Even the doctor who had repaired his gimp leg, because she'd seen him laid out under anaesthetic
and taken a knife to him.
Petra had just destroyed whatever feeling it was that had made him keep her alive. Whatever he had
wanted from her, he wouldn't want it now. He wouldn't be able to bear having her around. She was
Yet, no matter what else was going on, she was still a tactician. Thick headed as she was, her mind
could still do this dance. The enemy saw things this way; so change it so he sees them another way.
Petra laughed. "I never thought you'd let me do that," she said.
He slowly, painfully, was getting to his feet, the gun trained on her.
She went on. "You always had to be el supremo, like the bunducks in Battle School. I never
thought you had the guts to be like Ender or Bean, till now."
Still he said nothing. But he was standing there. He was listening.
"Crazy, isn't it? But Bean and Ender, they were so little. And they didn't care. Everybody looking
down at them, me towering over them, they were the only guys in Battle School who weren't
terrified of having somebody see a girl be better than them, bigger than them." Keep it going, keep
spinning it. "They put Ender in Bonzo's army too early, he hadn't been trained. Didn't know how to
do anything. And Bonzo gave orders, nobody was to work with him. So here I had this little kid,
helpless, didn't know anything. That's what I like, Achilles. Smarter than me, but smaller. So I
taught him. Chisel Bonzo, I didn't care. He was like you've always been, constantly showing me
who's boss. But Ender knew how to let me run it. I taught him everything. I would have died for
"You're sick," said Achilles.
"Oh, you're going to tell me you didn't know that? You had the gun the whole time, why did you let
me do that, if it wasn't-if you weren't trying to . . ."
"Trying to what?" he said. He was keeping his voice steady, but the craziness was plainly visible,
and his voice trembled just a little. She had pushed him past the borders of sanity, deep into his
madness. It was Caligula she was seeing now. But he was listening. If she found the right story to
put on what just happened, maybe he would settle for ... something else. Making his horse consul.
Making Petra ...
"Weren't you trying to seduce me?" she said.
"You don't even have your tits yet," he said.
"I don't think it's tits you're looking for," she said. "Or you would never have dragged me around
with you in the first place. What was all that talk about wanting me in your tent? Loyal? You
wanted me to belong to you. And all the time you did that sabeek stuff, pushing me around-that just
made me feel contempt for you. I was looking down on you the whole time. You were nothing, just
another sack of testosterone, another chimp hooting and beating his chest. But then you let me-you
did let me, didn't you? You don't expect me to believe I really could have done that?"
A faint smile touched the comers of his lips.
"Doesn't that spoil it, if you think I did it on purpose?" he said.
She strode to him, right to the barrel of the gun, and, letting it press into her abdomen, she reached
up, grabbed him by the neck, and pulled his head down to where she could kiss him.
She had no idea how to do it, except what she'd seen in movies. But she was apparently doing it
well enough. The gun stayed in her belly, but his other arm wrapped around her, pulled her closer.
In the back of her mind, she remembered what Bean told herthat the last thing he had seen Achilles
do before killing Bean's friend Poke was kiss her. Bean had had nightmares about it. Achilles
kissing her, and then in the middle of the kiss, strangling her. Not that Bean actually saw that part.
Maybe it didn't happen that way at all.
But no matter how you cut it, Achilles was a dangerous boy to kiss. And there, was that gun in her
belly. Maybe this was the moment he longed for. Maybe his dreams were about this-kissing a girl,
and blowing a hole in her body while he did.
Well, blow away, she thought. Before I watch you kill Virlomi for the crime of having compassion
for me and courage enough to act, I'd rather be dead myself. I'd rather kiss you than watch you kill
her, and there's nothing in the world that could disgust me more than having to pretend that you're
the ... thing ... I love.
The kiss ended. But she did not let go of him. She would not step back, she would not break this
embrace. He had to believe that she wanted him. That she was in his emossin' tent.
He was breathing lightly, quickly. His heartbeat was rapid. Prelude to a kill? Or just the aftermath
of a kiss.
"I said I'd kill anyone who tried to answer Graff," he said. "I have to."
"She didn't answer Graff, did she?" said Petra. "I know you have to keep control of things, but you
don't have to be a strutting yelda about it. She doesn't know you know what she did."
"She'll think she got away with it."
"But I'll know," said Petra, "that you weren't afraid to give me what I want."
"What, you think you've found some way to make me do what you want?" he said.
Now she could back away from him. "I thought I'd found a man who didn't have to prove he was
big by pushing people around. I guess I was wrong. Do what you want. Men like you disgust me."
She put as much contempt into her voice, onto her face, as she could. "Here, prove you're a man.
Shoot me. Shoot everybody. I've known real men. I thought you were one of them."
He lowered the gun. She did not show her relief. Just kept her eyes looking into his.
"Don't ever think you've got me figured out," he said.
