Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 13


Bergen and Associates Yard, Cinnabar

Adele settled comfortably at the signals console of the Princess Cecile. Because the ship was well overstrength, every seat on the bridge was taken. Tovera would normally have been in the striker’s seat on the back of the signals console; for this voyage she was on a jumpseat against the aft bulkhead and Midshipman Hale shared Adele’s console.

The Sissie’s bridge was more of a home to Adele than the library of Chatsworth Minor was…though when she thought about it, she didn’t think of anyplace as “home” in the sense that other people seemed to do. She lived in her own mind.

That had been as true while Adele was growing up as the child of a powerful Senator Lucas Mundy as it was now as a respected member of the crew of the Princess Cecile. In the years between she had lived hand to mouth as an orphan and a penniless scholar. During that time her ability to ignore external reality had been a valuable survival tool.

“Testing thrusters One and Eight,” a voice from the Power Room announced over the PA system and the general channel of the ship’s intercom. Adele didn’t think Pasternak himself was speaking, but the sound quality was too poor for her to be certain.

Two of the eight thrusters lit, shaking the ship and blasting iridescent plasma into the water of the slip. Their nozzles were flared open to minimize impulse; even with the leaves sphinctered down to minimum aperture, two thrusters weren’t enough to lift the corvette from the surface.

Adele brought her display up and began sorting communications inputs. There wasn’t any reason to do that here and very little benefit to the practice anywhere else, but it was Adele’s habit to know as much as possible about her surroundings. Not because of possible dangers, but simply because she liked to know things.

A tell-tale showed her that Hale was echoing Adele’s display. That wasn’t a problem — if Adele had wanted privacy, she would have enforced it — but it reminded her for the first time that her console mate was a colleague who in theory she might be training.

Adele pinned a small real-time view of her face to Hale’s display; the top register of her own display already had images of all the personnel seated at consoles. On a two-way link to Hale she said, “I intercept signals as a matter of course and put them through a mechanical sort. If we were on another planet, even if it weren’t a potentially hostile one, I’d give a quick look at the findings in case I saw something that the algorithm didn’t.”

The Power Room continued to announce thruster testing, working in pairs through the set. The big pumps in the stern throbbed, replenishing the reaction mass tanks from the harbor. The same tanks would be distilled to provide drinking water: impurities mattered very little when the fluid was being stripped to plasma and spewed through the thrusters.

The impurities mattered even less when the mass was being converted to anti-matter before being recombined with normal matter in the High Drive motors. The High Drive was more efficient and provided much higher impulse, but it could only be used in the near vacuum of space: in an atmosphere, the inevitable leakage of antimatter which had escaped recombination flared violently and devoured everything nearby, including the hull.

“Do you have any information about Jardin beyond the Sailing Directions which might be useful, ma’am?” Hale said. Though their faces were only about forty inches apart on opposite sides of the immaterial barrier of a holographic display, only the intercom made it possible for them to communicate without shouting. “I don’t mean restricted information, just…anything that would let me do my job better.”

Since they were able to see one another, there was no need for the ponderous communications protocols which the RCN drummed into its signals personnel. Adele had no training: she was in civilian life a librarian whose skills fitted her for far more subtle uses of electronics than remembering to mutter “Over” and “Go ahead” and similar procedures.

“Yes,” Adele said. She brought up an image of Cuvier and Cuvier Harbor on Jardin; Hale could manipulate the scale and orientation on her own display if she chose to. The harbor would have been an open roadstead, dangerous in a storm from the west, had it not been narrowed by moles from each headland. There was a passage through which surface vessels could enter.

“We’ll be landing here at the capital?” Hale said.

“We’ll land at Cuvier because it’s the only starport on Jardin with proper facilities,” Adele said, highlighting twenty-one points in and around the city; she had to increase the scale slightly to capture two outliers. “It’s the capital by convenience, but Jardin really doesn’t have a government, just a management reporting to the First Families who own the planet. Each family has a house near Cuvier though many of the principals live on distant estates. Here they are.”

“Closing main hatch,” Vesey announced. She was in charge of lift-off from the armored Battle Direction Center in the stern. Personnel at the duplicate controls there could control the ship if the bridge were out of action; or as now, when Daniel Leary at the command console was explaining procedures to his bride in the striker’s seat.

The Princess Cecile’s main hatch clanged. A rapid-fire ringing followed as bolts dogged it tight. Other hatches were still open, including two on the bridge itself. Ozone from the thruster exhaust made Adele’s eyes water, but she was too used to the experience to be consciously aware of it any more.

