The Second Ideology War: an excerpt from The Cat At Bay

I originally wrote this story several years ago in response to, well, several things, including the 7/7 attacks in London. It is being revised and will be a chapter in The Cat at Bay. I’d hesitated about including it because it may skirt close to violating British laws about defamation of religion. I’ve changed my mind.

For those who are wondering, Magda von Hohen-Drachenburg died of complications of ovarian cancer and Joschka has remarried. Rada Ni Drako, aka Rachel Na Gael, has been tasked with acting as tour guide in London on a lovely summer day . . .

Whose War Now?

Adele von Hohen-Drachenburg smiled at her companions as they surveyed the stalls at the Portobello Road market. “Admit it, Rachel, you’re having fun. You can’t fool me,” the silver-haired Austrian woman twitted her companion as the young-looking brunette grumped. Colonel Rahoul Khan’s vivacious new wife, Panpit, giggled at Commander Rachel Na Gael’s mild discomfort.

“My Lady, you know very well how little I like being in crowds,” Rachel whined, “and why.”

“Well get over it! You should know better than to wager with both the Graf and Colonel Khan over football matches. Now come along. Panpit, where do you suggest we start?” Adele asked the London native in the trio.

“I like the vintage clothing stalls, Lady Adele. I’ve found some lovely old silks there that I use in my textile art,” Mrs. Khan suggested hesitantly, still a bit overawed at the prospect of a shopping visit with the Gräfin von Hohen-Drachenburg.

“Then lead the way, Panpit! And both of you stop using my title, please. I’ve been ‘Adele’ much longer than I’ve been the Gräfin,” the cheerful noblewoman ordered, chivvying her companions towards the rows of stalls.

It was one of those sorts of gentle summer mornings that poets had written about for centuries. A few puffy clouds floated in the pale-blue sky, chased here and there by a light southerly breeze. A cool front had pushed through a few days before and the air remained mild for mid-August. All of Europe seemed to have gone on vacation and the English newspapers were well into “silly season,” although in Rachel’s very private opinion that seemed to describe most of the year. When Adele von Hohen-Drachenburg had announced the night before that she was going to take advantage of the lovely weather, the Graf-General and Lieutenant Colonel had both cashed in their wagers with Commander Na Gael and sent her out with their wives.

Rachel followed a few steps behind Adele and Panipt, smiling despite herself at the sight of the two of them chatting away like old friends, even though Panpit Khan had only met Adele a day or so before. Adele had a gift for making people comfortable; one Rachel envied a bit. Silver hair and black leaned in, comparing notes on something and then laughing, seeming oblivious to the glances of other people in the open-air antique and flea market. Rachel watched the crowd, getting a measure of the feelings and keeping an eye out for any ambitious (and foolish) members of the “light-fingered gentry,” as the old ballad described them.

“Ooh, Rachel, look at these,” Adele called over her shoulder, then nodded towards a stall with Victorian petticoats and shawls. “Isn’t this lovely?”

Rachel inspected the ornate lace and linen underskirt and sighed. “Yes, it certainly is! And in perfect shape. Someone cherished this piece,” she said, nodding at the stall’s proprietor.

“Oh, ay! Best Flemish lace and Irish linen, ‘mum. Come from an estate up country few years back, so I’m told,” and he winked. “Won’t find nowt like this anymore, if I do say so myself.”

After some friendly dickering, he wrapped the petticoat up and handed it to Panpit. She in turn presented it to Rachel. “Rahoul said you’re to carry for us. Here.” With a mock long-suffering sigh that drew laughs from the stall-owner and the other ladies, Rachel did as told.

They paused at another stall, this one with odds and ends of fabric in a rainbow of hues. “Rachel, this would look lovely with your hair,” Panpit suggested, holding up a length of bright green silk. “You could wear it with a paler-green or grey blouse so it doesn’t wash out your eyes.”

Adele looked thoughtful. “Green or tan blouse. Rachel wears too much grey as it is,” and she gestured to the brunette’s current outfit.

