WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 4:



CHAPTER 2: Xenos on Cinnabar


            Though the staff at Chatsworth Minor wore Mundy livery, they were actually employed by The Shippers' and Merchants' Treasury. The bank rented the townhouse for clients and clandestine meetings during the long periods in which the owner and her other tenant, Commander Leary, were off Cinnabar. Daniel hadn't been told of the connection, because the bank's major partner was his estranged father, Corder Leary.


            Adele did know. Given her family's history with Speaker Leary, the situation made her uncomfortable and therefore distant toward the servants; though she was unlikely to've become close to them anyway. In the present instance she'd told the major domo to get her two tickets at the nearest playhouse showing The Conquest of Dunbar's World.

            The Palace Theatre was located on the Pentacrest, in the center of Xenos. It was fashionable and therefore ornate, but since it was close to Chatsworth Minor–Adele would've walked instead of taking a tram if time hadn't been short–the choice hadn't surprised her.

            She'd been surprised to learn that the Palace had a Speaker's Box, however, and even more surprised that she and her guest had the use of it tonight. Her first reaction had been that this was probably costing a week's income for an RCN signals officer. Her second, noticing how obsequious the manager was as he led them to the box in the center of the third tier, was that more than money had to be involved. What in heaven's name did the major domo say?

            As the manager latched the door to the box behind them, Adele settled into one of the plush chairs. The lights went down and martial music began to rumble. She frowned. She'd intended to time their arrival to miss the opening nonsense attached to the features, but Cazelet's arrival should have made her late.

            Cazelet reached into his pocket and squeezed his watch. It was a hunter; instead of displaying numerals, chimes bonged softly; they were followed by a snatch of an air which gave the minutes in increments of five.

            "They held the show for us, mistress," he said. Adele had taken a center seat; he took one beside her. He was smiling faintly.

            "I had nothing to do with that!" Adele said, angry at Cazelet's assumption and even more angry to realize that he might be correct. Had Daniel's sister Deirdre, the managing partner of the Treasury, given the servants at Chatsworth instructions that'd been kept secret from Adele?

            As the music throbbed, holographic lightning spelled the names of players above the virtual stage. Adele knew displays: they were the means by which she absorbed most of the information that was her life. The Palace's projection apparatus was aligned to provide 97% comprehension throughout the 180-degree arc of spectators, but the optimum viewing location was the center of the Speaker's Box.

            A voice–normally documentaries were narrated by newsreaders, but here Adele recognized the tones of Michael Beasley, a leading player–said, "Though we who play the roles in this drama are civilians, the incidents which we portray are entirely true and are based on imagery collected by the heroic men and women of the Cinnabar Navy. It is with profound humility and respect that we offer to the citizens of this great Republic a lifelike account of–"

            The music and Beasley's voice swelled together.

            "–the conquest of Dunbar's World!"

            Adele set her data unit on her knees. She didn't need it at present, but she'd found that gripping the control wands settled her mind. Cazelet divided his attention between her and the documentary.

            "Port Dunbar!" boomed Beasley. "A city being crushed by the relentless brutality of Guarantor Porra's goons."

            The image panned across a ruined urban landscape. It was early dusk, though the sky was bright enough to show buildings already shattered by explosives. The tracking flares of bombardment rockets gleamed all the way to the orange blasts at the end of their quick arcs.

            "Now how did they…?" Adele whispered; her wands flickered, calling up data.

            "Is that wrong, mistress?" Cazelet said, giving her a start. She'd forgotten that she wasn't alone.

            "On the contrary," she said, adjusting her data unit so that he could view it's holographic display also. "It's right. They're using real images, images my helmet gathered when we flew into Port Dunbar."

            "In orbit above the planet," Beasley's voice continued, "hangs a powerful Alliance squadron manned by picked crews, the finest spacers to be found among those willing to serve the megalomaniac tyrant Porra!"

            Images of warships cascaded across the display: a cruiser/minelayer and another light cruiser, two heavy cruisers, and a modern battleship. The mix was seasoned with at least a dozen destroyers. Adele couldn't identify the vessels because she didn't have the background to sort one ship from another by the length of the antennas or the shape of the outrigger pontoons.

            Daniel would've recognized them, however, and Adele remembered the names which her data unit supplied: the Bremse, the Caio Duilio, the Bluecher, the Scheer, and the battleship Der Grosser Karl. Oh, yes, she remembered them.

