What Distant Deeps — Snippet 22

“I wondered if you were going to tell her,” Tovera said. Her smile was a smirk most of the time that it didn’t look as though she were a carnivore preparing to leap.

“I told her everything that was important to her,” Adele said. “I have to change out of utilities before I leave the ship, though.”

They started for the companionway. Tovera said, “Cory would have known, wouldn’t he?”

“Yes, I suppose he would,” Adele said. “But he’s still standing on the quay with the Browns, and anyway, it doesn’t matter.”

Cory would have traced the signal back to its source as a matter of course. He liked signals. And with that cue, he probably would have found a building manifest. That in turn would have told him that the only occupant of Annex 6 was the Regional Intelligence Section.

* * *

The band was playing a song Daniel remembered as being current in Xenos just before he graduated from the Academy, but it had been rescored for what he supposed were Palmyrene instruments: recorders with a swollen air box immediately beneath the mouthpiece; stringed instruments, plucked as well as bowed, with very long necks and rounded bodies; sets of hand-stroked drums; and a sistrum — fourteen pieces in all.

The Piri Reis floated in the largest slip in the Civil Basin, suitable for a bulk freighter or even a battleship, so there was a good deal of water between the cruiser’s bow and the peripheral quay. That had been decked for a dance floor with steel beams and thick wooden planks instead of the usual thin plating supported by gridwork attached to pontoons.

Daniel grinned. It didn’t flex, although among the dancers was a circle of twelve men in pantaloons and loose tunics whose whirling was definitely on the acrobatic side. Several of them held in either hand green scarves which fluttered wildly as they spun.

“They’re from Behistun,” Milch said, leaning close to be heard. “The only reason I know is there was a lieutenant commander in Administration when I was first posted here who was doing a study of them. You couldn’t shut him up in the mess.”

The crowd numbered several hundred. Some wore uniforms, but not nearly so many as Daniel had learned to expect on the fringes of — not to put too fine a point on it — civilization, as a citizen of Cinnabar or Pleasaunce would define the state.

The other surprise was that planetary costumes of various types predominated. Indeed, Daniel would have seen far more women dressed in the latest Pleasaunce fashion at a party in Xenos than he did here. The residents of the Qaboosh Region were so distant from the centers of power that they didn’t realize their customs were quaint and laughable.

Daniel smiled wryly. Given their ability to navigate in the Matrix, they had reason to be satisfied with who they were.

“Leary?” someone called. “Daniel Leary, and it’s not half a wonder to find you on Stahl’s World!”

Coming through the press wearing Grays was Lieutenant Ames, an Academy classmate with whom Daniel had spent a good deal of time when they were both impecunious Cadets. Ames had the same smile and the same unruly black hair. His uniform looked as though it was meant for a larger man and had been cut down inexpertly, so he was probably still impecunious as well.

“By heavens, it’s good to see you, Ames!” Daniel said, clasping hands with his old friend. “I’m glad to see you’ve –”

His tongue twitched an instant, then concluded, ” –kept yourself so fit.”

“The great thing about being out in the boondocks, Leary . . . ,” said Ames with a quirked smile. “Is that the chances are you won’t be thrown on half pay when peace breaks out and your ship is put into ordinary. Our Lords of Navy House can’t run down the Qaboosh Establishment very much and still have an establishment here. So yes, I’m still Second Lieutenant of the Fantome.”

Daniel nodded in embarrassment. He’d always thought Ames was among the sharpest of his classmates, but his combination of being brash, poor, and unlucky was a bad one.

“If you don’t mind, Ames,” said Milch, who obviously minded the delay quite a lot himself, “I need to introduce our guest to Admiral Mainwaring. Do you know where he is? Perhaps you can catch up with the captain at some later point; but not, I think, today.”

“The Admiral is on the quay near the forward boarding ramp, sir,” Ames said. “About as far from the band as he could get, I shouldn’t wonder. Ah — I wonder, Commander Milch?”

“Well, what is it, boy?” Milch snapped as he started down the quay separating the cruiser’s slip from the adjacent one where the six Palmyrene cutters were berthed. They were small enough in all truth, but against the bulk of a heavy cruiser they looked tiny.

“I’d appreciate a chance to introduce Captain Leary to the Admiral myself,” Ames said. “We are old friends.”

He cocked an eyebrow toward Daniel.

“Hear hear!” Daniel said with honest enthusiasm. “We are indeed, Commander.”

“And it’s a, well, different context from some of those the Admiral may recall me in,” Ames concluded hopefully.

Milch guffawed. “You mean, like the time you and Midshipman Jarndyce appeared at the Governor’s Ball in silks, claiming to be the Sultan of Patagonia and his Chief Concubine?” he said. “All right, Ames, you can introduce your friend. But make yourself scarce as soon as you have, got that?”

“Aye aye, sir!” said Ames. “And here, most honorable captain, is the man we’re fortunate to have as our squadron commander.”

The admiral stood in the midst of Whites and civilian clothing ranging from tweeds to a barefoot woman wearing a poncho of cerise feathers with a mantilla. Mainwaring was a big man; he certainly carried more weight than he needed to, but Daniel’s first impression was of power rather than flabby indolence. He was holding a drink in his right hand and gesturing forcefully to the befeathered lady with his left.

“Admiral Mainwaring?” said Ames. “May I have the honor to present my classmate, Captain Daniel Leary?

“What?” said Mainwaring. He held out his drink to the side; a boy of sixteen or so, wearing Whites without insignia, snatched it away to free the Admiral’s hand. “Ames, are you telling me that the captain was a classmate of yours?”

“He was indeed, sir,” said Daniel. By regulation, salutes weren’t to be exchanged in civilian venues, but he’d held himself ready to try if Mainwaring’s scowl had showed that the admiral was expecting one. “And you can take most of his stories for true, because Cadet Ames was generally in the lead when the more interesting incidents were happening.”

Mainwaring laughed, but he gave the lieutenant an appraising look. Ames nodded politely, then said, “I’ll be off then, sir. Leary, it’s a pleasure to see you, as always.”

“You and he really did run around together, Leary?” Mainwaring said.

“Yes sir,” Daniel said. “And based on my experience of Ames at the Academy, I’d venture that Midshipman Jarndyce is a comely young lady.”

A lieutenant commander laughed. “You got that in one, sir,” he said. “I’m Paxston — ” which Daniel had already determined from the tag on his left breast “– of the Fantome, young Ames’ CO.”

Not for the first time it struck Daniel that people were referring to him with deference and his classmates — Ames was thirty-seven days his senior — as “young this-or-that.” Apparently success added not only laurels but years.

“Now,” said Mainwaring, “we need to find the Autocrator. Milch, do you see anybody in a yellow cap?”

To Daniel he added, “Those would be Palmyrene officers. One of them ought to know.”

Milch disappeared on his implied errand. Daniel spread a smile across the group around the admiral, feeling uncomfortable.