IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 15:
There were stories about children being brought to Beckford’s mansion and never being seen again. That might not be true, but it was quite certain that an investigation would uncover matters which would be extremely embarrassing to those who’d shared the entertainment. Some of those participants were rumored to be highly placed in the Senate.
Forbes snorted, though the reaction was good humored. “Not in the way you mean,” she said. “I’ve done a few favors for his business interests, and he’s done some favors for me–and quite a few other people. But only in a business way, so far as I’m concerned.”
She paused, looking at the great ship without affection. “Still, he’ll have a chef,” she continued. “He’s famous for his table. And I’ll be able to sleep in something other than a steel box for the nights that I’m on Paton.”
She gave Adele a mocking grin. “That’s worth smiling at the greasy little toad, don’t you think? I wouldn’t have done it before the Speakership election–but then, I wouldn’t be traipsing off to the back end of nowhere if the election hadn’t come out the way it did. Not so?”
“There’s nothing in my family history, Senator…,” Adele said, smiling faintly. “To encourage anyone to take my advice on a political question. Perhaps Captain Leary could help you there.”
Despite Adele’s smile, Forbes looked dumbfounded as she took in the words. “By the Gods, Mundy,” she muttered. “You do have brass balls, don’t you? Well, I’d been told that.”
Adele shrugged. “I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to bring the past up myself,” she said. “It’s easier to confine the discussion to the facts than will be the case when others talk behind my back.”
The truckload of eight-inch rounds roared into position under the gantry. The driver didn’t shut down, but at least he kept his foot off the accelerator. The harbor was still very noisy, but the snarl of the diesel had been causing Adele to react at a subconscious level.
Forbes was saying something about travel. She broke off and in a sharper tone said, “You find it humorous, Mundy?”
“Not your discomfort,” Adele said calmly. “Particularly since I share it myself. I find it useful to concentrate on something else during insertion and extraction, though I still feel as though–”
She shrugged. “Actually,” she said, “it varies each time as to what unpleasant symptom I’ll feel. I think the worst is when my whole body seems to have been turned inside out, but you may have a different particular dislike.”
She repeated her slight smile. “Almost everyone does, you know,” she said. “Even veteran spacers like Captain Leary and Woetjans. She’s our bosun.”
Adele had really been smiling at the concept of courtesy, which she’d been considering while the senator nattered about the few short voyages she’d made before now. People like the truck driver wouldn’t ever learn courtesy–or rather, they’d never manage to control angry, discourteous outbursts when something frustrated them.
And it would probably be an overreaction to shoot them. They might try a little harder not to be offensive, though, if they realized there were people like Tovera and Tovera’s mistress who considered all options for removing an irritation.
Forbes grimaced again. “Well, nothing to do about it,” she said. “If I don’t get off Cinnabar, I’ll be snubbed by every back-bencher who thinks I should’ve treated him like the sun shone out of his butt. And don’t think Speaker Bailey won’t be egging them on, the little weasel!”
“Do you expect to be successful in your mission, Senator?” Adele said. She’d like to have brought her data unit up, but she’d have to sit down to use it. She didn’t want to do that here in the oil and dirt while wearing her 2nd Class uniform, her Dress Grays.
She smiled again. She wouldn’t sit down without a better reason than that she was bored by Forbes’ chatter, which wouldn’t be a politic thing to demonstrate anyway.
“Success?” snapped Forbes. “Yes, of course. This boy Hieronymos just wants to be told he’s important. Fine, he’s important–and I needed to get off-planet, as I said, so everyone gains. Why, I might’ve decided to take a junket like this regardless!”
And the grapes were probably sour anyway, thought Adele, remembering a very ancient fable. Human nature hadn’t changed since long before humanity’s development of interstellar travel.
Adele was sure her thought hadn’t reached her facial muscles, but the senator looked sidelong at her anyway. “Perhaps,” Forbes said, “I’ll change my mind about having Johnnie DeNardo in tonight. He’s not much brighter than a cucumber, but at least he’s warmer.”
Adele said nothing.
Forbes cackled in triumph. “I think I’ve shocked you, Mundy!” she said. “Haven’t I? I’d heard that about you too.”
Mundy of Chatsworth raised an eyebrow. She put the data unit back in its pocket, though she only needed her left hand free.
“Biology isn’t one of my particular interests, Senator,” she said in an upper class drawl. “I wouldn’t be shocked if a maggot crawled out of your eye socket, though I’d find it vaguely disgusting.”
Forbes stared. Her mouth opened, then closed, but she didn’t speak. Her face settled into a stunned expression rather than anger.
“I think the crowd has thinned, Tovera,” said Adele. “We’ll board now, because I have work to do.”
She glanced toward Forbes. “You’re welcome to accompany us, Senator,” she added. “We’ll take care to keep you safe.”