Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 17

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The store — The Compass Rose, Rare Manuscripts — was nestled between a high-end dress shop and a jewelry store with a uniformed concierge whose eyes had seen a great deal. He and Tovera traded glances as she followed Adele into the bookstore.

The shop was empty except for the fat man behind the counter. He looked up from a handwritten ledger and smiled. Glazed shelves resting on map drawers covered the sidewalls. There was a door into the back beside the counter.

“I’m told you have an original Thomas Middleton manuscript?” Adele said.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the proprietor. He was mostly bald, but his fringe of hair and small moustache were black. “Go through to the viewing rooms, please.”

He gestured to the door. “It’s laid out in the room to the right.”

Adele entered the back; the shopkeeper had returned to his ledger. Tovera stepped in front of her and opened the door. A bundle of stained paper, written on in spiky age-browned ink, was open on the table; above it was the faded ribbon with which it had been tied.

The stocky man who had been looking at the document nodded to Tovera, then to Adele when her servant retreated to the short hallway. Adele closed the door.

“Is that really a Thomas Middleton manuscript?” she said.

“Apparently,” the man said. “Jardin isn’t thought of as an intellectual center, but there’s a great deal of money here. There are whimsical collectors of all sorts, passing through as well as among the First Families themselves.”

He was probably in his late twenties, but he looked scarcely out of boyhood when he smiled, as he did now. “I’m Mikhail Grozhinski,” he said.

Adele set her data unit on the table, being careful not to disturb the manuscript. She began checking the name against her files.

“Your records will indicate that I’m a major in the 5th Bureau, Lady Mundy,” Grozhinski said calmly. “They may or may not tell you that I am the son of General Storn, whom you know. In this instance I’m acting as his envoy.”

“They didn’t tell me the relationship,” Adele said, entering new information in the file. When she delivered her report to Mistress Sand, the addition would be part of it. Without looking toward Grozhinski she said, “Are you here in your official capacity?”

“I am not,” said Grozhinski. “Lady Mundy, your participation in this affair has been cleared at the highest levels of your government — not of course that you’d be safe if things went really wrong. I am acting as a traitor to my own government, though in turn I’ll be a hero if we succeed. If you succeed.”

He plucked his loose-fitting tunic. It was a darker blue-gray than his gray-blue trousers. “I’m here on vacation with my friend Stephen,” he said. “He’s in a bistro, now, while I’m doing something boring. Stephan has nothing to do with my work — ” a wry smile ” — or any work, if it comes to that. But he amuses me.”

“If things go really wrong, as you put it,” Adele said, “I would expect to be dead. Political embarrassment is farther down my list of concerns.”

The risk of death had never concerned her very much. Personal failure concerned her a great deal.

She looked up at Grozhinski. “Why is General Storn unofficially involved in the Upholder Rebellion?” she said.

“The 5th Bureau’s Diocese Three has extended jurisdiction over about half the Tarbell Stars, including Peltry, the capital,” Grozhinski said. “Diocese One oversees the remainder of the cluster, including Ithaca, the center of the rebellion. Our brief — the Bureau’s brief — is to put down anti-Alliance feeling in the Tarbell Stars but not to involve ourselves in the cluster’s internal politics.”

Adele listened as she compared the words with the information in her files. She didn’t really have to look at the files; she had absorbed the important points before the Princess Cecile lifted from Cinnabar. She preferred the feeling of viewing a situation through an electronic filter, though, to getting the data first hand.

“Krychek is aiding the Upholders, however,” Grozhinski said. “My father suspects he’s actually behind the rebellion.”

“This is why Porra divides regions for observation, isn’t it?” Adele said. She entered the new information as she spoke. “Why hasn’t General Storn simply reported the situation instead of involving himself –”

She looked at Grozhinski again, this time for effect.

“– in treason?”

“General Storn…fears, I think, rather than actually suspects,” Grozhinski said, speaking for the first time with obvious care. “Fears that Krychek has mentioned his intention to the Guarantor and has not been prevented from going ahead.”

“If the Alliance were to absorb the Tarbell Stars,” Adele said. “It would be a clear violation of the Treaty of Amiens.”

“It would if the Cinnabar Senate were to view it as such,” Grozhinski agreed. “It is not certain –”

If he had been circumspect in suggesting that Guarantor Porra might know what Diocese One had under way, he was doubly that now.

“– that the Guarantor fully appreciates how badly the prolonged state of war with Cinnabar has strained our economy. The risk of complete economic and political collapse might not weigh as heavily on him as it does on my father. Collapse of both Cinnabar and ourselves, of course.”

“I see,” Adele said as she entered more information.

For the first time Adele understood why Mistress Sand had encouraged her to get involved in this mare’s nest. Like Storn, Mistress Sand was concerned about the political effect of renewed war. The Republic had come very close to breaking up in class conflict before the Treaty of Amiens; and if Cinnabar itself lost cohesion, the planets it now ruled would go off in a hundred different directions.

That said, Cinnabar agents meddling in a region which was clearly within the Alliance’s sphere of influence constituted a cause of war also. Sand wanted Krychek’s plotting to fail, but not if that meant the Republic’s obvious involvement. She must be hoping that a corvette in private registry — and her crew — would not be enough to catch the attention of Pleasaunce.

Grozhinski set an eight by four inch case on the table; it was less than two inches wide. “These are the log chips of a hundred and thirty ships trading in what is now Alliance space,” he said. “My father said you collect such things, so you might like them. The oldest is that of the Wideawake, which is pre-Hiatus.”

Adele set her wands down and opened the case. The chips were of varying sizes and appearance. The case must have been purpose-built, as each pocket precisely fitted the log in it.

“These aren’t copies,” Adele said.

“Father returned copies to the archives,” Grozhinski said. “But yes, these are the originals.”

He cleared his throat. “There is additional material — the background on matters we discussed here — at the end of the Wideawake log,” he said.

Adele closed the case, then put her personal data unit away. “Thank you,” she said, “and thank your father. I do indeed like them.”

She swung toward the door, then stopped and met Grozhinski’s eyes again. “If I may ask,” Adele said. “What is it you expect us — Captain Leary and I and the Princess Cecile — to do?”

“I haven’t the faintest notion,” Grozhinski said. “And if my father does, he’s kept it from me. What he said –”

Again the young man’s voice became careful.

“– is that though he has no idea of what can be done, he has seen ample evidence of Lady Mundy’s resourcefulness and that of her naval friend.”

Adele sniffed as she went out. A mare’s nest, she thought.

But a flattering appraisal nonetheless.