Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 23

Captain Dorst may well not have had anything on his conscience, but Daniel had known enough RCN officers — and been an RCN officer — to know that things that bothered civilians might well slide off an officer’s conscience. The Academy taught many things to cadets, but the absolutely necessary attribute for an RCN officer was one that wasn’t taught: you had to be willing to kill. Once you’ve overcome that basic human inhibition, there’s really nothing that you might not be willing to consider.

Except perhaps for cheating at cards. A cheater would not go undetected for three years and would not remain in the RCN for an hour after detection.

“The glowworms look brighter to me now,” Miranda said. “I guess after being in the dark so long.”

Daniel turned his head as they crossed the antechamber. His first view of the cave, only a few hours earlier, felt like something remembered from his childhood. The blurred patches in the uncertain distance of the walls and on the floor did seem sharper than they had initially. The glowworms here seemed scattered after the wall-to-wall splendor of the pit in the interior of the mountain.

“You know,” Daniel said, “I haven’t seen any of the glowworms move. Though they must, there was the one on my foot after –”


Daniel dropped the tunic and was lifting his left hand when a blow stunned his forearm and cracked him on the head. He hit the stone floor. His right side was numb but his left forearm felt as though it had been dipped in molten lead.

Light flooded the antechamber. The lantern wobbled on daSaenz’ chest as he raised the guard’s long baton over his head in both hands for a finishing blow. There was someone behind him. Daniel kicked with his left leg, the only limb which was working at the moment.

DaSaenz gave a startled bleat and lurched forward. He no longer held the baton. He turned, lantern light sweeping across the chamber.

Miranda stepped into her blow. The baton flickered like black lightning, catching daSaenz on the top of the skull with a sound like that of a dropped melon.

DaSaenz sagged liquidly, falling on top of the lantern and plunging the chamber into darkness again.

* * *

Adele was on the passenger side of the cab, clinging to the frame of the open window with both hands; her left arm was across her body. With her feet braced against the firewall, her buttocks only touched the seat when the vehicle jolted over a particularly violent bump.

The seat had slapped her repeatedly.

“We don’t know that there’s a problem, Hogg,” Adele said, raising her voice more than she cared to do in order to be heard over the road noise. “Until I have a chance to look at the situation, neither you nor Tovera are to do anything.”

Hogg grunted. That might not have been a response to her words: the truck had bounced badly again. His hands were mottled with his grip on the steering yoke.

Tovera stood in the open truck bed, somehow staying attached to the vehicle. There were lugs for tie-downs along the sides. Perhaps Tovera had tied herself in with a length of cable from her attaché case.

Adele didn’t turn to look. Hanging on was as much as she could handle. Tovera had known what the ride was going to be like with Hogg driving. She had still insisted on being in the back where she had a better view of their environment and a quicker shot at any hostile portion of that environment.

They came around the corner between a rock wall and a drop-off. “We’re here!” Hogg said.

In the glare of their single working headlight appeared a squat building and beside it the three-place aircar in which Daniel and Miranda had ridden off six hours before. No one was visible in the vehicle or nearby.

They skidded to a halt on the gravel apron, throwing a cloud of dust ahead of them. Pebbles bounced against the gleaming aircar, but Hogg might not have done that deliberately.

Adele got out. Tovera swung to the ground beside her, the attaché case in her left hand and her miniaturized sub-machine gun openly in her right.

“Hogg, watch the back!” Tovera called.

“Right,” said Hogg, drawing the stocked impeller from behind the seats. “Get on with it.”

He and Tovera had a working relationship, much like that between Daniel and Adele. Each led when it was appropriate; each listened to the other’s advice. A task which required long-range firepower was Hogg’s responsibility, however much he might want to shake his master’s whereabouts out of somebody close at hand.

The attendant watched Adele through the armored glass as she approached the kiosk. “We’re looking for Captain Leary and his lady,” she said to the speaker plate under the window. “Where are they, please?”

Her tone was less polite than the words; but then, nobody who knew Adele expected warmth from her.

“Look, you’ll have to talk to the manor,” the attendant said, his voice tinny through the speaker. “I don’t have authority to talk to you.”

“I can open the cave up!” Tovera whispered urgently.

