What Distant Deeps — Snippet 03

Daniel heard the low-frequency thrum of the big surface effect transport he’d been expecting and gave a sigh of relief. He’d set the arrival for mid-afternoon. He hadn’t wanted his Sissies to party for the full day and night with the Bantry tenants, but he’d been so long in the company of spacers that the rural society in which he’d been raised had become strange to him.

“I asked for the job,” said Sand, squaring his broad shoulders. “I wanted a chance to do something for a real hero of the Republic.”

He gave Daniel a challenging grin and a nod that was almost a bow. “Hear hear!” said Peterleigh, and the others in the group echoed him.

“Much obliged,” said Daniel in embarrassment. He drew a mug of ale for an excuse to turn away.

The bid for the Community Hall had seemed fair. Deirdre, Daniel’s older sister, had handled the matter for him; she’d been handling all his business since prize money had made that more complex than finding a few florins to pay a bar tab. Deirdre had followed their father into finance with a ruthless intelligence that would doubtless serve her well in politics also when she chose to enter the Senate.

The building that appeared wasn’t the simple barn that Daniel had envisaged, though. The wall mechanisms were extremely sophisticated — and solid: Daniel had gone over them with the attention he’d have given the lock mechanisms of a ship he commanded. Only then had he realized that this was more than a commercial proposition for the builder; as, of course, it was for Daniel Leary himself.

The transport rumbled in from the sea, a great aerofoil with a catamaran hull. It slid up the processing plant’s ramp — which had been extended north to support the starboard outrigger — and settled to a halt.

The reel dance had broken up for the time being. All eyes were on the big vehicle.

“This something you were expecting, Leary?” said Waldmiller, frowning. To him such craft were strictly for trade, hauling his estate’s produce to market in the cities of the east.

The hatches opened. Even before the ramps had fully deployed, spacers were hopping to the ground wearing their liberty suits. Their embroidered patches were bright, and ribbons fluttered from all the seams.

“Up the Sissie!” someone shouted. The group headed for the Hall and the promised ale with the same quick enthusiasm that they’d have shown in storming Hell if Captain Leary had ordered it.

“It is indeed, Waldmiller,” Daniel said. “These are the spacers who’ve served with me since before I took command of the Princess Cecile. I invited them and some of my other shipmates to share the fun today.”

Officers waited for the ramp, not that they couldn’t have jumped if they’d thought the situation required speed rather than decorum. For the most part they wore their 2nd Class uniforms, their Grays, but Mon — a reserve lieutenant, though he’d for several years managed Bergen and Associates Shipyard in Daniel’s name — had made a point of wearing his full-dress Whites.

The shipyard had been doing very well under Mon’s leadership. That had allowed him to have the uniform let out professionally, since his girth had also expanded notably.

Two slightly built women were the last people out of the transport. Adele wore an unobtrusively good suit, since she was appearing as Lady Adele Mundy rather than as Signals Officer Mundy of the Princess Cecile. Tovera, her servant, was neat and nondescript, as easy to overlook as a viper in dried leaves.

“I say, Leary?” said Broma. “Who’s the civilian women there? Your Miranda’s meeting them, I see.”

Miranda, accompanied by another flock of children — generally girls this time — waited at the bottom of the ramp. Mothers and older sisters were running to grab them when they noticed what was happening.

“That’s my friend Adele and her aide,” Daniel said with satisfaction. “And I’m very glad to seem them again!”

* * *

The transport had four files of seats running the length of the fuselage, arranged in facing pairs. Only when the exit ramps began to open did Adele shut off her personal data unit and slide it into the pocket which she had added to the right thigh of all her dress clothes. The cargo pocket of RCN utilities worked very well without modification.

Adele had found over the years that bespoke tailors gave her more trouble when she demanded the PDU pocket on civilian suits than RCN officers did when they saw her out of uniform. On the other hand, even the snootiest tailor gave in eventually for the honor of dressing Mundy of Chatsworth, a member of one of the oldest families of the Republic and a decorated hero besides.

