Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 40

Under the circumstances, the villager might as easily have missed the ship itself, Adele thought. And if he’d had time to realize how badly the attackers outnumbered them, he probably wouldn’t have shot at all.

But probabilities didn’t change reality; and eventually everyone dies. Which Adele often found a blessing to remember.

Madringer had blond, curly hair, but he was developing a paunch and he seemed wrung out. He turned from the Medicomp and said, “Okay. He’s stable and he’s going to make it. The leg, well, it’s knitting and chances are most of the nerve cells are going to come back. Thing is, he lost two inches of bone. The ‘comp’ll rebuild it, but that’s too bloody much for perfect, you know?”

“Right, right,” Dasi said, bobbing his head. “Yeah, that’s okay. Good job, Madringer.”

“Yes, thank you, Madringer,” Adele said, busy with her data unit. Rather than making a voice link, she sent a text to Vesey’s face-shield: Cazelet recovering.

That was everything Adele knew with certainty, and she didn’t intend to speculate with Vesey about longer term prospects. Vesey could discuss matters with Madringer if she wished to.

“Wouldn’t of took much and we’d have whacked all the wogs when we saw how bad the kid was,” Dasi said, now looking into the past instead of at Adele. “The leg lying there beside him. Vesey wouldn’t let us, you know? And Tovera backed her, not that anybody wasn’t going to take Vesey’s orders.”

“Yes,” said Adele, wondering how she felt. She didn’t seem to feel anything.

“He’s going to be under at least six hours,” Madringer called. “Everything’s trending up, though.”

“Thing is…” Dasi said, looking sidelong at Adele. “Tovera shot the fellow who did it. Just, you know, shot him. And then she slung her gun again. She said the Mistress would understand. Is that okay?”

“Yes,” said Adele. “My skills don’t include bringing the dead back to life.”

And even if they did, I’m not sure that I would want to do so this time.

“I’m going up to the bridge,” Adele said aloud. “You’d better get your burns looked at, Dasi. You can use the unit on Level E.”

She opened the inner hatch, wondering how well the environmental system had done in clearing the boarding hold. It was at worst a minor discomfort.

Especially compared with walking for the rest of one’s life with a stiff, painful leg.

* * *

Daniel stood on the ramp of the Katchaturian and viewed the prisoners. There were about two hundred and fifty of them, placed under guard in the open not far from Beta. Men were in one body, women and children in the other.

On the horizon was a smudge of black smoke from the burning huts of Alpha. For the most part the wind whipped it off at an angle, but occasionally Daniel caught a bitter taste.

He didn’t mind that. It was useful to remind the villagers exactly what their situation was.

“Sir!” called a man in urban clothing. He stepped toward Daniel from the group of men. “I need to talk to the person in –”

The nearest guard was Evans. There was a heavy wrench in Evans’ belt, but instead of bothering with a weapon he hit the prisoner in the belly with his bare fist. The prisoner flew backward onto the ground. He lay so flaccid that he didn’t even turn his head as he vomited.

The prisoners were segregated by gender; minor children stood or squatted with their mothers. The male villagers edged away from the man who had been knocked down; their eyes were open and frightened.

“You people have raided in the Tarbell Stars,” Daniel said. His voice boomed from the speakers on the Katchaturian’s spine. “You’re pirates, and hanging is the proper way to deal with pirates, right?”

Everybody in the crowd who was old enough to understand the words began to speak; the infants bawled in response to the general outcry. A score of men and more women fell kneeling or threw themselves prostrate, but not even the ones who were blind with fear tried to rush forward. Evans had been a good teacher.

Vesey stood to Daniel’s right; on his left was Chidsey, the captain and owner of the Mezentian Gate. The merchant captain was heavy and fortyish, with healing sores on his wrists where his bonds had cut. All the freed spacers had been spending time with the warships’ Medicomps, since the freighter herself didn’t have one.

“I’m not going to hang you this time,” Daniel said, “but that’s for my own reasons. You deserve to be hanged. If the Tarbell Stars have to do this again, other people will be in command and I suspect they’ll take a different line.”

There was a burst of ringing from the Princess Cecile, where Cory was overseeing the reattachment of the Dorsal A antenna. They were bolting a new mast step to the hull with an impact driver.

The outriggers had come through better than Daniel would have expected, though Cory and Woetjans would need to check the undersides in space. He personally — as owner of the armed yacht — had gone down into the interior of both outriggers while teams resealed gapped seams with structural plastic.

Cazelet was making a satisfactory recovery. If he’d had to wait another half hour to get into the Medicomp, the recovery would have been less satisfactory.

Some of the villagers had begun shouting Daniel’s praises when he announced he wasn’t going to hang them. Others continued to wail, perhaps because they hadn’t been listening. Those who had lived in Alpha had lost everything; the smarter residents of Beta probably realized that their hovels were going to be next.

“Six, we’ve got the ships rigged, over,” Pasternak reported. He was here at Beta, but he’d sent a team of techs to prepare the pirate ships at Alpha.

Daniel started to cut the parabolic mike but instead grinned. “Blow the Roebuck at Alpha when you’re ready, Chief,” he said — to Pasternak and to the crowd below. “Hold off on these two until we’re ready to lift. Six out.”

He expected a delay of perhaps several minutes before Pasternak executed the order. Instead a bright flash appeared at once on the horizon, swelling through the sooty blackness. The ground shock made the Sissie tremble noticeably before the dull thoomp! arrived through the air.

Power Room techs had run the fusion bottle of the pirate ship to full pressure. At Pasternak’s signal they had vented the bottle into the Roebuck’s interior. The result was a fiery rupture, flinging molten bits of the hull in all directions.

The villagers hadn’t stopped wailing since they began, but the sound changed tone. Chance or extremely powerful lungs brought to Daniel the cry, “We need the ships for mining!”

“If you’d stuck to mining, you’d still have the ships!” Daniel said. “If you’d stuck to mining, you’d still have your houses! If you’d stuck to mining, you wouldn’t be hiking seventeen miles to your nearest neighbors with nothing but water and the clothes on your backs!”

He cut the microphone with a raised finger. He said to his two companions, “You’d think they’d run out of breath. Heaven knows my throat’s dry enough and I’m not trying to shout over the wind.”

“They’re shouting against fate, not the wind,” Vesey said. Her face looked as hard as Daniel had ever seen it. She’d been splashed with Cazelet’s blood when the bullet hit him. Dasi had slapped the tourniquet on the boy’s stump, but it had been Vesey who had the presence of mind to signal the corvette by bouncing a laser signal off the Roebuck’s hull.

Plasma exhaust created so much radio frequency interference, especially at low altitude, that not even microwaves would have been certain of getting through. Laser communications were less affected, but they were normally very tight beam and the Princess Cecile had been moving. Spreading the signal from a reflective surface was a brilliant way to make contact — so long as you had Adele on the receiving end.

Daniel cued the microphone again and said, “You’ll be given a meal –” from the villagers own stocks; the rest was being destroyed. “– and an inertial compass with a bearing to the nearest village. If you don’t get along with your neighbors, you should’ve thought about it before you became pirates. I figure they’ll be willing to take in slaves, but I won’t pretend I really care what happens to you after we lift off.”