Rachel looked down at her dark grey slacks and pale blue blouse. “What’s wrong with greys and browns? Besides, I do wear brighter colors, just not to work,” she protested, drawing skeptical looks from the other ladies.

Half an hour or so later, a scent caught Rachel’s attention. It came from a booth selling all kinds of incense and lotions and reminded the wandering woman of someone. “Adele, Panpit, just a moment please,” she excused herself and stepped up to the booth. After some discrete sniffs, the brunette found what had caught her attention, and waited patiently until the old woman had finished with another customer. “Good morning! What’s this?”

The seller picked up an incense stick, “This one, miss?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a combination of clove, sandalwood, musk, and a touch of cinnabar. If you like, I’ve it also in a lotion.”

Rachel thought for moment, then decided. “I’d like twenty of the sticks and cones, please.”

“Very good mum. That’ll be three pounds fifty.” The twinkle in the woman’s eye suggested a challenge and after making sure that no one else was waiting to pay, the Commander pretended to be put out.

“Three pounds fifty? That’s heaven high!” she declared. “I’ll give you one and fifty, which is generous considering how some of these aren’t straight and won’t burn their full time.”

“One and fifty! And you can’t see straight from crooked, no offence. Three pounds and no lower. Surely these ladies will tell you how generous I’m being; clove oil is dear this year!” the stall keeper retorted, pulling Panpit and Adele in as witnesses. With that the haggling began in earnest. After a few minutes of happy bargaining, they settled on two pounds thirty, with an extra cone of bayberry for lagniappe. The two women concluded their trade, shook hands and parted well satisfied.

As they walked over to another fabric stall, Panpit looked at Rachel with admiration. “Rachel, I haven’t heard that kind of bargaining since I visited relatives in Chiang Mai! Where did you learn?”

Rachel smiled broadly. “It’s what I more or less grew up doing. If the people that tried to raise me had had their way, I would have been a merchant-Trader for their family company.”

“Tried to raise you?” Panipt repeated, curiosity evident.

“Let’s just say that they were disappointed with how I turned out,” Rachel said in what may have been the understatement of the epoch. “Too much like my parents for the trading family’s taste. But I still enjoy a good haggle from time to time, as long as it’s fair and the other party is willing.”

The trio had stopped to get a bit to eat when Rachel’s secure “cell-phone” rang. She excused herself and stepped outside of the small café to take the call. “NaGael.”

“Cat One, where are you right now?” Brigadier General Evelyn Jones asked, concern evident in her voice.

“Portobello Market, north end of the main section.”

She could hear Jones repeating her response to someone, and a male voice replying in the background. “Cat One, you, the Gräfin and Mrs. Khan stay there. Do not try to take the tube back; a car will meet you at the south end, the Westbourne Grove Road, when you are ready to leave. That’s an order from the Graf-General and I, is that understood?”

Jones’ tone brooked no arguments and Rachel nodded, on alert. “Understood and will comply. Problem?”

“Affirmative. Two bombs went off in Paddington Station and another in Victoria, as of yet unclaimed. Have the Gräfin ring the General half-an-hour before you are ready to leave,” came the terse explanation and orders.

“Wilco.”

“Command One out.”

Fully alert, the brunette rejoined her companions, now charges, in the café. Should she tell them, or no? The Gräfin, absolutely, or she’d never agree to what Evelyn Jones had ordered, Rachel knew. Panpit Khan? They’d have to see. The other ladies gave her expectant looks and the Wanderer patted the phone’s case. “Never, ever give your boss your cell phone number,” she said in a “much ado about nothing” tone that sent Panpit into giggles.

Dark green eyes dancing, the young woman asked, “Does she really have three-inch long fangs like Rahoul claims?”

“Only at the full moon,” came the response, drawing more laughter. Their waiter came over with the cheque and under that cover, the Commander brushed the back of Adele’s hand. <<Change of plans, my  lady.>>

Adele fished about in her handbag for her coin purse. <<What’s wrong?>>

<<Terrorist bombs in the Underground. Call the Graf-General half an hour before you want to leave, and a car will come fetch us. Direct order,>> Rachel sent.

