What Distant Deeps — Snippet 53

According to the records, the Farm had cadre of eighty-two personnel, but Adele didn’t trust the figure. She had never seen a military organization on the fringes of civilization where the officers weren’t inflating their personnel strength and pocketing the excess pay themselves. It was even more common than cheating subordinates on their food.

The defenses included four batteries of anti-ship missiles emplaced on high points within the two-hundred acre tract. Adele plotted the locations on the Princess Cecile’s orbital imagery but found nothing until she compared them with images from a freighter which had landed in Calvary Harbor five months earlier. The missiles were covered — she couldn’t tell whether by netting or film — so skillfully that only the slight increase in the hills’ elevation was noticeable even when Adele knew what to look for.

Adele kept the interaction in the main hall in a corner of her display, in case something occurred that required her attention; something for her pistol rather than her data unit, likely enough. She glanced at the image of Colonel Nasrullah.

He and Daniel were now seated on opposite ends of a simple bench. It appeared that Nasrullah knew his business as a construction supervisor, or at any rate his staff did and he didn’t get in their way. Adele had to assume that every member of the cadre was as skilled as the people who had emplaced the missiles clearly were.

A vehicle with a small two-stroke engine drew up behind the building, popping and ringing. A moment later Sun reappeared beside the Palmyrene officer he’d gone off with some while before. Hours before, now that Adele happened to think about it.

Sun was beaming. Adele let her data unit continue to mine information — she had found the claimed inventories of the twenty-seven ships which had landed at the Farm since its purchase by “Commissioner Brassey”. Instead of turning her head, she expanded the real-time image of what was going on in the main hall.

“All right, Six!” the gunner said exuberantly. “This is a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Captain Farouk here –”

He jerked his thumb toward the Palmyrene who’d been escorting him. Farouk, young and noticeably sharper than his fellows — even though they all wore the same loose work clothes — flushed with pleasure.

“– went to the Sector Academy on Knollys –”

Knollys was Cinnabar’s administrative and naval headquarters for the Thirty Suns, the region closest to the Qaboosh which one could describe as “developed” or “civilized,” depending on your frame of reference.

“– and they’re using an RCN gunnery console for the director. Okay, it’s older than any of us here –”

The console had been built on Cinnabar fifty-seven standard years before and had been partially gutted, though Sun probably didn’t know that.

“– but it’ll handle ground-to-orbit missiles with no trouble. I wouldn’t worry one bit about the missiles on director control.”

Adele always worried about deadly weapons which someone else might be pointing at her, because she — based on experience — doubted the competence and judgment of all but a few of the people she had met over the years. With that general proviso accepted, she agreed with the gunner’s assessment.

Colonel Nasrullah wiped his forehead with a sleeve. “All right,” he said, “all right. You will bring the troops here and all is well. There is no need to inform the Autocrator of our visit, that is so?”

“Not so fast, fellow!” Sun said. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

He was obviously relishing he opportunity to lord it over a foreign officer. His terminology would probably have been “stick it to a jumped-up wog,” however.

“Sir,” he continued to Daniel, “they got individual controls on each battery and a two-man crew. Farouk took me around to three of them, but the fourth was way the hell out and anyway, I didn’t need to see it after I’d seen the others.”

He took a deep breath and made a theatrical gesture back the way he’d come. Farouk looked worried; Nasrullah got to his feet and snatched up half the hat that he’d torn.

“Sir,” Sun said forcefully, “those site crews, I wouldn’t trust them to pour piss out of a boot! Not that they’d bother to. You know what they’re doing, sir? They’re crapping right there in the battery pits, and from the number of empty wine bottles all around they’re mostly drunk besides.”

“That’s not true!” said Farouk. “Not nearly so much do we drink!”

“You’re a bloody liar!” Nasrullah bellowed. He stepped toward Sun and cocked his fist.

Adele shifted on the stool for the first time. She’d set down the wand in her left hand. She sensed Tovera moving behind her.

Daniel caught Nasrullah’s wrist. The Palmyrene tried to jerk loose — but couldn’t.

“Careful, Colonel,” Daniel drawled. His voice perfectly mimicked that of a well-born twit to anyone familiar with Cinnabar accents. “You wouldn’t want your clumsiness to be mistaken for an attack on one of my officers, would you?”

“He’s a liar,” Nasrullah repeated, but this time he muttered it as he stepped back.

“And it’s not a problem anyway,” Daniel said in a cheerful tone. “Mundy, lock the batteries onto director control, if you’ll be so good. That takes care of the matter.”

“Yes,” said Adele, picking up the wand again. She had already deleted the firing command from both the director and individual instruction sets. All she was doing now was preventing the battery crews from slewing the missiles.

“Wait,” said Nasrullah. “Can’t you let us use them against surface targets? The director can’t observe all the ground that the individual batteries can.”

Of course I could, Adele thought. Aloud she said, “No, that’s impossible.”

It amused her — grimly — to realize that she felt more uncomfortable about lying to the man than she would have been if she’d shot him in the head. On the other hand, his face wasn’t likely to reappear at 3 am, muttering, “You lied to me.”

“Very good, Mundy,” Daniel said. “When you’re ready, we can return to Calvary and lift to meet the convoy.”

“I’m ready,” said Adele, putting away the data unit before she got to her feet. She joined Daniel and they strode, side by side, out the front door. Tovera and Sun followed.

“And we can join the convoy,” she said very quietly to Daniel as they arrived at the aircar. “Because I now have its course and its expected time of arrival on Zenobia.”