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In The Stormy Red Sky: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 00:57 EST



Xenos on Cinnabar

    After the Battle of the Jewel System, Captain Stickel of the Lao-tze had invited Daniel to dinner at his club when they next were on Cinnabar together. Stickel was an able officer and far too senior to snub with impunity, so Daniel had sent in his card when the old battleship arrived on Xenos for refitting in Harbor Three.

    Daniel had assumed “my club” meant Harbor House or the RCN Club; or just possibly the Land and Stars Institute, though that catered more to retired generals and admirals. In the event, Stickel’s invitation turned out to be to the Sunset, a club for Western landowners.

    As they relaxed over brandy, Daniel looked around the dark-paneled dining room. The fourteen occupied tables were each lighted by a wick floating in a saucer of stone-shark oil, the traditional source of illumination in the huts of West Coast fisherman.

    That hadn’t been true for hundreds of years, of course; the club must now have to render its own sharks to get the oil. That wasn’t sufficient reason to drop the tradition, of course, and no other expense had been spared over the delicious dinner, either.

    “Looking for your father, Leary?” said Stickel, a big, craggy man. “He’s a member, but I haven’t seen him here but the once. I’m not a regular myself, of course, between the RCN and preferring to spend my time at Three Piers when I’m on Xenos.”

    “No sir,” said Daniel. “Though I do see one of the Tausigs; their holdings are on the Bantry Peninsula with ours. I was looking at the fishing gear above the paneling.”

    He gestured carefully with his snifter. “Back when I was ten, I put a pole gaff like that one into a sand sucker bigger than the boat I was in.”

    “Did you indeed?” said Stickel with interest. “Land him?”

    Daniel laughed. “Bloody hell, no!” he said. “Hogg–my man–clouted me over the ear and kicked the gaff away from the boat before the sucker connected us with what was happening in his right gill slit. He told me the next time I did something so daft, I’d go into the water and he’d keep the gaff.”

    Stickel guffawed, then smothered further laughter in his napkin. The elderly gentleman at the next table glared, but no one else remarked on the outburst.

    “Well, it really was stupid,” Daniel said ruefully. “Sucker sprats roasted on a bed of ocean cress are delicious, at least if you’re camping out, but an adult sucker, especially a big one, isn’t good for anything but fertilizer.”

    Stickel took a sip of brandy; he eyed Daniel with the snifter still half raised. Another diner’s knife clicked against his plate in the general silence.

    “You haven’t changed, though, Leary,” he said. “Have you? I hear you took a corvette close enough to an Alliance battleship to dock with her.”

    Daniel grimaced. They hadn’t discussed the RCN during dinner. Stickel’s estate, Three Piers, was a hundred miles down the coast from Bantry. The similar culture allowed them to chat easily about home, which had appeared to be what the senior man wanted.

    It now seemed that Stickel had waited for the brandy. Well, he was the host, so the subjects were his to choose.

    “Let’s say that I’ve learned to choose my occasions better,” Daniel said. “There wasn’t a great deal of choice during that action in the Strymon System, not if our squadron was to survive. I knew our rig would absorb the first salvo, and….”

    He paused, wondering if he should explain that Adele was decrypting Alliance signals and providing him with their gist. He decided he wouldn’t.

    “And we were very lucky,” he concluded.

    “I’m generally luckiest after I’ve done the most planning,” Stickel said, finishing his brandy and setting the goblet down. “I shouldn’t wonder if it didn’t work that way for you too, Leary.”

    Daniel noticed to his surprise that his own snifter was empty also. Stickel was friendly, but there was always the risk of putting a foot wrong when talking with a senior officer you didn’t know very well.

    “Yessir,” he said, “it’s generally that way. Off Strymon, though, there wasn’t time to do more than act and pray. We were bloody lucky.”

    He grinned toward his hands on the bowl of the snifter. At least in a battle you knew that the other party was out to get you.

