Teaching the Pig to Sing

by David D. Levine

Originally published in Analog, May 2010. Distribution in any form without written permission from the author is forbidden.

The loss of connectivity ached like a missing tooth. Every few seconds I tried again, and every few seconds... nothing but silence and emptiness, where my relatives and peers should have been. I kept trying to stop myself. It didn't help.

Deep breath. Try to calm my beating heart.

They knew what they were doing, whoever they were. I was restrained, shoulders to ankles, in something so strong not even I could get loose. Four numb spots throbbed on my skull where the data nodes in each temple, the main antenna across the top, and the tiny, X-ray-transparent tracker on the right near the back had been removed. That last one was supposed to be a state secret. There was another numb spot in my lower back, which I couldn't correlate with any of my implants. But it seemed they intended to keep me alive; when I rubbed my head against the rough sterile paper of my pillow I felt and heard the crinkle of bandages and smelled the cold astringent stink of antiseptics.

Focus. Concentrate. Plan. What was my situation, what were my options? Cool air blew steadily across my brow above the heavy blindfold. The bed to which I was bound rattled when I wriggled, sounding like metal rather than plastic or nanofiber. From the echoes I was in a small room, hard-surfaced. Apart from those rattles and the soft sigh of the air vent, the only sounds were occasional footsteps, too faint and distant to tell me much.

The door clicked open, with a squeak of hinges. One pair of footsteps approached my bed. I readied myself to strike if the opportunity presented, but kept my breathing slow and regular.

"You needn't pretend to be asleep." Not a voice I knew. Male, mature, speaking English with an American accent, but not entirely uncultured. "We're monitoring your vital signs, using the same sensors your 'friends' at the Institute implanted."

I couldn't stop myself from probing the network again. Silence. "You won't keep me long," I replied in English, the words rasping across a leathery dry tongue. I swallowed, licked my lips. "Even without the tracker, we have other means of locating royals. My troops are closing in on this facility even as we speak. But if you surrender now, I can promise you leniency." Bluffing cost little and could have great benefits.

A wry chuckle. "If we hadn't removed your data nodes, you'd know we've already had you for nineteen days." Nineteen--? The last thing I remembered was the sound of a breaking window behind me, the hiss of gas, a sharp medicinal smell... and then I'd woken up here, on this bed, a few minutes ago. "Sadly, your charred body -- well, a convincing simulacrum, complete with your own DNA -- was found in the wreckage of our getaway vehicle, not far from the palace. So I'm fairly certain we'll have no difficulty keeping you here as long as we wish. Or perhaps I should say, as long as you wish."

"Well then, I wish to leave now."

"Don't be so quick to assume that." The speaker stepped closer, bent down over me. "I do intend to clarify this for you, but first I need to ask you a few simple questions so we can assess your mental state. Please answer truthfully, and keep in mind that we are monitoring you. Once you have answered, I will remove your blindfold and loosen your bonds. Is this clear?"

Withholding information from the enemy was always a good idea, but increasing my own ability to act was an even better one. If I didn't like the questions, I could just keep my mouth closed and I'd be no worse off. "I understand."

"Thank you. First... what is your name and title?"

I turned my head directly toward my captor's voice, firmed my jaw, and replied in my best command voice. "I am Edvard Roderick Zachary Sigmund von Regensberg. Defender of Humanity, Viceroy of Germany and Austria, and Royal Colonel of the European Army. Do you require the rest of my titles?"

"No thank you, that will be sufficient. Your age?"


He hesitated, and for the first time I sensed uncertainty. "What is your reaction to the following sentence: 'The nations of the Earth should be independent and self-governing, without interference from the Institute'?"

"It's disgusting."

But even as the words emerged from my mouth... I realized that I felt nothing.


The first time I ever heard a subversive statement like that, I would have been six or seven years old. My sister Sissi and I, along with a half-dozen of our germ line siblings, had just emerged from a session in the education tank; we were still blinking in the light, saline solution dripping from our hair. One of the white-coated teachers had sat us down in a group and asked us what we thought about the idea that humanity would be better off without royalty. "Eeuw!" we all chorused, and he'd smiled and told us we were very good boys and girls. I remember well the physical revulsion and nausea that accompanied the idea, and which had returned every time since that I'd considered such heretical notions.

