IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 14:
CHAPTER 5: Bergen and Associates Shipyard, Cinnabar
Adele’s kit was already aboard the Milton, but she carried what looked like a small toolbox as she arrived for liftoff. It contained specialist equipment and software from Mistress Sand.
The computers which guided starships through the Matrix were as powerful as human ingenuity could create. Adele’s kit could harness that power to the work of decryption.
She smiled dismissively. For most of the problems she faced, the data unit along her thigh was more than adequate. Perfectly ordinary hardware was capable of doing more than one person in a thousand could imagine. The same was true of the pistol in her pocket.
“I wonder if some of the crew will get lost in the corridors?” Tovera said. “Being used to the Sissie and going to a ship this size.”
Adele wasn’t sure if Tovera was joking. Tovera did tell jokes, though again, Adele wasn’t sure whether she understood them or if she was just working on her self-appointed task of imitating a normal human being. Tovera had gotten quite good at acting as though she had a conscience, for example.
“Perhaps there’s a sense imprinted at birth that allows spacers to find their way around ships,” Adele said. “Like the instinct of migratory animals.”
She wasn’t very good at jokes either. There was a reason Tovera had attached herself to Adele: the personality gap wasn’t as wide as it would have been with someone like Daniel.
A black aircar overflew the harbor, then rotated into the wind and lowered itself onto the pad on top of the offices. It was a luxury vehicle, though from this angle Adele hadn’t been able to make out the gilt coat of arms on the rear doors.
She wondered if Deirdre Leary had come to see her brother off, though that hadn’t happened in the past. Admiral Anston doubtless had, or had access to, a limousine also.
The quay of Bergen and Associates was as crowded as it had been during Daniel’s promotion ceremony, but this time the human beings–largely the crew going aboard, as Adele herself was doing–were less of a concern than the trucks and lowboys carrying the final stores for a long voyage.
The driver of a stake-bed carrying armored containers of main-gun ammunition was particularly noticeable. He kept edging up to the bumper of the laundry truck just ahead, revving his diesel in blats of black exhaust which subsided in the wild ringing of valves.
“I’ll lead,” said Tovera. “I think I’ll ask that trucker–”
She was looking at the noisy stake-bed.
“–to shut down. Then we’ll cross in front of him.”
“Lady Mundy!” bellowed an unfamiliar male voice from behind them. “Wait for Senator Forbes, if you please!”
Adele turned, managing to halt her left hand’s dive for her tunic pocket when she heard the senator’s name. Twenty yards away, three servants–or aides–wearing green-yellow-green Forbes collar flashes were coming down the narrow outside staircase from the rooftop landing pad. Senator Forbes followed them, while last in line was the very muscular young man who’d called to Adele.
Tovera shifted so that no one on the staircase could read her lips. “Do you know Forbes?” she asked.
“No,” said Adele without trying to conceal her face. She rarely said anything that she wouldn’t repeat publicly in a loud voice if the occasion arose. “To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen her before.”
She paused for thought, then added, “I believe Daniel met her socially. I looked into her background when I learned of our mission, of course, but she was a junior back-bencher at the time of the Proscriptions. She wasn’t even part of the Beneficial Party, though she joined it not long after.”
Adele touched her data unit. Is Forbes still a member of the Beneficial Party, or did she resign when she lost the leadership fight? Not that it mattered, of course, but Adele liked to have details right even when they didn’t matter. Because in the long run, nothing mattered.
“Go on, make sure my quarters are prepared,” Forbes said, brushing the servants toward the boarding ramp with the backs of her fingers. “I’ll wait here with Lady Mundy till there’s less congestion.”
She grimaced, making her face look even more than usual like that of a marmoset. “I hate travel off Cinnabar, and this chaos on boarding–”
She repeated her brushing gesture.
“–makes it even worse.”
The servants looked doubtful, but they joined a group of cheerfully drunken spacers on their way to the ramp. The traffic wasn’t as bad as it appeared, because the heavy trucks were stopping under the big gantry. There the loads were transferred to grumbling lighters, to be ferried to the cruiser’s C Level cargo holds. It was only when the trucks drove out from beneath the gantry that they crossed the line of pedestrians heading for the boarding bridge to the main hatch and they did that one at a time.
“Should I go, Bessie?” the young man said. His expression was bovine but not unpleasant. His suit was tan with bronze highlights, hung on him as though he were a display mannequin. “Or stay with you?”
“Oh, go onto the ship, John,” Forbes said. “I won’t need you tonight. Lady Mundy and I will be all girls together for a time.”
Tovera’s eyes flicked from Forbes to Adele. Her look of mild amusement was perhaps a little more lively than usual.
“One of the things I dislike most about this business,” Forbes said as the husky servant wandered off, “is that there’ll be nobody aboard to talk to besides you, Leary, and of course Robinson. And it won’t be much better any of the places we’re going, though as I understand it we’ll be landing on Paton. Isn’t that right?”
“I can check whether Captain Leary has filed a course with Cinnabar Control,” Adele said carefully, taking the data unit from its pocket.
If Adele needed to, she could open every sector of the Milton’s astrogation computer even if the captain believed he’d locked it. She had no reason to do that. She and Daniel had discussed all aspects of the voyage, including planetfall on Paton to replenish and get the latest local intelligence on the situation in the Hegemony.
She didn’t say that to the senator. Whatever Forbes thought, a politician wasn’t in either of Adele’s chains of command.
“Oh, no matter,” said Forbes with a peeved gesture. “I’m sure we do. Beckford lives on Paton, in a palace, I gather. Do you know Prince Willie, Mundy?”
“I know of him,” Adele said, even more carefully than before. “We’ve never met. He’s a friend of yours?”
It was hard to say whether William Beckford was better known for his wealth or for his dissipation. His reputation had grown bad enough that he’d left–been encouraged to leave–Cinnabar. It was approaching the point that money wouldn’t have been able to stave off official inquiries any longer.