    “I haven’t seen your Milton yet,” Stickel said. “The imagery makes her look something of a pig, though.”

    Daniel set the snifter aside. “Ah, not at all, sir,” he said, making an effort not to sound as sharp as his first instinct was.

    He cleared his throat into his balled fist, then resumed, “She won’t be as handy as the Princess Cecile–not as handy as a corvette, that is–but I think with her sparring and a full suit of sails we’ll be able to jump gradients that I wouldn’t have dared in the Sissie. We’ll learn on the run to Paton, but with the present crew I hope to better the normal time by quite a lot.”

    Stickel grinned; Daniel realized the senior captain had been testing him. “We’ll have another brandy, Leary,” he said. “If you think your head’s up to it, of course.”

    Daniel matched the other’s grin. “Hogg’s in the servants’ parlor, sir,” he said. “If he has to carry me to the tram, well, it won’t be the first time.”

    The ball-shaped brandy bottle was on the table. As Stickel reached for it, however, a waiter with lapel flashes in the club colors, orange and burnt umber, appeared. He poured precisely, then vanished back into an alcove like a piece of statuary in formal attire.

    “I’ve heard comments about your crew,” Stickel said. “Heard complaints, I should say. To hear other captains tell it, you’ve cherry-picked a crew from the best spacers on Cinnabar.”

    “And beyond,” Daniel said with a full smile. He could afford to show pride in his crew; any captain would be proud. “I’ve got Pellegrinians, Bennarians, and some from the Gods alone know where. But sir, they picked me. I put out a call for volunteers, and they came. There wasn’t anything underhanded going on.”

    Stickel looked for a moment as if he was on the verge of another guffaw, but instead he just chuckled. “I believe you, Leary,” he said. “But I think that’s what makes them angriest.”

    His angular face fell back into serious lines. “As I say, you’ve no worries about your crew,” he resumed. “What about your officers, though?”

    Daniel tilted his head toward the ceiling of textured glass panels thirty feet above. The night sky wasn’t bright enough to bring out the details of the central roundel in the stained glass. It seemed to be a landscape or more likely seascape, given the Sunset’s membership roll.

    “The warrant officers are largely people who sailed with me in the Princess Cecile,” he said, avoiding the real point of the question while he mulled how to respond to it. “That means a considerable promotion for most of them, though my Chief of Ship, Pasternak, served on a heavy cruiser in the past. He took the lower base pay of a corvette because he hoped to lay away more for his retirement from prize money.”

    “Which he did?” said Stickel.

    “Which he most certainly did,” Daniel said, nodding in satisfaction. “I’ve warned him that there won’t be anything like the same opportunities in a cruiser, but he seems satisfied.”

    “I should say he must be satisfied,” said Stickel. “A Chief Engineer would’ve made enough out of the Milton’s capture alone to retire to anything short of a palace, wouldn’t he?”

    “I dare say you’re right, sir,” said Daniel. “I’ve been very lucky to have Mister Pasternak in the Power Room.”

    He cleared his throat. “I have five midshipmen,” he went on. “Two I’ve sailed with in the past and am very satisfied with. Cory has already qualified for lieutenant; Cazelet, the other, comes from the merchant service but he’s shaping up very well.”

    Cazelet came from the Alliance merchant service, which wasn’t precisely a bar to his appointment in the RCN but wasn’t something Daniel wanted to advertise either. He’d hedged a few facts in what he’d told the Personnel Bureau, just to avoid questions. If Adele trusted the boy, that was enough for him.

    “Else, Fink, and Triplett, the other middies, are new to me,” he said, “but they come recommended by colleagues whom I trust. Fink was second in his class at the Academy, as a matter of fact.”

    “Five midshipmen?” Stickel said. “The establishment’s eight for a heavy cruiser, isn’t it?”

    Daniel turned up his palms. “I’m carrying three early entrants for friends of the RCN,” he explained. “Frankly, with a new ship to work up on the voyage, I’d rather limit the number of middies I have to train as well.”

