IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 57:
The officials were three men and an older, heavily tattooed, woman. The men stood with their backs to the wall while the woman leaned against it, supporting her weight with her arms. She glared over her shoulder at Tovera, but Tovera’s smile was considerably more threatening.
Adele was speaking into a modern communications console. She looked up when Daniel entered.
“The rebels are dealing with interloping traders,” she said. “Hydriotes, I’m sure, moonlighting between runs to Fonthill under contract to Beckford’s companies. But that means they must monitor the shipping frequencies, so I’ve been calling the local rebel commander, Earl Wiley.”
“Carry on, Mundy,” Daniel said. “Excellent!”
He turned to the captured officials. The men appeared harmless, cowed and frightened. The tattooed woman–well, she was harmless with Tovera watching her over the muzzle of a sub-machine gun, but it might be as well to transfer her to the prisoner cage outside.
“Right,” Daniel said. “First, I’ll want the location of all the labor camps here on Fonthill. Who’ll find that for me, hey?”
“I schedule the runs,” the eldest of the three men said. His left arm was shrunken, though all the fingers moved; Daniel wondered whether it was a pre-existing injury or reaction to the endemic poisons of this hellworld. “I can show you on the other computer, the one in there.”
He nodded toward the room to the left. The doorway was arched and closed with a screen of glittering plastic ribbons.
“But it won’t be quite up to date on where they’re cutting, because the satellite link’s been out for the past week.”
Which explained why Adele couldn’t access it from the Milton: bad maintenance instead of exceptional security. If all the personnel on Fonthill were slaves, the chances were that bad maintenance was the only maintenance there was.
“We’ll see if we can’t get that working shortly,” Daniel said, wishing that he’d brought Cory along. Well, they’d sort it in good time, he was sure. “For now, show me the unit. And what’s your name, my good man?”
“Daniel!” Adele said. “I have contact.”
That wasn’t according to RCN protocol, but none of the spacers present looked startled. They didn’t think of Adele as a signals officer, and however Lady Mundy spoke to Six was fine with them. Lieutenant Commander Robinson might’ve had conniptions, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut–and anyway, he and the Wartburg were still in orbit.
“Who is this that calls to Comrade Wiley, over?” said the console’s speakers; Adele must have cut them on when she got the signal.
“I’ll speak,” said Forbes, stepping in front of Daniel in the assumption that he would give way. As he did, because this wasn’t a tactical situation; but he felt his face harden slightly.
“Go ahead, then,” said Adele, looking up. Her face was blank, but again Daniel had the realization that the Senator might want to be more careful about what she said and how she said it.
“This is Lady Elisabeth Forbes,” the Senator said, striking a pose unconsciously. “Senator of the Republic and Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Veil and neighboring worlds. I’m here to bring Fonthill under direct Cinnabar rule and to right any wrongs which may have been done here. I want you to come to Base Alpha immediately so that we can negotiate an arrangement which will greatly benefit you and your followers.”
She stopped. “Over,” said Adele, more punctilious as intermediary than she ordinarily was with her own communications.
“Are you mad, woman?” the console replied. The cackling laugh that followed suggested that the man on the other end of the conversation–Comrade Wiley himself–wasn’t too tightly wrapped either. “Wiley does not come to Base Alpha or anywhere else. If you wish Wiley, you come to him! Over.”
The Fonthill authorities–if that wasn’t too grand a description–must be completely lacking in military skills and equipment if the rebel chieftain was willing to communicate directly. Whether the sender was broadcasting or bouncing his signal through the satellite net, Adele certainly had a fix on the location. A missile or a company of Marines could be on top of it within an hour if that were the plan.
Which it wasn’t, of course.
“Don’t get above yourself, Wiley,” Forbes said sharply. “Of course I’m not going off into a swamp to meet a run slave. You have my word that you and your followers will be safe when they come to Base Alpha.”
Instead of adding the closing protocol, Adele said calmly, “I didn’t transmit that, Senator. I’ll take it from here.”
“What?” said Forbes.
“Quiet down the tattooed lady if she moves, Woetjans,” Tovera said, shifting her stance. She’d hung the sub-machine gun under her right arm in a patrol sling; now the waist-high muzzle pointed at the Senator’s aides. The men with guns merely blinked, but Platt squealed and dropped the briefcase he’d been clutching to his chest on the hike from the Milton.
Hogg chuckled. He’d slung the impeller and was holding a folding knife with a knuckle-duster grip. It was made for close quarters like this, but Daniel had seen Hogg throw the weapon fifteen feet to put the point through the eye of a flying lizard and into the creature’s brain.
“She’s too smart to do that,” Hogg said. “Isn’t that so, sweetie?”
The woman snarled a curse, but she didn’t try to straighten from her off-balance position.
“Comrade Wiley…,” Adele said. She’d made her initial contact behind an active cancellation screen, but she left that down now so that everyone else in the room could hear her conversation. “This is Lady Adele Mundy, Senator Forbes’ colleague. We’ve freed two of your fellows, Comrades Jarrod Selsmark and Fred Gibbs. I’m going to put them on in just a moment.”
As she spoke, Barnes and another rigger, Jimmi Laursen, chivied the two prisoners down the short hallway from the cage. They were stinking and emaciated, and despite their attempts at bravado they were obviously afraid of what was going to happen next.
“I want you to set up a rendezvous with them,” Adele continued. This hadn’t been planned; but Adele had a quick mind and didn’t bother discussing things she considered obvious. “I assume you have some kind of code. The Republic will provide your colleagues with whatever form of transportation they wish, and my secretary and I will accompany them to you. Then we can go over the Republic’s offer in person. Over.”
She gestured the–former–prisoners toward her. Barnes prodded one at the base of the spine with the muzzle of his impeller; they both lurched forward.
“This is not enough!” cried the console. “I am Wiley! I will meet with the Senator!”
“You’ll meet with Mundy of Chatsworth, Comrade Wiley,” Adele said, “and if you know anything of Cinnabar history you’ll feel honored. Now, I’m turning the console over to your colleagues. Comrade Selsmark–”
She pointed at the nearer prisoner. He was tall and must once have been powerful. His red beard was in two braids, though they had frayed into a tangle.
“–see if you can convince your leader that it’s in his best interests to deal with me as a friend.”
“You’re on,” she said, chopping her index finger down.
In a quiet aside to Daniel, Adele added, “Because he is going to be dealing with me.”