WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 53:
CHAPTER 19: Morning City on Pelosi
Daniel closed the office door behind him, then saluted Minister Lampert as best he could. He said, "I called to see if you have any questions regarding the report on the liberation of Conyers which I transmitted from orbit, Minister."
The frame of Lampert's desk was bronze cast in floral designs reminiscent of carved wood, and the desktop was a sheet of Blue John. The whorls of blue, indigo and violet picked out by inclusions of white calcite might've been attractive, but use had chipped and scarred the soft stone.
There'd been vandalism as well. Several yahoos had carved their names, and at least one had attempted a pornographic drawing.
"Questions, Leary?" Lampert said in a heavily ironic tone. He didn't rise. Behind him was a hammered-glass panel, an allegory in which a half-draped woman bestowed bounty on uncertain figures; half the panel's backlighting had failed. "I wouldn't know where to start. Perhaps with the fact you turned all the resources of the Alliance headquarters over to a traitor to the Republic? Yes, let's start with that. Why did you give Conyers to General Radetsky?"
"I did nothing of the sort, sir," Daniel said, searching for a place to let his eyes rest so that he wouldn't seem to be glaring at the Navy Minister. "Troops from Skye participated in the capture of the planet. I left them as a garrison, but the citizens are now armed. Even if Skye weren't a loyal member of the Bagarian Republic, which to the best of my knowledge it is–"
"It is not!" Lampert said. The potted plants at both sides of his huge desk were yellowing, though their stiff fronds hadn't shriveled or drooped. Maybe they were supposed to be yellow. "Radetsky is planning to revolt."
"Be that as it may, sir," Daniel continued with an appearance of calm. "I assure you that the citizens of Conyers won't permit their planet to be given to Governor Radetsky or anybody else."
The government had ignored his return from Conyers. He hadn't even been sure Lampert was going to allow him this meeting.
"I don't know whether you're really that stupid, Leary," Lampert said, knuckling his forehead with his right hand, "or if this isn't just another example of the dumb insolence we've had from you in the past. Well, what's done is done, I suppose."
He nodded toward the door behind Daniel. "You can leave now," he said.
"There's one further matter, sir," Daniel said, clasping his hands behind his back. He'd given considerable thought to what he'd wear to this meeting with the minister after returning from Conyers. He'd finally decided on RCN utilities, but with the solid rectangle of a Commander's insignia on his forage cap in bright silver instead of the proper subdued form. "Payment for the crews, that is. Would you care to be present at the pay parade, or will you simply deliver the money to me for disbursement?"
"Neither, I'm afraid, Leary," Lampert said. He was ostentatiously giving his attention to the flat-screen display on his desk return. While Daniel couldn't be completely sure from this angle, he suspected that the minister was playing a game that involved swirls of color. "There isn't money in the treasury for the purpose. As soon as there is, I'm sure Chancellor Hewett will inform me and I in turn will inform you."
"Sir," said Daniel, a trifle more harshly. "There's the prize money from the Babanguida and the Vieux Carree captured on Dodd's Throne, you'll recall."
Matters were proceeding in the fashion he'd expected; indeed, they were proceeding in the fashion that he'd intended. Nonetheless, Daniel found himself getting angry–not only as an RCN officer with duties to the spacers under his command, but also as a Leary of Bantry who–whatever else he might do, and at one time and another Learies had done many reprehensible things–always paid his gambling debts and always protected his retainers.
"There was a problem with that, Leary," Lampert said, turning with a theatrical frown. "The prize court found that those ships were owned by merchants here in Morning City–Master David Power and Minister Bedi. I shouldn't wonder if you find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit for the expenses they were put to to recover their property."
"With respect, sir!" Daniel said in a tone of incredulous contempt. "Those ships were both owned and registered on Pleasaunce itself. As shown in the ships' documentation and confirmed by the Navy House List, which the Princess Cecile carries as updated to the day we lifted from Xenos!"
"You'll watch your tongue, Leary," said Lampert with a rising inflexion. "Cinnabar file clerks don't rule us here in Bagaria, our courts do!"
His hand had slipped under the desk for either a pistol or a call button. The call button, Daniel supposed. Lampert wasn't the sort to stomach violence, even if he were the one offering it.
Daniel took a deep breath. He'd been out of line. If he'd behaved that way to a superior in the RCN, he'd have lost his commission instantly–even if Admiral Anston were still Chief of the Navy Board.
