What Distant Deeps — Snippet 28

CHAPTER 9: Raphael Harbor on Stahl’s World

“Irene has three guards with her,” Tovera said, watching a feed from the Sissie’s external camera. “My goodness, they have mob guns.”

She giggled, then added, “It always seemed to me to be simpler to learn to shoot accurately; but then, I’m not from Palmyra.”

Both valves of the forward airlock were fixed open while the corvette was in harbor. Lieutenant Cory, wearing utilities, entered the rotunda from the hull and stepped onto the bridge.

Glancing over his shoulder to see that he hadn’t been followed, he said, “Captain Leary and four civilians are coming up the ramp. They’ve got guards with them.”

“The Captain is bringing the Autocrator Irene of Palmyra with her admiral, and the captain of Z 46 with the sister of the Founder of Zenobia,” Adele said. She hadn’t been formally told who the guests would be — Daniel had just reported that he would be arriving in half an hour with four visitors — but Adele had of course been watching the proceedings aboard the Piri Reis. That was her job, after all.

“The Palmyrenes who came on ahead know what they’re doing,” Cory said uncomfortably. “Woetjans is watching them run up and down the rigging, and I checked with Pasternak too. He says the ones in the Power Room are sticking their noses everywhere. There were even a couple crawling up the throats of the thrusters.”

“Is there enough room to do that?” Adele said, looking up from her display.

“Some of them don’t look older than twelve,” Cory said with a shrug. “Maybe they’re just small.”

He grimaced. “Mistress, do you know what they’re doing?” he said.

“Captain Leary reported that he would be bringing a party to view the Princess Cecile,” Adele said carefully. “He then added that a number of Palmyrene spacers would be preceding them, and that they were to given full facilities to see whatever they wished.”

She pursed her lips and, because it was Cory, added, “I don’t know what their purpose is either. It may simply be that Captain Leary has a reputation as a skilled spacer, and the Palmyrenes are curious because fancy themselves in that area as well.”

“They’re coming up the forward companionway,” Tovera said. The echo of footsteps was warning enough.

Vesey was in the Battle Direction Center and most of the crew was on liberty — the Sissie was moored in an RCN base, after all. Pasternak and Woetjans had rushed back to take charge of their anchor watches. Both senior warrant officers were in their liberty suits and the bosun was staggeringly drunk as well, but she wasn’t too drunk to carry out her duties if they didn’t involve fancy footwork.

Daniel came up in the lead. Hogg was immediately behind him, wearing a scowl. The servant hadn’t been allowed to join Daniel at the gala, which he had accepted; but he had become thoroughly irritated when he learned that the young master had then gone into the midst of a gang of armed wogs without him.

Hogg would have been carrying a sub-machine gun openly if Adele hadn’t told him to return it to the armory before he met Daniel at the entrance to the Naval Basin. He hadn’t needed the shoulder weapon for any practical reason, but it would have shown how displeased he was to be excluded from possible danger.

“He had no business going off and leaving me like that!” Hogg had muttered. “Anything could’ve happened!”

Adele smiled faintly. Based on past experience, nobody in Daniel’s company had to worry about being kept out of danger. There would be plenty to go around — perhaps not on a mission to Zenobia, but soon enough.

Posy Belisande and her escort, von Gleuck of the Z 46, were next up the companionway. Adele had checked the Alliance captain’s record as a matter of course. He not only commanded the naval detachment on Zenobia, but the imagery from the gala made it immediately obvious that he was more than a casual factor in the life of Adele’s target.

Von Gleuck’s record was very good. He would almost certainly have been promoted above command of a destroyer if he hadn’t been quite so well born.

Adlersbild was one of the six worlds which had formed the Alliance eighty years ago. While it wasn’t nearly as big as Pleasaunce or Blythe, it had some of the finest shipyards in the Alliance and had given the Fleet some of its most famous commanders. The status of the son, even the second son, of the ruling Count was high enough to be a potential threat to Guarantor Porra. Command of a destroyer on a distant station was safer for both of them.

Adele exchanged a glance with Daniel, then turned and watched the rest of the activities on her holographic display with her back turned to the hatch. She had set the screen to focus, as generally, for her eyes only. Anyone else looking at the display would see a shifting pattern of pastels; attractive enough, she supposed, but not informative.

Adele was in utilities again, making herself virtually invisible to a civilian visiting the corvette. If the Autocrator and Admiral Polowitz hadn’t been present, she would have arranged an introduction to Posy Belisande. Since they were, Adele wasn’t going to call attention to herself.

“Sir!” said Cory, but Daniel’s quick smile and finger-twitch toward the companionway warned him to wait. Two Palmyrene guards appeared behind the flaring muzzles of their weapons. They looked to be proper cutthroats, scowling through mustaches which merged with their sideburns.

Adele watched their images with a smile that would have been frightening to anyone who understood it. She would fire twice into each right eye; the last round would be off before either of the victims reacted. There was always a chance that a dead man’s convulsion would cause his trigger finger to close, but even a barbarian should know better that to leave his safety off as he climbed slick steel stairs.

And if not? Well, death would come one day or another. Today would suit Adele, though she would regret it if Cory were caught in the crossfire.

Autocrator Irene was a handsome woman, though it was unlikely that the pile of blond hair held in place by the tiara was her own. It galled Adele that she couldn’t be sure how old the Autocrator was.

Fifteen standard years earlier she had married Odin, then heir apparent. The records in Xenos — and probably on Palmyra — didn’t allow Adele to trace Irene back before that point. The Autocrator appeared now to be forty, but she might be younger by ten years.

Adele’s lips twisted into another almost-smile. So far as she was concerned, bad recordkeeping was a clear sign of barbarity.

“This is my Second Lieutenant, honored guests,” Daniel said with a courtly gesture toward Cory. He didn’t bother to introduce them to a warrant officer, of course. “Would you care to see the bridge?”

Irene stepped through the hatchway without replying. Two of her guards — another had followed the group up the companionway — pushed in behind her. Tovera had moved to a jumpseat against the starboard bulkhead, her face as smooth as an egg and her hand resting on something within her half-open attaché case.

“It’s small,” said Irene, “but the whole ship is small, of course. What do you think, Polowitz?”

The Admiral had been whispering with two of the Palmyrene spacers who’d come aboard earlier to inspect. He entered the bridge and came to attention.

“Your Excellency,” he said. “It is very suitable. The converters are all running properly, and my men have inspected the logs. There have been no converter failures in the past six months!”