm unit. “See, that’s Ruth, and that’s Gus… his friends can call him Gus… you know how you can tell if you’re the Emperor’s friend? If you call him Gus and you aren’t shot immediately.” She did laugh then, as if amused by her own joke.
The speed at which they cleared the inspection after that was almost in violation of causality.
“Do you think she’s a spy?” asked Lt. Commander Anastasia Ustinova twenty minutes later.
“If she is, she’s the worst one I’ve ever seen. No tradecraft, no sense… just… air…“
The People’s Navy liaison shrugged. “She’s got to be more than just an airhead… she’s the most decorated junior officer in the Manticoran Navy. Maybe it’s an act?”
“No one would choose to act like that. No, her uncle is one of those obscenely wealthy jews… and a lord. Certainly he could have bought her her commision,” countered Solange, not sounding at all sure of what she was saying.
Anastasia ignored the InSec officer’s casual anti-semitism out of a sense of career preservation, and asked, “And the medals?”
“Luck and connections?” It was more a question than a statement of fact.
“You seem convinced that she’s not a spy,”
McQuarry shuddered, then shook her head. “No. That’s just it. I’m absolutely certain she’s a spy, and she’s got to know that I know she’s a spy, which means she clearly can’t be a spy because the purpose of being a spy is people not knowing you’re a blasted spy! Oh, mon dieu… my head hurts… and that jacket!”
“She was wearing a jacket that said ‘I am a Spying!’
Anastasia blinked at that. “Surely you mean, I am Spying or I am a Spy?”
“No! It was in french and it said ‘I am an Espionage’… in jeweled sequins!”
“Okay… now I need a drink too.”
“I told you this was a weird one.”
Loyal groaned, straightening his back after he finished unloading the bags from the shuttle, and signed to his sister, using the private language they’d invented to pass the time in temple, “You were right. They never even looked at my passport.”
“Told you. When do you meet up with your contacts?”
“Couple of days. They’ll get in touch… are you certain about this… its a lot of money we’re talking about.”
“I don’t get my trust fund for another 5 months. If you think the loan’s too big…”
“Oh, no. Nothing of the kind. My baby sister just asked to borrow a billion Solarian Credits in untraceable currency and then help her smuggle it into the capital of the People’s Republic so she can fund terrorist cells! That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask!”
“You could have said no.”
“I could have… but you’ve have gone ahead and done it anyway. This way you’re sanctioned by ONI and the Foreign Office… well… half sanctioned. They’ve said this is insane but they’re willing to use any information you can get. Plus you got me back onto the planet without anyone looking at me twice. And I can spare the money for a good cause. Maybe if there’s a civil-war in Haven they’ll be too busy to attack us.”
“I don’t think I can start a City War, Loyal… and that’s not my intention. I just need information and contacts… and to stir up trouble. I’ve read everything Ambassador Deitmar and Earl Gold Peak have put together on the various people’s action groups and this one looks the best. They’ve got a reputation for being tough but fair.”
“And you were going crazy with nothing to do,” her brother pointed out. “Except Minerva, I mean.”
“I’m bigger than you,” she threatened. “And the last few months have been fun. Learning new languages, spy tricks-”
“It’s called Tradecraft,” he signed with a frown.
“Your face is called tradecraft,” she signed back, letting Ruth and Naomi out onto the bed.
“I still can’t believe you bought all these clothes just for this trip,” Loyal groaned, as he pulled the last bag off the floating platform and watched his sister tossing them casually into the hotel’s walk-in closet, utterly unconcerned for the two that didn’t contain Ruth and Naomi or the one that had their toys. “How does one person do that?”
“It helps to have a trillionaire girlfriend… you should try it. And anyway, we needed this many cases to justify the PX-44 grav-sled,” she said, thumping the now empty platform sharply.
