IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 61:
Tovera toed the corpse’s thigh. Daniel had provided the freed ferals with trousers from the Milton’s slop chest before they set off in the barge. The long knife had severed Selsmark’s waist cord, so his pants had fallen to his knees before Dapp had flung the body down.
“I’d say this was an internal organizational matter, not a crime Lady Mundy would have to report,” she said. She held her attachÃ© case slightly open in her left hand, but her right hung at her side. “Still, it might be a good idea not to repeat it, all right?”
She smiled at Wiley.
Wiley’s other four supporters had retreated minusculely when Dapp executed the adjudged traitor. They backed farther now, glancing between Adele and Tovera in amazement.
“Do you laugh at me, lady?” Wiley squealed. “I eat pretty ladies like you! Do you hear me? We going to deal, yes, but I make the deal! Your people pay plenty to get you back, pretty lady!”
“Comrade Wiley,” Adele said sharply. She reached into her tunic pocket. “This is an extremely good offer from your viewpoint. If you refuse it–”
“Dapp!” said Wiley. “The little pale one has a smart tongue. You fix her like Selsmark. Then the pretty lady knows we mean business!”
Dapp laughed, baring his filed teeth. He reached for Tovera’s throat. Tovera didn’t move, but Adele brought out her pistol.
“Wah!” Dapp said. He jumped back.
Adele shot him twice in the right eye. He was so close that a blob of clear jelly splashed her cheek. His left arm and leg flailed convulsively. Wiley tried to jump out of the way, but Dapp’s fist clouted him on the cheek and knocked him down.
Adele waggled the pistol out at her side to cool it; even two shots seriously heated the barrel. To drop the weapon back in her pocket immediately risked charring the lining and even giving herself a blister.
A feral lifted his spear. “Put that down,” Adele said.
The feral threw it to the ground and vanished into the jungle behind him. His three fellows followed an instant later, one of them dropping his crossbow as he ran.
Dapp fell onto his back. The knives on his bandoliers rattled as his body shuddered. His mouth and left eye were open, and pinkish brains oozed from the crater of the right one.
Adele grimaced. Wiley rested on his elbows with a dazed expression.
“Get up,” she snapped. She put the pistol out of sight to encourage him; by now the coil-wrapped barrel was only vaguely warm.
“What will you do to me?” said Wiley, rising with a careful expression. He was judging whether he’d be better to run or to jump the pair of small women, calling for his henchmen to return.
Tovera took out her little sub-machine gun. “Stay and listen, little man,” she said. “You’ll like that better than the other ways this could go.”
“I’m going to make you a fair offer and return to Base Alpha, just as I’ve been saying,” Adele said. She had a good deal of practice at restating the obvious, but she’d never come to like the experience; that was one of the reasons she found dealing with Daniel to be such a pleasure. “I have neither the desire nor the ability to force you to take it, but common sense should be enough.”
She was suddenly dizzy. The stench, she thought, blinking angrily, but it wasn’t Dapp’s voided bowels. It wasn’t even reaction to the adrenalin that a few instants of violence hadn’t burned out of her system. Some day one of them will kill me instead, and then the dreams will stop.
Wiley rose, eyeing her warily. Did he notice that? But the feral probably hadn’t seen anything wrong, and anyway it couldn’t matter.
“You’re welcome to stay on Fonthill if you like,” Adele said, drawing a handkerchief from her breast pocket and wiping her cheek. “We’ll be taking all the laborers and staff off with us, though. Perhaps you can arrange for food with Hydriote traders, though for the immediate present their ships are going to be fully occupied in other matters. And nobody else has the coordinates of Fonthill, of course.”
Wiley straightened slightly. He didn’t relax, but neither was he on the verge of suicidal action. “And if we go with you, we ferals?” he said.
“There’ll be fighting,” Adele said. “Quite a lot of the civilians where we’re going won’t like the change of government we’re imposing. You’ll have modern small arms and the overall direction of the campaign will be by RCN officers.”
“The civilians will have guns?” Wiley said.
Adele nodded. “Some of them certainly will,” she said. “And many will be retired military personnel. They won’t be organized, but individually they’ll know what they’re doing. Better than you and your personnel will, I dare say.”
Wiley sniffed. “Maybe in a battle they would,” he said. “From what you tell me, this won’t be a battle.”
The feral chieftain should have looked ridiculous standing against a wall of jungle in his mud-blotched suit. He didn’t.
“Yes,” said Adele. “I take your point.”
She cleared her throat as a pause to collect herself. For a moment, her mind had been other places.
“In return for your services to the Republic,” she said, “you and your personnel will gain Friendly Citizenship. That is, citizenship on a world classed as a Friend of Cinnabar. You’ll be able to vote in planetary elections but not–”
Her smile was dry.
“–for Senators of the Republic. Besides the cash stipend–whose amount has yet to be determined–I have no doubt that despite RCN oversight, your military activities will provide you with ample opportunities for pillage and rape.”
Wiley shrugged without speaking. His eyes didn’t leave hers.
“In case your comment about cannibalism was more than just boasting,” Adele said, “I strongly recommend you drop the practice. Quite a lot that happens during a war will be ignored, but cannibalism will not.”
Wiley tugged his trousers around to glance at the seat, but he didn’t try vainly to brush away the drying mud. “I can’t be everywhere,” he said.
This time Adele shrugged. “I’m offering you choices, Comrade Wiley,” she said. “What you do with the offers is your own business.”
“How much time do we have?” Wiley said. “I’m not saying I accept, but if I do?”
“The last ships will be loading at Base Alpha in four days,” Adele said. “After they’re gone, the remaining residents will have Fonthill to themselves for months or perhaps years. I suspect that when the Republic returns, it will do so with proper military forces and sufficient ships to enforce its revenue regulations, but that’s beyond both my knowledge and my interest.”
She looked down at Dapp and Selsmark. They were veiled in insects, and worms or perhaps root tendrils were squirming from the mud to nuzzle them.
“We’ll leave you now,” she said. She stepped carefully into the skiff, trying not to make it wobble too badly as she worked her way back to Gibbs in the stern. Tovera waited on the mudbank until her mistress was seated on the thwart.
When Adele looked again, Wiley had vanished. Something had raised its wedge-shaped head from the water and was tugging at a coil of Selsmark’s intestine. Like the feral chieftain, the creature was small and rather pretty.
From the length of its paired fangs, it was probably poisonous as well.