I believe, I subvocalized experimentally, that humanity would be better off without royalty.

The idea was still abhorrent... wrongheaded, ignorant, and short-sighted. All my reading and everything I had seen in my extensive travels supported the idea that humanity had been rescued from the brink by the Institute's guidance and continued to benefit from it. But that was only an intellectual reaction. The revulsion I'd always thought of as the natural, even inevitable, reaction to such ideas by any properly-brought-up young person... wasn't there.

"Thank you. We have all the information we need now." My captor leaned in close. Cool fingers slipped beneath the blindfold's elastic straps. "I'm removing your headset now. You may wish to close your eyes."

I kept my eyes open as the heavy blindfold was lifted away, but they winced shut by themselves as the room's light came flooding in -- enhanced night vision had its downside. In that brief bright glimpse I saw my captor's face: Caucasian, with a slim black moustache. I blinked away tears, which ran down into my ears.

The room was harshly lit by a single old-fashioned LED fixture in the ceiling. The walls were cheap recycled construction blocks, unpainted; there were no windows and only the one door. Tacked to one wall was a long band of paper, a printout of some complex graph heavily annotated in colored pen. "That's a chart of your mind," my captor said, noting my gaze. He was wearing camouflage fatigues with no insignia. "What they did to you is actually rather impressive, if you ignore its moral reprehensibility."

I was getting tired of this man's games. "This is all well and good, but what do you want from me?"

He leaned down suddenly, hard gray eyes and sour breath just centimeters from my face. "Freedom from tyranny. And you are going to help us achieve it."

Our gazes locked for a moment, then the man seemed almost embarrassed by his own intensity and backed off a bit. "Further explanations will be forthcoming, I assure you." He pulled a tissue from a box behind my head and dabbed the tears from my cheeks and ears.

Coming so close to me was a mistake. With my enhanced reflexes and strength, I could certainly catch his hand in my teeth and probably take off at least one finger.

But I did nothing. My strategic sense told me it wouldn't help.

One of my butlers once asked me to explain the royals' strategic sense. My teachers would tell you that it's certain genes selecting for specific traits of observation and intelligence, combined with rigorous childhood training, but what I told him was this: If you hold a ball above the floor and let go, you just know it's going to fall, and you have a pretty good idea where it will land. You don't have to think about it; you just feel it in your gut. The strategic sense feels like that to me -- it's unconscious, intuitive, and more often than not correct. But I can't tell you how I do it.

So instead of biting his finger off, I said "Thank you, Herr... what should I call you?"

"You may call me by my name, which is Michael Whitfield." As he spoke, he loosened the laces on my restraint, which was made of purple nanofiber and looked like the sort of thing you'd use to immobilize a fractured arm, only it completely wrapped my torso and limbs. "There you go."

I took a deep breath and stretched my stiff muscles within the loosened cocoon. I was still imprisoned, but I was more comfortable. "As long as you're being honest, Herr Whitfield... where are we, and what have you done to me in the past nineteen days?"

"I'd prefer not to tell you our location until we've run a few more tests. As to 'what we've done to you'... we've merely undone what the Institute did."

"In other words, you've brainwashed me."

"Quite the opposite, I assure you." He looked me straight in the eye. "I give you my word that your mind is now entirely your own, for the first time in your life."

"Prove it."

"I cannot," he admitted. "But I believe you will find that any thoughts you care to think, whether positive or negative toward the Institute or royalty, do not call up any untoward physical reactions. Which was not the case before."

"The Institute saved the world from apocalypse," I said aloud, to judge his reactions as well as to test his assertion.

In the early twenty-first century, the Earth had been on the brink of collapse -- economically, ecologically, and politically. But the Institute for Ideal World Governance, a group of wise and selfless people from many nations, had gathered in Geneva and formed a plan for survival: developing, through breeding and genetic engineering, an ideal leadership class; educating and indoctrinating them from birth for skill in government and absolute devotion to the welfare of their citizens; and connecting them to their peers in every nation through implanted transceivers, so that no mistake need ever be made from lack of knowledge, communication, or sound advice.

