Read Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) Online

Authors: M.K. Wren

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Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) (7 page)

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
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Val’s voice was oddly flat. “If he’s so dangerous, I’m surprised you’d hesitate at that.”

The statement was so out of character, Erica couldn’t entirely contain her astonishment. A comment like that would be far more typical of—

She froze. She had the answer, but for the moment she could only think,
Not Val—not Val Severin
. Perhaps the numbness of shock helped her maintain her self-control. She frowned up at Val, but only with mild annoyance.

“When have we ever condoned causing harm of any sort unless it’s unavoidable? And Kamp is a leader. In negating a leader, one must first consider his followers. They believe in him, however false or distorted his statements, however selfish his motives. Leaders become martyrs all too easily, and then the damage is usually irreversible.”

Val was staring fixedly at the screen, tension drawing harsh lines around her mouth.

“What do you intend to do about him?”

“What can we do, Val, except investigate him thoroughly and try to accelerate the normal process of disillusionment among his followers?”

“You seem quite sure an investigation will turn up the material you need for disillusionment.”

Erica saw the color in Val’s cheeks deepening, the defiant lift of her jaw. She thought Erica was purposely drawing a parallel between Damon Kamp and Predis Ussher. No one else in Val’s acquaintance was close enough to Kamp’s psychic type for a parallel to be drawn, and her responses obviously weren’t for Kamp himself; they were too strong.

Ussher had reached Val somehow, converted her, but she was still capable of guilt on some level; Ussher hadn’t yet convinced her that betraying friends was something she could do with impunity. And, more important, she was still capable of recognizing that a parallel
could
be drawn between Ussher and Kamp if she thought Erica was drawing one. Perhaps she considered it a subtle test or challenge.

Erica looked up at her, keeping her voice level.

“We have tapes of Kamp’s speeches, Val. You should listen to them. He shows himself incapable of honesty or objectivity; he only uses facts when they serve his purpose, and his purpose is to forward his own ambitions. Couple that with his emotional instability, and it’s almost inevitable that we’ll find the means for disillusionment.”

Val shrugged, putting on an expression of disinterest, but her hand went to her hair in a smoothing gesture Erica was familiar with as an index of uneasiness.

“Well, I suppose if the means aren’t there, you can always manufacture them.”

You
. Not
we
. That cut as deep as the accusation, but Erica even managed a tolerant smile as she replied, “That will be neither necessary nor advisable. Have you read the Lampre treatise on the psychopathology of dominance? He did a series of studies on personalities of Damon Kamp’s psychic group. The process of disillusionment needs no artificial encouragement. Given enough time, it’s generally inevitable. I’d like to be sure Kamp isn’t a localized phenomenon, however. How’s your schedule, Val? Are you swamped?”

That shift of direction seemed to throw her off balance.

“I—well, no, not at the moment.”

Erica leaned back, smiling at her. “I’ve been putting so much on your shoulders lately, but that’s the price of competence. Or, rather, faith.”

Val paled at that, but mustered a weak smile. “Thank you.”

“I’d like you to check through all the research unit reports from the Universities. I doubt Damon Kamp, as a phenomenon, is limited to Concordia. We must be able to pinpoint the next Kamp if we’re to deal with—” She stopped abruptly, staring past the open door of the office into the work room, and both Val and Kamp were forgotten.

The corridor entrance had opened, and Ben Venturi was striding toward her. She read disaster in every line of his face, and her skin crawled with a premonitory chill. He stopped inside the office doorway, the defensive barriers coming up when he saw Val.

“Good morning, Val.”

She smiled politely. “Good morning, Commander.”

Erica rose. “Val, perhaps you should talk to Dr. Herron; he’s done some studies on the student liberal groups.”

Val seemed distracted; she nodded and started toward the doorway. “I’ll see if Dr. Herron’s free now.”

Ben waited until the hall doorscreens closed behind her, then crossed to the desk and slapped a jambler down.

“I’ll have to trust to this. I don’t have time to check for plants now.”

Erica stared at the small, flat box. “Ben, what’s wrong?”

“Think of the worst thing that could happen to us now,” he said grimly, “and that’s what’s wrong.”

She shivered, almost afraid to ask or hear more. “Is—is it Andreas?”


