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In The Stormy Red Sky: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 07:12 EST



Hereward Harbor, Paton

    Daniel had decided that they would walk rather than take a taxi or a bumboat to the Spezza, because he’d thought it would give him and the midshipmen a better feel for the harbor. That was doubtless true, but the morning sun seemed very bright, and every time his left heel struck the esplanade, a hot ice pick jabbed up his right nostril. Porphyrion wasn’t nearly as enticing a beverage on the morning after as it’d seemed yesterday afternoon.

    “Good day, sir!” he called to the watchman’s shack. The gate was swung back against the chain-link fence on both sides, but he didn’t think it was politic to simply walk in.

    The figure within sat far enough back from the window that Daniel couldn’t determine even gender without pulling up the imaging goggles he wore around his neck. Because he and the two midshipmen were in their 2nd Class uniforms, they couldn’t properly wear commo helmets… and they couldn’t properly leave the ship in their utilities.

    Under other circumstances Daniel might’ve been more concerned with what was practical than what was proper, but he was introducing himself to the commander of an allied military unit. And of course he had to consider Senator Forbes’ presence. She hadn’t been hostile to him thus far during the voyage, but she was angry enough at life and her present circumstances that he didn’t want to give her an opportunity to force his superiors to crucify him.

    A youngish man stuck his head from the shack to look at them. His khaki shirt had a breast patch and might’ve been a uniform. He didn’t speak.

    “We’re from the Milton,” Daniel said, gesturing back in a general way toward the cruiser’s berth. “I’m Captain Leary, and these are Midshipmen Cory and Else. We were told that Captain Kelly of the Spezza could use our help. And Colonel Stockheim, the commander of the regiment the Spezza’s supposed to be transporting.”

    “Oh,” said the watchman, nodding wisely. “They’re in Berth CT7. You can’t miss ‘em, that’s the big one.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Daniel called as he and his officers strolled into the Cone Transport reservation.

    “Why did they fence it all all like this?” Else asked quietly, as though she were afraid that the watchman would come running out after them if he didn’t like the question.

    “Cone Transport has all twelve berths on the east end of the harbor,” Daniel said, “so it’s reasonable that they’d have some sort of security here.”

    He cleared his throat and added, “Which, if I’d been thinking more clearly, I would’ve anticipated. I hadn’t appreciated the degree to which Cone Transport is involved in this operation. I’m glad my lack of preparation didn’t lead to embarrassment.”

    In a normal voice, keeping his face deadpan, he added, “While I have the highest respect for my Millies, I wouldn’t have wanted to have to shoot our way in against a regiment of the Brotherhood of Amorgos.”

    Cory’s face worked. He managed to hold the laughter in till he saw Else’s stricken expression; then it burst out in a loud guffaw, which he smothered with both hands. “Sorry, sir,” he muttered through his laced fingers.

    “It’s all right to laugh at your captain’s jokes, Cory,” Daniel said. “In fact, it’s generally regarded as a career-enhancing activity.”

    “Sir, I’m sorry,” said Else, looking as though she’d just been told to choose between impalement and boiling in oil. “I mean, sir…. Sir, I’ve heard the stories about you and the Princess Cecile. I didn’t know you were joking.”

    “The stories are exaggerated, Else,” Daniel said, making the point he’d deliberately set up with the absurd suggestion. “I don’t expect to issue small arms to the crew at all on this voyage. Remember that we’re carrying an embassy to a friendly power.”

    The Spezza was twice the size of the next-largest ship in the Cone reservation, so even a six-year-old landsman would’ve been able to identify her with as little difficulty as Daniel had. The floating bridge to her boarding ramp had been extruded from beige foam with red edges, the Cone Transport colors. There was a guard at the pier end of the ramp, which was normal; but it was a squad of fully armed soldiers in battledress, and they’d set up an automatic impeller on a tripod whose legs were weighted with sandbags.

    “Isn’t that a little excessive?” said Cory, showing that his mind had turned in the same direction as Daniel’s. He was seeming more and more like a midshipman who was due promotion.

    “Well…,” said Daniel. “Brotherhood troops have a very high reputation. Perhaps they gained it by not taking any unnecessary chances, hey?”