"I don't care whether I figure you out or not," she said. "All I care about is, you're the first man
since Ender and Bean who had guts enough to let me stand over him."
"Is that what you're going to say?" he asked.
"Say? Who to? I don't have any friends out there. The only person worth talking to in this whole
place is you."
He stood there, breathing heavily again, a bit of the craziness back in his eyes.
What am I saying wrong?
"You're going to bring this off," she said. "I don't know how you're going to do it, but I can taste it.
You're going to run the whole show. They're all going to be under you, Achilles. Governments,
universities, corporations, all eager to please you. But when we're alone, where nobody else can
see, we'll both know that you're strong enough to keep a strong woman with you."
"You?" said Achilles. "A woman?"
"If I'm not a woman, what were you doing with me in here?"
"Take off your clothes," he said.
The craziness was still there. He was testing her somehow. Waiting for her to show ...
To show that she was faking. That she was really afraid of him, after all. That her story was all a
lie, designed to trick him.
"No," she said. "You take off yours."
And the craziness faded.
He tucked the gun into the back of his pants.
"Get out of here," he said. "I've got a war to run."
"It's night," she said. "Nobody's moving."
"There's a lot more to this war than the armies," said Achilles.
"When do I get to stay in your tent?" she asked. "What do I have to do?" She could hardly believe
she was saying this, when all she wanted was to get out.
"You have to be the thing I need," he said. "And right now, you're not." .
He walked to his desk, sat down.
"And pick up your chair on the way out."
He started typing. Orders? For what? To kill whom?
She didn't ask. She picked up the chair. She walked out.
And kept walking, through the corridors to the room where she slept alone. Knowing, with every
step, that she was monitored. There would be vids. He would check them, to see how she acted. To
see if she meant what she'd said. So she couldn't stop and press her face against the wall and cry.
She had to be ... what? How would this play in a movie or a vid if she were a woman who was
frustrated because she wanted to be with her man?
I don't know! she screamed inside. I'm not an actress!
And then, a much quieter voice in her head answered. Yes you are. And a pretty good one. Because
for another few minutes, maybe another hour, maybe another night, you're alive.
No triumph, either. She couldn't seem to gloat, couldn't show relief. Frustration, annoyance-and
some pain where he kicked her, where her head hit the floor-that's all she could show.
Even alone in her bed, the lights off, she lay there, pretending, lying. Hoping that whatever she did
in her sleep would not provoke him. Would not bring that crazy frightened searching look into his
Not that it would be any guarantee, of course. There was no sign of craziness when he shot those
men in the bread van back in Russia. Don't ever think you've got me figured out, he said.
You win, Achilles. I don't think I've got you figured out. But I've learned how to play one lousy
string. That's something.
I also knocked you onto the floor, beat the goffno out of you, kicked you in your little kintamas,
and made you think you liked it. Kill me tomorrow or whenever you want-my shoe going into your
face, you can't take that away from me.
In the morning, Petra was pleased to find that she was still alive, considering what she had done the
night before. Her head ached, her ribs were sore, but nothing was broken.
And she was starving. She had missed dinner the night before, and perhaps there was something
about beating up her jailer that made her especially hungry. She didn't usually eat breakfast, so she
had no accustomed place to sit. At other meals, she sat by herself, and others, respecting her
solitude or fearing Achilles' displeasure, did not sit with her.
But today, on impulse, she took her tray to a table that had only a couple of empty spots. The
conversation grew quiet when she first sat down, and a few people greeted her. She smiled back at
them, but then concentrated on her food. Their conversation resumed.
"There's no way she got off the base."
"So she's still here."
"Unless someone took her."
"Maybe it's a special assignment or something."
"Sayagi says he thinks she's dead."
A chill ran through Petra's body.
"Who?" she asked.
The others glanced at her, but then glanced away. Finally one of them said, "Virlomi."
Virlomi was gone. And no one knew where she was.
He killed her. He said he would, and he did. The only thing I gained by what I did last night was
that he didn't do it in front of me.
I can't stand this. I'm done. My life is not worth living. To be his captive, to have him kill anyone
who tries to help me in any way . . .
No one was looking at her. Nor were they talking.
They know Virlomi tried to answer Graff, because she must have said something to Sayagi when
she walked over to him yesterday. And now she's gone.
Petra knew she had to eat, no matter how sick at heart she felt, no matter how much she wanted to
cry, to run screaming from the room, to fall on the floor and beg their forgiveness for ... for what?
For being alive when Virlomi was dead.
She finished all she could bear to eat, and left the mess hall.
But as she walked through the corridors to the room where they all worked, she realized: Achilles
would not have killed her like this. There was no point in killing her if the others didn't get to see
her arrested and taken away. It wouldn't do what he needed it to do, if she just disappeared in the
At the same time, if she had escaped, he couldn't announce it. That would be even worse. So he
would simply remain silent, and leave the impression with everyone that she was probably dead.
