What Distant Deeps — Snippet 36

“Perhaps Tilton will be recalled or, or something?” Clothilde said. Her hands were tight together on the stem of her glass. Adele suspected their hostess was considering the possible results of her having slapped the Resident when they met.

“Perhaps,” Posy said, with the unvoiced implication, that perhaps pigs would fly. “I only hope that he doesn’t provoke a rebellion first. Because I didn’t need Otto to warn me what the response to that would be.”

She gave Adele a tired grin and added, “I know Guillaume even better than Otto does, you see. He reacts badly to betrayal, which is how he would view the murder of his representative.”

Adele rose to her feet. “I’m afraid I need to return to my duties,” she said. “I hope I’ll be able to see you both again before we lift, though. The Princess Cecile has to remain on Zenobia for some time while her rigging is being replaced, Captain Leary informs me.”

Tovera whisked the empty glass out of Adele’s hand. She circled with it to the refreshments table, keeping at least one eye on Wood at all times; but she was smiling.

“Oh, surely there’s nothing for you to do while you’re on the ground?” Clothilde said, rising to squeeze Adele’s hands. Braga stood like an unattractive statue; it hadn’t occurred to him to take his mistress’ empty glass the way Wood and Tovera had done. “Can’t you stay?”

“Another time, then,” said Posy, coming forward also. “Meeting you has been an even greater pleasure than I expected, Adele. I hope we can talk often while you’re here.”

“Yes,” said Adele truthfully. “It has been pleasant.”

Clothilde’s maid had been watching from the covered courtyard. A light dawned in her dull eyes and she trotted toward the outside door.

Wood’s presence had made this a very different conversation than the one Adele had planned. Very likely her task, to elicit secrets which Posy had gained in pillow talk, was now impossible.

Mistress Sand would be interested to learn that Resident Tilton had created disaffection among the Zenobian elite, but that was of no real importance at present. There was no gain for the Republic in destabilizing so distant an Alliance world in peacetime, though Adele knew there were Cinnabar agents who would have worked to raise a rebellion here on general principles.

To Adele, that sort of behavior was simply grit in the gears of civilization. And civilization was in bad enough shape without people actively trying to sabotage it.

* * *

Daniel stood at the head of the Dorsal C antenna, which was extended to its full height of 120 feet. His excuse was that the location gave him the best view of Woetjans and her crew stripping the rigging from one antenna at a time and reeving fresh cables through the blocks. That was true, but the Sissie’s veteran riggers could have done the work blindfolded and blind drunk besides; they didn’t need their captain’s eye on them.

The other thing the location gave Daniel was privacy, or as close to privacy as anybody could have aboard a starship. Certainly everybody could see him perched above them. They could even approach him, but they had to want to do so enough to make a long climb. On the masthead, he had figurative as well as literal distance from the rest of the world.

Primarily Daniel was on top of the antenna because he liked to be on top of antennas: in harbor, as here; in sidereal space; and especially on a ship in the Matrix, where all space and time would have been visible if his eyes had been able to comprehend it.

The ground car driving up the quay stopped at the Sissie’s slip. Daniel didn’t think anything of it: the four Sissies on guard there would be polite, but they had weapons within easy reach if it turned out to be a visit from Resident Tilton’s thugs.

The vehicle was obviously local. It appeared to be a high-sided farm wagon with a canvas roof and pneumatic tires. A fifth wheel supported the wagon tongue, on which an engine putted and rattled. The whole installation showed a great deal of ingenuity, combined with a marked lack of polish.

The passenger got out of the box and walked forward to pay the driver. Daniel had considerable experience in watching people foreshortened by his high vantage point, but Commissioner Brown’s tall, stooped figure and jerky walk were easy to identify. He moved like a shore bird mincing through the shallows.

Without having to think about it, Daniel grasped the forward stay and began sliding down it as the quickest route to the hull. Woetjans saw him coming and bellowed, “Stand clear! Here comes Six!”

