Tuesday, April 1, 2036. 8pm.

The skies were dark and cloudy over Austin International Airport as a sleek Cessna gasburner, lights twinkling, touched down and coasted to a stop. It was met by a heavily armored limousine flying Republic of Louisiana flags. Nothing unusual- just the weekly diplomatic pouch. The limo driver didn't recognize the courier who got off the plane, but she had the right password.

The limo hummed back toward the embassy . . . .


Tuesday, April 1, 2036. 9pm.

In the Louisiana embassy in downtown Austin, the Ambassador greeted an unexpected guest. "Irene! What brings you here?"

The Undersecretary of Energy smiled grimly. "Business, I'm afraid, James. I need an office, a secure computer with full database access, and $5,000 in gold. And more later. " The Ambassador started to reply - and was halted by the Secretary's upraised hand. "Don't ask."

The Ambassador didn't ask. It was common knowledge that Irene Mirabeau was a loyal, efficient bureaucrat in the Louisiana hierarchy. It was less common knowledge that she was President Jordan's most trusted hatchetman.

"Right away, Irene." The Ambassador rang for an aide . . . .


Wednesday, April 2, 2036. 11am.

There were only two people in the small embassy office. One was Irene Mirabeau; the other wore the leather and whipcord of a professional duellist.

"Irene!" said the duellist. "Long time no see. Glad you called. What's up?"

"Nothing good," replied Mirabeau. "I hate to presume on friendship, but I've got a job for you. Urgent, dangerous, and totally unofficial. I'm going against the VP's direct orders. Even my own staff in Baton Rouge thinks I'm here on routine business."

The duellist asked the logical question. "What's the problem?"

"Do you follow the news?"

"Not politics."

"Well, this would have been on the social page anyway. No matter. President Jordan and his daughter Angela are in Oklahoma right now. They've been visiting Twoeagles Ranch. What nobody knows is, they're both being held prisoner. John Twoeagles thinks he can take over the whole damned country of Louisiana. And he's about to do it."

"Well, what's Louisiana got an army for?"

"Who are you kidding? The Peoples' Militia is just a police force. They'd be no match for Twoeagles' private army. Not to mention the Oklahoma state forces. Or the other oil barons. Or what would happen at home if we sent the Guard north . . . "

The duellist held up a gloved hand. "Okay. I get the idea. And I guess you can't call the police and swear out a kidnapping complaint."

Mirabeau laughed mirthlessly. "No way. We've got to solve this ourselves or not at all. Jordan holds power by force of personality. If he publicly cries for help, the government falls apart. Giving in to Twoeagles would be better."

"Well, what does Twoeagles want? He's filthy rich, but he's an Oklahoman - he's got no ties to Louisiana at all. How's he expect to take power in Cajun country?"

Mirabeau sighed. "He's got no ties to Louisiana right now. But what if he were the President's son-in-law?"

"A forced wedding? You're kidding! No ... you're not. You want me to go in there, by myself, and bring them out. Right?"

"Half right. Just the girl. They won't be guarding her as heavily, and if she's free they have no hold on the President. Will you do it?"

"Maybe. Give me the details."

Wednesday, April 2, 2036. 1pm.

"Okay. It's a deal. One last question. Why me?"

Mirabeau shook her head. "I can't entrust this to anybody but a real ace - and it has to be someone I trust totally. There aren't many. And you're the only one I could reach in time, without attracting attention. It was you or nothing. "

The duellist shook hands with Mirabeau and walked down the embassy steps, toward the parking garage. This was a crazy job - but the price was right. And pulling something like this would be a shot for the old reputation . . . .

You are the duellist. Turn the page and start with Paragraph 1.