And
Alex. The SSB picked them up a few kilometers south of Hallicourt about an hour ago.”

She sank into her chair, her knees giving way, too stunned to think clearly and incapable of speech.

Ben went on tautly, “The man on the MT said he didn’t get a call from Alex until the SSB ’cars had their shock screens out and it was too late to attempt a trans.”

“That’s impossible. Alex would see the ’cars soon enough to call for a trans. That’s open country and he’d—”

“I know. The MT tech must be one of Predis’s loyals. Bayly. I had my doubts about him. And he didn’t even bother to notify SI when he got the call.”

She frowned. “That doesn’t matter now. How did the SSB know where to find them?”

“I’m not sure yet.” He folded his arms, his jaw muscles working. “Alex and Andreas picked up the airtaxi in Leda as planned. I stayed on the monitors until they were clear of the city. I figured if they had any trouble, it’d be in Leda, and that was
my
error. Anyway, they were taken by the Hallicourt unit,
not
Leda, and we don’t have any agents in Hallicourt. Three SSB ’cars. And one of Ussher’s men was on the MT.”

Erica clutched the arms of her chair, swallowing against the constriction in her throat that threatened to cut off her breath. “This means Predis knows about the LR-MT.”

“Yes, and he’s made his move.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know yet. My guess is they’ll be taken to Leda; to the Cliff. Hallicourt’s just a mining town; they don’t have anything but temporary detention facilities.” He paused, looking down at her. “We’ll pull them out somehow, Erica. But Andreas will be a problem; they know who he is.”

“They may know who Alex Ransom is, too, by now.”

“Maybe. I’ll have more information on that later. I’ll put in some overtime in Leda today.”

She pressed her hands to her forehead. “Ben, it’s—do you realize what will happen here in Fina if—”

“I realize, but don’t give up this early in the game. I’m going to set up some life insurance for Andreas.”

“What do you mean?”

“The MT. The word will go to SSB Central Control in Concordia. They won’t classify him terminal if they know he has the MT in his head. That’ll give us some time.”

She frowned, then after a moment nodded. “Yes, and the SSB psychocontrollers won’t use their usual methods on Andreas. His age is in his favor there; they’ll want to keep him alive. But what about Alex?”

“I’ll find out how much they know about him. We’ll just have to get him out as soon as possible.”

“Out of the Cliff?”

“We’ve done it before.”

“And we’ve failed before.”

“I know.” He looked at his watch. “I’ll get a few wheels turning in SI, then I’m going to Leda.”

“Wait, Ben.” She stared at the jambler, knowing the answer to her question. “Why this?”

“I sent Haral Wills to the physics lab as soon as I heard about Alex and Andreas. Damn it, we checked it two days ago, and I told Andreas not to let anybody but Lyden and Bruce into his lab. Dr. Bruce said he’s sure at least three techs have been in on various errands in the last couple of days.”

“Willie found a monitor?”

“Yes, and I’ll lay you odds he’ll find more.”

She closed her eyes, holding back the tears. “He’ll find some here.”

Ben stared at her. “How do you—Erica, only one person has access to this office when you aren’t here.”

She only nodded. She couldn’t explain now.

Ben said flatly, “That’ll have to wait until I get back from Leda. Just keep that jambler handy.”

“Be careful, Ben.”

“Sure. That goes for you, too. Later, Erica.”

In the silence he left behind him, Erica stared blindly at the calendar-clock on her desk. 17 Decem 3257. The numbers and letters were limned in red light against black. Connotative colors; blood and death. They were also the colors of the eagle crest of DeKoven Woolf and symbolized the hope embodied in the Ransom Alternative.

Her hands curled into futile fists; she pressed them into her burning eyes. The enormity of this disaster overwhelmed her capacity to encompass its true proportions. She only knew it was a disaster from which the Phoenix might never recover.

And Andreas and Alex—she wondered if she could recover from the personal disaster of losing them.

7
.

Predis Ussher seated himself in Andreas Riis’s chair, as he had at every Council meeting since Andreas and Alex had been captured. None of the councilors objected, and Erica found that revealing. At first, shock had made them indifferent; now it was indicative of acceptance.

She watched Ussher, noting the hectic light in his eyes. This would be the day. Ironic that he needed formalized sanction; a salve for a brittle ego.