Adele chuckled at something Panpit said, and nodded. <<Tell Panpit?>>

Rachel glanced at the third woman and gave a tiny shake of her head. The Gräfin nodded and continued her conversation. There wasn’t any call to be upsetting the young woman if they didn’t have to. God knew, she’d find out soon enough. Although. Some of her family lives in London, but farther west than where we are. No, Rachel decided, best to stay quiet a bit longer.

The trio slowly wandered back through the market, stopping at a few shops as well as the booths and tables. Panpit had bought them all some hot Pakistani savories, and they were nibbling them in a recessed area between stalls, out of the flow of people. Rachel kept glancing around. Something flitted at the edge of her memory; from one of the Terran history lectures she’d had to sit through at some point, and had probably dozed off during. Something about effective use of force? That would make it one of the military tactics talks from her mercenary days. She could almost hear the lecturer’s voice droning on about infrastructure and disruption of civilian morale as a tactic in unconventional warfare. Oh no. Oh please no. Joschka and Rahoul will kill me, dearest Lord please may I be wrong and I will be such a good little Wanderer for the next millennium I swear.

Adele noticed Rachel’s stillness; as she later told her husband, it was like a cat watching something. “Rachel, something catch your eye?” she inquired lightly, laying a hand on the other woman’s shoulder.

“My La, ah, Adele, I think we need to be leaving,” she murmured under her breath, eyes still locked on something in the distance.

Adele drew Rachel farther back into the corner and Panpit’s eyes widened. “Rachel says that something doesn’t agree with her. I told you last night to stay away from the oyster salad this time of year, didn’t I?” The Gräfin sighed, shaking her head and reaching for her cell phone to call her husband. As she dialed, Panpit glanced around for observers and laid her hand on Rachel’s arm. She drew  back as if burned.

“You have the Eye, don’t you? What are you seeing?” Panpit demanded.

Rachel  shook her head. “Not seeing but feeling. Something’s amiss but I can’t pinpoint it, except to suggest that we start moving south now,” the alien explained, then took a sip of her water bottle. “And how did you know I have the Eye?”

The Thai woman gave her a knowing look. “Your colors. You’re green like Adele, but with blue, and a grey and red core. That means you have some form of the Eye, the healing Touch, and something I don’t recognize.”

“Hmmm. The Guardianship, probably. Which is a fascinating discovery, but we really need to be going,” and Rachel matched actions to words as Adele rang off from her call.

“The car will be here in thirty minutes or so and we’re to meet it at the south end of the road,” she announced.

Panpit, obviously no fool, gave the two older women a serious look as they walked down the market. “I thought we were taking the Tube back?”

Rachel shook her head, feeling the ripples of disbelief and fear as news of the explosions began spreading from cell phones around the market. “The West End lines are shut down. Adele’s husband arranged to have a car meet us,” she said as calmly as if Panpit had inquired about plans for supper.

The three women were almost at the south end of the main area of market stalls when Rachel pivoted, turning back the way they had come. “Farking Gahanna!” She swung back around, grabbing the astounded ladies and dragging them to the ground. A split second later, “crump-boom boom!” echoed through the crowded market, followed by a hideous silence, then screams and yelling. “Up, out of the way, now! Move, move!” the Commander ordered, and the Gräfin and Panpit obeyed, dodging through an open gate into a side yard. “Are you two all right?” she demanded, voice harsh.

The Gräfin nodded, but Panpit stared at the Commander, eyes dilated. “Panpit, are you OK?” Still no response, and the other two women both touched her. Suddenly the Commander was in a bazaar somewhere else, Surat Thani in southern Thailand, full of screaming, injured people, sirens and the stench of unwashed bodies, open sewers and terror. With an effort she wrenched back into now as Adele hugged the frightened Panpit.

“Not again! Please, please not again,” Panpit implored of someone, as the Commander turned back towards the market, a sick expression on her face. Why did I sleep through the rest of the lecture? What happens next, I can’t remember! God damn them to the depths of the hottest hell.

When Rachel turned back to her charges, she saw that Gräfin Adele had a determined expression on her face and was saying to Panpit Khan “I’ll need your help. Can you shut down your Sight?”

