Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 32


Newtown on Peltry

“Mundy of Chatsworth to see the President,” Adele said to the uniformed doorman. “He’s been informed of my visit.”

She had come to the presidential palace in civilian clothing as Lady Mundy. The outfits Adele had brought from Cinnabar reflected her own taste, very dull by Peltry standards, but fortunately Yvette Mignouri was both young and from the more flamboyant Pleasaunce. The garments the Resident’s wife had left behind included some which suggested a basic tawdriness as well.

Adele had sent two of the most likely suits to the ship to be converted into Peltry-style court dresses: most spacers were expert tailors. In this case Woetjans had insisted on doing the sewing herself for the honor of it.

Adele could imagine her mother’s reaction: “Go and change at once! You look like a common prostitute!”

Adele smiled faintly. She didn’t, of course. Even wearing an outfit of saturated red and blue, she was no more sexually enticing than a similarly painted tramcar.

“Ah, a moment, please,” the doorman said, looking worried. He pressed a button. The fellow wore a pistol as part of his uniform, but it may never have been out of its holster.

Tovera was in gray today. She was as unobtrusive as one of the Sissie’s bunks.

A big man, blond where he still had a fringe of hair, bustled up from the interior: Dumouret, the butler, as Adele knew from Mignouri’s files. “Lady Mundy!” he said. “Come through, please. President Menandros will be so pleased to see you!”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Adele, walking past the relieved-looking doorman. Visits from foreign dignitaries were obviously not part of his routine.

Adele’s statement was true. Besides, her parents had been prominent politicians. She had grown up hearing much greater lies than the one Dumouret had just told.

Dumouret took them — took Adele; he seemed oblivious of Tovera beyond the fact that Lady Mundy had brought her maid — through a door to the left and then down a long corridor. The windows on the left opened onto a courtyard whose bushes had been trimmed into balls and pyramids. Fresh growth blurred the topiary with bright green tendrils.

The room at the end of the hallway had a front wall of ornate grillwork instead of being solid. There were upholstered chairs and couches along both sidewalls, but at the opposite end of the room three young women were playing cards with a man wearing loose garments of pink and orange in vertical stripes.

The gate had a latch mechanism, but Dumouret swung it open without hesitation; either it had not been locked, or the butler had an electronic key in his ornate signet ring. “Your highness,” he said. “Lady Mundy of Cinnabar is here to pay her respects.”

President Menandros looked up with a frown. Ignoring his master’s obvious displeasure, Dumouret ushered Adele through the gate. “You’ll recall, your highness,” the butler said, “that Lady Mundy is passing through the Tarbell Stars and wished to make your acquaintance.”

Menandros grimaced, but he got to his feet. Like the furniture — and despite the generous cut of his clothing — the president was overstuffed.

His face suddenly brightened. “Lady Mundy, I wonder if you’d like to try some of my wine,” Menandros said, gesturing to a sideboard with bottles and glasses. “Dumouret, pour her ladyship some of the Saturnia!”

“At once, your highness,” the butler said.

Tovera was standing beside a chair near the grill. The wall panels were of gray wood with very fine grain. Adele wondered if Tovera had chosen her outfit with the present background in mind.

Tovera was direct — brutally direct — but she was also intelligent. She noticed minute details which might affect her own duties.

Dumouret handed the glass to Adele. There wasn’t a chair for her at the table, so the butler stepped away to get one of those against the wall.

The three women — girls, rather — stared at Adele with vaguely petulant expressions. That didn’t necessarily mean they had anything against the newcomer: in Adele’s experience, women of a certain sort always looked petulant. Each wore a filmy pastel shift — blue, pink and yellow.

The wine was as pale as sunlight. Adele sipped it, feeling a tingle on her tongue and at the back of her nostrils. Menandros was watching her intently.

Adele lowered the glass and said, “I believe that my mother would have approved. I myself don’t have the palate to really judge.”

“Oh, do sit down,” said Menandros, suddenly solicitous. He gestured to the chair Dumouret had brought up. “Your mother is a connoisseur, then?”

Adele sat down. The chair’s wooden frame matched the room’s paneling.

“She was a connoisseur,” she said. “Mother has been dead for many years now.”

Executed as a traitor and her head displayed in the center of Xenos, to be precise, but Adele didn’t go to that level of detail. She had learned that it shocked people; particularly those who thought she was making a joke in bad taste.

Adele sipped more wine. The information she had received about President for Life Menandros was completely accurate — as she had expected. She wasn’t here to observe the president.

Menandros settled happily back onto his chair. “We’ve been playing cards,” he said, tapping the deck. “The girl who wins gets to spend the night with me.”

He caressed the ear of the girl in yellow with the backs of his fingers. “Yevgenia is ahead,” he said.

“How lucky for her,” Adele said. She frowned slightly and said, “What if you win, President Menandros? You’re playing also, aren’t you?”

“Ah!” Menandros said. “If I win, I get to choose. But Yevgenia is far ahead now. Do you play rummy, Lady, ah…?”

“Lady Mundy, your highness,” said Dumouret. “Lady Mundy is here to discuss your views on the rebellion.”

“I thought you said she was just paying her respects?” Menandros said sharply, glowering at his butler. This was the first evidence Adele had seen that the president wasn’t quite as fuzzy as he acted.

“I am a private citizen paying my respects,” Adele said. “But as a member of one of the leading families of Cinnabar, my impressions will be solicited when I return home. I would be remiss to neglect this opportunity to discuss matters of such import with the president of the Tarbell Stars.”

“Well, I don’t see that there’s very much to say,” Menandros said. “There isn’t really a rebellion. My subjects are happy, why shouldn’t they be happy? The Upholders are just stooges for the Alliance of Free Stars. It’s that simple!”

“I’ll certainly pass on your opinion, President,” Adele said. “But how is the war –”

“It’s not an opinion, it’s the simple truth!” Menandros said. “Look, you’re important on Cinnabar, you say? You’ve got to help us, then. The Alliance is attacking us and you’re their enemy!”

“President Menandros,” Adele said, “I am a private citizen. I know that we and the Alliance have been at peace since the signing of the Treaty of Amiens, however. I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed.”

The girls didn’t speak, but they picked up and put down their cards in a bored fashion. They kept glancing sidelong at Menandros, in case he should suddenly take an interest in them again.

“Are you a fool?” Menandros said, slapping the table with the flat of his hand. His cards jumped and several of them fell to the floor. “This treaty says that the Alliance won’t increase its territory by conquest! And that’s they’re trying to do, conquer my Tarbell Stars!’

Definitely not as fuzzy as he seems, Adele thought. Although Menandros hadn’t been the subject of her visit to the palace, she had learned something that neither Mistress Sand nor the 5th Bureau seemed to be aware of.

“I am not a lawyer or a diplomat –” she began.

“This isn’t law!” said Menandros. “This is honor! If Cinnabar doesn’t defend its honor, it is cowardly and all the world will know that Cinnabar is a coward!”

Adele stood up. She was here playing a part, but there was a point beyond which she could not go and remain believable. The president might not recognize that, but Dumouret probably did — and those to whom Dumouret reported certainly would.