WHEN THE TIDE RISES — snippet 22

 

WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 22:

 

 

CHAPTER 10: Morning City on Pelosi

 

            Adele reached the entrance to the fenced area where the marquee for tonight's fete was set up. The event was a barbeque: whole animals were being roasted over beds of coals in the central park of Morning City. Lanterns of colored paper hung from the branches of trees, while guards in the livery of the Great Houses–as Pelosi defined them–patrolled the fence that kept out the riffraff. The onlookers outside were ragged, but they seemed glad just to watch.

            There'd been a party each of the three nights since the Princess Cecile docked in Morning Lake. Adele had gone to the first as Lady Mundy, but she'd had no intention of attending another any time soon. Tonight, however, she needed to speak with Daniel as quickly as possible. He was young enough to drink and dance all night and still get his work done in the morning.

            Adele smiled coldly. So was she, she supposed. At any rate, partying had never prevented her from meeting her own standards the next day. She didn't have a taste for it, however, while Daniel certainly did.

            "Who're you?" said the functionary at the entrance. He stepped in front of her and put his knuckles on his hips. There were shiny patches on on the elbows of his velvet coat. Adele didn't know whether the garment was livery or simply ordinary bad taste.

            Rather than say any of the first things that came into her mind, Adele reached for the invitation in her breast pocket. Her face was stony, but she wasn't here to discipline somebody else's servants.

            "Hey, wog, that's Mistress Mundy!" said Barnes, a husky rigger who'd been with Daniel–and therefore Adele–since Kostroma. Lest his words possibly not be insulting enough, he slapped the local man across the back of the head. "You watch your tongue, will you?"

            "Sorry, mistress!" said Dasi, walking up behind Barnes. "It'd gotten pretty quiet and we thought we could catch ourselves a drink."

            In silhouette the riggers were almost impossible to tell apart, for all that Dasi was as dark as Barnes was fair. They weren't the smartest members of the Sissie's crew, but they were imperturbable and up for anything.

            The local in velvet hunched at the slap and began to yowl. He fell silent when Barnes looked at him critically and said, "Mistress, would you like us to kick him a bit? I'm real sorry that happened."

            "No, that's all right," Adele said. She was wearing her Grays, which didn't look like a dress uniform to a Bagarian. Having representatives from both communities on entrance duty should've avoided this problem, but she'd arrived late. "It's my own fault, I suppose."

            Spacers weren't disciplined like soldiers or servants. Riggers in particular worked completely alone. They were no good to their ships if they didn't think and act for themselves, and they couldn't be threatened with any punishment that was worse than the risks they accepted every time they went out on the hull.

            The Bagarian mewled; he'd raised his hands to cover his head against another slap–or worse. Dasi grinned and patted the fellow's buttocks. That brought another yelp.

            "Cheer up, buddy," the spacer said. "If Tovera'd been here, you'd have a hole right between your eyes instead of a headache."

            He and Barnes laughed. Adele smiled but didn't say anything further as she walked into the enclosure.

            "I'd probably have asked the fellow to apologize," Tovera said through the bud in Adele's left ear. "On his knees."

            She giggled. "Probably."

            Tovera was on the roof of the Assembly Hall, observing the gathering electronically. The ear bud let her guide Adele to Daniel expeditiously through the rout, but Adele couldn't reply. Tovera had a parabolic microphone, however, which served much the same purpose as a two-way link.

            Not even Tovera could really claim that Adele needed a bodyguard to walk into an upper-class party, but she was probably uncomfortable not to be within sub-machine gun range of any threat to her mistress. That was all right. Adele was often uncomfortable knowing that her servant might kill somebody beside her at any moment.

            Tovera had her uses, though; and while she was in Adele's charge, she was less likely to do something that civilized people would consider horrible. Perhaps that counterbalanced some of the things which Adele herself had done and which she considered horrible.

            "I see him, mistress," Tovera said. "He's at the northeast corner of the refreshment tent, the one nearest you. Wait, he went back under it."

            "Yes, I see it," Adele said, turning toward the marquee. A small orchestra on the bandstand played a galliard; well, played at a galliard. There was probably a dancing floor of boards at that end of the mall.

            The gathering she'd attended the first night had been a ball at the Theatre Generale. The men had all wanted to dance with her, and the women had watched her with envious determination to learn the latest steps from Cinnabar.

            Rene Cazelet had attended also. He could've had his choice of partners: for a dance, for the night, or for as long as he stayed on Pelosi. Although Adele didn't have personal knowledge of, well, mating rituals, she'd observed them as she'd observed many other things.

            Instead Rene'd spent most of the evening at their table, drinking sparkling water and watching Adele with almost the determination that Tovera showed. They both worry too much, Adele thought.

            Rene'd danced twice with her, though. He didn't wear riding boots like the men on Pelosi, and he didn't plant his feet on top of her toes–also in contrast to the men on Pelosi.

            Adele hadn't permitted him to accompany her tonight. She could slip in and out while wearing her 2nd Class uniform, but if Rene came he'd draw attention even if he dressed like a servant. She didn't usually think in those terms, but he was obviously an attractive man.

            "He's coming out from under the marquee," Tovera said. "He's with a local man. I'll have his name in a moment."

            "Why, Adele!" said Daniel, resplendent in his Whites with full medals. "I didn't know you were coming tonight, and I'm delighted to see you. May I present Master David Power? He's supplying us with munitions."

            Power was tall but even so heavy for his height. His tailcoat was either black or a dark red that turned black under the fairy lights; its hems and lapels were gold, and his trousers were gold as well. Like Daniel, he held a ten-ounce glass from which he'd drunk half the clear liquor.

