What Distant Deeps — Snippet 08

Cazelet was one of them. Daniel supposed he and Cory had joined a youth whom they knew only as someone of their own age and class. The sons and daughters of a few Bantry tenants had drifted over also.

“I think then that I’ll have a word,” said Daniel, starting forward. He thought sourly about how much more easily he could handle matters aboard the Princess Cecile, but he knew this sort of business could occur in a military environment as well.

His Academy classmate Oudenarde had served as midshipman on a light cruiser whose captain allowed his pet Tertullian swamp monkey to wander freely on A Level. The animal’s career of rending, fouling and eating the possessions of the junior officers ended when it gobbled a package of aphrodisiacs which the Second Lieutenant had concealed among his socks.

Apparently the pills worked better on swamp monkeys than Daniel had ever known them to do with humans. The beast had been shot on the captain’s screamed orders while it made a very respectable job of buggering him through the trousers of his Dress Whites.

“I figure a wet like you hasn’t any business with a pretty bint,” said Platt, seizing the arm of the girl in a scarlet apron who’d been standing with Cory. She tried to pull away. “You don’t resent this, do you, navy boy?”

Platt grabbed a handful of the squealing girl’s hair and bent to kiss her.

“Cazelet, grab him!” Daniel shouted as he broke into a run.

Rene Cazelet wrapped his arms around Cory and dragged him back. Thank the gods he’d been smart enough to understand what Daniel understood but hadn’t adequately put in words. Cazelet touching Platt would have been just as bad as what Cory was lunging to do.

It was possible though unlikely that Cazelet was a better shot than Cory, but in either case RCN officers had to resign their commission in order to fight a duel. A hundred puffed-up bullies like Chuckie Platt weren’t worth the career, let alone the life, of an RCN engine wiper.

The girl scratched at Platt’s arm; his fist balled. Daniel knew he wouldn’t get there in time.

Adele slapped Platt’s left cheek. The boy straightened and cried, “What?”

“Sir,” said Adele, “you have insulted my friend, Mistress Maynor. You will apologize to her at once.”

The girl pulled herself free; Platt had forgotten her. Two of the male tenants helped her get clear but stayed to watch; the girl ran sobbing toward the huts.

“Who the bloody hell do you think you are?” said Platt, touching his cheek in amazement.

Daniel paused. This wasn’t what he’d wanted to happen, but it had happened — and the situation was certainly under control now.

Hofmann’s wife, gasping with emotion and the strain of running in a ridiculously tight dress, thrust herself between her son and Adele. “Chuckie, this is Lady Mundy!” she said. Her voice had a shrill edge that didn’t seem to belong with so fleshy a body. “What are you thinking of?”

Platt flung his mother aside with a sweep of his arm. She gave a despairing cry as she fell. He’s more drunk than I realized, Daniel thought. He’s wobbling on his feet.

Eyes locked on Adele’s, Platt repeated, “Who the hell –”

Hogg and Woetjans had the boy from behind. The complaints of people they’d knocked down added to the general bedlam.

“Think a swim’d sober him up, Six?” the bosun said, nodding toward the sea. She held Platt’s right arm straight up and was stepping on his foot to anchor it.

“Or there’s the old cesspool from before we cut the sewer through from the third row houses,” Hogg suggested in a gruffly hopeful voice.

“Dear gods, Leary,” Hofmann said. “Dear gods.”

Daniel had forgotten the fellow. He said, “You can –”

Hofmann bowed to Adele. “Lady Mundy,” he said, “I sincerely apologize for any offense my son may have given in his delirium. I was remiss, grossly remiss, in not keeping him at home when I knew how ill he was.”

Adele’s face changed, though Daniel didn’t know how he would have described the difference. Adele looked human again; he supposed that would do.

“Yes,” she said. “Home would be the best place for him. My colleagues –”

Her eyes flicked toward Hogg and Woetjans.

“– will help you put him in the car, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, of course!” Hofmann said. “And I will apologize personally to Mistress Maynor in the place and manner you wish, your Ladyship.”