“No,” said Adele. She looked at the entrance, closed by what appeared to be a vault door.

I doubt Tovera could get through that, she thought. The hinges are internal.

But there was no need of that anyway. To the speaker plate she said, “You. Open the cave at once. Otherwise I’ll come in and do it.”

The attendant vanished beneath the level of the window without responding.

“Tovera, get me into this bunker,” Adele said. “Don’t damage the electronics if you can help. I’ll want them to open the door.”

“I can shoot through the wall!” said Hogg, which was probably true. A single osmium slug from his impeller might not do the job, but two or three pecking at the same point certainly would. It would be a waste of time.

“No,” said Adele without turning to look at him. “Watch your sector.”

Tovera had been readying the charges since Adele told her not to try to open the cave. If she wasn’t to blow open the cave, they had to get into the guardhouse. Tovera had reasonably assumed that the attendant wouldn’t be any more willing to let them into his control room than he had been to open the cave for them.

Now she scampered back to Adele, facing the long side of the building; the door was on the short side to their left. “Ready!” Tovera said; she had a small control mechanism in her hand.

“All right,” said Adele, covering her ears. “Hogg?”

“Blow it!” Hogg said.

The crack! was a single sound even though Adele knew that there were charges on both door hinges. A shard of metal struck the aircar’s body and ricocheted off, humming. Adele and Tovera walked to the side of the building.

“My turn!” said Hogg as he pushed past them, his impeller slung. Neither woman was in a mood to waste her breath arguing with him.

Hogg wrenched the door free — it hung askew by its bolt — and went in, the knife open in his left hand. Hogg knew not to kill the attendant, though other than the mess that wouldn’t have bothered Adele very much.

Hogg reappeared, dragging the attendant by the throat, Adele stepped into the building. The bitter haze of explosive made the fugg even more unpleasant. The attendant must have voided his bowels in fear.

She sat at the chair and explored the control system through her data unit; her holographic display was better than the building’s cheap flat-plate screen. The installation was really a terminal of the manor system rather than an independent computer. It had a recording function which Adele would examine later, but for now —

She threw an electronic switch. “This should open –” she called to the doorway.

The cave’s massive door began to whirr open. Miranda staggered out with Daniel. She was supporting him in a fireman’s carry, his right arm hanging across her shoulders so that she could grip his wrist. Blood had trickled down his cheek.

Hogg stopped kicking the attendant and with Tovera ran to the freed couple; Adele entered the system of daSaenz Manor. To each her specialty. Hogg had a great deal of experience with the cuts and breaks that you got in agricultural work and field sports; he would do anything first aid could accomplish. Adele, however —

“Mistress, we gotta get him to the ship!” Hogg shouted.

“I’m just dizzy,” Daniel said, his voice almost too weak to hear. “I’ll be fine in a bit.”

“There’s a Medicomp in the house,” Adele said, using the guardhouse microphone although the speaker plate wasn’t aligned well for the purpose. “We’ll use that. Can we take him in the aircar?”

“There’s an elevator in the cave,” Miranda said. “It goes right into the house, but it wasn’t working when we tried before.”

Daniel was sitting down. Miranda held him by the shoulders. His face was ashen except where blood from his scalp had leaked over it. He was mumbling something, probably that he was all right.

Adele found the control and turned it back on. “It’s working now,” she said. “But don’t use it until we’ve made sure that the other end is clear. Tovera, you can drive the aircar?”

“Yes,” said Tovera. She had clipped the sub-machine gun into a holster built into her tunic. She started for the vehicle.

“There’s room for three, Hogg,” Adele said. “Are you coming or staying with your master?”

“Coming,” said Hogg. He reached into his pocket and came out with a squat, short-barreled pistol which he offered to Miranda. “Here you go, mistress. In case.”

Tovera had the aircar’s fans spinning. Hogg got in one side of the back as Adele entered the other.

She put her data unit away and brought out her pistol. I might need either one at the Manor, she thought. But if I need the data unit, I’ll have more time to get it out.

Tovera didn’t drive well, but she made an adequate lift-off and started up the slope with the fans screaming in overload. Which was exactly what Adele would have been doing if she could have driven.