Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 43

Cazelet began to laugh. He overbalanced and would have fallen had he not grabbed the pole of a floor lamp to brace himself.

“Adele,” he said through gulps of air. “I knew that there was more going on than a contract to provide military assistance to a cluster in the back of beyond, but I didn’t expect…”

He began laughing again.

Adele allowed herself a slight smile. This wasn’t the reaction she had expected, but it was apparently a very good result.

“Yes,” she said. “It is an incongruous situation, one which you’re now an active part of. You may have believed that I brought you off the ship to entertain you. In fact, I want someone to provide this necessary support to our mission.”

“You think that I’m a cripple but that I can do this?” Cazelet said with sudden harshness.

“The mistress knows that you’re a cripple,” said Tovera. She had just placed fresh flowers on the table. “And if she didn’t think you could handle the job, she wouldn’t have told you to do it.”

His mood swings are probably because of the injury and the medications he’s on, Adele thought. At least he didn’t behave this way in the past.

“Yes,” she said aloud. “Tovera’s analysis is correct. The choice was between you and Cory, and your injury reduces your present capacity for normal shipboard duties.”

Cazelet’s expression went from anger to a hard blankness for a moment. Then he grinned and said, “Yes, and besides I’ll never be the astrogator that Tom Cory is. Show me my station.”

“Downstairs, I’m afraid,” Adele said, leading the way. “No doubt the exercise will be good for your leg.”

If Rene thought I was going to tell him that he isn’t physically impaired, he’s been damaged more seriously than I believed, Adele thought. She hoped it was a temporary aberration. She didn’t exactly depend on Cazelet, but he was an asset to her and to her RCN family.

Her smile was mostly in her mind. Besides, I like him as a person.

Adele set Cazelet to reading in, starting with the files which Major Grozhinski had provided. Cazelet was starting from scratch, so it would be days or weeks before he had the full background. He was quick, however; and, having grown up and worked in the Alliance he had an instinctive grasp of structures which would be only words to Cory.

The hardened communications room was really intended for solo use, but the console had a junior position on the back like the striker’s seat of warship consoles. Adele put Rene there and used the primary display to catch up on traffic which had arrived during her absence on Benjamin.

The 5th Bureau normally communicated with its Residencies using commercial vessels travelling to the desired location. Encrypted messages were implanted in ships’ astrogation consoles, generally without the crews or owners being informed. When a ship reached its destination, the message was transmitted to the Residency there.

Communications were therefore uncertain as to time and even arrival: a tramp freighter might change its planned course for any reason or none. From Adele’s experience, informing merchant captains that they were carrying government messages would not appreciably increase the likelihood that they would be delivered in a timely manner. Important information was sent in multiple copies.

Adele had sent her warning that the Peltry Resident had to be replaced to three separate worlds where the 5th Bureau presence was major enough to rate a courier missile. Even so there was no telling when the message would get to where it was supposed to go.

Hundreds of messages were in the console’s suspense file. Many of them involved Mignouri’s personal business, importing high-end office equipment from Pleasaunce and bypassing Alliance export tariffs.

Adele grimaced. That was grounds for dismissal, which in the 5th Bureau meant execution. She could not fathom what made Mignouri think that the profit justified the risk, but human beings made a great number of choices which struck Adele as the next thing to insanity.

Having scanned the message traffic, Adele checked on the surveillance of Dumouret. Realizing that this was something non-standard which Cazelet should keep on top of, she said, “Rene, echo my display and note the path. Dumouret is President Menandros’ butler and an agent of the Upholders. There are cameras in his office and living quarters in the palace, but the audio leaves something to be desired.”

Dumouret’s office was empty at present. Adele ran the recording back so that Cazelet could see the butler’s appearance. He appeared as he was walking out with two unfamiliar men, apparently taking them somewhere.

“His outfit must be a uniform,” Adele said. “He wore the same red-piped blue suit when I met him.”

“Let me see those men again,” Tovera said from over Adele’s shoulder. Her voice was sharp.

Adele locked on them and ran a facial recognition program. This was linked to the harbor database — a 5th Bureau system, not something she had put in place since she arrived.

“They’re listed as citizens of Danziger,” she said. “They arrived from there today on the freighter Dubrovnic.”

Danziger was outside the Tarbell Stars but due to good connections in the Matrix had become a major transshipment point. Freighters broke bulk here for distribution throughout the cluster.

“Run them through the Bureau database,” Tovera said. “I don’t recognize them, but I recognize the type.”

Adele did a separate search, wondering as she did whether she should have integrated the 5th Bureau files into the general database. No, because they include Mistress Sand’s information as well as what Grozhinski provided. I won’t put Cinnabar data on the Residency system because I may die before I can wipe it.

“The one calling himself Sadler is from Maintenance Section C on Pleasaunce,” Adele said. “I don’t find the one calling himself Scroggs.”

“They’re killers,” Tovera said. “I was Section C.”

“Tovera, let’s see if we can get to President Menandros before they do,” Adele said, swinging off the console’s seat and heading for the stairs. Tovera was right behind.

“Cazelet, alert both ships for lift-off!” Adele called over her shoulder. “All liberty is cancelled!”

She had no authority to give orders. Fortunately, Daniel cared as little about that in a crisis as Adele herself did.

At the back of her mind Adele wondered if Menandros’ death would really be such a bad thing for the Tarbell Stars. It would disrupt the government, however, and anyway the Upholders seemed to think that it would be bad for the government. If Adele had had time to consider the effects and side-effects she might come to a different conclusion, but for now she would go with blocking the plans of her enemies.

Adele got into the passenger compartment because the limousine had only a seat for the driver in front. As she started to swing the door closed, Cazelet called from the doorway, “Adele! On the external security system, they’re heading for the Ministry of War!”

Daniel is meeting Christopher Robin about…now.

“To the back entrance!” Adele said as Tovera switched on the motors. The limousine took off the left gatepost as Tovera backed into the street.

* * *

The waiting room of the Minister of War was scarcely bigger than Robin’s office. Daniel had passed through it when he left the Minister after their first meeting, but he couldn’t have described it from that experience.

Thirty-odd straight chairs stood in rows with a center aisle that wasn’t quite straight. Most of the chairs were occupied, but only a few of those waiting to see Robin wore uniforms. Most of the others had the look of salesmen of one sort or another. Wars were always good opportunities to dispose of unwanted merchandise.

The floor was littered and the walls hadn’t been washed in too long. It wasn’t an impressive sight to someone who had spent long hours in the Navy House waiting room in Xenos.

Daniel walked up to the front where a middle-aged male clerk sat at a console beside the door to the inner office. A soldier had pulled a chair nearby from the front row. He sat on it, his carbine leaning against the wall.

“I’m Captain Leary,” Daniel said pleasantly. “The Minister of War requested to see me at four pm today. I seem to be two minutes early.”

The clerk looked up. “Take a seat,” he said. “I’ll tell you if the Minister wants to see you.”

Still smiling, Daniel said, “May I ask who Minister Robin is with at present?”

“He’s busy and that’s all you need to know,” the clerk said. “I told you to take a seat!”