WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 52:



            Pasternak lit the first pair of thrusters. The Ladouceur rocked gently, not from the negligible lift but because the rhythmic pulses of ions rippled waves in the surface of Grand Harbor. Adele began to recheck her display.

            "Mistress?" said Rene on a two-way link from the console beside the one she was using. "I'd thought of Commander Leary as a, well, a fighting naval officer. After watching him settle the government of Conyers, well… he's really a politician, isn't he? Over."

            Adele smiled wryly. "I assure you, Rene," she said, "Captain Leary is a fighting naval officer. Any Alliance commander who's faced him will vouch for that. The survivors will, that is."

            She expanded the inset of Daniel's face on her screen. Another person might've turned around instead, but Adele had an instinctive preference for information recorded and therefore distanced from her.

            "But yes," she said, "he's a politician too. He comes by that honestly, of course. His father was–is–a very successful politician."

            "Lighting Three and Four," Pasternak's voice rumbled on the command channel. When discussing the ship's propulsion system, he always spoke with the gloomy assurance that something was going to go wrong.

            "Do you suppose he could take over the Bagarian Cluster, Adele?" Rene asked. His face had a taut lack of expression, like that of a tennis player awaiting his opponent's serve. "Give them a real government, I mean?"

            Adele let the question tumble in her mind for a few moments. She called up a series of data fields in quick succession, not really to view them but to remind herself of their contents and to revisit the questions they'd raised when she compiled them.

            "He… might be able to do that," Adele said slowly. She frowned and went on, "I'm not putting it that way to be mealy-mouthed, I'm honestly not sure that anyone could unite the cluster without a powerful fleet behind him. But if it were possible, Daniel would certainly be the one to do it."

            The Ladouceur had come fully alive. All sixteen thrusters were alight, though their nozzles were flared to keep lift to a minimum. A pump was running at full capacity to replenish reaction mass through a hose lowered into the harbor. Hatches were sealed, necessary systems were running in the green or–because this was the reality of a starship in service, not an ideal from a training manual–the operators had found satisfactory workarounds.

            One of Adele's stern quadrant of microwave dishes no longer sent or received, but she'd found that at full extension the installations on either side could provide coverage for any target more than two hundred feet out from the cruiser's hull. That'd do till Pasternak had leisure to assign a team to trace the fault.

            "The Ladouceur's the most powerful ship in the cluster," Adele said, musing aloud. "The only real warship, barring that Alliance destroyer whose captain apparently isn't willing to fight."

            "They were badly outnumbered, Adele," Rene objected quietly.

            Adele sniffed. "Imagine the odds were reversed," she said. "Ask Vesey what she'd do. Or Blantyre, or Cory. Or Sun for that matter, though I'm not sure that he'd be able to program a course on the astrogation computer. They'd still fight. The only difference between them and Commander Leary is that he'd do a better job of it."

            She called up the lists of military organizations in the cluster: the Presidential Guard, individual planetary forces, the private militias in the pay of a local merchant or landowner. Numbers and quality, both slippery fish to pull out of the morass of corruption and incompetence which underlay every revolutionary movement Adele had seen. You wondered how any of them succeeded, until you looked at the governments they opposed.

            "The spacers would support him," Adele said. "We'd have to arrange to pay them, but that could be done by nationalizing a bank. Nationalizing all the banks, perhaps. The present government doesn't do that because the ministers either own the banks or are in the pay of those who do. Daniel wouldn't be constrained. Further–"

            She pursed her lips. She was speculating in a fashion she normally did only in the silence of her mind. She could argue that if Rene was smart enough to understand what she was about to say, he was smart enough to figure it out for himself… but the truth was that she felt like telling him. Adele didn't pretend that she fully understood the workings of her own mind, but she didn't lie to herself.

            "–I think it's probable that he could float a loan from Cinnabar sources to enable him to become overlord of the cluster."

            Daniel could obtain money from the Shippers' and Merchants' Treasury, owned by his father and sister; or from the Chancellery itself, with his father pulling the necessary strings in the Senate. Oh, yes: Speaker Leary was a very effective politician.

            "Ship, thirty seconds to liftoff," Daniel said. He sounded pleased. He had every reason to be, of course: he'd successfully completed his mission on Conyers, and he was going back into space. To Daniel, either was cause for celebration.