The woman nodded, trembling. “Yes ma’am.”

“Then do it,” Adele ordered, locking eyes with Rachel, who clenched her teeth, knowing what was about to hit.

“You realize that Jones, the Graf and Khan will kill me if we do what you want, and that’s only if I’m very lucky. And if a second bom,” Rachel caught herself. “A second bomber. That’s what I’d almost forgotten!” And she swore fluently in Trader and Azdhagi as the other women and a passerby paled.

Rachel grabbed Mrs. Khan’s arms, locking eyes with the terrified lady. “Panpit, I need to see your memories of the Surat Thani attack, so I can tell what to look for. Please, let me in.”

As soon as she saw the start of a nod and felt the woman’s affirmative, the Commander reached into the human’s memory and pulled out the attack, as Panpit had seen and felt it. She wasn’t gentle and Panpit clutched her head and doubled over as the Wanderer broke the contact.

“Rachel! What did you do to her?” Adele scolded, helping the young bride to sit down on the rough pavement of the garden path.

“Got her image of the bomber. Can use it to find the second one here. If you leave, stay together, and call the men on this,” she tossed her secure phone to the Gräfin. “I have prey to hunt,” and Rada Ni Drako smiled through Rachel’s eye, hard and hungry.

“No! You can do more good helping me with the wounded,” Adele protested, trying to stop the suddenly-alien brunette.

“Not if another bomb goes off, Gräfin. Do your duty and I’ll do mine,” came the brutal reply, and Rachel vanished into the crowd.

Now it was the Gräfin’s turn to swear, in German and then using one or two phrases she’d picked up from her husbands over the years. “Panpit, dear, how are you?” Adele crouched down beside the weeping form, reaching very gently with her gift to see if Rachel’s harsh mindsearch had injured the young woman.

“I’m scared, Adele,” she gulped, looking up at the silver-haired nurse. “But Rahoul won’t want me to just sit around not doing anything. How can I help?”

Adele hugged her volunteer and helped her to her feet. “I’ll need an extra pair of hands. I was an emergency room nurse before I married Joschka, and people need our help. Come along Panpit. You’ll do just fine. And when that woman gets back, our husbands and Jones will just have to wait their turn until I’m done with her!”

The object of the Gräfin’s ire threaded her way through the remains of the market, all senses alert for the traces she’d picked up just before the first explosion, and what she’d stripped from the human’s mind. The few badly injured people Rada came across, she stopped long enough to stabilize with her Gift, but her attention was on something else. The next blast wouldn’t be in the market; that much she knew from previous experience. It would be at one of the entrances, where people were gathering, or where the ambulances and police stopped. A blast there would further terrify the civilians, plus cripple the emergency responders. Rada ducked behind a stall as a pair of police trotted past, trying to clear people out of the area.

Whoever had made the first bomb had been a professional, Rada noticed. She’d heard at least one detonation, with possibly a third or an echo. As she got closer to the initial blast site, her practiced eyes noted evidence of some very nasty shrapnel: ball bearings, small screws and glass. Perfect for causing massive injuries and difficult to remove, thus demanding more resources and time from the paramedics and doctors. At least it hadn’t been one of those phosphorous horrors she’d seen on Valkohli. Rada avoided the actual zero point, preferring to circle it, sniffing for the scent of the chemicals used in the explosive. Hmmm, now who uses Semtex cologne, I wonder, she mused, locking the scent into her memory. Must have a large budget or maybe it came from that construction site heist Ngobo was reading about a few months ago.

Rada continued working methodically here and there, helping as she could but more focused on her quarry. The person would be either very anxious, invoking their god and nervous as they waited for the perfect moment to detonate the bomb, or cool, confident and totally at ease, with a hint of eagerness for the results to become apparent. The first attacker had been a suicide bomber, whose mental cry of “Allahu Akbar” had given her a split-second’s warning. So what about the second? And she knew there would be a second; she remembered that much from the long-ago lecture on the Ideology War’s second phase, the long one.

