WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 30:
As Adele settled onto a stone bench in the entry vestibule of the Hall of Assembly, the heavyset man who'd been leaning against a pillar on the other side straightened and walked toward her. "Excuse me, Lady Mundy," he said. "I'd appreciate a moment–"
Tovera stepped in front of Adele with her hand in her attaché case. Adele knew from experience that the pale woman's face would be blank, as far from threatening as could be imagined, but the man stopped dead. He didn't raise his hands, but he held his arms out to the sides and spread his fingers. He wore a khaki military uniform whose only adornments were rainbow shoulder patches and a rainbow-dyed tuft pinned to the left side of his forage cap.
"Lady Mundy," he said carefully, "my name's Chatterjee. I'd like to speak with you for a moment regarding your, that is the RCN, mission to our cluster."
He smiled. "Here in public is fine," he said. "But I won't raise my voice during some parts of the discussion."
Adele eyed him without bothering to reach into her pocket. A line of soldiers was more or less good-naturedly keeping the celebration in the square from spilling into the Hall proper, but the noise of the crowd would adequately cover normal speech from anyone but an eavesdropper with a parabolic microphone. Because the engaged columns of the vestibule were so deep, that putative microphone would have to be directly across from the people speaking–a circumstance which Adele could deal with very quickly if Tovera didn't do so first.
"All right, Colonel Chatterjee," Adele said. The man's uniform was unfamiliar, but the rank tabs–dragons displayed–were the ones which cluster forces had borrowed from Alliance practice. "I can give you a few minutes while I'm waiting for Admiral Leary to finish his meeting."
Rene Cazelet had been chatting with Vesey near the entrance to the vestibule. His eyes had flicked to Adele when Chatterjee approached; now he stepped toward them, apparently without taking leave of Vesey. She watched him walk away with an expression Adele couldn't describe.
Chatterjee seated himself to Adele's right. He glanced over his shoulder at Rene and said, "It's of course your business how widely you want this information disseminated, milady…."
"I appreciate your delicacy," said Adele as she gestured Rene back. She wasn't concerned at what the boy might hear; she'd found him as discreet as Tovera herself. Chatterjee was obviously concerned, though, and it was Adele's duty to gather information.
That was her duty and her whole being.
"I'm the chief military aide to Governor Radetsky of Skye," the colonel said, noticeably more relaxed. "And his friend of long standing, I'm pleased to say."
"Go on," Adele said. She'd taken her data unit out when she sat down. Her wands had been sorting for Chatterjee; now she added Radetsky and Skye as she listened.
"Five years ago Guarantor Porra settled military veterans on the South Continent of Skye," Chatterjee said. Three young men glanced toward the pair as they walked past, but their eyes didn't linger. They were probably clerks who'd decided that the celebrations permitted them to leave the office for the day. "The old settlers are enthusiastic for freedom, but not the new ones. There isn't much fighting, but we independence supporters've raised a division of two thousand men in case South Continent tries to invade."
"Go on," Adele repeated. Chatterjee was a Skye native, but in his youth–he was thirty-nine standard years old now–he'd been a lieutenant in the Alliance Army. Governor Radetsky was officially a general now, but unlike his aide he didn't have previous military experience.
"The Governor offers you a battalion of two hundred and fifty men," Chatterjee said. "They'd be under my command. We have transport as well, a former immigrant ship manned by spacers loyal to the governor. Just tell us when and where you'd like us to be."
Adele's wands stopped moving; she met Chatterjee's eyes. "Why?" she said.
"Conyers and Churchyard aren't a danger to Pelosi," Chatterjee said. "Nor to most of the other worlds that've joined the rebellion. They're a danger to us, though. With ships and troops from them, the colonists in the South can sweep over us. The Governor felt the quickest path to our own safety is to help you capture the Alliance bases before they organize to conquer us."
"To help Admiral Leary, you mean," Adele said, watching to see Chatterjee's expression when he heard the words.
"I believe that when I talk to you, Lady Mundy," he said calmly, "I'm talking to Admiral Leary."
She shrugged. "Near enough, I suppose," she said. "Why do you think we need troops from Skye? Since you're so well informed, you certainly know that the Cluster government has promised us a much larger force already."
Chatterjee laughed bitterly. "The government can promise you Pleasaunce and Blythe," he said, "and you'd have the same chance of getting them. Terry Dean won't let any real number of men out of his immediate control. They're his power base, you see. And if he did, you wouldn't be pleased with what you got. I've trained the battalion we're offering Commander Leary, milady."
"I see," Adele said. The words weren't simply a placeholder; she saw a great deal now. "If Admiral Leary should wish to get in touch with you at some later point, how would he go about it?"
"Send a message to this address," Chatterjee said, offering Adele the printed card he'd been holding in his palm throughout the conversation. "Either I'll be there or they'll contact me."
Tovera reached past with her left hand, flashed the card's face to Adele who continued to hold her wands, and slipped it into the attaché case. It read
Skye Benevolent Society
55 Paterson Street East
"A courier vessel will get from here to Skye in a day and a half," Chatterjee said. "The men are ready to board. It'll take the transport between four and five days to reach Conyers; perhaps a day longer to Churchyard."
Adele's fingers brought up a map display and highlighted the address. It was in the northern fringe of the city, not far from Morning Lake.
Chatterjee's grin almost split his broad, flat face. "Those are the times they tell me," he said. "I know nothing whatever about starships, Lady Mundy. But I do know troops, and mine are good ones."
"Thank you, Colonel," Adele said, nodding to Chatterjee in dismissal. "I'll see to it that the information gets to the proper quarters."
As Chatterjee rose, Adele allowed him a minuscule smile. "Colonel?" she said. "I shouldn't wonder if you got a chance to prove what you say about your soldiers."