Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 45

Daniel straightened. “Let’s get the stretcher,” he said to Minister Robin. “Then you can take the back end while we haul him to the unit.”

Daniel felt enormous relief as he led Robin through the waiting room, shoving people out of the way when they babbled instead of clearing his path. It felt good to work out some of the adrenaline surging through his system.

* * *

For the moment, Adele was alone in the Minister’s office. She sat at Robin’s desk and slipped the pistol back in her pocket; she had laid it on the desk to allow the barrel to cool.

The carnage was familiar to her by now. The four bodies lay where they had fallen. Well, all but that of the man she had shot: that corpse lay where Daniel had tossed it away from Hogg.

Daniel and Minister Robin returned; Daniel looked haggard, and the Minister appeared to be in shock. He’d seemed calm enough immediately after the shooting, but perhaps it hadn’t sunk in.

Adele smiled faintly. She was trembling a little also, but that was a result of hormones rather than anything psychological.

The only thing unusual about this room full of bodies is that I only killed one of them, Adele thought.

The door banged shut behind Robin, muting the babble of voices from the outer office. Adele looked up from the display of her data unit; she hadn’t been consciously aware of the sound, but the near-silence got her attention.

“Who are those soldiers?” Robin asked. He started toward the chair behind his desk, then realized that Adele was already sitting in it.

“They’re spacers from the Princess Cecile,” Daniel said, “under my bosun and Midshipman Hale. Lieutenant Vesey sent them here when Lady Mundy alerted her.”

He cleared his throat and added, “Ah — my people didn’t know precisely what was happening. Hale informed me that in their haste they did a certain amount of damage in entering the Ministry.”

“Knocked down doors?” Robin said, frowning. “That scarcely matters.”

“I gather it was more a matter of people who wanted discuss matters,” Daniel said. “Hale didn’t believe there were any fatalities,”

“Fatalities!” Robin said. “Well, I suppose that doesn’t matter either.”

He looked at the sprawled bodies, then looked toward the back door instead. “What was this? Do you know, Lady Mundy?”

“Dumouret was a spy for the Upholders,” Adele said. She saw no reason to lie, but neither did she intend to inform the minister of all the background. “They apparently sent assassins to kill you.”

The actual gunmen were 5th Bureau, but the impetus might well have come from the rebel leadership itself. They were acting as the puppets of Storn’s rival, but they might view themselves as more independent than Adele did.

“But how did you…” Robin said. “How did you even get in by my private door? This is all — it’s a nightmare, nothing makes sense.”

Cazelet had unlocked the door by cutting power to it while Adele and Tovera were on the way. The system’s default was to spring open, which was scarcely ideal for security even with a battery backup. Cazelet had shut the backup down also.

“Captain Leary?” Adele said. “The Nabis Contingent has been called to action stations at my request. Now that the danger appears to be over, would you care to release the personnel to liberty again?”

“Umm,” Daniel said. “No, not till I see how the recall went. I wouldn’t have done this deliberately, but it’s quite a useful test of the training, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” said Adele. She continued to scan the updates she was getting from Cazelet and both warships in the Nabis Contingent.

“Minister,” she resumed, “friends of the Tarbell Stars in Cinnabar sent Captain Leary and his staff to aid the Tarbell government in putting down the rebellion. We’re doing that to the best of our abilities, though the training mission you’ve relegated us to very nearly caused us to miss this assassination attempt. On that subject –”

Adele considered, then looked up. “Captain Leary, I would appreciate it if you took charge of the situation in the outer office.”

“Of course, your ladyship,” Daniel said. His expression had just gone guarded. “Ah, your ladyship? Your servant is overseeing the Medicomp, but Hogg isn’t in any danger. Should I direct Tovera to return to you?”

Adele felt her lips hint at a smile. “That won’t be necessary, Captain,” she said. “I can handle anything necessary myself.”

She looked at Robin. She wasn’t sure what expression she was wearing, but it seemed to disconcert the Minister of War. She was aware of the door opening and then closing by the sudden increase and cessation of babble from the outer office.

Robin said, “What do you want, mistress? That is, Lady Mundy.”

He was looking down at her because he was standing, but that didn’t increase his confidence. She wondered how much he knew about her. He knew enough to bother him when they were alone together in a room full of dead bodies, apparently.

“I want to do my job, the job Captain Leary brought us all here to do,” she said. “To defeat the Upholder Rebellion. You’re making that needlessly difficult, because you’re afraid that Captain Leary wants to supplant you.”

“That’s not true!” Robin said. “I have President Menandros’ full confidence!”

“Stop yammering,” Adele said. She didn’t raise her voice; if Robin continued to bluster, she supposed she could fire a shot into the ceiling.

Or I could just shoot him dead.

The smile that accompanied that thought shocked Robin to silence as effectively as a shot would have done. “Thank you,” Adele said.

“You’ll note that despite your interference,” Adele continued, “we’ve managed to save your life. We did that because you’re quite skilled. Captain Leary tells me that your idea to convert freighters to missile ships was a very clever use of available resources and might be enough in itself to defeat the rebels under present conditions.”

Robin seemed to relax slightly.

“Unfortunately,” Adele continued, “elements of the Alliance bureaucracy are supporting the Upholders. That means the present situation is certain to change for the worse. You personally don’t have the experience and contacts to deal with enemies outside the cluster.”

“That’s not –” Robin said, then shut up.

“Captain Leary and his personnel are capable of dealing with your new enemies on their own terms,” Adele said. “If you are unwilling to let Captain Leary do his job, I will have you killed and find someone to replace you. I may have to replace you myself.”

She felt her lips quirk. “Indeed, I may just kill you myself.”

Robin’s eyes drifted toward the bodies, then returned to meet Adele’s. He smiled back. “I wouldn’t care to have that happen,” he said. “What do you want me to do to avoid it?”

He may be buying time, hoping to kill me or us, Adele thought. But I don’t think so, and I don’t think he could plan it without my becoming aware of it.

“You can appoint Daniel as commander of the Navy of the Tarbell Stars,” Adele said. “After that, give him the resources and support he would have if you had no concern at all about him wanting to remain in the cluster after the Upholders have been defeated.”

She shrugged and added, “That’s the truth and I hope you believe it. You don’t have to believe it, though, so long as you believe that I’ll kill you if you don’t do as I direct.”

“I do believe you, Lady Mundy,” Robin said. “If you care to call Captain Leary in, I’ll make the appointment immediately. And then –”

Adele had gotten up, but she paused on her way to the door.

“– would you mind if I had these bodies removed and disposed of? I assure you, I don’t need so vivid a memento mori.”

“Yes, I don’t need them any more,” Adele said. She opened the door to the outer office.

The whole business had been quite unplanned, of course, but it had been even more useful than Daniel’s test of how well the Nabies reacted to an emergency recall.

“Captain Leary?” she called past the backs of Dasi and Barnes who were blocking the doorway from the other direction. “Will you come in, please?”

As the bosun’s mates made way for Daniel, Adele walked over to the first shooter’s pistol and picked it up. It was a powerful weapon, not a light pocket pistol like Adele’s own.

She would give it to Hogg as at least a temporary replacement for his own. He would appreciate the gift.