Not everyone had accepted this idea. There had been resistance, rebellion, even all-out wars. But the Institute had wisely modeled its new governors on the leaders of bygone centuries, creating a new class of "kings" and "dukes" and "emperors" whose citizens were predisposed through culture, history, and even fairy tales to accept them. Nations led by these new royals thrived; nations that resisted the new order were defeated and assimilated into the network, or simply fell by the wayside. Within eighty years the planet was united and a new golden age had begun.

Michael tilted his head and peered at me through his eyebrows. "That's what you've been taught," he said. "But it's incomplete at best." And as for myself, as Michael had promised my own reaction to my statement was nothing more than a sense of intellectual satisfaction and pride. There was no sign I'd been brainwashed... not that I could really judge that.

We spent the rest of that day in the little room where I'd awoken, with me still restrained and Michael asking an increasingly probing series of questions. The quick darting glances of his eyes told me that he was monitoring my vital signs using an implanted display, and his long silences and occasional barely-audible subvocalizations hinted at compatriots, in the next room or a thousand kilometers away. It was like dangling a juicy steak in front of a starving man, but I'd been trained for any eventuality including complete loss of communication. I kept my eyes and ears open, provided as little information as I could, and awaited an opportunity to escape.

After interminable hours, Michael excused himself and left the room, yawning and stretching his arms over his head. I wished I could do the same.

For the next hour Michael argued with his colleagues. They were far enough away that even my enhanced ears couldn't discern the words of the argument, but I could tell from the sound of their voices that it was a vehement discussion among at least five people, all of whom were physically present rather than teleconferenced.

During the argument I tried to squirm one arm free from my restraints, but even loosened somewhat, they held me in an inescapable grip.

"I'm afraid we have a rather serious problem," Michael said when he returned.

"What do you mean by 'we'?"

"You and I both. I made a mistake, and that creates a problem for both of us." Michael paced the tiny room, hands wringing each other behind his back. "You may or may not be pleased to know that you were selected for this operation because of your demonstrated sympathy for reformist groups. Specifically, we are aware of your recent falling-out with your sister, the Queen of North America, over her treatment of the First Peoples insurgents in British Columbia."

Although I knew it would make no difference, I suppressed my visible reaction. If my squabble with Sissi was known to these rebels, we had a serious security lapse.

"Based on your record, and my own researches into your personal history, I had assumed that once your conditioning was broken you would join whole-heartedly with our cause. But your reactions to my questioning today indicate that your higher cortical functions are effectively unchanged. The conventional component of your training and education was a much bigger part of your indoctrination than we -- than I -- had hoped." He blew out his cheeks, shook his head. "In other words, even without your conditioning, you still believe in the Institute. We knew this was a possibility, of course. No one has ever attempted to deprogram a fully indoctrinated adult royal before."

"So does this mean I can leave?"

He wouldn't look me in the eye. "Many of my colleagues would like to kill you immediately. But rather than discard the effort and resources we've put into this operation already, I've convinced them to accept a compromise."

What kind of compromise, I wondered, was possible between death and release?

"With your conditioning broken, your remaining loyalty to the Institute is subject to rational argument. I've been given three days to convince you to join our cause." Now he did meet my gaze, his gray eyes steely. "We do realize, of course, that your obvious course of action is to pretend compliance until you have an opportunity to escape. Please do keep in mind that we will continue to monitor your vital signs continuously. This includes listening through your own ears to everything you say or that is said to you. If at the end of the three days my colleagues believe you are not completely supportive of our cause, or if at any point in the future you attempt to betray us... we will detonate the 150 grams of C-6 we've implanted next to your spine."

That explained the numb spot in my lower back. He could be lying, of course, but my strategic sense told me he wasn't. And 150 grams of C-6 was enough to completely atomize both me and anyone who was unfortunate enough to be standing next to me.

"I'm sorry this was necessary," Michael said, and his face showed a genuine discomfort. "I tried to convince my colleagues not to implant the device, but I was outvoted."

"That's the disadvantage of a democratic government. If you had royals in charge of your organization, you'd know that the decision was the objectively best choice rather than the most superficially attractive."

"If we had someone like your sister in charge, you never would have woken up in the first place."

I had no answer to that.

