Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 11

Needing something means that I might lose it. Daniel cleared his throat because he didn’t like the direction his thoughts had been going.

He said aloud, “I’m glad to have so many qualified officers, because I’m not sure what we’ll find in the Tarbell Stars. You may find yourself in command, Vesey, as you’re more than capable of being.”

Vesey turned to face him. “Sir,” she said. “I studied every battle in the Academy syllabus, and I’ve watched you a dozen times ripping the heart out of enemies that should have flicked you away, flicked us away. But I’ll never be as good as you are. I’ll never be as good as Tim was when he was a midshipman, because he had the instinct and I don’t!”

Daniel met her eyes. His first thought was to say something reassuring, but that would be an insult to someone as smart as Vesey was.

“Vesey,” he said. “If you have to command in battle, you’ll do everything that study and experience can provide. That puts you ahead of nine out of ten captains in the RCN.”

He swallowed. “Killer instinct is an important thing to have in a fight, sure,” he said, “and Tim Dorst –”

Who had been Vesey’s lover until an 8″ plasma bolt stuck his cutter.

“– had that in spades. But luck is even more important than instinct for a successful commander, and Midshipman Dorst was terminally unlucky. I’d rather have you as captain of the Sissie in my absence than Dorst, because I trust you to bring her safely home if anybody can do that.”

The final two missiles rumbled into the corvette’s magazines. The last lowboy began to crawl away, and Hale stepped out of the way of the delivery gondola.

Daniel squeezed Lieutenant Vesey’s shoulder and let her get on with her job.

* * *

Adele was in her library, not so much cleaning up details before she left as making sure that every scrap of information which might bear on the Tarbell Stars was coming along with her. She could study files during the voyage, but a log book or a personal reminiscence which was still in Xenos would do her no good on Peltry.

She could never be sure she had everything possible. She could never be sure she had done her job: even if the Princess Cecile and her complement returned successful, that didn’t mean that Adele Mundy hadn’t missed some datum which would have made it easier or cheaper.

The library door was ajar so Adele probably could have heard the whispering outside in the hallway, but as usual she was lost in her task. A fingertip tapped on the panel; then Tovera pushed it open enough to look in.

“Mistress,” Tovera said. “Miriam Dorst is here to see you, if that’s possible.”

Adele looked at the remaining pile of chips which she was copying to her base unit. They were the office copies of logs from a shipping consortium based on Twig in the Alliance. None of the ships she had viewed thus far had traded into the Tarbell Stars, and she saw no likelihood that any of the others would have done so either.

“Yes, all right,” Adele said, rubbing her eyes. “Tovera, have them get us something to drink, will you?”

The door closed, then reopened for Miranda’s mother. Adele nodded, wondering if she ought to get up. She decided not to. Miriam had arrived without invitation, so merely agreeing to see her was being sufficiently courteous.

Besides, I’ve been sitting in so cramped a posture that I might fall back if I tried to get up abruptly.

“I’m sorry to disturb you when you’re so busy…” the older woman said, holding her hands lightly together. She was more heavy-set than her daughter, making Adele wonder if Miranda would fill out similarly as she aged.

“I said I would see you,” Adele said, hoping she didn’t sound as peevish as she felt. “I’ll never be able to finish what I’m doing here –” she gestured “– so the interruption doesn’t really matter.”

No matter how long Adele worked, there would be information she hadn’t copied into files where she could access it off Cinnabar. She was probably foolish in considering that a goal, but she didn’t see any reasonable point short of that to draw a line on her efforts.

Unexpectedly, Miriam smiled. “Miranda told me that you didn’t do small talk,” she said. “Well, I was going to explain that I was here to apologize again for the way I accused you when we were going to the reception, but that would be silly on my part.”

“Yes,” said Adele. “I heard you the first time.”

She realized that Miriam was still standing and said, “Sit down, please, I think there’s a chair –”

There wasn’t.

“– well, move the pile on the one beside you to the floor and sit down. Please.”

When the other woman hesitated, Adele stood; she’d been working her legs beneath the table since she realized how stiff she was. Before she could act, however, Miriam had set the pile neatly out of the way and seated herself.

“What I really wanted to do,” Miriam said, “was to ask you to help my daughter if she needs it. She will be –”

Her voice caught. She swallowed and resumed, “Miranda will be the only civilian on a shipload of RCN personnel. I realize that you’re RCN yourself –”

Adele gave an almost-smile. “Not really,” she said when Miriam paused. “I’m not a spacer, and I certainly haven’t internalized the forms of military discipline. Or the need for it, to be honest. But continue?”

“Yes, I think that’s what I was trying to say,” said Miriam. “Miranda won’t really fit in, so I hope that you’ll be able to appreciate that and, well, look out for her.”

“From all I’ve found,” Adele said, reflexively bringing up the file into which she had transferred all the data she had on their destination, “Jardin is a pleasant world with very little crime. The government is an oligarchy and autocratic. Potential troublemakers are denied entry or are shipped off immediately, and if they do manage to break the law they’re put to forced labor.”

She tried to execute a smile. She was probably no more successful than she usually was, but she hoped Miranda’s mother would give her credit for the attempt.

“It appears to me,” Adele said, “that Miranda will be safer on Jardin than she would be in Xenos. I’ll further add that she is an extremely capable young woman and in as little need of watching over as anyone I know of her age.”

The girl’s mother sighed and seemed to hug herself more tightly. Looking toward a stack of file boxes on the floor to Adele’s right, she said, “Timothy, my husband, used to talk about Jardin as though it were paradise. He was only there once, when he was a midshipman on a replenishment ship. I thought we might visit — before Miranda was born, or even later as a family. We never did.”