WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 10:



Xenos on Cinnabar


            The private car in which Adele shuttled along the tram lines of Xenos was marked with the crest of the Petrie family, three red mullets on a puce ground. It was common for wealthy families to keep personal cars at their townhouses; servants lifted them on and off the monorail as required.

            Adele slipped her personal data unit back into its pocket so that she could grip a handhold as she faced the woman who'd summoned her into the vehicle. "Well," said Mistress Sand. "What did you learn?"

            Adele shrugged. "That the Petries are a west-coast family," she said. "Though they appear to be wealthy enough, they're not interested in the expense and ferment of Xenos. They don't have a townhouse here."

            "I would have told you that," said Bernis Sand. "I suppose you wouldn't have trusted me, would you?"

            "I ordinarily get information electronically," Adele said calmly. "When the question occurred to me, I answered it in my normal fashion."

            She'd never seen the spymaster angry before. Sand's voice remained calm, but her stubby fingers fidgeted with a carved ivory snuff box, slipping it into and out of her waistcoat repeatedly.

            "We looked at the information on the chip you sent us," Sand said, turning to face the opera window on the right side of the vehicle. The clear acrylic panel had been treated with a film that unrecognizably distorted objects seen through it. "To the extent we can cross-check, everything is confirmed."

            She met Adele's eyes again and managed a slight smile. "It's in very good order," she added. "I was reminded of your own reports, Mundy."

            Adele smiled faintly. "Thank you," she said. "Mistress Boileau trained me well."

            "Bartram Cazelet was executed in Wellbank Prison on Pleasaunce," Sand continued. "It's possible but unlikely that Glenda Boileau Cazelet is still alive. You know about the Guarantor's prisons, so you realize that this possibility isn't good news."

            Adele dipped her head in acknowledgement. "Yes, I realize that," she said.

            "What we don't know, Mundy," Sand said in a harsher tone, "is who informed on the elder Cazelets. At this point there's a significant chance, a significant chance, that it was their own son. Your Rene Cazelet may well be not just an informer but an agent of the Fifth Bureau!"

            A second tram with the Petrie crest, rather more battered than the first, followed theirs. That too was normal when members of the nobility wanted to retain their privacy but keep servants readily accessible. Today the second vehicle carried Tovera and Rene Cazelet, accompanied by four very solid men wearing Petrie livery.

            "I don't believe that's the case, mistress," Adele said. "You may think the Fifth Bureau could delude Mistress Boileau in that fashion, but I do not. Regardless, I have a personal–a family–obligation to young Cazelet. He came to me for shelter, as I went to his grandmother."

            "Mundy, you can't take him off planet with you," Sand said, "not given the nature of Commander Leary's mission. The risk to the Republic is unacceptable, completely unacceptable."

            "I certainly can't leave him alone on Xenos while I'm gone for an indefinite period," Adele said quietly. "I'll keep an eye on him, mistress; and Tovera will, if you don't trust me. But he's going along."

            "Are you saying that you won't accompany Commander Leary if this Cazelet doesn't go with you?" Sand said, raising her voice. She was a stocky woman given to tweed suits in earth tones. There was nothing distinctive about her appearance, but her personality dominated whatever room she was in.

            Adele smiled faintly. Mistress Sand dominated the interior of this tramcar as surely as the sea covers a rock on the bottom; but in this case, as with the sea, the rock wasn't changed by the circumstances.

            "The question doesn't arise, mistress," Adele said. "I can take Cazelet with me."

            The emphasis was very mild, a barely noticeable stress on the syllable.

            "Commander Leary would find room for him if the two of them had to share a bunk," she continued. "And he'll certainly find room for me, even if he had to smuggle me aboard in a section of spar."

            Adele felt mild distress at the fact of this interview; Mistress Sand should know her better by now. Though the circumstances were unusual, of course.

            The tram jolted across a set of points, rocking both of them. Mistress Sand grabbed a railing, then barked a laugh. "What I find interesting in talking to you, Mundy," she said, abruptly more relaxed, "is that you're not afraid of me. Most people would be under these circumstances."

            Adele sniffed. "We're professional colleagues," she said. "We have a difference of opinion, but you've accepted my judgment in other difficult circumstances when I'm sure you had doubts. I'm quite sure that you don't wish me to come to harm."

            Sand looked at her squarely. "No, I don't want you to come to harm, Mundy," she said softly. "I'd rather lose my right hand than lose you, for the Republic's sake."

            With a flash of renewed anger she went on, "I read the after-action report on the assault on Mandelfarne Island. What in the name of the gods were you thinking? Do you know how important you are to Cinnabar?"

            "I know I'm a Mundy of Chatsworth, mistress," Adele said. She smiled; her lips felt as it they'd been carved from ice. "And I know that if I ever put personal safety ahead of my duty, it won't be long before I lose the debate with the person in my head. The person who doesn't think there's any reason for my continued existence."

            Sand sighed and inserted a key card into the tram's control panel. "It'll take you to the Bergen yard," she said. She hadn't bothered to punch a new destination. "That's what you want, isn't it?"

            "That's correct," Adele said primly.

            She hadn't been wholly truthful in implying that she wasn't afraid. There was a possibility that someone would decide to remove Rene Cazelet without–or even against–Sand's orders. Tovera was the best assurance of Cazelet's survival. The fact that Tovera herself wanted the boy dead wouldn't prevent her from killing anyone who tried to accomplish that result.

            Sand looked at her again and shook her head. "Mundy," she said, "if you don't start showing a little common sense, you're going to be killed sooner rather than later. And I will regret that very much."

            I won't regret it, Adele thought; but her lips merely gave a thin smile.