What Distant Deeps — Snippet 25

She would agree that spacers, not just RCN officers, tended to treat anyone who wasn’t a spacer with good-natured contempt. Space officers of Adele’s acquaintance had invariably accepted her as soon as she had given evidence of her abilities, however. Leonard and Runkle hadn’t yet convinced even her that they had a point.

“The Squadron staff treats us like a joke,” Runkle said. “We’ve compiled evidence that Palmyra intends to expand by force in the near future, but nobody will pay any attention to our dossier.”

“Commander Milch told me that the Palmyrenes were ‘good fellows and bloody fine spacers,'” Leonard said bitterly. “As if commanding a light cruiser in the Battle of Dorking made him an authority on political intelligence!”

“You believe that Palmyra intends to attack us, Technician?” Adele said. Her tone was dry, by habit rather than policy. She kept her eyes on the display her wands were manipulating, though she was listening to the locals as she worked.

“We don’t know,” said Leonard. He spread his hands on the table and scowled at them. “But they have four regiments of infantry confined to base in preparation for embarkation. Plus the Horde on high alert, though that isn’t so unusual. The Palmyrenes feel the same way about the importance of the Horde as RCN officers do about the RCN.”

“The soldiers are under General Osman,” said Runkle. She had her own personal data unit out. It was larger though far less capable than Adele’s, but the technician handled the virtual keyboard with skill. “He’s a good officer. Probably the only Palmyrene ground officer who you could say that about.”

The section’s electronic databases were well protected, much better protected than Adele had expected them to be. Their weakness was the provision to allow transfer of files from open storage to locked storage. Adele set her PDU to emulate the Section’s administrative computer, then used it to insert a Trojan Horse to take control of the remainder of the system.

“The Palmyrenes have been talking for a generation about their traditional hegemony over the Qaboosh,” Leonard said, relaxing slightly now that he and his assistant had begun talking without being slapped down. Since they’d finally come to the point, Adele had no reason to slap them. “If you go back far enough there’s evidence for that.”

If you go back far enough, Earth rules the human universe, Adele thought. The reality is that since a dozen asteroids crashed into the home planet to begin the Hiatus, so what remains of Earth is either pastoral or barbaric depending on your viewpoint.

But the present reality in the Qaboosh Region appeared to be the Horde; which did indeed put a different complexion on Palmyrene claims.

“Founder Hergo may well be right,” said Runkle. “Though he doesn’t do himself any good with his yelping and posturing. And if Irene attacks Zenobia or another Alliance possession, who’s to say that the Alliance isn’t going to retaliate against our shipping because Palmyra is a Cinnabar ally?”

“You said that two thousand Palmyrene ground troops appear to be poised for invasion,” Adele said as her wands moved. She was switching tasks. The data harvest was complete, but it could have continued without her oversight if that were necessary. “My information is that Zenobia has a population of about three million, almost entirely on Setif, the main continent?”

When Runkle referred to Zenobia, she brought up a subject with which Adele had been familiarizing herself. Adele let her tone suggest a question, but she was confident in her statement. Quite apart from anything else, the data she’d brought from Xenos turned out to mirror that which she’d just gleaned from Section files.

“Well, yes, but there’s no Zenobian regular army,” Runkle said. “A sudden landing at Calvary might capture the government.”

“Except for the 300 personnel of the Founder’s Regiment,” Adele said, her lip curling in contempt at Runkle’s imprecision.

“Besides that,” she went on, viewing her display as she spoke. “Calvary Harbor has anti-starship missiles. It would be necessary to capture or disable those, or else to land at a distance — at least a hundred and eighty miles from the batteries. Even then there would be a risk if a battery commander were alert. A landing starship can’t maneuver; it’s already operating at maximum stress.”

“Have you technical specialists ever been on an assault landing?” Tovera said, her voice a buzz as quiet as a wasp’s wings. “Mistress Mundy and I have, several times. Even when Captain Leary was in charge, they weren’t nearly as neat and simple as they may seem on a computer display.”

“Yes,” said Adele, “there’s that.”

She shut down her data unit and rose. The visit hadn’t been a waste of time, since she would have found it very difficult to enter the Section’s locked files from outside the building. This way she could check whatever information the Section gave her without them knowing she was doing so.

“I will relay your concerns to such persons as might have an interest in them, Lieutenant Leonard,” Adele said; she turned her head slightly to include Runkle in her statement. She thrust the data unit away in the thigh pocket she’d had added to her Grays. “For the moment, however, I must repeat that to the best of my knowledge, the fears you express are not shared on Xenos.”

“But there has to be a reason you were sent to the Qaboosh!” Runkle said, frustration getting the better of her tone. “It doesn’t take an agent of your stature to nursemaid some Commissioner!”

“I am here, Technician . . . ,” Adele said, suddenly coldly angry. “As signals officer to the best fighting captain in the RCN. And now that you’ve reminded me, I’ll get back to my duties. Good day to you both!”

She stalked into the hall, past Runkle who was trying to burble an apology. Tovera followed, walking backward with her hand inside her attaché case. A needless precaution, but she would ignore Adele’s objection; and anyway, Adele didn’t feel like objecting.

The trouble was that Adele suspected there really was fire somewhere in the smokescreen of sloppy thinking which the Intelligence Section had raised. The best hope was that Autocrator Irene planned to attack a Cinnabar ally or even Stahl’s World itself; such a business could be put down at modest cost in lives and property.

If the attack was on an Alliance world, however, the danger wasn’t just commerce raiding in reprisal. It would light a fuse which, when it burned back to Pleasaunce, would engulf the Peace of Rheims and with it, very possibly, both exhausted empires.

* * *

“This bay houses the Power Room watches,” Commander Bailey said as he entered the B Level compartment with Daniel at his side; von Gleuck and Lady Belisande followed closely. Most of the bunk towers had been lifted against the ceiling to clear the huge compartment.

Three spacers squatted near the hatch to play cards on the floor. They hopped to their feet and one — presumably the senior man, but they wore only breechclouts — shouted, “Attention!”

A dozen other personnel leaped up in various stages of undress. “Stand easy,” Bailey said with a nonchalant wave. The Palmyrene spacers may have relaxed slightly, but they didn’t go back to their previous occupations while the visitors strode down the center aisle.

“The room is very clean,” said Lady Belisande said as the party approached the rear bulkhead. “But perhaps that is because it’s so much bigger than your destroyer, Otto?”

Von Gleuck snorted. Daniel said, “Your ladyship, I’ve never seen a ship of any size this neat before. I’ve seen battleships straight from the builders’ yard that had more trash and litter about them, not to mention grease.”