WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 29:



            Before the door of the conference room in the north wing of the Hall of Assembly had finished closing, Jordan Wiens–the Minister of Trade–snarled, "What possessed you to rob our own merchants that way, Leary? Are you out of your mind?"

            "You had no right to do that!" Minister Lampert said, his words stepping on his colleague's. "You lied to us, admit it! You lied to us!"

            There was a yelp in the anteroom and the door opened again behind Daniel. He didn't bother looking over his shoulder to see that Hogg had followed him regardless of what the attendant outside thought about the matter. The servant's presence wouldn't be necessary, but it wasn't a bad thing to have him around.

            Daniel stepped chest to chest with Lampert and said in a ringing voice, "See here, my good man! I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head when you speak to a Leary!"

            He wasn't as near the edge of control as his tone implied, but neither was he merely pretending to be angry. This was a case, Speaker Leary's son had decided, when it was politic to show one's teeth.

            Lampert stepped back in surprise; Wiens, his mouth open to resume, instead fell silent. No one spoke for a moment.

            The Generalissima herself said plaintively, "This really has caused a difficult situation, Admiral. I know you couldn't have foreseen the problems, but I do wish you'd explained ahead of time what you intended. I don't know how long it'll take us to put matters straight."

            Daniel thumped his left leg out to the side and crossed his hands behind his back. Only after he struck the pose did he realize he'd just come to Parade Rest. Well, it'd do. Quite obviously the members of the Bagarian government didn't intend to sit.

            The central table would seat a committee of twenty, and there were chairs around the walls for aides and functionaries. Over the long south wall was a railed balcony, though the doors onto it were closed and perhaps locked. The high windows in the other three sides were in alcoves with built-in seats. Bright-colored insectoids fluttered against the inside of the panes, though it was beyond Daniel's ability to imagine why they'd entered if they were so determined on escaping again.

            But then, he'd walked into this room also, hadn't he? And he'd known full well what to expect.

            "Generalissima, ministers," Daniel said. "I told you I was taking the squadron for a training cruise, and that's all I did. That we stumbled onto a pair of Alliance prizes was a piece of great good luck but not a violation of orders either explicit or implied. I'm puzzled that you're not as pleased about that as I am, though; and as pleased as the citizens outside clearly are."

            "You see, Leary," said Alfred Decker, the Minister of Resources, "if you start seizing civilian property, the Alliance is going to do the same in retaliation. Many–most, in fact–of our substantial citizens have property and accounts receivable within the Alliance. On Pleasaunce even. What's to stop the owners of the ships you've captured from recompensing themselves from our–that is, from the property of Bagarian citizens?"

            "Absolutely nothing, I suppose, minister," Daniel said. He was beginning to find this amusing. He had the trump card and knew it: he didn't mind a public scene over the issue, and the ministers couldn't afford to let that happen. "But you're at war, you'll recall. Guarantor Porra could order such confiscations at any time."

            "But he won't, Admiral," DeMarce said. "Not unless he's, well, provoked. Capturing civilian ships in the way you did on Dodd's Throne is exactly the sort of provocation we want to avoid."

            "Why your Excellency, gentlemen…," Daniel said in a good counterfeit of puzzlement. "I don't believe you've thought this through. You've been chosen–"

            How had they been chosen? He'd understood that DeMarce was a military strongman, but close contact with the government left him with the suspicion she was the puppet of the wealthy merchants who'd become her ministers.

            "–to lead the Bagarian peoples in their struggle for liberty. Surely you see that temporary personal loss is a small price to pay for that liberty. Why–"

            He stepped toward the east windows, facing the square which the crowd filled. The cheers were sparser in the absence of anyone present to spark them, but they continued nonetheless.

            "–you can hear the people's enthusiasm even now. You see how our good fortune on Dodd's Throne has raised patriotic fervor on your behalf. You wouldn't think of dashing their joy, would you?"

            "Bloody hell!" said Nick Bedi, a wizened stick of a man with the Cluster Affairs–that is, internal security–portfolio. "If you tell them that, they'll hang us all! By all the gods, man! And chances are they won't stop with us, either, so watch your tongue for your own sake!"

            "With respect, minister," Daniel said, knowing that if Bedi wanted to find respect in his tone he'd have to listen very hard. "I'm an RCN officer, so of course concern for my personal safety comes a bad second to doing my duty."

            Daniel's duty lay to Cinnabar, however, not to the Bagarian Cluster or even to its common people. Some of the ministers must suspect that by now, though at least DeMarce seemed to think the young Cinnabar advisor was just dangerously naive.