“A moment if you please, Hofmann,” Daniel said. Woetjans thumped to attention; even Hogg’s expression showed that he understood that there weren’t going to be any arguments now. “May I borrow these for a moment?”

Without waiting for Hofmann’s response — it was a blurted, “Yes, of course, anything!” when it came — Daniel lifted the pistol from the tray with his right hand and the one the servant had just finished reloading with his left. Holding each by the balance, butt forward, he turned toward Adele. She waited impassively.

“Adele?” he said. “There are two Dravidian Maws above us, the large pink birds. They’re an introduced species which I consider to be a nuisance. Would you please take care of it for me?”

He held out a pistol. Adele glanced at the raucously circling birds. Smiling faintly, she took the weapon in her left hand.

The Maws wobbled between a hundred and a hundred and fifty feet in the air, higher than most of the other birds. The bare skin of their wings was, as Daniel said, pinkish below, though the upper surface was opalescent and rather attractive in sunlight.

That was the birds’ only attractive aspect. Their heads were roughly the size of clenched fists and resembled beaked gargoyles, their call was as shrilly unpleasant of that of a tortured rabbit, and they spread their liquid green feces widely as they flew. One could scarcely ask for a better —

Adele presented her pistol and fired as part of the same motion. Spectators jumped at the shot; a few reflexively clapped their hands over their ears.

One of the birds had been over the sea. Its head vanished in a pink mist; the heavy body tumbled, motion making the wings flutter like unstayed sails. The bird splashed but did not immediately sink.

Adele tipped the butt of her pistol up; Daniel took it in his free hand as he offered her the loaded weapon. She held that one for a moment, judging the balance. The pistols should have been identical, but Daniel wasn’t going to try to tell his friend her business.

Some of the birds had scattered at the previous shot, but the remaining Maw continued its circle. It shrieked as it sailed over the sea wall, apparently in general peevishness. Adele presented and fired, her motion more like someone netting butterflies than anything lethal.

The bird’s skull splashed, though this time the lower half of the beak remained attached to the neck by a strip of skin. The throat sack filled like a parachute, halting the Maw in mid flight.

The bird dropped, spilling air and swelling again twice more before it hit the water; it floated within and arm’s length of its mate. The new splash drew some of the fish which had begun to nibble the previous carcass.

“Thank you, Adele,” Daniel said as he took the emptied pistol. He beamed at Platt.

The youth had stopped struggling. He stared at Adele, then turned gray and threw up. Hogg grinned to Woetjans. When they both let go, Platt toppled face-first into his own vomit.

Hogg elbowed one of the liveried servants. “I guess you two can get him to the car, right?” he said. “Do it now.”

The servants took their master by the arms, but they fumbled badly. Platt dropped to the ground again before they got him to his feet. They finally stumbled off in the direction of the aircar.

Daniel turned. He threw the pistol in his right hand as far into the sea as he could get it, then followed it with the other. He managed to get an additional three or four feet on the second throw. Fish, made hopeful by the Maw corpses, shivered toward the fresh disturbances.

“Very sorry about dropping the guns, Hofmann,” Daniel said. “I’ll pay you for them, of course.”

Hofmann was helping his wife to her feet. He looked over his shoulder toward Daniel. “I wouldn’t think of it, Leary,” he said. “It’s just another of the several favors you’ve done me this day.”

Then, to his wife, “Come along, Bertie. We have things to discuss when we get home.”

The landowners and Sand remained where they had been. Daniel gave them a quick, hard smile to show that all was well.

Bantries sidled away from Daniel and Adele, whispering to one another with a variety of expressions. Cazelet had headed for the hall, his arm around Cory’s shoulders.

Hogg and Woetjans were moving back also. That surprised Daniel until he realized that the gallon liquor jug had somehow vanished from sight.

They’ve earned a drink this day, he thought. He ostentatiously turned his back instead of peering more closely at his servant’s baggy tunic.

Adele was standing at his side. “I don’t know about you, Daniel,” she said quietly, “but I’m ready to leave Cinnabar for a place where the rules are simpler.”

“Yes,” said Daniel. “Though with the Peace of Rheims in effect, we can’t hope to find a war zone.”