    Stickel nodded approvingly. “Very wise,” he said, “since you’ve got such solid warrant officers. As you say, you’re not likely to need many trained astrogators for prize crews on a jaunt like this.”



    Anston, Admiral James, and Daniel’s sister Deirdre had asked if Daniel could find room on the Milton’s books to list young persons–in Kithran’s case, his ten-year-old niece–as midshipmen before the age of sixteen, when they could enter the Academy. If those recipients passed the midshipman’s exam after graduation, their period of early enrollment would count as both time in grade and time in service. For the right officer, that could be a considerable benefit.

    And favors done for people with interest could have considerable benefit to the young captain granting the favors. Occasionally an officer who was unable to raise interest would complain at the support luckier fellows were getting, but it was common sense to see that people like Anston didn’t want to be associated with incompetents and failures. As Daniel saw it, everyone gained and very likely the RCN gained most of all.

    “Which leaves my lieutenants,” Daniel said, coming to the nub at last. “Blantyre, my Third, I’ve watched–I’ve trained–over several commissions. She’s had more seasoning that many officers with far more seniority. Besides that, I know her.”

    Stickel nodded, but he pursed his lips. It was obvious that he’d heard discussions about young Leary’s officers as well as about the Milton’s crew. Daniel realized that he was speaking not just to Stickel but through him to the corps of senior captains who’d made the RCN a professional fighting force and the terror of Cinnabar’s enemies.

    He sipped brandy to wet his lips and went on, “Vesey, my Second, is more of the same–for good or ill, but I think good. She has a genius for astrogation. Now–there’s nothing wrong with her courage, but she has a tendency to set up a battle as though she were playing both sides of the board.”

    He grinned, trying to take the edge off an analysis which others would read as criticism. Vesey wasn’t a bad tactician, she simply wasn’t as good at war as she was at astrogation. Almost no one was as good an astrogator as she was.

    “I won’t quarrel with another captain’s choice in officers, not unless they’ve served with me…,” said Stickel. That was probably a lie even with the limitation, but it was a polite lie. “But it seems to me that a fellow with your record could have found much more senior people. And ones who wouldn’t challenge him, if you saw that as a problem.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Daniel. He smiled, but he knew that his voice had roughened at the thought. He could follow orders when it was his duty to do so, but by the Gods! his subordinates would follow the orders he gave or they’d wish they had.

    He cleared his throat and continued, “Yes, I’m sure I could find senior lieutenants who’d be glad to join the company of a heavy cruiser instead of commanding a replenishment ship or a base that you have to go to the Sailing Directions to identify. But sir–”

    His smile was rueful and completely honest.

    “–I’m not very senior myself. I was young for a commander and I’m a bloody young for a captain. Picking officers whom I know and trust and who already know and trust me isn’t just a whim or an affectation.”

    Stickel chuckled again. “I said I thought you were a planner,” he said. “I didn’t need the confirmation, but you just gave it to me.”

    He continued to grin over the rim of his snifter. “And your first, then? Another protégé?”

    “Yes,” said Daniel, letting the doubt show in his tone, “But not mine. Lieutenant Commander Robinson was strongly recommended by Senator Forbes. I–”

    “Bloody hell, Leary!” said Stickel. “He’s not one of that old bag’s pretty boys, is he?”

    “No sir, he’s not,” Daniel said, grinning at the older man’s vehemence. He’d had the same concern, though he’d kept his lips together until a look at the Navy List had reassured him. “She’s bringing a, ah, supernumerary aide along on the voyage also, but Robinson is a real officer as well as the grandson of her first cousin. They’d been quite close as girls, and the cousin’s side of the family is now in straitened circumstances.”

    Stickel nodded grimly. “I see,” he said. “I can’t say I like the thought of politicians forcing their pets on serving officers, Leary.”

    “Sir,” Daniel said, “I’ve made inquiries.”