Daniel wore utilities as he ordinarily would aboard the Princess Cecile. Before he started up the antenna, however, he had donned the boots and gauntlets of his rigging suit. They sparked and screeched against the cable as gravity carried him down.

The cables were woven from filaments of beryllium monocrystal, the toughest flexible material available to shipbuilders. Even so, hair-fine fibers snapped as a result of wear and fatigue, leaving the rigging covered with an invisible fuzz of broken ends. Running a bare hand along a shroud would have the same effect as trying to pet a bandsaw.

Hard suits — rigging suits — were made to be used by personnel handling the cables in brutal haste and under the worst conditions. There were lighter gloves and footgear available that were supposed to be equally protective if you weren’t working in vacuum, but Daniel had never met a spacer who used them.

Hogg was lounging at the base of the antenna, turning his head to check each line of approach alternately. He had his hands in his pockets and looked as lethargic as a sheep digesting her supper.

He glanced upward, saw Daniel, and immediately slung the stocked impeller which until that moment had been concealed between the antenna and his baggy garments. So far as Hogg was concerned, the spacers guarding the end of the boarding bridge were simply decoys to absorb an attacker’s attention till the real hunter on top of the hull could put slugs through the problem.

The Commissioner looked up at the squeal of Daniel’s descent. Daniel hit the hull with a double bang! of his soles against the steel plating.

“Toomey,” he said, verbally keying his commo helmet to the Tech 3 who was the senior member of the guard detachment, “this is Six. Link Commissioner Brown with me if you will. Give him a helmet, over.”

“Roger, Six,” Toomey said. She was built like a fuel drum, but her voice was as light and cheery as a schoolgirl’s.

There was brief confusion on the quay. Daniel remained where he was so that all those involved could see him. In theory that didn’t matter, but human beings aren’t theories. At last Brown settled a helmet borrowed from Hilmer, the junior guard, over his head.

“Commissioner, this is Leary,” Daniel said with determined cheeriness. “How can we help you, over?”

Visor magnification made Brown’s discomfort obvious, even a hundred yards away. “Ah, Captain Leary?” he said. “I was wondering if I could speak with you privately. I don’t want to take you away from your own duties, but . . . .”

“Certainly,” said Daniel. “Meet me in the BDC. Ah — I’ll have Hilmer guide you, over. Break. Toomey, send Hilmer up to the BDC with Commissioner Brown, over. Break. Six to Cory, have the BDC vacated immediately. I’m going to confer with Commissioner Brown there, over.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“Roger, out.”

“Yes sir, out.”

All that was simple courtesy. Daniel really had no duties on Zenobia except to invent make-work until Adele got the information she had been sent for or decided the task was impossible. The rerigging could be spun out for a month if necessary, so even planning the make-work was complete.

“What do you s’pose he’s got in mind?” Hogg asked quietly as he helped Daniel take off the pieces of his rigging suit in the rotunda. “Because he looked more upset even than when we were playing games right after we landed.”

Midshipman Cazelet and Chief Missileer Chazanoff bustled out of the Battle Direction Center. They were off-duty at present, but Cazelet was trying to learn the fine points of missile attacks and Chazanoff, like most experts whom Daniel had met, was delighted to have an audience to expound to.

They muttered, “Sir,” and bobbed their heads as they passed Daniel on the way to the bridge where Cory was on watch. It would have vacant consoles to practice on also.

“I’m not sure the Commissioner fully appreciated what was happening on the quay,” Daniel said, smiling. “It isn’t the sort of interaction that ordinarily takes place in the offices of auditors.”

The comment opened a train of thought. “I would guess he’s worried about something to do with the late Commissioner Brassey’s accounts,” Daniel said as Hogg eased off his right boot, the last bit of gear. “That’s what he was going to work on, he said when he left us. But how that would involve me is beyond my imagination.”