CHAPTER TWELVE

August-October, Year 1 A.E.

“She’s a fine ship,” Isketerol said. “What does this name mean, Yare?

William Walker thought. He’d heard the word in a movie once… yeah, HBO Classics. The one with Katharine Hepburn? What a fox, he thought irrelevantly, then concentrated. “Yare means… fit, ready, eager,” he said.

“Ah, a good name for a ship!”

The yacht had about a hundred feet at the waterline, two-masted and flush-decked except for a low cabin directly ahead of the wheel and binnacle, with a burden of a hundred and ten tons. Not as fast as the Eagle, of course, Walker acknowledged to himself. Twelve knots at most, given optimum winds; she was a topsail schooner, fore-and-aft-rigged except for two square sails at the top of the foremast. On the other hand she could go three or four points closer to the eye when tacking upwind, and she drew only six feet to the big windjammer’s seventeen. That was why she was scheduled to go along on the next voyage to Europe, for scouting and inshore work. Plus she was wooden-built, thirty years old but still as sound as the day when the boatyard in Nova Scotia had sent her down the ways. Injury to her hull need not be an irreparable disaster, with tools and carpenters along.

The deck was broken by a low coaming, its cover aside for the present. Hammering and sawing noises came from within, where carpenters were installing a proper hold. The cargo for it waited on the dockside where the ship was moored, under an improvised loading crane also under construction. There were ingots of pig iron from the Eagle’s ballast, barrels of salt fish and meat, barrels of hardtack, and others to hold extra water. A complete set of black-smith’s tools and forge-furnishings, including Martin’s best homemade anvils, and bar stock for it. Drills, planes, augers, axes, sledges, kegs of nails, two-man saws. A small lathe, and a set of measuring gauges run up on Leaton’s Swiss instrument-making machine; knocked-down metal-work for a sawmill and gristmill. Books, most of them bound photocopies, carefully wrapped in multiple layers of green plastic garbage bag to make them thoroughly waterproof; books on shipbuilding, metalsmithing, agriculture and mining. Trade goods, useful and ornamental, rounding out the heavier load the Eagle would be carrying.

Couldn’t have done it better myself, Walker thought. Of course, he had done much of it himself. With a crew of fifty and the cadets, Eagle was grossly overmanned for routine work; Alston had them all working half a dozen projects ashore as well, herself more than any. Getting the schooner ready was his job. He’d impressed the captain with his zeal and perfect discipline, but it was Hendriksson who was slated to command the Yare. Alston still wanted him close under her eye.

“Bitch,” he muttered to himself.

But a smart bitch-she didn’t miss much. He was still kicking himself for blurting out his half-formed dreams that first night after the Event. Granted he’d been dazed and disoriented, everyone had, but it had still been a stupid thing to do. Hmm. Victor would like the Yare too… could I recruit him over that? No, probably not. The Cuban-American lieutenant was too much of a straight arrow.

“Come on,” he said to Isketerol.

Careful, careful, be very careful. He hated Captain Alston, but he respected her brains and courage thoroughly. He’d have been more than ready to follow her on an expedition such as the one he planned… but she’d never do that. She’ll stick with shepherding these sheep on this damned island.

They walked up the gangplank onto the ship, dodging men and women with tools and materials for the refit, and walked back to the little fantail behind the wheel. There was an awning stretched over it like a tent with the mizzensail boom as a ridgepole, and a couple of chairs. The day was hot and clear, with little trace of yesterday’s fog; the breeze off the harbor smelled of fish and salt and tar. Gulls went noisily overhead, their harsh cries thick in the air. A big load of barrel staves and planks sat on the wharf not far from him, just in from Providence Base, adding the vanilla tang of fresh-cut oak to the mixture; beside it were oozing casks of pitch and turpentine from Cape Cod. A chattering party of junior high students were sitting around mending twine nets. Hammering and the hiss of the last cutting torches sounded from the ferry’s upperworks as teams labored to disassemble it from the top down; carts were going back and forth with loads of steel plate, beam, and girder as the work went on. Other working parties were ripping the air-conditioning and partitions out of Eagle, undoing her last refit in ’79.

Isketerol sat and accepted a bottle of beer from the cooler; he went on in the Mycenaean Greek that Walker now spoke well, since Iraiina lacked the concepts and vocabulary for much of what they had to discuss.

“I have confirmed what you told me,” Isketerol said. “They plot to keep me here, always among strangers, never to return to my home, fearing what I might do with the knowledge I’ve gained.” He bared his teeth. “By Arucuttag of the Sea, they’ll regret that.”

“So they will,” Walker agreed.

Actually they haven’t decided to screw you over, good buddy, they’re just thinking about it, he mused. In Alston’s position he would have put Isketerol over the side with a stone tied to his ankles as soon as he’d told all he knew, but Alston was squeamish, to a point. Only to a point. Don’t forget that. Underestimating your opposition was stupid, and stupidity was the only real sin he recognized.

“We can help each other, then,” Walker said. “You need a friend who will guard your back, and so do I.” Solemnly, they clasped hands. “Now, tell me more of the lands of Mycenae. How would they welcome a stranger with powerful gifts?”

“No, I don’t think you should seek out the Achaean lords right away,” the Tartessian said thoughtfully. “They’re too hard and greedy, and not very forethoughtful, most of them… But they hire many mercenaries from the barbarian lands.”

Walker sipped at the beer. It was too sweet without the hops, but otherwise not bad; only middling cold, though. There were plans for ice pits to store frozen lake ice over the summer; that could probably be done in the Aegean, too.

Greece looks like the best bet. The Hittite Empire was too big and too tightly centralized, a god-king autocracy. He’d learned Troy was a prosperous city-state that controlled the approaches to the Black Sea; but he’d have to learn yet another language to operate there. Greece, now- Greece sounded a lot like Renaissance Italy, or the more turbulent medieval European countries, say the Holy Roman Empire. He grinned like a wolf. According to the reference books, in about fifty years or so the whole Aegean basin was due to go under in a mad-dog scramble of internal warfare and barbarian invasions, with refugees and savages squatting in the ruins, a Dark Age. In other words, a perfect situation for an able, realistic man like himself- provided he had an edge, so that he could establish himself among the locals and work up to a position of strength gradually.

William Walker, King of Men, he thought. Has a nice ring to it. It was even altruistic, in a way. These goons were going to wreck their own civilization. He’d be doing them a favor-and they’d return the favor to him, and his children after him.

Provided he had an edge… Leaton was already working on a musket, and anyone who could cast a bronze statue could make cannon. Sulfur was probably available, and there were black-powder enthusiasts on the island who knew the whole technique of making gunpowder; he’d drop in on them and pump them for tips. But for all that he’d need a secure base for a while, and preferably more men, as well, before he showed up in the Mediterranean. Isketerol needed a sweetener too.

“The question is, where to get a strong band of men?” Walker said. “I can’t recruit more than a few here. Someone would talk, no matter how careful I was.”

“There is the White Isle,” Isketerol pointed out. “And the lands around it. Of course, for that you would require a ship, and then passage from the White Isle to the Middle Sea.”

Passage for a couple of hundred, the American thought. The Yare’s useful, but with good carpenters and some time I could reproduce her

“How would you like this ship for your own?” Walker said.

The Tartessian raised the beer bottle to his lips and looked out over the blue horizon. “Tell me more, my friend,” he said.

Nantucket was never hot for long. Fog had rolled in and filled the streets as the sun fell; the air was cool, cool enough that the small blaze she’d kindled in the bedroom fireplace was pleasant, even on a summer’s night.

