Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 21

Daniel bent to the mass without speaking. He touched it, finding metal which was too thick to bend under the pressure of his hand.

He felt lower to get to the edge from which he could lift a piece and feel the bottom. He expected to find bits of rock which had spalled off the wall when supporting pyrites had been eaten away.

Daniel lifted a glove.

He stood holding it. “DaSaenz, turn your light on!” he said. “I’ve found something!”

DaSaenz didn’t reply. A moment later Daniel heard the click of battens knocking together. He ran back to where they had left their guide but as he feared, he was too late.

“Daniel?” said Miranda.

“The bastard’s pulled the ladder up behind him!” Daniel said.

Cuvier Harbor, Jardin

Adele was lost in her work, pretty much as always. Some of the material in the files which Major Grozhinski had provided duplicated or at least supplemented Mistress Sand’s files, but Cinnabar could only guess at what the 5th Bureau was doing in the Tarbell Stars — let alone what they intended.

The plural in speaking of the 5th Bureau was necessary here. Storn had laid out in detail the cluster assets both of his diocese and that of his rival Krychek. Storn’s activities had been limited to observation and to increasing his ability to observe — particularly on the worlds overseen by Krychek’s diocese.

The First Diocese had been encouraging separatist movements on the more important worlds of his sector. That hadn’t been quite as useful as Krychek might have hoped when rebellion against the Tarbell Government had broken out on Ithaca.

There was a great deal of hostility to President for Life Menandros throughout the sector, but the planetary leaders didn’t care for one another much either. The rebels formed a Council of the Upholders of the Freedom of the Tarbell Stars, but it was a talking shop which spent its time in ill-natured squabbles. The Council could not have successfully maintained a rebellion even against a foolish coxcomb like Menandros if Krychek had not provided personnel for administrative positions among the Upholders.

Does Krychek think they won’t be noticed if they’re not officially in command? Adele wondered. Another possibility was the one which concerned General Storn: that Krychek had Guarantor Porra’s support, so that he didn’t have to be concerned about Pleasaunce learning of his plot.

Under other circumstances Adele would have been sharing her task with Cory and Cazelet, not so much to reduce her workload as to bring them up to speed about the situation. This was the first night of the landfall, however, and both her deputies — their position unofficial but beyond any question — were sampling the entertainments of Cuvier City.

Both men would be working beside Adele if she had asked, and their companions, Hale and Vesey respectively, would have been uncomplaining if disappointed. They all felt they owed Adele more than she thought they did, and they trusted her judgment implicitly.

Her lips quirked. Adele was demonstrating her good judgment by not calling them away from their fun. She didn’t believe she had ever been young in the sense that people seemed to mean it, but she had observed humanity closely enough that she understood the concept.

The watch officer was Chief Engineer Pasternak. He was competent for any question involving the Power Room or the propulsion system. Astrogation was a closed book to him, and Adele would probably be as useful as Pasternak if the Princess Cecile had to leave the planet.

There would be plenty of time for Cory and Cazelet to study the Tarbell Stars on the twenty-day voyage from Jardin. And if there wasn’t, then Adele herself would be enough as she had always been enough in the past.

I have flaws. I don’t have the flaw of false modesty.

She was looking at the military and particularly naval strength of the Upholders, since that was probably the most significant factor. It would certainly be the first concern of her colleagues.

For the most part the Upholder fleet was the collection of scraps and antiques which Adele had learned to expect in hinterlands like the Tarbell Stars, but there were exceptions. The three destroyers were of recent Alliance construction, and the officers and crew of one of them were ex-Fleet. That didn’t prove Krychek’s connivance as there was a considerable number of Fleet and RCN spacers freed by the Treaty of Amiens. Some of them preferred naval duties to those of the merchant service.

There was also a modern heavy cruiser. That —

Adele’s holographic screen blurred. She came awake to her present surroundings, blinking in surprised anger. Tovera, standing beside the signals console, had just slid her hand through the display.

“Yes?” Adele said. She was still angry at having been dragged out of her studies, but she knew Tovera wouldn’t have interrupted her without a good reason.

“Hogg wants to talk to you,” Tovera said with her usual lack of expression. She stepped aside, though Hogg didn’t move closer.

Is Hogg afraid of me? Adele thought. Or is he simply deferring to Tovera’s ownership interest?

“Ma’am,” Hogg said. His arms were at his sides, and he was standing as straight as Adele had ever seen him. “The master’s not back and he hasn’t called in neither. I know, you’re not his mother and I don’t worry about him normal like, but I been talking in some of the bars.”

“Go on,” Adele said. She had no idea of what time it was. She called up a real-time image on top of her screen and viewed Cuvier Harbor at dusk, much later than she had expected it to be.

“You see the thing is, the cave wasn’t open to strangers till seven years back when the current lady took over when her husband died,” Hogg said. “It was daSaenz family and maybe friends after a big dinner or the like. Not something a junior officer from a supply ship gets invited to. Dorst was lying about being there, and that means I don’t know what’s going on. And the master’s not back.”

Adele began searching. She used the control wands through her personal data unit to access her console and through that the thirty-odd databases in Cuvier City which she had coupled during the time the Princess Cecile had been here.

Hogg said something. From the corner of Adele’s eye she saw Tovera move him back so that he wouldn’t again try to interrupt. When Adele was searching, she ignored the people around her. If they thought that she should give them a running account of the process, they were going to be disappointed.

Adele grimaced. She wasn’t sure there was a definitive answer, but she had what was probably good enough for current requirements.

“I can’t at present prove that the caves were not open to the public thirty years ago when Midshipman Dorst landed here in the Orangeleaf…” Adele said to Hogg and Tovera. Pasternak was in his office in the Power Room; only she and the servants were on the bridge. “But there are ample references to them being opened one day a week when Carlotta daSaenz became head of the family seven years ago. At her father’s death, by the way; her husband wasn’t a daSaenz, she was.”

As she spoke, she shifted the material from Major Grozhinski into a separate cache, then threw the mechanical switch under her saddle to cut it off completely. It could not be accessed on line; even Adele herself would have to snap the switch before she could get to the data.

“What’s that mean?” Hogg said. He seemed bewildered as well as being angry.

“It could be nothing,” Adele said, getting to her feet. She paused; she had been sitting in the same position for long enough that her circulation took a moment to respond to movement. “Dorst may have gotten a special dispensation, just as Daniel did. But we’ll visit the caves and ask. Hogg, can you line up transportation?”

“I’ve got a truck up on the street,” he said. “Six wheels, a lot like we used for hauling at Bantry. Do you want something fancy?”

“That will be fine,” Adele said. Hogg wasn’t a good driver, but a familiar vehicle was a safe enough choice under the circumstances. She strode off the bridge, heading for the Down companionway. “Oh, and Hogg? Bring a long gun. I’m not expecting trouble, but it’s as well to be prepared.”

“There’s an impeller in the back already,” Hogg said. “And I’ve got a pistol.”

Tovera laughed. The sound echoed in the armored companionway like the chittering of bats.

“If it’s pistol range,” Tovera said, “leave it in your pocket. That’s for me and the mistress.”