What Distant Deeps — Snippet 49

CHAPTER 16: Calvary on Zenobia

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Leary,” said Lieutenant Commander von Gleuck at the door to the study of his private quarters in the city. He wore loose trousers and a tunic, both striped in pale blue diagonals on white. It might be a style from Adlersbild; certainly it wasn’t Zenobian. “Podnits, you may turn in. Captain Leary and I can pour our own drinks.”

The servant who had admitted Daniel was bald, stocky, and dour. He looked doubtful, but he obeyed. Hogg’s demeanor had been very similar when Daniel told him to wait in the van.

“I’m sorry about the delay admitting you,” von Gleuck said. “I’m afraid Podnits wasn’t convinced that it really was an RCN officer in civilian clothes who was banging on my door.”

Daniel closed the study door firmly behind him. “I can imagine Hogg having similar doubts,” he said. “I was afraid to call ahead, you see, so I drove here straight from the harbor.”

He gave von Gleuck a rueful smile. “Trundled from the harbor, I should say. Unfortunately, time is important.”

Three of the walls were decorated with Zenobian tapestries in which figures in garish costumes hunted across wooded terrain. The wall facing the door, however, was a hologram of a mountain fastness. The scene moved slowly, as though a person standing on a height was turning to his right to view the entire panorama.

There were four chairs, each with a leather back and cushion on a frame of rhodium-plated steel; the table matched, though the leather top had been treated with a hardener. That wasn’t Daniel’s idea of comfort, but he could appreciate von Gleuck’s determination to recreate the world he’d grown up in.

The computer console in the far right corner faced the door. It appeared to be a Fleet Standard unit, functionally identical to what Daniel would expect to find on the bridge of Z 46. Or, for that matter, on the Princess Cecile.

“All right, Captain,” von Gleuck said with a cold smile. “Speak.”

Daniel opened his left hand palm up, as though offering something to his host. “Look, von Gleuck,” he said, “we’re both officers, and we’re not going to forget that ever. But just for now, Daniel Leary of Bantry would like to talk off the record with his friend, the Honorable Otto von Gleuck. Can we do that?”

Von Gleuck’s smile broadened minusculely. “We are doing that, Daniel,” he said. “Part of the delay before I admitted you was to make sure all the recording devices in my quarters were switched off. Apart from anything else, Posey’s maid Wood is a member of the 5th Bureau, and it would not surprise me to learn that her duties included reporting on my potentially treasonous contacts.”

Daniel laughed. “Neither of us will be committing treason,” he said, “but it’s certainly possible that our superiors may decide to hang us as a result of this business if it goes wrong.”

He smiled again. This would work: von Gleuck was the man he’d seemed to be. They might all die, but they’d die trying.

“Of course,” Daniel said, “if it goes very wrong, I won’t be around to learn about it. But I’m wasting time. Otto, I need the use of a trustworthy aircar that doesn’t have visible markings. I’m told there’s only one of them on Zenobia. The matter means peace or war between our nations.”

Von Gleuck pursed his lips. “That,” he said in a musing tone, “isn’t what I expected to hear. I’ll admit that I hadn’t refined the possibilities very far, but from your reputation I thought it might have something to do with a woman.”

“I’ve had various problems with women,” Daniel admitted. “But no serious ones. That may be because — until recently, at least — I had no serious interactions with women.”

He cleared his throat. Von Gleuck hadn’t answered the implied question, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t heard it.

“Otto,” he said, “after this is over, I will give you all the details. I can’t do so now because if I did, you would be honor bound to act on the information. I give you my word as a Leary of Bantry that my proposed solution is the one I believe most likely to lead to a good result for the Alliance and the Republic both.”

“Yes, all right,” von Gleuck said. “Ah — though the car in question isn’t marked, anyone in Calvary is likely to recognize it, you realize?”

Daniel nodded. “Except while coming and going . . . ,” he said, “I won’t be anywhere close to Calvary. And I won’t be dealing with Zenobians.”

He grinned. “Or citizens of the Alliance, either one,” he added.

“No,” agreed von Gleuck with a similar grin, “you’re leaving that to me. And a good thing you are, since my brother the Count tells me that the levies to pay for the recent war between our nations has created a great deal of unrest on Adlersbild. Further taxes might have unfortunate results.”

He hadn’t asked why Daniel wasn’t stealing the Resident’s aircar himself, and he wasn’t objecting to the personal risk. There wouldn’t be a war because a Fleet officer stole an Resident’s aircar, but there might very well be a hanging. More accurately, a shot in the back of the neck. That was the technique preferred by the civil authorities of the Alliance.

Naval officers accepted personal risk as a given of their profession, though that didn’t ordinarily mean a chance of being executed for treason. Still, the most likely result if the wheels came off this business was that Daniel Leary would be buried in an unmarked grave in the wilds of Zenobia. Or possibly vaporized; Gibbs had mentioned mobile plasma cannon, after all, and Daniel knew from the other side of the muzzle what a bolt at short range would do to an aircar.

He smiled wider. But what a thrill when a plan like this came together! And similar plans had come together in the past, they surely had!

“Where do you want the vehicle delivered, then, Daniel?” von Gleuck said.

“Alongside the Sissie,” said Daniel. “Alongside my ship. And ASAP, of course.”

“Of course,” von Gleuck agreed with a nod. “My people should be able to manage that within an hour. As soon as they do, I think I’m going to call an emergency drill to see how quickly my ships can lift off.”

“Very wise,” said Daniel. “On a posting like this, crews get bored because nothing happens.”

Daniel turned toward the hall. Before the door swung closed behind him, he heard von Gleuck bringing his console live.

Both men were chuckling with excitement.

* * *

A squall drove across Calvary Harbor as a line of foam on the dark water, then spattered the quay. Adele turned her back on it. Her expression didn’t change, but her thoughts were grim.

She smiled.

“Adele?” said Daniel in surprise. He had just lowered his head and squinted at the brief gust. She supposed he was used to being out in this sort of weather while hunting. Well, she was used to it too, from poverty; but she didn’t like it any better for the familiarity.

“I was just thinking that the normal, ah, tenor of my thoughts fitted the weather very well,” Adele said with the smile still twitching around the corners of her mouth. “Which in turn struck me as amusing.”

“Adele . . . ,” Daniel said with an informality that he usually avoided when they were in public — as they technically were, since Sun as well as Hogg stood with them; Tovera was in the van, watching Gibbs. “I won’t pretend I understood that, but quite a lot of what goes on in your mind is beyond me. It’s a bloody good mind, and I’m glad you’re on our side.”

Adele’s smile remained a trifle longer. Her RCN utilities were rainproof, though if she’d wanted more protection she could have spread the cape and hood from the collar — they were cut from sailcloth, tough, thin, and next to weightless. She didn’t especially mind getting wet.

But she couldn’t read in the rain. Paper soaked quickly to uselessness, and though her data unit was sealed against the weather, the droplets — or even worse, fog — disrupted the holographic display. Anything that limited Adele’s ability to receive information aroused her severe dislike.

She had her ordinary senses, of course. She had long ago come to terms with the fact, however, that she preferred to use technology to filter her contact with the world.