Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 02

Deirdre — or more likely, one of the businesses which she controlled — had provided the ushers who were loading the trams, but Lieutenant Cory and three long-service warrant officers were overseeing the work. Some of the spacers who had attended the wedding of Captain Leary were too ragged to pass the scrutiny of a doorman borrowed from the Shippers’ and Merchants Treasury, but if they’d served with Six — Daniel’s call-sign aboard the Princess Cecile — there’d be places in the wedding for them.

Perhaps thinking the same thing, Deirdre said, “Daniel, how do you know that some of those spacers claiming to have served with you aren’t just bums looking for a free drink? Not that I care, of course.”

“You can’t fool a veteran, Deirdre,” Daniel said. He felt suddenly saddened. “I don’t remember the name of every tech who’s served under me and I doubt my engineering warrant officers do either, but the phonies are all heroes. They don’t say, “I was an engine wiper on the Milton and I haven’t shipped again since that missile took everything off from three frames astern of the power room.”

Thirty-three of his crew had died that day. Daniel didn’t remember anything after the impact, because flying debris had knocked him silly. If the jump-seat had struck an inch lower, it would have broken his neck and there would have been thirty-four dead.

And I wouldn’t have gotten married today, which I would regret. He squeezed Miranda’s fingers and said aloud, “I think we can board now. If board is the correct word for a tram?”

Daniel handed his bride into the car. Mon offered Deirdre his arm. She accepted it with a bemused look. Deirdre was used to toadies, but meeting a gentleman was probably a new experience for her. The RCN was old-school in many ways, which Daniel — grinning — thought was just as it ought to be.

Daniel also wore a 1st Class uniform, his Dress Whites. He was far more splendid than Mon, however. Daniel’s rig included flashy foreign honors which he would have been embarrassed to wear in a strictly RCN gathering. Deirdre touched the scarlet and gold sash over his left shoulder and said, “What in the world is this, brother?”

“That indicates I’m a Royal Companion of Novy Sverdlovsk,” he said. “I have the right to wear a scimitar in the presence of the monarch.”

“Do you have a scimitar?” Mon asked.

“I’m sure Hogg could find him one if Daniel ever visits Novy Sverdlovsk,” Miranda said primly.

“Speaking of Hogg –” said Deirdre.

She paused as the tram rocked to a start a moment after the lead car. The monorail vehicles weren’t coupled, but the central computer was moving the procession as a unit. Ordinarily it directed the trams to call boxes and then by the most efficient route to the riders’ destination.

“– why is he riding on top of the car? And there’s someone on the lead car also.”

She gestured through the front windscreen. A Xenos tram with unscratched windows was at least as remarkable as one with wood inlays.

“Ah,” said Daniel. He coughed into his hand. “That’s Midshipman Hale, who served with me on two recent voyages. She and Hogg — ” Daniel’s servant, mentor, and father figure since his earliest days on the Bantry Estate ” — thought they’d have a better view from up there in case of trouble. A needless precaution, but if it pleases them to do it…”

He shrugged. He didn’t mention that the long blanket-wrapped bundle Hogg had beside him was a stocked impeller, nor that the slightly built Hale’s shorter bundle was a carbine. Within her range, Hale was as good a shot as the countryman who had been poaching game all his life.

Above them the tram’s magnetic suspension rattled over junctions. The streets were still lined with cheering citizens.

“I wonder if they’ll stretch all the way to the townhouse?” Deirdre said. “You’re a famous man, brother.”

“It’s just the spectacle that draws them,” Daniel said uncomfortably. “There’d be as many people if I were being carried in the other direction to have my head cut off and nailed to Speaker’s Rock.”

“Don’t you believe it!” said Mon. “Listen — they’re shouting, ‘Cacique! Cacique!’ They’re cheering the man who beat the Alliance above Cacique and brought peace after decades of war.”

“Daniel?” Miranda said, scanning the lines of shouting, happy faces along the route. “How will they all fit in Chatsworth? It’s a big house for the center of Xenos, but…?”

Deirdre smiled. Daniel gestured toward her with an upturned palm and said, “I’ll let my sister answer that. She was in charge of the arrangements.”

“Mistress Sand, Lady Mundy’s colleague, had as much to do with it as I did,” Deirdre said in a nonchalant voice. Bernis Sand was the Republic’s spymaster. She wasn’t precisely Adele’s other employer, because Adele didn’t take money for the work she did on Sand’s behalf. “In addition to Chatsworth Minor, all six houses on the close have opened their ground floors to the reception, and refreshments will be served in the street itself.”

“How the bloody hell did you do that?” Mon blurted. “Kidnap their children?”

Daniel felt his lips purse. He’d had the same thought, but he hadn’t asked because he’d been afraid that he wouldn’t want to have heard the answer.

“No, no, no strong-arm,” Deirdre said.

Her easy smile implied that the notion was absurd. It wasn’t absurd.

“One of the owners was kin to Lady Mundy on her mother’s side,” Deirdre continued. “Distantly enough that he survived the Proscriptions, but happy to do her ladyship a favor. Another neighbor was enthusiastic to help the Hero of Cacique. You may get a dinner invitation, brother. You’re not obliged to accept it, of course.”

“I will,” said Daniel. Miranda nodded crisply.

“Apart from those, there was a little extra time on a mortgage, help with a client’s legal problems, and an invitation to a party at which neither you nor I would be caught dead, brother. It will be the achievement of a life’s social ambition, however.”

Deirdre coughed. “Finally,” she said, “Mistress Sand arranged for the suppression of certain information. I don’t know precisely what the information was, but we were suddenly offered free use of the house on the south corner for as long as we wanted.”

The tram slowed for the stop at the head of the cul-de-sac on which Chatsworth Minor was located. Three passengers were getting out of the leading car. The pavement within the close was packed with people, all shouting.

Miranda leaned closer. “Welcome home, darling,” she said into Daniel’s ear. “Welcome home, hero.”

* * *

Adele took a front-facing corner seat in the lead tram. She wasn’t surprised when Miriam Dorst followed her and Tovera: Miranda’s mother had to ride somewhere, after all. Two middle-aged couples, dressed in up-to-the-minute fashion with ruffs at their wrists and necks, started to get on.

Miriam blocked them. Miranda played field hockey; her mother was fit and had the same stocky strength. “The bride’s family has reserved this car,” she said in a sharp tone. “Please find other places.”

“We’re friends of Captain Leary!” said the leading woman. She wore a striped top and a stiffly conical skirt, a combination that made Adele think of a shuttlecock.

“No, you are not,” Adele said, looking up from the display of the personal data unit in her lap. “Mistress Dorst has requested politely that you find other places. Please do.”

“Would you like me to shoot them, mistress?” Tovera said. She gave the intruders a bright smile.

“I’ll call an usher if necessary, Tovera,” Adele said. The question was an example of Tovera’s sense of humor: if she had really thought that shooting the civilians was a good idea, she wouldn’t have bothered asking.

Tovera would shoot them if asked, of course. She was a sociopath who rather liked killing people, to the extent that she had any emotional involvement at all with people.

The woman who had spoken froze. Her husband tugged her backward; the second couple had already backed away. As the speaker — Mistress Ethyl Smith with her husband the Honorable Edward Smith, according to image recognition software in the data unit — left the car, she snarled, “You’re sick!”

Miriam closed the door. Tovera giggled and said, “If she only knew.”

The tram started off. Miriam said, “I suppose you wonder why I’m here. I decided it was the best way to have a private conversation with you, Lady Mundy.”