    “Like your spacers, sir?” Cory said. “I mean, not taking any chances that aren’t necessary to win.”

    “I wouldn’t have put it that way, Cory,” Daniel said. “But now that you have, I don’t disagree.”

    The soldiers hadn’t been lounging before, but now most of them watched the RCN officers intently. Two had faced around to keep the bow and stern of the ship under observation, however. If raiders came around the transport while Daniel and the midshipmen were attempting a distraction, they’d be met with an immediate burst of slugs.

    Only a few moments after Daniel and his party had turned onto the pier, a tall, flagpole-straight man came out of the Spezza’s boarding hatch. Like the guards, he wore battledress patterned in black and dark greens; only his short gray beard implied that he was a senior officer. He wasn’t running, but his legs scissored at a rate that brought him to the guardpost while Daniel was still ten yards away.

    “I’m sorry, sirs,” the officer called. He didn’t sound sorry–about much of anything. “This berth is under the control of the Brotherhood of Amorgos at present. No civilians are permitted past this point.”

    The guards held their automatic carbines slanted across their chests. They weren’t overtly threatening, but they looked very ready for action.

    “Factor Amberly requested the assistance of the Veil authorities with what he said was an astrogation problem,” Daniel said. He halved the distance and then stopped, clasping his arms at his waist; Cory and Else halted a pace back, one to either side. “And Governor Das passed the matter on to the RCN, so we’re here. I’m Captain Leary of the Milton, and these are two of my officers. We were to ask for Captain Thomas Kelly, but if you’d prefer that we not involve ourselves…?

    The officer shook his head in disgust. “Amberly should have told me and I’d have warned you,” he said. “That is….”

    He straightened. “Captain Leary, please come aboard. I’m Colonel Thomas Stockheim of the Sixth Phratry, at your service.”



    A smile lifted the left side of Stockheim’s mouth. “Better,” he said, “I should say that I’m very glad that you’re offering your services. Your male companion is welcome also, but–”

    All traces of the smile vanished.

    “–we cannot permit the other person aboard a Brotherhood vessel, even a hired vessel. Factor Amberly was remiss, and not for the first time. I’m very sorry if this seems a discourtesy, but I have no choice.”

    “Ah!” said Daniel. He did know that about the Brotherhood, though the fact hadn’t risen into his conscious memory until he tripped over the reality. He’d been thinking of the Spezza and her Hydriote crew, rather than the troops who’d seemed to him to be only cargo. Clearly the troops had their own differing opinion on the matter.

    “Sir?” said Else, touching the data unit cased on her equipment belt. “I can wait by the crane–”

    A heavy crawler with shearlegs folded back over its hull was parked on the esplanade near the head of the pier. She nodded toward it.

    “–and work on the astrogation exercises Mister Robinson set us.”

    Daniel gave her a quick, false smile and nodded. He said, “Yes, that’s a good idea. If we’re going to be any length of time, I’ll contact you.”

    Daniel very much doubted that Else would be working on her astrogation while she waited, but he couldn’t complain. It was his fault that she’d wasted the trip to the Spezza to begin with.

    Else was addicted to the so-called novellas of her home planet, Schopenhauer. According to Adele–who of course had checked–she had brought a library of over a thousand novellas along on the voyage. They uniformly centered on strong, passionate women who were enmeshed in familial duties and the simultaneous loves of at least two angst-ridden men.

    The plots were so uniform that Daniel would’ve guessed that rereading a single novella could easily have taken the place of starting a new one. Electrons didn’t take up much room, however, and the critical variations that Daniel saw in the Matrix were just a blur to untrained eyes.

    “Let’s see what the problem is, then,” he said briskly. “Colonel Stockheim, if you’ll lead? And I suppose–yes, I see a ship’s officer is waiting for us in the entryway.”

    Stockheim made a crisp turn in place and set off down the floating bridge. Daniel fell into step with him as a matter of both courtesy and self-interest.

    The walkway was solid enough to support a utility vehicle, but the colonel’s firm stride made it quiver. If Daniel syncopated Stockheim’s steps, he would set up a rocking couple that would be uncomfortable for both of them. By good luck or intelligence, Cory too matched them step and step.

