Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 09

“There’s a revolution in the Tarbell Stars,” Daniel said. “Rivals in the 5th Bureau are backing — secretly backing, I gather — the opposing parties. Your friend Storn is backing the Tarbell Government.”

I wish everyone knew how to provide information as clearly and succinctly, Adele thought as her wands sent information streaming onto her display. Daniel waited patiently. As a courtesy she muttered, “Ah,” but Daniel knew her too well to imagine that she was ignoring what he had just said.

“General Storn believes that if the government were to hire the Sissie and her crew as mercenaries,” Daniel said, “you and I would be able to advise them usefully.” After a pause, he added, “It seems rather nebulous to me.”

“We would be reporting to President Menandros?” Adele said. She was sorting through material recently added to the suspense folder of her base unit here in Chatsworth Minor. The file came without a provenance, but the format was that of Mistress Sand’s organization.

“I don’t know any details,” Daniel said. “I’m not sure there are any. If Storn is keeping his involvement secret, he may not be able to influence how we’ll be used. It looks like a real mare’s nest.”

“Um,” said Adele, again being polite. Operations beyond the borders of the great powers — the civilized states, Cinnabar and the Alliance — were always mare’s nests. The fact that she and Daniel would be operating under the titular command of a local potentate wouldn’t change that either way, because they would simply ignore any orders with which they disagreed.

She and Daniel had been known to ignore orders from their superiors in the Republic a time or two also. That wasn’t going to change either.

Adele looked up at Daniel, holding the wands still for a moment. “Does Admiral Anston support this involvement?” she asked. She had seen the admiral’s wife arrive at the reception with an escort of RCN officers, but Anston himself had not been present.

“The admiral thinks it’s a foolish and dangerous operation,” Daniel said. “Minister Forbes, on the other hand, thinks that the potential value to the Republic and the great potential value to her political ambitions more than outweigh any dangers to you and me.”

He smiled broadly, suddenly relaxing. “What I think,” Daniel said, “is that if Anston were my age, he’d knock me down to get at the chance. Well, he’d try.”

“Are there any restrictions on how you’re to act after you reach the Tarbell Stars?” Adele said as she returned to her screen.

“Not that anyone has mentioned,” Daniel said. He shrugged. “Anyway, if I’m to be operating as a private citizen with no support from my government, I’m bloody well not going to be taking orders from politicians.”

“I presume you would be given a full briefing if you were willing to undertake the task?” Adele said.

“I’ll certainly get a briefing before I hare off to the Tarbell Stars,” Daniel said. “Off-planet somewhere. If I’m not, we’re not, satisfied with the terms, then the matter is closed and nobody needs know that it was even raised.”

He cleared his throat again and said, “Adele, we’ve talked about what other people think. What do you think?”

She continued to go through the file which Mistress Sand had supplied. There were points which would require clarification, but for the most part it was remarkably complete — given the physical and political distance between Cinnabar and the Tarbell Stars.

“I was told to use my judgment,” Adele said. “I see no disadvantage to me in attempting the task.”

“Well, you might be killed,” said Daniel, frowning.

Adele shrugged and continued to work. “I see no disadvantage to me,” she repeated.

“In that case…” Daniel said. “I’d like to make an announcement from your balcony. With Miranda. She said that she’d support any decision that I made.”

“Yes, she would,” Adele said. She looked up, then put the data unit away in its pocket. “And of course you may use the balcony. The acoustics of the close are very good, as I remember from hearing my father addressing his supporters here.”

She wondered what Lucas Mundy would think about Corder Leary’s son speaking from the balcony from which Lucas had so often roused Popular Party supporters.

It doesn’t matter: Lucas Mundy was dead. His surviving daughter was pleased at the current use.

* * *

The main stairs of Chatsworth Minor were wide enough that Daniel and Miranda could walk up side-by-side. She pulled him closer and said, “Don’t worry about the dress. It won’t crush. Mother and I know fabric.”

“You’re lovely,” Daniel said, a safe thing to say but not exactly true. Miranda was striking and extremely fit, but she wasn’t a classic beauty. Her hair was usually brown, though bright sun brought out auburn highlights; her features weren’t quite regular; and her torso would be described as sturdy rather than curvy.

Daniel Leary had known a good number of women. He’d never known one who was more alive than Miranda, and he’d never known one who made him feel more alive.

Adele was already waiting on the fourth floor, in what was now her library. It had been the master suite during her father’s lifetime. While Daniel was fetching his bride, Adele and Tovera had moved piles of information in various forms off two chairs.

That hadn’t been necessary: all Daniel cared was that there be a path to the wrought-iron balcony facing the close and the crowd there. Still, it showed that Adele was trying to be hospitable.

Daniel turned to Miranda and said, “Now, you’re sure –”

That was as far as he got. Miranda touched his lips with her right index finger and said, “Yes, I’m sure. I told you I was sure. Now let’s do what we planned.”

Adele’s face was as still as glass, but Tovera grinned. Daniel thought about it and grinned back.

He opened the balcony door and stepped out, holding Miranda’s hand. The crowd noise built to a roar as people looked up at the couple above them.

Daniel raised both arms to their full length. After a calculated moment, he brought them down abruptly. The result wasn’t complete silence, but it was close enough that he could expect to be heard when he called, “Shipmates!”

The response was shriller and even more enthusiastic, though the volume may have been reduced from its earlier peak. Daniel heard someone Yee-hah! quite clearly.

He gestured for silence again, grinning. There was an enormous number of people below. More were pouring out of the houses — or at least they were trying to get out — when they realized that Daniel was speaking. The small porches were already clogged by people talking in the doorways.

“And friends!” Daniel said. He was used to making himself heard on a starship under circumstances in which lives depended on people doing what he said. The tuned acoustics of the close helped, but he was doing his part now.

“In two weeks my bride and I are making a honeymoon cruise to Jardin,” Daniel said. “We’ll be travelling on the Princess Cecile, and for that we’ll need a crew.”

Miranda had mentioned several times during their relationship that her father had loved Jardin. Her delight when Daniel suggested that they honeymoon there proved that he’d been right to hear wistfulness in that recollection of her father.

Jardin was independent and a popular destination for people — for wealthy people — from all across human space. It was a perfect location in which to meet the envoys of General Storn for a detailed briefing.

“All former Sissies are welcome to sign on for the voyage,” Daniel said. “I can’t promise prize money this time –”

More cries of enthusiasm, but they died back before he had to quell them.

“– but I’ll pay honest wages. I’ve been told that Jardin’s a good landfall for a spacer with a little pocket money.”

When the noise settled again, Daniel said, “I hope that sober Sissies will in the morning pass my offer on to their shipmates who’ve already got a load on. If there are any sober Sissies here!”

He turned to Miranda. They embraced as the crowd roared and continued to roar for a very long time.