Back | Next


by John Ringo




"Let's go to Prague, Johnny!"

John Mullins looked across at his partner and seriously contemplated pegging him in the head with his beer mug. Instead he slid the container of thin, sour brew aside and let the next drop of condensation hit the tabletop.

He recalled the heady days when they first arrived at Seaforth Nine. The most prestigious base in the entire Havenite Republic had just been taken intact by a coup de main and since ONI was already going to be pouring over it, what better use could it be put to than stabling the elite Covert Insertion Teams. Heady days indeed; the unit had been barracked in a converted warehouse behind the Manticoran consulate on New Ghuanzou.

As it turned out, there were worse things than New Guano; the "most advanced base" the People's Republic of Haven had ever produced turned out to be a dump. Make that a dump and a half.

Much of the interior partitioning was of wood, for Christ's sake. Combined with the fact that the dessicators didn't and the chillers wouldn't, the place was a perpetual steam bath. It said much that teams had been trying to get moved up in the mission roster, just to get the relative luxury of beating around on Silesian tramp freighters and risking their lives behind Peep lines.

But that didn't mean he was willing to take leave in Prague.

"So, for our leave, you want to go beat around on tramps for two weeks, maybe a month, spend a couple of tension-filled months hoping we don't get picked up by StateSec and then have to hop tramps back? In what possible way does that differ from work?"

"I hear it's lovely in the spring," Charles said with a sardonic grin. He pushed his hair back and chuckled. "And we can drink as much of that fine Peep beer as we choose. Besides, you know how much you love your work."

When Charles Gonzalvez wasn't on a mission he was the spitting image of a mad scientist. Same wild hair, same crazed, glazed expression, same oddball sense of reality. He would be discussing Peep information system security in one breath and be off on how best to kill a sentry in the next.

Come to think of it, that was pretty much how he acted when he was on a mission.

Gonzalvez been through a half a dozen partners before he and Mullins met up. Nobody wanted someone who was that . . . frenetic when they were snooping and pooping around in the Peep's back yard. But, somehow, he and Mullins made a great pair. The hyper aristocrat from Manticore A and the quiet farmboy from Gryphon balanced each other. Or, perhaps, enhanced each other; there was no question that they were both the most experienced insertion team and the most successful. The former sort of assumed the latter; losses in CITs ran upwards of thirty percent per mission.

Insertion teams had a variety of uses, from direct reconnaissance, checking out Peep installations and equipment, to retrievals. Sometimes there were defectors to be pulled out or cells to be extracted or the occasional deep mole to be rescued. There was one Manty intelligence agent, Covilla, who had been supplying information for years from deep in Peep territory. That operative was one of the survivors, but not all were so capable. Or lucky.

The People's Republic of Haven had some pretty decent counterintelligence goons in their State Security. They were quite good at compromising cells and rolling up lines. So all too often some poor unsuspecting CIT would go strolling into what was supposed to be a safe house, only to find out that "safe" is a relative term.

Gonzalvez and Mullins had, so far, managed to avoid that fate. Whether it was Johnny's habit of never accepting anything at face value or Gonzo's ability to extract any information he needed at the drop of a cred piece, the two of them had survived every mission, despite some hairy encounters. And if nothing else worked, they had both proven on several occasions that, stolid or wacky, they were, in that delightful phrase, "good with their hands"; the very few times that it had come down to violence the situation ended up in their favor.

But he still wasn't going to Prague.

"How are we getting there?" Mullins asked, finishing the beer with a grimace. It really wouldn't have taken that much to improve the living conditions on Seaforth, but the fact that insertion teams were on the base was so secret it was hard to complain to the right people. "Minister, we need to upgrade the living conditions on Seaforth." "Why?" "Uh . . ." 

"It's not like going to Basilisk or Manticore; we can't just jump on a freighter. Where are the travel documents coming from? The cover gear? Where, precisely, are we going to get the internal Peep documentation?"

"Ah, well," Charles said with a grin. "That's not a problem, old boy. Let's just say that Q has some files on his computer he doesn't want coming to life."

"Well, sure, doesn't everyone?" Mullins said. "But . . . wait . . . you cracked Q's computer?"

"Boredom doesn't befit me, old boy," his partner replied. "I asked him, politely, for an upgraded extraction pack. When he said no, what was I to do but take it as a challenge? All I was really looking for was inventory information. How was I to know he had a thing for wee beasties."

Mullins choked back a laugh and shook his head. "You're serious."

"Disgusting really," Charles said, taking a swill of beer. "So, are we going to sit in this bleeding steam bath for the next few months or what?"

"What's wrong with just going home?" Mullins asked. "You go to Manticore and hang out at the family estates and I'll . . ."

"Go home to the farm?" Gonzo asked with a grin. "Wander down to the local pub and not show off the uniform you don't have? Not impress the girls with the medals you can't wear?"

"Oh, shut up."

"I suppose we could go down to south coast and hang out on the beach," Charles continued. "Watch all the swabbies wandering around in uniform, telling their tales of how they all fought with the Salamander at Basilisk and Grayson. Flexing their nonexistent muscles and flashing their measly collection of ribbons."

"I get the picture . . ."

"While the girls ooh and ahhh . . ."

"All right . . ."

"Then we can go to the bar and watch the bartender filling up their mugs for free . . ."

"I really do understand . . ."

"While we're spending all our credits on overpriced sex in a canoe beer . . ."

"All right . . ."

"You know, very close to water . . ."

"All right . . ."

"When we could be in Prague . . ."

"I'll go . . ."

"Wearing StateSec uniforms, not having to pay for our really good beer . . ."

"I'LL GO . . ."

"Impressing the girls with our stories of how we were in on the kill of the Salamander . . ."

"I said I'LL GO! Okay, enough. I give. You're right!"

"I knew you'd see it my way old boy."


"And it really is lovely in the spring."


Back | Next