"Nothing. Of course, Ian, realize that this is a Tribunal. His testimony might not be allowed in an exact trial. But I suspect it will be admissible for the Tribunal at least."

Mahoney tried to look cheerful. "Well, it's not what I was hoping, but it'll help. I guess. Have you drained him?"

"Pretty much."

"Hell."

"Don't give up, Ian. You might, indeed, find your smoking gun. Venloe said he gave Sullamora a piece of advice. Not because he cared, you understand, but be-cause he wanted to make sure he got his final payment. He told Sullamora-it was part of a warning for Tanz not to attempt a double cross-that he himself should be careful. Sullamora said something about that not being a factor. He had taken out insurance."

"Which we shall never find. If he did cover himself, the privy council would have shaken down his estates, his banks, his offices, and his friends looking for it. They would have found it. We won't-if it was there at all."

"Ian. Cheer up. Perhaps I should tell you a gem of a jest. Alex Kilgour told it to me just after he returned."

"No. Not only no, but obscenity no. I have heard Kilgour's jokes, thank you. Telling one would only make me feel worse. And if you tell it anyway, I'll—hell.

"Worst thing about being an ex-Fleet Marshal is you can't threaten anybody with courtmartial!"

Trying to find out what happened the night the privy council got sports-happy and decided to attend the Ranger-Blues gravball match was, if not simple, fairly safe. Sten held to his vow that, if possible, he would run the rest of his investigation through

Haines.

The first question was to find a suitable secondary cover for asking any questions about anything involving the privy council.

Haines and Sten invented one.

Murder, thankfully, has no statute of limitations. So on the night in question, it seemed that a certain woman had been murdered. The suspect was her mate, who had vanished. He had recently been picked up on another charge, halfway across Prime, and alert police work had found that he was the primary suspect in his mate's murder.

Unfortunately, so the concocted story went on, he had an alibi. He had been working as a temporary barkeep on the night in question—working Lovett's private party.

Haines made the correct calls. Once again, Sten was grateful that she was a hands-on cop—the fact that the chief was working an investigation did not raise eyebrows.

Lovett evidently not only viewed the arena and the decorating of the private suite as an eternal legacy, but its employees as well. The maitre d' for the suite had worked for Lovett for more than thirty years. He was happy to cooperate with the investigation—especially since, being a law-abiding being, he started by exploding the mythical suspect's alibi. Leave it to an amateur, he snorted. He probably could have claimed to have worked any of the prole beerbars in the stadium itself, but not the suite. Long-term-only employees up there, especially on the night in question.

"Are you sure?"

"How could I not be?" the man retorted. "Biggest game in decades, and the privy council itself attends. But I didn't need the usual staff—it was just the six of them. Not even aides or security. So just four people worked the suite that night—me, Mart'nez and Eby behind the bar, Vance runnin' if they'd wanted anything from the kitchen. They weren't eating that night. Not even the Kraas. Excuse me, but that last thing I said—it won't be in the record, will it?"

Haines reassured him. The man said he would be happy to call that murderer a liar in court. Haines said she doubted that would be necessary—there was already enough evidence. She was merely checking any loose ends.

Then she asked, quite casually, "Must have been quite a thrill, being around that much power."

"I didn't think it would be," the maitre d' said. "After all, Lovett's had some parties with important people before. Not one tenth as many as his father, but a few. Even less, now that he's so busy ruling everything. No more'n one or two since—since the Emperor was killed.

"As I said, I thought I was over being impressed. Not true. I wish I weren't so honest, though."

"Why?"

"Oh, if I didn't object to stretchers, I wager I could come up with some snappers about what happened that night, and how maybe one of them asked my advice, or anyway thought I ran the smoothest operation ever.

"But I do—and it didn't. Guess they had something important to talk about. Didn't watch the game much, I saw. And any time any of them wanted a drink, they went over to the serving station themselves.

"At least I got to watch the game on a back-room screen, which surprised me. Usually, big events like this, when Sr. Lovett shows up, I'm so busy running back and forth I have to get it from the vid the next day."

Haines smiled and walked the man out of her office, then went down a few floors to where the poor, harried Sr. Braun had managed to borrow a tiny office, where he was buried in archives, on another empty attempt to prove that Rosemont was no longer among the living.

Sten mused over the information for a moment. "Business. Bloody business. No aides, keep the help in the kitchen. That was the meeting I want."

