WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 54:



            Daniel sipped his rum. It was smooth going down despite having a proof close to that of industrial alcohol.

            "I don't know what you expect I'd have done, Vesey," he said. "Shot it out with a crew of two hundred, perhaps? Though of course that'd require that I be wearing a sidearm, which neither I nor you normally do. And I rather think–"

            Daniel paused, realizing that this wasn't as much of a joke as he'd intended. Still, he'd started to say it.

            "I rather think that even Officer Mundy would find that long odds, don't you?" he concluded. He shook his head, smiling.

            The rum had an oily aftertaste initially, but it'd gone away. Maybe his mouth'd been numbed.

            "No blame attaches to either of you," he added. "Though I don't mind saying that I wished I'd had you with me on Conyers. Things worked out there too, in the end."

            "When we landed in Morning Harbor…," said Vesey. She seemed to have loosened up a trifle once she'd apologized. "There wasn't anything said. But then some of the crew told us there was going to be a pay parade the next morning."

            "But nobody'd told us," Blantyre said. She paused to take a healthy swig. From the way the liquor shifted in the glass, she was probably drinking gin. "Well, that didn't mean anything for certain, but we went back aboard the Princess Cecile. And we took the Sissies who'd been aboard the Independence and DeMarce too. If they wanted to come, I mean, and they all did."

            "We weren't running away, sir," Vesey said earnestly. "But–well, I'm sorry, but I don't really trust the people we're dealing with in the dockyard and the supply branch. I know, there's always a difference in attitude between the ground establishment and the space establishment, but…."

            Daniel laughed, which he shouldn't have done, because he sucked rum down his windpipe. He hacked violently against the back of his hand.

            "My goodness," he whispered in apology. "Next time I'll just breathe lava so it won't hurt as much. Goodness."

            He coughed again, clearing his throat, and said, "Vesey, if you did trust the ministry, I'd worry about your sanity. You did well to stay out of sight until the Ladouceur landed."

            He meant "until I landed," but the cruiser's heavy guns were a factor also.

            "We watched the pay parade," Blantyre said.

            "We had a good angle," said Vesey, "and the Sissie's optics put us right at the table."

            "And Lampert really paid the crews?" Daniel said, deliberately lowering his glass this time before he spoke. "What percentage of the arrears?"

            "Sir, I believe all of it," Vesey said. "And they were using Alliance notes, not the Cluster currency the Chancellery's been printing."

            "Only it wasn't Lampert," Blantyre said, "or Hewett either, though they were both watching. It was one of the ministers and a local merchant, the fellow who built those plasma missiles that didn't work–"

            "That would be the Cluster Affairs Minister, Master Bedi," Daniel said, "and Master Power?"

            "Yes sir," said Vesey. "Those two sat at the pay table, each with clerks and guards. But they paid out the money themselves, one paying and the other making a note, then they traded off. While the Navy minister and Chancellor Hewett watched."

            "I see," said Daniel without inflexion. That was showing a better long-term strategy than he'd have given the government credit for. The ministers had robbed him and his crew of the prize money owed them, but they'd spent a portion of what they'd stolen in attaching common spacers to their party.

            Whereas the crew of the Ladouceur would not be paid. The original Sissies wouldn't desert, but spacers who were simply serving for money–which is why most people, not merely spacers, did any kind of work, of course–would leave a ship where they weren't being paid, in order to serve on one where they were.

            "I can enlist the Ladouceur's crew in the RCN…," Daniel said, thinking out loud. He took a large drink of rum and swirled the liquor in his mouth while he mused. "But that doesn't give me money to pay them with. If there were Cinnabar merchants here I could get loans, but this was Alliance territory before the revolution…."

            "Ah, sir?" said Vesey. "I was wondering where Master Cazelet might be?"

            Daniel frowned despite himself: the question had broken him out of a productive reverie, and as far as he could see there was no reason whatever for it. Aloud, though, he said, "The civilian? I suppose he's with Officer Mundy aboard the Ladouceur."

            "No sir," Vesey said. "Neither of them's on the Ladouceur. We were there before we followed you here, and we thought they might be with you."

            "I didn't think that," said Blantyre, mildly incensed. "I didn't think anything at all about them, I was just looking for Six. But–"

            She turned to Daniel with an expression of concern. Perhaps she thought she'd sounded too emphatic.

            "–it's true that they must've gone off too, sir. Do you think there's a problem?"

            "Well, Vesey…," Daniel said in mild puzzlement. "I think Officer Mundy is capable of handling her own affairs, so unless I receive some serious evidence of a problem I'm not going to worry about her."

            He drank the rest of his rum with a frown. Part of him wanted another drink; but then again, part of him wanted to lead a party of Sissies to the Navy Ministry, turn the place upside down, and paint Minister Lampert green before dangling him out a window.

            Daniel grinned. He could flip a coin to choose between those alternatives; or he could carry on, as of course he would do, by adapting his plans to existing conditions until he'd found a combination that'd permit him to achieve his mission.

            Vesey lowered her glass. Great heavens, she'd tossed off half of it in a gulp! "Sorry, sir," she said in a raspy whisper. Couldn't blame her for a husky voice if the gin was as strong as the rum. "I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. Of course."

            "Right…," said Daniel, a placeholder while his brain worked out the details of his decision. "Blantyre, you'll return to the Ladouceur with me. Vesey, I want you to continue in command of the Sissie with your present personnel."

            He thought for a moment, licking his lips. The rum had dried them. "I'm going to transfer Woetjans to the Sissie also," he went on after consideration. "She's not really fit for duty, but there's no way me or the Gods Assembled can keep her on bed rest. I think there'll be less stress on the Sissie, because I don't want you to do anything except keep close in case I need you."

            Daniel smiled to make the next words sound lighter than they were in fact. "You may have to act without orders at some point, Vesey," he said. "I'm counting on you to get word back to Cinnabar if things go badly wrong here. Do you understand?"

            "Yes sir," Vesey said, grimacing. She lifted her glass, then lowered it untasted. "Sir?" she said. "I was wondering how Master Cazelet was working out. I was very impressed with the skill he showed in my astrogation classes."

            Daniel blinked again. "I suppose Officer Mundy would've dealt with any deficiencies she found in his behavior, Vesey," he said. "Passengers aren't any of my business, after all, so long as they don't interfere with the workings of the ship. Cazelet has been quite satisfactory from that standpoint."

            "Yes sir, quite right," Vesey said. Blantyre was looking at her blank-faced as well. Vesey finished her gin and banged the tumbler down. She was flushed and her eyes began to water.

            "We'll head back to the ship now," Daniel said, scraping his chair legs as he rose. "The ships, that is. I know this is a difficult situation, Vesey, but I trust your judgment. And there isn't a great deal of choice."

            The immediate problem was to find money to pay the Ladouceur's crew and keep the Bagarians aboard. He hoped Adele would return soon, because she might have a suggestion.

            Which would be good, because apart from turning pirate, Daniel didn't have any ideas of his own.