WHEN THE TIDE RISES — snippet 57


WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 57:


            "I won't wait to send the courier," said Secretary Yager, a wild-haired man in his mid-fifties. "But there are citizens on Pelosi I need to warn also. Bloody hell!"

            His fingers hammered commands into the integral computer. It had a flat-plate display rather than a holotank and a mechanical rather than virtual keyboard, but the Skye Commission's electronic security was better than usual in Morning City. Adele had made her initial link through a disused microwave port which would've been difficult to access outside Yager's office.

            "I wish you and your principals the best," Adele said to the Skye official. She started to shut down her little data unit, preparing to leave.

            She knew that other people would've said something about regretting the situation or commenting on the injustice, but that was simply a waste of words. She'd delivered her warning and she didn't expect to see Secretary James Yager ever again.

            If they were together again, it was likely to be in a Bagarian prison. Too much was happening for her to predict events beyond the moment she stepped outside the Commission building.

            As her holographic screen collapsed, it flashed red. She brought her unit live again to receive the urgent message that she'd almost missed.

            "Lady Mundy?" Yager asked as she settled back in her chair.

            Adele ignored him. Her mouth quirked in a wry smile: she couldn't predict as much as she'd thought. She hadn't gotten as far as the door.

            The message, voice sent as text, was from Rene Cazelet: As I arrived at the harbor, I saw over two hundred armed spacers boarding the Ladouceur. I diverted to the Princess Cecile and informed Lieutenant Vesey, who has sealed the ship. Over.

            "Lady Mundy, is there something wrong?" someone nattered. "Can I help you?"

            Adele entered the Ladouceur's command console. She ran the visuals live but voices as a text crawl at the bottom of her display. …no need for trouble, you see, Daniel was saying.

            "She's busy," replied a dry voice. It was like hearing a wasp speak. "Shut up or leave the room. Or I'll kill you."

            Adele split her screen and imported the bridge record from ten minutes back, then scrolled forward to the point Daniel had entered the compartment. He looked calm, but he usually looked either calm or cheerful. Actually, he seemed rather cheerful also.

            Daniel turned and left the bridge unmolested. Adele shrank the real-time display to a thumbnail while the record was still running, then searched for Minister Lampert's present location. She knew she was taking a chance, but time was limited and she had to set priorities.

            Lampert was in his townhouse. He wasn't married. Three servants and four guards recruited from his company's security force were in the building with him. Adele did a quick background check on the guards. All were from off-planet and had military experience either with the Alliance or Cinnabar.

            "All right," she said, shutting the data unit down again. There might be more to learn, but there was always more to learn. Now she had to act. "Tovera, leave all your weapons here. We're going to visit Minister Lampert at home. We have no chance of getting through his security if we're armed."

            As she spoke, she took out her small pistol and set it on the desk. Secretary Yager goggled at it.

            "Mistress, that's not a good idea," Tovera said. Her hands squeezed the attaché case minusculely closer to her chest, probably unconsciously.

            "Do it!" Adele said. "Hoppler and Seward have arrested Daniel under Lampert's orders. We have to get Lampert to change his mind."

            Tovera grimaced but didn't otherwise move. "Do it or stay here!" Adele said.

            "Mistress," Tovera said without expression. She set the case on the floor beside her, took a knife from either sleeve, and bent to do something with her half-boots.

            "Lady Mundy," Yager said softly. He didn't seem to have moved since Tovera offered to kill him. "I know Lampert. He'll never change his mind once he's committed himself."

            Adele looked at the secretary and smiled faintly. "It's always a matter of the argument one offers," she said. "I think I know one that will convince him."

            Tovera was taking off her belt. She looked up, saw Adele's expression, and smiled also.

            "Sorry, mistress," Tovera said, again a wasp speaking through human lips. "I should've known better."



CHAPTER 21: Morning City on Pelosi


            Adele rapped the street door of the narrow, four-story townhouse with her knuckles. She wished she had something hard to make a sharper sound, but though her personal data unit shouldn't have been harmed, she wasn't willing to disgrace it by such a use.