    And Adele had made inquiries, to the same result. Robinson sometimes drank more than he should–but less often than Daniel himself did. He made an effort to live within his pay, but he came from a good family and the effort wasn’t always successful. Again, Daniel felt more sympathy than censure.

    Robinson’s record as an officer was exemplary, however. He would’ve been employed whether or not Daniel accepted him, but without interest he would’ve been less likely to make him stand out–which he needed to do for further promotion now that Senator Forbes was out of favor.

    The request was flattering, when viewed in that light. Though it still rankled, for just the reason Stickel had given.

    “I don’t know how Senator Forbes viewed her advocacy, sir,” Daniel said. “I will tell you–and any other RCN officer whom I respect–that if I hadn’t been completely convinced of Mister Robinson’s fitness for the post, I would have resigned rather than accept him.”

    He grinned in a fashion that another fighter like Stickel would understand. “I’d have threatened to resign, that is,” he said, “though of course I wouldn’t have been bluffing. I hope I don’t overvalue myself, but I would expect my superiors at Navy House to support an RCN officer with a good record over a politician who’s out of power for the foreseeable future.”

    Stickel snorted. “There’d have been more resignations than yours if Navy House didn’t see it that way,” he agreed.

    Daniel made a hobby of natural history, and he found the language of animal behavior worked quite well even when the animals were human. He said, “It isn’t simply dominance games, sir.”

    Bloody hell, I’ve polished off my brandy, and the bottles of Handler White we downed with dinner run 14% alcohol! But drunk or sober, he’d tell Stickel the whole truth.

    “I’ve got five hundred spacers who volunteered,” he said aloud. “Who chose to put themselves in my hands. I won’t have it on my conscience that I gave them into the power of a man I don’t trust. But seeing that Mister Robinson is well fitted to be the Milton’s First Lieutenant–”

    Daniel shrugged, really stretching his muscles instead of making a rhetorical gesture. Feeling himself relaxing, he grinned.

    “Quite frankly, sir,” he said, “I’d rather avoid a fight if I can than win one. And this one I could honorably avoid.”

    “The Senate lost a bloody good politician when you joined the RCN, Leary,” Stickel said. “I thought the same about Anston, too. But the real loser both times was Porra and his bloody Alliance of Free Stars. Now–”

    He reached for the brandy bottle.

    “–I don’t mind being poured into bed either.”

    As before, the silent waiter forestalled him.



    Adele started, realizing that the tapping was a footman trying to get her attention. Her study door stood open, but the fellow quite properly had knocked on the frame instead of entering.

    Knocked repeatedly, in fact, which was embarrassing. Adele had been lost in Thirty Years’ Residency in the Veil Stars, a narrative by a Cinnabar merchant of the past century. The events the anonymous writer described were too trivial to be of even historical interest, but Adele had learned that memoirs more accurately gave her the feel of a culture than she could glean from the factual precision of the Sailing Directions and intelligence reports.

    “Yes?” she said. From the way the servant winced, she must have sounded as though she wanted to tear his throat out. She didn’t… though she would rather not have been interrupted, now or generally ever.

    Servants weren’t allowed to touch anything in the study, which was untidy but not disorganized: Adele knew where to find each of the references she was using. The footman’s eyes were on either the parquet flooring or the books and other documents in stacks on it.

    “A Mistress Dorst is below, your ladyship,” he said.

    “Miranda Dorst?” Adele said in surprise. She closed the memoir, using a volume of poetry by the late Headman Terl to mark her place. “Daniel’s dining out tonight, I’m afraid.”

    “She’s asking for you, your ladyship,” the footman mumbled. “From her comments, I believe she knew that Captain Leary would be absent.”

    “Bring her–” Adele said, getting to her feet. “No, I’ll go down. What time is it? Do you suppose she’d like dinner, or… no, never mind that.”

    Chatsworth Minor had been the Mundy townhouse when her father was a Senator. It had been confiscated during the Proscriptions, but the Edict of Reconciliation which was passed ten years later had made it possible for Adele to reclaim the property when she returned from exile.

