Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 29

The anteroom was tight for three people. Daniel wondered what would have happened if he had brought a staff of ten.

Walters pressed a button in the wall. A green light winked above the inner door, which he then pushed open. “Your Excellency, the visitors are here. They’re both male.”

There hadn’t been a lock. The light was simply to indicate that the person within was free.

Christopher Robin had risen from his wooden desk. He faced Daniel and Hogg with a noble expression. The large office beyond was empty of furniture except for three chairs and the smaller desk set near the door to which Walters went.

Robin was large without being really fat. He would have been an imposing man even without the white leather uniform glittering with medals and braid. Adele’s briefing mentioned that Robin was the Marshal Commanding All Military Forces of the Tarbell Stars. Apparently it was in that guise he had decided to meet the Cinnabar advisors rather than as the civilian Minister of War.

In official Tarbell records Robin was a former Admiral of the Kostroman Navy. Kostroman naval ranks didn’t rise to admiral, and the captains had to be members of the ruling families; Robin’s father had been a dockyard welder and his mother a schoolteacher.

Robin had been in the Kostroman navy, as a quartermaster. He had left his position and Kostroma ahead of an investigation. That said, Tarbell’s Ministry of War was well organized and well run — uniquely among the government bureaus.

“Seat yourselves, please,” Robin said, gesturing to the chairs facing the front of the desk. Daniel walked around to take one.

“I’ll stand,” said Hogg. He leaned against the door they had entered by.

Robin laughed and sat down on his own chair though that left Hogg glowering at his back. He said, “Captain Leary, I’ve heard a great deal about you and Lady Mundy.”

“Friends of the Tarbell Stars thought the Princess Cecile could be useful to your government in fighting the Upholders,” Daniel said. He ignored the reference to Adele.

“Indeed, indeed,” Robin said. He took off his saucer hat — leather as well, it appeared — and set it on the desk. “The Upholders have three modern destroyers, one of which has a crew of Fleet veterans. Not so very impressive, you might say, but we have only three destroyers which are really serviceable, plus the destroyer which recently came to us when Nabis decided to join the Tarbell Stars.”

That hadn’t been in the briefing materials, Daniel thought. Aloud he said, “When did Nabis join? I’d understood they were taking a strongly independent line?”

“The former ruler, Peter Langland, certainly was independent,” Robin said with a chuckle. “He asked for help from us and from Karst to resist pressure from the Upholders. Karst sent a regiment — which promptly assassinated Langland and started looting the capital. The locals rose up and slaughtered about half of them. The provisional Nabis government was happy to join Tarbell when our troops arrived.”

That was too recent to have been in the briefing materials. No doubt Adele would be getting an update from her sources right now.

“Anyway,” Robin said, “I’d like you and your officers to transfer to the Nabis destroyer, the Katchaturian, and whip her into shape. I’ll provide Tarbell officers for your corvette. I think that’s the most efficient way to use the available resources.”

A number of ways to respond riffled through Daniel’s mind like the pages of a flipbook. “I don’t think we’ll do that,” he said mildly. “I think we’ll be able to work out something satisfactory when I’ve got a little more information, though.”

Daniel coughed into his fist, enough of a pause to allow Robin to absorb the idea but not to respond, then said, “You mentioned the Upholder destroyers but you didn’t say that the rebels are also believed to be negotiating for a heavy cruiser. Can your own cruiser be readied in time to meet it?”

Both of Adele’s sources were certain that General Krychek was arranging the transfer of an Alliance cruiser to the Upholders. On paper the rebels were buying a hulk for scrap value. The reality was that the paperwork had been switched with that of a sister ship which was old but fully functional.

Robin certainly knew that. Either he was testing how much Daniel knew, or he was simply trying to hide the real situation from his new advisor.

“The Maria Theresa can’t be returned to use,” Robin said without hesitating. “What I can do is configure a pair of modern transports as missile ships. The Upholders can’t fight a battle of maneuver. If we can overwhelm the cruiser they may be getting, then any surviving ships will lose heart and flee. The war’s over then.”

That’s a good plan, Daniel thought. His opinion of the Minister was going up.

“We’re getting the missiles from Cinnabar stocks,” Robin went on. “I suspect you may know more about that than I do.”

You’re wrong, Daniel thought.

“Anyway, they’re Alliance missiles captured in the recent war and being shipped to us as scrap. I’ve just been informed that they’ve arrived on Danziger, which is the usual transfer point for the cluster.”

“My crew and I can help in refitting the transports as warships,” Daniel said.

Robin grimaced and spread his hands in a dismissive gesture. “We have dockyards here,” he said. “Perhaps when it comes to fitting the fire control a specialist might be helpful. The Katchaturian is too important a ship for me to just hope that Langland did a good job of maintaining it and training its crew!”

Daniel pursed his lips. Robin was being forceful, but he didn’t repeat his initial error of trying to give orders to someone who wasn’t under his command.

“I think we can find a useful compromise,” Daniel said. “Give me command of the Katchaturian. I’ll treat her and the Sissie as a small squadron and work them up together. That is, if I have a free hand with the Katchaturian’s crew?”

Robin snorted. “You have it,” he said. “Hang a few of them if you think that’ll wake the others up. The officers are Nabis gentry, so that might be a good idea. The crew is whoever signed on, of course. Some Nabis, most not.”

“All right,” said Daniel, rising. “You’ll arrange that I have any authorizations I need?”

“Walters, see that Major Berners gives Leary whatever he wants,” Robin said. “And guides him around personally.”

“Yes, your Excellency!” Walters said. “I’ll take him straight to Berners.”

“Say, Leary?” Robin said. “I know the destroyer’s under strength. How would you like to take over the Nabis ground troops too? I shifted the Nabis Capital Regiment to Peltry and put a Tarbell regiment on Nabis, just for safety. The Nabis troops really are from Nabis, you see — Langland was trying to make the planet great, the way it was before the Hiatus.”

“Yes,” Daniel said. There were many questions, many ways that could go wrong. His assumption was to assume he could deal with whatever luck or the gods threw him. There were always too many potential side-effects to prepare for all of them.

“Then I think we’re done here, Leary,” Robin said. “Walters, take him to Berners.”

They left by the front door of the office. Daniel wondered how he was going to get back to the Princess Cecile, but he would deal with that when the time came.