Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 47

This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 47

The shipyard here at Newtown didn’t have enough portable magnaflux equipment to check each weld, so the bosun was using a field expedient: if the weld didn’t crack when she slammed it with her maul, the chances were that it would survive lift-off while holding a missile. To reduce stress, the missiles wouldn’t be filled with reaction mass until the ships were out of the gravity well and were accelerating at a fixed direction and rate.

“Captain Leary,” said the bone-conduction speaker of Daniel’s goggles. It wasn’t as good as a commo helmet, but it was better than shouting. “Lady Mundy has arrived at the base of the crane and wishes to speak with you.”

“Roger, Signals,” Daniel said. “I’ll join you immediately in –” he thought for a moment. “In the crane house. It’s as private as you could ask and it’s insulated against sound. Six out.”

He turned back to his companions and said, “Gentlemen, I’ve been called to an urgent matter but I was about done here anyway. I’ll be in touch with you later.”

The lift at the back of the platform had been crowded bringing the four of them up together. Daniel didn’t offer to share it with Pasternak and Ealing going down.

“What’s urgent?” Hogg asked, putting his right hand in his pocket.

“I didn’t bother to ask,” Daniel said, “but I assume there’s something to bring Adele here rather than calling. Besides, I think I learned all I was going to up there.”

I learned that I need to replace Ealing. Who his replacement should be was the tricky question.

At the door of the operator’s cab waited Adele with a man whom Daniel had not met. The fellow wore civilian clothes, but that was the only thing civilian about him.

Tovera came out of the building which she must have been scanning. She grinned at Hogg. The two servants remained outside while Daniel followed Adele and her companion into the cab and closed the door after them. Outside the lift was returning to the platform to pick up Pasternak and Ealing.

The only seat in the crane house was that in front of the control panel, but there was room for six to stand without crowding. Adele said, “Daniel, this is Major Grozhinski, our contact with our employer. If you’ll sit at the display we’ll feed you the data.”

“It won’t be resident on the dockyard system,” Grozhinski said reassuringly.

Does he think that I worry about that? Daniel thought, smiling. He didn’t have to worry about electronic security because he had Adele. Which is good, because I probably wouldn’t worry anyway, and one of these days that could come back and bite me.

Daniel scanned the summary paragraph. How the bloody hell did that happen?

He grinned. That reaction was one stage better than trying to put his fist through the screen.

He turned and stood up again. The display wasn’t the way he preferred to be briefed.

“Adele,” Daniel said. “Master Grozhinski? Will it be possible to get the missiles released to us in time to fit them to the ships here?” He gestured vaguely toward the Montclare and Montcalm without actually turning his head.

“No,” said Grozhinski. “They are Alliance missiles, after all. The Cinnabar government sent them to make its involvement deniable, but the Fleet investigators who demanded that the weapons be embargoed until they’re returned may not realize that their documents are forgeries. Equally, of course, they may be Krychek’s agents.”

“All right,” Daniel said, nodding to indicate that he’d received the information. “Do either of you know of a source for missiles in quantity, even if not the three hundred Minister Forbes provided?”

Outside, work on the freighters — which might not become missile ships after all — continued unabated. The cab’s soundproofing was good — even the double-glazed windows must damp a considerable amount of noise — but it wasn’t perfect.

“I do not,” Grozhinski said.

“Nor do I,” said Adele.

Daniel smiled. It was nice to work with professionals who provided information without hedging it to uselessness. It’s a pity that the information isn’t different, though.

“All right,” Daniel said. “Adele, can you make these freighters appear to be heavy cruisers?”

“Electronically, yes,” Adele said. She frowned. “Visually, only to a very limited degree. It’s a matter of how good the personnel crewing the Upholder ships are. The optics themselves are of adequate quality — the three destroyers are ex-Alliance and the Upholder herself was the Triomphante, built on Karst but from Fleet service.”

“One of the destroyers has an ex-Fleet crew and officers,” Grozhinski said, picking up seamlessly where Adele had stopped. Daniel hadn’t noticed a signal pass between them. “The crews of the other destroyers and the remainder of the Upholder forces generally are either locally raised or from Karst. I suppose they’re equivalent to the Tarbell navy. All major offices in the ground establishment are Krychek’s people.”

Grozhinski glanced down at his data unit. It was live in his hand, but he hadn’t been referring to it and probably wasn’t now.

“The Upholder,” he said, “is a special case. The commissioned officers are mostly ex-Fleet, though only the communications officer is 5th Bureau reporting to Krychek. The bulk of the crew has been recruited from Cinnabar’s empire, however. Most served in the Cinnabar navy during the recent war. Lady Mundy probably has better records than my organization does, but I assume they are skilled. The Upholder’s officers certainly are.”

They’re traitors! Daniel thought. But they weren’t. They were spacers who preferred naval service to merchantmen and who, while the great powers were at peace, had found a corner of the galaxy which welcomed their skills.

They weren’t fighting Cinnabar, and they weren’t fighting for the Alliance. They were spacers taking jobs with piss-pot rebels fighting a piss-pot government, and they probably figured that with a heavy cruiser they were going to come out the winners.

“The rebels are offering considerable premiums to spacers with RCN experience,” Adele said. “I suppose Krychek has agents in most major ports in Cinnabar space.”

“No doubt the pay is coming from the secret account of the First Diocese,” Grozhinski said, nodding agreement. “But without a very careful audit, there’s nothing to suggest Alliance involvement.”

“Right,” said Daniel. “Deniability, like the missiles. But how do the recruits get to Ithaca? That’s the rebels’ capital, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Grozhinski agreed. “Krychek’s Residency on Danziger acts as the transshipment point. The Residency gathers recruits in quantity and ships them to Ithaca, where they’re distributed among the Upholder vessels.”

Daniel smiled slowly. “We were caught by Mistress Sand’s care to be deniable,” he said. “It strikes me that we might return the favor.”

Adele’s smile was probably invisible to anyone who didn’t know her as well as Daniel did. Grozhinski looked from one to the other. He didn’t speak.

“Adele,” Daniel said, “what do you think about subverting the crew of a rebel heavy cruiser?”

“I have nothing better to do with my life,” she said. The joke made her smile more noticeable. “We’ll need a neutral ship.”

“May I offer the Fisher 14?” Grozhinski said. “The owner isn’t exactly neutral in this business, but his involvement would be as hard to trace as the First Diocese secret account.”

They were all three smiling. We must look like a pack of dogs about to start dinner, Daniel thought; and he smiled more broadly.


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