What Distant Deeps — Snippet 45

Hogg picked up the case instead. “You keep it till we’re back with the mistress,” he said. “I’m bunged up, and it seems like you know how to use it.”

I had a good teacher, Daniel thought as he followed his servant back to the tower.

At the end of the day, Hogg had been right: animals, including humans, did fight territorial battles. People like Hogg and Daniel Leary had thus far fought better than any of the rivals they had faced.

* * *

Adele, seated on top of the tower, took the satellite communicator from the attaché case while Tovera watched with an unfamiliar tight expression. Adele realized that she had never seen the case fully open before. Tovera hadn’t exactly hidden the contents, but she was a private person who avoided displaying any aspect of her life.

The pistol-sized sub-machine gun had pride of place in the center of the lower half of the case, but around it and in separate pockets in the lid were a variety of other miniaturized devices. Adele didn’t recognize all of them. The information specialist in her wanted to begin questioning Tovera, but that would be both a waste of time and an insult to her servant.

The communicator was obvious, though this one was the smallest that Adele had seen. It was a blunt, flat-based cone the height of her index finger; there were three bumps just below the apex and a dimple above the base. She set it before her on the top of the tower.

“The base will stick,” Tovera said, leaning slightly forward as though she were about to snatch the unit away from her mistress. “If you –”

Adele touched the dimple, causing micropores in the cone’s base to exude a quick-setting adhesive. If it was the type she was familiar with, a sharp ninety-degree twist of the cone would break the seal and the adhesive would sublime, but that was a question for later.

“Yes,” she said, touching the three bumps in turn to release the antenna prongs. “Does the unit require an authorization code?”

Tovera laughed harshly, a very different sound from her not-infrequent cruel giggle. She said, “No, mistress. It’s just a communicator. I didn’t see any reason to make it more difficult to use than it had to be.”

She coughed. “And I apologize.”

Adele paused and looked up at her servant. “I don’t care to have other people poking around in my files, Tovera,” she said. “If I were to break my wrists, I might have to; but I wouldn’t be happy about it.”

She resumed the process of connecting her data unit with the satellite communicator. Zenobia’s network was rudimentary but sufficient to the planet’s traffic. Shortly after the Sissie landed, Adele had carved a dedicated circuit for RCN use out of the system — just in case. Unless the satellites were destroyed or someone equally capable undid her work, she had access to the entire planet so long as she could connect with the network to begin with.

Tovera coughed diffidently. She said, “I don’t think my wrists are broken, mistress, but thank you. I’ll go sit with Hogg, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Adele said without looking up again. Hogg had been wobbling when he stepped out onto the roof with the attaché case; Daniel had instantly ordered him back inside. It was a sign of how much pain Hogg had been in after the climb had raised his blood pressure that he had obeyed without argument.

Adele got her connection. “Daniel, would you care to . . . ?” she said.

He shook his head with a grin. “You’re the signals officer, Mundy,” he said.

Nodding, she said, “Mundy to Princess Cecile. Please reply, Princess Cecile, over.”

Daniel stood beside her, looking around with a pleasant smile. He appeared to be viewing the landscape in idle curiosity, but Adele noticed from the image on her display that he always watched her out of the corner of his eye.

Does he think I’m going to fall off this roof? Adele thought in irritation.

The hard line of her lips relaxed into her version of a smile. Well, yes, Daniel might very well be concerned that she would fall off the roof. The smooth surface, lack of railing, and the fact the top sloped down on all sides made it quite dangerous unless you were — as she had suggested — a bird.

“Mistress, thank the gods!” said Cazelet’s rushing voice. “Break!”

There was a pause, about long enough for the acting signals officer to pass the information on. Then Cazelet’s voice resumed, “Mistress, Elspeth — that is, Lieutenant Vesey — says we’re three minutes out. What is your situation please, over?”

Adele was using her data unit’s speakers, but Daniel would have been able to listen anyway through his commo helmet. He frowned with surprise at the news.

“We have a couple minor injuries,” Adele said. Hogg and Tovera had reappeared in the roof opening, but they didn’t step out. Tovera was surreptitiously keeping an eye on Hogg to prevent him from overreaching himself. “Princess Cecile, how do you come to be approaching, over?”

“Mundy, this is Three,” said Vesey, taking over from the midshipman. “When we lost contact with you, Lieutenant Cory brought up recently viewed sites.”

They shouldn’t be able to recover my viewing history! Not even Cory and Cazelet should be able to break the encryption!

“He informs me that your history was irrecoverable, but that Six had recently tried to view a site also. By using imagery from ships in Calvary Harbor, Cory was able to pinpoint Six’s coordinates as Diamond Cay in the Green Ocean, the direction in which your aircar was seen leaving this morning. I issued an alarm, and we were able to lift in seventeen minutes. Over.”

Daniel caught Adele’s eye, then pointed to himself. Adele nodded and switched the control.

“Lieutenant Vesey, this is Six,” said Daniel, using his commo link instead of speaking directly to the data unit. “We will await your arrival with great pleasure. Land at the base to the crystal structure, if you will; the walls will protect us from the exhaust.”

He paused without signing off, then continued, “And Vesey? Will you please relay my appreciation to the officers and crew of the Sissie? This was work in the best tradition of the RCN. I have no higher praise to give, over.”

“Roger, Six,” said Vesey. “Three out.”

Adele started to pack her equipment, then decided to wait. It wouldn’t take long, and she preferred not to be out of communication just now. She could already hear the rumble of the corvette’s thrusters.

“You’ve trained some good ones, Adele,” said Daniel, his hands in his tunic pockets as he looked eastward. “And so have I. I used to worry that Vesey was indecisive.”

He chuckled. “Mind,” he added, “I suspect the ship’s undercrewed, though there’s likely forty drunks stretched out at their action stations.”

The Princess Cecile was visible now, thundering along just high enough that the iridescent plume of her exhaust didn’t lick steam from the wave tops. The gun turrets were unlocked. The paired cannon were depressed slightly to fire at such ground targets as might present themselves.

“They didn’t know what they might be getting into,” Adele said. In moments like these, she thought she knew what other people meant by love. “But they came anyway. Of course.”

“Of course!” agreed Daniel in surprise.

In the lagoon where Tovera’s case had floated, birds with sharp teeth and clawed forelegs ahead of their two wings were fighting over the corpse of the juvenile seadragon. The thunder of the Sissie’s plasma motors drowned their shrieks.

Adele smiled faintly, wondering whether Zenobian scavengers found human carrion edible also. Assistant Commissioner Gibbs might give her an opportunity to answer that question.