Commander Ni Drako stopped, then swung her head back and forth, eyes narrow. Ah, there it was! Fear, determination, an edge of sexual excitement all overlain with religion and pleasure at being able to strike a blow for the True Faith. Suicide bomber then, and not far away. But something else also caught her attention and she hesitated.

Back at the south end of the market area, Gräfin Adele and Panipt Khan worked with what they had, helping people who had been injured in the explosion and panic that followed. Adele had paused for a moment when the first ambulance arrived, then moved to start assisting a woman with a badly cut scalp but no other apparent serious injuries. Panpit distracted their patient while Adele made sure that nothing had gotten into the wound.

All at once they heard a second “Crump-boom!” This one sounded quieter than the first, and farther away. Adele closed her eyes, then took a deep breath and returned to caring for the bleeding woman. Panpit swallowed hard and followed the older woman’s example. One of the paramedics handed the nurse some bandages and she secured the loose skin back into place, then wrapped it all to protect the wound. As a police officer helped the woman stagger towards the ambulance, the two military wives briefly touched hands before moving on to the next bombing victim. Panpit’s vision blurred and Adele took a moment to comfort her. “Even if that was what I fear it was, people need us to keep working. We can think about it later.” Mrs. Khan wiped her eyes with her sleeve and nodded, returning to her self-appointed task.

As they finished re-checking the tourniquet on a man’s nearly severed arm, more paramedics and police began swarming the area, taking over from the first responders and bystanders. Adele reported her diagnoses and the actions she’d taken towards treatment to the paramedics, who made notes and continued the work.

“Adele, should we go look for—?” Panpit asked hesitantly, looking north up the road.

The older woman thought for a moment, then shook her head. “No, although part of me wants to. We’d be underfoot and we really need to leave and tell the men what happened, once the car arrives. In fact it should be here.” And she frowned.

As the woman stood waiting, watching for the Graf’s car and driver, they heard a commotion and saw a stocky young Middle Eastern man in a dark colored jacket stagger, as if tripping. “Sir, are you all right,” a familiar voice asked loudly, before yelling, “Get back, he has a bomb vest!” Rough hands grabbed the Gräfin and Panpit, hauling them backwards and down onto the pavement as police swarmed towards Rachel’s voice. The small brunette, looking worse for wear, emerged from the edge of the pile of high-vis vests and body armor and trotted in a crouch over to where Adele and Panpit had taken shelter.

“Are you two all right?” she asked the astonished women.

“Yes. You?” Adele replied, voice cold.

“Mostly intact. I think I see the car, back behind all the panda cars and black marias. Shall we get away from here before it gets any more interesting?” Rachel finished, standing up and offering Panpit a hand.

“Oh, you’ll want these,” the Wanderer said absently as they threaded their way between the vehicles to the armored grey Mercedes waiting a hundred meters or so down the street. She swung her rucksack off and handed Panpit her and the Gräfin’s purchases. “They’re unharmed.” Her cold tone and odd behavior discouraged questions and for the moment the Gräfin and the colonel’s wife didn’t press or scold her.

A military driver opened the rear doors of the car as soon as he saw the trio approach. “Adele, may I have my phone back?” Rachel asked as the Gräfin started to get into the haven of the vehicle’s rear seat. Adele tossed it at the Commander’s head and the alien caught it neatly, then opened the front door herself. Panpit slid into the car behind Adele and the driver shut the doors.

“General von Hohen-Drachenburg wants you on guard,” he told Rachel.

Rachel could hear Mrs. Khan crying quietly in the back seat, even through the closed partition of bulletproof glass. She didn’t need to use her Gift to sense the Gräfin’s anger, either. Rachel shunted her own feelings aside, focusing on her duty to the generals. Their driver was very good but there was still a chance that someone might try and attack them or they might get caught in another bombing attempt. Rachel suspected otherwise, but she didn’t say anything. She could have upset things by what she had done and just because no other bombs would go off that day didn’t mean there hadn’t been an assassination attempt that wasn’t mentioned in the lecture. Only when the car stopped safely in the garage of the “hotel” where the G.D.F. people were meeting did Rachel start relaxing. She let the driver lead the two wives through a back entry, away from prying eyes, and followed slowly. There was going to be hell to pay for the morning’s events and she wanted to put off facing it for a few minutes longer.