When Sissi and I were about seven, I recalled, I saw her poised on a pond's edge, lunging with a splash and emerging triumphant with a frog's big bulgy eyes and throbbing throat-sac sticking out from her little fist. Wondering what she saw in the slimy amphibian, I approached her... then watched in horror as she slowly tightened her grip, the frog's legs thrashing in panic as it attempted to escape. "Hey!" I shouted. Startled, she stood and faced me, the frog splashing into the pond behind her.

"I... I just wanted to see how tight I could squeeze it," she said. "Without, you know, killing it or anything."

"And how do you know just how hard a squeeze will kill it?"

She wouldn't meet my eyes.

I should have reported the incident to our teachers, but I didn't. Sissi and I were full-blood siblings and shared a special bond, even tighter than the other young royals in our brood; neither of us ever tattled on the other. But I gave her hell over the incident, and she never tortured a frog again.

So far as I knew.

"So." Michael took a breath, held it, let it out again. "If you agree to hear me out... if you give me an honest chance to convince you of the justice of our cause... I will release you from your bonds."

"And if I refuse?"

Michael's gaze dropped to his shoes. "You die."

"Of course." I breathed deeply for a while to slow my pounding heart. Michael waited expectantly for my response. "There's an old story," I said at last, "about a man who was brought before an evil king after stealing a loaf of bread. The king sentenced him to death, but the man offered a deal: 'Spare my life and I will teach your pig to sing.' The idea intrigued the king and he gave the man one year to teach the pig to sing. But if he failed... off with his head."

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Let me finish. As the man was being led away, a friend asked him what he thought he was doing. 'You'll never get that pig to sing!' The man replied: 'A lot can happen in a year. The king might die. I might die. The pig might die. Or... you never know... the pig could learn to sing.'"

One side of Michael's mouth lifted in an ironic smile, and he inclined his head. "I believe we both understand our situation. But I'm not sure which of us is the pig."

With that, he began to unfasten my purple nanofiber cocoon. When he finished with the knots, he spread the cocoon open and extended his hand to me. "Your Excellency?"

Michael and two armed guards took me down a corridor to a door that looked like any interior door. But when we stepped through it, I found myself in a cavernous room as large as a football pitch and at least three stories tall, windowless but illuminated by ancient mercury-vapor lamps. A mezzanine of some sort ran around the space, about two stories up; the collapsed remains of an escalator had once led up to it. The place smelled like a crypt, reeking of decay and ancient dust.

We were in a shopping mall. One of the thousands of temples to the great god Consumption that stood vacant across North America, abandoned in the great economic tumult of Unification. This one was in reasonably good shape, the crude turn-of-the century graphics on the stores' signs still legible, the skylights overhead still intact -- though painted black as a shield against prying satellite eyes. The building we'd just emerged from, an ugly grey brick of a thing, was one of several that sat on the vast flat floor of the space. "Where we are standing used to be an ice-skating rink," Michael explained. "Even in the middle of the summer, people would come here to skate and drink hot cocoa and, of course, shop."

"Insane," I said. The American economy had been so bloated with shopping -- so imbalanced in the direction of individual consumption -- that it had been unable to adapt to the more efficient and sustainable world economy that the Institute had designed. In my opinion, the chaos that followed Unification on this continent had as much to do with Americans' love of shopping as it did with the historical love of democracy and distrust of royalty that were the usual explanations. "The system was unsustainable. If Unification had not come along, it would have collapsed soon of its own weight."

"We have only the Institute's word on that." He pulled a video card from his pocket and handed it to me. "My grandfather grew up in this town before Unification, and he took some videos of this very mall." The video card showed, in garish turn-of-the-century colors, laughing children and adults ice-skating under these very skylights, just a few meters from where we stood. They wore puffy winter coats and long knit caps; just the other side of a railing, people in summer clothing carried shopping bags and coffee cups. "Look how happy they were."

"Those happy people stood at the top of a pyramid of social inequality. Their lifestyle was made possible by workers toiling in conditions indistinguishable from slavery -- conditions the Institute has nearly eliminated worldwide."

"Creating instead a broad middle class without any real hope of advancement. You may have eliminated hunger, but the people still suffer from poverty -- poverty of options, of ambition. The people who built this mall could dream."

"But most of them never realized those dreams, and many went hungry and homeless. Today every citizen can expect a decent, comfortable life. Isn't that worth the loss of a few impossible dreams?"

