Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 25

She paused and swallowed before saying, “The servants will be punished in whatever fashion you direct, Captain Leary.”

“Oh, no!” said Miranda.

Daniel thought about what his father would do if faced with a similar situation. Corder Leary wasn’t cruel, but he had been known to punish a mistake brutally to make others more careful in similar circumstances.

“Brutally” didn’t mean the same thing on civilized Cinnabar that it might here on Jardin, of course.

“I don’t think any punishment is called for here,” Daniel said. “It appears that your servants made the same mistake you did, after all. As I did, for that matter: trusting the son of the house.”

“I am so sorry,” Carlotta said. “So very sorry.”

“I gather that Timothy daSaenz attempted to lose Captain Leary and his wife in the depths of the cave,” Adele said. “Where they wouldn’t be found even when we learned what he had done. He didn’t realize that Captain Leary had a pair of RCN goggles which not only allowed him to see in the dark –”

She raised the goggles in her right hand. She must have found them in the cargo pocket of his trousers.

Where I’d forgotten them.

“– but also have an inertial compass which allowed him to retrace his steps precisely.”

“Oh!” said Miranda. “I didn’t realize…”

Her voice trailed off. She looked down at Daniel in dawning surprise.

“No, that’s wrong,” Daniel croaked. “I’d forgotten they were there. I just went back to childhood when Hogg was teaching me always to know where I was in the woods and how I’d gotten there.”

Adele’s face went blank, but Miranda’s expression was softening again.

“I went right back to basics,” Daniel said. “I learned about goggles in the Academy, but the shock of being dumped in that hole — I just grabbed the first way out.”

“And we did get out,” said Miranda. “We came straight back to the entrance. I was never in doubt.”

She bent and kissed Daniel on the forehead. He stiffened, but her lips were as soft as a warm breeze.

“Oh, did I hurt you?” Miranda said in concern.

“No, no,” said Daniel. “Not you. I flinched for what it might be, is all.”

“I’m so sorry.” Carlotta repeated into the handkerchief.

“How is, ah, Timothy doing?” Daniel said. He was curious, but he was also trying to change the subject.

“He’ll live,” Tovera said as she walked to them from the Medicomp. She had put her sub-machine gun back into its nest in the attaché case. “He may even be able to feed himself one of these days. He’s not going to walk, though, and I’ll give long odds that he won’t be able to speak complete sentences.”

Carlotta made no sound except a gasp. She looked as though lightning had struck her.

“We can’t be sure of that so soon!” said Miranda. “It’s far too early to give a prognosis.”

Tovera shrugged and smiled. Fortunately Carlotta wasn’t looking at the smile. “Maybe so,” Adele’s servant said. “I’ve read a lot of Medicomp displays over the years, though. You’ve got quite a wrist on you, mistress.”

Carlotta sobbed. She ran to the Medicomp and hugged the cabinet. Miranda joined her, putting her arms around the shoulders of the older woman.

Daniel grimaced. Why did Tovera have to say that? But that wasn’t a question you could usefully ask a sociopath.

And — Daniel grinned, mildly embarrassed at doing so — the truth was, he was just as glad that Timothy was in a bad state. Though he was sorry that Miranda apparently felt it was on her conscience.

Tovera grinned back at Daniel. That sobered him immediately.

Adele said, “I’ve checked the house security system. Carlotta wasn’t informed that the Princess Cecile had landed. Today Timothy told her that he was going to a club in Cuvier and that he might not return to the manor until tomorrow. He has stayed in town overnight in the past.”

Daniel almost shook his head but thought better of it. He’d been feeling better ever since he woke up, but that was a low standard. It would be some time before he could do normal things without remembering what had just happened.

“Do you think it was really about the caves?” Daniel said. “That seems a strange thing to care so much about.”

He pitched his voice low as Adele had hers, though Carlotta and Miranda seemed engrossed in conversation. Neither was now crying.

Adele shrugged. “I don’t have enough information to be sure,” she said. “Nothing we know suggests that Carlotta is wrong, however. And it was the caves that Miranda’s father spoke of.”

“Sure, but he really meant — ” Daniel said.

He stopped himself. He didn’t know what Captain Dorst had really been thinking of. Certainly he might have been mourning the beautiful heiress or even his own lost youth when he spoke of Starscape Caves. But it was at least possible that the caves and their glowworms had hit him as hard as they later did Timothy daSaenz.

“The glowworms are interesting,” Daniel said at last. “They’re unique in my experience, but then a lot of life forms are unique. That’s part of the marvel of being a spacer. But glowworms weren’t anything special to me.”

Miranda and Carlotta rejoined them. Each had an arm around the other’s waist.

“Daniel,” Miranda said. “Our plan was that I should return to Cinnabar when you left for your other business. That’s correct?”

“Yes,” said Daniel, wondering where this was going. If Miranda insisted on staying aboard the Princess Cecile after this experience, well, he couldn’t blame her. “There’s plenty of traffic so we ought to be able to find suitable passage for you. But if you don’t –”

“I want to stay here,” Miranda said firmly. “Carlotta and I have talked it over. There’s nothing I need to do on Cinnabar and, well, I’d like to see more of Jardin. And the caves.”

Daniel opened his mouth, then shut it. After a moment he said, “I think that’s a good idea. And of course you can easily return to Cinnabar if you recall there’s something you need to do after all.”

Hogg looked at Carlotta and said, “You think that’s safe, young master?”

“I think you’re forgetting who saved whom in the cave, Hogg,” said Miranda sharply. “But yes, it’s quite safe.”

Carlotta had drawn herself straighter at Hogg’s question. She smiled sadly and said, “It is right that the question be asked, Master Hogg. But yes, it is safe. Miranda is now the only child I have.”

Adele coughed. “I think I should go back to the ship and inform the officers of the situation in person,” she said. “Will you and Miranda be returning with me?”

“No, I’ll stay the night — ” he looked up at Carlotta ” — if?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Tomorrow we’ll see how I feel,” Daniel said. “I’ll be back for a time, anyway. What do we have for transportation?”

“There are aircars up to ten-place and ground vehicles,” Carlotta said. “Also drivers. Anything you wish is yours.”

“Can we have the one I drove up from the cave in?” Tovera said unexpectedly. “I engaged the automatic stabilizer and it was very good.”

“Timothy’s car?” said Carlotta. “Yes, of course. Especially that.”

“I’ll stay,” said Hogg. He wasn’t asking a question. The stocked impeller was still slung over his right shoulder.

“Yes,” said Carlotta. “You may sleep in your master’s chamber, if you wish.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Miranda. “This is still our honeymoon, or it will be when Daniel recovers a little more.

“Come along, Tovera,” Adele said. “I don’t think we’re needed here.”

Daniel thought he saw the ghost of a smile on Adele’s lips.