THE NEXT DAY. OLYMPIA, NEW DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (FORMERLY OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON). 12:30 PM PACIFIC TIME. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2026.

It amused Quattro Larsen that nobody was there to meet him at the airport. No perqs for the Duke.

He did what he usually did on his regular route—made sure the right people would be working on the Gooney, then swapped his leather flying helmet for his trademark floppy hat with a feather, slung up his bag, and flagged down a taxi, a museum-piece buggy that had probably been in the business of giving romantic rides around a park somewhere, back before. “The New White House, please.”

The driver nodded. “Little White House, right.”

Quattro paid the cabbie with one of the new California Eagles, the twenty-dollar gold coins that he and Bambi had begun minting privately, and told him to keep the change. The cabbie managed a sketchy bow that amused Quattro, but he returned it gravely. Wish more people got that all this Duck and Doochess stuff is a joke, he thought. Laying on the awe and majesty is kind of fun in a silly ironic way but I’m starting to worry about the number of people taking it seriously. Hate to admit that to Bambi, though, she’ll say she told me so, and she’s been worrying about it for ages already.

Inside the New White House there was a great deal more bowing and saluting in the foyer before Quattro was allowed to just proceed into the plain office to his right. The moment the door closed, he sighed and relaxed, and his three old friends rose to greet him.

Graham Weisbrod, the last living person with any claim to be President of the United States, was scrawny and short, and the stress of the last couple of years had removed most of his white hair, stooped his shoulders, and shrunk his hips and belly to slackness, but he still had the same lopsided cynic’s grin that had terrified generations of grad students.

Next to Weisbrod, General Norm McIntyre, tall, iron-gray hair, wearing plain fatigues, the highest-ranking surviving officer from the old army, was almost expressionless; we’ve all aged a lot in the last sixteen months, Quattro thought, but it’s like Norm was cut off from all his life force. Norm’s not the type to start over; his head’s too full of what he did back before.

Allie Sok Banh, half the age of either man, scrawled one more thing on the pad on her desk before she rushed to Quattro, giving him a quick phony hug and air-kiss. The last year had probably been harder on her than either of the men, but she was a generation younger and had adapted better. “I hope it’s the package we’ve been expecting,” she said.

“Well, it’s not new Federal standards for laundry detergents.”

Weisbrod said, “Allie, you’re faster than either of us with a coding pad, so if you wouldn’t mind? Quattro, while she works, can we offer you coffee?”

The men chatted quietly while Allie scribbled swiftly through the hundreds of two-digit additions on her coding pad.

Quattro did his best to concentrate on Graham’s talk of building a new rail line over the Upper Peninsula and across the Mackinac Bridge to connect the whole New State of Superior, and McIntyre’s elaborate plans for re-merging the mostly-former-National Guard Provi Army with the mostly-former-regular Temper Army so that everyone’s seniority was respected and the required promotions and demotions could be fairly distributed. Quattro could not forget that what was happening on Allie’s coding pad was capital-h History; maybe they can’t either and that’s why they’re talking about procedural crap like mid-level postal clerks.

When she looked up, they were all instantly silent.

“Operation Full Court Press is set to begin as fast as we can begin it,” she said. “Apparently everyone is jumping on it; if he’s on plan, Grayson is already across the Ohio and has attacked the first horde.”

“Well, we can put it on the agenda for the Cabinet meeting for next week,” Graham said, “and see what everyone says.”

McIntyre nodded. “That’ll give me a chance to assess the impact of all the requests for troop commitments—”

“There are only two, for right now,” Allie said. “Grayson wants the six regiments you already promised, especially the President’s Own Rangers, for the Wabash Valley campaign, rendezvous at Pale Bluff, early May. And Utah, even though they’re still declining to take their seats in our Congress, wants to coordinate so that when they slam the tribals in their northwest corner, we’ll be ready to close the trap in southern Idaho and western Wyoming. We’ve already got the requested regiments preparing to join Grayson, and the forts in the Yellowstone are ready for the reinforcements. So all we need to do—”

“I’m sure all that can be pulled together at the Cabinet meeting—” Graham began.

Allie showed neither irritation nor impatience, apparently taking their agreement for granted. “Well, I’ll start the things rolling that can’t wait, and I’ll clear everyone’s calendar so we can move that meeting up to tomorrow morning. You’ll want to review the planned deployments before we finalize them, General.” She stood. “Quattro, I am guessing no one has fed you, you’re probably starving, and so am I. Are you too tired for dinner?”

“Never.”

“Well, then,” she said to the two older men, who looked stunned, “I’ll do my Chief of Staffly thing on the calendar when I get back; meanwhile, the full document and all the addenda are right here on the pad, and you both should read all through it. Quattro and I will eat in the Secure Dining Room. Are you sure you won’t join us?”

“I, um, I don’t think—” McIntyre said.

Graham Weisbrod looked mildly annoyed. “There are some serious political issues to discuss—”

“Well, of course,” Allie said. “That’s what Quattro and I will be discussing—are you sure you gents don’t want to join us?”

Graham Weisbrod froze like a listening rabbit, then sagged. “Well, I guess we can iron out details after you get back.”

The Secure Dining Room was located in the attic space; as they passed by the kitchen at the back of the house, Allie leaned in to say, “Bobbi? Secure Dining Room, just two, for lunch—”

“Of course, ma’am. Today it’s chowder, fresh bread, and greens, need anything special?”