"Is that your training talking, or the remnants of your conditioning, or is it really you?"

I realized I didn't know.

Michael just gave me that lopsided smile.

We spent the rest of that day and all of the next walking through the decrepit mall and talking, with at least two armed guards covering me at all times. My mind was constantly divided between rebutting Michael's arguments in favor of democracy and unguided capitalism, looking for a way to escape, and assessing the rebels' strengths and weaknesses.

I had the most success with the last of those three. Michael's organization clearly had contacts high in the government, but some of our most confidential information was apparently still secret, because Michael and the guards didn't seem to realize just how good my senses were. They also appeared to remain unsuspicious of my subtle direction of Michael's and my walks. Our apparently-random wanderings were actually carefully calculated to let me observe every part of the rebels' hidden facility.

What I learned surprised me. The rebel organization, which called itself America Reborn, was far larger than just this small group. A communications network diagram, left lying on a desk in an office with the light off, showed me that they had over fifty facilities as large as this one. A conversation overheard through a solid block wall told me they had several thousand members, access to powerful weapons, and a sophisticated training program. Yet my sister the Queen of North America, notable for her zealous suppression of all forms of rebellion, had never indicated to me that she even knew the organization existed.

It was clear that America Reborn's successful abduction of me, the Viceroy of Germany and Austria, was not just a fluke. If I joined them -- or perhaps even if I did not -- when they decided to act, they had a significant chance of seizing control of at least a portion of North America, and possibly even holding on to it.

And, based on my ongoing discussions with Michael, I wasn't certain this would be a bad thing.

No matter how fervently I defended the Institute government, with its worldwide peace ("except for the constant low-level fever of rebel action," Michael reminded me), freedom, and prosperity, somehow Michael was always able to match my arguments.

"We royals do not have nearly as much personal freedom as it seems," I said as we strolled through the looted remnants of a sporting goods store. "I take the title 'Defender of Humanity' very seriously. We are slaves to our citizens; everything we do is devoted to the welfare of humanity."

"Easy for you to say, from your position above the impenetrable glass ceiling. Even the wealthiest ordinary citizen cannot approach the royals' opulent lifestyles and personal power."

"The only reason for the castles, the artworks, and the horse-drawn carriages of solid synthetic diamond is to reassure the common citizens that their government is powerful enough to overcome any problem. Our psychological studies have shown that these trappings do have the desired effect."

"The powerful have always claimed their luxuries are for the glory of God, or the people, or the state... never themselves. But it is the individual who benefits from them."

Back and forth we went like that, neither able to convince the other.

Lying awake on a cot that night, in a locked and heavily guarded room, I berated myself for my inability to demolish Michael's arguments. Where was my conviction? Where was my force of personality? Where was the diplomatic skill that had ended the so-called "Gasthaus Rebellion" without loss of life on either side?

Without my implants and conditioning, I realized, I was nothing. Indoctrination had given me conviction; constant communication with my peers worldwide had made me appear smarter, wiser, and more capable than I really was. Without these, I was little more than an athlete... a genetically enhanced body and senses in the service of a mind no better than average. And that mind no longer knew what it believed.

I wept.

And even as I wept, I knew that my vital signs were being observed. I wondered what conclusions they were drawing.

The third day began like the first two, with a simple breakfast of hot cereal. "Today is the day of reckoning," Michael said to me as I spooned it up, "and I'm cautiously optimistic. Even though you're continuing to argue against me, I believe you may be coming around to our way of thinking. We'll work together today as usual, and at the end of the day I'll meet with my compatriots and we'll determine what to do with you."

My heart hammered at the thought. Yes, I wanted to live -- but could I bear to do so in opposition to everything I'd fought to defend in my life up until now?

Frankly, I wasn't certain either way.

As we emerged from the blockhouse, I subtly edged our path to the left, heading toward a section of the mall I hadn't yet completely assessed. Trails of fresh footprints in the floor's filth and debris told me that this area was one that the rebels were actively using, but I didn't know for what.

We walked on, talking of history and politics, but as we passed another one of the rebels' block structures, I smelled something that caught me up short: the distinctive greasy-almonds scent of C-6. It had to be a huge quantity of the explosive for even my enhanced nose to pick it up at that range.

