Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 26

Cuvier Harbor, Jardin

The signals officer of a corvette didn’t rate a private cabin, but Daniel had turned the captain’s Cruising Cabin over to Adele. It was only a bunk and a terminal just off the bridge so that the captain had a place to sleep for a few minutes when a situation was moving too fast for him to go to his Great Cabin on D Level directly below. On a corvette the Great Cabin was pretty cramped also, of course.

Adele appreciated the kindness. She could work anywhere, but that very focus made her a difficult cabin-mate for anyone else.

Tovera tapped on the hatch. It had to be Tovera because she was in the corridor outside.

“Yes,” Adele called without looking away from her display.

She was determining the best way to access the fire and emergency services of Newtown, the capital of Peltry. They seemed to be wholly private and decentralized, which would make it difficult to take them all out of action if required. Adele didn’t know why she might want to do that, but she never felt that time spent on preparations was wasted.

Tovera opened the hatch. Miranda entered.

“Oh,” said Adele. She blanked her screen by reflex, but there was nothing on it that Miranda shouldn’t see. For that matter, there was nothing on it that anyone was likely to be able to identify, let alone understand, at a glance.

“When Lieutenant Vesey told me that you were here, I thought I’d come find you,” Miranda said diffidently. “I wasn’t serving any purpose on the quay.”

“That was what I thought also,” Adele said. Miranda was easy to be around, which was an unusual thought for Adele. That didn’t really matter: Adele had since childhood cultivated the ability to tune people out. It was a pleasant change, however.

Adele glanced at the real-time panorama which ran at the top of her display. Daniel had assembled his crew on the quay and had informed them from the boarding ramp that the Sissie would not be returning directly to Cinnabar. Instead he would be taking his ship on a dangerous undertaking which had only a small chance of profit. Those spacers who wanted out would have their passage paid back to Cinnabar with full wages and a bonus.

Daniel then shook the hand of each and every spacer who signed on. The line of those waiting to reenlist hadn’t yet finished moving past the formalities to Daniel.

“Did anybody decide to go home?” Adele asked. Her first impulse had been to check the feed from the terminal on which Vesey was enrolling spacers and compare the number to the original crew list, but that would be discourteous.

I mustn’t disappoint my mother’s spirit, Adele thought wryly. She didn’t believe in an afterlife: all that remained of Esme Rolfe Mundy was in Adele’s memory. But Adele had a very good memory.

“Several hung back at first,” Miranda said, “but they seemed to be joining as the line moved.”

She leaned over Adele’s shoulder to peer at the flat-plate screen. “That’s Brausher on the end, isn’t it?” Miranda said, pointing. “She said she was going back because her daughter’s pregnant. But she’s in the line now.”

Miranda straightened and moved back slightly. “It’s going to be like this always in our marriage, isn’t it?” she said. “Daniel shipping out and me staying behind.”

“I suppose so,” Adele said. She almost added, “I hope so,” but she didn’t need to say that. It probably wouldn’t have surprised Miranda, though.

“This week here on Jardin has been wonderful,” Miranda said with her face to the outer bulkhead. “Jardin really is a paradise, just as my father said.”

Adele thought back on her week, spent mostly aboard the Princess Cecile. She had sifted Grozhinski’s data and interfiled it with the material she had brought from Cinnabar. At each stage she had considered what the new situation meant for Daniel’s existing plan, and what further information she should try to gather when they reached Peltry.

“Yes,” Adele said. She smiled faintly. “It’s been a good week.”

“Adele, I have a personal question,” Miranda said. “You don’t have to answer me.”

“Yes,” said Adele. Of course she didn’t have to answer a question. Under most circumstances refusing to would be more revealing than an answer, however.

The last figures on the harborfront had reached Vesey. Only Brausher remained to sign the crew list.

“Adele, do you ever worry that I’m going to take Daniel away from you?” Miranda said. “From you, from the Princess Cecile; from the RCN?”

“No,” said Adele. Her frown was almost as slight as her smile of moments before. “I don’t think about the future, to be honest, just the task in front of me. But even if I did think about the future, I wouldn’t — Miranda, I don’t worry about Cinnabar falling into the sun either.”

Miranda laughed. “Yes, that is silly, isn’t it?” she said. “Daniel will never leave the RCN, so of course you wouldn’t worry about that. But I won’t try, Adele. I wouldn’t want to do that even if I could.”

Daniel was addressing the newly enrolled crew again from the boarding ramp. Adele could listen if she chose to, but she knew the sort of inspiring talk Daniel gave his crews at times like these.

“I would miss Daniel,” Adele said. “If he died, if he left for any reason. But I think I would miss the community even more.”

Her lips smiled. Miranda flinched; she must have seen the sadness beneath Adele’s expression.

“Daniel isn’t the family of the Princess Cecile,” Adele said. “But the community wouldn’t exist without him to hold it together. And I would miss that very much. I’d never had a real family until I met Daniel on Kostroma.”

The crew began boarding in a jaunty column, talking and apparently singing as they trotted up the ramp.

“But you grew up at your home until, until the conspiracy, didn’t you?” Miranda said.

Until my parents and sister were executed on the orders of Speaker Leary, Adele added in her mind. Aloud she said, “My father cared very much about political power; my mother cared about the family name and prestige. I didn’t care about either of those things, and they didn’t care about me.”

“I’m so sorry,” Miranda whispered.

The words shocked Adele. She said, “Don’t be. I have everything a person could want. Well, a person like me.”

To change the subject and because she had just remembered it, Adele opened the cabinet beneath her seat and brought out the metal-plated glove. “Can you tell me what this is, please?” she said. “I found it in the trousers Daniel was wearing in the cave, stuffed into his pocket on top of the goggles.”

Miranda took the object. The iron plating on the upper side was a quarter of an inch thick, so it was quite heavy.

“I don’t…” Miranda started. Then, “Oh, yes — in the grotto. We’d found what must have been the body of one of the early explorers. Just then Timothy pulled up the ladder and I forgot all about it. Daniel must have stuck this glove in his pocket.”

“I see,” said Adele. “Do you remember anything about the body?”

Miranda made a moue. “Not really. There was no light except the glowworms, remember, and we didn’t have long. I think it was just the clothing left that the glowworms had deposited iron on.”

Adele turned the object over. The bare underside was made of some tightly-woven synthetic.

“The reason I wondered,” Adele said, “is that there are only three fingers. It doesn’t seem to have been a human glove.”

“I don’t understand,” Miranda said.

“It’s a big universe,” Adele said as she returned the glove to the drawer. “And a very old one.”

Tovera tapped on the hatch and opened it enough to look in. “Six would like to see his wife before we lift,” she announced. “Which is going to be soon.”

Adele got up. “I’ll walk with you to the bridge,” she said as she gestured Miranda to the hatch.

Next stop, Peltry in the Tarbell Stars.