Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 08

“Seventy with any population or government worth mentioning,” Forbes said, nodding agreement. “My suspicion is that Storn believes that you and Lady Mundy will be of more value to the Tarbell government than your armed yacht will. I haven’t discussed the question, but that’s how I would think if I were in his position.”

The trouble with doing things that others said were impossible… Daniel thought. Is that people keep coming up with other impossible things. Eventually they’re likely to be right.

Aloud he said, “I’ll think about the matter, Minister. I need to discuss it before I come to a decision.”

Forbes smiled and rose to her feet. “Very well, Captain,” she said. “I await your decision with a great deal of interest.”

The minister left the door open behind her as she walked out. Daniel heard her exchange a quiet greeting with Admiral Anston. Hogg looked in from the hall without saying anything.

Daniel joined Hogg. He’d expected Forbes to press him, perhaps even plead with him. Instead she had demonstrated that she had read his character during the Karst mission and that she was treating him with respect and intelligence.

He grinned. Forbes was manipulating him in the fashion she’d decided would be most effective. Forbes was doing her job.

Hogg backed away, waiting for Daniel to give him direction. Daniel said to Anston, “Sir? Is there anything we can do for you?”

“Did Forbes leave the brandy in there?” Anston said, nodding toward the room Daniel had left.

“Yes she did,” Daniel said. “Would you like help drinking it?”

“No, just leave me with the decanter,” Anston said. He barked a laugh. “I owe Forbes thanks for one thing. I’ve got a battalion of nurses that ordinarily worry me like I was a kitten in a dog pen. Forbes got them off my back for the afternoon.”

Anston wheeled himself into the doorway, then rotated his chair and looked up at Daniel. “I was a bloody fool to have gone along with this game, Leary,” he said.

Daniel shrugged. “Sir,” he said, “when RCN officers stop taking orders from our elected masters, the Republic is in sad shape. Anyway, no harm done.”

He saluted. The ripped back of his tunic flapped when his arm rose.

Anston returned the salute and disappeared into the drawing room. He closed the door behind him.

Daniel took a deep breath and said, “Hogg, it isn’t Admiral Anston who’s the bloody fool; or about to become one, anyhow.”

Hogg shrugged. “I guess you’ll make it work out well enough, master,” he said. “Anyway, that’s not my business to say.”

Clearing his throat, Hogg added, “I guess you need to chat with the mistress now?”

“Shortly,” Daniel said. He grinned widely. “But before I discuss matters with Adele, I need to talk to Miranda. I need to talk to my wife.”

* * *

Adele stood in the street outside Chatsworth Minor, talking to — mostly listening to — three women whom to the best of her knowledge she had never seen before. She held a 20-ounce mug of Bantry ale, wishing that she had gotten 4 ounces of spirits instead; her wrist was getting tired.

“Now she married Cousin Sandor,” said the tallest of the three, a woman with blonde hair, a brightly youthful face, and eyes that might have been a century old. Her voice had the brittleness of old age as well. “That’s my cousin, not yours, your ladyship.”

All three women laughed in affected tones.

One of the reasons Adele held the mug in her right hand was that it prevented her from instinctively taking the data unit out of her pocket and losing herself in it. That would be discourteous. So would reaching into her left tunic pocket and shooting the women dead with the pistol there, but that notion looked increasingly attractive.

“Now, Priscilla — and how amusing that her name sounds so much like the name of your ship, Lady Mundy! Now Priscilla married –”

Daniel and Miranda were approaching, followed by a troupe of well-wishers which reminded Adele of her father’s clientele at the height of his political power. That wasn’t an altogether positive memory — Adele’s smile was too slight to be noticed by anyone looking at her — but she wasn’t superstitious.

“Ladies, you must excuse me!” Adele said. “I must speak with Captain Leary!”

That is the cold truth, because if I stay here any longer I will behave ungraciously.

“Adele, might I speak with you for a moment?” Daniel said before Adele was able to get out her very similar words. “Ah, perhaps with a little privacy?”

Miranda squeezed his shoulder and turned to their entourage. “I’ll try to deputize for both of us with our guests,” she said. She looked as happy as Adele had ever seen her.

Miranda’s face was framed by a halo of white gauze, and her dress was a cloud of similar material. The individual layers of fabric were so fine that Adele wondered if there was a membrane of some other material to prevent the ensemble from being transparent in bright sunlight.

“Yes, we’ll go up to your suite,” Adele said. “You arrived at a good time for me.”

She wouldn’t really have shot the women. She might have overturned the beer onto their feet, however. She would have regretted that afterwards: her mother’s ghost would be horrified.

Hogg cleared a path through the people on the steps, all of whom wanted to say something to Daniel. He was more diplomatic than Adele would have expected.

If she hadn’t seen Hogg a moment before, she wouldn’t have doubted that he really was as drunk as his slurred, “Clear ta way fer mashter!” sounded. He swung his mug back and forth, but the drops he sloshed out never quite stained the finery of importunate well-wishers.

Tovera was bringing up the rear. Adele could only hope that she too was on good behavior.

“There are so many people,” Adele said as Daniel led her into the house. “And they seem happy.”

“Yes they do,” Daniel agreed. “You and Deirdre have done a wonderful job, Adele. I won’t forget it.”

He had missed the point of the comment, which was Adele’s wonder that anyone could be happy when there were so many people around. It was evidence of how distracted she was that the fact surprised her.

A servant with a Leary flash on his collar — not one of the normal house staff — passed them through the plush cord at the staircase. Hogg stepped aside to wait at the base of the stairs, where Tovera joined him. Adele wondered what the two of them discussed. It was good that they got along; it would have been — briefly — disastrous if they had not.

Adele had her personal data unit out even before she was through the door of Daniel’s suite on the first landing. Inside she sat on the nearest chair. Her control wands quivered, manipulating the holographic screen by their attitude and position. Daniel watched, patient if perhaps bemused in the glance she spared him.

“The woman who was speaking to me,” she said, “the tall one. She’s the widow of my father’s brother’s brother-in-law. Her name is Henriet Krause.”

Instead of speaking, Daniel raised an eyebrow. With a shock of embarrassment, Adele realized that he didn’t have — she hadn’t provided — any background to explain why that was worth mentioning.

“I’m sorry, Daniel,” she said. “Mistress Krause is probably my closest living relative, and all I could think of while talking to her was how much I wished I were somewhere else.”

She pursed her lips and added, “Mistress Krause isn’t very close, of course.”

Because if she were, the Proscriptions which Speaker Leary had ordered would have led to her execution as well.

“I’m sure you can renew your acquaintance at a less busy time,” Daniel said mildly. For the first time Adele noticed that his 1st Class uniform had been torn along the seams and — the decorative wall mirror gave her a glimpse of his back — between his shoulders as well. “But since we are someplace else at the moment…?”

“I’m sorry,” Adele repeated. “Please tell me what it was you wanted to discuss.”