            She stepped out of the door alcove, looked up the ornate brick facade, and cried "Minister Lampert! You're being robbed and I'm being robbed too! Let me in to explain while there's still time to get our shares!"

            The second story window moldings were ornate, but the living quarters were on the third story just beneath the mansard roof. The small balcony there had a wrought iron railing and was supported by caryatids of ivory-glazed terra cotta. Engaged columns and what looked like the entablature of an ancient temple framed the double-width window which opened onto the balcony.

            Tovera stood  on the other side of the street where she had a better view of the building. She'd crossed her arms; she didn't seem to know what to do with them when she didn't have the attaché case to hold.

            "The curtains of the balcony door moved," she said. There hadn't been any traffic on the narrow street since the taxi dropped them off. Two vehicles had started to turn in but thought better of it when they saw Adele shouting. "And a servant looked out from the second floor but ducked away when I looked at him."

            Adele knocked again. She half-wished she'd kept her pistol so she could use the butt as a gavel, but–she smiled–that really would've sent the wrong signal.

            "Minister Lampert, do you have any idea how much money you're walking away from?" she called. "There was a king's ransom on Conyers, a cluster's ransom, and we won't get a trissie of it if you don't listen to me!"

            "Somebody's coming onto the balcony!" Tovera said. Then, "It's not the honorable Minister Lampert."

            Adele backed a little further from the door. The tunic of the man leaning over the railing had puffed sleeves with a white sash over one shoulder, business dress here on Pelosi. His sub-machine gun made his real function clear.

            "What do you want?" he called.

            "To speak with the minister," Adele replied. "He and I are being robbed, but there's still time to get our shares."

            Under the circumstances she had to raise her voice; she was speaking to Lampert inside the building, after all. She regretted doing that both because raised voices always read as anger in a human's mind and because she was making a spectacle of herself. That wasn't behavior she expected of a Mundy of Chatsworth.

            Her mother would've been horrified. There was a great deal in Adele's life in the past seventeen years that would've horrified Evadne Mundy, if she hadn't been murdered and beheaded in the Proscriptions following the Three Circles Conspiracy.

            The guard had straightened to hear instructions muttered from the room behind him. Now he leaned over the railing again and said, "All right, but you'll be body searched before you come in. And that secretary of yours! We've heard about her."

            "Yes, all right, get on with it!" Adele said. "If we don't hurry, they'll split the treasure among themselves and we won't get any. Tovera, come over here."

            The street door opened outward. Beyond was a narrow anteroom in which stood two more guards. Their sub-machine guns were aimed at her.

            "Come in here and lie flat on your backs!" said the older, balding one. There was another door behind him, just as sturdy as the outer one. Adele wasn't sure what Lampert had heard about her and Tovera, but he obviously wasn't taking chances.

            Adele took the data unit from its pocket and set it on the floor of the anteroom, then obeyed the command. Tovera walked across the street and lay down also. She'd protested in Secretary Yager's office, but when she accepted Adele's judgment she accepted it without reservation.

            Tovera knew that she was a sociopath, lacking some of the pieces that real human beings have. She couldn't grow a conscience, so she let her mistress supply its absence. She'd realized from the first that Adele's conscience didn't bar her from doing the quick, lethal things that were Tovera's only pleasures in life.

            The search was complete and professional. Adele's mind was in another place. That was no great trick for her; this was just one more incident in a life filled with indignity and unpleasantness.

            The younger guard's right arm had been burned from wrist to throat. The scarring was bright pink but flashed white when the muscles moved. It must be very painful still….

            "All right, they're clean!" the older guard said.

            The younger man gave Adele a final prod and straightened, grinning. "Hell, Bill, I thought we was getting a couple women. Better luck next time, hey?"

            "Shut up, Darrell," the older guard muttered. Another guard with a sub-machine gun opened the inner door.