Alston sipped at her bourbon-and-water and opened the first page of Master and Commander, ready for another run-through of the whole set. Luckily she’d had most of her O’Brian collection on board Eagle during the Event, and she’d been able to replace the others here. There’d never be any more, of course, but she’d reluctantly come to the conclusion that The Commodore was the natural end of the series anyway. The big house was very quiet, although an occasional voice came through the open window, and once the slow ringing clop of shod hooves on stone. A grandfather clock ticked the evening away downstairs. She smiled and glanced around the big room. You could get used to this sort of thing, although she liked her cabin on the Eagle well enough, and the lack of running water ashore was a surprisingly hard adjustment. The books and ship plans on the walls, those were hers, and the armor on its stand in a corner with the swords beneath, and the squared-away neatness. It smelled of wax, the nutty-scented lamp oil, metal polish, and flowers.

“Not in the mood,” she murmured after a while, setting down the novel.

In fact, I’m feeling restless, bitchy, and itchy-skinned. She’d been having a hard time suppressing the impulse to bark at people, which would be fatal. A commander was the last person on earth who could afford to lose her temper. If she hadn’t known for a fact her period was two weeks off, she’d have put it down to PMS.

“Well…”

She picked up another volume; her favorite poet, something she’d stumbled across in a little out-of-the way used-book store in Boston once, many years ago. She’d opened it in idle curiosity, and fallen in love at once; now she whispered aloud, hardly needing to read:

High on the bridge of Heaven whose Eastern bars

Exclude the interchange of Night and Day,

Robed with faint seas and crowned with quiet stars

All great Gods dwell to whom men prayed or pray.

No winter chills, no fear or fever mars

Their grand and timeless hours of pomp and play;

Some drive about the Rim wind-golden cars

Or, shouting, laugh Eternity away.

The daughters of their pride,

Moon-pale, blue-water-eyed,

Their flame-white bodies pearled with falling spray,

Send all their bright hair streaming

Down where the worlds lie gleaming,

And draw their mighty lovers close and say:

“Come over by the stream: one hears

The speech of Nations broken in the chant of Spheres.”

“Damn, can’t escape the blue-water-eyed daughters,” she said. “Ah well.” An immense and not unpleasant sadness filled her, like the soft silvery fog creeping through the streets outside. She went on:

Between the pedestals of Night and Morning,

Between red death and radiant Desire

With not one sound of triumph or of warning

Stands the great sentry on the Bridge of Fire.

O transient soul, thy thought with dreams adorning,

Cast down the laurel, and unstring the lyre:

The wheels of Time are turning, turning, turning,

The slow stream channels deep, and doth not tire

Gods on their Bridge above Whispering lies and love

Shall mock your passage down ‘the sunless river

Which, rolling all its streams,

Shall take you, king of dreams, –

Unthroned and unapproachable for ever-

To where the kings who dreamed of old

Whiten in habitations monumental cold.

“Seize the day, in other words,” she told herself. Nobody else was here tonight; Rapczewicz was on board Eagle, the other officers who’d roomed here temporarily had moved into the two buildings next door, and Swindapa was over at Smith’s Baths-

“I’m back,” she called, from the entrance hall below. Alston heard the door click shut, and feet bound up the staircase and down the hall. “Foggy out tonight.”

“Hello, ‘dapa. So you are, so it is.”

The Fiernan was wearing a knee-length T-shirt and plastic sandals, with her hair loose and damp around her shoulders, the yellow of it darkened by the water. She came in and sat cross-legged by the fire, holding her hands out to either side with the hair draped over them to dry. The cerulean-blue eyes looked up at her, vivid by contrast with the summer tan, warm and full of affection. And here I thought Whitney Houston was the very definition of hot stuff, she thought. May have to revise that. Marian Alston closed her eyes for a second and sighed, then tried to concentrate on the book again, thumbing through the pages at random:

We that were friends tonight have found

A fear, a secret and a shame:

I am on fire with that soft sound

You make, in uttering my name…

It seemed even the poet had turned against her tonight, she decided ruefully. Well, it isn’t the first case of unrequited love you’ve blundered into, woman, she thought, scolding herself. Usually she had better sense, but there was no way to get away on the island; in retrospect it’d probably been a mistake to have Swindapa living here, but she’d been much more fragile back then and needed a familiar, trusted face around. Alston recognized the symptoms in herself with mournful accuracy, although not until they’d been stealing up on her for a while. That combination of overwhelming tenderness and lust…

“I talked to Cindy Ganger at the baths,” Swindapa said after a while, smiling. “She asked me if I was your girlfriend.”

Alston choked, spraying bourbon across the page. Swindapa jumped up in alarm and pounded her helpfully on the back, then sat down beside her on the couch.

“Are you all right?” she asked, a little frown of worry between her brows.

“Yes. Just, mmm, surprised,” Alston said. And my sinuses have diluted bourbon in them, goddammit. She used a handkerchief to mop the page and blow her nose, which gave her a moment to collect her thoughts. God damn all rumormongers.

When she looked up, Swindapa had an arm draped over the back of the blue Directoire sofa and one leg hooked up under the other. She was still smiling. “I don’t really understand you Eagle People,” she said after a moment. “I don’t know how to… hear what you’re saying when you’re not speaking, not really well. So I make mistakes like that.”

“Body language?” Alston said, her mouth a little dry. She took another sip of the whiskey. Swindapa picked the glass out of her hand and sipped herself before returning it.

“Yes, that’s a good way to say it-body language.” The smile lessened. “I’d like to be your girlfriend, you know. But you move away when I touch you, even though I think you like me. Back home it’s bad manners to come right out and ask someone older than you-you have to wait for them to ask you when you show you want them to. I keep showing you, and you never ask!”

“Ah…” Oh, hell, what can you say to that? ” ‘Dapa, that’s very flattering, but it’s impossible.”

“Don’t you like me?” Swindapa asked, her eyes going wide and beginning to fill. “I thought you were getting to like me, not just feel sorry for me.”

Oh, hell and damnation. “Of course I like you. I like you a great deal. But you’re too young, and you’re my… guest.”

“I know you want me. I can tell that.”

Alston’s tongue locked on a denial. She hated lying, particularly to friends. The necessity of doing so in the service had rasped her soul.

Swindapa frowned. “I’m not a child,” she said angrily. “I wish you wouldn’t act as if I was. I’ve got the Spear Mark; lots of girls my age back in the White Isle have babies and their own hearths. Do you Eagle People have some rule against sleeping with people who are your guests?”

“No, we don’t, not exactly,” Alston said. Christ, I must have been a monster in a past life to deserve this.

“Is it because I’m ugly, too pale, not beautiful like you?”

Christ no.”

Swindapa’s voice took on a note of exasperation. “Then why?

Alston opened her mouth to reply, then closed it. It was true; Swindapa was young, but not a child, not in the way an American her age would be. She wasn’t someone under Alston’s command, either, nor a dependent. What reasons did that leave? Sheer cowardice, she thought, and leaned forward. Fear of rejection. Fear of public opinion. Rationalizations. Their lips met. This may be just the worst thing I could do, but the hell with it.

Minutes later she sighed breathlessly into the fine-spun blond hair. Deer Dancer certainly didn’t need any instruction on kissing. “I’ve wanted to do that for some time now.”

“Me too.” Softly. “I was afraid I never could, after the Iraiina. But I can.” They kissed again.

Alston felt a cold knot untie itself in her chest, then travel down from neck to spine as the warm closeness dissolved doubt and tension. After a moment the hug turned into a moving embrace. The T-shirt floated to the floor. She gave a sigh of wonder as her hands glided over the Fiernan’s back and stomach and moved up to cup her breasts. Swindapa wiggled and gave a little chuckle of delight, arching into the caress. Her hands began undoing the buttons of Alston’s uniform tunic. After a moment:

“How do you take this off?”