Petra imagined Virlomi walking boldly out of the building, her sheer bravado carrying the day. Or
perhaps, dressed as one of the women who cleaned floors and windows, she had slipped out
unnoticed. Or had she climbed a wall, or run a minefield? Petra didn't even know what the
perimeter looked like, or how closely guarded it might be. She had never been given a tour.
Wishful thinking, that's all this is, she told herself as she sat down to the day's work. Virlomi is
dead, and Achilles is simply waiting to announce it, to make us all suffer from not knowing.
But as the day wore on, and Achilles did not appear, Petra began to believe that perhaps she had
gotten away. Maybe Achilles was staying away because he didn't want anyone speculating about
any visible bruises he might have. Or maybe he's having some scrotal problems and he's having
some doctor check him out-though heaven help him if Achilles decided that having a doctor handle
his injured testes was worthy of the death penalty.
Maybe he was staying away because Virlomi was gone and Achilles did not want them to see him
frustrated and helpless. When he caught her and could drag her into the room and shoot her dead in
front of them, then he could face them.
And as long as that didn't happen, there was a chance Virlomi was alive.
Stay that way, my friend. Run far and don't pause for anything. Cross some border, find some
refuge, swim to Sri Lanka, fly to the moon. Find some miracle, Virlomi, and live.
Re: Please forward
The attached file is encrypted. Please wait twelve hours after the time of sending and if you don't
hear from me, forward it to Bean. He'll know the key.
It took less than four hours to secure and inspect the entire high command base in Bangkok.
Computer experts would be probing to try to find out whom it was that Naresuan had been
communicating with outside, and whether he was in fact involved with a foreign power or this
gambit was a private venture. When Suriyawong's work with the Prime Minister was finished, he
came alone to the barracks where Bean was waiting.
Most of Bean's soldiers had already returned, and Bean had sent most of them to bed. He still
watched the news in a desultory fashionnothing new was being said, so he was interested only in
seeing how the talking heads were spinning it. In Thailand, everything was charged with patriotic
fervor. Abroad, of course, it was a different story. All the Common broadcasts were taking a more
skeptical view that Indian operatives had really made the assassination attempt.
"Why would India want to provoke Thai entry into the war?"
"They know Thailand will come in eventually whether Burma asks them or not. So they felt they
had to deprive Thailand of its best Battle School graduate."
"Is one child so dangerous?"
"Maybe you should ask the Formics. If you can find any."
And on and on, everyone trying to appear smart-or at least smarter than the Indian and Thai
governments, which was the game the media always played. What mattered to Bean was how this
would affect Peter. Was there any mention of the possibility that Achilles was running the show in
India? Not a breath. Anything yet about Pakistani troop movements near Iran? The "Bangkok
bombing" had driven that slow-moving story off the air. Nobody was giving this any global
implications. As long as the I.F. was there to keep the nukes from flying, it was still just politics as
usual in south Asia.
Except it wasn't. Everybody was so busy trying to look wise and unsurprised that nobody was
standing up and screaming that this whole set of events was completely different from anything that
had gone before. The most populous nation in the world has dared to turn its back on a two-
hundred-year-old enemy and invade the small, weak country to its east. Now India was attacking
Thailand. What did that mean? What was India's goal? What possible benefit could there be?
Why weren't they talking about these things?
"Well," said Suriyawong, "I don't think I'm going to go to sleep very soon."
"Everything all cleaned up?"
"More like everybody who worked closely with the Chakri has been sent home and put under house
arrest while the investigation continues."
"That means the entire high command."
"Not really," said Suriyawong. "The best field commanders are out in the field. Commanding. One
of them will be brought in as acting Chakri."
"They should give it to you."
"They should, but they won't. Aren't you just a little hungry?"
"This is Bangkok."
"Well, not really," said Bean. "This is a military base."
"When is your friend's flight due in?"
"Morning. Just after dawn."
"Ouch. She's going to be out of sorts. You going to meet her at the airport?"
"I didn't think about it."
"Let's go get dinner," said Suriyawong. "Officers do it all the time. We can take a couple of strike
force soldiers with us to make sure we don't get hassled for being children."
"Achilles isn't going to give up on killing me."
"Us. He aimed at us this time."
"He might have a backup."
"Bean, I'm hungry. Are you hungry?" Suriyawong turned to the members of the toon that had been
with him. "Any of you hungry?"
"Not really," said one of them. "We ate at the regular time."
"Sleepy," said another.
"Anybody awake enough to go into the city with us?"
Immediately all of them stepped forward.
"Don't ask perfect soldiers whether they want to protect their CO," said Bean.
"Designate a couple to go with us and let the others sleep," said Suriyawong.
"Yes sir," said Bean. He turned to the men. "Honest assessment. Which of you will be least
impaired by failing to get enough sleep tonight?"
"Will we be allowed sleep tomorrow?" asked one.
"Yes," said Bean. "So it's a matter of how much it affects you to get off your rhythm."
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