            Adele stood and tucked in her tunic. "May I have my personal data unit, please?" she said to the older man. "I may need it for my presentation."

            "You'll do without it," said the guard. He stepped in front of the unit and twitched his sub-machine gun meaningfully.

            The third guard said, "The other one stays out here with you guys. I take Mundy up to see the boss."

            "Yes, all right," Adele said. She walked past the guard, ignoring his weapon, and started up the stairs. They were wood and meant to be impressive, though there were limits to what was practical on a lot with a twenty-five foot frontage.

            The runner had been ornate. It remained colorful on the edges where the wear of years hadn't worn it to the nap.

            The last guard looked over the second floor railing. When Adele reached the landing midway, he gestured–with his weapon, as usual–and said, "Minister Lampert'll see you in the conference room here."

            "And make sure you don't try anything!" said the man following Adele.

            There was nothing about his voice that Adele found attractive, but he seemed to like the sound of it well enough. She thought of asking him what he imagined she could try, but that would've been a waste of breath. The best thing to do with people of his sort was to ignore them. Though–

            Adele smiled slightly.

            –there was a certain attraction in the alternative Tovera would probably suggest.

            Douglas Lampert was wearing a dark blue uniform with a great deal of gold piping. His cloth-of-gold sash displayed even more medals than graced the breasts of his jacket. Its shoulders were padded to half again the width of the man within; the effect unfortunately accented pudginess that might've gone unremarked in a less closely tailored garment.

            "Your Excellency," Adele said. She made a formal curtsy that would've pleased her mother. She'd been raised to be a lady. This was one more proof that there is no useless knowledge.

            "I appreciate your seeing me without an appointment," Adele continued, as smoothly agreeable as though this man's thugs hadn't just been groping her, "and–"

            She made a deprecating gesture.

            "–under difficult circumstances. The meeting is in both our interests, however. The Conyers treasure is huge. I can't even estimate the value of the jewelry, but Governor Platt's inventory listed it as three milliards of Alliance marks."

            "What?" said Lampert, his mouth gaping.

            "And the credit chips amounted to an additional two milliards," Adele continued. "Colonel Chatterjee took a one-third share, but Commander Leary and I secreted the remainder on the Ladouceur to divide it between us. Captains Hoppler and Seward arrived while I was away from the ship, and they struck a deal with Leary which excluded me. Unless I'm very much mistaken–"

            She gave Lampert a tight, cruel smile. He'd mistake the reason, but the expression was quite natural to Adele under the circumstances. Lampert would learn the reality soon enough.

            "–your subordinates haven't informed you of the treasure. I propose that we confront them before they're able to get that wealth off-planet."

            "No, they certainly hadn't informed me," the minister said. He flushed, and his breath came in deep snorts. "So those foreign monkeys think they're going to rob me!"

            He gestured to the guard who'd brought Adele into this conference room. "McClelland, bring the car around. I'm going to pay a visit to the Ladouceur, and I want all four of you with me. There may be trouble."

            The guard who'd stayed with Lampert all the while laughed. He was about fifty but extremely fit. "If there is, sir," he said in a Pleasaunce accent, "we'll finish it."

            "Tovera and I will accompany you, your Excellency," Adele said calmly. "Oh, for our own reasons, of course, but you'll need us to locate the treasure if the conspirators don't cooperate."

            She smiled again when Lampert seemed to hesitate. ""Besides," she said, "they may have already started to move the treasure off the ship. Tovera has special skills which will be useful in making the thieves wish to cooperate. For that matter–"

            Adele's expression was quite real, but the image in her mind was not of Hoppler and Seward but of the scarred young soldier who'd searched her.

            "–you might be as amused as I will to watch her work on the men who robbed us."

            Lampert made a moue and looked aside for a moment. "Right, there's room for the two of you in the aircar," he said as he started for the stairs. "Come along, Brodsky, I'm going to end this right now!"


About Eric Flint

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