Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 33

“Master Menandros,” Adele said. She poured the rest of her wine on the floor and set the glass on the table. “You forget yourself. Nothing that happens in a place as benighted as the Tarbell Stars could affect the Republic’s honor.”

Adele walked out without looking behind her. She thought that Menandros might lift himself from the chair to follow, but he only mumbled protests. The three women chattered in low, piping voices like birds after sunset.

Tovera pulled the gate open, her face turned backward to watch the president and his servants. What would I have done if the door had been locked? Adele thought as she set a dignified pace down the hallway.

She smiled. Tovera could cut the ring off Dumouret’s finger, I’m sure. And if that wasn’t the key, it would at least encourage him to tell us where the key is.

“Do you think they’ll try to stop us?” Tovera asked in a low voice after they turned the corner.

“Dumouret has more sense than that,” Adele said. “I suspect Menandros does also, though you can’t be sure whether rulers in a backwater like this really understand how insignificant they are to the Republic. Still, Dumouret won’t let the president tell the guards to detain me.”

Tovera giggled. “A pity,” she said.

The doorman had changed while they were with Menandros. This one merely nodded with a vacant expression as they walked out. His mouth was slightly open.

“Dumouret is an Upholder agent,” Adele said. “I wanted to get a feel for him in his own element.”

“A job for me?” Tovera said. She opened the back of the Mignouris’ ground car for her mistress, then went around to the driver’s side.

“No,” said Adele. “Mignouri or his predecessors have planted a very thorough information-gathering suite on Dumouret. He’s harmless in himself, and I’m sure the Upholders — or General Krychek — would easily replace him if they had to. This way we know what the Upholders know.”

Tovera drove off, over-correcting as they turned into the street but managing to avoid the gatepost.

Adele was thinking of the new Headman of Karst, a boy and a fool. He had insulted Cinnabar’s representatives, Senator Forbes and Captain Daniel Leary, and he had insulted the Republic itself. He hadn’t realized how insignificant he was, but because of the war with the Alliance the Republic hadn’t been able to do anything about it.

The war is over now, Adele thought as Tovera got out to open the gate of the Residency.

* * *

As Daniel raised his hand to knock, Tovera opened the door. “The external security is pretty good,” she said with a grin — her version of a grin, that was. “The 5th Bureau brings in its own construction crews whenever it can. The plumbing may not work, but you’ll be able to watch visitors a block away in any direction.”

“I hope it’s all right for us to drop by here,” Daniel said. That aspect of visiting his friend at her new house hadn’t occurred to him before. “At a safe house, I mean.”

“Come in, please,” said Adele who had come up behind her servant. “It’s not a safe house, it’s the 5th Bureau Residency on Peltry and we’re not 5th Bureau.”

“Well,” said Tovera as she closed the massive outer door behind Daniel and Hogg, “I haven’t been for years, at least.”

Adele led them through the entrance hall into a drawing room with upholstered chairs and a table on which sat a vase of dead flowers. She glanced at the vase and said, “Perhaps I should’ve directed the wife to stay here. I’m not a skilled housekeeper.”

“There’s some fresh ones out front,” Hogg said, taking the vase by the neck in his left hand. “Come on, Tovera. Let’s see what we can find in the garden.”

They weren’t in the way, Daniel thought as the servants went out. But he was just as glad to be alone with Adele. He was feeling wrung out and — almost — overwhelmed, and he didn’t like to hint at weakness in front of his old servant.

“I’ve been put in charge of training the crew of an ex-Sverdlovsk destroyer,” he said as he let himself down onto a chair covered in deep red plush. “I can do it, of course, but it’s scarcely going to change the course of the rebellion unless the Upholders are a great deal less formidable that they’ve been made out to be.”

“I’ve downloaded full particulars on Nabis to the command console,” Adele said. “I don’t think there’s anything you need, but I wanted you to have the background. Would you like a drink?”

I didn’t say anything about Nabis. But she’s Adele.

Daniel closed his eyes. It was relaxing to chat with Adele. “I wouldn’t turn down a whiskey,” he said. “But a small one or I’ll fall asleep and Hogg will have to push me to the Sissie in a wheelbarrow. If you have a wheelbarrow here.”

“The house inventory doesn’t mention one,” Adele said. “I believe there’s a shed in back which you could check. Or Hogg could.”

Glass clinked on the table beside Daniel. He opened his eyes and saw the bottle and tumbler which Adele had set there.

“I don’t think the Mignouris had very elevated tastes,” she said, “but I don’t suppose it will poison you.”

As Daniel poured — more than the small one he had asked for, he realized — Adele continued, “Minister Robin is afraid of you. He’s an adventurer himself, and he can’t imagine that you don’t plan to displace him in running the government here.”

“Bloody hell,” Daniel said. “What would I want with the Tarbell Stars?”

Adele shrugged and took a sip from her own tumbler. “Minister Forbes was concerned that you’d want to do that.” she said. “Why shouldn’t a Kostroman quartermaster imagine that it’s the height of your ambition also?”

“I’d sooner go into banking,” Daniel said, setting down his tumbler. He’d finished the whiskey in it, more fool him.

“I’m going to go ahead with the training,” Daniel said deliberately, staring at the empty glass. “Split both crews between the two ships and pack in as many of the Nabis Regiment as I can. I’ve brought landsmen up to speed before now. I’m going to take them off to an uninhabited world where we won’t have distractions and get me a feel for the people.”

He looked at Adele and said, “Do you have a better idea?”

“No,” she said. She sat in the chair across the table from him. “I’ll look for a way around Robin’s concerns.”

Adele coughed. “I wonder, Daniel…” she said. “If you’d mind if I stayed in Newtown while you’re training?”

“What?” Daniel said, sitting upright again. “No, of course not. I was already doubtful about asking you to give the Nabies some pistol training, because I thought you’d frighten them.”

“If you don’t mind, then,” Adele said. “I’d like to look over the local files, which will take some time. There’s extensive video coverage of the palace and all the ministries. And though of course I don’t have any responsibility to General Storn in his official capacity, it would be courteous to have someone competent watching over the Residency until Mignouri’s official replacement arrives. The wife wasn’t even keeping up with the correspondence in the areas within her capacity.”

Daniel eyed the bottle, then turned his tumbler upside down on the table. He rose. “I’ll sleep aboard the Sissie tonight,” he decided aloud. “Tomorrow we start training for real and I probably won’t be getting much sleep from there on out. Have fun with your files.”

“I will,” said Adele, the simple truth as Daniel well knew. She walked with him to the door.

Tovera opened it from the other side. Hogg stood with her, holding a vase refilled with flowers of a sort that Daniel’s mother had grown. He didn’t remember what they were called.

Daniel grinned. “And you know what?” he said. “I’ll have a good time with the training. Langland gathered up some decent material on Nabis before he made the mistake of trusting Karst.”