What Distant Deeps — Snippet 16

CHAPTER 5: En Route to Stahl’s World

“Why, this is interesting,” said Cazelet from what was meant for a training position across from Adele at the back of the Signals Console. “The Councilors of Zenobia, that’s the oligarchy, claim to be autochthones.”

“That’s odd,” Adele said. “The record of the settlement vessel Lombard arriving from Earth are quite detailed, including passenger lists. Hmm. It must have been one of the last settlement ships, too; it landed less than a generation before the wars that led to the Hiatus. Zenobians wouldn’t have had as much contact with Earth as most colonies, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that they know they were an Earth colony.”

The compartment was quiet enough that they could have talked directly. Besides the two of them and Sun at the gunnery console, nobody was on the bridge. Vesey was conning the Sissie from the BDC, though while they were in the Matrix there wasn’t really anything for her to do either.

Nonetheless, by mutual choice Adele and Cazelet used a two-way link. It wasn’t that she was worried about Sun overhearing them while he set up gunnery simulations — besides being totally disinterested, the gunner was as trustworthy as Daniel himself — or that the discussion involved anything that could be considered a security matter.

Adele had gotten into the habit of not talking about the things that interested her in front of spacers, however. Cazelet had automatically followed her lead in this as in all other matters. A starship was a tightly closed environment, and spacers tended to think the worst of any situation.

People who reacted fifty times as if to a threat when they were faced with unfamiliar occurrences would live to be embarrassed when the events turned out to be benign. Ignoring what was a real danger was likely to be fatal the first time. Spacers might not be logicians, but the survivors didn’t have to be.

Because of who Adele was, whatever she said aboard the Princess Cecile would be the subject of general attention, and she had learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that there wouldn’t be somebody who could give it a negative spin. That interpretation would become the common property — and common dread — of the company.

Spacers were used to operating in a state of dread, so it wouldn’t affect their efficiency. Nonetheless, it offended Adele to be — no matter how innocently — the instrument of negative misinformation. If she kept her thoughts secret, that wouldn’t happen . . . though she supposed the secrecy itself caused rumors.

“My goodness,” Cazelet said in wonder. “Zenobia retains blood sacrifice, can you imagine that. The Councilors slaughter a bird on the altar after they elect the new Founder following the death of his predecessor. Or her predecessor. I can’t recall a planet with star travel where they were still sacrificing living creatures.”

“Perhaps the Browns’ former governess was right,” said Adele as her wands raked data through her holographic display. “She claimed the Zenobians were barbarians who might eat strangers. Do you find any reference to cannibalism?”

“No, but they’d probably hide that from outsiders,” Cazelet said. “I could do a search for records of off-planet visitors disappearing on nights of the full moon if you’d like.”

“Perhaps later,” Adele said. “Though if I remember correctly –”

Her wands flicked.

“– yes, there it is. Zenobia has three moons, but none of them are large enough to be distinguished from stars without a telescope.”

The most interesting thing Adele had learned thus far from the great mass of data was that Zenobian singing marmosets were not only popular pets in the Qaboosh Region but also were widely distributed throughout the Alliance. She didn’t imagine that would affect her own mission one way or another, but she copied the material in case Daniel would be interested in it.

Reminded by that thought, Adele began sorting out information on Zenobian natural history from the material which she had acquired as soon as she learned where they were going. The Sailing Directions for the Qaboosh Region would be adequate for most purposes, but they were unlikely to differentiate among, say, the amphibian species to be found on the margins of Calvary Harbor. And Daniel might want to know.

“Adele?” Cazelet said. He was properly formal in public, but though he was now wearing an RCN uniform he remained, like her, a civilian of the better classes in his self-conception. “This may be significant. We’ll be arriving just after the closing of the Qaboosh Assembly. On Stahl’s World, that is, not Zenobia.”

Adele switched her search parameters. She’d put Cazelet to combing the data for regional data; she, using the same material, had been sorting for items specific to Zenobia.

In the days before liftoff from Cinnabar, she had busied herself in gathering as much information as she could which might be useful for the current mission. Anything with possible bearing was grist for her mill: memoirs, logbooks, histories; even fiction which touched on the Qaboosh Region. The Mundy name, her personal connections, and her very considerable experience in knowing where something of significance might be stored, had allowed her to cast a very wide net.

All the material had been converted to electronic form. Adele had an affection for hardcopy documents that went well beyond their utility, but what she needed now was the ability to search quickly.

She’d retained electronic facsimiles of the documents, however, to edit and inform what the text-only versions provided. If she wanted to, she could pore to her heart’s content over the manuscript records of Captain Christopher French, the semi-literate drunk who had made the initial landing on the world now called Zenobia.

“Yes,” she said, scrolling quickly through the data. She had two streams running on her display simultaneously, a regional handbook from the External Bureau and news reports from Stahl’s World as archived in the Library of Celsus in Xenos. “Yes, good work, Daniel will want to know about this.”

The Qaboosh Assembly had been instituted some three hundred years in the past, but the leaders who set it up claimed to be reinstituting a pre-Hiatus gathering. Such statements were common — every other planetary strongman claimed to be of pure Earth blood descended in direct succession from the captain of a colony ship — but in this case there was some substance to them.

One of the documents Adele had just perused, The Rambles of a Misspent Life, described the author, the younger son of an unnamed family, posing as an official observer from Cinnabar at a meeting of the Qaboosh Assembly and profiting from the bribes he took from all sides. The work had been published in Xenos in the year 878 Old Style, thus antedating the Hiatus by almost a century.

“The Assembly is supposed to occur every other year,” Cazelet said, “but this will be the first in eight years because of the war. Since they’re held on Stahl’s World from before it was a Friend of Cinnabar.”

“And before Palmyra became so important in the region,” Adele noted aloud. But the Autocrator of Palmyra had been present eight years ago and generally, and so were heads of state or at least delegations from a score of other worlds in the region — including the Founder of Zenobia.

“A pity we’re not going to arrive a little sooner,” Cazelet said. “The Assembly will be over by two days by the time we reach Stahl’s World. Though perhaps at least some of the dignitaries will still be present.”

“And perhaps . . . ,” said Adele, “when Daniel learns about the timing, he’ll find a way to shave a little more time off our run. Break. Lieutenant Vesey, where is Six now, if you please, over?”

“Mistress,” Vesey said, replying instantly. “The Captain has taken Commissioner Brown out to show him the Matrix. Would you like me to summon him, over?”

“No, thank you, Vesey,” Adele said. She grinned ruefully. “I’ll get him when he returns. Mundy out.”

Daniel had probably gone onto the hull through the forward airlock, which Adele could see when the bridge hatch was open — as it was now. She’d been so focused on her work that she hadn’t noticed the considerable noise and commotion which must have occurred when Daniel had fitted a layman into a vacuum suit. Well, they had been none of her present business, and her business could be expected to absorb her completely.

Quirking a grin, Adele set a signal to flash across her display when the inner airlock next cycled open. Otherwise she was likely to miss Daniel’s return as completely as she had his exit.

Then she went back to work on her data. Of course.

* * *