With a hiss, the section between the six smaller than normal a-grav coils (a PX-44 normally had four 14 cm coils, but this platform had six 9 cm advanced model coils with 65% more lift capacity than the previous generation. All told, that meant that the grav-sled had been able to hold a brick of untraceable currency worth nearly 200,000,000 Manticoran Dollars,
It was, rather prosaically, more money that Solace had ever seen in one place and yet not very much at all, considering that the interest alone on her trust fund was ten times that much every year… but she wouldn’t come into that money until her next Smythe-Day and then she’d be tradition bound to squander it on something insane like… she honestly didn’t even know what idiotically rich people spent their money on… all she could think to do with it was to do research, give to charity, and maybe, a small voice in the back of her head suggested, find out what happened to Jimmy… would he be mad she’d abandoned him?… and Rudy… Buttons would probably be dead by now. Raoul had passed away while she’d been in Saint Vincent, but by the end he’d been more Hope’s cat than hers. Maybe she should buy a Superdreadnought and name it after him… that would be a reasonable investment, right?
She scooped up the credit chips, tucked a stack of them into a small backpack, and loaded the rest of them into an attache case. “These will go into the hotel vault,” she said, out loud, laying a couple cases of expensive jewelry atop the credits. “Do you think I should wear the sapphires or the emeralds when I attend President Harry’s little party?”
Loyal rolled his eyes, knowing she was speaking for the audio bugs they’d left in place, but still unable to believe the words that were coming out of his sister’s mouth. “President Harris ma’am. Sidney Harris.”
“That’s what I said… isn’t it?”
“I’m certain it was ma’am, I must have misheard.”
The room was small, cramped, and damp, barely large enough for the five people and two treecats it held. The throbbing base music from the club just above their heads was barely muffled by the cracked and decaying layer of ceramacrete between them and the dancers, but the same noise that made it extremely hard to hear oneself think also virtually guaranteed no one who wasn’t supposed to hear their conversation would.
“Thank you for coming, ladies,” Loyal said, having arrived earliest and swept the room for bugs. He stood nearest the door, back to it, while the other six hugged various of the room’s mildew stained walls, heedless of the damage that would be done to their club clothes. Of course, for two of the four women, said clothes had so many holes in the them already that he couldn’t be certain where fashion ended and damage began. The third was dressed in slick latex that would not have been out of place in a bondage dungeon, and the fourth, his sister, was wearing a nano-fabric outfit so expensive it made the frugal part of him want to cringe and the mathematician side of him calculate how many of Haven’s Dolists could be fed for a year in exchange for that outfit… but it was ballistic fabric and proof against treecat claws and would be sparkling clean again within seconds after she climbed out of a swimming pool full of crude hydrocarbons. Just the cost of importing it all the way from Old Milan was more than most of his outfits were worth when new.
“What’re those things doing here?” the honey blonde in the dominatrix getup asked, glaring at the treecats.
“They’re with me,” Solace said, all traces of bubblehead gone. “What’s she doing here? You said two. This is three.”
“Running away so soon, little rich girl?” the blonde sneered.
“Miss Ransom,” Loyal said, placatingly, “please. I invited all of you here in good faith. Miss Smythe, Miss Ransom is one of the two I wanted you to meet. She’s a leader in the CRU, the Citizens Rights Union, one of the local political action groups.” Solace tried not to roll her eyes as her brother euphemized ‘terrorist’ into something polite. “These two ladies represent the Aprilist Tribunal, who are a little smaller than the CRU and a little more focused. This is Brigade Commander Delta and Brigade Commander Sigma.”
Cordelia Ransom sneered. “Ridiculous. In the CRU, we are not afraid to use our real names.”
Loyal cut off the incipient shouting match by the simple act of explaining, “Miss Smythe represents a small but influential group who believe that the People of Haven are being pushed into a series of wars of conquests they never asked for. She’s willing to help.”
“Help how?” Delta asked, striking a vocal tone that was half-way between challenge and curiosity.
Solace knew her cue and stepped forward, pulling out a bundle of Solarian 5,000 credit chips. There were a hundred in the five centimeter thick stack. She slid it across the table, and said, “I’m not an expert in this kind of conflict. When I want someone to see reason, I usually shoot them or use missiles to blow them up. I am, conservatively speaking, extremely good at that. My brother, he’s good at convincing people to do the right thing, but he’s persona non-grata on Haven since he seduced President Harris’s daughter. That’s officially why I’m here, by the way, to deliver a message to President Harris that his daughter is very nice, I’m certain, but not really suitable to my family at this time. Nouveau Riche and all that.”
