Rogue Warriors (Box Set)
Marie Treanor
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2010 Marie Treanor

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Crina's father observed, "You have stepped up your security."

Of course he would notice something like that. Dragul security was his primary concern and that had grown to encompass the security of the humans they tried to protect.

"Sadly, it has become necessary," the Minister replied grimly as he took his seat opposite the Dragul delegation. Refreshments were served by discreet staff. Crina, who was thirsty, accepted a glass of water with gratitude, then nearly gagged on the taste.

Recycled water, her father said inside her head -- not without enjoyment. Disgusting, isn't it?

Foul.

The Minister went on, "We have a malcontent element in the Dome who would do anything to bring down the government."

"Organized malcontents?" Aurel enquired.

"Very," said the Minister ruefully. "They've blown holes in the Dome itself, prevented troops departing, disrupted victory celebrations, stolen arms, even organized -- and protected! -- demonstrations against the government. These rebels give no thought to the war, or to what losing it would mean to us."

"Guess life here's so bad that they don't care."

Everyone stared at Crina in surprise. "Sorry," she said, without troubling to appear very convincing. "I meant to speak internally." In fact, she thought she'd achieved exactly what she meant to, which was to show her father that she couldn't be pushed around. Wherever he made her go, she'd still speak her mind and go her own way. And though she shut off her thoughts to him, his pale, piercing eyes revealed that he'd got the message.

Until Eve observed, "The child has a point."

Crina frowned at her in annoyance, but Eve's attention was on the Minister, who said irritably, "I am fighting a war!"

A conveniently distant war, Crina thought cynically. It was being fought largely over the off-shore islands and had not yet penetrated the mainland, never mind the Dome itself.

Eve pointed out, "You've made a lot of unpalatable changes in pursuit of that war. Freedom of speech, gathering, news, movement -- all casualties."

"We have done what is necessary. Sacrifices for the greater good."

"Maybe, but you haven't sold it to the people, have you? What do your rebels want? Their freedoms back?"

"The majority of people understand and approve," the Minister said with dignity. A flash of malice crossed his face and was gone. "And one of their stated aims is, in fact, repudiation of our alliance with the Dragul."

"Well," Aurel murmured, after a few moments of silence. "It has always been a voluntary alliance."

"And we have no intention of changing that," the Minister assured him hastily, afraid, clearly that his jibe had backfired. "I mentioned it only to show you how impossible these people are to deal with!"

"Well," Eve suggested, "Decide what you're willing to give and negotiate with them. It would make your life easier to have them on your side. Why not allow them more freedoms, ease their discontent? They'll be happier then with your association with us."

"Might I remind you that these are internal matters and not subject to Dragul scrutiny?"

Eve flushed slightly, much to Crina's amusement. Clearly she hadn't quite forgotten her old allegiance to this place, to troublesome humanity.

"It's hardly scrutiny," Aurel objected. "The queen is merely offering advice from a depth of experience necessarily greater than your own. You are under no obligation to listen to it, far less to take it. As always, we speak as friends, no more and no less."

He was an impressive bastard, her father. Not for the first time, Crina was torn between resentment and admiration. It seemed impossible to best him, equally impossible to convince him that he wasn't always right.

Changing the subject, Crina asked, "So who are these rebels? How did they come together?"

"Jake Lindow," said the Minister with loathing.

"Their leader?" Eve asked.

The Minister nodded. "He was a soldier -- an officer in fact -- dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders in battle. He came home, presumably with a chip on his shoulder, and seems to be a magnet for other malcontents. Unfortunately he brings military precision and weapons knowledge to this ramshackle crew and they operate with an efficiency that can be worrying. So far we've captured none of them. We know he has his old sergeant with him -- Rose Dando. And a mutant from the City of the Damned, also an ex-soldier. A few known outlaws and a lot more unknowns who help him. He moves around the Dome, hiding out in various lofts and cellars, sewers and maintenance tunnels. We've found traces only after he's moved on. But we will get him one day..."

After this statement which sounded more like a prayer, the Minister seemed to pull himself together. "Anyway. He is the reason for the added security you noticed. We blocked off the roads to hide your arrival -- since they are so opposed to Dragul, extra protection for you is considered necessary."

"But our arrival wasn't completely hidden," Crina objected.

"I think you'll find it was," said the Minister irritably. "The buildings around here are all secure government offices or storehouses. Trust me, from the moment you entered the Dome, no one without security clearance has seen you."

Crina wondered if the three people on top of the tall roof had security clearance. But before she could enquire, the Minister had moved on to arrangements for tomorrow's meeting with the full Ministry. Crina stifled a yawn.

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