    The edict, with the machinations of Daniel’s sister Deirdre, had allowed Adele to reclaim the house. Deirdre’s interests were electoral politics and business, subjects which bored her brother to tears. The siblings shared sharp intelligence and cold ruthlessness in gaining their ends, however.

    Adele occupied the second floor of Chatsworth Minor when she was on Cinnabar; Daniel rented the third floor. Her study opened onto the landing, so when she stepped out she could look straight down the staircase to the foyer where Miranda Dorst waited with the doorman.

    “Mistress Dorst?” Adele said. “Ah, Miranda, that is. Please come up–”

    To where? Certainly not the study. To the screened loggia at the back of the suite. The weather was on the cool side, but Miranda wore a short, fur-trimmed cloak and should be perfectly comfortable.

    “Unless, ah, you’d like supper? I’m sure the staff can find something for, ah, us.” What in heaven is she doing here?

    Miranda quick-footed up the stairs, smiling pleasantly toward Adele instead of staring at her feet. She held a package which was of a size to be a slim book or a manuscript.

    “Please, no,” she said. “This won’t be a minute. I really didn’t want to disturb you, but I wanted to give you this in person.”

    “We’ll go onto the porch,” Adele said firmly. Whatever was going on, she wasn’t going to let Daniel’s friend leave a parcel with her and flee into the night without an explanation. “You’ll want to keep your cape. Ah–what would you like to drink?”

    Adele reached behind the door and took the thigh-length jacket she kept on a hook there. Though she hadn’t expected visitors, she was neatly dressed as always. Her tunic and trousers were cut like RCN utilities–loose, soft, and with many pockets–but they were light tan instead of the uniform’s blotched gray.

    “Well, a little sherry?” Miranda said.

    The footman–Adele wasn’t sure of his name–was hovering close. “Sherry, then, on the porch,” she snapped. “And bring the decanter.”

    Tovera was off for the evening. Adele made a point of not learning what her servant did in her free time. There was almost no chance that she’d be happier to know; and if the recreations of a murderous sociopath turned out to involve something that Adele couldn’t accept, the result would be bad all round. Tovera was useful to Adele, useful to Daniel (though he quite reasonably preferred to keep his eyes averted), and useful to the Republic of Cinnabar.

    Which wouldn’t prevent Adele from making an ethical though costly decision if she had to. Therefore she avoided the question.

    Adele led down the hallway, past another sitting room–now a library–a second bedroom–now another library–and the master bedroom, which had room for a number of book cases also. She had an urge to take out her data unit, though it couldn’t possibly tell her anything that had bearing on Miranda’s visit. It could only be a security blanket, and a proper effort of will would suffice in its place.

    A thought made her smile as she opened the door to the loggia. She gestured her guest through.

    “Ah, Adele?” Miranda said, pausing at Adele’s expression.

    “I was thinking that it’s a good sign…,” Adele said. She was generally honest, and though she genuinely liked the girl, it was even more necessary that Miranda know how Officer Mundy’s mind really worked. “That I want to take out my data unit–”

    She tapped the thigh pocket.

    “–instead of reaching into the other pocket.”

    Her left hand lifted the little pistol from her tunic, then let it slip back out of sight. It was light and very flat; you had to know it was there to notice it.

    Miranda nodded, then smiled with what Adele thought was a touch of sadness. “Yes,” she said. “I’m glad that you didn’t think that was necessary too.”

    The loggia was shallow but the full width of the townhouse. It could be lighted to daylight brilliance, but at the moment a strip in the ceiling glowed just brightly enough to show color. The screens were anodized to matte black. They shadowed the vista beyond, but you could see through them even when the porch was illuminated.

    Four wicker chairs with a small round table in the middle stood in line. Adele gestured her guest to a middle chair, then settled herself in the one across the table from it.

    Before either of them could speak, a different footman appeared with two glasses and a decanter. Adele gestured him to set his tray on the table, then waited till the door into the house had closed behind him.

