What Distant Deeps — Snippet 29

“The Princess Cecile is Kostroman built,” Daniel said. Only someone who knew him well would have recognized the hint of caution in his voice. “We’ve replaced three of her original converters with units of Cinnabar manufacture, from Glanz and Son and from Webbern Brothers, during her service with the RCN and in private ownership, but she came from the builders’ yard a very solid craft.”

“The rig is well too, your Excellency,” Polowitz said. “Very little of it is original, but the replacement spars are of good quality and have been fitted with skill.”

He turned to Daniel with a tiny nod of recognition. The Autocrator clearly intended everyone to focus on her when she was present, but Admiral Polowitz was enough of a spacer to offer respect to an equal when he met one.

“Do you think to run up the price on me, Captain?” said the Autocrator. “I am no tradesman to haggle! I am the Autocrator Irene. You own this ship yourself, that is so?”

“That’s correct, your Excellency,” Daniel said. He slid his feet slightly apart and stood with his hands crossed behind his back in a formal At Ease posture. “I bought the Sissie when she was sold as surplus to the needs of the service. She’s under charter to the Bureau of External Affairs, but she is no longer an RCN vessel.”

Von Gleuck shifted slightly, putting himself between Posy and the nearest guard. He continued to smile, but his features could have been painted on a porcelain doll. Posy moved backward, stepping off the bridge.

Acting on a hunch, Adele fed imagery from the pickup over the hatch to a quadrant of her and scrolled back thirty seconds. She saw, as she expected, the Alliance officer’s hand behind his back, motioning Posy away.

Somebody else understands the direction this might be going. The corner of Adele’s lips moved slightly upward. She and Tovera had matters in hand, but von Gleuck wasn’t taking that for granted.

“So,” said the Autocrator. “I have a use for a ship like this, though it is small. I will buy it.”

She and Polowitz appeared to be unaware of the sudden tension, but the last Palmyrene onto the bridge had picked up on it. He backed away from von Gleuck but collided with the Missileer’s console; von Gleuck, with his affable porcelain smile, eased closer again so that the guard couldn’t lift his clumsy weapon without sticking it into the belly of a high foreign official.

Palmyra might be barbarous, but the guard clearly understood what that would mean on an RCN vessel in the middle of an RCN base. He looked sick. His experience told him that he would be the first to die — if.

“That’s very flattering, your Excellency,” said Daniel in a falsely jovial tone, “but the Sissie isn’t for sale. We’ll be lifting off very shortly for Zenobia –”

“Polowitz here says she is worth a half milliard of sequins,” the Autocrator said as though Daniel had not been speaking. “That’s some eight hundred thousand of your Cinnabar florins. Very well, I will pay you a million florins and a half. You wish it in coin? I will have my bankers on Stahl’s World deliver it in the hour.”

Cory stepped past von Gleuck and slipped out the hatchway. Adele felt an instant’s amazement, then realized he had climbed onto the hull to warn Woetjans. A cue on her display indicated that he was also alerting Pasternak on a two-way link, though the Palmyrenes in the Power Room were too far away to be a factor in whatever happened on the bridge.

“I don’t wish to sell, your Excellency,” Daniel said, drawing himself up straight. “I –”

“Did you not understand what I said about haggling?” said the Autocrator, her voice rising. The two duller guards heard her tone but looked bewildered. Polowitz had a worried expression, but from the way he eyed his mistress, his concern was for her anger rather than what it might lead to. “Very well, name your price!”

“I have informed you, your Excellency . . . ,” said Daniel. Irene opened her mouth again; he raised the volume of his voice sufficient to overwhelm anything she might have said. “That this vessel is the property of a Cinnabar gentleman who does not wish to sell her. The discussion is closed.”

“You –”

“The discussion is closed!”

“Leary,” said von Gleuck in the momentary silence, “Lady Belisande has an engagement elsewhere and must leave. Besides, I believe we have reached what a gentleman of Adlersbild would consider the limits of good breeding on a first visit. I hope to see you again in the future.”

“Quite right, von Gleuck,” said Daniel, suddenly affable again. “It’s been a pleasure to meet another professional.”

The Alliance officer continued to smile as he backed to the companionway. Only when Posy was within the armored tube did he face around to follow her.

His interjection had broken the mood on the bridge. “Money will always find a way, Leary,” said the Autocrator. She sounded distant rather than furious, though Adele didn’t doubt the fury was still there. “Some men cannot be bought, perhaps; but a result can always be bought.”

She strode to the companionway, surprising all her entourage except the guard who had brought up the rear before. He reached the hatch before his mistress and preceded her down the stairs.

“I think,” said Daniel in the sudden quiet, “that we’ll lift tonight.”

“I’m calling Commissioner Brown now,” said Adele as her wands moved. “He should be at the Governor’s Residence, but he hasn’t had time to transfer his luggage yet.”

Woetjans came in from the hull and stopped in the bridge hatchway. “Cory’s out looking over things while the wogs scoot down the stays,” he said. “I’ll go roust our people home. You keep Pasternak here to pick ’em up as they come in, right? Because some’ll be drunk enough to wander on off again.”

“Roger, bosun,” Daniel said. “My goodness, I hope I didn’t harm relations in the region unduly by that.”

“From the tone of the Autocrator’s remarks,” said Adele as she checked for Commissioner Brown’s location through the Residence security cameras, “I don’t imagine you can have done anything worse than advancing the arrival of trouble with Palmyra by a little. A very little.”

* * *

There was a gust of wind; rain spattered down again. Daniel turned his head away, but he didn’t duck into the guardhouse because he saw the lights of a ground car coming down the approach road to the Naval Basin.

“Six, the hire car with the Browns has entered the naval reservation,” Cory reported, confirming Daniel’s expectation. Presumably Adele had something more important on her plate and had delegated tracking the Commissioner to Cory. “Bridge out.”

“Roger,” said Daniel. He gave a big smile to the pair of guards — ratings from the base establishment — and said, “These are the ones I’ve been waiting for. Thanks for your hospitality.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the senior man. “Not often we get to listen to somebody like you.”

“You’re welcome here any time you want to spend a chunk of your life getting rained on for no bloody reason,” said his junior. “Say, sure you don’t need a ventilation system tech on your corvette, sir?”

“I’m going to be in enough trouble with the regional command,” said Daniel, truthfully without explaining why it was true, “without poaching their personnel. But I appreciate the thought.”

The vehicle stopped. The four wheels had rubber tires, but the two on the front weren’t the same width; the cabin in the back was built of wood and mounted on a chassis designed for something else. The driver, wearing a slicker, got out and started to open the passenger cabin.