Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 28

The pirates had been cruising at low thrust, just enough to maintain a semblance of gravity. There was no reply by radio, but two and then the third vessel came up to what was probably full power. As Adele watched, one vessel entered the Matrix. The other pirates followed a moment later.

“I don’t blame the locals for not chasing them off,” Daniel said, back on the two-way link. “But they ought to be able to smash the water buffalo. Still, it’s not our business.”

Adele was sure that Daniel did blame the Peltry forces. She understood that it was considered polite to be charitable to incompetents, but she had never been able to fathom why.

“Princess Cecile, this is Newtown Control,” the radio voice said unexpectedly. “Is Captain Leary aboard, over?”

Without hesitation, Vesey sent an alert to Adele’s console, passing the call to her. Adele, feeling her voice harden further with each word, said, “Ground, this is Princess Cecile. Captain Leary is aboard. What is your reason for asking, over?”

“Princess Cecile,” said Newtown Control, “the Tarbell Stars have directed that Captain Leary and his staff report as soon as they arrive to Christopher Robin, the Minister of War. The Ministry will send an aircar to pick them up, over.”

“Message received,” Adele said without discussing the matter with Daniel. “Princess Cecile out.”

Instead of turning her head toward Daniel, Adele expanded his face on her display. Over the two-way link she said, “Well, it gives you plenty of time to change.”

Daniel stretched at his console. “It would,” he said, “but I think I’ll wear these utilities, like the civilian captain I am. I’ll wear a saucer hat, though.”

He frowned slightly and added, “You know, I think it might be just as well if you weren’t with me. Though if you want to come, of course…?”

“I can check with the local representative of our principal during the time,” Adele said calmly. She knew that Daniel liked to keep a distance from her intelligence activities, but there was more going on here. “Is there any particular reason that you’d like me to be absent?”

Daniel laughed; the question seemed to have restored his normal good humor. “Not really,” he said. “Well, the same reason you didn’t give a real answer to the demand. We knew we’ll be working with the Minister of War, but…”

He frowned again and said, “There are a lot of people who can give me orders. They all wear RCN uniforms. More to the point, none of them are jumped-up quartermasters like Christopher Robin, sitting behind desks in the back of beyond.”

Adele smiled. Lady Mundy understood Captain Leary’s reaction very clearly. Another person would have laughed out loud.

Newtown on Peltry

“Captain Leary?” said the man waiting on the pier in a white uniform without rank insignia. “I’m Captain Walters. I’m to escort you and your staff to the Minister of War.”

Daniel eyed the aircar behind Walters. It would seat twelve in the benches running along the sides of the passenger compartment; there was a cab in front for the driver.

“Is that Army?” Hogg said, frowning. “It sure looks like it.”

“It doesn’t have armor,” Daniel said. “Police, maybe. A paddy wagon, I shouldn’t wonder.”

Walters was young and had a fluffy blond beard which contrasted with the flush of his skin. “His Excellency wasn’t sure how many personnel you would be bringing. I thought it best to borrow a vehicle from the Quick Response Force of the National Police. It is not a prison van.”

“I’ve ridden paddy wagons before,” Daniel said mildly. “We can leave whenever you’re ready, Master Walters.”

Walters looked past Hogg and Daniel and frowned. “I’m to bring your staff with you, Captain Leary,” he said.

“That’s me,” said Hogg, sauntering past Walters toward the aircar. The female driver watched him silently. She had shut down her fans.

“I distinctly remember His Excellency telling me there would be a woman!” Walters said.

“Then he’s going to be disappointed,” Daniel said, walking around the aide’s other side. He had told Hogg about the summons from Minister Robin, but he probably wouldn’t have needed to. Hogg automatically got a chip on his shoulder when he had to deal with what he considered uppity foreigners — who were basically anybody who wasn’t a Cinnabar citizen.

“Say, but if you find one,” Hogg said, “see if she’s got a friend. I don’t know anybody yet on this pisspot world.”

“Drive to the Ministry!” Walters called to the driver as he got in behind them. He banged the door shut. The back had a cage of heavy wire. It could be covered with a tarpaulin, but at present the mesh was open to the sky.

The driver balanced her six motors and lifted. The two beneath the stern squealed loudly at idle. Probably why she’d shut down while she waited, Daniel thought, but the sound muted once the oil was at full pressure.

“I was expecting to call on the President as soon as I’d changed,” Daniel said truthfully to Walters. He raised his voice only slightly.

Walters had seated himself on the back end of Daniel’s bench. He slid closer so that he didn’t have to lower his dignity by shouting and said, “You’re welcome to see President Menandros, but if you want to discuss the war you’ll be very disappointed. If you’re a wine connoisseur, the President is your man.”

Daniel nodded with a smile. For the first time the aide sounded like a real human being instead of the puffed-up retainer of a puffed-up bureaucrat. He said, “Then perhaps I’ll get on better with Master Robin than I feared I would from his summons.”

Walters flushed again. “He is the Minister of War of the Tarbell Stars, Captain Leary,” he said.

“Right,” said Hogg. “And me and the young master is Cinnabar citizens. So now we’ve decided who’s the class act on, what’s the name of it again? Peltry.”

The driver flew them around a large courtyard building, three stories tall like the square structures to either side of it. The front entranceway was covered by a cornice supported on full-height pillars, but the back was an alley not much wider than the aircar. The driver settled to the alley pavement skillfully, keeping a degree of forward motion to steady the vehicle despite the currents eddying between the buildings. She shut off the motors.

“His Excellency thought it would be better for you to arrive without fanfare,” Walters said. “There are spies in Newtown, you see.”

Yes, Daniel thought. We’re working for some of them.

Storn’s officers weren’t the only spies on Peltry, of course. But it was equally obvious that entering by the back door wasn’t going to keep Daniel’s presence a secret from the Upholders and their 5th Bureau backers.

I wonder if Robin is hoping to hide us from his President?

The aircar had landed just ahead of an unobtrusive door in the back wall of the War Ministry. Walters removed an electronic key from his breast pocket and inserted it in the lock. The heavy door opened outward; it wouldn’t have cleared the side of the car if they’d been directly in front of it.

Walters gestured Daniel and Hogg into a dim-lit anteroom. “There’s no guard,” the aide said, “because there’s only this one key. His Excellency keeps it himself. Being entrusted with it was a great honor for me.”

Hogg sniffed, but Daniel was glad that he didn’t say what he was obviously thinking: if you think an electronic lock will keep out anyone but the key-holder, you haven’t met Adele. Which was true, of course.