A Rising Thunder – Snippet 13

 

Zilwicki didn’t try to pretend, even to himself, that he hadn’t found the captain’s attitude irritating. Fortunately, he was by nature a patient, methodical, analytical man. And there were at least some upsides to the situation. Neither he nor Cachat wanted Simões out of their sight, and while they had no particular reason to distrust Custis‘ captain or crew, they had no particular reason to trust them, either. If even a fraction of what Jack McBryde and Herlander Simões had told them proved true, it was going to shake the foundations of star nations all across explored space. They literally could not risk having anything happen to him until they’d had time for him to tell his tale — in detail — to their own star nations’ intelligence services. Much as they might begrudge the month or so it would take Custis to make the trip to Erewhon, they preferred to stay right where they were until Justice could arrange secure transport to Torch. They’d both breathe an enormous sigh of relief once they had Simões safely squirreled away on Torch and could send discreet dispatches requesting all of the relevant security agencies send senior representatives to Torch.

 

No one expected it to be easy, and he knew Cachat was as worried as he was over the possibility that the Star Empire and the Republic might resume combat operations while they waited, but both of them were aware that they’d stumbled onto the sort of intelligence revelation that came along only once in centuries. Assuming it wasn’t all part of some incredible, insane disinformation effort, the Mesan Alignment had been working on its master plan for the better part of six hundred T-years without anyone’s having suspected what was happening. Under those circumstances, there were quite literally no lengths to which Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki wouldn’t go to keep their sole source of information alive.

 

Which was why they were all still sitting here aboard Parmaley Station’s moldering hulk while they awaited transportation elsewhere.

 

“You know,” Yana said a bit plaintively, “nobody told me we were going to be gone on this little jaunt for an entire year.”

 

“And we haven’t been,” Zilwicki pointed out. “Well, actually, I suppose we have, depending on the planetary year in question. But in terms of T-years, it’s been less than one. Why, it’s been barely ten T-months, when you come down to it!”

 

“And it was only supposed to be four,” Yana retorted.

 

“We told you it might be five,” Zilwicki corrected, and she snorted.

 

“You know, even Scrags can do simple arithmetic, Anton. And –“

 

The powered door giving access to the combination viewing gallery and sitting room was one part of Parmaley Station which had been thoroughly refurbished. Now it opened rather abruptly, interrupting Yana in mid-sentence, and a dark-haired man came through it. Compared to Zilwicki’s massive musculature and shoulders, the newcomer looked almost callow, but he was actually a well-muscled young fellow.

 

“Ah, there you are!” he said. “Ganny El said she thought you were in here.”

 

“And so we are, Victor,” Zilwicki rumbled, and raised an eyebrow. “And since we are, and since you’re here at the moment, may I ask who’s babysitting our good friend Herlander? Unless I’m mistaken, it is your watch, isn’t it?”

 

“I left Frank sitting outside his door with a flechette gun, Anton,” Cachat replied in a patient tone, and Zilwicki grunted.

 

The sound represented at least grudging approval, although one had to know him well to recognize that fact. On the other hand, Frank Gillich was a capable fellow. He and June Mattes were both members of the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, part of the original BSC team which had discovered the Butre Clan here on Parmaley Station and brokered the deal that left the Butres alive and turned the station into a BSC/Ballroom front. Most people (or most people who didn’t know Victor Cachat, at least) would have considered Gillich and Mattes about as lethal as agents came, and Zilwicki was willing to concede that Gillich could probably be counted upon to keep Simões alive for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.

 

“I thought I was the hyper-suspicious, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive one,” Cachat continued. “What is this? Are you trying to claim the title of Paranoiac in Chief?”

 

“Hah!” Yana snorted. “He’s not trying to do anything. He’s just been hanging around you too long. That’s enough to drive anyone — except Kaja…maybe — around the bend!”

 

“I don’t see why the entire universe insists on thinking of me as some sort of crazed killer,” Cachat said mildly. “It’s not like I kill anyone who doesn’t need killing.”

 

He said it with a completely straight face, but Zilwicki thought it was probably a joke. Probably. One could never be entirely certain where Cachat was concerned, and the Havenite’s idea of a sense of humor wasn’t quite like most people’s.

 

“May I assume there’s a reason you left Frank playing babysitter and asked Ganny El where you might find us?” Zilwicki asked out loud.

 

“Actually, yes,” Cachat replied, dark brown-black eyes lighting. “I think I’ve finally found the argument to get you to agree to take Herlander straight to Nouveau Paris, Anton.”

 

“Oh?” Zilwicki crossed tree trunk arms and cocked his head, considering Cachat the way a skilled lumberjack might consider a particularly scrubby sapling. “And why should we suddenly depart from our agreed on plan of parking him on Torch and inviting all the mountains to come to Mohammed?”

 

“Because,” Cachat replied, “a dispatch boat just came in from Erewhon.”

 

“A dispatch boat?” Zilwicki’s eyes narrowed. “Why would anyone in Erewhon be sending a dispatch boat out here?”

 

“Apparently Sharon decided it would be a good idea to let anyone from the Ballroom or the BSC who checked in with Parmaley Station know what’s going on,” Cachat replied. He shrugged. “Obviously, she didn’t know I was going to be here when she sent the boat — she sent it off about three weeks ago, and the earliest Custis could get to Erewhon is tomorrow.”

 

“I’m perfectly well aware of Custis‘ schedule,” Zilwicki rumbled. “So suppose you just go ahead and tell me ‘what’s going on’ that’s so important your minions are throwing dispatch boats around the galaxy?”

 

“Well, it happens that about three months ago, Duchess Harrington arrived in Haven orbit,” Cachat said. “The news got sent out to all of our intelligence stations in the regular data dumps, but it still took over a month to get to Sharon, and she sent the dispatch boat out to distribute it to all our stations in the sector. It stopped off at Torch, too, according to its skipper. We were the last stop on the information chain.” He shrugged again. “I imagine the only reason it got sent here at all was Sharon’s usual thoroughness. But according to the summary she got from the home office, Duchess Harrington is in Nouveau Paris for the express purpose of negotiating a peace settlement between the Republic and the Star Empire.”

 

Anyone who knew Anton Zilwicki would have testified that he was a hard man to surprise. This time, though, someone had managed it, and his eyes widened.

 

“A peace settlement? You mean a formal treaty?

 

“Apparently that’s exactly what she’s there to get, and according to Sharon’s summary, President Pritchart is just as determined as the Duchess. On the other hand, after twenty years of shooting at each other, I doubt they’ve already tied it all up in a neat bow. And since Duchess Harrington actually believed both of us before we ever set out for Mesa, I don’t see any reason she wouldn’t believe us if we turned up with Simões in tow. For that matter, she’ll have her treecat with her, and he’ll know whether or not we’re telling the truth. Or whether or not Herlander is, when you come down to it.”

 

“And if there’s anyone in the Star Empire who could convince the Queen to listen to us, it’s Harrington,” Zilwicki agreed, nodding vigorously.

 

“Exactly. So my thought is that we leave the recordings of our interviews with Herlander here on our station to be picked up by the next BSC courier to come through and taken on to Torch. Redundancy is a beautiful thing, after all. In the meantime, though, you and I commandeer Sharon’s dispatch boat, load Herlander on board, and head straight for Haven.” Cachat grinned. “Do you think finding out about the Alignment’s existence might have some small impact on the negotiations?”