    The servants–all but Tovera–were employed by the Shippers’ and Merchants’ Treasury. The bank rented the townhouse for private meetings when Adele and Daniel were off-planet. Deirdre Leary was the bank’s managing director, and her father was the majority owner.

    Daniel didn’t known that. Adele had long ago learned to live with unpleasant truths when it was necessary. She’d decided that this was necessary.

    “What did you wish to see me about, then?” Adele said as she filled the glasses. She appeared to be giving her whole attention to the task.

    “Adele,” Miranda said. She held the packet in her left hand, not quite offering it but obviously intending to. “My uncle Toby–my mother’s brother–was a district observer for the Beneficial Party. A ward heeler. He retired recently.”

    “I’ve met many officials of the sort,” Adele said dryly. “Not, of course, members of the Beneficial Party. Before each election, my father would give a dinner for his leading supporters. The family was expected to attend these as a mark of honor to his guests. Even those of us–”

    Adele smiled slightly, but it wasn’t comfortable to force her mind back to those days. Even worse was remembering how she’d viewed the world then.

    “–who weren’t at all interested in politics.”

    Adele retained the smile despite the direction her mind was going, because it kept her next words from being too brutally a challenge. “I have a better appreciation of the importance of politics now than I did before the Proscriptions,” she said. “But I only become involved in them as a part of my job.”

    “Yes, I assumed that was the case,” said Miranda. She coughed; she was over five-foot eight inches tall and more athletic than willowy. Adele wonder if she played field sports.



    “Don’t mistake what I’m saying,” Miranda resumed. “Daniel only refers to you as a friend and a trusted colleague. But other people are much more forthcoming about your work or what they imagine your work to be, Adele.”

    “Is that why you’ve come to see me?” Adele said in a deceptively quiet tone.

    “No,” said Miranda. “That’s none of my business, and anyway I don’t care about it.”

    She met Adele’s eyes. Her face was too pleasant to go hard, but she was clearly determined. Neither of them had drunk any of the sherry.

    “Because of my Uncle Toby’s position,” Miranda said, “he could tell me the names of the people who would’ve organized the looting in the wake of the Proscriptions. I went to see them, the leaders, those who were still alive, and I got other names from them.”

    Her voice hadn’t quavered, though she’d seen the pistol. If she’d talked to others about Adele Mundy, then she’d heard stories about the weapon and how Adele had used it.

    “Go on,” said Adele quietly.

    Miranda held out the package in her left hand. “It’s been many years,” she said. “And these weren’t… sophisticated people, Adele. Men, most of them, rough men.”

    “I know the type,” Adele said. Her voice sounded harsh in her own ears, as though it hadn’t been used in… eighteen years. “My father was in politics.”

    “Please,” Miranda said. “Take this. I don’t know, but I thought….”

    Adele took the packet in both hands. The wrapping paper wasn’t sealed or tied. She unwrapped the book inside.

    THE CRYSTAL BOOK OF VERSE FOR CHILDREN, with no editor listed. On the pictorial boards a little girl sat primly under a tree, reading from a book to the boy who sprawled on his belly listening to her. He’d laid his straw hat on the grass beside him.

    Adele felt her eyes tingling. She opened the book carefully. The end papers were decorated with anthropomorphized animals reading. Someone had scribbled on it with crayon, but very neatly printed in white on the upper outside corner was the number 0017.

    “Adele, is it yours?” the other woman said.

    “Yes,” said Adele. She couldn’t see anything, just the overhead glow scattered by her tears. “When I was eight, I catalogued my library. This was the accession number.”

    Miranda stood. “I wasn’t sure,” she said, “but…. Well, I didn’t know what the number meant, but I didn’t think anyone living in Block G on Reed Street had put it there. I’ll be going now.”

    “Wait,” said Adele, standing also. She wiped her eyes with the back of her left wrist. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say, but she knew she couldn’t let the other woman leave without having said something to her. “I…. Thank you, Miranda. This is–”

    She weighed the little book of poetry in her hand.

