What Distant Deeps — Snippet 23

One learned in the RCN that a superior officer’s whim was the word of god, but he’d much rather that Mainwaring had taken a moment to introduce him at least to the Cinnabar officers present. Nobody likes to be ignored, and — quite apart from being a generally courteous person himself — Daniel had learned that nobody was so insignificant that their resentment couldn’t matter.

It also struck him that the quickest way of learning where Autocrator Irene was would be to ask Adele over microphone concealed under his left epaulette and get the answer through the bud in his right ear. He didn’t want to call attention to himself — or to Adele — in that fashion, but the idea was tempting.

“I believe I can help you there, Admiral Mainwaring,” said a cultured baritone behind Daniel’s left shoulder. “Autocrator Irene is in conference with your Regional Governor, Master Wenzel, in the Admiral’s Suite on A Level of the Piri Reis.”

Daniel turned and backed slightly, though he kept his smile. The speaker, a man of about thirty Standard years, was, by leaning slightly backward, being punctiliously careful not to crowd. That didn’t make much change in the distance, but the body language was clear.

His costume was remarkable: loose pantaloons gathered above the ankles and an equally billowy shirt with full sleeves but a deeply cut Vee neck that displayed quite a lot of muscular chest. Over it he wore a gold chain whose links looked so buttery pure that Daniel suspected he could bend them with his fingers.

“This is Zenobian national costume,” the man said, facing Daniel with an engaging smile. They were of a height, but the stranger was undeniably trimmer. Daniel controlled his urge to suck his gut in; he was better off not to try to compete on those terms.

“The colors aren’t,” said the woman touching the fellow’s arm. “If you can even call those colors.”

“I’d suspected as much,” Daniel said, smiling in growing amusement. The pantaloons were light gray and the tunic was gray-green — field gray, if you were describing a Fleet dress uniform, whose hues the outfit perfectly mimicked. The golden bangle hanging from the chain was three crossed tridents: the rank insignia of a Fleet lieutenant commander.

“Thank you, sir!” said Admiral Mainwaring. “And now if I may ask, who the bloody hell are you?”

The stranger turned and made a half bow to Mainwaring. “Your pardon, Admiral,” he said. “I am Fregattenkapitan Otto von Gleuck, commanding Z 46. We have no friends in common, I fear, so I chose to approach you without a proper introduction. I of course knew of you and likewise knew of Captain Leary.”

He glanced again to Daniel and nodded, not as formal an acknowledgment but an apparently friendly one.

“I’m very pleased to meet you both.”

“Pleased as well,” said Daniel with a comparable nod and an equally friendly smile. “I hope that now that our peoples are at peace, there’ll be more chance for the professionals on both sides to socialize.”

He offered his hand as though they were civilians meeting; von Gleuck gripped it firmly, but without attempting the silly game of trying to crush a stranger’s fingers. They stepped back from one another.

Admiral Mainwaring was turning red. Von Gleuck bowed again to him and said, “Admiral, may I have the honor of presenting Lady Posthuma Belisande of Zenobia. Her brother Hergo, you may know, is the Founder of her planet; so to speak, the President for Life. She has recently returned home from a stay on Pleasaunce.”

That explains her fashion sense, thought Daniel. He’d seen his share of attractive women, but no more than a handful whom he would put in Lady Posthuma’s class. Her poise gave her a presence beyond what her exceptional face and body could have done by themselves.

She curtseyed to Mainwaring and rose with a smile that could have lighted an arena. “Admiral,” she said, “it truly is an honor to meet you. And do please call me Posy. All my friends do.”

Daniel smiled ruefully. Mainwaring would have had to be a better man than Captain Daniel Leary to resist charm on that level. But from the proprietorial way the lady’s hand had rested on von Gleuck’s arm as they approached, the Alliance had already won this battle.

“Enchanted, your ladyship,” Mainwaring said, bending over Posy’s hand with the enthusiasm of a starving cannibal. “Is your brother here, then? Not that anyone would care when your lovely self is present.”

Commander Milch reappeared with a sharp-featured man of fifty who wore a round, brimless yellow cap. His uniform was tan with silver buttons but no other markings. There was a five-pointed star on the cap, also silver.

“Sir?” said Milch. “This is Commander Bailey, the Chief Gunnery Officer of the Piri Reis. The Autocrator gave him a message for you.”

“Right you are, Admiral,” Bailey said in an accent straight from the spacers’ tenements around Harbor Three. “She was just going into conference with your Governor Wenzel when she heard that the ship what just landed had brought Captain Leary. She asked could I show him around the cruiser till she was through, because she really wanted to meet him.”

Mainwaring looked thunderous again; then his face cleared. “Well, I wanted to show you off to the Autocrator myself, but it seems she’s stolen a march on me,” he said. “Run along, Leary, and I’ll catch up with you later. I trust you to uphold the honor of the RCN without me nurse maiding you.”

“Aye aye, sir!” Daniel said brightly. He had been in an awkward situation for a moment. It was Mainwaring who’d created the problem, by ordering him to be present at the gala and thereby giving his hostess a right to request his attendance. One didn’t need much experience of the RCN or of life more generally to know that admirals and their civilian equivalents tended not to blame themselves when their wishes were thwarted, however.

“I wonder, Commander Bailey?” said von Gleuck. “Would you mind if Lady Belisande and I joined you? If it’s all right with Captain Leary, that is.”

“Perfectly all right, ah, Master von Gleuck,” Daniel said, gesturing toward the lieutenant commander’s civilian tunic. “The more the merrier, wouldn’t you say, Bailey?”

Bailey looked stricken, but he swallowed his confusion and mumbled, “Well, I suppose it’d be all right. Come along, then.”

As they followed Bailey up the forward boarding ramp, Posy giggled and whispered, “You men! You’re being cruel to the poor little fellow! He’ll get in trouble.”

“Now, now,” von Gleuck said. “I just wanted to chat with Leary here.”

Daniel gave the woman a shamefaced grin, knowing that she was right: the Autocrator might be very unhappy when she learned that Bailey had given an enemy officer a tour of her flagship. But whatever Bailey’s Palmyrene rank might be, he was clearly an oik from the Xenos slums; there was no way he was going to resist the double-teaming of two aristocrats.

And apart from anything else, Daniel wanted to get to know von Gleuck.