No bras in the Bronze Age. “The catch is at the back.”

Fingers touched her. “Does that feel nice?”

“Oh, yes.” Any nicer and I may faint.

“Stand up for a second, I can’t get at this buckle.”

Well… Alston stood, grinning. No bashfulness problem.

“Oh, good! I wondered if your hair was lovely and… what’s your word… nappy down here too.”

I never did like bashful types, anyway, Alston thought, dizzy. “Come here, girl.”

They lay on the bed, wrapping arms and legs around each other, kissing and nuzzling. A thought struck Alston:

“Ah… ‘dapa, you have done this before, haven’t you?”

“Of course. I told you about my boyfriend, didn’t I?”

“Ah… I meant with another woman.”

“Oh.” Alston shivered as the other’s fingers traced up her spine and lips nibbled down her neck. That feels incredibly good. Involuntarily her thighs squeezed together with one of Swindapa’s between them.

“Not really,” Swindapa whispered.

Tickling fingers found the base of her spine. Alston shivered again and arched her back. The Bronze Age isn’t all backward.

“Not-ah!-not really!?” she said. She hadn’t thought it was the sort of thing you could be uncertain of.

“It was dark… some friends, after a feast, lots of mead… you know how it is. Does it matter?”

“Not really,” Alston laughed. The Fiernan Bohuguli seemed a lot like Trobriand Islanders in some ways.

“I like it better with these wonderful lamps,” Swindapa said. She looked down to where their breasts pressed together. “See how we go together, like the moon and the night sky. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes,” Alston said throatily. It is also better to give than to receive. Or at least pleasantly excruciating to start with.

She pressed the girl back and stroked her lightly with her fingertips, just touching the fine down-hairs. Lips touched breasts and tongue curled around a nipple. The other’s soft explosive sigh made her own skin tingle from head to toe, like being caressed with heated mink gloves. After a while she worked her way downward, caressing the other’s inner thighs and urging them apart. The hands that stroked her head trembled, and she smelled the delicious musky scent of desire. She slid down, stroked a hand onto either hip, and began. Swindapa gave a shocked cry of surprise and delight at the delicate caress; then a whimpering moan.

Well, well, something new has been invented since the Bronze Age, Alston thought happily.

“Yeah, it was a lot too much like hard work for my taste,” the man said.

William Walker nodded, straddling the chair and resting his elbows on the back. “Over there in Europe, they’ve got peasants to do this sort of thing,” he said.

They were watching the parade from a roadside cafe on Easy Street, before it turned west on Main and stopped in the upper section near the Pacific Bank. The floats were a little amateurish, made up with what was to hand. The commonest theme was sheaves of grain, appropriate considering this was a harvest festival; some of them were made up into big human figures, and everyone wore a wreath of it. Most of the floats were horse-drawn, apart from one pulled by a chuffing steam traction engine, a miniature model about the size of a Volkswagen. People milled along in the parade as well, carrying torches; the school band tootled away. At the front rode the Bronze Ager, Swindapa-wearing a wreath of wheat around her hair and carrying a sheaf, and a sash with “Best Reaper” on it over a white dress. She was laughing and waving, and the hair falling past her shoulders had the same wheat-blond color as the ripe grain she carried in the crook of one arm.

What a fox, he thought. Wasted on the captain, although he couldn’t fault her taste, and it was the traditional reward for rescuing the beautiful princess, although the application was a little… unorthodox in this case.

Chief Cofflin was waiting up on Main; there would be a speech and a barbecue, patting everyone on the head for working hard. Suckers, Walker thought. The priests and pastors would be there too, to bless the fruits of the fields and invoke Big Juju. The oldest sucker racket in the world. He made a mental note to himself to become very pious, once the Plan was in place. Nothing like having the supernatural on your side. People who thought Big Juju was looking over their shoulders, why, that was better than all the secret police ever foaled.

The man-Cuddy, he was called, Bill Cuddy-flexed his hands. “I can still feel my blisters,” he said.

“Yeah, like I said, it’s ridiculous we should be doing this stuff, as if we were Stone Age wogs,” Walker went on. “I mean, think of what our technology and what we know could do over across the ocean. Those spear-chuckers would be glad to do the donkeywork.”

Cuddy looked at Walker, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. He was a nondescript-looking man a little older than the Coast Guard officer, brown of hair and beard, wary gray eyes in a tanned face.

“Look, Will,” he said. “You’ve been fan-dancing around this for days now, you and your friends there.” He nodded; Seaman Rodriguez and Cadet McAndrews sat behind Walker, lounging at their ease. “Gold and dancing girls, yeah, it sounds good. A lot better than shoveling shit for a living. How, though? Cut to the chase, man.”

“Okay, Bill,” Walker said. “You want to stay here all your life?”

“Not particularly,” Cuddy said. “Leaton’s a pretty good boss, but I don’t want to be a machinist, it’s just the best thing available. And I certainly don’t want to bust my ass cutting fucking wheat or chopping down trees. On the other hand, I don’t want to go live in a mud hut, either, even if it’s the biggest fucking hut in the village.”

Walker nodded with a charming grin. “There’s a lot more than mud huts over there, in some places,” he said. “There’s my friend Isketerol’s hometown, for example, or Greece. Shit, they’ve even got running water in the Mycenean palaces-flush toilets. Which we don’t, anymore. Plus we can get the natives to build what we want. Plenty of places a bunch of us could pretty well write our own tickets.”

“If the locals didn’t punch our tickets,” Cuddy said.

“Timid?” Walker asked, a slight edge of mockery in his tone.

“No, just cautious. We don’t have any fucking tanks, man.”

“Yeah, that’s a point. That’s why it’d have to be done in a group, with some organization.”

“And you to head up the organization?”

He shrugged. “Somebody has to,” he said. “Why not me? I’ve got the training, I know some history, and I’ve learned the languages. There’ll be plenty for everyone when it comes time to share out.”

Cuddy sipped at his drink. “Why me?” he said.

“You don’t have any local ties, you’ve learned a lot of useful stuff from Leaton, and I think you’re the ambitious type… but reasonable about it,” Walker said. “And hell, it’s not even illegal. The law’s back up in the twentieth. Nobody declared Cofflin’s goddam Town Meeting a sovereign state. The captain’s authority came from the Department of Transportation and the UCMJ; it ended when we got shoved here. They’ve got no right to tell us we have to stay here and make like farmers.”

The other man put down his glass. “They’ve got the power, though. Most people are behind them. What if I go to the chief, or your captain, and tell them what you’ve told me?”

“Then I’d be in deep shit, and you’d be back to blisters.”

Walker said. The grin slipped off his face, leaving an expression more like something out of the deep woods. “For the rest of your life.”

Cuddy looked slightly nervous for the first time. However long the rest of your life was ran unspoken between them. He nodded slowly.

“Okay, I’ll think about it.” He looked around. “Even with things the way they are, this place still has some of the comforts of home. Doctors, for instance.”

Walker flipped one palm up. “Give me credit for some brains, Cuddy.”

“Ah, right, you’ll have gone looking for other people who know things you need. Like, I did a hitch in the Crotch, too.”

Walker clapped. “Give the Marine a great big cigar!” he said dryly. “Semper Fi, mac. Now’s the time, Cuddy. Are you in, or are you out? Last chance to be out and just keep your mouth shut. Once you’re in, you do it my way.”

Cuddy finished his drink and looked after the procession. The music and lights were fading into the darkness of the summer night, a little cool here near the waterfront even in this season. The road was littered, straw and flowers and fresh horse dung. Walker saw his face harden in decision.

