WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 3:



            Adele Mundy glared at the mirror, checking the hang of the new gray suit. She didn't care very much about her appearance, but she'd look ridiculous if she'd fitted the closures askew. She did care about not becoming a laughingstock.

            There was a tap on the door. Tovera looked at the security monitor. It was fed by optical fibers from microcameras in every room and passage of Chatsworth Minor.

            That degree of paranoid concern seemed wildly excessive to Adele. This was not only her home when she was on Cinnabar, it'd been the family's townhouse during the sixteen years before she'd left to finish her education in the Academic Collections on Bryce.

            "Mistress, it's Annette," squeaked one of the maids. Adele frequently got the impression that the servants were afraid of her, though they were also enormously proud to be in the service of Mundy of Chatsworth. "There's a young gentleman below asking to see you. His name's Cazelet."

            "It's Annette and she's alone," Tovera said. She was keying the security monitor, no doubt trying to find significance in the name Cazelet. Tovera was a competent information technician, but Adele could've done much better if she'd chosen to.

            She restrained herself with an effort of will, then sighed. Sometimes even the most extreme paranoia wouldn't be enough, of course. "I'm coming down, Annette," she said. "I'll see him, but I'm going out in a few minutes."

            Tovera preceded Adele through the door, holding her attaché case in front of her. Annette was already skipping downstairs. The servants might be afraid of Lady Mundy, but they were–rightly–terrified by Lady Mundy's secretary.

            Adele's decision to go to Bryce, the cultural heart of the Alliance, instead of taking further instruction in the Library of Celsus here in Xenos hadn't been whimsical. Even then, nothing the serious elder Mundy girl did was whimsical. She'd made her choice, however, purely on the ground of what facility would at this stage best advance her plan of becoming a skilled archivist.

            It hadn't crossed Adele's mind that she'd save her life by going off-planet, but she did. Reports of a coup plot on Cinnabar and its bloody suppression by Corder Leary, the Speaker of the Senate, reached Bryce a few days after she did. Save for Adele's own, the head of every member of the Mundy family was displayed on the Speaker's Rock in the center of Xenos.

            Adele's ten-year-old sister Agatha was killed a few days after their parents. Former family friends had turned the little girl away, so she'd wandered in the street until a pair of sergeants in the Land Forces of the Republic had recognized her. They'd cut her head off with their knives.

            In the entryway at the base of the stairs, a boy of twenty-four or five waited with the doorman. His black hair was cut short in an unfamiliar style, but his thin features were vaguely familiar.

            He nodded acknowledgment as Adele followed Tovera down. His hands had been clasped behind his back; now he brought them into sight and let his arms hang by his sides.

            "I'm Adele Mundy," she said without preamble. The boy was wearing a conservative business suit similar to Adele's own, though the base color of his was beige. "I'm going out in two and a half minutes, so please state your business without wasting both our time."

            Adele didn't like visitors. They were intrusive, and she much preferred getting information electronically. Her personal data unit rode in a thigh pocket. There were similar pockets in every pair of trousers she owned, even–in defiance of regulation–those of her RCN dress uniforms.

            When Adele wielded the unit's control wands, she had an answer to almost any factual question that she could ask. What information the personal unit didn't itself have was available from some other database. Thanks to her skills and the tools which Mistress Sand had provided, there were few electronic repositories from which she was barred.

            "Thank you," said Cazelet. He nodded twice as though he were resetting his memory, then continued, "A month ago my father and mother were arrested on Pleasaunce by agents of the Fifth Bureau. They were charged with conduct prejudicial to the good order of the State, which is treason under the War Emergency Powers proclaimed by Guarantor Porra. Their trial was of course secret, but it seems a foregone conclusion that they were executed."

            He paused. Adele nodded. "Yes, it does," she said in a neutral tone.

            She touched her data unit but she didn't take it out. The Fifth Bureau was the security directorate which reported to Porra personally. Its agents were known to be skilled and ruthless beyond the norm of most secret police organizations.