What could America Reborn be planning with such a large cache of explosives? Properly placed, ten kilos of C-6 could bring down a skyscraper; a hundred kilos could demolish a dam. And the stuff wasn't as stable as some other explosives... they must expect to use it soon.

Immediately I knew what I had to do.

"Look," I interrupted. "We could go on arguing politics for the rest of today, but I'm sure that you and your colleagues already have enough data to verify where my loyalties lie."

Michael's eyes flicked back and forth. "I... I don't understand, Your Excellency."

"I'm in. I want to join America Reborn."

"W... well, now, I'm certainly excited to hear you say that, but I have to consult with my colleagues..."

"I understand. But please be assured I am sincere."

I wasn't certain that I was sincere, though I believed I was close enough to sincere to satisfy those who were watching my autonomic responses. But when I'd smelled that C-6, my strategic sense had kicked in hard.

Between my own kidnapping -- or recruitment -- the presence of the explosives, and a few other things I'd been able to glean about the rebels, I was certain that they were about to embark on a major military offensive, probably within the next six weeks.

And I knew they would lose.

They didn't know what I knew about the North American government, and especially about my sister. Even as well-armed and prepared as they were, they didn't have a chance of success -- not yet, anyway. And if they struck now, not only would they fail, but Sissi would crack down on the entire civilian population. The loss of life and liberties would take decades to undo.

The only way to stop it was to join the rebels' cause. Really join in, wholeheartedly, and give them enough government secrets that they would believe me when I told them that their current plan was doomed to failure. After that... maybe I would be able to engineer some kind of diplomatic solution.

Or maybe... maybe I would have to work to bring down the government... the government that had bred me, birthed me, raised me, and trusted me with the lives of over a hundred and forty million people.

How could I do this?

Because even as we walked back to the main blockhouse -- Michael blabbering excitedly, the four guards still keeping their weapons trained on me -- I realized where my most important loyalties lay. Even without my conditioning, even stripped of my titles as Viceroy of Germany and Austria, Royal Colonel of the European Army, and all the rest... I was still Defender of Humanity.

That title is always listed first for a reason. My highest priority is always to defend the welfare of the citizens, from war, famine, disease, natural disaster, and even the depredations of the government itself. That priority was the keystone of my conditioning and my training, and no matter what had been done to me in the last nineteen days, it remained as the bedrock of my personality. For all I knew it was in my very genes.

And that priority meant that the rebels could not be allowed to fail. If I couldn't stop them from striking, I would have to find a way for them to win. And after that...

I was so distracted by strategy and tactics that I didn't realize what I was hearing until it was almost too late.

The engine of a Raven.

I stopped and looked up, uselessly; the black-painted skylights above told me nothing. Michael and the guards stared stupidly at me, their unenhanced ears incapable of even detecting the sound.

"Incoming aircraft!" I shouted at them. "Get down!" Even as I spoke I flattened myself on the cracked and filthy tiles, covering my head with my arms.

"What?" said Michael, who for all his psychological acumen could be a bit slow on the uptake, and I grabbed him and pulled him down beside me. The guards, responding to my command voice, all complied, but in a moment they would realize that they'd obeyed an order from the man they were supposed to be guarding. I hoped that moment would be long enough to save their lives.

For three of them, it was. The fourth raised himself to one knee and leveled his rifle at my head before the skylights smashed open.

A red bloom of flame sent a hail of glass and metal showering down on the former ice rink, followed an instant later by the deafening boom and shockwave of the explosion. Sunlight lanced down through the hole, cutting hard-edged beams through the dust-choked air.

Michael lay on the tile beside me, blood running from his scalp. "What's happening?" he said, his voice sounding muzzy even through the ringing in my ears.

"We're under attack by a Raven. Remotely-piloted drone." I looked around. The one guard lay still, black blood soaking into fatigues shredded by flying glass; the other three were alive but stunned. A hundred meters behind us, rebels were pouring out of the main blockhouse like bees from a disturbed hive. "There'll be a second strike in about three minutes. We need to get to cover. Come on!"

I grabbed Michael's arm and led him, stumbling, toward the nearby blockhouse. "How... how'd they find us?"

"I don't know." Part of me hoped that Sissi had managed to track me down, but if she'd thought I might be in this mall she'd have started with Special Forces ground troops. "Just one Raven... probably just a random sweep that got lucky and spotted something."