“The Sailing Directions didn’t say anything about political problems,” Hale said.

The Sailing Directions for each region of the human universe were compiled by Navy House for the guidance of spacefarers. The RCN personnel doing the work paid no attention to planetary sensitivities: if in the opinion of Navy House a ship landing on Jardin risked being caught up in a revolution, the Sailing Directions would have said so. That was true even for worlds within the Cinnabar empire, let alone neutrals like Jardin.

Hale added, “I’d think a setup like that was a bomb waiting to go off.”

“Perhaps if Jardin were more crowded it would be, Hale,” Adele said. “The First Families have a tradition of service to the community. Ordinary citizens have a high standard of living, and Jardin doesn’t allow immigrants. Agriculture and the service industries are largely staffed by foreigners, but they’re on two-year contracts which are rigidly enforced. I gather the workers — ” laborers and whores ” — are also well treated and well paid, but so long as they’re shipped off promptly, that isn’t important.”

“It sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?” Hale said.

“Perhaps,” said Adele dryly. “There are no libraries that I’ve found in the records.”

Jardin was ideally placed to gather information. Ships came from all portions of the human universe, bringing the rich and powerful to relax. The logs of those ships contained unique information which could be compiled into an unequaled database.

No one on Jardin was interested in doing that. Adele felt her lips quiver. Despite what she’d said to Hale, it was possible to gain Jardin citizenship by the unanimous agreement of the First Families. Perhaps Lady Mundy could arrange that on her retirement from the RCN.

“Ma’am?” Hale said. “Ah, you’re smiling?”

Was I? Apparently she had been. Aloud Adele said, “I expect to be dead when I leave the RCN, Hale. But it seems to amuse my subconscious to consider what I might do if I remained alive.”

She paused thoughtfully and added, “Of course that leaves the question of providing for Tovera.”

Thinking of her own retirement was a grim joke. Imagining that Tovera would survive was more of a farce.

“Ma’am?” Hale said.

“Sorry,” Adele said, realizing that she had drifted off in the middle of an exposition. “The daSaenz family — ” she focused down on a highlight immediately to the north of the city and harbor ” — isn’t very politically active, but it’s among the wealthiest of the First Families. They own the Starscape Caves in the limestone under their mansion.”

She continued to increase the magnification on a courtyard building perched on a peak. It was almost a rectangle, but the angles had been adjusted slightly to allow for the contours of the ground. The end overlooking the city was a four-story tower, but the other walls were only two.

The slope immediately below the building was forested. Scattered city housing continued some distance up from the water, but the straight terminus implied a boundary line.

“Mistress Leary’s father spoke with enthusiasm about the caves, so Daniel –” should she have said, “Captain Leary?” Too late now. “– contacted the present head of the family to be sure that he’d be able to take Miranda through. She’s Carlotta daSaenz, and she was very gracious.”

Hale’s image was frowning. “Six — ” the captain’s call sign and the crew’s usual nickname for Daniel ” — sent a communications ship to Jardin?”

“There’s enough traffic between here and Jardin that he didn’t need a dedicated vessel.” Which would have been enormously expensive, even for Daniel. “An admiral taking his family on holiday to Jardin carried the message there as a favor, and Lady Carlotta sent her reply by a returning yacht — a favor to her. It arrived two days ago.”

All eight thrusters were alight together. Though their nozzles were flared, the corvette bucked and pitched. Plasma vaporized divots in the slip, and water surged in from the harbor proper to replace it. The Sissie’s hull and outriggers responded to the flow. Hydraulic rams closed the bridge hatches, but other hatches remained open. The sting of ions became sharper, and there were occasional sparkles in the air.

“These caves weren’t mentioned in the Sailing Directions,” Hale said, indicating both that she was listening and that she wanted to hear more. Active damping kept ambient noise from overwhelming their conversation, though loose objects were jouncing against every surface.

“There are animals in the caves which give off light,” Adele explained. “Metazoans, which I suppose means insects — multicelled creatures, anyway, but they’re spread in flat patches on the walls. They glow in the dark, which is why it’s the Starscape Caves.”

She shrugged, though she wasn’t sure that the gesture was visible on the tight head shot she’d put on Hale’s display. “It doesn’t sound very interesting to me,” she said, “but it impressed Captain Dorst. And I’m sure Daniel will be pleased to see the animals for himself. I forwarded all the information I found on them — ” which wasn’t very much ” — but I don’t understand any more than I’ve told you. If that.”