This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 43
“Well, than Andrew and Steph will be, anyway,” Yana corrected him with a smile, and he chuckled.
“Actually, I think they’re probably going to be more comfortable than Victor is,” he said. “Working crew berths aboard liners like the Pygmalion may not be luxury suites, but they aren’t exactly dungeon cells, either. Their quarters will actually be more comfortable — and probably more spacious — than anything Andrew had growing up on Parmley Station, and they’ll be a hell of a lot better than anything Steph had as a seccie growing up in Mendel. But poor Victor! Can you even imagine how badly his revolutionary’s instincts are going to revolt against a first-class suite on one of the fanciest luxury liners in space?” Anton shook his head, his sad expression belied by the twinkle in his deep eyes. “I foresee great angst on his part!”
“Bull.” Yana laughed. “You know exactly how he and the Kaja will be spending their time in that first-class suite of theirs!”
“I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about,” Anton said virtuously, and Yana laughed again.
She had a point, Anton conceded, and even if she hadn’t had one, Victor Cachat was nothing if not adaptable. And the fact that Mesa was one of Pygmalion‘s regular stops (and that her captain owed Jacques Benton-Ramirez y Chou several very sizable personal favors) was going to prove very useful. The ship, one of the Tobias Lines’ elite vessels, had exactly zero connection with anything Beowulfan and the line’s owners had been among the Solarian League’s most vociferous critics of “Manticoran mercantile imperialism” for the last forty or fifty T-years. They deeply resented Manticoran penetration of what they considered to be rightfully “their” markets, especially as that penetration pushed them further and further out of the bulk freight carrying trade and into the passenger traffic. They couldn’t complain about their profit margin on the fast, sleek liners they continued to operate, but a very high profit margin on a couple of dozen vessels came in a poor second compared to a moderate profit margin on several score vessels.
What mattered at the moment was that there was absolutely nothing to make even a member of the Mesan Alignment suspicious of Pygmalion‘s pedigree, and she’d plied the same route — which included both Beowulf and Mesa — for the last seven T-years. She was a thoroughly known quantity, and her owners didn’t need to know that Captain Vandor’s daughter-in-law owed her life and the lives of her three then-unborn children to a BSC covert team under the command of one Major Jacques Benton-Ramirez y Chou. In fact, Captain Vandor and his family had been very careful about seeing to it that that particular bit of knowledge did not become public. There were several reasons for that, but the most important one was that Vandor was a man who believed in paying his debts, which included keeping the identity of the unknown criminals who’d raided the offices of a highly respected Solarian shipping line — the one, in fact, which had employed (and continued to employ) one Sebastián Vandor — and in the process “kidnapped” a secretarial worker who had subsequently managed to escape from her abductors and was now the mother of Sebastian’s grandchildren.
The Tobias Lines would have looked with disfavor upon any efforts to publicize the fact that its current CEO’s (sadly deceased) brother had been using the company’s assets to cover Manpower shipments of genetic slaves inside the League. Of course, that had been back in the good old days when Tobias had still boasted a sizable freighter fleet. Times had changed . . . but memories were long, and there was no statute of limitations on the League’s anti-slavery laws. But that once-upon-a-time relationship was one reason Pygmalion served the Mesan run and enjoyed a certain coziness with the Mesa System’s government and its various agencies.
All of which only helped make the liner one of the least likely to be suspected means whereby desperate and coming spies might be inserted into the very heart of darkness.
Brixton’s Comet wasn’t quite as speedy as Pygmalion. The passenger liner had military grade particle screening and a military grade hyper generator, as did most of the galaxy’s relatively small number of really fast passenger liners and specialty freighters. Brixton’s Comet, although she was obviously the sort of plaything only the fabulously wealthy might possess, did not have military grade particle screening. She could go as high in hyper-space as Pygmalion could, but her sustained velocity there was barely seventy percent as great. The passenger liner could make the trip from Beowulf to Mesa via the Visigoth System and its wormhole junction in little more than twelve T-days; Brixton’s Comet would require eighteen. On the other hand, the yacht wasn’t dependent upon the passenger liner’s schedule and Yana and Anton ought to be able to leave at least a full T-week and a half before Pygmalion did. That meant they ought to arrive in Mesa a good four T-days sooner than the rest of their team did, which would give them that additional time to establish their own covers . . . and that much more separation from the insertion of the others.
Victor and Thandi would enter Mesa openly, relying upon their thoroughly legal (albeit rather less than legally obtained) visas, which would subject them to the full rigor of Mesan Customs. That was fine, since the Mesans were supposed to figure out — eventually — that Victor’s ostensible reason for visiting their fine planet was not precisely what he had declared upon arrival. Mesa being Mesa, the authorities ought to be quite satisfied with that discovery and pat themselves on the back for it without spending much thought worrying over the possibility that the dark little secret they’d discovered about their guest was there specifically to be discovered and provide the sort of answer which would keep them from looking any deeper.
Andrew Artlett and Steph Turner would enter Mesa in less visible fashion. It wasn’t at all uncommon for ships like Pygmalion to sign on temporary crew, and it wasn’t much less common for that temporary crew to jump ship. It was an acknowledged way for the big lines, especially, to find the hands they needed in a short-term arrangement with the understanding that they could pay dirt poor wages because what the short-term hands in question had in mind was finding cheap transportation to where they really wanted to go. “Gypsies” was the most commonly used polite term for people like that, and nobody worried his head too much over their comings and goings. Admittedly, Mesa was likely to keep a much closer eye on any gypsies who decided to stay on in someplace like Mendel, but Victor had come up with an extremely Victor-like plan to let them drop entirely off the grid once they were on-planet.
As a general rule, Anton Zilwicki disliked plans which had too many moving parts. The Demon Murphy was the unceasing foe of those who became too enamored of their own cleverness, and Zilwicki had adopted the KISS Principle as his guiding light long, long ago. In this instance, however, he’d considered every aspect of the insertion plan, and assuming they were going to actually continue with what Duchess Harrington had so aptly described as their insanity, he was satisfied this was the best way to go about it.
Besides, he thought, looking down at the hologram, she really is a sweet little ship. I’m going to enjoy playing with her. And this time I’m not going to spend T-weeks on end playing cards and listening to Andrew whistle. What’s a little possibility of mayhem and disaster compared to that?