            "And the only hope for the cowering residents of Dunbar's World…," continued the voice, this time rolling with oily smoothness over an image of Beasley himself. "Is the corvette Princess Cecile and her captain, Daniel Leary–as bold a spacer as ever wore the uniform of the Cinnabar Navy!"

            The image of Beasley was wearing a heavily embellished version of an RCN 1st Class uniform. As factual errors went in this presentation, that was a fairly mild one. In any case, it was what the producers had gotten right that concerned Adele, not their mistakes.

            "Is that really Commander Leary, mistress?" Cazelet asked quietly.

            "Good heavens, no!" Adele blurted. "Daniel, the commander, that is, is six inches shorter than that player and younger by fifteen years. Why, he's–"

            She turned to Cazelet, shocked to realize what she was about to say. "Commander Leary is your age, sir. I tend to forget that sometimes. He has a youthful enthusiasm for all manner of things–"

            Certainly including young, pretty, bubble-heads. He'd been seeing the sister of the late Midshipman Dorst on this return to Xenos, however, and that young lady appeared to have not only her own share of intelligence but also the share which her brother Timothy, brave and steadfast though he was, had undoubtedly lacked.

            "–but his presence in a crisis has an impressive maturity."

            Beasley/Daniel was addressing what were apparently his officers on the bridge of what might've been a battleship. Certainly it was too spacious for a 1300-ton corvette like the Princess Cecile.

            "Fellow citizens of the great Republic of Cinnabar!" he said. "You've joined me to lift the iron heel of tyranny from the necks of the innocent people of Dunbar's World. I swear to you that we will succeed, even if it means our deaths. As you know, a Cinnabar spacer never backs down!"

            "Is the speech from the records also, mistress?" Cazelet asked. He was keeping his voice carefully neutral, but the doubt behind the question was obvious.

            Well, it would've been obvious to a pet monkey!

            "It is not," Adele said dryly. "To begin with, Cinnabar citizens are a minority in most RCN crews. They were a small minority on the vessels which we operated in Ganpat's Reach. More important–"

            She paused, watching as a delegation from the government of Dunbar's World begged Commander Leary for his support in their struggle against tyranny. Makeup and artfully torn garments emphasized their wretchedness, and the holographic imagery had apparently been manipulated to reduce the height of the civilian players in comparison with the stalwart spacers of the RCN.

            Adele snorted. "Good heavens!" she muttered. "They're in uniform."

            "The uniforms are wrong, you mean?" Cazelet asked.

            "What?" said Adele. She'd forgotten him again. "No–well, yes, that too. But it's the fact the spacers are wearing any uniform. They'd be in slops of some color that wouldn't show grease too badly. Unless they were going on liberty, of course, and then they'd be covered in so many ribbons and bangles that you'd be hard put to tell what the fabric was underneath."

            "I wondered about that," Cazelet said. "Crews in the Fleet dressed the same as those who signed with us in Phoenix Starfreight. I thought it might be different in the RCN, though."

            Adele looked at the boy–he wasn't a boy–sharply. Simply by listening to her, Cazelet had picked up on something that civilians almost never got: it wasn't "our navy" or even "the Cinnabar navy," it was the RCN to those who lifted on the Republic's paybill. And that brought her to another point.

            "The other and better reason that Daniel wouldn't call his crew 'citizens…,'" Adele said. She didn't ordinarily refer to her friend as Daniel rather than Commander Leary in public or among strangers. She was doing so consistently tonight, and she decided to stop fighting the tendency. "Is that they'd take it as an insult. Citizens are civilians. RCN crews are spacers and proud of it."

            Signals Officer Mundy couldn't properly claim to be a spacer, despite what by now was very considerable experience aboard RCN vessels on active service. When she was on the hull of a ship under way, she was always clipped to a safety line. Nevertheless everyone in sight watched her nervously.

            Despite Adele's awkwardness, she'd been adopted by the crew of the Princess Cecile and by every crew since which the Sissie's veterans leavened. She'd been a studious child and never really one of the politically focused Mundies, but she was truly part of the RCN family.

            Mistress Mundy had various skills which even the toughest spacer could appreciate. She'd demonstrated them again on Dunbar's World….