Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 06

“That’s part of his problem, really. I think he seems himself as exactly that — a mover and a shaker — and he feels…deprived of a platform worthy of his profound talents. Unfortunately for him, SEIU’s not one of the major transstellars. It’s more of a middleweight, and Loomis is worthwhile, but it isn’t in the same category as one of the real pot-of-gold propositions, and Loomis isn’t the top rung of even its ladder. Worse, Zagorski was assistant system manager in Delvecchio, which is SEIU’s crown jewel, for ten years. I’m pretty sure he expected to move up to system manager there when his boss got recalled to the home office, which would finally have made him a really big fish in his own personal pond. Only somebody with better family connections got Delvecchio, and he got Loomis as a consolation prize. I think that really pissed him off, and he arrived in get-rich-quick mode. He wants to squeeze as much as he can out of Loomis as fast as he can, partly for what he can skim off the top, but also — I think — because he’s hoping that a spike in system revenues on his watch may still get him promoted to something even better.”

“Great.” Venelli snorted harshly. “If I had a credit for every time one of these assholes screwed the pooch out here trying to look good for the home office I could buy Hoplite as my private yacht and retire!”

“You probably could,” Osborne agreed. “In this case, he decided to raise the quota on silver oak. In fact, he doubled it. Then he raised it again. There’s a lot of timberland on Halkirk, but it’s not unlimited, and the Halkirkians know it. He’s basically clear cutting their most valuable planetary resource, and they don’t like it. He doesn’t care, of course. Even at the rate he’s going through them, there are enough stands of silver oak to keep him in business for another ten or twenty years, and he plans on being long gone by then.”

Venelli felt as disgusted as Osborne looked. Slash-and-burn tactics like Zagorski’s were entirely too common in the Verge, and they accounted for at least half of the Solarian League Navy’s headaches.

“When the new logging policies came in, a lot of people who’d been willing to keep their heads down rather than attract the UPS’ attention started remembering Good King Tavis a lot more affectionately,” Osborne continued. “Mánas MacRory may not have cherished any political ambitions, but his nephew Raghnall — his older brother’s son — knew MacCrimmon and MacQuarie weren’t likely to take his word for it. So, without mentioning it to anyone — including Mánas — he started organizing the ‘MacRory Militia.’ As far as I can tell, it was supposed to be a purely defensive move on his part. I think he just wanted to put together something tough enough to make MacQuarie think twice about assassinating his uncle the way MacHendrie assassinated his father and his grandfather. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

“The level of unhappiness really started spiking about two years ago, and MacQuarie began seeing conspirators under every bed in Elgin. I’m pretty sure she was deliberately exaggerating in her cabinet reports as a way to suck in more resources for UPS, but that didn’t mean she was completely wrong, either. In fact,” he sounded like someone who disliked what he was admitting, “my own sources indicate that someone here on Halkirk had actually begun some serious organizing and established some out-system contacts for small arms and some heavy weapons. It’s a fairly recent development, and I still haven’t been able to nail down exactly whose idea it was. It wasn’t the MacRorys, though; I do know that much. By now, three or four different groups have come out of the woodwork under the umbrella of MacLean’s ‘Loomis Liberation League’s Provos,’ but that happened later, after MacQuarie realized there really was someone here in Loomis who was genuinely interested in shooting back and decided she’d better nip it in the bud. She leapt to the conclusion that it had to be the MacRorys, unfortunately, and she tried to take Mánas into ‘protective custody.’ And that, Captain Venelli, was when the shit hit the fan and I put in a call for someone like you.”

“You couldn’t find a smaller sledgehammer?” Venelli asked caustically, and the OFS officer shrugged.

“I didn’t want a sledgehammer at all. Unfortunately, Zagorski didn’t leave me much option. He wants results — fast results — and he’s got a big enough marker with somebody further up the chain than me to get them.”

“I guess what I object to the most is how frigging stupid this all is,” Venelli said. “On the other hand, I suppose I should be used to stupidity by now.”

“There’s enough of it lying around, anyway,” Osborne agreed. “I don’t recall seeing a more spectacular example of it lately, though.”

He shook his head, and Venelli realized there was more than just disgust in his eyes. There was anger…and even regret.

“I’ve assisted in — even officiated over — some pretty ugly things in my time, Captain,” the OFS officer told her. “It comes with the territory, and I’ve got to admit the pay is pretty good. But sometimes…sometimes it isn’t good enough, and this is one of those times.”

* * *

Innis MacLay lay on his belly, peering cautiously out of the sixtieth floor window. For Halkirk, that made his present perch a tall building, although the gleaming ceramacrete towers SEIU had constructed in the heart of the city dwarfed it. Two of those towers were far less pristine than they had been, marked by the dark scars of multiple missile strikes and streaked with smoke from the fires which had consumed whole floors of their interiors, and MacLay showed his teeth briefly as he remembered watching the explosions ripple up and down their flanks. That had been when he thought the Provos had a real chance.