IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 47:
Gambardella’s gaze wavered between Forbes and Adele, then locked again on Daniel. He continued, “But I’m afraid that though technically such a charter as you propose could be considered neutral, the Alliance would have another opinion of it. By all accounts, Guarantor Porra takes a very robust view of the law.”
“Unless…,” said Weber carefully. Had they orchestrated this? The timing was perfect. “This were a private charter, one which didn’t involve the Republic of Cinnabar. Hydriote ships have taken private cargoes to and from Bolton during the present war, after all.”
Gambardella pursed his lips, then looked at Forbes and raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you would care to charter the necessary vessels, Mistress Forbes?” he said. “Or could you act as agent for Master Beckford? I don’t think I’m disclosing any matters that will surprise you if I say that we’ve carried many cargoes for Beckford to worlds controlled by the Alliance.”
Forbes laughed in what seemed to be good humor. “I don’t think I’ll trouble Prince Willie on this,” she said. “And as for chartering ten or a dozen transports at war rates–it would be war rates, wouldn’t it?”
The Hydriotes looked at one another. Christianson said, “Yes, I fear that for the region you’re discussing, that would be necessary. Though these would be private cargoes.”
“Of course,” said Forbes. “Would you accept my personal note for that amount, Captain Gambardella?”
Gambardella looked embarrassed. Not all senators were fabulously wealthy. On learning of the embassy, Adele had investigated Forbes and found that she was deeply in debt from her failed run for the speakership. She hadn’t held the position of Finance Minister very long, but even so a less scrupulous person would have made a better thing of it.
“We’d discuss the matter among ourselves and with the local agents you direct us to,” said Christianson. “In the normal course of business, you understand.”
He too sounded subdued. His eyes were on Adele as she mopped the rest of her gravy with a wedge of bread she’d torn from the loaf.
“So that isn’t practical either,” said Forbes in the same bright, bantering tone as before. “Fortunately, gentlemen, before the Milton lifted from Cinnabar, the managing partner of the Shippers’ and Merchants’ Treasury summoned me for a consultation. She authorized me to pledge the full credit of her bank on such commercial ventures as I might sumble across on a mission such as this.”
“Well bless my soul!” Daniel said. “Why, that’s my bank! And the manager is my sister Deirdre!”
“Yes,” said Adele. She cleared her throat. “How very fortunate that you’d made this arrangement, your Excellency.”
In a very different sense the Shippers’ and Merchants’ Treasury was Corder Leary’s bank. He owned the bulk of the shares and had installed his daughter as managing partner.
Knowing Deirdre’s eye for a profit, the bank expected to make a good thing out of this when the Senate approved transfer of the contracts to the public exchequer. The element of risk justified the profit, however, as the supersession of the contract by the Republic would only occur if Captain Leary’s plans were successful.
Deirdre wouldn’t have been able to provide so sweeping a credit without the approval of the majority partner. On principle, Daniel would never have accepted the money if he’d known it came from his father; but Adele’s principles didn’t require that she inform her friend.
The Hydriote captains stared at one another. Adele didn’t see any type of communication pass between them, nor did her personal data unit detect anything in the electro-optical band, but clearly something was going on.
Captain Gambardella turned to Forbes. “The Shippers’ and Merchants’ Treasury is well known to us,” he said. “Not that we doubt your word, Senator, but do you have this authorization in a form that…?”
“Yes,” said Forbes, pulling open the placket on the bosom of her tunic. What Adele had assumed was either a stiffener or body armor turned out to be a fitted document case. “This in the electronic form–”
She laid a chip on the table, sliding the remainder of the bread to the side. Christianson immediately fitted it to the data unit which he’d taken out at the same time.
“–and in a more colorful medium,” Forbes said, handing a sheet of parchment to Captain Gambardella. It was small enough to fit in the case without folding or rolling, but even in a quick glance Adele saw ribbons, seals, and text in a tiny copperplate hand as regular as printing.
She smiled coldly. Given that the document represented a credit greater than the net product of many worlds, it ought to be ornate.
“This is satisfactory,” Captain Gambardella said, handing back the letter of credit. “Very satisfactory. Captain Leary, when will you have the details of the contract ready?”
Adele had unlocked her data unit when she finished lunch. Her wands twitched.
“I believe Lady Mundy has just transmitted them,” Daniel said, smiling. He leaned back on his stool. “Your standard commercial rates, adjusted by a 15% war risk premium. Calculated time to the rendezvous and destination are there as well. I’m assuming most if not all the vessels will come from Hydra herself, but I’m also assuming that you’ll send the fastest available courier there with the information.”
Weber grinned, more like a wolf now than a fox. “I’ll carry the information myself, Captain,” he said. “And for your future calculations, I estimate the run from Fonthill to Bolton at nine days maximum, and eight if conditions are favorable. For Hydriote vessels.”
“I’ll travel with you, Weber,” Gambardella said. “There are some matters I should take care of at home.”
“And I,” said Christianson. The three Hydriotes chuckled.
“Then I believe we’ve finished our business here,” Daniel said, rising to his feet. “Unless you have something to add, Senator?”
“I do not,” said Forbes. “Though I suppose a prayer would be proper if I believed in the Gods.”
“We’ll see you on Fonthill, then, good sir and ladies,” Captain Gambardella said, bowing. “No doubt you’ll arrive long before we do, but we’ll keep our schedule.”
“We need to make a side-trip to US1528,” Daniel said, “so I suspect the timing will be similar for both of us.”
Weber frowned. “US1528?” he said. “If you need to take on reaction mass, Captain, why not do so here?”
He didn’t, Adele noticed, mention that US1528 was an Alliance refueling station.
Daniel laughed. “As you have matters to deal with on Hydra, so the needs of the RCN are varied, fellow spacers. I look forward to our next meeting.”
He turned. As Adele poised to follow him, Captain Christianson said, “Ah, Lady Mundy? If I may ask, you appeared to like the macaca worms?”
Adele shrugged as she put away her data unit. “The gravy was good,” she said. “I found the worms themselves tasteless, which–”
She smiled. Christianson didn’t react, but Weber straightened and his face went blank.
“–is better than some of the things I ate during the years I lived on very little money. I prefer their texture to that of hog tripes, at any rate.”
As they walked back to Tovera and their vehicle, Adele leaned to speak past Daniel. “I share your doubt about the Gods, Senator,” she said. “But regardless, there’s a closer power at present. I’ve found putting my faith in the RCN to be quite efficacious.”