“Okay,” he said. “You’ve got the brains for it, if you’ve come this far without getting caught, and you’ve got the balls for it, looks like.” He nodded and offered his hand. “I’m in… boss.”

“Kemosabe, me think it too quiet,” Cofflin said.

“That’s right up there with ‘What you mean we, white man?’ ” Marian Alston quoted. “What’s too quiet, Jared?”

September was a good time for a civic holiday; the grain harvest was in, and everything else was well in hand, well enough for the school year to be starting up again soon.

Not that there isn’t enough to do, Cofflin thought. He was beginning to see why socialism was impractical, something he’d simply taken on faith before; there just wasn’t a mind alive that could soak up all the information needed to make all the economic decisions, even for this miniature city-state. It was a profound relief to get the government- which had somehow turned out to be himself and his friends-out of more and more, after the desperate scramble of the first weeks after the Event.

Private schemes were bubbling up on all sides: to make iceboxes to replace refrigerators; to cut and store ice in underground pits; to start a manufactory to weave sailcloth, once the flax was cut; another to put up a ropeworks- Eagle alone had five miles of running rigging.

Now at least he could deal with priority projects, like the schooners Marian wanted built, and public policy… and one policy was that everyone not superessential had to take a few days off after the harvest party.

The beach wasn’t crowded, there was too much of it and too few people for that, but there were parties clumped along it as far as he could see. Flying kites or playing volleyball, throwing Frisbees, playing the guitar and singing, or just sitting around talking. More out in the water swimming; Nantucket’s offshore water got fairly warm in the late summer, up in the seventies, in vivid contrast to most of the New England coast. From what he’d heard, there were even a few hardy souls surfing today, over on the south shore. Rod-fishermen were casting in the waves for bluefish, and families with rakes were gathering scallops. It might have been an evening some year back before the Event… except that everything was different. Even the way people looked; they’d acquired the roughened, weathered patina of outdoor workers.

Bonfires cast sparks into the sunset, down the long curve to the point. The evening was warm enough for his T-shirt and jeans to be comfortable, or Martha’s single-piece bathing suit and sunrobe, or Marian Alston’s cycle shorts and muscle shirt. A rummage of children went by shrieking down at the water’s edge, chasing a soccer ball and kicking up spray. Their noise was soon lost in the vastness of sea and sky.

“Ah, the hell with it,” he said. “The only thing that really worries me is that Pamela Lisketter has shut up.”

He got up and went over to the pit. There was an art to a successful clambake. First you had to have lots of rock-weed, and after all the soul-butter he had to hand out in this damned politician’s job they’d saddled him with, wading out to collect it-Polpis Harbor was the best spot-was a relief. You couldn’t soft-talk a wave; go at it wrong and it dunked you, and that was that. The pit he’d dug in the sand behind a dune was properly shallow. He’d lined it with wood-driftwood was best-and then carefully packed the stones and surrounded them with a mound of more wood.

“That’s the tricky part,” he said to Alston as she came up, beer in hand. “You’ve got to build the rocks up so there’s room for air to filter around every rock, but not too much.”

“Looks hot enough,” Alston said. The rocks were beginning to flake, glowing and cracking with dangerous popping sounds.

“Ayup.” Cofflin cast a critical eye on them, then picked up a long-handled rake.

“I thought you’d be glad that Lisketter stopped talking about walking lightly and petitioning to stop all the trips to the mainland,” Martha said, bringing up the baskets of food. She was just beginning to show, a rounding out of the stomach.

A father. Christ. He and Betty had never been able to have kids-something with the fallopian tubes-and had never got around to adopting. Doc Coleman said there shouldn’t be any problems, but a first child at forty was always risky.

“That’s my worry,” he said, pushing at the stones. “She’s stopped talking.” The rocks slid into a thick red-white glowing mass, evenly spread across the pit. “All right, let’s get the rockweed on.”

The bags of damp weed were ready. They tossed it in a thick layer over the rocks, and clouds of fragrant steam rose, like the distilled essence of the sea. “Quick, now,” he said.

The food went on top of the seaweed: clams in net bags, potatoes, young corn in the husk, a quartered turkey, lobsters still feebly waving their antennae in protest, and cheesecloth bags stuffed with homemade pork and venison sausage. Alston borrowed the rake and used it to add a thick closed clay pan with her contribution in it; more of her famous beaten biscuits. They threw another layer of weed on top, a tarpaulin over that, then spadefuls of sand.

Cofflin took up the thread again: “Lisketter’s about as stubborn as… as you, by God, Martha. If she’s given up speechifying at the Town Meeting, it’s because she’s got another angle.”

They returned to the campfire and its thermos of sassafras tea and cooler of beer. “The other environmentalists are treating her like a leper,” Martha said. “Dane and Terri and the rest.”

“Yeah, but they’re the sensible ones. Hell, they’re some of our most useful people. They know things-marine biology, handicrafts, stuff like that. And they know I’ll listen to them. But Lisketter… she’s a True Believer.”

Alston settled back on an elbow, the blanket dimpling into the sand and her full African features thoughtful. “You’re the expert,” she said; he couldn’t tell if she meant on clambakes or political dissidents. Her eyes lifted.

Cofflin followed them. A group of youngsters in bathing suits-islanders and cadets-were throwing a football in an impromptu touch game. Swindapa leaped and caught it, ululated some ferocious-sounding warcry in her own language, and went pelting down the beach, fair hair flying in the wind. Doreen Rosenthal went after her, puffing. Marriage suits her, he thought. Or our Bronze Age health spa setup. From chunky the ex-astronomer had gone to a figure that turned heads in a bikini, particularly among men who liked the look of a woman with the promise of something to grab on to.

By contrast Swindapa had filled out a little, and gotten even more deer-graceful, if that was possible.

“Lisketter’s been talking to me a good deal,” Martha said. “Doing some research.”

“Research on what?” Cofflin asked.

“Early Mesoamerican cultures,” she said.

“Aztecs?”

“Oh, no, much earlier than that-Olmec and proto-Mayan, this century we’re in. Really trying to learn something, too. Her brother’s with her a fair amount of the time.”

Cofflin frowned. Pamela Lisketter was odd, but functional. Her brother David, on the other hand…

Ian Arnstein stirred beside his copy of The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe. He yawned and woke fully when Doreen plopped down beside him, panting. “Dinner ready yet?” he said.

“Works up an appetite, snoozing does?” she said.

“You had me swimming for an implausibly long time earlier,” Arnstein said. “Have mercy on an antique. Besides, I just finished harvesting an area equivalent to the state of Kansas.”

Swindapa trotted up, throwing the football and a word over her shoulder. She settled down by Alston, giving her a quick brush of the lips and linking hands. Glad we haven’t had any more trouble about that, he thought. The black woman hadn’t flaunted it, but she hadn’t made any secret of it either; they’d just quietly gone down to the Town Building and registered as domestic partners under the ordinance Nantucket had passed a year before the Event. And she’d been smiling a lot more. So had Swindapa. Very, very glad we haven’t had any trouble.

The island depended too much on what Eagle and the Guard brought in; it had made the difference between bare survival at very best, and a sufficiency you could almost call comfortable. Of course, that was one reason why there hadn’t been more than a fringe murmur among the more conservative; plus many Nantucketers had a Yankee respect for privacy. That and the fact that it would take a very bold man to stand up to the basilisk stare of Captain Alston in a cold rage; he’d seen it once or twice, and had no desire at all ever to experience it personally from the receiving end.

Oh, well, I’m in love myself. It made you feel sort of mellow and ready to think well of people, he found.

“Furthermore, I wasn’t sleeping, I was thinking,” Ian said virtuously. He turned his head toward Cofflin and Alston. “We’ve finally figured out something about the Earth Folk language-it’s very distantly related to Basque.”

