IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 32:
CHAPTER 9: Ravenny Gardens, Hereward on Paton
The gateway with Ravenny Gardens worked into the top of the arch was made to look like wrought iron, but when Adele tapped it with her knuckles, she found that it was extruded plastic she expected. A sign beside the entrance read A GIFT FROM THE ASSOCIATED GARDEN CLUBS OF PATON, IN HONOR OF THEIR LATE FOUNDER, DOLORES RAVENNY. This really was wood, and the paint had flaked badly.
Barnes reversed the amphibious vehicle, then snorted back down the street toward the dock area with his partner and the two midshipmen. Daniel watched them go with his usual mild smile.
“This is quite a pleasant neighborhood,” he said. “Not at all the view that a spacer normally gets of a port city, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Adele said. She’d checked slant imagery of the district before she picked the gardens as the venue for her discussion, but all that had really impressed itself on her was the fact it was suitably private. Out of politeness, she looked around her now.
The two and three-story frame houses were spacious by the standards of Xenos, where land was at a premium. Each sat in its own lot, set off from its neighbors and the street by waist-high hedges or occasionally a fence of wooden pickets.
Adele returned her attention to where it needed to be. “The east edge of the gardens overlooks the open sea,” she said. She was uncomfortable with what she’d just learned in the Spezza. It wasn’t unusually awful as such things went, but she didn’t know what to do about it.
The easy solution, of course, was to do nothing. That came naturally to Adele Mundy, who was more interested in knowledge than people. She wasn’t sure it was the right answer here, however, so she was deferring the decision to Daniel.
Besides, Adele found herself caring more about people than she had for the first fifteen years after the massacre of her family. Either she was allowing her emotions to resurface or–
She smiled wryly.
–like Tovera, she was training herself into a series of behavior patterns which others would read as emotions. Either way, it eased life within society.
The gates were open, but a caretaker in a white–whitish–jacket got to his feet as Adele and Daniel entered. Tovera was a pace behind, moving her eyes more often than her head, but turning her head frequently as well.
“Sir?” said the caretaker. “Sorry, we’re closed except for the workmen. We’ll open again for the Promenade at nine.”
Adele took out her data unit, casting around for a place to use it. There were benches along the path ten yards in, but if she wanted to sit without getting past the caretaker, the best alternative was moist ground covered with russet tendrils like fur. They would probably stain badly.
A lace-winged insect landed on her wrist. She flicked it off.
“Here you are, my good man,” Daniel said cheerfully. He spun a florin toward the caretaker. Sunlight caught the coin at the top of its arc, flashing from the ruby hologram within the central crystal. “We won’t get in the way of your people, I promise you. Setting up for the Promenade, you mean?”
“Why, thank you, sir!” said the caretaker, turning the coin over in his fingers. Adele had noticed before that Cinnabar coinage–holograms within silvery rims–had a flashy presence beyond its actual value. At that, a florin was worth about half a day’s wage in the scrip passing current on Paton. “Yes, the Promenade, every tennight. Ah, if you’ll be careful, then, I guess it can’t hurt anything.”
Smiling pleasantly, Daniel led them briskly past lest the fellow change his mind. Tried to change his mind, Adele suspected, but it was better to avoid a problem than to deal with one that’d arisen.
Adele grimaced at her data unit. She couldn’t use it unless they stopped, which would be a foolish thing to do for no more important reason than she had now.
Daniel must have read her expression correctly–they did know one another well. He grinned and said, “The tennight Promenade is the major social event in Hereward. Everyone who’s anyone dresses up and comes here to listen to the live band and look at one another. And nine is early evening here–Paton uses a ten-hour, daylight-to-dusk clock.”
The gardens were laid out on a tongue of land. It was only twenty yards across here at the entrance, but it spread to over a hundred near the tip. To the right was the harbor; to the left, the open sea whose water was equally opaque but a clearer gray.
Circular planters, generally with a tree as the centerpiece, were spaced just inside the perimeter hedges; a graveled walk wound around them. At the end of the peninsula was a larger plaza, also graveled. Workmen were setting up a small bandstand and a dance floor, using boards from the dump truck parked on the walkway and the trailer behind it.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed; then he shrugged. “I suppose they used a dump truck because they had one,” he said. “That’s a good enough reason, after all.”
“Ah,” said Adele, putting the data unit away. “Thank you.”
“It’s not surprising that I’d be more aware of high society in Hereward, after all,” Daniel said with a chuckle. “Mind you, if I let the locals learn that my signals officer is Lady Mundy, you’ll get even more invitations than I do.”
Adele felt her lips squeeze into a sour bunch. “Thank you for not doing that,” she said. She nodded toward a gap in the outer hedge, where a railing gave a view over the harbor. “I think we’ll be adequately private here. I wasn’t confident of that aboard the Milton, since the Senator was aboard.”
If Forbes–if her staff–were skilled enough, they could have set timed recording devices virtually anywhere. If the devices were designed for recovery, not real-time broadcast, they would be completely undetectable.
Though that wasn’t the real reason for Adele’s discomfort. She was tense and miserable because of Forbes’ existence in the middle of her RCN family, not at anything Forbes was really going to do there. For all the cruiser’s size, the Milton wasn’t a safe haven for Adele so long as there was a senator aboard.
“These gardens are full of exotic plants,” said Daniel in a whimsical tone. “If you’re from Paton. If you’re moderately well-versed in horticulture–and I’m barely that myself–you recognize a good half of what you see as standard species which humans take everywhere they go. Many are from Earth originally–the roses, the pansies…. But the rest as well, the wagtails–”
He pointed to the clump of plants with finger-thick stems from which petals like pastel flags waved in the sea breeze.
“–are from Hinson’s Rest, the bluebrights–”
He pointed to the clumps whose spiky cyan foliage overwhelmed the white florets at the center of each.
“–that they grow by the square mile on Melpomene for medicinal extracts, but you find them in gardens on just about every other inhabited world too.”
He swept his hands across an arc of the plantings. “Pretty much all of them, the ones I can identify by name but I’d guess all the rest, they’re off-world species. Whereas what I’d like to see is a nice slice of Paton’s own plants in their native habitat.”
Adele laughed, surprising even herself. She opened and closed her hands; she’d been gripping the railing so fiercely that they’d started to cramp.
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” she said. “I’m angrier than I’d realized at Forbes’ presence. And what I learned in the Spezza’s log… fed into it.”
She cleared her throat and continued, “The Brotherhood, this phratry of it, is being sent to put down a rebellion on an agricultural world named Fonthill.”
Daniel nodded. “All right,” he said. “If you don’t care what gets broken in the process, they’re good troops for the purpose. Maybe the best.”
He frowned slightly and added, “I’m not familiar with Fonthill, though.”
“Fonthill,” Adele said, brushing away several more of the lace-winged insects, “is owned by William Beckford. It isn’t a listed world–anywhere.”