            They all knew they had a tiger by the tail, though. Daniel could rouse the mob against them, and if they'd so much as glanced at his record they realized he'd be willing to do that or to do anything else his duty required.

            The chances were that a lot of cluster citizens were going to die because the government had called on Cinnabar for help. Daniel deeply regretted that, but Admiral James was depending on him.

            "Look, Leary, we're all pleased about the prizes, of course," Lampert lied with a straight face. "But what the Cluster needs now isn't more commerce raiders, it's Churchyard and Conyers. They're daggers to our throat as long as the Alliance continues to hold them."

            "That's right," said Kevin Hewett, the Chancellor. "Alliance commerce can be taken care of by the privateers we're commissioning. Our share will be very important to the budget for the coming year."

            "Yes, very important," Lampert said. "While you're supposed to be attacking Churchyard, Leary. Before the Alliance reinforces it, you see. Not swanning off to Dodd's Throne, which isn't a threat and couldn't ever be a threat!"

            If you're worried about your own trade, Daniel thought, you're out of your collective minds to commission privateers–for which read pirates, in result if not by intention.

            These ministers were too desperately short-sighted to understand the dangers; Daniel thought it was that rather than ignorance of how lines blurred at the sharp end. Spacers with privateering commissions, few of them Bagarians and some no doubt from Alliance worlds, would be balancing money for themselves against the wishes of a government of strangers. Their own profit would win every time.

            But that wasn't the business of Cinnabar nor of Commander Daniel Leary, not right at the moment. Aloud he said, "I'm pleased to have the government's support, sirs and madame. Your excellency–"

            He looked at DeMarce with a bland smile.

            "–we discussed troops for the Churchyard expedition when we last spoke. Where are they billeted? And of course I'll need transport and at least a month's rations–"

            "That won't be possible, I'm afraid, Admiral," said the plump, balding Terry Dean. He was Minister for the Army and wore a bright green military uniform with scarlet shoulder boards. "The demands on the Army of Freedom are such that we don't have any troops to send off with you. But the oppressor's forces have no bottle. You'll see. When you start bombarding Churchyard, they'll all surrender the way they did on Schumer's World."

            That's not the lesson I would've drawn from Schumer's World, thought Daniel. There'd been only a battalion of Cluster Militia on the planet, and the Victoria Luise–now Ladouceur–had been captured while provisioning as the first act of the revolt. Churchyard, with a major naval base and no more colonists than it had immigrant workers from deeper into the Alliance, would be a very different matter.

            "I must say that I regret to hear that there won't be troops available," he said aloud, keeping his tone neutral. "You mentioned bombardment, General Dean. Are the plasma missiles ready for the squadron to load, then?"

            "They certainly are, Leary," said Lampert, suddenly cheerful again. "My friend Power delivered the final tranche of the contract just this morning. Bloody fast work, I say."

            "Delivered and been paid for," said Chancellor Hewett sourly. He was a tall man with soft features, a stoop, and the expression of a dying camel. "Which leaves bugger all in the treasury, I don't mind telling you."

            "Well, of course he was paid!" Lampert snapped. "He did the work, didn't he? I'm sure that when Admiral Leary here captures Churchyard, there'll be plenty of loot to plump the treasury up. Isn't that so, Leary?"

            "One can certainly hope so," said Daniel. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror between the windows. The varnished hardness of his smile disturbed him. But these folk weren't his first responsibility. "At any rate, Minister, the Cluster's share of the captured freighters and their cargoes may be of some help when they're auctioned."

            "Just so, Leary, just so," said Lampert. "Now, I'm sure you have a great deal to do before you leave to sweep the oppressors off Churchyard, and we do too. You understand?"

            "Perfectly, Minister," Daniel said, bowing. "Oh–and one further thing. I've raised spacer's pay to the usual eighteen ostrads a month with senior ratings in proportion. I trust this meets with your approval, as it's absolutely necessary to retain experienced personnel."

            "For heaven's sake man, where do you expect me to find the money for that?" Hewett growled. "No, we don't approve!"

            "I believe I found the money on Dodd's Throne, Chancellor," Daniel said. "If you require me to, I'll find more in the same place or similar ones; but I'd rather be concentrating on the problem of Churchyard."

            Ministers looked at once another. "All right, Admiral," DeMarce said to break the silence. "We'll find the money. You deal with Churchyard."

            Hewett grimaced. "All right, all right," he muttered. "But it's wasting money on trash, you know."

            "I know many people who feel that way about spacers, Chancellor," Daniel said. He bowed again and backed out of the room respectfully. Hogg slipped out after his master and closed the door.

            Daniel turned to put his back to the door. His lips were pursed as though he'd been sucking on a lemon.