    The Brotherhood of Amorgos were warrior monks, raised from birth to fulfill the obligations of their homeworld, Thebes, to the Republic of Cinnabar. There was no more gender bias in ordinary Theban society than there was on most civilized worlds–on Cinnabar, say, or Pleasaunce–where the right woman was the equal of a man.

    Soldiers of the Brotherhood, however, lived apart from Theban society while they were being trained. They were then deployed off-world for their entire active careers. When they retired, they taught new recruits and lived in segregated enclaves.

    The Brotherhood paid the contribution Thebes owed to Cinnabar for the privilege of being a member of the Protectorate. The Republic gained ten or a dozen regiments, phratries, of troops as good as any in the human universe.

    And as for the Brothers themselves–they had a home and the respect of the only people whom they acknowledged as peers. Perhaps it was hard on them, perhaps their early training had warped them into something inhuman. But–

    Daniel smiled, with sadness but also pride.

    –spacers had a hard life too, and there wasn’t a man or woman on the Milton who wasn’t proud to be one of the best of the best. Most people, the huge majority of people, had never been members of an elite. They couldn’t understand that those who paid the cost of becoming a Millie or a Brother of Amorgos didn’t regret it; rather, they held everyone else in contempt.

    “Kelly, this is Captain Leary from the warship,” Stockheim said curtly. “He’s going to fix your computer.”

    “There is nothing wrong with my computer,” the Hydriote said in a cold, angry voice that implied they’d already had this discussion a number of times in the past. “The problem is the instruction chip that you provided, Colonel. You provided.”

    He glared at Daniel. “Captain Leary, I am Captain Kelly,” he said. “Come! You will see, and you will tell this landsman that the fault is his.”

    Hydriotes tended to slick, tight garments in pastel colors instead of the drab shapelessness that most spacers wore while on duty. Instead of wearing short jackets and billed caps like most merchant captains, Hydriote officers displayed their rank with crimson sashes, often with a long knife stuck through the folds. They looked barbaric, and it hadn’t been so very long ago that Hydra had been a center of piracy; but they were skilled spacers and famous well beyond their region for the honesty of their captains.

    Instead of taking them up a companionway to the spine, Kelly strode along a corridor toward the bow. To Daniel’s surprise, the transport’s bridge was here on the entrance level. He’d never been on a multi-decked starship before whose bridge wasn’t on the highest level, the A Deck.

    “It is what we do on Hydra,” Kelly said, apparently reading Daniel’s expression correctly. He was probably used to the reaction. “We always build ships this way. It suits us well!”

    “I’ve heard only good about Hydra’s ships and her shippers, Captain,” Daniel said, which was more true than not. The Hydriotes were a clannish lot and, though famously trustworthy for their clients, had a much chancier reputation with those they sold goods to. Still, you could say that about any successful merchant.



    The bridge was roomy and well appointed for a merchant vessel, with two full-function consoles. A Hydriote without the sash of office sat at the one on the port side; he didn’t get up when Kelly led in the visitors.

    “Get out of Captain Leary’s way, Baskert,” Kelly said, jerking a thumb toward the crewman. “Go on, Leary. The chip the colonel there gave me’s already loaded in the system. Take a look at it and tell him!”

    The crewman got up without response; indeed, his face showed no expression. Daniel slid into the bucket seat and brought the console live. It was an Emerson 3, built on Cinnabar some sixty years ago; he found it quite familiar. The short-haul traders whose refits were the bread and butter of Bergen and Associates during peacetime used exactly this sort of unit.

    Daniel ejected the chip and looked it over before he accessed it. It appeared to be a standard route pack, ordinarily used by vessels with less capable computers. Preset routes between fixed points could save hours of computation time.

    Reinserting it, Daniel said, “Colonel Stockheim, you provided the chip, then?”

    “My orders are to hand in the old course chip to a trading house at each planetfall,” the colonel said. “The factor there gives me the course for the next stage and I give it to the captain of the ship we transfer to. The phratry was carried on two vessels coming here to Paton, so I was given two chips on Raulston, the previous stage.”

