Max Montagne stood waiting in Admiral Como’s office with an aide who didn’t bother to offer him a seat. Max was used to it; even POWs get better treatment than internal affairs. That was the price you paid to have the most important job in the Accord: protect the people from the protectors. Standing suited him just fine anyway. Max strolled the perimeter of the office, hands behind his back, under the aide’s bitter gaze.

The room was twice as wide as it was long with the entire back wall a single transparent sheet—multipaned—providing a stunning view of Stickney crater’s icy blues and burnt reds. The sky beyond was half black, half rust. A squat desk—hardwood, something local, Martian—guarded the window. To one side was a sitting area; four overstuffed leather armchairs used to seat overstuffed politicians, old but well maintained (the armchairs, not the politicians, who were merely old). Nearby sat a large globe of Mars, its northern hemisphere flipped open to reveal four dark brown decanters.

“Purely for show,” said the aide. Max didn’t care; there weren’t enough sober admirals to keep the Accord operational.

A bookshelf stood nearly devoid of books. Facing outward was one enormous tome: The Art of War. Max had read it once—it only took a few hours. This encyclopedic-looking edition was all for spectacle. A second shelf displayed accolades and medals, all from much later in the admiral’s career. A bunch of ataboys for getting other people’s kids killed.

Speaking of, there was a single photo on the wall. Admiral Como, his wife, and two grown children. But the admiral had three grown children. Strange—

Just then Como burst through the door with the tact of a territorial rooster. “What the fuck’s this witch hunter doing in my office?”

The aide spoke some words but didn’t really say anything as the admiral immediately pulled a long swig straight from one of the decanters. His eyes seared hatefully at Max, to no effect. “Parasite. I’ve put down bigger dogs than you.”

“Yes sir,” he responded levelly. “That’s why I’m here.”

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