SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 68:



            If Woetjans had heard the conversation, she'd have ignored it because it wouldn't have made sense to her. The bosun wasn't an intellectual and knew it. There was a lot in the world that she didn't understand, and that wasn't something that bothered her.


            Adele, of course, would've understood that Daniel was telling Otto things that Otto already believed. That made him more likely to believe the other things Daniel would tell him.


            Vesey would take the words as seriously meant for at least a few heartbeats, a betrayal of her trust and a damning indictment of her own competence. All that despite the fact that logic told her Commander Leary couldn't believe what he'd just said, that he was simply explaining to the Pellegrinian security police why the Sissie's former commanding officer was no longer aboard.


            "Perhaps you've found wisdom in your visit to our region," Otto said. Daniel couldn't tell from his tone whether the words were meant as irony. "No doubt that by itself would justify the time and effort of your voyage."


            He spread his fingertips against the burl inlays of the doorpanel beside him. His nails were painted with chevrons of dark blue against an azure background. "You returned from Bennaria to Pellegrino, then?" he asked, his cold eyes on Daniel.


            "Not directly, no," said Daniel. "We went from Bennaria to Dunbar's World. Then from Dunbar's World to here, and back to Cinnabar as quickly as the sails can take us."


            Vesey wasn't aboard because she was marching off toward the bars, brothels, and gambling hells of Center Street with forty-four other Sissies. She wore a liberty suit borrowed from Cui, an engine wiper who'd remained with the anchor watch. There'd be a lot of coming and going of the Princess Cecile's crew members over the next twelve hours. Unless the police were counting very carefully, the fact that thirty of those spacers were still on the ground when the ship lifted ought to go unremarked.


            It wasn't a problem port policemen were used to dealing with. Though quite a lot of their duties involved searching for spacers who'd jumped ship, it was up to the ship's officers to report that there were missing personnel in the first place.


            "Ah!" said Otto, his spread hand suddenly as motionless as a waiting spider. "You admit you were on Dunbar's World, then?"


            "My mission was to aid Bennarian forces in repelling the recent invasion of Dunbar's World, Superintendent," Daniel said calmly. "This isn't a secret–it was debated and agreed in an open meeting of the Cinnabar Senate. And no, I didn't make a point of telling that to you or other officials when we landed at Central Haven on our way in–I'm not a complete idiot."


            He shrugged and added, "But neither am I foolish enough to think you don't know all this by now from your own sources. I assure you that if my mission hadn't been a complete and total failure, I would've bypassed Pellegrino on my return."


            Otto was obviously taken aback. He touched a set of controls on his armrest. A holographic display briefly brightened in front of him, then vanished. From Daniel's angle it'd been only a milky blur.


            "You are forced to land on Pellegrino," Otto said with what was obviously feigned assurance. "Our location controls access to Ganpat's Reach!"


            Daniel smiled. "Superintendent," he said, "I don't think there's a captain in the RCN who couldn't plot a course in and out of the Reach without touching down on Pellegrino. It's a convenience certainly–that's why I'm here. And besides–"


            He let the smile turn rueful.


            "–I figured you deserved a chance to crow at me on my way home with my tail between my legs. Because I was, I'll admit, less than candid with the authorities here when we landed the first time."


            Otto blinked. He set his hand against the doorpanel, then brought up–and killed–the display again. Finally he said, "So, what is it that convinced you to return to Cinnabar, Commander?"


            "Superintendent Otto," Daniel said, leaning slightly forward. "I'm an RCN officer, not a Pellegrinian spy. I have no intention of discussing the details of what I observed in Ganpat's Reach with you. I will tell you that while I don't expect people at Navy House to be pleased with the report I tender to them, neither do I expect the failure of my mission to seriously harm my career. Not on the facts I determined while I was in the Reach."


            Otto chuckled like bubbles percolating through heavy oil. "Well, I'll withdraw my question then, Commander," he said. "To be frank, I doubt there's very much you could tell me about what you did and saw that we on Pellegrino don't already know."


            He tapped the controls to the car's data unit but didn't switch it on.


            "So," he continued. If his chuckle had implied good humor, it was certainly past now. "I will ask another question: what are your present intentions, Commander Leary?"


            "I'm allowing the crew eighteen hours leave," Daniel said. He grinned and added, "I don't think I'm giving away military secrets if I tell you that neither Charlestown nor Ollarville right now are places I was willing to give unrestricted liberty."


            He hadn't started with, "I've already told you," because that further waste of time would serve only to sour his relationship with the Superintendent. At the moment the relationship was merely doubtful. Daniel was under no illusions that his Cinnabar rank and citizenship would protect him from real trouble if he angered Otto sufficiently.


            "We'll top off our reaction mass here and take on local produce," he continued. "The usual business, of course. And then we lift for Cinnabar, which I hope to manage in a single insertion. All the way in the Matrix, that is, without dropping back into sidereal space for star sightings."


            "Is that possible?" said Otto, looking puzzled but no longer hostile. "It is the voyage of a month, is it not? I'm not a spaceman, of course, but I understood if one spent so long in the Matrix without a break, one went mad."


            Daniel shrugged again. "I judge thirteen days," he said. "I've gone longer in the past with this ship and mostly this crew."


            He met Otto's eyes and grinned engagingly. "Not to put too fine a point on it," he said, "I intend to get back to Cinnabar before word of what happened does. I want to be the one who explains why my mission failed. If I come waltzing in after some merchant captain spreads the word–or the Manco agent through a courier, I shouldn't wonder–then they'll be on me with their knives out as I step down the boarding ramp. I won't have a chance to get the facts out."


            "I see," said Otto, sounding as though he did. He let out another chuckle. Then, sober again, he went on, "You have permission to go about your business in Haven City then, Commander; but with a word of warning: if you have occasion to land on Pellegrino again, be sure you are fully forthcoming about your intentions. A failure to do so will be regarded as an insult to Pellegrino and to our benevolent Chancellor. No one, not even a son of the redoubtable Speaker Leary, would be immune to the righteous workings of justice in such a case."


            "I take your point," said Daniel. He'd guessed already that Otto had taken the time to learn his background. He unlatched the door but didn't push it open for a moment. "And you've reminded me to mention something else I need to do while I'm in Central Haven. One of my father's ships is disabled here, the Stoddard. Either I or my aide will check with the captain and see if there's anything they need from us."


            He leaned his shoulder against the car door but paused again and allowed it to swing closed. "I don't know how much your files have on me, Superintendent," he went on, "but I'll tell you that my father and I haven't spoken since I joined the RCN."


            That wasn't quite true, but it was beyond the ability of anybody save the Learys, father and son, to disprove.


            "He's no longer Speaker, but he's a powerful man in the Senate," Daniel said. "And I'm going to need help in the Senate to explain how my mission worked out the way it did in Ganpat's Reach!"


            Otto was laughing again as Daniel got out of the car. The door's solid closing thump put a merciful end to the oily gurgle.