Ransom’s face was torn between a sneer and a snort, but the two brigade commanders both snerked at the pun and the calculated insult. Solace continued, “My family’s money is in banking. Finding good investments, selling off bad ones, opening up new markets… and Haven has a lot of potential new markets. Redevelopment loans… the real kind, not the crap the Solies offer that are tantamount to indentured slavery. My people don’t exactly approve of slavery. No. Honest loans, reasonable rates. We make our money on the long term financial stability of the region and by having positive cycle consumers… you know this phrase?”
All four humans and both ‘cats shook their heads, though Loyal was only acting since he was the one who taught her the term on their crossing from Trevor’s Star to Haven. “Negative Cycle Consumers are ones who are forced ever deeper into debt because they have no choice but to continue borrowing from the same people who are oppressing them. Positive Cycle Consumers are ones that keep paying off loans and then taking new ones so they can expand their growing businesses, and keep coming back to the people who gave them the earlier loans because of a strong mutually beneficial relationship.”
“So you want us to sell out the people of Haven so you can make a buck?” Ransom barked, missing the point by a light second.
“Not at all, Miss Ransom,” Solace said, “I expect you to use us as a resource to fund your propaganda campaigns and to bribe or buy access to any assets you might feel you need. I’ve read about the CRU. You’re unfocused, dangerous, but connected. You’ll play along with me because you want my money. And you’ll give me valid information because you know the moment you lie to me, you risk my support. So here’s my thirty pieces of silver. Spend them well and, if you want more, come back to me with something I can use.” She slid a million credits across the table, willing herself not to cringe at the idea of giving money to this dangerously stupid woman.
Ransom scooped up the credits, then said, “I’ll take your offer to my people,” and left.
“Good God, I hate that woman,” said BC Delta. She stepped forward, offering her hand to Solace. “Eloise Pritchart. This is my colleague, Agradyne Ysbek.” Solace shook both woman’s hand and nodded in recognition of their apparent openness. “We think you’re making a mistake trusting that woman, but maybe you know that. Regardless, Kincaid says we can trust you and you have practically nothing to gain by, as you Manties would say, ratting us out. Still… trust is hard to come by in this line of work. Your money is welcome… such operations as ours do not fund themselves… but for us it is not enough.”
BC Sigma took up the thread, “The Aprilist Tribunal is dedicated not only to the removal and trial of the leeches who claim to lead us, but in restoration of the original Constitution of the Republic. Not the People’s Republic, the Republic. We fight tyranny with the tools available to us, but we are ultimately loyal to the people of Haven and the ideals Haven once stood for. A good part of that is egalite… equality. We don’t know if we see much of that in Manticore.”
“It’s a valid point, and one I’m certainly not the best qualified to judge or comment on,” Solace responded, “But I will say this; all human systems have inequality built into them. It’s not possible to remove it completely, and detrimental to try, since to remove one form of inequality one must add a different form. There are three forms of equality as I see it; Outcome, Opportunity, and Virtue. Outcome? Well, everyone dies in the end, so that’s one form right there,” she smiled wanly, “But when people speak of this form of equality, they mean that everyone ends up roughly equal. Good in theory, terrible in practice.”
“How so?” Agradyne asked, looking a little offended at that.
“That’s the kind of thinking that led to the People’s Republic. If everyone ends up the same, what point is there in striving? Why become the best, or even very good… when the best doctor makes as much as the worst?” They nodded, though it was grudging. “Next, is Opportunity… a bit better, if just as impractical.” She held up a hand to forestal Eloise’s question-challenge. “It’s impractical in that, after a certain point, the only way to achieve it is to handicap the hyper-capable or take away the wealth of the rich or the connections of the connected. That’s how this works. We’re the product of evolution… most of us. We want what’s best for our offspring and will do our best to make certain they carry not just our genes but our ideals. To do less is to disgrace the sacrifices all our ancestors have made. But we can strive to lift everyone to at least a socially acceptable ground state so that no-one starts in the hole. Manticore is firmly committed to this.”
“Are you, really?” Eloise asked. “Your wealthiest citizens have enough wealth to buy their own fleets! You’ve got enough money on the table to feed a thousand families for a year and more… and yet you claim this?”