She ducked into a women’s washroom to get the worse of the blood and other things off her hands and face, and to remove her contacts. She hesitated and then put on her patch; no need to upset Mrs. Khan any further, Rachel decided. Then she followed the other two into a very private and secluded conference room. The Graf-General and Colonel Khan held their wives in their arms and Panpit had buried her face in Rahoul’s chest as he stroked her hair and murmured into her ear. The Austrians’ backs were to the door and Commander Na Gael-Ni Drako walked silently over to some chairs in a far corner, sat down and closed her eyes, finally letting herself tremble with reaction. Thank you for getting us here safely she prayed.

“Commander.” The alien looked up to see General Jones, who handed her a glass of water.

“Thank you,” she said, then drained it and set it on the table.

“Report,” the short haired Welshwoman ordered and Rachel dragged herself out of the chair, then told  Jones everything that had happened between Jones’ phone call and scenting the second bomber. The other four had come closer and the two women settled into the chairs, their husbands standing behind them. Rachel didn’t spare herself as she described what she had done to Mrs. Khan. She dropped onto one knee beside the Thai woman’s seat. “I’m very, very sorry that I hurt you, Panpit. I didn’t want to cause you pain, but I needed the information fast.”

Panpit wiped her eyes and said very quietly “Apology accepted Rachel.” Rahoul Khan burned with black anger but he kept his peace, for the moment.

“Then what happened, Commander?” the Graf-General prompted, blue eyes cold.

She stood back up, swallowing hard. “I realized that there were not one but two more suicide bombers. One heading north and the other south. And one was going to detonate his explosives. I,” she closed her eyes for a moment, then returned to the story. “I got into the second bomber’s mind and tricked him. He set his vest off in almost the same place where the first bomb had been, thinking that he was already at the flyover on the north end of the road. I tried to be sure that no one else would get hurt, so when he stumbled over some debris, he thought he in the middle of a group of paramedics and . . .” A pause, and she continued. “Then I picked up the trace of the third bomber and tracked him back towards the south entrance.

“I nearly made a fatal mistake. I sensed two minds exalting in what had happened, and what was coming next. Which was the bomber and which the controller or supporter? The emotional load was too much, between the bomber, the wounded and all the other people swirling around, so I had to go on gut instinct. One of the two walked directly towards the ambulances, where Adele and Panpit were standing. That seemed to be the greatest danger, especially when he started limping as if he were one of the injured. I couldn’t attack him straight out so I came at him from the side and fell into him, ‘accidently’ knocking him over. As soon as his jacket came open, I grabbed a handful of wires from what looked like a detonator, pulled them loose, and yelled that he had a bomb. And almost got flattened under the dog-pile that followed! The ladies can tell you the rest,” she concluded.

The humans glanced at eachother and back at her.  Jones gave her advisor a skeptical look. “Adele said that when you returned, your hands were covered in blood and dirt. Where did that come from?”

“I helped those that I could as I hunted for the other bomber.” Adele von Hohen-Drachenburg’s expression softened a little at the explanation and she nodded slightly.

“One thing, Commander,” Rahoul Khan asked with a hard-edged voice. “How did you know that the second bomber was going to detonate? And why didn’t you stop the others by tearing up their minds, like you did to my poor wife?”

Both the Graf-General and General Jones started to speak but Rachel raised her hands. “No sir, ma’am, I deserved that one. Because I remembered the lecture. There had been two bombs that detonated, both in the market. I couldn’t change that, Colonel. God damn it, I can’t change things, only ameliorate them!” She snarled, angry at herself and at the Laws. The woman turned and took a few paces away from the group, then leaned against the wall, eyes closed. “And I ran out of energy, couldn’t risk getting into the wrong head, or getting trapped inside.” General von Hohen-Drachenburg and General Jones both stared at the Wanderer, unused to an admission of weakness.

