Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 35

“What I meant, Floyd,” he said in a softer, less bantering tone, “was whether or not Vinnie thinks we can pull it off, not whether or not it’s a good idea.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure whether or not he thinks we can actually bring Schuman and Karaxis down,” Allenby admitted after a moment. “I think he’s convinced we can at least make both of them wish they’d never been born, but actually knock off the government?” He shrugged. “That’s a lot steeper order. All I can say is he thinks there’s at least a chance, and if this contact of his comes through for us, we may have a lot better chance than I thought we did when we started.”

“Makes a man a little nervous counting on ‘contacts’ he’s never met,” MacGruder observed.

“Naw.” Allenby shook his head. “Doesn’t make a man a little nervous, Jason. Not ‘less he’s the kind of idiot couldn’t count to eleven without taking his shoes off, anyway.”

MacGruder chuckled, although in his saner moments he knew Allenby was right about that. At the moment, their Cripple Mountain Movement consisted of a grand and glorious total of just under four hundred volunteers. Given the imbalance between the imported equipment of Karaxis’ military and the civilian weaponry available to them, angering even that many enough to step forward had been a monumental achievement on the Shuman Administration’s part. And virtually all of those four hundred were Cripple Mountains clansmen and women, which meant that even family members unwilling to take up arms themselves would greet any outside pursuers or investigators with hostile, willful ignorance of the guerrillas’ whereabouts.

Some of the CMM’s members wanted to open a large-scale campaign of attacks on the Tallulah Corporation’s infrastructure, but for the moment, Allenby was restricting their operations to keeping their mountainous stronghold free of the system security forces. There’d been perhaps a dozen serious clashes between his people and Karaxis’ over the last local year or so, and their frequency seemed to be accelerating, yet they were still the exception, not the rule. In fact, most of them had been the result of accidental collisions between the two sides, not something either of them had planned.

Things had begun to accelerate in other ways, though — especially since First Sergeant Vincent Frugoni, Solarian Marine Corps (retired) had returned to Swallow. Frugoni shared his dead sister’s blond hair and blue eyes, and his face, while undeniably masculine, was an almost painful reminder of Sandra. He was also — as his sister had been — a prolong recipient, which neither Allenby nor MacGruder was. Twenty years older than either of them, he looked more like someone’s adolescent brother than the tough, decidedly nasty character he was, and he kept a well honed artfully innocent expression ready for instant use at need.

He’d also spent twenty-seven T-years in the Solarian Marines, rising to the second highest noncommissioned rank available, and under his tutelage the four hundred members of the CMM had attained a level of training and tactical sophistication light-years ahead of the majority of Felicia Karaxis’ so-called soldiers.

That wasn’t enough to offset the imbalance in the equipment and technical capabilities available to the two sides, of course. Although…

“Tell me true, Floyd,” MacGruder said finally, his expression unwontedly sober. “You know I’m with you all the way, however it works out. Bastards’ve got it coming, and I’m ready to give it to them, however it comes out at the finish line. But do you really think these people — these ‘Manties’ — are ready to help out?”

“I don’t know. Not really,” Allenby admitted, returning honesty for honesty. “If half the stuff we’re hearing is true, they’re going to need every edge they can get, though. Makes sense to me they’d want to…distract the Sollies’ attention, and you know as well as I do how it really works out here. Frontier Security’s not backing Tallulah just because of that asshole Parkman’s beautiful eyes! They’re getting a cut from every credit Tallulah rakes off from Swallow, and if the League’s got a real war on its hands for the first time in its life, it’s going to need all the cash it can squeeze out of the Protectorates…and us. So if the Manties can make it hard for them to do that, it’s got to help Manticore, right?”

“Even I can get that far,” MacGruder said dryly. “What bothers me is whether or not they’re going to give a fart in a windstorm what finally happens to us.”

“Fair enough.” Allenby nodded. “And while I’m being fair, why should they give a fart in a windstorm? They don’t know us, and they sure as hell don’t owe us anything! But the truth is, it’s not going to take a lot of effort on their part to provide us with the guns and the support weapons we’d need to take Karaxis on. It’s not like we’re going to be some kind of long-term heavy burden on them. In fact, this is about the cheapest way they can get into the Sollies’ henhouse, when you come down to it. And if they promise to help us and then don’t come through — if they don’t provide what they’ve agreed to and just leave us hanging — it’s going to get out. I’m thinking anyone ballsy enough to take on the League isn’t going to want the rest of the galaxy to think they just use up allies and throw them away. Might make sense to them in the short term, but in the long term it’d do them a lot of damage with all the independent star systems. And if they’re going to survive facing up to the League, they can’t afford to piss off the independents, Jason. They’re going to need access to markets out here to replace the ones they’re going to lose in the League. And they’re going to need allies, not just trading partners. Somehow I don’t think someone who goes around screwing people over and then throwing them to the ogre wolves is going to find a lot of people willing to stick their necks out for them against something like the League.”

MacGruder’s eyebrows rose. Sometimes, listening to his cousin speak, Allenby’s rustic mountain accent could fool even him into forgetting the acuity of the brain behind those brown eyes. But then Floyd would come up with a piece of analysis like that and remind him.

“I’m not saying the Manties are going to back us out of the pure goodness of their hearts any more than I think OFS is backing Tallulah because they love Parkman so much,” Allenby continued. “I’m just saying we both have reasons to be pissed off as hell at Frontier Security, and if it makes sense to the Manties to go after Schuman and Karaxis — and Parkman — here in Swallow, it makes sense to me to let them help us do it.”

“Put that way, makes sense to me, too,” MacGruder admitted after a moment. He considered what his cousin had said in silence for several seconds, then cocked his head.

“So when do we expect to hear back from Vinnie?” he asked.

“Sometime in the next week or so.” Allenby refilled his coffee cup again. “I don’t think Karaxis even realizes Vinnie’s back on-planet, but the only place he could make contact is in Capistrano, so we’re not going to know how it went until he’s had time to get back here without attracting anyone’s attention. So” — he shrugged — “about a week or so.”

“And just how are the Manties planning on getting weapons shipments through to us when Tallulah controls all the traffic into and out of Swallow?” MacGruder sounded as much honestly curious as skeptical, and Allenby snorted a laugh.

“Damned if I know!” he admitted cheerfully. “That’s up to Vinnie and this Manty super secret agent he’s hooked up with.” He shrugged. “If Mister ‘Firebrand’ can come up with a way to get the guns to us, though, I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to figure out what to do with them after he does.”