"Sir, I apologize for my clumsy choice of words," he said. "But it's my duty to say that I believe the Republic is making a serious mistake in not remaining current with pay to the spacers who've risked their lives to preserve that Republic. Noblesse oblige, you see, sir."
"I see my duty to the republic, Leary," Lampert said. He'd relaxed slightly, but his hand was still under his desk. "Now, I have work to do. You're dismissed."
Daniel saluted again and left, closing the door gently behind him. He allowed himself a bitter smile as he strode past the clerks in the outer office. As bad as he was at drill and ceremony, he couldn't have found a more pointed insult than that inept second salute had been.
Hogg rose from the bench by the door, folding his knife and slipping it away into a pocket. He'd been whittling a thumb-thick branch which he must've clipped from one of the ornamental trees lining the boulevard, forming a chain. Each link was separate from the two to which it was connected.
He grinned broadly at Daniel. There was no great trick to the work, but Hogg had been using the main blade instead of the little one which opened out from the pommel. From the horrified way the clerks were staring at him, he'd gotten the effect for which he'd obviously been striving.
"There's a couple ladies want to chat with you, young master," Hogg said, holding the door open for Daniel to step through. "They figured they'd wait for you in the bar next door, though. One stuck her head in here and told me to pass you the word when you come out."
The main victory celebration was in front of the Council Hall three blocks away, but a clot of happy drunks were staggering back in the middle of the street shouting, "Bagaria forever!" and "Drown the oppressors in blood!"
Daniel heard shots, but they were the random pop-pop-pop of revelers shooting in the air instead of the rolling volleys of riot suppression. Though the government was pointedly separating itself from the victory, the general populace of Morning City was deliriously triumphant.
"I ought to be getting back to the Ladouceur," Daniel said. It wasn't like him not to talk with a woman, but the interview with Minister Lampert had left him with a distaste for civilian companionship just at the moment. "Look, I don't mean to be unsociable, but–"
"Nor shall you be," said Hogg, gesturing toward the swinging double doors of a tavern. It really was adjacent to the three-story office building which'd become the Bagarian Ministry of the Navy. "Come in or I'll grab you by the ear and tow you, like I done when you were a snotty five-year-old."
Hogg grinned. "Besides, you could use a drink," he said. "And me, I could always use a drink."
A bar of polished wood on a leather-padded pedestal ran the length of the narrow room. A spray of cut flowers stood on the return; the clear vase displayed colored gravel into which the stems were thrust. The bartender, a middle-aged fellow who affected a white shirt and a narrow black ascot, raised his sad eyes.
Down an aisle past the ten stools was a back room; its door had been stopped open with a crate of empty bottles. Daniel looked through the doorway and saw Vesey seated with Blantyre at a table, both dressed in civilian clothes.
"Thank you, Benno," said Hogg, passing what was clearly scrip rather than a coin across the bar in the hollow of his palm. "Here's the other half. And a pair of rums for me and my friend, all right?"
He glanced toward Daniel, who was already striding toward the back past the three men on barstools. "I think the rum's better'n the whiskey on Pelosi, but if you want the other…?"
"I'll trust your palate, Hogg," Daniel said. The women were getting up. He waved them back into their chairs and kicked the crate out of the way as he entered.
He didn't ask what he owed his servant for arranging the use of the back room. Hogg would make himself whole one way or another–and Daniel wouldn't ask about that either.
The back room held two tables of laminated wood, each with four leather-upholstered chairs. The women had tumblers of clear liquor which they didn't seem to have touched. Their faces were taut.
"Sir, we didn't want to hang around Navy House–well, you know, the Ministry," Blantyre said. "More than we had to, till you got back."
"What's happened?" Daniel said, keeping his voice calm. He sat, but Hogg, who came in a moment later, remained standing by the closed door after setting a squat glass on the table. The rum was the color of kerosene.
"It's more 'in case,' sir," Vesey said, looking down at her glass. She grimaced and blurted, "I couldn't stop them from running, sir. I–"
She looked up with an anguished expression. "Sir, I know you'd have done something, but I didn't… I couldn't. I protested when Captain Hoppler gave the orders to shape course back to Pelosi, but he ordered a couple spacers to tie me to my bunk if I opened my mouth again."
"Me too, sir," said Blantyre. "I told Seward that when there were two sides, only a fool would line up against Mister Leary, but I didn't fight. And he ignored me."