Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 01

Death’s Bright Day

David Drake


As always in this series, Cinnabar weights and measures are given in English units while those of the Alliance are metric. I use them merely to hint at the variation I expect would occur in a future in which humans have spread across the stars.

Despite my saying this, I will probably get a note from someone telling me that the metric system is much better. For scientific purposes I agree, but logic isn’t going to rule our distant descendents any more than it does us. (And for weather information, Fahrenheit beats Celsius all hollow.)

The historical incidents on which I based Death’s Bright Day come largely from the Greek world at the close of the 3rd century BC. The empire of Alexander the Great had broken into three parts within a few years of his death in 323 BC. Now the large fragments were shrinking or crumbling. There were new players — Sparta, the Kingdom of Pergamum, and, overwhelmingly, Rome — and a world of opportunists at the edges and in the spaces between.

People at that time made short-term decisions based on short-term urges, among which pride, greed, and envy were prominent. And also fear; fear was a big one.

Perhaps this is the only way things ever happen in human societies. Current events seem to me to support that view. It’s a milieu which creates many backgrounds for action-adventure. (I used only a few of these. My original plot had nearly twice the number of incidents, some of them quite dramatic, but I trimmed it for length.)

Speaking as a writer, this is a wonderful milieu. Viewing it as a member of humanity, though, I often wish that we were better as a species at taking a long view. The Greek world of 200 BC wasn’t a safe place for anyone or a happy place for most, and things very rapidly became worse.

I would prefer that the reality my son and grandson will face were a better one, but my field is history. I don’t find much hope there.

Dave Drake

They have forgotten all that vanished away

When life’s dark night died into death’s bright day

— Alfred Noyes

The Progress of Love, Canto III


Xenos on Cinnabar

Daniel Leary waited to board the rented tramcar which would carry him from the Pentacrest to Chatsworth Minor, the townhouse which had been his home in Xenos ever since he became friends with its owner, Lady Adele Mundy. He didn’t spend much time in Cinnabar’s capital city — or anywhere on his home planet, for that matter — but it was good for his state of mind to know that there was a comfortable, convenient burrow whenever he needed it.

Because of the crowd noise he bent slightly toward Miranda, his bride of approximately five minutes, and said into her ear, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a car this fancy. What isn’t wood inlays –” he recognized the tigerwood, but some of the exotics were beyond even his naturalist’s eye “– is gilt.”

He pursed his lips and corrected himself: “Or possibly solid gold, I suppose.”

Miranda hugged herself even closer without turning toward Daniel. “I’ve never been so happy,” she said. “I’ve never dreamed of being so happy.”

She turned then and kissed him, which made the crowd cheer even louder; try to cheer louder, at any rate. “I’ll try not to disappoint you, love,” said Daniel. Or disappoint myself or the Republic of Cinnabar Navy or Adele or the crew of whatever ship I command at the moment. Or anyone else I care about.

Which included the Republic itself, he supposed, though Daniel didn’t often think in political terms. The Learys had been involved in Cinnabar politics from before the thousand year Hiatus in interstellar travel, if the family records were to be believed. Daniel had always been drawn toward the stars instead, and any urge he might have had toward a political career had ended when he was 16 and had broken violently with Corder Leary — Speaker Leary; one of the Republic’s most powerful politicians, and Daniel’s father.

“The car doesn’t have the Bantry crest,” said Mon, his best man, splendid in his dress uniform. For years Mon — though still a half-pay lieutenant in the RCN — had been managing the Bergen and Associates shipyard for Daniel, who had inherited a half interest from his Uncle Stacey. “We could have knocked out the three fishes for you in the yard, easy enough.”

Mon grinned. “In gold, if you like. A gift from me and the crew.”

Not only had Daniel given Mon a 10% stake in the shipyard but also a free hand in hiring his personnel. Most of them were ex-RCN, and many had lost limbs in the service. There wasn’t another yard on Cinnabar which could match the staff of Bergen and Associates for skill or loyalty, and Mon had become very wealthy on his share.

Uncle Stacey’s silent partner — and now Daniel’s — was Corder Leary. The elder Leary earned the most from the yard, but for him that income was too small for notice.

“I directed that the car not carry any crest,” Daniel said mildly. “We’re going to Chatsworth Minor now, after all. When we have a second ceremony at Bantry, there’ll be plenty of fish present. A few of them will be symbolic, I suppose, but I suspect that my tenants will be more interested in the wedding banquet.” And the wedding ale, of course.

Adele, Lady Mundy, had boarded the lead car of the procession with her bodyguard Tovera and with Miriam Dorst, Miranda’s mother. No one else had gotten on, and the usher stationed at the door had turned several would-be riders away. Something was going on, which made Daniel uncomfortable; but he would learn about it in good time.

He liked his new mother-in-law and got along well with her; as for Adele — Daniel had no closer friend. Whatever Adele was doing was for his benefit, or at worst not to his detriment…but he liked to know what was going on, and he didn’t this time.

Daniel glanced toward the line of trams waiting behind his own. It was a very long procession.

As though Miranda were reading his mind, she said, “How many cars are there, Deirdre?”

Her maid of honor, Daniel’s sister, shrugged. “I told the transit authorities to be sure there were enough to carry all those attending the ceremony to the reception,” she said. “Only the first forty will be new, but I’m confident that there will be a sufficient number. Service in the suburbs may be delayed, but–”

She smiled, though there was very little humor in the expression.

“– after all, how often does a daughter of the late Captain Timothy Dorst get married?”

The four of them laughed, Miranda as brightly as ever. “Only once, I expect. And since I don’t have a sister, I suppose our neighbors in the suburbs can accept the delays for one afternoon.”

Daniel realized that his sister had been testing Miranda to see how she reacted to what was at best black humor. Captain Dorst had been a respected RCN officer who had died of a stroke not long after his last promotion. Perhaps if he had lived longer he would have plodded his way to admiral rank and modest wealth; as it was, his widow and children had a social position without enough money to sustain it.

The son, also Timothy, became a midshipman in the RCN and served under Captain Leary. Midshipman Dorst was a model of a fighting officer: brave, active, and as thick as a brick. He was also unlucky: his cutter had taken a direct hit from a 20-cm plasma cannon which would have vaporized most of a corvette.

Timothy’s bad luck had turned out to be very good luck for his mother and sister, because his former commanding officer had visited them to convey his personal regrets. Meeting Miranda Dorst had been good luck for Daniel Leary, also.

He hugged Miranda closer without looking at her.

“Looks like they got ’em loaded,” Mon said, giving the crowd a practiced eye. He added with a grin, “Though nobody’s going anywhere till you’re ready to start, of course.”