“Got a pot of coffee we can take up?”

“Right here.”

Allie led the way upstairs. “Craig?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the Ranger sergeant replied.

“We’ll be talking and eating in the Secure Dining Room. Could you have a guard come up with Bobbi? We’ll stick to small talk till the food comes.”

“Sure thing, ma’am.”

The Secure Dining Room seated eight at a central table and three at a smaller table by the window, which looked out over Puget Sound. Allie sat at the small table, gesturing Quattro into the chair facing the window. “Best view in the New District,” she said. “I often bring a notepad and a pot of coffee up here when I need to work.”

“Wow, I’ve got a better view, but you’ve got reliable coffee.”

“It’s Lisa Fanchion’s bribe to us, in exchange for a friendly, low-tax, no-regs port to operate from.”

“I think if we heard she was unhappy with you at noon, we’d be rolling out the red carpet at San Diego before one.”

The food and coffee arrived, and the guard took up his post outside the door. When they had finished, Allie gestured toward the harbor again. “The country is going to regrow in some other shape this time. Probably much more facing the Pacific than we did before; it’s the quick way to Australia and India, and that’s the friendly two-thirds of the Big Three.”

“You think we’re going to have trouble with the Argies?”

“Wish we wouldn’t but… too much says we will. They’ve already signed special arrangements with ports all over South America, and they’re pushing into Central America and the Caribbean. The surviving national governments wouldn’t run without Argie advisors and loans, and sometimes their troops. Given how beat up Daybreak left Mexico, and how little we can do for them right away, I think we’ll lose them to the Argentine orbit too. The RRC espionage teams over in Manbrookstat say that Argentine ships are already sniffing around at the Chesapeake and making offers to the Commandant for stuff he doesn’t own.”

“Stuff like—”

“Like the Delmarva, and maybe the Potomac Valley. I don’t really like the idea that the site of DC might be inside an Argentine colony in the next generation. Besides being our capital, it’s my home town, and if anything is ever built there again, I want it to be American. I thought I was an internationalist with a broad perspective, back before, and maybe I was, but nowadays: not one inch of dirt to outsiders. Hell, I even resent the Texans talking about secession, and I’ll miss those cranky impossible hicks if they do.

“And the Commandant really pisses me off most of all. An ex-cadet selling off the upper right corner of the country! The minute we settle the tribals, whether the next president is Phat, Grayson, or Weisbrod, I want to send a fleet to plug up New York Harbor and an expeditionary force to go in and arrest him, put Manbrookstat under martial law, hold a fast election, and bring them in as another New State in the Union.”

“Grayson would go for that.”

“Yep, I hate the son of a bitch and he hates me more, but we’d both rather live in the other one’s complete America than see it torn up by these petty shithead wannabe kings.”

Quattro grinned. “That’s Duke Petty Shithead to you.”

“Oh, bah.” She flipped her hair away from her face. “We know perfectly well that you’re holding California to bring it back into the Union whenever you can make sure it’ll come back and stay back.”

Quattro nodded, acknowledging it, and tried a slightly riskier question. “Why all the foot-dragging from Graham and Norm?”

“Half them. Half me.” Allie sighed. “Graham is old and a liberal, and since we’re tied with Russia, Europe, and China for biggest basket case, he wants to focus on rebuilding, not fight a long big war, especially not against what he still thinks of as American citizens. Norm liked fighting when he was younger and running an army when he got older; his heart’s not in it, because as far as he’s concerned, the real America is back before, and he can’t fight for that. So he’s going through the motions of being a good administrator, because he took an oath, but in his heart he just wants to die somewhere quietly. Still, they’d both probably be more enthusiastic about settling the tribal problem if they weren’t dealing with me all the time. Sometimes I think my husband and the general are the only people who understand that when I say I want to wipe the tribes out, I mean that. Ever since Graham brought me back from a mostly-complete takeover by Daybreak, knowing what Daybreak’s grip on the mind feels like, and feeling what Daybreak really wants to do, I cannot imagine any way we can rehabilitate more than a handful of the tribals.

“Graham and Norm think they can solve the tribal problem the same way they think they can solve everything else: by concentrating on reconstruction. They think if we can get enough food, and running water, and schools and roads and all that bullshit, why, those naughty tribals will come begging us to take them back, because their having destroyed modern civilization was surely just a silly mistake.

“I, on the other hand, agree with Heather, and Grayson, and everyone else with half a brain. So I’ll get you as many men and guns as I can squeeze out of the Provisional Constitutional Government, but it’ll take some desk pounding and some whining to push them into doing the right thing. Grayson’ll have the whole regiment of the President’s Own Rangers, and everything else I’ve promised. More if I can.” She was staring intently. “But here’s what I have to have: no criticism and no attempt to block what we’re going to be doing in our own tribal pockets.”

“What are you going to be doing?”

“Eliminating the problem for good and forever. No waiting, no rehabilitating, no more chances.”

“No quarter. No survivors.”

She beamed at him. “Almost none. Our tribals will be given a window of opportunity for mercy—just not open very far or for very long.” She reached out and stroked his hand with one long nail, polished blood-red, almost hard enough to scratch. “Just tell Heather and James that I insist on giving them more than they asked for.”

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