    “I wasn’t a boisterous child,” she said, “but I was happy enough. I think I was happy. I had an innocence at that age which I suppose I would’ve lost regardless but which was appropriate to the time. And which I remember fondly.”

    Adele cleared her throat, her eyes meeting Miranda’s. “Thank you for returning this,” she said formally.

    Miranda smiled broadly, but she was crying too. “Adele,” she said, glancing aside. “You’ve done so much for Daniel. I know….”

    She shook her head as if to clear debris from it. She looked up and said fiercely, “Daniel’s strong and brave and very clever and I know that. He’s smart enough to use you, Adele. He should, the Republic needs it, and you’re willing–”

    “I’m more than willing!” Adele said.

    “Yes, of course you are!” Miranda said. “But that doesn’t make the price you pay any less, does it? Does it?”

    Her voice softened. “And I thought somebody ought to give you something back,” she said. “I’m glad this little book was–”

    She forced a smile.


    Adele consciously willed herself to relax. After a moment, she succeeded and took a deep breath. “Yes,” she said, “it was a great deal. You’re very perceptive, Miranda.”

    Miranda squeezed Adele’s right hand briefly between the fingers and thumb of her own. “I’m glad,” she said. “But I have to be going now. Mother expects me.”

    “I’ll walk you to the tram stop,” Adele said, reaching for the loggia’s door. To her surprise, Tovera opened it from the inside and nodded courteously.

    “Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Miranda said. “I’m used to travelling alone. I’ll be quite safe. We, ah, haven’t kept servants since Dad died.”

    She reached into a pocket concealed in the cape’s lining and brought out a stubby shock rod, holding it in her fist. A touch with either end on bare flesh would knock the victim into the middle of next week.

    “And I was rather good at lacrosse in school,” she added with pardonable pride. “So even without it I wouldn’t be completely helpless.”

    “Yes, I see,” Adele said, smiling faintly. “I’ll walk you to the street door, then.”

    The doorman watched them coming down the stairs. He didn’t swing the panel open until Tovera, leading with her attaché case in her left hand–though it was closed–nodded to him.

    Miranda stepped outside, then turned and squeezed Adele’s hand again. “Please take care of Daniel, Adele,” she said.

    “Yes,” said Adele. “I’ll try to.”

    She stood with Tovera on the doorstep, watching the young woman taking firm strides toward the tram stop at the head of the close. “Do you want me to go with her anyway?” Tovera said.

    “No, that won’t be necessary,” Adele said. Rather than turning her head, she kept Tovera in her peripheral vision. “I didn’t expect you back so soon.”

    Tovera shrugged. Her lips showed a smile of sorts. “Castillo called me,” she said. Seeing Adele’s blank look, she added, “He’s your butler. They were a little worried.”

    “Worried?” said Adele in surprise, now staring at her servant. “About Miranda?”

    Tovera shrugged again. “They didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said. “Sometimes people like to have me around when they aren’t sure what’s happening.”

    Appearing to watch Miranda at the lighted stop, she added, “They like you, mistress, the staff does. They worry, and they’re very proud of you.”

    “I don’t understand,” Adele said. “Proud of Daniel, you mean?”

    “They think they’re Mundys, mistress,” Tovera said. “Whoever pays their wages, they think they’re retainers of Mundy of Chatsworth. The cook’s helper knows your biography backward and forward. Even if you don’t know their names.”

    “I will know their names before I go to sleep,” Adele said quietly. “I may need your help going over them.”

    A computer-guided tramcar pulled onto the siding and stopped; its magnetic levitators clacked against the overhead rail. Miranda got on and the car hissed off into the night again.

    “Captain Leary has a clever one there, mistress,” Tovera said.

    “Yes,” said Adele. She looked at the Crystal Book of Verse for Children until her vision blurred again. “And a very smart one.”

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