“Ah, that’s interesting,” Cofflin said. “Should we try to find someone who speaks Basque?”

Very distantly,” Doreen said, sitting near her husband and combing out her hair. “The way we see it, the languages are about as close as English is to Sanskrit.”

“Oh.” One more factoid for the Useless Trivia File. He supposed there were people up in the twentieth who’d pay a fortune for information like that, to settle those perpetual feuds academics enjoyed.

“Tartessian is related to Basque too, we think, possibly ancestral to it,” Ian said. “Or closely related to the ancestor of Basque, whatever that is and wherever it’s spoken in this century. And therefore Tartessian is related to Fiernan. We think. And Iraiina, it’s probably a bridge dialect between proto-Germanic and proto-Celtic. How’s the clambake coming?”

“Dinner won’t be ready for a while,” Cofflin said. “Someone could hand around that bucket of oysters, though.”

The boats brought them back by the hundred bushel; they were common as dirt over on the mainland coast, but you had to be careful about the size if you planned to eat them on the half shell-many were so big the only way to approach them was with a knife and fork. He began opening these with a knife and handing them around; there was no butter for the bread, of course, but somebody had managed to scavenge a half-bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Swindapa looked down at her oyster and blinked dubiously. Then she primed it with a drop of the Tabasco, slid it into her mouth, and swallowed, imitating the others. “These things are… interesting, you’d say?”

“You don’t have them in Britain?” Ian asked, surprised.

“Not where I was live then-when-there-lived then, I mean, by the Great Wisdom. And I never visited the coast while they were in season.”

She looked at the next he handed her. Her eyes went wide, and she began to giggle helplessly. Alston bent her head, and the Fiernan whispered in her ear.

“… better warm.” He caught the last words; with the full message, Alston was fighting not to laugh.

Cofflin cut another slice from the loaf. Every couple’s entitled to their own private jokes, he thought-slightly irked, because the Arnsteins had also caught the byplay, and they were laughing too. So was Martha…

“Later, dear,” she said. “I’ll tell you later.”

The driftwood fire crackled, flames running blue and green, and the wind was full of the clean scent of the sea. Cofflin sank back on one elbow and watched the sun going down over the waves and headland to the west; Martha handed out blankets from the picnic hampers, and those in swimsuits wrapped them around their shoulders.

Pretty good day, Cofflin thought contentedly. It was amazing how much better all that wheat and rye and barley and beans and flax and dried fish in the warehouses made everyone feel. Maybe quiet isn’t so bad, after all.

The knock was loud and insistent. “Ignore it and it’ll go away,” Cofflin advised. The three couples tried, but it came louder and louder.

“I’ll get it,” sighed Martha. “The doctor says walking is good for me.” She pushed herself to her feet, kissed Jared on the top of his head, and walked over to the curving staircase that led to the ground floor of the Athenaeum.

Marion Alston relaxed, tired after the long day at the beach, full from the clambake. She smiled with drowsy contentment, looking across the table at Swindapa. Her love life hadn’t been much; the disastrous marriage with John, the even more disastrous affair with Jolene that had ended it… and since then the extreme discretion that someone in uniform had to practice, in her position. Discretion so complete it made any real relationship difficult to impossible.

Of course, Martha and Jared and Doreen and Ian were in the same boat. Had to leave the twentieth to find the right one. Truly odd. Even odder that now I am the one who sets personnel policy for the Guard. Now it’s the bigots who have to keep their mouths shut for fear of consequences. That was intensely satisfying.

They were sitting at one of the tables in the lecture hall of the Athenaeum, a big room covering the second floor of the white neoclassical main building; a desk was to their rear, shelves of old books to either side, and at the head a stage where Frederick Douglass had once spoken.

Ian and Doreen were sitting side by side and holding hands, discussing anthropology or something of that nature. There were times when she was very glad she wasn’t an academic.

“We’re closed.” Martha’s voice came up, muffled by the distance to the front door. “Tomorrow.”

“I know, Ms. Cofflin,” a voice said from below. “Please let us in, though.”

“I’ll go down and help her run them off,” Jared said, pushing himself upright and walking away with a sigh. “Damn, doesn’t anyone realize we have to sleep too?”

Alston’s mind divided between the final cargo loads that would have to be swung onto Eagle tomorrow and the way Swindapa was tickling her behind the knee with one bare foot under the concealing table. If humans could purr, I would, she decided. Love was wonderful; so was humping your brains out as an end to the perfect day, and when you put the two together…

Something in the voices from downstairs brought her back to full wakefulness with a cold jolt. She sat up and signaled Swindapa’s suddenly alert face to silence with a finger across the lips.

“What-” Ian began.

Quiet.” He shut up as if she’d slapped him.

She didn’t have a gun with her-nobody in the Guard wore one on the island except on duty, and that rarely- but their swords were bundled in a pair of blankets with the other things from the picnic, taken along to do a few kata. She slid the long steel free of its sheath.

“Wait here,” she whispered in the blond girl’s ear. “Be careful. Get help if things go wrong. Look after Ian and Doreen, and do not come charging in. Go that way.”

She jerked her head at the sash window and drew the blade. “Understand?”

Unwillingly, Swindapa nodded. Just then a gun barked, a small flat crack; there was a cry of pain, and angry voices raised. Her mind clicked it off; pistol, very light caliber.

“Ian, Doreen, stay out of this,” she said. Doreen had some training, Ian none. Damn, this would have to happen with civilians around.

She walked to the head of the stairs and looked down. Nothing. Down the stairs and the circulation desk’s to the left. Main entrance to the right, only a few feet away.

She kicked off her sandals and padded barefoot down and out into the entranceway, the sword held in her left hand with the blade not exactly concealed, but not forcing itself on anyone’s attention, either.

Pamela Lisketter was there, with her brother and a few more of her followers. Her brother had the gun. It was a.22 Hammerli auto target pistol, of all absurd things, looking oversized in his hand. His eyes glared behind the thick glasses, jumping from one point to the next, and the muzzle jerked around at her as she walked into view. A round cracked off, ricocheted somewhere to her right, and ended in a tinkle of glass.

Cofflin was down on the ground, swearing softly, and his big fisherman’s hands squeezed a bleeding wound just above his knee. Either Dave Lisketter was a very good shot-unlikely-or he’d been dead lucky. Incapacitating a determined man with one light bullet was not easy, and from the way Cofflin was glaring at them he had all the determination you could want.

One of those little bullets between the eyes and you’re as dead as if it was a rifled shotgun slug, she reminded herself. Everything was very bright and clear.

Martha was backed up against a desk, quivering with the anger she was keeping off her face, except for the two red spots on her cheeks. Pamela Lisketter looked out of her depth, but grimly determined to carry through. Her brother’s twitching eyes and bared buck teeth gave him the look of a gopher on pure crystal meth, capable of anything, one way or another. Other figures moved behind Lisketter, taking boxes of books out of the Athenaeum.

“You’d better put that-there down, white boy,” she said, conscious in some remote corner of her mind that the Gullah accent she’d fought so long and hard to control was back in full force. “Y’might hurt yoselfs wit it.”

“Drop that sword!” he barked, shrill. She continued to walk forward, slow and soundless, then halted just beyond arm’s reach. “Drop it.”

“No, doan’ think I’ll do that thing,” she said carefully.

“Drop it!” He looked bewildered and waved the gun. “You have to drop it!”

“That there’s a gun, white boy. It ain’t no magic wand,” she said, and turned her head to Martha. “What’s goin’ on here?”

“Ms. Lisketter,” Martha said, her voice frigid with contempt, “is going to- save the Indians-“

“Native Americans!”

