WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 38:



En route to Conyers


            Adele heard the voices pausing outside her room. When she realized one of those speaking was Woetjans, she noticed where her left hand was. Grimacing in self-disgust, she removed it and smoothed the pocket before calling, "Yes? Come in."

            The Zwiedam had carried six hundred immigrants at a time on long voyages. Adele couldn't imagine where they'd all fitted, but regardless there was plenty of room for half that number of the soldiers and armed spacers who'd make up the assault force.

            Adele and the other officers had private  rooms–of a sort. What'd been a barracks for fifty in five-high hammock towers had been broken up into ceilingless compartments made from sail fabric stretched on tubing. The fabric was perfectly opaque: when energized, it reflected even Casimir radiation. It didn't do anything about sound, though, so the voices, music, dice games, and snoring from the other nine cubicles came through unhindered.

            The room was noisy, dank, and adorned only by chipping paint. At that, it was better than most of the places where Adele had roomed during the fifteen years between when her family was massacred and her joining the RCN. She didn't care much about her physical surroundings anyway.

            Woetjans opened the door panel by turning the double pivot that served as a latch. Instead of entering, she remained in the corridor with a Bagarian spacer whom Adele didn't know by name.

            Tovera and Rene Cazelet stood just behind the spacers. They had the cubicles to either side of Adele's, and they appeared to've dropped whatever they were doing to join the party.

            "Ramage found something back on Dansant, mistress," the bosun said. "I told him we needed to bring it to you because you'd know what it was."

            She nudged Ramage. "Go on, show it to her, buddy," she said. "You don't have to be scared. We're on her side. Right, mistress?"

            "I usually don't shoot people for asking me questions, Woetjans," Adele said dryly. "Even when they're not shipmates."

            She took the little pyramid which Ramage held out to her. It was about an inch high from any base to its apex and remarkably heavy for its size. There were carvings on all four faces, though Adele couldn't tell the detail in this light. She moved it above the data unit and focused the display into a bar of white light.

            Adele used to think that the spacers she served with considered her a monster; the thought had disturbed her. After a time she realized that people who'd just heard the stories might think she was a monster, but to the Sissies themselves she was a guard dog: very dangerous, but their dog.

            That didn't bother her as much. She basically agreed with the assessment.

            "It was where we were shooting, mistress," Ramage said. She'd heard the Bagarians call him Andy. "The Skyes'd painted targets on rocks. They'd shoot and we'd shoot, and after the paint'd been blasted off we'd go paint 'em back again. I was helping paint, you know, and I saw this so I picked it up."

            "He thought it was a slug, you see, stuck in the rock," Woetjans said. "But we scraped the rock away and it wasn't."

            "Anyway, it was too big," Ramage said. He'd loosened up a good deal in the course of this short conversation.
            "No, it's not a bullet," Adele said, hefting the pyramid in her palm. It was as dense as the osmium and iridium projectiles which heavy impellers shot, though. Her little pocket pistol fired ceramic pellets which lost most of their velocity in the first fifty yards.

            Each face of the pyramid had an image; the edges were sharp, apparently carved instead of being cast. The base was marked with a symbol, a figure-8 or perhaps an analemma, beside two slanted diagonals. It meant nothing to Adele or to her personal data unit.

            The other three facets showed heads in left profile. One was birdlike, though the beak was vestigial; the next was clearly reptilian, but the jaw was shorter than that of any reptile Adele had seen and the forehead bulged almost like a man's; and the third was a slope-browed man, or at least something manlike.

            Daniel will be interested in this.

            "Where'd it come from, mistress?" Woetjans asked.

            Adele stood, closed her data unit, and handed the pyramid back to Ramage. She'd started to put it in her pocket, but she realized the spacers would think she was appropriating it. They'd accept that, of course: she was Lady Adele Mundy, the Captain's friend, and they were the dirt beneath her feet.

            They thought that; she did not. She winced to imagine reinforcing their belief by accident.

            "I'm not sure we'll be able to tell, Woetjans," Adele said, "but come with me to the Medicomp and we'll analyze the thing in more detail than we can here."

            She strode down the corridor between fabric cubicles and then through the open hatch to C Deck's central passage. In warships the automated diagnosis and care facility was usually on A Deck, but the builders of this immigrant ship placed it in the middle of the three decks given over to barracks. It was within fifty yards of Adele's compartment.

            No one was in the Medicomp at the moment, so Adele simply used the cabinet itself instead of everting one of the arms. When there were many to treat at the same time, the unit did so externally. After the assault on Mandlefarne Island, Adele had been one of half a dozen casualties in the corridor of the Princess Cecile.

            She could easily have died there; but she hadn't, so she was here to answer questions for Woetjans and Ramage. The spacers were pleased that she'd lived, and at the moment Adele supposed that she was glad also.

            "The object, please," Adele said, but Ramage was already holding it out to her. The cylinder would hold a large human lying flat. She set the pyramid in the center and closed the cabinet again.

            "Why, that's brilliant, Adele!" Cazelet said as he watched her program the Medicomp. "I never would've thought of that. Of course, it has full-spectrum analysis capability, but I just considered it a, well, a Medicomp."

            "One gets used to field expedients in the RCN," Adele said, smiling faintly. "For example, a large wrench makes a very good club. Doesn't it, Woetjans?"

            "Yes, ma'am," said the bosun. "Though I prefer a length of high-pressure tubing."