"Documentation, Sten. No witnesses."

"I'm not sure that's correct. Emphasis—business meeting. They leave... and probably take their security with them. No cleanup—no ELINT cleanup. And the suite's not been used much since then.

"Lisa, friend of mine youth. Do you have four beefy men who'll do you a favor—no violence, only minor law-breaking—and never ever talk about it? It's got to be clean—I don't want any backblast on you. If there's a problem, I'll find my own heavy movers."

Haines smiled. "You aren't a cop who gets promoted if you don't have mentors. Rabbis, we call them. Hell if I know why. And when you get rank, you become a rabbi. I could probably get you half a precinct."

"Good. Four men. I'll get some coveralls made up. Lovett Arena needs help. And good, reliable old APEX Company is coming to the rescue. I'll need a medium gravlighter. Also clean."

"Again, easy. I'll get something from the impound yard."

Sten pulled down and consulted a map. "Okay," he said. "Here's the drill. Two days from now, eight hundred hours, I'll want them—here, at the corner of Imperial and Seventh Avenue. I'll drop them off when we're loaded."

"Two days? Why not now?"

"Because a very dejected Sr. Braun has finished with his investigation and now feels that the Imperial Police were correct. He is returning to his home world to report failure.

"I had two extraction routes. One was if I came out clean, the other if the drakh came down. I'll use the second, since I'll have a bit of a cargo."

"I think I know what you're going after. Why can't the analysis be done here? My techs don't ask questions."

"Lisa, remember what kind of murder we're talking about? Don't trust your people too much. I can't-and won't. And like I said, I'm not willing to leave you holding the bag. Anyway, I'm gone. I've got to look up an old friend."

He gathered his papers quickly.

"Thank you, Lisa."

"Sure. Although I didn't do very much."

"No. You did... a great deal. Next time around... I'll buy you and Sam'l, it was, your anniversary dinner."

He kissed her briefly, still wanting more, and was gone.

His schedule would be tight: make sure Braun appeared to board the next liner off Prime, contact the liaison with Wild's smugglers, and get a ship down for its cargo. Assuming the cargo would be there.

The manager of Lovett Arena was quite impressed with the polite technician and his crew, especially since there had been-as best he knew-no complaints about the business machines provided in Sr. Lovett's suite.

"I would hope not," the technician said. "This is strictly routine. Our records show APEX installed the equipment more than five years ago. In a room where people spill drinks, possibly smoke tabac, and food is present? How would we look-what would be left of our reputation-if Sr. Lovett himself tried to use one of our computers and it crashed on him? We are proud of what we represent."

The manager was impressed. A service company actually servicing, without ten or twelve outraged screams and threats of legal action? Especially since he himself had been unable to find the original contract with APEX.

They stripped the suite bare of anything that went beep or buzz. Sten almost missed the conference table, then realized that it contained a simple computer/viewer suitable for reading, reviewing, or revising documents. But that, and everything else, went onto gravlifts, down into the bowels of Lovett Arena, onto the gravlighter, and then vanished.

It was more than a month before the arena's manager realized that he had been victimized by an exceptionally clever gang of high-tech thieves.

The machines were carefully loaded onto one of Wild's ships, sealed against any stray electromagnetic impulse, and transported to Newton.

Technicians went to work. Sten and Alex hovered in the background. They may have been somewhat sophisticated technologically, Kilgour especially, but this was far beyond their level of expertise.

It was almost impossible to erase anything from a computer. If a file were deleted, its backup would still exist. If the backup were deleted, the "imprint" would still be there, at least until something was recorded over it. Even then, restoration could sometimes succeed.

The computers were first. From them came an astonishing, confused burble of various contracts indicating that Lovett and his friends were hardly straight-arrow businessmen. That information was recorded for possible later release to civil courts, after and if the council was toppled. There were no computer phone records.

But that table was it.

Around it, years before, Sullamora had laid down the law to the other conspirators. At that time, he was the only one who had hung himself out to dry—contracting for the murder of the press lord, contracting for Venloe's services. He put it flatly—all of them were to sign a "confession." It was a card made of indestructible plas. On it was a formal admission of guilt, a preamble to assassination. Kyes had been the first to insert the card into the table's viewer and sign, and the others followed. Each member of the conspiracy received one card, signed by all members.

And a technician found it.

The retrieval was spotty, broken by intermittent images of a smiling older couple—someone's parents, possibly, interminably walking past some nondescript scenery. A homevid?