            "I wasn't arrested at the time," Cazelet continued, "because I was with my grandmother. I was studying information storage and retrieval techniques to help me in my duties for Phoenix Starfreight, the shipping line which my father owned. We had twelve vessels, though–again, of course–they'll have been confiscated by the State under the treason regulations. My grandmother has provided full documentation of my personal and family background."

            He held out a data chip. Tovera reached past Adele and said, "I'll see to it."

            "Why have you come to me?" Adele said quietly.

            She knew that Tovera was holding a gun on the boy, but she herself was sure he meant no harm. The disquieting aspect of the business was that from his preamble, he was aware that she was involved with the Republic's intelligence apparatus. Adele's connection with Mistress Sand shouldn't have been so generally known that a refugee from the Alliance would seek her out as his first choice for that purpose.

            "My grandmother said that you'd help me," Cazelet said. He twisted off the ring on his left little finger and offered it to her. It was a small ruby signet. Meeting Adele's eyes, he said, "My grandmother is Mistress Boileau."

            Tovera reached for the signet. "No," said Adele. She didn't raise her voice, but the syllable was as hard as a shard of glass.

            Tovera's face was without expression, but she withdrew her hand. Adele took the ring and turned it to catch the light. The intaglio of the Boileau crest, an armed lion, was too small to really make out, but Adele's wasn't in doubt that it was really Mistress Boileau's signet.

            "The Fifth Bureau could've provided him with your friend's eyes as easily as they could her ring," Tovera said. She was a colorless woman with a colorless voice, and she had no conscience at all. That had made her a great asset to the Fifth Bureau when she was part of it. "It proves nothing."

            "I recognize his features," Adele said, returning the ring. "He's a Boileau."

            She frowned, then added, "We may even have met. Did we?"

            Cazelet bobbed his head twice again, but he said, "My mother brought me to Bryce twice to visit Granna, when I was twelve and again when I was fourteen. I saw you both times, but we weren't introduced."

            He cleared his throat and added, "Mistress? Granna says you're an artist. She says that no one ever could accomplish what you do with information systems, and that nobody'll ever equal you in the future either."

            Adele sniffed. "I was well trained," she said.

            The doorman had turned away to watch the street through the door's sidelight. Tovera eyed the youth in cold fury.

            "Tovera," Adele said crisply, "there's been a change of plans. Master Cazelet will accompany me to the playhouse. I want you to deliver the data he's brought to those who'll want to see it. When they've digested it, I'll discuss the situation with them."

            Mistress Sand would be as angry as Tovera. While she wasn't likely to shoot anyone herself, she had the whole resources of the Republic to command if she wished to.

            "Mistress, it doesn't mean anything even if he is her grandson!" Tovera said.

            Adele stepped between her servant and Rene Cazelet. Tovera couldn't use the sub-machine gun in her attaché case without shooting her mistress first.

            "On the contrary, Tovera," Adele said. "Family obligations mean a great deal to a Mundy of Chatsworth. Now, if you're in my service–carry out your orders! And if you're not, get out of my house and my sight, because I'll shoot you like a snake if I ever see you again."

            Tovera closed her case and bowed slightly. Her complexion was ordinarily so pale that only one who knew her well would realize that she'd gone even whiter.

            "I'll deliver the chip as you direct, mistress," she said quietly. "Shall I await your return here at Chatsworth Minor?"

            "Yes, unless there's a reason for you to do otherwise," Adele said. "I'll leave that to your judgment."

            Tovera smiled faintly in acknowledgment of the conciliatory words. "Mistress," she repeated. She went out the door like a wisp of cold air.

            Adele shrugged to loosen her muscles. Her left hand had been in the pocket of her tunic, gripping a little pistol. She hadn't expected to shoot it out with her servant, but in times of tension her subconscious took her hands to one machine or the other: the personal data unit or the pistol. She was rarely without both.

            "A playhouse, mistress?" Rene Cazelet said. He stood unusually straight; she wondered how much he'd understood of what'd just happened.

            "Yes, Master Cazelet," Adele said, crooking a finger toward the doorman. He opened the panel which'd been carved out of wood from the Mundy country estate of Chatsworth Major. "We're going to a play. It's called The Conquest of Dunbar's World, and I'd very much like how it describes that business."