Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 16

“Do you know where it’s going?” Miranda asked, her eyes following the big vessel. “It’s a passenger ship, isn’t it?”

Daniel glanced over his shoulder. “Adele?” he said.

“It’s the dedicated coach to Paradise Beach,” Adele said, “though the management calls it a conveyance. It’s carrying a party of ten from Tabriz, plus their luggage and seventeen personal servants. And a pair of deogales, which are…”

Her words paused. She was having a little trouble manipulating her control wands accurately as she walked.

“Deogales are six-legged omnivores from Humara,” Daniel said. “The Swiftsure ported there on my training cruise. They’re as much at home in brackish water as they are on the shore. They’re affectionate little things to their masters. but –”

He felt himself frowning without meaning to.

“I hope they’re not a mated pair,” he said. “Without grillards –” Six-legged carnivores; the young ate sprats and insectoids, the yard-long adults preferred deogales if they couldn’t get domestic cats “– to keep them in check, they could spread over the whole planet.”

“Paradise Beach is an island,” Adele said. “At what the Khan of Tabriz is paying the Bruckoff family for this vacation, they can sterilize and replant.”

Daniel winced. He knew Adele was correct; most of the outlying leisure compounds on Jardin had already been sanitized for their guests’ comfort. That was good business…but he had grown up in the forests and marshes of Bantry under Hogg’s tutelage. The discomfort — the itching, the thorn pricks, the bites and kicks and occasional real danger — had made him a part of nature, of life.

But this wasn’t Daniel’s world or even Cinnabar’s world; and few Cinnabar citizens would have agreed with Daniel anyway.

They had reached the marquee and the smiling attendants. On the boulevard beyond was a rank of ground vehicles, but at least half the initial liberty party was crossing to the strip of bars and clubs facing the harbor.

A natty looking young man approached the marquee from the street side. The male attendants saw him first and jumped to attention. The fellow was dressed in Pleasaunce fashion — a suit with narrow, broken, vertical stripes in tones from yellow to russet.

“Just step to the footprints in front of the barrier, sir,” the professionally perky woman at the nearest counter said to Daniel. She and her colleagues weren’t as young as he had thought from a distance, but they were extremely attractive. There were four passages through the line of counters, each with a crossbar.

“Captain Leary, isn’t it?” called the well-dressed young man. The female attendants stiffened just as their male colleagues had done a moment before. “And that would be Miranda Dorst Leary, would it not?”

“Sir…?” said the woman who had spoken to Daniel. She turned her head and torso but kept her feet where they were planted. “Are these friends of yours, sir?”

“They are indeed, friends and guests of the daSaenz family,” the young man said. “I think we can dispense the formalities, can’t we, girls.”

Without waiting for an answer — if he had even been asking a question; Daniel hadn’t noticed one in his voice — the man lifted the bar and stepped through. The attendants remained at attention.

“I am Timothy daSaenz,” the man said, clasping Daniel’s forearm with his own in Pleasaunce, and more generally Alliance, fashion. “My mother Carlotta sent me to greet you and bring you to the house.”

“Pleased to meet –” Daniel said. Before he could complete the phrase, daSaenz had turned to Miranda, clicked his heels — his calf-high boots were of pebbled leather — and bowed at the waist.

If I tried that, Daniel thought, I’d fall on my face.

Then he thought, And I’d deserve to for acting like a prat.

“I’ve brought the aircar,” daSaenz said, turning and lifting his right hand to shoulder level. His index finger gestured forward. “Please come with me. Mother was insistent that you be shown the caves at once.”

“Ah, Master daSaenz…” Daniel said. He led Miranda between the counters but then put a hand possessively on her waist when there was room enough to walk abreast again. “Thank you very much for the offer, but we’re staying in the Ultramarine here in Cuvier. We’ll be happy to join you after we’ve settled in, but –”

“Nonsense,” daSaenz said. “I can’t possibly allow you to go to a public hostelry. That would be an insult to my mother and to my family.”

He stopped at a small aircar at the end of the row of ground vehicles. Its body shimmered between blue and silver. There were two comfortable seats in the back and a driver’s cockpit in the front.

“Master daSaenz,” Daniel said. He was used to bumptious young aristocrats. I rather was one myself.

A mental grin broke his mood. Instead of going on as he had been about to, Daniel said, “We’ll be back as soon as we’ve freshened up and I’ve taken care of some of the ship’s business here. We really appreciate –”

“Come,” daSaenz said with a smile. “Mother has closed the caves for you and your bride. You look particularly lovely, Mistress Leary –”

He clicked his heels again, but at least he didn’t bow.

“– and I assure you that the glowworms will not complain about your toilet.”

“My business –” Daniel said.

“Captain Leary,” Adele said. “Your officers can handle the business, I’m sure. You’ll recall that I am one of your officers.”

“Ah, Miranda…?” Daniel said, looking at her.

“It’s entirely up to you, Daniel,” she said. “But I’ve never looked forward to a hotel room, and I’ve dreamed of the Starscape Caves all my life.”

“There’s only two seats,” said Hogg. The words were neutral, but nobody who heard him would have thought he was happy about the situation.

DaSaenz frowned slightly. To Daniel — he didn’t look at Hogg — he said, “I’ll arrange ground vehicles for your servants, though of course they won’t be necessary at the manor.”

This is not what I want to do, Daniel thought. He hoped his irritation didn’t show on his face.

“Mother isn’t feeling quite well this morning,” DaSaenz said. “And of course she’s seen the caves many times. She’s sure she’ll be ready to greet you after a brief rest, however, and she looks forward to doing so after I’ve guided you through the caves.”

It is what Miranda wants to do, and that’s why we’re on Jardin to begin with. Of course Adele could by herself handle the initial meeting with their prospective employers…and from her comment, it sounded like she would prefer to do so.

“I think we’ll be all right without you for the time being, Hogg,” Daniel said, meeting his servant’s eyes. “You can follow in a cab if you like, or you can spend the afternoon on your own. I’ll be back by evening to check on matters, regardless of where Miranda and I decide to sleep for the next few days.”

He looked at daSaenz. “You can arrange that, I trust?” Daniel said.

“Yes, of course,” daSaenz agreed. “I’ll put a car and driver at your disposal for as long as you stay on Jardin.”

“I guess I’ll check out one a’ these bars,” Hogg said. He wasn’t happy, but he knew better than to argue. He slouched away.

Adele nodded crisply and with Tovera started back toward the Princess Cecile. Daniel wasn’t sure whether or not she had already arranged a meeting with General Storn or his agents.

She was probably right in believing it was better that the initial contact be in her hands. Spies made Daniel uncomfortable. He got along with Adele by consciously ignoring that other aspect of her life.

“Very well, Master daSaenz,” Daniel said. “We’ll be pleased to accompany you.”

He took Miranda’s hand and helped her step into the rear of the aircar — there were no doors. Miranda didn’t need help, but if Daniel hadn’t done so their host would have offered his arm.

And Daniel wasn’t going to have that.