Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 07


Xenos on Cinnabar

The big guard who had tried to block Daniel’s way out of the interview room had managed to stand, though he was leaning forward and cupping his groin.

“Tester, get Riddle in the alley and help him to the car,” Forbes said. She was small and sharp-featured; her voice sounded like breaking glass. “Stay there until I join you.”

“Your man may need looking after,” Daniel said hoarsely. He had to pull the words individually from the jumble in his mind; adrenalin had shaken everything together.

“Naw, he’ll be okay,” Hogg said. His voice hadn’t settled either. He’d folded back the knife blade, but he hadn’t returned the knuckle-duster to his pocket yet. “He don’t deserve it, but he will be.”

“Well, wait in the hall,” Daniel said. His throat was dry. “Give Tester a hand and then come back.”

“S’okay,” Tester said, walking into the hallway and passing between Daniel and the minister on his way toward the outside door. He stood a little straighter with each step. “I’ll get Riddle.”

He didn’t look at Hogg on his way past.

“Let’s have that drink.” Anston said. He took Daniel’s arm and walked back to the wheelchair.

“Sit,” Forbes said, pointing to the chair Daniel had knocked over. She took one of those by the wall and dragged it to the table.

Under other circumstances Daniel would have gotten the chair for her himself, but he was still trembling from recent events and — the smile didn’t quite reach his lips — still quite irritated with the minister. This had been unpleasant, and it could have gone much worse. Though Forbes would probably have hushed up even a killing.

“Well…” she said as she put down her glass of brandy. “Let’s get down to business. Are you familiar with the Tarbell Stars?”

She sounded quite cheerful; either she didn’t realize what could have happened or she didn’t care. That seemed to be a necessary attitude for a politician. At any rate, Daniel had never heard his father express regret at what any of his successful schemes had cost other people.

“I’ve heard of them,” Daniel said cautiously. “I’m not familiar, no. I believe that though the cluster is independent, it’s well within what the Alliance considers its sphere of influence.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Forbes said, bobbing her head like a bird pecking seeds. “I’m sure your friend Mundy can give you all the information you need. Well, there’s a civil war going on there now.”

“I see,” said Daniel. There was nothing unusual about small governmental units fracturing, generally as the result of a leadership conflict. “I…Ah, minister? I trust the Republic isn’t planning to get involved in a matter that has far more importance to the Alliance?”

Because that would certainly mean a return to full-scale war between the two superpowers. Neither had recovered from the decades of grinding war which had paused with the Treaty of Amiens. A complete victory by either the Republic or the Alliance was almost impossible. It was far more likely that renewed war would cause both to collapse, which would lead directly to chaos and barbarism across all of human space.

The previous time war had come to that point, it caused a Hiatus in star travel which had lasted a thousand years.

“The Republic isn’t involved, no,” the minister said brightly. “But there are some intriguing aspects to the matter.”

Unexpectedly, Lord Anston clacked his glass down on the table. When the others looked at him, he said, “Leary, I have no business in this discussion. I was asked as a character reference, that’s all, and to be honest I’m sorry I went any farther than that.”

He thrust out his hand; his grip felt frail in Daniel’s.

“I’ll talk to Hogg about fishing,” Anston said. He looked at Forbes for the first time since setting the glass down, glared, and added, “Leary, whatever you decide, may Heaven be with you. And with Cinnabar!”

He rolled to the door and let himself out. Only when it had latched behind him did Minister Forbes say, “Leary, there’s a considerable risk to you in the proposition I’m about to broach; that goes without saying. But I swear to you that if I thought there were real danger to the Republic, I wouldn’t have entertained the overtures.”

“Go on,” Daniel said. “Please,” he added, remembering that he was talking to the Minister of Defense.

Forbes nodded. Daniel’s reserve and Anston’s obvious disapproval seemed to have dampened her enthusiasm slightly. She resumed, “You’re correct in saying that the Tarbell Stars are within the Alliance sphere of influence, but you perhaps realize that Guarantor Porra regularly creates competing chains of command to divide potential opposition within his own polity?”

“Yes,” Daniel said. The space officers of the ships and ground establishments of the Fleet were paralleled by political officers of equal or greater rank. In the civil sphere, governors were watched and could be overruled by the Residents of the 5th Bureau, which reported directly to Guarantor Porra.

“Extraterritorial jurisdiction of the Tarbell Stars,” Forbes said, regaining her animation, “is under the 5th Bureau…but it has been divided between two separate dioceses. One of these is the diocese directed by General Storn, whom I believe you have met?”

Daniel’s face went very still. “I have, yes,” he said. “But only to have exchanged a few words with.”

A few words, and a salute.

“You would have to discuss the matter with someone else –”

With Adele.

“– if you want substantive information.”

“I don’t,” said Forbes. She was wearing a satisfied expression. “General Storn is backing, at least is interested in, the Tarbell government forces. The rebels call themselves the Upholders of Freedom. They’re supported and may have been created by a General Krychek. Krychek directs the other 5th Bureau diocese involved. He is a professional rival of Storn, and they appear to be personal enemies as well.”

“All right,” said Daniel, because the minister was waiting for him to say something. He didn’t know where the conversation was going, and he was unwilling to say anything which might imply an opinion until he knew more and had discussed the matter with Adele.

From her expression, Forbes wasn’t best pleased with his non-committal response. She nonetheless went on, “General Storn is unwilling to oppose the Upholders directly, since it’s at least possible that Krychek has the support of Guarantor Porra. There are numbers of mercenaries fighting on both sides of the conflict, however. General Storn has suggested through intermediaries that it would arouse no concern in Pleasaunce if the Tarbell government were to hire the Princess Cecile and her full complement.”

“I see,” said Daniel, since at last he did. Quite a number of questions remained, but only one had to be answered — if he were not going to walk out of the room right now, regardless of how the Minister of Defense might feel about it.

“Minister Forbes,” he said, “forgive me if this seems impertinent, but why is a high official of the Republic of Cinnabar bringing me this offer?”

“The Republic has no interest in the Tarbell Stars,” Forbes said. She didn’t sound offended or even surprised. “It has been suggested to me in my public capacity that if I could help General Storn in this matter, that it might aid the Republic in matters which are of interest to us.”

Daniel smiled wryly. If Minister Forbes were to secure concessions to the Republic from the Alliance, it would be a considerable benefit to her in the next leadership contest in the Senate. She had narrowly lost the Speakership election a few years previously, which was why she had been sent as envoy to Karst.

There was nothing improper in that. A Minister of Defense who benefitted the Republic might reasonably expect her efforts to be noticed.

“It seems to me…” Daniel said aloud, mostly as a placeholder. “That a corvette like the Sissie, even ably crewed, is unlikely to be an overwhelming factor in a rebellion of any size. The Tarbell cluster involves nearly a hundred stars, does it not?”