What Distant Deeps — Snippet 30

“Carry them to Slip 4, my good man,” Daniel said, striding over to him. “I’ll ride along so it’ll be all right.”

“What’s happening?” said Clothilde Brown. “Surely we don’t have to get out here in the rain, Pavel!”

“I’m not supposed to enter the reservation . . . ,” the driver said uncertainly.

“It’ll be all right,” Daniel said, slipping him a coin. “And I’ll have one of my spacers ride back with you so that you won’t have any trouble on the way back.”

While the driver was surreptitiously checking the denomination of the coin — it was a full florin; more than a day’s wage here on Stahl’s World — Daniel got into the cabin beside the Commissioner. Bench seats front and back faced one another; there were two small suitcases on the central rack.

“We’ll be driving up to the ship,” he said to the Browns. “I’ll get some of my people to carry your bags in, so you just run up the ramp and get out of the rain.”

“Here, I’ll ride along,” said the younger gate guard unexpectedly, shielding his sub-machine gun under his field coat. “No sense one of your folks get drowned walking back when we’ve got to be out in it anyway.”

The guard hopped in beside the driver; the car shuddered off. The cabin was completely separate from the cab, which with the rattling provided privacy for anything Daniel had to say.

“We were treated abominably!” said Clothilde. The little girl flounced up suddenly to a sitting posture; she had been lying half across her mother’s lap. “There was nobody to receive us at the Residence! We would have been treated better if we were tradesmen!”

In a matter of speaking, Daniel had no duty to the Browns except to deliver them safely to Zenobia. Out of courtesy, and perhaps because he felt sorry for the poor Commissioner, he had chosen to make their lives a little easier by saving them the walk to the gate. Cory said they had walked out this afternoon when they realized they would have to depend on a hired car because the civil establishment wasn’t going to send a vehicle.

“The regional assembly has disrupted everything here, I’m afraid,” Daniel said. “Ah — I was wondering if you would mind if we were to lift for Zenobia immediately?”

“I want to go home!” the little girl said, but she said it in the tone of a child making a point of her displeasure, not one who thinks there’s any chance that she’ll get her way. “I don’t know why we had to come here anyway!”

“I’m not accredited to Stahl’s World,” said the Commissioner quietly. “I had hoped that I might get a little local knowledge here before going on to my station, but that probably wouldn’t be the case however long I remained here. I would just as soon go on.”

“They were insulting,” his wife said with venom. “They didn’t care anything about us, anything. We could just as well have died in space so far as anyone at the Residence was concerned.”

Daniel looked at her set, angry face in the lights of the slips as they passed. Brown would have been dealing with junior clerks or less; anyone of greater importance would have been involved with the regional assembly. Zenobia, as an Alliance possession, wasn’t even part of the Regional chain of command.

Sure, it was a pity that the clerks hadn’t been more welcoming to strangers who weren’t properly part of their job, but most people found only themselves of importance. Clothilde Brown certainly fell into that category, but this time the locals had trumped her with their disinterest.

Daniel realized he was grinning. To take the sting out of his expression, he said, “We’ll get you to Zenobia promptly, Mistress Brown. In three days, I judge. I know that life this far out from Cinnabar takes some getting used to, but once one learns the tricks it can become very pleasant.”

The vehicle drew up alongside Slip 4. Even before Daniel could figure out how to open his door — the latch was a half-circle of wood which rotated into a cut in the jamb — four spacers double-timed down the Sissie’s ramp holding a tarp overhead. A sheet of rain blew in from the side, but the idea of shelter appeared to raise Clothilde’s morale.

More spacers appeared, grabbing the bags that Daniel handed out. Daniel sent them and the Browns up the ramp, then covered himself with the poncho Hogg had brought. He waved thanks to the gate guard as the car turned and headed back.

“You could’ve sent Cory,” Hogg said as they reached the boarding hold. The Browns were headed toward the stern companionway; Hester’s voice floated back querulously. “You could’ve sent an engine wiper. If you needed to send anybody.”

A truck pulled up, loaded with spacers from the dives along the harbor front. Daniel dropped his visor a moment to check the running count projected on its upper right corner. Thirteen personnel hadn’t reported, but only two weren’t listed as accounted for. The Princess Cecile would be ready to lift inside an hour.

“It was less trouble all round if I met them at the gate,” Daniel said, trotting up the companionway behind his servant. “I told the guards a few stories and they let me bend the rules a little. They wouldn’t have done that for a wiper. Maybe a warrant officer, but the chiefs were better put to getting the ship to rights for a quick liftoff.”

Adele looked up from her console as Daniel entered the bridge. “Captain,” she said with polite neutrality.

Daniel smiled with genuine pleasure at seeing her. “Will we step on the toes of any other ships if we lift shortly, Signals?” he asked.

“No one else is scheduled to lift from either basin tonight,” Adele said, switching to a two-way link as she checked her display. “Nor are any other vessels in condition to lift, as best I can tell. The freighter Costigan was testing thrusters earlier this afternoon, but the captain isn’t aboard at present.”

“Good,” said Daniel as he settled onto the command console. “I’ll get clearance from Raphael Control, but because we’re on the civil registry now, we don’t need naval authorization even though we’re on the naval side of the harbor.”

“Why don’t you want to get naval clearance, Daniel?” Adele asked. “Is there some reason it wouldn’t be granted?”

Daniel was checking the Power Room statistics. The converters and pumps were in the green, as they had been on landing only a few hours earlier. He would normally have taken aboard fresh fruits and vegetables, but the short run to Zenobia made that unnecessary. The additional cable was already aboard.

“I don’t want to discuss the matter with Admiral Mainwaring,” Daniel said. “I’m not under his command, but he would have questions . . . and I think it better not to have my opinion of Autocrator Irene on record in the regional HQ. Half the personnel are locals, and I would be amazed if half of them weren’t reporting to Palmyra.”

“Six, this is Three,” Lieutenant Vesey reported on the command push. “All our personnel are aboard, though there are forty-odd who had best remain in their bunks unless there’s an emergency, over.”

“Roger, Three,” said Daniel. “Prepare the ship for liftoff. Six out.”

“The Autocrator is very clear about her place in the universe,” said Adele with no more expression than usual. “It remains to be seen whether the universe shares her opinion.”

Daniel was grinning as Vesey sent the attention signal through the PA system. With luck, they would have returned to Cinnabar before that question became important. But if not, well — civil registry or not, the Sissie was a fighting unit and had proved herself so many times in the past.