“Native Americans. By taking them our guns and a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Alston laughed deliberately, a deep rich sound. “Even crazier than Ah thought,” she said. “Lisketter, tell your brother that if he puts that there gun down now, I won’ hurt him.” Much, she added to herself. These people didn’t have any experience with violence, or much confidence in their use of it. If she could shake them enough…

Her senses expanded, taking in the room and the positions of everyone in it. One long controlled breath. Another.

Lisketter spoke: “Your own Lieutenant Walker is helping us,” she said.

Alston laughed again. “Walker doan’ help nobody but Walker,” she said. “So…”

Lisketter wasn’t going to back down. Her brother had so much adrenaline in his system he was on the verge of going berserk, which would make him an utterly unpredictable factor. Time to act.

A number of things about swords were surprising to those who’d never trained with them. The first was how far a yard-long blade at the end of an arm could reach. A drawing cut sliced through David Lisketter’s flesh, through the radius and ulna of his arm, hardly slowing at all. He shrieked and whirled, the stump of his forearm sending up twin jets of deep-crimson blood halfway to the low ceiling as the hand clutching the gun spun away.

In the instant that followed, Marian Alston knew two things with angry certainty. The first was that her training had betrayed her; she stepped forward into stance and whipped the blade back and around for the finishing stroke in drilled reflex, leaving Pamela Lisketter a crucial moment to react. The second was that Pamela Lisketter also had a gun, and that she’d fired it through the pocket of her coat.

Blackness.

Isketerol smiled as he pushed through the door and over to the desk. The partition-the plastic partition-had been taken down; the Amurrukan who lived here year-round didn’t fear each other much. There was only one police officer sitting there yawning. Probably feeling resentful that he wasn’t off-duty and celebrating the harvest like most of the island. It was dark on the street outside, save for the noise and lamplight spilling down from the Ocean Cafe half a block away.

“What can I do for you?” the policeman asked.

“You can die, foreigner,” Isketerol said in Tartessian.

His left hand flashed out and clamped in the Amurru-kan’s hair, jerking the man forward, while his right flashed out from behind his back with the steel dagger the smith had made for him. It was double-edged and needle-pointed, about seven inches long, and sharper than anything he’d ever held before. The point punched into the side of the Amurrukan’s neck just behind the windpipe; he could feel the stiff tissues crunching and popping as the broader shoulders of the weapon sliced in. He jammed the man’s head down on the desk as he wrenched the blade forward. Blood spurted, covering the short tunic-the T-shirt-he was wearing. His victim’s movements went spastic for an instant, then slumped away. Bowels and bladder released their smells to the iron-copper tang of blood.

“To You, Arucuttag of the Sea, I dedicate this offering. Take what I give, Hungry One, and grant my desire,” Isketerol said. A wet finger outlined a red wave on his forehead.

He turned to the door and signaled the others in. One of them took a single look and bent over, vomiting, Isketerol hid his contempt. Despite their powers the Amurrukan are womanish, he thought.

“Get moving,” he said, raising the barrier between the entranceway and the night officer’s desk.

He pushed the body backward, so that it slumped off the chair and onto the floor. No sense in taking unnecessary chances. A moment served to strip off the gunbelt and buckle it around his own waist; he cleaned and sheathed the dagger, then took the crossbow one of Lisketter’s followers handed him, instead of drawing the pistol as he longed to do. Best to use a weapon he’d practiced with, and one that made no loud noise.

“Harry? What’s going on out there?” someone called from within the building.

Isketerol’s lips skinned back from his teeth. So. There is a second one. He waited until the doorknob began to move; the panels were thin wood. Then he shot.

Whunng. The crossbow spoke its single musical note. There was a sharp crack as the bolt punched through the door, hardly slowing, then a heavy grunt from the other side. The door swung open toward him and the policeman toppled out, the stubby arrow sunk to its fletchings through his breastbone. The body sprattled and leaked, then went still.

“Quickly!” Isketerol snapped, reloading.

Lisketter’s followers and Walker’s men had come prepared, on the assumption that a sixteen-pound sledgehammer and a pry bar were the most versatile keys ever invented. They pushed through into the police station, where the shotguns were in racks, padlocked closed. Three ringing blows disposed of the locks, and the long arms went into crates and were manhandled out to the handcart. Ammunition was in locked boxes beneath; they simply carried those out, since they could be opened later. The door of the storeroom where the private firearms were being kept yielded to two strong men with sledges in less than a minute of battering. Isketerol nodded approval. The best password is an ax, he thought. That was an old saying of the Sidonians, and he’d found much value in it.

Inside was the smaller type of gun, pistols. Each was neatly labeled with its owner’s name; they were due to be returned to the private citizens soon, perhaps within the week-that had been one reason they decided on this night to make their strike and flee. Hands dragged in two large boxes, padded with blankets. Walker’s man, the gunsmith, began to toss weapons into each, carefully segregating out the magnums from the Saturday-night specials, and seeing that Walker’s box for the Yare got the former. Isketerol did the same for the long arms, where the differences were less subtle and the pictures he’d memorized made the work easy. Most of the best ones had already been sent aboard Eagle-that was Will’s task-but there were two that were especially formidable; Garands, Will called them, weapons with which the Amurrukan had fought a great war in Walker’s grandsire’s day. Improved somehow, something about twenty-round magazines. Lisketter’s people accepted the others, the.22 popguns and the kiddie can-plinkers, without dispute. Few of them were familiar with firearms, less than he was, even; and those who knew anything were away with Liskettef herself.

Metal clattered on metal. Seconds crawled by like minutes, minutes like hours. Like a battle, Isketerol thought, working a dry mouth. Or rather like the waiting before one; he could remember feeling like this as a stripling, out with the city levy to fight off a raid by mountain tribesmen on the valley farms tributary to Tartessos.

At last they were finished. Isketerol chivvied them out, turning to check that all the other doors to the building were locked from the inside. Then he shut the last one and stuck a strip of soft brass into the slot for the key, hammering the end home with the butt of his dagger and then breaking it off with a sideways blow. That would delay whoever came to check on the station, and moments might be crucial. He took a coat from the handcart and draped it over his shoulders, hiding the weapons at his belt. The crossbow went within, his hand on it as he stood beside the cart in the position he would walk.

A quick glance up and down the street. Nobody was looking this way. “To the docks,” he said. “Walk as if you own the world.”

If this plan succeeded, Isketerol son of Elantinin would own a good deal of it. His part had begun well. He could only ask the Powers that the others might do as well, and keep alert.

“Go!”

“Told you the blacksmith would be working,” Walker said, looking down at his watch. “Right where we need him.”

Time to go for it. Three coordinated strikes. Yeah, Isketerol will bring his off. Lisketter… fuck it, I’m committed. Go for it.

He could smell the fear-sweat on the men behind him, Rodriguez and McAndrews. Casual, you dumb bastards, act casual, he thought. We’re just some friends out for a stroll. There were a fair number of people out tonight, dropping in on neighbors or heading for parties or whatever. Theirs wasn’t the only lantern drawing a yellow light through the dark streets away from the streetlamps of Main. He could smell the clean hot scent of burning charcoal from the big shed up ahead of them, hot metal, sneeze-making cinders, the heavy frying smell of the oil bath used for quenching and tempering.

Dumb bastards. This is the safe part. You’re not committed till we go through that door.

You took what material was to hand, but he wasn’t impressed with either. The Puerto Rican sailor thought with his balls, and McAndrews had more nonsense stuffed into his thick head than one of Lisketter’s flakes, just a different flavor. On the other hand, neither was a coward. McAndrews was even fairly bright, when his brain wasn’t focused on the Glories of Africa; squeamish, though.