Solace shrugged. “We do have incredible wealth… but we don’t have extreme poverty. Not like Haven, not Old Earth. We have no slums, few who are homeless except by choice, and a healthy social safety net. Which brings us to Equality of Virtue. This is the hardest one, and relies on a collective will to help each other excel. This form of equality espouses the ideal that a society should help everyone be the best they can be. Not equal in outcome, not equal in opportunity, but equal in potential met. It penalizes no one, rewards effort, and shores up weakness. Some will, inevitably, fall through the cracks. No system made by man is without them… and yes, there is corruption and venality and even malfeasance in Manticore, and abuse of power and privilege and position… but that is true of all societies. The best I can say there is that at least in Manticore we have the good grace to be embarrassed about it.”
That last provoked a snort of laughter from Loyal, prompting him to cover his mouth to hide the blush. Solace added that to her mental scoreboard… she was still down a great many points.
The two Brigade Commanders hid their amusement better, though she could still feel it through the ‘cats. “I think you did a fair job expressing your beliefs,” Agradyne said, “And we don’t doubt you mean what you said. It had the air of truth about it… but you cannot speak for your people any more than we can for ours. We’ll take your words… and your offer, back to the others and-”
At that moment, the door popped open and a boy no more than fifteen poked his head into the room. “It’s Poncho. He popped Enri in the face and he’s on his way through the club with fifteen goons.”
Eloise nodded. “Solace Smythe, this is Kevin. Good head on his shoulders. Kevin, take these two out the back and-”
Solace shook her head. “Kevin, get the commanders and Kincaid here out. I take it this Poncho is someone in authority?” She slid the stack to Eloise and tossed her bag to Loyal / Kincaid, the two ‘cats leaping into it as he opened it on the fly.
“Lieutenant Ponchartrain Duval, Haven Marines… Civil Obedience Squad,” Agradyne explained, heading out the door. “He’s a blockhead and a bully.”
“Gotcha,” Solace said. “I’ll give you as big a headstart as I can manage. Kevin, toss me that bottle of rum.” He did and she took a mouthful, swallowed it, took another, spat it out, then grinned, hiccuped, and staggered out of the tiny room and back up the hall towards the dancefloor as the others headed into their escape tunnels. She was already pulling open her tunic’s top.
“Heeeeyyyy… T… tha’s a pretty uniform,” Solace said, bumping into the bulldog faced man just as he pushed through the sound dampening curtain at the top of the stairs. “Did yer momma make it for you?
“What did you say, you little-” He didn’t get to finish those words as Solace smashed the bottle against his face, giggled, then pirouetted as the second man in the goon squad pushed his way through. He paused to stare at the towering topless woman, stumbled over his companion who was lying face down in his own blood, and barely had time to register that she’d moved before he went flying down the stairs to land in a crumpled heap at the back of the first landing.
Three more went down just as fast, but by that point they were pushing through faster than Solace could KO them and they were drawing weapons. She took another eight down for a total of thirteen out of the sixteen before one of them rammed a stunner right between her breasts and held it there, but she broke his nose for him in thanks before she went down.
“Lieutenant Duval,” asked Oscar Saint-Just, head of the Nouveau Paris Anti-Terrorism Task Force and Duval’s Boss’s Boss, “Explain this to me again… you, acting on your own authority, took fifteen patrol men who were not on the clock, to the Moulin, in the middle of the night… and then assaulted an accredited member of the diplomatic corp!”
“ZIR! Tee Brog by dose an beed ub mode of by ben!” the racoon-faced Marine said, snapping as rigid as an obelisk. “Tee’s brobably in leeg wid de rebbles!”
“They are not rebels!” Saint-Just snarled, “They are agitators and disturbers of the peace! They are criminals… and they don’t have diplomatic immunity! She’s claiming your men tried to assault her! Assault her! You brought her in topless, covered in blood, and your claim is that she beat up not only you but twelve of your men? Go. Get out of my sight. Feel lucky I have to sweep this entire mess under the rug or you’d be transferred to Prague! Effective yesterday.”
Saint-Just wasn’t blind, nor did he miss the look of pure hatred that crossed Duval’s eyes, but he couldn’t worry about that now. Steeling himself he put on his most mild-mannered face and headed down stairs to talk his way out of a diplomatic incident.
Next: Solace of Manticore – Part 12
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