“Can we postpone the rest of the debriefing?” Rachel pled. “I think we all need a few minutes peace. Gräfin Adele and Panpit worked far beyond the call of duty, especially Panpit. And I feel like I’ve been swimming through an abattoir’s cesspit after touching those creatures’ minds.”

Jones nodded, as did General von Hohen-Drachenburg. Rahoul Khan didn’t seem satisfied but Panpit stood up and put her hand on her husband’s arm. “I just want to go to the room right now. Please, love?”

Rachel didn’t move from her slouch as the others started walking towards the door. “Ah, Colonel? Is there something you wanted to ask me?” she said, catching his eye.

He hesitated and the Graf also paused, then whispered something to Adele, who nodded curtly. “I’ll be up in a moment, my Rani,” Khan told his bride. Joschka followed the women out and had a few words with Jones, then returned and shut the door, locking it.

Rachel straightened up and clasped her hands behind her back, waiting. The graying Austrian officer stayed by the door, arms folded, listening and watching as Rahoul Khan advanced on the small brunette. “What the God damned bloody hell were you thinking? What if you’d been wrong? Gräfin Adele and Panpit could have been killed! And ripping apart my wife’s mind! I, I,” he spluttered, growled, then swung around and back handed her across the jaw. Her head thumped against the wall and after a few seconds she felt carefully to make sure he hadn’t broken anything.

Joschka left his post by the door and pulled the furious British officer away from Rachel. Khan clenched his fists but kept them at his sides. “Why the fuck did you let the third bomber get so close? You should have stayed with Panpit, like Jones ordered you to!”

Rada, still angry from what she’d seen, snarled in the back of her throat, an utterly inhuman sound. Eye icy cold with rage, she fought to control herself enough not to hurt either of the men. “Because I didn’t know! Balkonda, you flaming twit! At least I remembered that there was more than one. Don’t yell at me anymore, Colonel. You didn’t have to feel and see what the Gräfin, Panpit and I did, and you didn’t have to wade through the mind of a horny sadist dreaming of all the kuffirs he was going to kill and all the houries eagerly awaiting his enormous wang!” she hissed.

“Enough, both of you! Col. Khan is honor satisfied?” Joschka asked. The South Asian officer took a deep breath, then nodded. “Commander Na Gael Ni Drako, you did what you could within the bounds of the Laws. So stop beating yourself up and that’s an order.”

The exhausted woman murmured “Yes Graf-General.”

The Austrian stepped back and folded his arms again, then smoothed his beard. “I’ve let you say and do what was needed, in order to keep things from festering.” He informed them in an iron tone. “This will be the end of the matter, as far as I’m concerned, provided both of you keep your mouths shut. Otherwise I will find ways to discipline you for violation of a direct order, Commander, and for striking a fellow warrior, Colonel.”

The British officer and xenology specialist both nodded and Rachel extended her hand. “I’m sorry Rahoul. I shouldn’t have let fear overwhelm my self discipline.”

Khan accepted the apology. “Forgive me for letting anger get the best of me,” and they shook.

Rahoul left to go take care of Panpit and let her know that her relatives were all right, leaving Rachel and Graf-General alone in the conference room. “The blood on your hands wasn’t entirely from the injured, was it,” he said.

“No sir. I left my marks on the third bomber. He’ll never walk normally again, among other problems. But Jones and Khan don’t really need to know that, do they?”

He considered the matter. “Probably not. Adele and Frau Khan certainly don’t.” The former mercenaries shared feral smiles and Rachel turned and started walking away. “Ahem,” Joschka cleared his throat.

“Yes, sir?” she asked warily, afraid of what he was going to say or ask next.

Instead, he came over and pulled her into a close embrace. She shivered, then returned the gesture. He freed one hand and rested it on her head; bending to whisper into her ear in Trader, “Thank you for bringing my Adele back to me. And for bending the Laws as much as you could.” After a moment Joschka released her and they straightened up. Then he pointed at the door. “Weg!” Shoo! For once, she obeyed without comment.

© 2015 Alma T. C. Boykin All rights Reserved  

 

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