Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 03

Adele looked up again, frowning; she’d been searching to learn the Smiths’ relation to the bridal couple, not from any need but rather for her usual reason: she liked to learn things. Miriam hadn’t seated herself. She looked stern and very possibly angry, which was puzzling.

“It’s none of my business where you ride, Miriam,” Adele said. They had been on a first name basis in the past, Adele far preferred to remain informal with Daniel’s mother-in-law. “It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder.”

Adele’s mouth twitched in the vague direction of a smile. She suddenly realized that if she had been watching imagery of this scene, she would find it interesting. She needed an interface between herself and information before it really touched her.

Miriam looked puzzled, as Adele had found people often did when she answered their questions. In order to ease the situation further, she said, “I was glad that you requested that the Smiths leave. I haven’t found any connection between them and Daniel yet. I suppose you would know if they were friends of your family?”

“What?” said Miriam. The tram jounced between connectors hard enough to rattle the suspension against the overhead railing. She grabbed a support pole, then lowered herself onto the seat across from Adele.

“Oh, Ethyl Smith was an admiral’s widow before she remarried,” Miriam resumed. “Quite full of herself when she was Mistress Admiral Colfax. I suppose Daniel might have served under him at some point. If so, I sympathize. Timothy did, and it wasn’t a happy posting.”

“Daniel did not serve under Admiral Colfax,” Adele said with satisfaction. She shrank the holographic display of the data unit and transferred both control wands to her right hand, then looked Miriam directly in the face. “What was it you wanted to discuss, Miriam?”

“Oh,” the older woman said. She swallowed. “What I was going to say is that Daniel, that Captain Leary, has been very supportive of, well, his friendship for you. He’s having the initial ceremony here in Xenos. He’s even taking his bride to the Mundy townhouse, your house, ah, Adele. Instead of at the Leary estate, Bantry.”

“Yes,” said Adele. She didn’t add, “Of course,” because she found that just as silly as stating the obvious in the first place. Miriam Dorst wasn’t stupid, so there would be a point coming sometime.

“Well, why then did you refuse my daughter’s request that you be her maid of honor?” Miriam said. She grimaced and said, “Are you angry because Miranda married your friend?”

Adele started to bring the data unit’s display up again. There was nothing she wanted to check on it, but it would be a normal thing for her to do. When faced with an absurd situation, she very much wanted to return to normalcy.

Retreating into the data unit would be a better choice than drawing the pistol in the pocket of her tunic, the other tool that experience sent her to when reality seemed to be coming apart. Nonetheless, the best choice was the usual one, to answer the question calmly — and to be ready to deal with whatever the reaction might be.

“No,” Adele said aloud. “I’m pleased that Daniel is marrying someone whom I like and respect, unlike the bubbleheads whom he favored before he met Miranda. Though if he had married a bubblehead or a dozen bubbleheads, it wouldn’t have been either my business or a matter of concern to me.”

“Why, then?” Miriam said. She was gripping her own hands fiercely; her knuckles were white as her fingers writhed together. “Why did you refuse to be Miranda’s maid of honor?”

“I didn’t have any feelings about the matter,” Adele said. “I thought it would be more politic for Miranda to involve Daniel’s sister. I believe Deirdre thinks well of your daughter, but the honor would mean something to her.”

Tovera was smiling from a third corner as she watched them. I’m glad somebody’s finding this funny, Adele thought; but Tovera’s expression wasn’t necessarily connected with humor.

Miriam sagged. “I’m sorry,” she muttered to her hands. “Miranda said that you weren’t insulting her, but…I feel very foolish now.”

You should, Adele thought. It was as though Miriam had told her she believed Adele dined on murdered children.

“Miranda has had more opportunity to get to know me,” she said aloud. “In another instance” — which I sincerely hope will never occur — “you might reasonably be guided by her judgment.”

The older woman straightened in her seat. “Well…” she said. Then, more briskly, “Well. I’m very glad we had a chance to talk. I feel much better now. I was very much afraid that you felt that Miranda was your enemy and, well, you’re Captain Leary’s closest friend. That would have been terrible.”

“Yes,” Adele said, rising to her feet. She slipped her personal data unit away in the cargo pocket in the right thigh of this dress suit. She had a similar pocket in every pair of trousers she owned. “That would have been terrible.”

It would also have been terrible if a giant invisible asteroid struck Xenos. To Adele the one seemed as likely as the other, but she had learned long ago that her world view differed from that of most people.

The car slowed as it neared their stop. Adele had wondered whether the crowd would overflow onto the tram line, but Deirdre had planned for that with a human barrier which —

“Those people are wearing liberty suits,” Miriam said, peering through the forward window. “They’re RCN?”

“Yes,” said Adele. “Instead of hiring civilians to control the crowd, Deirdre — ” or possibly Daniel himself ” — seems to be using spacers. I hope they’re not carrying batons.” Or wrenches and mallets.

“The people who’re most likely to get pushy are other spacers,” Tovera said. “They’re not going to complain about getting their heads thumped at a party. They’re used to it.”

As Miriam had said, the spacers were in liberty suits: RCN utilities tricked out with ribbons and patches commemorating every landfall the spacers had made and every ship they’d served aboard. Senior personnel wore rigs whose mottled gray base fabric was almost completely hidden.

Woetjans was in charge. She had been Daniel’s bosun from before he captured his first command, the Princess Cecile. Well over six feet tall and strong even for her size, Woetjans was the perfect person for the job, but she could have been among the wedding witnesses in the temple had she wished. This was what she preferred. Pasternak, the Chief Engineer, and two bosun’s mates had helped Cory advise the civilian ushers at the temple.

The tram’s door opened automatically when it stopped. Adele gestured Miriam out and followed with Tovera. The joyous roar echoed from the building fronts, amazingly loud. The transit computer shunted their car out of the way to make room for the vehicles following.

“Miranda has married a great man,” Miriam said. She was looking back, so that Adele as much read the words on her lips as heard them over the cheering. “I only hope he is also the husband who suits her.”

Adele nodded. “Yes, I hope that too,” she said. It didn’t really matter to her, of course: Daniel was her friend regardless of his private life. He would be happier if his marriage went well, and Adele genuinely did like Miranda.

She stood facing the close, viewing the sea of faces past the wall of gorgeously beribboned spacers. She had seen similar scenes from the window of her bedroom when she was a child and her father was addressing an election rally of Popular Party supporters from his fourth-floor balcony. That had been the same sound, the same mass of people so enthusiastic that they seemed to blend into a single organism.

Those cheers had ended a matter of days after sixteen-year-old Adele left Cinnabar to continue her studies at the Academic Collections on Bryce, a member world of the Alliance of Free Stars. The Speaker of the Senate, Corder Leary, had accused Lucas Mundy and his closest supporters of plotting against the Republic. He had moved quickly to crush the conspiracy by summary executions and the confiscation of property.

Now the close below Chatsworth Minor was rocking with similar enthusiasm for Speaker Leary’s son, Daniel, and his new bride.

Adele turned to face the tram which immediately followed her own. She smiled as the bride and groom got out to redoubled cheers.

I don’t believe in omens, she thought.