What Distant Deeps — Snippet 33

Clothilde slapped him; her fingers made an impressive crack against Tilton’s cheek. “You are a bald little worm,” she said in a coldly distinct tone.

Daniel stepped between Tilton and the woman. “Mommie!” cried the little girl.

A score of Sissies was double-timing from the ship, carrying travel cases. Woetjans was in the lead with a suit carrier in her left hand and a length of high-pressure tubing held out in her right as if for balance.

Simultaneously the corvette’s dorsal turret rotated. The twin four-inch plasma cannon were probably pointed at the Alliance aircar, but Daniel could only hope that Sun had sense enough to disengage the firing circuit while he was playing his silly game. If the weapons accidentally fired in an atmosphere, their side-scatter would fry everybody on this portion of the quay.

Risk aside — and spacers weren’t especially concerned about risk — the squeal of the turret got the Resident’s attention. His face went white except for the mark of Clothilde’s fingers. He backed until he was standing behind his two guards. Hogg put his folding knife away.

“Well, Commissioner Brown,” Tilton said. “We will see if you become more forthcoming when you’ve had a little time to reflect, no? Alternatively, you may find that import charges for private ventures by Cinnabar officials have risen prohibitively!”

He turned and stalked off, followed by his guards. One of them glanced back several times on his way to the aircar, but it wasn’t a very impressive demonstration of their training in personal protection.

Woetjans mounted the steps in two movements, balancing the case and the cudgel. It was like watching a fish mount rapids to spawn. An extremely ugly fish, but Daniel had felt as though he’d lost his left arm when the bosun took a burst of slugs through the chest. She’d made a good recovery, though . . . .

“Got anything you want us to do quick-quick, Six?” Woetjans said, bobbing the tip of her tubing in the direction of the disappearing Alliance personnel.

“Negative, Chief,” Daniel said, repeating his words of a few minutes before but in a very different tone. “But for a moment, I thought I might have some work for you if Hogg had any leftovers.”

“I wouldn’t’ve,” Hogg said firmly. “But I like to see that kind of spirit, my girl, and I’m proud to have your acquaintance.”

The Alliance aircar lifted and made an immediate low-altitude turn, heading back into Calvary. Hogg said in a regretful tone, “I kinda thought they might try to buzz us, you know?”

“Yeah,” agreed the bosun. She flipped her cudgel a dozen feet in the air and caught it neatly by the end as it came down. She grinned with satisfaction. “I kinda wondered that too.”

The Browns were talking with the fellow in Cinnabar clothing. Daniel walked over and joined them, now that he had leisure to. The child and all three adults looked at him.

“Commissioner Brown, my spacers have brought your baggage,” Daniel said brightly. “Would your driver here like to show us where to stow it?”

He didn’t see any point in discussing what had happened: it had worked out, which is all that mattered. Besides, he was rather afraid that he’d make a comment about the driver’s courage which — however true — would be neither necessary nor helpful.

“This is Assistant Commissioner Gibbs, Leary,” Brown said. “He’s a commander in the navy, I’m surprised to learn.”

Not nearly as surprised as I am, thought Daniel. The RCN rank was higher in the governmental pay scale than an assistant commissioner on the civil side.

“I’ve been seconded from the RCN,” Gibbs said airily. He didn’t offer to clasp hands. “Very glad to meet you, Leary. You can have your people put the baggage anywhere they please. This car was meant to carry a squad in combat gear, so there shouldn’t be any difficulty with no more truck than that.”

Adele’s voice whispered metallically in Daniel’s right ear canal, “Gibbs became involved with an admiral’s daughter but turned out to have a wife already. He couldn’t divorce her because he couldn’t pay back the jointure which he appeared to have mortgaged fraudulently. Reading between the lines, he wasn’t cashiered because that would have brought the admiral’s name into the public’s attention, but he was given what is listed as a lateral transfer into the Representation Service and sent here.”

Daniel continued to smile, though a trifle more tightly. Hard lines on the wife, but he supposed she’d made her own bed when she chose to marry Gibbs.

“The Resident made a comment about Cinnabar private ventures here on Zenobia, Gibbs,” said Commissioner Brown. “Do you know what he was talking about? That wouldn’t be permitted under the regulations on an Alliance planet, would it?”

“I have no idea, Brown,” Gibbs said. “We should be getting you to Cinnabar House, such as it is, I suppose.”

“Well, I’ll want to go over all the late Commissioner Brassey’s accounts immediately,” Brown said. “Tonight, if you can get them together.”

Daniel smiled faintly. Brown was a decent fellow but completely at sea in his new duties. He was focusing on the thing he knew how to do: audit accounts. In fairness, that was probably as important as any of the other duties he would face as Commissioner on this benighted world.

“Did you serve with Captain Leary, Gibbs?” Clothilde said unexpectedly. She was holding Hester firmly by the hand; the girl wanted to follow what was probably her personal case: it was pink and covered with broadly smiling blue fish.

“No, mistress, I did not,” Gibbs said with a hint of hauteur. “I realize the distinction may be lost on laymen, but Master Leary is a civilian and I am an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy.”

“As a matter of fact, Gibbs,” Daniel said, hearing his voice grow a little harder in response to the other man’s implied sneer, “I’m RCN also. I’m wearing these –”

He flicked the cuff of his plain blue jacket.

“– out of courtesy to our hosts, which I suppose is why you’re in that old –”

Goodness, he was angrier than he’d realized. The nerve of this little cheat, to try to patronize Daniel Leary!

“– outfit yourself.”
“Captain Six is a great hero!” piped the little girl. “He beat the bad people in M–, M–, Montserrat and all sorts of places! He’s killed ever so many bad people!”

Who’s been talking to the child? Daniel thought; and at once the answer: almost anybody aboard the Princess Cecile.

Only he wished she hadn’t put it in just that way, because Daniel suddenly flashed back to his missiles ripping open the guard ship Heimdall, spilling out her many hundreds of crew before they even knew they were in danger. And they hadn’t been bad people, just spacers like Daniel Leary and his Sissies; and now they were dead.

“Captain Leary?” Gibbs said, his face scrunching in anger. His expression blanked, then became one of horror. In a quiet voice he said, “Great heavens. Captain Daniel Leary? That Leary?”

Daniel cleared his throat. “I’m sure the stories you’ve heard are exaggerated,” he said. “Certainly the ones that have gotten back to me have been. But yes, I suppose I’m ‘that’ Leary.”

Gibbs moistened his lips with his tongue. He looked like an animal turning on its pursuit at the base of a high wall. He said, “What are you doing here, then, with a record like yours?”

“Well, with my lack of seniority in peacetime . . . ,” Daniel said, choosing to overlook the discourteous form of the question. Gibbs seemed stunned rather than deliberately insulting. “I consider myself lucky not to be on half pay. And of course in the RCN, it’s always ‘the needs of the service,’ not so? For both of us.”

Gibbs swallowed, then nodded. He turned to the Browns and said, “Your baggage is loaded, I see. I’ll drive you to Cinnabar House. We don’t have a staff here except for a pair of local menials.”

He turned and walked toward the aircar. Little Hester hopped along sideways with her mother so that she could wave to Daniel with her free hand the whole way.

Daniel smiled, but his mind was on other matters. What in the name of heavens is wrong with Gibbs?