A rapid-fire whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh from above and the smell of kerosene told me the rebels had a Wasp antiaircraft array. Michael leaned back and watched the ascending sparks against the gray, dust-strewn sky. A moment later, somewhere above the clouds, came the detonation. "Did we get it?"

"Doesn't matter." I coughed thick crypt-smelling dust out of my lungs. We had just about reached the blockhouse; it seemed intact. "Even if the Wasps took that drone down, there'll be a half-dozen more right behind it, and helicopters full of ground troops behind those. Antiaircraft fire just confirms this is a valid target." The blockhouse door was locked.

"We can't go in there."

One solid kick smashed the lock mechanism. "Yes we can."

A dim chemical light flickered on as we entered, revealing metal boxes of C-6 stacked to the ceiling. There had to be over a tonne of the stuff.

"Okay, Michael. What is this explosive for?"

He blinked away the blood that was still running down from his scalp. "I can't tell you until you've been approved by the committee."

"We don't have time to negotiate, Michael." A series of dull whoomps behind me announced the second strike. "If I'm going to help you, I need to know now."

A flash of fire through the broken door sent shivering lines of orange light across Michael's face. Outside, someone screamed in pain. "All right," he said, and closed his eyes. "We're going to infiltrate the White House. We have people in the kitchen staff. Place explosives throughout the building. Destroy it during the Queen's July 4 audience."

"It won't work. Even if you could evade or disable the building's explosive sensors, you can't outsmart my sister's enhanced nose. She'd smell the explosives before she even entered the building."

Michael's eyes flicked left and right, consulting with his colleagues elsewhere in the facility. "My God... you're telling the truth."

A thrumming roar above the blockhouse's metal roof made both of us look up. Helicopters. Then came the shrill whine of personal descent packs, and a rattle of small-arms fire -- government troops descending through the shattered skylights.

My strategic sense made the next few hours as clear in my mind as the last few. Platoons of government troops invading the mall, already softened by the Ravens' bombardment. Rebels fighting back, well organized and equipped but unprepared for the effectively unlimited reinforcements that would be brought in as the strength of this facility became apparent. The facility falling, sooner rather than later, hard and fast enough that the rebels' information security procedures could not be entirely successful. Enough key personnel and data would fall into government hands that the rebels' plans would become known to the Queen.

My own life was too small, too variable, to predict. But whether I survived the strike or only my body was found, Sissi would know the rebels had kidnapped me. That would make what followed even worse.

Martial law. Loss of life and liberty. The trust between the government and the citizens broken for twenty years or more.

For the first time in my life I wondered how Sissi could have turned out so badly. Perhaps her conditioning was imperfect. Perhaps we needed another few generations to breed those traits out. But she was what she was, and for the sake of the citizens, I had to stop her from finding out about America Reborn's plans.

I placed my hands on Michael's shoulders. "I'm sorry," I said gently.

And then I snapped his neck.

After a brief silent prayer for Michael's soul, I cleared my throat and spoke loud and clear to the empty air. "Viceroy von Regensberg to Bravo and Echo platoons. I am uninjured, repeat, I am uninjured. Facility severely damaged by Raven attacks. Be aware of Wasp antiaircraft batteries on mall roof."

I kept on in that vein, delivering spurious intelligence over a nonexistent communications channel to troops who couldn't hear me. But Michael's colleagues didn't know that, and with my tracker removed they didn't know where I was. All they knew -- all they thought they knew -- was that I had betrayed them. And though they were monitoring my vital signs, they had no way to tell the stress caused by my lies from the stress of a man who had betrayed his erstwhile allies and was now trying to direct an assault on his own position.

The detonation of over a tonne of C-6 would completely obliterate this facility and all the evidence of the rebels' current plan -- including the fact that they'd kidnapped me. But America Reborn would survive, and some day might succeed in overthrowing my sister. I wished them well.

I was sorry that the only way to save my people was to sacrifice so many lives, including my own. But some priorities were deeper even than conditioning. "Understood, platoon leader," I said aloud to no one. "Begin phase four on my mark."

I felt a click deep in my back, and knew that I had succeeded.

In the last moment, I thought I heard a pig singing.

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