They could hear the clang of the hammer from the shed; it was a converted truck garage near Seahaven Engineering, chosen for its concrete floor. Smoke floated up from the new forge chimney, ghostly in the star-sheening night sky. Sheet metal had been laid around the brick of the stack, to lessen the risk of fire. Red light leaked out around the edges of the doors and through the big propped-open windows.

Good. Only Martins and his bimbo there. There were six separate hearths inside, and a selection of special-purpose anvils. Walker pushed open the door just enough for a man’s body and slipped through. Even with good ventilation it was hot inside, and Martins’s bare skin shone with sweat. He was standing by the oil bath, and it hissed and bubbled smoke as he plunged the bright metal into it. Over by the forge his girlfriend, Barbara, rested at the pedal-worked bellows, her inevitable cat in her lap. She was a comfortable-looking woman in her late thirties, given to wearing long scarves; she’d run an herb store, before the Event.

“Hey, man.” Martins looked up and smiled, his round-lensed glasses looking absurd on his long-nosed face. “Like, what’s happenin’? It ain’t the time for your regular lessons.”

Walker jerked his head at the other two men. They spread out behind him, covering the entrances. I really need this turkey, he told himself. Martins knew his work; he was even a good teacher, and Walker had put himself out to learn the basics over the summer. Knowledge was always valuable, and among other things he now knew how the smith thought.

“Your friends want some lessons too?” Martins said, his voice full of its usual dreamy mildness.

“Actually, John,” Walker said, “what I’d like is for you to come along with me. Right now.”

The mild brown eyes blinked at him. “Okay, but like, I’m sorry, man, I got some work I have to do. Another time, Okay?”

“I’m afraid it’ll have to be now, John,” Walker smiled, coming closer. “Really.”

“Man, I can’t go anywhere now. You know how it is, you’re tempering something, it like rilly has to be done in its own time. It’s the flow, man.”

Barbara was looking up, blinking, an edge of suspicion in her eyes. Something snapped in William’s head. He drew the Beretta from its waist holster under his jacket and brought it around.

Now, you dumb fossil hippie bastard!”

His voice had taken on a crack of command that usually brought results. Martins only blinked again, his mouth setting stubbornly under the walrus mustache.

“Guns,” he said. “Oh, I don’t like guns. I’m sorry for you, man. Heavy. You’re carrying some heavy power trip there, like, authoritarian stuff? No way am I going to, like, reinforce that sort of negative trip.” He turned away, lifted the blade out of the oil, and began to wipe it down.

Barbara had given a little scream at the sight of the pistol. Now her eyes flickered to the other two men, the hands resting under their sweatsuit jackets.

“Johnnie,” she said breathlessly, “I don’t think these guys are kidding. Maybe you’d better go with them.”

“Hey, Barbs-you can’t let stuff like this divert your energy, you know? It’s Will’s karma. He has to work it through.”

William Walker smiled bleakly and bolstered his pistol. This had not been altogether unanticipated. The tanto he drew from under his left armpit was one of Marlins’s own, a heavy-backed thing with a blade six inches long, very slightly curved, with a slanting chisel point. The edge was whetted to just short of razor sharpness. He took four lithe steps and grabbed Barbara by the ear, dragging her to her feet with a squeal of pain.

Martins rounded on him, his hammer going up. “Drop her, man! Drop her now!” His sheeplike face was transformed, forgelight gleaming in his eyes and turning them red. The twenty-pound forging hammer went up as if it weighed no more than a thistle.

Walker smiled and reached around Barbara from behind, letting the tip of his knife rest just under her eye. “Let’s put it this way, John. You start cooperating, and I won’t cut this stupid cunt here a new set of orifices. You do anything but what I say, and I’ll start taking bits off her; she’s a big girl, and there are lots of bits. You understand this concept, John? Do you grok it?”

The hammer dropped slowly. “Yeah,” he said hollowly. “Careful, man, that’s sharp.”

Barbara was crying with short, sharp inhalations, tears gleaming in the red-and-white light of the bed of coals in the forge.

“Glad we’re communicating at last, John. Here’s what you’re going to do.”

William Walker swung onto the Eagle’s deck and turned smartly to salute the flag. “Permission to come aboard, Ms. Hendriksson,” he said, turning to the OOD and saluting her in turn.

“Very well, Mr. Walker,” she said, returning the courtesy. Less formally: “What’s up, Will?”

“Working party, Greta,” he said. “A few last things the skipper wanted shifted to the Yare before you take her over tomorrow. Thought I’d get them done tonight so you’d have a clear deck in the morning and no distractions.”

“Thanks,” Hendriksson said, impressed with his zeal-it was a holiday, after all. “You’ve been doing a great job working her up.”

De nada,” Walker said with an easy smile. He’d cultivated Hendriksson. In a very comradely way; she had a boyfriend ashore now.

He looked around the deck. Not much activity, as you’d expect with the ship at anchor and most of the crew on liberty ashore. The swell was slight, and the ship rode easily under a sky ablaze with stars, a frosted band against the night. Not quite deserted, though. There were still enough people to screw things up completely, if the alarm was given. Speed was the ticket, that and acting as if he had a perfect right to be where he was and doing what he was.

“Sooner done, sooner I can get to sleep,” he said. Hendriksson nodded and returned to her post near the wheel, trotting up the gangway from the waist to the poop deck.

Walker fought not to wheeze relief. Sweat trickled down his flanks; it could have been very awkward if she’d stayed closer. A dozen men followed him up the companionway, moving with professional briskness; he’d drilled them in the movements often enough, although in fact only about half of them were Coast Guard.

“This way,” he barked, waving them forward with his clipboard.

Lights were dimmed below; he led them down to the second deck, and the locked door that held the Eagle’s armory. Full now, since the ship was nearly ready to sail; full with the pick of the island’s firearms, what was left after the warehouse fire back in spring. Gray steel door, and a plain gray lock.

“Jimmie,” he whispered. Even in a small town like Nantucket you could find appropriate talents, if you looked. A small man eeled his way forward, knelt by the door, and went to work.

Four endless minutes later it clicked open; all he’d had to do was savagely hiss the restless into silence. The door swung back, and Walker shone his flashlight within.

“All right, get the light.” A larger battery-powered item went on. “That’s the machine gun. Get that and the ammunition first. Rifles next, then the shotguns, then the handguns, then the cleaning oil and parts. Keep it looking normal, no running, but move.”

Seconds stretched agonizingly. When two men dropped a box of ammunition they were carrying by the rope-sling handles he had all he could do not to light into them with fists and feet as the deck boomed. Minutes crawled by, and exultation with them. I’m going to do it, by God!

The last boxes went up the stairwells and out on the deck. He never knew exactly what it was that woke Commander Rapczewicz, only that he heard her voice from above, raised in a sharp tone of command:

“You there! Yes, you. Who are you? What are you doing on the Eagle?

She was the XO. She knew everyone authorized to be on the ship, at least by sight… and the approximations of uniform he’d slowly, painfully accumulated for his recruits were only that, makeshifts. He went up the companionway in four bounding steps and burst onto the deck. Willpower slugged him to a halt, made him walk over calmly with a smile on his face, extending the clipboard.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said. She was hastily dressed-buttons misaligned-and blinking sleep out of her eyes, but narrowly suspicious. “It’s right here-“

That brought him within arm’s reach. The heel of his right hand rocketed up, punching into the angle of her jaw. Sandy Rapczewicz was a solidly built woman, but his hundred and ninety pounds outweighed her mass by forty. She snapped backward with her heels barely touching the ground and lay in a crumpled heap with blood running from her nose and mouth. Luckily that brought her into the shadows by the bulwark. He looked around. Nobody.