            "With control of the navy, it'd just be a matter of finding allies on the individual worlds who'd support him for leadership of the cluster. That wouldn't be difficult."

            Adele smiled faintly. "He has me, after all," she said. "If there's a data bank in the Bagarian cluster that I can't enter more or less at will, it's kept itself well concealed thus far."

            Was that bragging? Perhaps, but it was also part of a dispassionate analysis of the question. And besides, she felt like saying it. To Rene.

            "The present government is a cabal of Pelosian magnates," Adele said. "They aren't really united, and with the exception of Madame DeMarce, they don't have any real support outside of Pelosi. Overthrowing them wouldn't be a problem, but uniting the separate worlds afterward would take considerable skill."

            The thruster note changed from an omnipresent hoosh to a snarl which built to thunder as the petals sphinctered down. The rocking motion stilled, replaced by a purposeful hammering. The Ladouceur started to lift.

            "The sort of skill Commander Leary showed on Conyers, you mean?" Rene said. Commo helmets had active sound cancellation, and the thrust rising quickly to 3 g didn't show in his voice. He had more experience of space travel than the Bagarians in the crew, after all. "Over."

            "Putting the cluster together would require an order of magnitude greater ability than the settlement on Conyers did," Adele said, watching data cascade past her. A real-time panorama of Grand Harbor showed at the top of her screen, but the roiling, rainbow-shot mist was by now too familiar to be interesting. "But I don't believe Daniel considered Conyers a serious test of his capacity. So, as for your initial question…."

            Adele weighed probabilities with her lips pursed. She knew what she felt, but she didn't trust feelings–though she'd acted on the basis of feelings and might do so again. The answer to a question asked by someone else had to be based on data and reason.

            "I believe Commander Leary would have a reasonable chance, a better than even chance, of taking control of the Bagarian Cluster by coup," she said. "I don't gamble, but I assure you that the spacers who've served with Daniel in the past would certainly bet on that outcome. Bet their lives."

            The noise softened as the Ladouceur rose into thinner levels of the atmosphere, but the thrusters' vibration was worse for lack of air to dampen it. Daniel would be switching to the High Drive shortly, Adele supposed.

            "Adele," said Rene. "Will he do that? Take over? He must know that the cluster would be better off under his leadership than under the present government, over."

            "I'm sure even the current ministers know that Daniel would rule the cluster better than they do," Adele said, feeling a smile quirk her lips. "They won't offer him the position, though, because the well-being of the cluster isn't their primary concern. And Daniel won't take the position by force, because the cluster isn't his primary concern either. Remember, he's an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy."

            "Ship, we'll be switching to High Drive in fifteen seconds," said a half-familiar voice. Adele checked: Ashburn was speaking. She'd forgotten she was a Power Room tech. "Switching now."

            The thrusters cut out. For several seconds the Ladouceur was in free fall save for a late burp from a nozzle toward the stern; then the ship quivered with the harder, higher frequency note of matter/antimatter conversion. Renewed acceleration kicked Adele back into her couch.

            "Mistress," Rene said, "when the present ministers–when people of their sort–are afraid, they could do anything. And they'll never believe that Commander Leary doesn't plan a coup, because they'd plan a coup in his position. He… I'm sure he knows that, over?"

            "Yes, Commander Leary knows that," Adele said. Daniel would've known that even if she hadn't warned him herself. He was, after all, Corder Leary's son. "I'm sure he's factoring that probability into his plans."

            Daniel reduced thrust to one gravity now that the Ladouceur was clear of Conyers' gravity well. People were moving in the corridor outside the bridge, riggers preparing to go out on the hull and set the sails.

            "I don't see what he can do if he doesn't launch a coup," Rene said softly. "I just don't see what other choice there is, except giving up."

            He coughed and as an afterthought added, "Over."

            Adele almost laughed. "Daniel will do what he believes is best for Cinnabar," she said primly. "And I very much doubt that means giving up."

            The forward airlock sighed open for the riggers to enter. In a few days the Ladouceur'd be back on Pelosi. Things would happen then.

            Adele absently patted the left pocket of her tunic. She didn't know what those things would be; but like Daniel, she'd deal with anything that arose.