If this short from my never-completed ‘Crosses & Doublecrosses’ represents part of Chapter One, what I’m doing here is from the last chapter. Don’t worry about ‘spoilers!’ or anything like that: the events of ‘Death Ship’ are broadly telegraphed in my first novel, ‘The Fourth Law.’ Don’t even fret over knowing Sylvia’s dead; I actually shoot her in the prologue. How’s that for “starting your story in the middle”?
One of the reasons – and there were several – that I abandoned C&DC was the sheer awfulness of it all: the characters, the situations, the settings. Writing about misery made me miserable. Getting ready for Holy Week next week, how about a story rich in death, betrayal, and crucifixions…?
Barrett stared blankly through the cigarette smoke that fogged his small office. The darkness inside was a poor reflexion of the midnight beyond the closed window blinds. On his desk was the printed report of the execution of the traitor: Sylvia Fernandez, a week ago in Albuquerque. Next to it was one of the few remaining working laptop computers in the nascent Republic of Texas.
“Is it a problem, losing your planned successor?”
The screen’s image was that of a late teen, early twenties male. Still, grey eyes in an almost epicene face. Short sandy blonde hair broken by his jug-handle ears that stuck out. There was nothing on the screen behind him.
The eyes of a sociopath; just like me. He stubbed the cigarette out into the ashtray next to the tumbler of local whiskey.
“A problem?” He reflected. “I don’t think so. In fact, maybe leaving any upper ExComm staff behind is an inherently bad idea.”
Barrett glanced at the screen.
“That was quick, Thaad.”
“I’d already given it some thought.”
He stared at the closed blinds.
“For the best, then.”
“Are there,” Thaad asked brusquely, “any changes to the schedule? If I make orbital corrections too obvious…”
“No. The ship sails tomorrow evening. Eight PM.” He picked up the whiskey. “Carrying – what was that phrase that cousin Kyle used? Oh, yes. Carrying ‘the biggest gang of nasties you’ll see this side of Hell.’”
He drank what remained in the glass.
“Nearly twenty-five hundred of them…” Barrett said softly.
“If that’s all – ” Thaad began.
“Was it worth it?”Barrett muttered.
Staring into darkness, he didn’t see Thaad’s blink.
“Your major cities cleared of ‘diversity,’ the southern and southeastern borders secured, Oklahoma and half of New Mexico under Texan hegemony…”
“I ordered the crucifixion of over sixty six thousand people. Men and women.”
“Tens of thousands more dead in San Antonio, Houston,” he paused to look at his empty glass. “Dallas.”
The core of that city was still burning. With rumors of cannibals his men had orders to shoot on sight: men, women, children.
“You’ve de facto recognition from Mexico. The rump of the United States declared non-interest…”
“My, well, our, rumors about the tactical nukes from Fort Hood is the only reason for either of those.”
“Do you have family, Thaad?”
“Yes.” Another blink at the sudden change of direxion.
“They still talk to you after,” Barrett limply waved his right hand in the dark, “all this?”
“Of course. Are you upset that your wife left you and your only surviving child won’t speak with you?”
That was too far, even for him.
Wordlessly, the image faded.
You only gave me a list of greatest hits; you never said if everything I did was worth it.
He leaned forward to flick on a desk lamp. There was still another two hours of paperwork to get done. If too much was left hanging it might be noticed.
You are playing a very dangerous game, Thaad.
It’s not a game, Shandor.
Have you spoken with our father about what you’ve been doing, Thaad?
He… is aware of my involvement in human politics in Texas, Shandor.
. . .
Is he ‘aware,’ brother, that you intend to take control of an orbiting Chinese weapons platform?