But it was still there:

WE, THE... PRIVY COUNCIL, AFTER DUE CONSIDER... COME TO THE... CONCLUSION... ETERNAL EMPEROR... INCREASINGLY AND DANGEROUSLY UNSTABLE... DETERMINED TO... FOLLOWING... TRADITION... STANDING... AGAINST TYRANTS... HISTORICAL RIGHT... REMOVAL... AND HEREBY AUTHORIZE... MOST EXTREME MEASURES... DESTRUCTION... TYRANNICIDE... TO ENSURE FREEDOM...

The document may have been broken, but it was quite obvious. And absolutely untouched at the bottom were the personal marks, the "signatures": Kyes. The Kraas. Tanz Sullamora. Lovett. Malperin.

"I'll probably be able to restore more, sir. There's still some ghosts I haven't ID'd and pulled off the hardware."

Sten was quite happy.

It may have been missing some nonvital screws and springs, but Mahoney—and the Tribunal—had the smoking gun. 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Sten wanted a little R&R. Badly. He knew he had reason enough to feel brain-, body-and nerve-damaged, but guilt kept whispering in his ear. He ought to be sitting in the back of the courtroom, listening to the careful work of the Tribunal as it moved toward its conclusion.

This was a moment in history. What would he tell his grandchildren? "Yeah, I was around. But was off gettin' drunk and tryin' to get laid, so I can't tell you a whole lot."

Kilgour seized the logical high ground. "Clot th' gran-babes y' nae hae, an' likely ne'er sire. Gie y'self off. Thae'll be bloody work't'come. Gore aye up't' our stockin' tops."

Mahoney backed him, telling Sten that he did not think there was any likelihood that the Tribunal would want any evidence submitted of the blown murder run on Earth. "Still, Admiral. I'd prefer you were out of town if they start callin' witnesses. Get going. Enjoy yourself. I'll send if I need you.

"Which will be soon. Not surprisingly, the privy council is planning a response. With moils and toils, they've put together a fleet of their bullyboys. Most loyal, most dedicated, and all that drakh. Translation—those who got their fingers the dirtiest proving their loyalty during the purge.

"When they arrive, we should have a proper welcome. Otho's shaking out a strike element from his ships. He thinks nothing could be finer than to put you on the bridge." Mahoney laughed. "See how fascinatin' a career in the military is? One day a police spy, the next an admiral again."

Sten kept to himself his feelings about the military in any configuration, retired to his quarters, and thought about his vacation. Go to some tourist town and troll for company? No, he thought not. Not that he was suffering the pangs of lost love—at least he didn't think so. But no, it didn't feel right.

Cities? Not that, either. He had heard the yammer of the ugly throngs on Prime, and right now any city reminded him of that.

Stop brooding. Hit the fiche. You'll find something that jumps out at you.

He did.

Rock climbing—the hard way.

It was possible to climb anything using artificial aids-climbing thread, piton guns, chocks, jumars. So, of course, the "pure" climbers revolted and climbed with no aids whatsoever.

Sten thought that could be mildly suicidal. He was not that depressed. But there was a bit of appealing madness there.

He picked a climb—a vertical needle deep in one of Newton's wilderness areas—and equipped himself with a minor climbing outfit that included enough artificial aids to be able to belay himself as he climbed. He bought a tent and supplies and cursed when he realized he would have to carry a com and a miniwillygun. Most Wanted, remember, boy.

He found Alex and told him he was off. Kilgour, far, far too busy minding security on the Tribunal, barely had time for a farewell grunt and an arm around the shoulders.

Sten found his rented gravcar—and something else. He had forgotten that the word "solitary" was banned, at least until the present emergency was over and the council safely in their graves or prison cells. Waiting was his seven-Bhor-strong bodyguard and Cind, equipped similarly to Sten. He thought of protesting, but realized he would lose. If not to them then to Kilgour or Mahoney. It was not worth the battle.

But he issued strict orders.

They were to pitch camp separately from his, at least a quarter klick away. He didn't want their company—sorry to be rude—and he certainly did not want them on the rock with him.

"I don't think the council's assassins—if they have any tailing me, which I don't believe—will go boulder-swarming to make the touch."

The Bhor agreed. Cind just nodded.

"Easy order to follow, Admiral," one Bhor rumbled. "The only record my race has of climbing is when we were chased by streggan."