Her gaze moved to Jan Barret, seated on Ussher’s left. Jan still wasn’t comfortable in Alex Ransom’s chair, or with the triple-starred insignia of First Commander on his collar. Then John M’Kim, almost disinterested, his accountant’s mind occupied with other matters. Marien Dyce was watching Ussher intently, and Erica thought to herself that she must be slated to make the nomination.

Erica looked to her left, scanning Ben’s closed, granitic features, then beyond to Dr. Robert Hendrick, who fittingly enough sat at Ussher’s right hand. He was a dark, handsome man not yet forty, one of the first Second Gens born in Fina, and perhaps a little spoiled as a child for that reason. His father had been a close friend of Andreas and held the same position Rob did now, Physical Science research coordinator. But Rob Hendrick wasn’t the man his father had been, and his loyalty wasn’t to Andreas Riis.

Erica sighed. She had advised Andreas to move Hendrick into a position where he wouldn’t be heir apparent to Physical Science’s seat on the Council, but Andreas had procrastinated, insisting he was the best man for the job, and he had admittedly inherited or acquired his father’s administrative ability, if nothing else. And now Hendrick sat on the Council at the right hand of Predis Ussher. If the contempt she felt for him was evident, she didn’t care. He deserved it for many reasons, not the least of them his arrogant estimation of his personal appeal to women.

She turned her attention to Ussher as he touched the “record” button on the console in front of him.

“The Council is now in session on 31 Decem 3257.” He surveyed the councilors, then, “We’ll begin with a report from Commander Venturi.” Ben became the immediate center of attention, but he was intent on Ussher. “Commander, have you more information on the fate of Dr. Riis and Commander Ransom since our last meeting?”

“Not much new on Andreas. I know he was taken off Pollux, and I have evidence he may still be on Castor.”

“But you aren’t sure of that?”

“I’m sure he was taken to Castor,” Ben replied, meeting his skeptical gaze coldly.

“I see. Have you any evidence that he’s still alive?”

“I don’t have any evidence that he’s dead.”

Ussher smiled tolerantly. “Of course. In other words, you have nothing new to offer.”

“No. The security lid on Andreas is airtight.”

“Well, then, perhaps you’ve had better luck with Commander Ransom?” The question was clearly rhetorical.

“Alex is still in the Cliff, and he’s still alive.”

“You’ve actually seen him?”

“Me? No. I can’t go around looking at the prisoners without authorization. But I’ve checked the files. He’s there.”

“But can you be
sure
he’s still alive? After all, it’s been fifteen days. That’s a long time on Level 6.”

Ben was finding it difficult to keep his temper in rein. “Predis, I
had
an agent on Level 6, and she saw Alex there. But she was arrested four days ago.”

“That
is
unfortunate. Your only agent on Level 6?”

“Yes, but you know that, don’t you? And you know damn well she was killed ‘resisting arrest.’ ”

Ussher raised an eyebrow. “I most certainly did
not
know. I’m sorry, of course, but that only makes it all the more doubtful that Commander Ransom is still alive. SSB records aren’t always dependable when it comes to prisoners who don’t survive interrogation. Now, have you anything
concrete
to offer since our last meeting?”

“No, but our agents in Concordia are working through SSB Central Control to free Alex. We’ll have to get transfer orders to Benin through CC.”

“Yes. Well, let us know when you have something definite.” He glanced around the table at the other councilors. “We’ll all continue to hope both Dr. Riis and Commander Ransom
are
alive, of course. Meanwhile, the work of the Phoenix must go on; we can’t let our grief blind us to the necessity of continuing to strive for the goals for which our comrades have—that is,
may
have given their lives.”

“Damn it,” Ben interjected, “you have no reason to assume they’re dead.”

“Ben. don’t bother,” Erica put in. “We may as well get to the real purpose of this meeting.”

Ussher eyed her suspiciously, then nodded. “Yes, you’re quite right, Dr. Radek. It’s been fifteen days since Dr. Riis’s arrest, and the Phoenix and the Council have been without a—a director. In the interests of—”

“In the interests of saving time,” Erica said, “
I’ll
make the nomination and we can get that formality out of the way without further explanation or rhetoric.”

That elicited responses ranging from surprise to chagrin among the other councilors, and Ussher’s face went red.

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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