Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 41

This time a woman carrying an infant did step forward, calling something unintelligible. A Sissie raised his impeller to butt-stroke her, but Wright — still a common spacer, but that would change as soon as the Katchaturian reached Peltry — caught the gun by the receiver and held it long enough for the woman to come to her senses and scramble back.

“We ought to hang them all!” snarled Chidsey. “They killed my son! Shot him down!”

“I’m sorry,” said Daniel truthfully, “but my family has presided over one massacre in my lifetime — ” the Proscriptions following the Three Circles Conspiracy ” — and I don’t choose to add a second.”

Chidsey muttered curses as he watched the villagers marched off for the meal Daniel had promised them. The merchant captain had no more power at present than those villagers did, if the truth were told, but so long as he showed that he knew his place Daniel had no reason to jerk him to heel.

Chidsey’s son had been the mate of the Mezentian Gate. He had either mouthed off or tried to take a weapon from the pirate boarding party and had been shot. It might have been possible to learn who the shooter had been, but it would have taken time. The Nabis Contingent wasn’t going to spend any longer on Benjamin that it took to re-step the Sissie’s antenna, and Daniel would have been willing to let that wait for Peltry if the job hadn’t been going so well.

Daniel had never asked his father if he had any regrets over the Proscriptions. By the time Daniel was old enough to appreciate what it meant to send thousands of people to their deaths without trial, he was no longer on speaking terms with his father.

He probably had the answer already. So far as Daniel knew, Corder Leary wasn’t on record as having expressed regret about anything.

The villagers were marching off glumly to the swale where they would be fed. Spacers watched them, some of them obviously eager to use their weapons. The spacers didn’t have any particular malice, but this raid was the most excitement many of them had ever imagined. Daniel hoped that nobody would get trigger-happy, but this was war. Bad things happen in wars.

Two men remained between the warships under the guard of Evans and Dasi, the latter with bandaged hands. The trigger guard of Dasi’s sub-machine gun was latched down as it would have been for use while wearing a rigging suit.

“Let’s go down and take care of the rest of our business,” Daniel said to his companions. He started down the ramp, noticing as he did so that Woetjans had left the corvette’s spine and was coming over to join them.

The bosun called, “The Sissie’ll be ready to lift by nightfall, Six. Sooner if we jury-rig it without a base section, but we can get the kink outa the base if we have a little time with it.”

“I want to get off Benjamin,” Daniel said after a moment’s consideration, “but we’ll be here for that long anyway, refilling with reaction mass. The well here doesn’t have as much flow as I’d like, but unless it dries up completely I want to top off both ships.”

The two prisoners were watching Daniel expectantly as he talked with his bosun, though the former Nabis spacer’s face showed a degree of nervousness as well. The city-dressed civilian had regained his composure, though handfuls of gravel hadn’t cleaned all the vomit from his tunic. He offered Daniel a bright smile and said, “Captain Leary, I –”

“In a moment,” Daniel said, his eyes on the spacer.

“But –” said the civilian. Evans grabbed the fellow by the shoulder to anchor him with his left fist and cocked his right.

“Stop!” Daniel said, grabbing the big tech’s right wrist. “I need to talk to him, Evans. Just not now.”

“Sure, Six,” Evans said equably. He smiled and let go of the civilian, who had lost the ruddiness of his cheeks again.

“You’re Easton,” Daniel said to the spacer, “and you’re an engine wiper. Right?”

“Yeah, port watch on the Katie,” Easton said, bobbing his head in agreement. “Look, I’m sorry about it all but I was drunk, you know?”

“What I know at this moment,” Daniel said, “is that you’re a rapist. Right?”

“If you say so,” Easton muttered, staring at the ground.

“Not a lot a doubt about it,” Woetjans said. “I came over because she was screaming like a stuck pig and dragged him off. She can’t a’ been but twelve.”

“Look, I’d had a couple tots of working fluid,” Easton said, snarling now but his eyes still on the ground. “I’m not a bloody soldier, and I didn’t like the notion of going out and getting shot! Anyway, I relaxed some when things quieted down, all right?”

“No, not all right,” Daniel said calmly. “I think the best thing to do with you is leave you on the ground here where you won’t be tempted by engine-room alcohol.”

“Hey, you can’t do that!” Easton said, looking up in horror. “What am I going to do here on this pisspot world?”

“I’ll take him,” Captain Chidsey said. “I can use another tech. My boy handled most of the Power Room, and we’re short-handed besides.”

“No,” said Daniel without looking at the merchant captain. “If you want to come back for him later, that’s your business; but not now.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Easton bleated, dropping to his knees. From his tone, that was true, as sure as sunrise. “You can’t leave me here!”

“If you don’t chase after those villagers right away…” Daniel said. “Evans is going to hit you. And if he does that, you won’t be able to get up before the line is well out of sight. I’m not leaving another compass with you.”

Easton blubbered for a moment, but when Evans raised his fist slowly — it wasn’t a threat; he was choosing the right target — the Nabie turned and stumbled off in the direction of the villagers. Daniel watched him for a moment.

“What do you suppose they’ll do with him?” Vesey said quietly.

Daniel shrugged. “They might marry him to the girl,” he said. “Or they might eat him because food’s short. I don’t really care, except that he’s off my ship.”

He turned to the remaining prisoner, who had lost his previous bonhomie. “Now, what’s your name, fellow?” he said.

“I’m an Alliance citizen,” the civilian said, “Charlie Platt, and I’m just here by accident. I’m sure –”

“He’s the shipbroker,” said Chidsey. “He was bargaining for my Gate. He talked to the village chiefs on the bridge for privacy, that’s how I know for sure. He was cheating them too.”

“Pretty much what I thought, Captain,” Daniel said, smiling faintly.

“Look, there’s money in this for you!” Platt said. “Lots of money, more money than you can dream. All you have –”

“Shut up, Platt,” Daniel said.

“– is take a message to my –”

“Hit him, Evans,” Daniel said.

Evans smashed Platt instantly in the jaw; apparently he regretted not swinging in time to drop Easton. Platt flew backward. From the amount of blood, his tongue must have been between his teeth when the punch closed his mouth.

“There are things I won’t do for money,” Daniel said, his voice suddenly hoarse. “Quite a lot of things, actually.”

He took a deep breath, then turned to Chidsey and said, “Captain, you said you were shorthanded. Would you care to take aboard a landsman?”

“How do you know I won’t put him out the lock as soon as we make orbit?” Chidsey said, his tone challenging.

“I don’t know, Captain,” Daniel said, “and I don’t care. Though I’ll point out that Master Platt probably could make you very wealthy.”

“Being rich wouldn’t bring my boy back, would it?” Chidsey said.

Daniel smiled, for the first time warming to the merchant captain. “No sir,” he said, “I don’t believe it would.”

He hooked a thumb in the direction of the moaning Platt. “I’ll send your crew down to you,” Daniel said. “You can get him to the Gate, I presume. I’ve checked, and you’ve got plenty of reaction mass for the run back to Peltry.”

“Then I guess we’ll take ourselfs off,” Chidsey said. “I’d guess we’d lift to orbit in an hour at the outside.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” Daniel said. He nodded to his companions and walked toward the ramp of the Katchaturian. He was whistling, “The Fair Maid of Xenos Town.”