Adele was in fact the only member of the Mundys of Chatsworth to have survived the Proscriptions which had decapitated the Three Circles Conspiracy nearly twenty years earlier. At the time she was a sixteen-year-old student in the Academic Collections on Blythe, the second world and intellectual capital of the Alliance of Free Stars. Though her family had been extremely wealthy, her personal tastes were simple. That fitted her to survive if not flourish in a poverty too deep to be described as genteel.

Recently, the prize money that had accrued to her as an RCN warrant officer in the crew of the most successful captain in a generation had allowed Adele to live and dress in a fashion that befit her rank in society. She was amused to reflect that she owed the recovery of her fortunes to the son of Speaker Leary, the man who had directed the execution of every other member of her family.

She stood; Tovera, with her usual neutral expression, waited in the aisle to precede Adele as soon as she decided to leave the transport. Tovera’s expression sometimes implied that the pale, slender woman was pleased about something. Those “somethings” weren’t the sort of matters that amused most other people, however.

Adele shared much of her servant’s sense of humor. That, and the fact that Adele was a crack shot whose pistol had killed indeterminate scores of people during her service in the RCN, made her a suitable role model for Tovera. In order to survive in society, a murderous sociopath needs someone to translate the rules of acceptable behavior for her.

Adele started down the aisle. Lieutenant Cory and Midshipman Cazelet were waiting by the hatch. Tovera gave them a minuscule nod which sent them down the ramp. This wasn’t a social event for Adele; at least not yet.

The two young officers were her protégés, though she wasn’t sure how that had happened. Rene Cazelet was the grandson of her mentor at the Academic Collections, Mistress Boileau. When the boy’s parents were executed for plotting against Guarantor Porra, Boileau had sent him to Adele.

That was perfectly reasonable. Adele didn’t understand why, however, after she’d helped Rene get his feet under him on Cinnabar, he’d continued to follow her in the RCN instead of finding a civilian occupation. Adele’s contacts could have opened almost any door for him.

Cory was even more puzzling. He’d been a barely marginal midshipman when he was assigned to the Princess Cecile. Some of his classmates had blossomed under Daniel’s training, but Cory had remained a thumb-fingered embarrassment . . . until Adele had more or less by accident found that the boy had a talent for communications — and used him. To the amazement of herself and Daniel both, Cory had managed to become a more-than-passable astrogator as well.

Well and good; Adele was of course pleased. But Cory apparently credited her with his turnaround, whereas Adele would be the first to say that she would be better able to fly by flapping her arms than she would be to astrogate. She didn’t even know how to direct the astrogation computer to find a solution the way many of the senior enlisted personnel could.

Tovera led the way out of the transport, her hand within the half-open attaché case she carried in all circumstances which didn’t allow her to show weapons openly. There was almost no chance of someone trying to attack Adele here at Bantry, but Tovera would say that no one had ever been murdered because their bodyguard was too careful. Tovera wasn’t going to change her behavior, so it was a matter on which mistress and servant would simply disagree.

The assorted spacers were already mixing with the crowd of Bantry tenants. Both groups were in their party clothes, but they were as distinct as birds from lizards. The Sissies wore ribbons and patches, while the Bantries were in solid bright colors — generally in combinations that clashed. Muted good taste wasn’t seen as a virtue either by spacers or farmers, it appeared.

Adele smiled. “Mistress?” said Tovera, who flicked quick glances behind her as well. Presumably she was concerned that the transport’s driver might enter to creep from the cockpit to shoot Lady Mundy in the back.

“I was wondering . . . ,” Adele said. “How my tailor would react if I asked him to run me up a liberty suit.”

“Any of the Sissies would be proud to do the work, Mistress,” Tovera said with a straight face and no inflection. “They’d fight each other for the honor.”

She paused, then added, “Woetjans would win.”

“Yes,” Adele agreed dryly. “Woetjans would win.”

A sociopath shouldn’t be able to joke, but Tovera had certainly learned to counterfeit the act. At least the comment was probably meant as a joke.

The Princess Cecile’s bosun was six-foot-six and rangy rather than heavy. She — Woetjans was biologically female — had always struck Adele as abnormally strong even for her size, and the length of high-pressure tubing she swung in a melee was more effective than a sawed-off shotgun.