“Get that crate down to the boat,” he said, forcing himself out of his crouch. “Now, you fools. Move it.” The flat calm of his voice was a better lash than a shriek. They fumbled it up and started down the companionway, feet clattering.

“Mr. Walker. Is everything all right?”

Walker turned at the hail from the quarterdeck. Well, there goes any chance of quietly scuttling the Eagle, he thought savagely. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Aloud: “Everything’s okay, just dropped a box,” he said.

Hendriksson turned to go. It was at that moment that Sandy Rapczewicz crawled into a pool of light and collapsed again, her blood-slick face ghastly in the yellow light of the lamps. Walker responded instantly, pulling out his Beretta and firing. Bullets thunked into teak decking and spanged off steel with vicious red sparks. The lieutenant threw herself flat. Walker whirled and raced down the gangway, half-throwing the two men and their burden ahead of him into the boat and leaping after. The rowboat swayed wildly and shipped water over one side; it was perilously heavy-laden, even for a calm night.

“Out oars and stroke!” he roared.

They responded, clumsily at first, then bending their backs to it. He turned and knelt, holding the pistol in a two-handed range grip, squeezing off the rest of the magazine at the side of Eagle’s quarterdeck, shooting at movement and lights. The boat gathered way, heading for the riding lights of the Yare where she stood out from Nantucket Town’s breakwaters. Voices and shouts were rising on the Eagle… but he’d put the XO in the hospital for a while, at least, and Hendriksson was a by-the-book type. She’d send for orders; besides, there probably wasn’t anything but a handgun or two left aboard the ship. If that. Damn, I’ve got all the guns in the world!

The boat came alongside the Yare. Lines came overside, and men made them fast to guns and crates. More hands hauled them up; Walker went up a line himself, hand over hand. Isketerol stood by the wheel, hands on hips, cloak flapping a little in the night breeze. He was grinning, and Walker felt himself answering the expression.

“We did it!” he said. A bit premature, but they had done it.

“Arucurtag of the Sea was with us,” the Tartessian whooped.

Two women huddled behind him; Alice Hong, and what’s-her-name, Rosita. Martins and his girlfriend were securely handcuffed below, and…

The last boxes came aboard and went below, secured with padlock and chain.

“A taste of things to come,” he said to the Iberian. “The guns weren’t half as hard to steal as that bastard of a quarterhorse.” As if to punctuate his words an indignant neigh came from the hold, and the drumbeat sound of hooves on wood.

Turning to his crew: “Start engines!”

The diesel coughed to life under his feet. That took longer and made more noise than he liked, but there was no point in trying to sail her off in the face of an onshore breeze, not with this scratch crew. They’d be clumsy at it despite the economical nature of the schooner’s rig, much easier to set than a square-rigger of the same size. You’ll all be sailors by the time we reach our destination, he promised himself. A vast wild exhilaration was building in him, and he struggled to keep it under control. Another boat was rocking not far away; smaller than the Yare, but more heavily crewed. Walker walked to the port rail and called across, cupping his hands:

“Thanks for the help, and good luck!” he called. Thanks for all the fish, he was tempted to say, but he doubted she’d catch the reference. “Also goodbye!”

Panic-stricken cries rose; the other boat’s engines were turning over as well. That had been the plan, to run the engines dry building up a lead. The plan had been to do it together, though. He laughed, a barking sound.

“Where are you going?” Pamela Lisketter cried, springing up to the rail and clutching at a line. “We need you!”

“But I don’t need you,” he chuckled again, and shouted: “And wherever I’m going, it isn’t fucking Mexico, you dumb bitch. Give my regards to the proto-taco-benders and Formative Period bean-eaters!”

He roared laughter again; it had been the hardest work of his life, putting on a convincing imitation of a would-be tofu muncher and humanitarian weepy for this collection of… pathetic geeks and tree-hugging wimps, he decided. That had a fair, objective sound to it.

Give her credit, though, he thought, still chuckling. Lisketter didn’t waste any more time-didn’t even stop for several of her crew, who went overside and began swimming back to Nantucket. She simply put the helm about and headed west… Isketerol already had the Yare moving east; he’d had a thorough grounding in how to use the wheel.

Walker went to stand beside the Tartessian. “I see you brought Rosita,” he said to the adventurer… other adventurer, he thought. Freedom was like wings, like striding over the earth, omnipotent.

“But of course,” Isketerol said, looking down at where she huddled against the rail. “I promised her that I would take her as a wife. And so I will. Third wife, to be sure- but when we are finished, my third wife will be more than Pharaoh’s great queen.” He jerked his chin without looking around. “Your Alice, as well.”

Hong got to her feet. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Will? This tame goon of yours comes along and strong-arms us-“

He swung around, still grinning, and pointed a finger. It didn’t quite touch the young doctor’s nose, but she jarred to a halt. “Shut up,” he said. “You’re along because I don’t intend to entrust my precious personal body to the local witch doctors if I get sick. But I’m a healthy guy, so your value isn’t infinite.” She froze, clasping her arms around her nightgown.

Restoring order and setting watches took a few minutes. It left him still full of energy, bouncing on his toes, sleep out of the question, like a hit of cocaine-something he’d tried once or twice, on confiscated material that went missing. No more than that-William Walker wasn’t going to wreck himself to make a bunch of Colombian greaseballs rich-but the sensation was pretty much the same. Except that this high was free, and high as the gleaming moon above him. The thudding diesel drove the schooner’s sharp prow eastward at a steady ten knots, water curling back from it in opalescent wings. He grabbed Alice Hong by one arm and pushed her ahead of him down the stairs before the wheel, then sternward and into the captain’s cabin. There were two big bunks on either side of a table, with a semicircle of padded seats under the fantail windows. Out of them he could see the Yare’s wake disappearing behind him.

The woman rounded on him. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you son of a bitch?” she began.

Crack. His hand took her across the face, just hard enough to leave a red imprint. She staggered back a step and caught herself against the edge of the table.

“Hey, Will-” Her voice was tremulous. “No need to get rough.”

“But you like it rough, don’t you, Alice?” he said, sliding off his belt.

A combination of fear and queasy excitement brightened her eyes and made her moisten her lips. She did; he’d discovered Alice Hong had more kinks than a corkscrew, which made her more interesting… and more useful, in some respects. Leather whistled in his hand.

“Please, Will… what are you doing?”

“Whatever I want, from now on,” he said. “I told you about it, remember?”

“I thought you were just bullshitting me, fantasies to get me hot!”

“No, Alice. I’m going to be a king… and those who follow me are going to have wealth and power beyond their dreams. As long as they obey me. Turn around.”

She obeyed. He gripped the back of her nightgown and ripped it off with a single yank that brought a gasp from her. A hand between the shoulder blades bent her over the table.

Smack. The leather raised a welt across her buttocks. “Isn’t that right, Alice? Anything I want.” Smack.

“Yes, God, yes!”

He laughed and unzipped. “There are a lot of things you’d like, aren’t there, Alice?” he said, and thrust into her. She yelped and gripped the edges of the table. Wet, he thought. This is one sick bitch puppy. Wet tightness around him. He began to move, eyes on the moonlit road across the waters behind the ship.

“You’d like to have a place where you could dish it out, too, when you felt like it,” he said. “Gold and silk, wealth, girls, boys, do some real rough stuff of your own, with no laws and no place you had to stop. Real whips, real knives.”

“Yes,” she hissed, pushing back to meet him. “Yes, you bastard-you weren’t just-Jesus!-you weren’t just daydreaming.”

He laughed, one hand gripping the back of her neck with painful force, thrusting into her with a savagery that battered her thighs against the edge of the table.

“I’m the man who makes dreams come true.”

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