SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 33:

The first segment of companionway would’ve been dark except that a work light hung on a length of flex running back into the corridor behind. Adele had noticed that the floor of the entrance hold wasn’t level, a more serious maintenance problem. The port outrigger must leak enough to float lower than the starboard one.

“Do you appreciate fine wines, mistress?” Krychek asked. “Or liqueurs, perhaps?”

He was immediately behind Adele, which meant Tovera brought up the rear. She’d presumably decided that she could best protect her mistress from that position, though Adele couldn’t imagine what criteria she’d used. Tovera didn’t have the emotional concern for Adele that Hogg did for Daniel–she didn’t have emotions at all, so far as Adele’d been able to tell–but she would stolidly and efficiently do the best job she could through intelligence and ruthlessness.

“I can’t say that I do, sir,” Adele said, honestly but for effect also. She wasn’t here to socialize. “I might say that I’m a connoisseur of information, but even there I have catholic tastes.”

She stepped out in the A Level corridor and turned left–toward the bridge–by reflex. “This way, if you please,” Krychek said, opening the hatch across from the companionway. The interior lights went on automatically.

In a compartment down the corridor men–she was sure they were all men–were singing, “Rosy dawn, rosy dawn, will today my grave-mouth yawn?”

Krychek nodded toward the voices. “The crew are my retainers,” he said. “My children and closer than children. They came into exile with me–for me.”

“Soon I’ll hear the trumpet sound,” sang the hidden chorus. One of the group had a guitar. “I to death am surely bound, I and my dear comrades.”

“I’ll join them, mistress?” Tovera said, flicking her eyes toward the singing. Adele nodded agreement.

“I understand,” said Adele as she followed Krychek into the compartment. The hatch was an ordinary steel valve, but the inner surface was veneered in the same dark wood as the cabinets and other furnishings. “The circumstances of my own exile were rather different, of course.”

“I never thought, I never thought–”

“Exile?” repeated Krychek, pausing with his hand on the hatch. “But of course, I should have realized–you were an associate of my friend Maurice!”

“–my joy so soon would come to naught,” the chorus sang with lugubrious gusto.

“Yes, my family was implicated in the Three Circles Conspiracy,” Adele said simply. “I spent most of my adult life on Bryce, until the Edict of Reconciliation permitted me to return to Cinnabar.”

She was using the massacre of her own family as a tool to elicit the sympathy and thereby cooperation of this Infantan noble. Part of her was horrified at such callousness, but that was an intellectual thing. Emotionally she was quite content to use any tool available to accomplish her task.

Krychek closed the hatch. “So!” he said. “We have much in common, mistress, you and I. Though I’ve never been to Bryce.”

“The Academic Collections suited me better than they might you,” Adele said with a faint smile. Sometimes she was afraid that she had no more conscience than Tovera did.

The compartment was built on two decks. A hardwood mezzanine circled this level, giving access to the books in shockproof cases, but a broad staircase led down to cushioned chairs and curio cabinets. The ceiling was white and double-vaulted, with unfamiliar–to Adele, at least–coats of arms at the eight corners.

“Come, please,” Krychek said. “We can sit as we talk. And surely you’ll drink something with me?”

“A light wine, then,” Adele said, walking down the polished steps with the care they deserved. Neither the staircase nor the mezzanine had railings. Krychek was presumably used to it, but even so it’d be a bad place to be caught if the ship had to maneuver unexpectedly.

“How is dear Maurice, eh?” Krychek said as he unlocked a Tantalus and withdrew the decanter of pale yellow wine. “He wasn’t sure how he’d find Xenos. One doesn’t really return after so many years, you know; what had been home is a different place.”

“Yes, I do know,” said Adele dryly as she accepted the offered wineglass. “As for Claverhouse, he seemed as well as anyone his age could expect. Judging from the restaurant where we met, he’s comfortably fixed at least.”

“Yes, we made a good deal of money,” Krychek said, waving Adele to a chair. Its leather upholstery was the same polished brown as the paneling. “And Maurice’s expenses are lower than mine, of course; he has only himself to care for.”

He looked up at the ceiling. “This library is a replica of the one on my estate, as you’ll have guessed,” he said, lowering his eyes to Adele’s. “I cannot return to Infanta till God rips the tyrant Porra from the throne he disfigures, but I have brought a little of my home with me.”

“Including your retainers,” Adele agreed, tasting her wine. She was no more of a connoisseur than she’d claimed, but she was quite confident that her father–who was remarkably knowledgeable–would’ve approved the vintage.

“Yes-s-s…,” Krychek said, sipping his wine with a harsh expression, his eyes focused a thousand miles away. “That is so.”

Rather than probing while her host was lost in a brown study, Adele glanced at the curio cabinets to either side of her chair. The one on her right held pipes for smoking; tobacco pipes, she was almost sure. They were of a remarkable variety, ceramic, vegetable, and mineral. One was of white material, possibly ivory but stone or synthetic with equal likelihood. Its bowl, bigger than her clenched fist, was decorated with a forest scene in high relief.

The case on the left held… more pipes.