SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 35:

He shrugged expressively. “There was no choice,” he repeated. “Two thrusters failed as we landed, and we cannot lift until the whole set is replaced. Or at least half–we can manage with twelve. We have no payload, you see.”

“Are there no yards on Bennaria that can do the repairs?” Adele said. She knew full well that there were–docks and repair facilities were among the first subjects she researched on any new planetfall–but it seemed a useful comment to keep the conversation flowing.

“Ah, but that will be expensive,” Krychek said. “The bankers here are the Councilors themselves, you knew that?”

“Yes,” said Adele. She would’ve expected it anyway, since close-knit oligarchies rarely gave outsiders a chance to become wealthy.

“None of them will loan me enough for the repairs,” he said, glowering. “Our latest cargo was just off-loaded into warehouses in Port Dunbar. The banks won’t accept it as collateral, even at a ruinous discount; nor will they loan money against the Mazeppa herself.”

Krychek stalked back to the sideboard. Instead of pouring more wine from the Tantalus, he opened the cabinet underneath and took out a squat green bottle. Adele sipped from her glass, until now barely tasted, to forestall being offered some of the liquor. She needn’t have bothered; for the moment Krychek appeared to have forgotten her.

He took a deep draft of the oily, pale yellow fluid and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “It is not just business, you must see,” he said harshly to a bookcase. “They fear me. They will not accept the sworn oath of a Landholder of Infanta!”

Krychek threw himself into his chair again. There was something innately theatrical about the man. He wasn’t putting on a show for Adele, high emotion was simply so much of his nature that he couldn’t help but put on a show.

“If the thrusters would lift us, I would take us to Ferguson,” Krychek said, his voice rising and falling in measured periods. “The new Headman would treat us as we deserve! He knows the Cispalans will stop at nothing to renew their tyranny over Ferguson.”

Adele hadn’t studied Ferguson in detail, but current events were her trade. From what she’d gathered in passing, Daunus Fonk had been the notably rapacious Cispalan governor of the wealthy Cispalan colony of Ferguson. He’d changed his name to Headman Ferguson when he declared the planet independent, using his whole administrative budget to hire mercenaries–and then used those mercenaries to raise additional money. The wool from Terran sheep raised on Ferguson grew up to eighteen inches long and was remarkably fine, but the Headman was shearing his citizenry closer than ever they did their sheep.

“As it is,” Krychek said, “were I to try the thrusters, we would rise only to plunge to the ground like a doomed comet. Yet what choice is there? If we stay here, I will shortly be unable to purchase even food for my men. Better to die in flaming glory, do you not think?”

Headman Ferguson was at best unbalanced, at worst certifiably psychotic. He was hiring mercenaries, though, and Adele appreciated that a former pirate trader was unlikely to have a delicate conscience. Still, Ferguson didn’t seem the best available choice for employer.

“I’m puzzled,” she said, ignoring what she assumed was a rhetorical question, “as to why Councilor Corius isn’t willing to hire your men. No matter what he intends to do with them.”

Krychek looked at her. The half-full liquor glass in his hand seemed forgotten. “Corius would hire my men,” he said. His faint smile hardened as he spoke. “Buy them from me, if you will. But he would not allow me to lead them. Am I such a brute that I should sell my own people?”

No, thought Adele as she put away her data unit, you wouldn’t sell your retainers. But God help anybody who got in the way of you taking care of yourself and those retainers. Yuli Corius seems to understand that too.

Adele stood, setting her glass on the end table beside her chair. “Master Krychek…,” she said.

“Krychek, just Krychek,” her host interjected, rising also.

“You’ve been of great help to me,” she said. “I’ll do what I can about your problem if a means occurs to me, but I’m afraid that at present I don’t see one.”

“No man can escape his fate,” said Krychek portentously. “Perhaps this is mine, to die in flames on this wretched planet!”

Adele looked at the man; he was posed as though modeling for a heroic statue. For all his histrionics, Krychek was just as sharp as she’d have expected a partner of Maurice Claverhouse to be. He’d made the connection that many would’ve missed: if Yuli Corius were planning a coup on Bennaria, he’d have hired the Infantans under Krychek simply to prevent his rivals from doing so as soon as the fighting started.

“I won’t discuss religion with you or anyone else,” Adele said aloud. “I have neither knowledge nor interest in the subject. But speaking analytically, Krychek, I will point out that the situation on Bennaria strikes me as very unstable. If I were you, I wouldn’t be in too great a hurry to convert myself into a fireball.”

Krychek laughed with honest gusto. “Come,” he said, offering Adele his arm. “I will have my men take you back to your ship. We have a crawler–from our business, you see–that does very well on muck like this island. The places we met our clients to trade were ones that others did not visit, you see?”
“I do see,” Adele said, mounting the steps arm in arm with her host. She’d intended to have the water taxi wait for her, but it seemed unlikely that the boatman would ever come within impeller range of the Infantans again. “And thank you.”

Krychek’s information meant that Corius planned to take his private army to Dunbar’s World. That didn’t mean she and Daniel could trust Corius, but they could trust his intentions and act accordingly.

“Now shine your cheeks like milk and wine…,” sang the chorus as Krychek pulled the hatch open. “But ah! all roses wither.”

Tovera turned out to be a lyric soprano.