What Distant Deeps — Snippet 38

CHAPTER 12: Calvary on Zenobia

Adele stepped onto the bridge with Tovera behind her. There was a nearly full house, which was mildly surprising when the Sissie was at rest in a friendly harbor. Well, a reasonably friendly harbor.

Cazelet was at the gunnery console, refining missile trajectories under the tutelage of Chazanoff from the missile station. Since Sun was on liberty, there was no reason the midshipman shouldn’t use a fully capable console instead of the training station at the back of the missile console. Cory, the watch officer until Vesey returned from liberty, was at astrogation, and Daniel had moved from the BDC, where he’d been when he summoned Adele, to the command console.

Adele sat at the signals console. She was fairly sure that no one else would use her station in anything short of a serious emergency, though she wouldn’t have objected. She was quite sure that nobody could have accessed the files which she didn’t want others to see. Even so, it would have bothered her and seemed discourteous.

The Sissies were a courteous group. Any newcomer who didn’t understand the group’s internal rules would be informed of them firmly. If the transgressor were one of the midshipmen, who were rated as Common Spacers though their duties were those of commissioned officers, and the person informing them were Woetjans, the process was likely to be very firm indeed.

Adele brought her console live. Daniel’s image stared at her from the upper left corner of her display, an eyebrow lifted.

“Ah!” Adele said when she figured out what had surprised Daniel. She looked down at her civilian suit, then back at the display with a slight smile. “I suppose technically I’m out of uniform. Your summons seemed urgent enough that I didn’t take the time to change.”

Since she was speaking over a two-way link and their consoles had active sound cancellation, their discussion was as private as the thickness of the ship’s steel hull would have made it. Daniel grinned and said, “You’re only out of uniform if you’re acting officially, and I’m not sure that you are. At least, not officially on behalf of the RCN.”

“Ah,” Adele repeated in a different voice. She knew that Daniel preferred not to discuss the work she did for Mistress Sand, though she had only intellectual understanding of his attitude.

To Adele, information was important, but how one obtained that information was of no significance. She preferred written or electronic means over — her lips quirked with amusement at the anachronism — listening at keyholes, but that was simply because listening at keyholes was inefficient.

Her face went hard. And of course, she preferred the means that most distanced her from human contact. Well, for many years human contact had been the cause of most of her considerable discomfort.

“I have a map reference . . . ,” Daniel said, exporting the image from his display to Adele’s console. “Which Commissioner Brown found in his predecessor’s files. I can’t find any information or even good imagery about it, though. Can you help me?”

“Yes,” said Adele as her wands flickered. That she spoke at all was simply courtesy to a friend; in the old days — in the days before she had the RCN or friends either one — she would simply have ignored the silly question.

She’d echoed Daniel’s display on her own as soon as she sat down, so his attempt to send it to her was superfluous. There was no reason to point that out, of course.

She first replaced the old, low-resolution image from the astrogation database with a composite of the surface images which the excellent optics of the Princess Cecile had captured while they orbited before landing. Over that she laid the global positioning grid, then cross-indexed the point with the data she had accumulated while preparing for the mission to Zenobia.

“Diamond Cay,” she said with satisfaction. “Six hundred and twelve miles from the bridge of the Princess Cecile.”

She smiled, though only someone who knew her well would recognize the expression. “More or less, that is.”

“You know that you’re a magician, don’t you?” Daniel said, making her smile a little broader. Though it wasn’t true, of course. He expanded the image; it stayed bright and clear instead of fading to a muddy blur as the stock one had.

“The island has the ruins of a Pre-Hiatus building,” Adele said aloud. “Nobody is sure what it was intended for. The structure is rock crystal, not diamond, but that’s how the island got its name. Some of the commentators claim that the so-called building is a natural outcrop, in fact.”

Daniel continued to increase his magnification; the eight-digit designator indicated a square three feet on a side, directly in the center of the glittering mass.

“That’s no natural outcrop!” he said in disgust. “Did whoever said that ever take a look at the site?”

“Probably not,” said Adele. The image clearly showed a tower at one corner of a hollow square; not, as Daniel had said, anything that nature could have contrived. “There’s no reason to go there except the ruins, and they don’t repay close study, according to the three personal accounts that I’ve located.”

Daniel chuckled, but his face fell back into crisply intent lines. He wore a smile, of sorts; but it made Adele think of a hunter waiting for just the right moment to squeeze his trigger.

“There’s supposed to be a portable landing beacon here, Adele,” he said, “but I can’t seen anything except the rocks. Can you . . . ?”

“Would it be manned?” Adele asked as she began combing data according to new criteria. Daniel hadn’t finished his question, probably because he didn’t know how to go on, but he had provided her with sufficient information to make a start.

“Umm,” he said. “Normally, yes, but I suppose it wouldn’t be necessary if the ships to be landed were already equipped with the code set. That isn’t safe — there’s a chance of a reciprocal, among other things. But you could.”

“Star travel isn’t safe,” Adele said. “But I take your point. I asked because none of my imagery shows any visitors whatever to Diamond Cay in the past thirty days.”

She fanned the images in two rows across the top of his display. They overlapped slightly: there were twenty-one of them. The quality ranged from fairly good to low-resolution black-and-white, but even the worst would show movement.

“Where did you find these?” Daniel asked in delight. “Zenobia doesn’t have surveillance satellites, does it?”

“No,” said Adele, trying to keep pride out of her voice. Otherwise she would be bragging. “But I’ve extracted imagery from the logs of all the ships in harbor that have recorders. Some of the smaller country craft do not, of course. The result isn’t comprehensive, but twenty-one random checks is a good basis for confidence. If there was a human crew, one of these would show signs of their presence.”

“But there’s something . . . ,” said Daniel, expanding one of the videos. “And here, on this one too — what are these? They’re not people, but they’re something!”

Adele brought up the zoological database she had loaded for this voyage. She had done it because of Daniel’s personal interest, not because she expected to need it in their mutual work. That they did need it provided further support for her belief that there was no useless information.

“I have an answer to that too,” she said, smiling a little more broadly than usual.