IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 26:
Daniel finished his drink, pursing his lips for a moment of silent thought. Das tapped the bottle and said, “Another?”
“In a moment, sir,” Daniel said. He tilted a few fingers of water into his glass and drank it down to clear his mouth. Shoving the empty toward the governor, he said, “Basic subsistence crops like that usually aren’t economic to transport long distances. Do you have any idea where they’re going?”
“No sir,” said the aide. Her tone was subdued.
“Leary…,” said the governor as he finished pouring. He set the bottle on the desk with more of a thump than he probably intended to. “We carry out our duties here. We make sure that prisoners are released when their sentences are up, and we check the conditions for contract laborers generally on Cone Transport’s farms.”
“They’re not leisure spas,” said the aide. “But there’s food and medical facilities. And the housing’s better than what non-contract laborers who live in Hereward have, most of them.”
“Master William Beckford doesn’t make trouble on Paton,” Das said forcefully. “People enter and leave his estate at Mount Marfa only in his own vehicles, that’s true, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Anybody’s got the right to shut his door to other people, and if Beckford’s got a bigger house than most, then he’s still got the same rights.”
“Captain,” said the aide, “we don’t borrow trouble. If Beckford came here because there’s more space between him and his neighbors than there was on Cinnabar–well, there is more space. And he’s doing nothing wrong!”
“I won’t swear to that,” said the governor with a half smile. He swirled the watered liqueur in his glass, then took another sip. “I won’t swear that about my seventy-nine-year-old mother on Xanthippe. But I will say there’s not even rumors, not beyond the sort who claims the pawnbroker down the street is an Alliance spy.”
Daniel laughed, drank, and pushed his glass over for another refill. “I understand,” he said. “My family’s estate is on the West Coast. We don’t take to officials from Xenos telling us how to do things, so long as there’s no complaints… which seems the case here with Beckford. And anyway, it’s no business of an RCN captain, is it?”
“I know there’s a belief that all protectorate officials are corrupt, Leary,” the aide said. “That isn’t true, here in the Veil at least.”
“There’s remarkably little reason for turnip farmers to need to bribe anyone,” Das said, lowering his re-emptied glass. His cheeks and forehead had a rosy glow. He sounded more rueful than bitter, though there might’ve been some of both. “Cone Transport may have other interests, but not here on Paton.”
“Those troops?” said the aide. She kept raising the glass to her lips, but the level didn’t seem to change when she set it down again. “Not that I think there’s anything wrong, but…?”
“There’s something wrong, all right, but it’s not the Cone factor’s fault,” Das said. He turned to Daniel. “There’s a regiment of troops billeted here in a Cone warehouse and Factor Amberly’s tearing his hair out. There’s something wrong with the navigation system of the ship they’re to leave on and nobody seems to be able to fix it. Amberly was here just the other day, asking if we could help.”
The aide smiled at her glass. “The staff of the Veil Protectorate doesn’t run to astrogators, I’m afraid,” she said. “But, ah… Captain?”
She raised her eyes. Das was looking at Daniel hopefully also.
“Well, I suppose I could take a look at the problem,” he said, keeping his face neutral while he thought. He didn’t want to call attention to the Spezza and her secret mission, but under the circumstances it was going to cause more speculation if an RCN captain refused to help a unit of the Republic’s troops which was having difficulties. “The senator said she planned to spend forty-eight hours on the ground before she’d be ready to leave for Karst.”
He cleared his throat. He could imagine getting a taste for porphyrion, which he never would’ve said about alcohol bled from the Power Room hydraulics.
“Speaking of Karst,” he said, “how do you–closer to the problem, that is–feel about Headman Hieronymos?”
The aide made a choking sound. She turned her head and gulped down half her drink. She wasn’t faking it this time.
Das grimaced but met Daniel’s eyes. “I think it’s well beyond anything the Protectorate Service can fix,” he said flatly. “Sending a senatorial envoy in a cruiser was a good idea. Sending a fleet of battleships would be an even better one.”
He took a deep breath and went on, “And yes, I know Jeff–my deputy, Jeff Merrick–screwed up. I know it and Anya here knows it and believe me, Jeff knows it.”
“He’s a good man,” said the aide, who now had a first name. She’d finished the porphyrion; the empty glass was trembling between her hands. “He’s a wonderful man, smart and completely trustworthy, wonderful. But what does he know about spies? What do any of us know about spies?”
“Here, Anya,” Das said. “Give me your glass.”
As he poured, he continued, “It’s really that simple, Captain. Jeff handles the customs duties for the whole region. There are never any problems–I couldn’t ask for a better man. Foreign intelligence is part of the deputy’s duties, but there wasn’t any foreign intelligence, this is the Veil. By the Gods, I’m the regional medical officer! Am I at fault if a plague breaks out on Paton?”
He shrugged. Daniel suspected he’d have turned his palms up if that wouldn’t have required him to put down his glass. “I sent Jeff off to Thorndyke to review the customs receipts there until I recalled him,” he said. “The ministry could sack him but they won’t, because bloody foreign intelligence isn’t their priority either. The Gods only know what Senator Forbes might do if Jeff stayed where she could find him, though. So I got him out of the way.”
Daniel weighed the options, then grinned. After all, hanging a competent financial officer wasn’t going to make the situation on Karst any more to the Republic’s benefit.
“Well, what do you think, Captain Leary?” said the aide in a trembling voice.
“My dear lady,” said Daniel, “I think that your beet liqueur has quite grown on me. Governor, I’ll have another glassful, if you please, while Anya copies all your files on the Hegemony to the Milton, Attention Signals Officer.”
Turning again to the aide, he said, “Your console can do that, can’t it?”
“Why…,” she said, looking toward Das; he nodded firmly. “Yes, of course I can. I, I’ll get to it at once.”
As the governor refilled the glasses, Daniel said, “As you say, foreign intelligence isn’t the business of the Client Affairs or the RCN either one, I’ll add. I’m sure that the persons whose job it really is are hard at work right now.”
He grinned. He knew that one of them certainly was.