            Power looked at Adele, frowned, and said in a slurred voice, "Who's this, then? She's important?"

            "She's Lady Adele Mundy, my good man," Daniel said mildly. "Mundy of Chatsworth, don't you know? Well, I suppose we can't expect Bagarians to be up on Cinnabar society, can we, Lady Mundy?"

            He clapped the big man on the shoulder with apparent bonhomie. Daniel had certainly been drinking, but Adele could tell he was putting on the appearance of tipsiness to make forgivable what would otherwise have been a cutting insult.

            The drink had really affected him, however. Daniel wouldn't have let the implied slight to Adele cause him to retaliate that way against an ally if he'd been fully himself.

            "I'm incognito, Master Power," Adele said as brightly as she could manage. She wasn't angry with the fellow, but she was tired and she needed to speak to Daniel alone. "Admiral Leary should be more discreet. I trust we can count on you?"

            "What?" said the local man, swaying. He was trying to stare at Adele, but his eyes didn't focus. "Count on me. Yes, count on me!"

            "Might we get a drink, Admiral?" Adele said, gesturing with the fingers of her right hand. "Something's come up at the ship."

            "Count on me!" Power said, wandering off. Instead of offending the fellow by ordering him away, Adele had said just enough to puzzle and bore him so that he left of his own accord. "Count!"

            "He's gotten the contract to build missiles with plasma thrusters instead of High Drives," Daniel said, speaking in a low voice as they watched Power wobble into the crowd. "They'd be useless against warships, of course, but we can launch them from orbit into an atmosphere without antimatter destroying the nozzle in the first half mile. I think they'll let us force the Alliance forces to come up and fight–or smash them on the ground if they won't. Either way is fine."

            "This was your idea, Daniel?" Adele said.

            "Not mine, no," said Daniel with a satisfied smile. "But I brought the notion with me. Captain Burke used them on Grimmald and very kindly let me copy the plans before we lifted from Cinnabar. They're really quite simple, steel pipes full of water with a pump, a plasma thruster, and a very basic guidance system. Well within the manufacturing capability of Pelosi–or for that matter, any planet that can build water heaters!"

            He grinned a little broader. "Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration," he said, "but they certainly can build them here on Pelosi."

            The orchestra had begun playing an estampe which Adele'd heard on Cinnabar–not during her most recent landfall but when she was in Xenos two years before; now they shifted awkwardly into a tarantella. Was it a deliberate medley or had the players gotten their music scrambled?

            Adele reached for her data unit while the back of her mind plotted routes to the solution of the puzzle. She caught herself.

            "I'm sorry," she said, giving Daniel a smile that would've withered leaves. "I'm tired and I'm not concentrating well."

            He didn't know what she was talking about. On the other hand, he did know her. He nodded in calm acceptance, waiting for her to get to the point.

            "Yes," Adele said, clearing her mind with the syllable. She resumed, "Rene and I have been going over the records of trading companies in Morning City. Coupled with information we brought from Diamondia, a pattern has become clear."

            "The locals are cooperating with you?" Daniel said. "If so, I need coaching, because I'm certainly not getting cooperation."

            "They're not cooperating, no," Adele said with another cold smile. "But their security isn't very good. And–"

            She felt her face muscles relax minutely.

            "–Rene has provided context from his knowledge of Phoenix Starfreight. That's proved very helpful."

            She cleared her throat and continued, "Although contact between the cluster and the Alliance has been embargoed on both sides, Bagarian ships meet Alliance vessels on Dodd's Throne and trade normally. Generalissima DeMarce may not be involved, but all six of her ministers are."

            Adele looked around her. Pastel light on the bright clothing gave the crowd a sinister look, but that probably came out of her mind rather than reality. "I dare say two-thirds of the guests here at least are members of companies which are currently trading with the Alliance."

            "Dodd's Throne…," Daniel repeated, his mind sorting files. Adele started to bring out her data unit, but for this sort of question Daniel's way was faster. He would, of course, have committed to memory places that might be used as bases by either side. "Right, lies outside the cluster proper. Red sun, normal gravity, adequate atmosphere;  no water to speak of, though. Some cobalt and nickel mining, but food has to be imported and it's a miserable place."

            He smiled brightly. "Well, that's very interesting," he said. "How large-scale is it?"

            Adele felt herself frowning. "At present there's eight ships here in Morning Harbor which arrived from Dodd's Throne with Alliance cargoes," she said. "That's about average over the past three months. Where we can check the manifests, the cargoes arrived on ships of larger capacity; therefore presumably fewer of them."

            She cleared her throat, wondering if drink had fuddled Daniel more than it usually did. More than it ever had before… which would be a much worse problem than this business alone.

            "Daniel, this means that the government we're here to support doesn't want to rock a profitable boat," she said carefully. "They won't support–whatever they may say–actions that would prevent the Alliance from reinforcing its fleet in the Jewel System."

            "Yes, I see that," Daniel said, still smiling. He swirled the remaining liquor in his glass but didn't taste it for the moment. "But I prefer to think of that as a problem for the past. Thanks to you and Master Cazelet–"

            He dipped his head in a half-bow.

            "–I can start working on a solution. And since that's Minister Lampert there by the roast ox, I believe I'll do that right now. Thank you, Adele!"

            Daniel strode off toward the barbeque pits. He began whistling. As the first few notes drifted back to her, Adele recalled the song: "Roll me over, in the clover…."

 

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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