What Distant Deeps — Snippet 48

Gibbs leaned toward his listeners, obviously proud of how clever his plan was. Adele wondered if he might not have approached the Palmyrenes rather than the other way around. Carefully sifting the documentation would answer the question, though the genesis of the plot didn’t matter at this point.

What mattered was that if the plan went forward, it almost certainly meant a renewal of open warfare between Cinnabar and the Alliance. Palmyrene files were just as porous as she had said they were, so when Alliance agents began looking, they would immediately learn that the Cinnabar Commissioner had been instrumental in what had happened.

“What were you bringing in from off-planet?” she said aloud. Her references were to “shipments” without detail on what they included. “Troops?”

“No, no!” said Gibbs in irritated contempt. “There has to be preparation, don’t you see? They had to build a base first. There was a missile battery and plasma cannon on mobile mounts in the first shipload, along with cadre to manage the whole business. Since then they’ve been building barracks. Do you see?”

Adele considered for a moment, then gave an honest answer instead of temporizing. “No,” she said, “I don’t. Why are the Palmyrenes building barracks?”

Gibbs was looking for a chance to brag. Letting him do so was the best way to get information out of him, though every aspect of the man’s personality seemed designed to make her want to slap him. This was a matter of searching for jewels in sewage.

“The troops will be packed in for the passage here,” Gibbs said. “The best transport you can find in the Qaboosh is only cattle boats, and not even very big cattle boats. So if they don’t have some time to settle in and recover before they go into action, they’ll be sod all use in a fight. The Farm gives them that, and their heavy weapons have been brought in bit by bit and set up there ahead of time.”

“How many troops?” Adele asked calmly. The intercepted data didn’t give strength figures — didn’t even refer to the contents except as implied by the word “shipments.”

She kept her delivery calm, almost disinterested. If she sounded excited, she would subconsciously tell the prisoner that his information was important. That wouldn’t make any long-term difference, but it might delay the process somewhat.

Besides, Adele preferred keeping emotion at bay. For most of her life the only emotion which she felt regularly was anger; and while her mental state had improved since she met Daniel and became a member of the RCN, the red blur was never very far beneath the surface of her mind even now.

“There’re barracks for a thousand,” said Gibbs. “They look like barns and chicken sheds, you see. But they have to bring in more than they’d planned because the Founder is so set against them and he’s popular. They’d hoped to bring him around, you see, but Hergo hates all Palmyrenes and he hates Autocrator Irene like poison. Now they’re going to shoot him along with the Resident first thing, then make another of the Councillors the new Founder.”

“How does the Autocrator expect to land a thousand or more troops in front of the Fleet contingent?” Daniel said in a measured voice. “Have they bribed Lieutenant Commander von Gleuck?”

“That one!” Gibbs said in disgust. “I met him when he arrived, thinking — you know, two navy men? But he was so full of his bloody honor that he threatened to whip me if he caught me anywhere near his quarters or the Palace either one. I warned Bimbeck that the stiff-necked bastard would shoot anybody who tried to put him into some easy money.”

“There’s some of them like that,” Daniel said in a tone of commiseration.

Adele looked at him sharply. Daniel himself was very much like that. Aloud she said, “How are they getting around the Fleet, then, Master Gibbs?”

“Because it’s none of the Fleet’s bloody business, that’s how!” Gibbs crowed. “Customs and Excise are under the Resident, and Tilton let von Gleuck know that if he started making spot checks of ships in orbit, any knocking shop or bar that served Fleet spacers was going to be shut down. Lieutenant Commander Tightass doesn’t like the Resident one bit, but he doesn’t get in his way.”

“No,” said Daniel with a bright smile. “I wouldn’t expect those two would get on well.”

“Look,” said Gibbs, “it’s a mercy taking the planet away from the Alliance anyway, right? Not just because it’s the Alliance and that’s always a good thing for us Cinnabar citizens –”

Adele didn’t allow herself to smile. The way the expression would have looked on her face would silence Gibbs faster than a blow.

“– but because all the wogs here hate the Resident so bad. If it wasn’t Hergo keeping the lid on, a mob would’ve lynched Tilton long since. I know some of the Councillors are with the Autocrator on this one, and once she lands here to take possession, they’ll all come over!”

Until a squadron arrives from Pleasaunce, thought Adele, and along with battleships brings a detachment from the Fifth Bureau.

Aloud she said, “When will this coup take place, Master Gibbs?”

“It’s –” Gibbs said, then unexpectedly caught himself. “Ah, I don’t know for sure, you see. But, ah . . . I think it’s going to be pretty soon. Not from anything they said to me, exactly, but just the way they were talking to each other, you know? Bimbeck and the CO from the Farm, Mehdi Nasrullah.”

“Days?” said Adele. “Weeks? What?”

“I’d guess days,” Gibbs said. He licked his dry lips. “I thought I could, you know, wait. But I’d heard about you, Leary –”

He looked at Daniel; his face worked in misery. Daniel gave him a gentle smile.

“Anyway,” said Gibbs, “I couldn’t trust you wouldn’t try to put a spoke in the operation. And then the Autocrator would blame me, sure as shit stinks. They impale people, the Palmyrenes do, and it take a long time to die.”

“I see,” Daniel said. “Tell me, Gibbs — you know the ground here pretty well after so many years, I’d judge? Since your little prank destroyed the Commission’s vehicle, what other trustworthy aircars are there on Zenobia?”

“Well, the Founder’s got one,” Gibbs said, frowning. “It’s old but von Gleuck had some of his mechanics work it over. He and Lady Belisande, she’s the pretty one, they’ve gone jaunting about.”

“But that car is marked, is it not?” said Daniel.

“Oh, Hell, yes,” said Gibbs. “Great big Zenobian Cross on the bonnet, and a Belisande coat of arms on both sides.”

“So,” said Daniel dismissively. Adele didn’t know where the discussion was going; but knowing Daniel, it was certainly going somewhere. “What unmarked vehicles are there?”

“Not a bloody one,” Gibbs said. “Not if you don’t want to walk back. Some of the Councillors own a car for show, but they only run them in ground effect. There aren’t any mechanics you could trust here. Even a new car would go to crap in a year with no maintenance.”

“There’s one car,” Adele said.

Gibbs looked at her. “You don’t think the Resident’s going to lend you his?” he sneered.

“Yes!” said Daniel. “Thank you, Adele! Yes, that unmarked black limousine is perfect!”

“You want me to steal a car, young master?” Hogg said. The smile he gave the compartment was beatific, in its way.

“No,” said Daniel. “That would be an act of war, which is just what we’re trying to prevent. But I’m going to speak to a friend and see what he might be able to arrange.”

His sudden smile was just as broad as his servant’s.