    He cleared his throat and added, “The factor on Brightsky told me that the chip was delivered to her months ago by the courier who brought the manifests from her central office. Amberly here said the same thing.”

    The console purred. The data appeared to be loading normally. Without looking away from the holographic display–though for the moment that was still a pearly blur–Daniel said, “Were all the factors employed by Cone Transport, then?”

    “What?” said Stockheim. “Oh, I see what you mean. No, on Welwych it was Interstellar Master Traders. And Hartman and something on Brightsky, I think. I could check the unit diary to make sure, if you like?”

    “That won’t be necessary, thank you,” Daniel said. IMT as well as Hartman and James were owned by William Beckford, just as Cone was. There was nothing surprising about that–or even improper, really. A man as wealthy as Beckford used his influence to get contracts which made him even wealthier.

    The console indicated it was ready. Daniel slid the cursor over the RUN button and banged the virtual keyboard with his usual enthusiasm. Instead of the expected course projections, the screen dissolved into pastel snow.

    “You see?” crowed Captain Kelly. “It does the same thing for him! This is garbage, Colonel, garbage. You go back to your factor and tell him so.”

    “Six?” said Cory, making it clear who he was speaking to while keeping the exchange informal. He’d seated himself at the other console. “Might I look at the course pack, please?”

    “You think we didn’t try both consoles, boy?” Kelly said. His angry history with Stockheim heightened his tone. “It’s the chip, I tell you!”

    “Yes sir,” said Cory, calmly. “That’s why I’d like to look at it.”

    Daniel ejected the chip again and stood to hand it directly to Cory instead of passing it through Kelly. He felt more comfortable standing anyway, given the hostile atmosphere. No, Stockheim and Kelly weren’t going to start swinging at one another, but their bristling body language spun Daniel’s subconscious back into the many past fights he’d been involved with.

    Cory inserted the chip; he’d already warmed up the second console. Using a light pen, a much cruder version of the control wands Adele preferred, he began what Daniel thought must be a search of the chip at the physical level.

    Watching a computer run was if anything slightly less interesting than the more traditional watching paint dry. “Colonel, Captain?” Daniel said, as much as anything a way to prevent the two men from glaring at one another. “Were you given any explanation for these movement orders? That is, a preset route instead of a destination? A ship as capable as the Spezza–”

    He nodded to Kelly with a friendly smile.

    “–could certainly have computed her own course, and I’d expect that to be true of any vessel big enough to carry your regiment. Or even half of it.”

    Stockheim shrugged. He seemed to appreciate the reduced emotional temperature. “We’re soldiers,” he said. “We’re used to not being told very much. Usually I’d have heard something, though, but not on this mission.”

    He offered Captain Kelly a half-smile. “Every ship’s captain that carried us asked me the same thing,” he said. “Kelly here did. I couldn’t tell them anything. Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.”

    “Think Amberly could tell us something if we asked in the right way?” said Kelly, quirking an eyebrow.

    “No,” said Stockheim with a quick shake of his head. “The only solution he sees is to request further instructions from his home office in Xenos, and he’s more afraid of doing that than he is of me. Unless you can fix this, Captain Leary–”

    A glance and nod.

    “–he is going to make that request. But that will take a month, I’m sure.”

    Daniel nodded pleasantly. Interesting to see that Kelly’s “the right way” didn’t suggest bribery to Stockheim. On the other hand, Kelly may not have been thinking of bribery either; the dagger in his sash wasn’t a gilded showpiece.

    “All right!” said Cory. He turned at the console, beaming. “Six–sirs, I mean. I found it. The chip’s been encrypted, that’s all.”

    “Why in buggering hell is that?” said Kelly.

    “You can fix it, then, Midshipman?” said Stockheim simultaneously.

    “Six, may I…?” Cory said.

    “Go ahead, Cory,” Daniel said. The boy was bursting to explain, but he didn’t want to put a foot wrong. “I’m well out of my depth.”

    “Sirs, there are two folders on the chip,” Cory said.

    “Two courses?” Kelly said. “Did they tell you that, Stockheim?”

    “Sir, I don’t know if they’re two courses,” Cory said, determinedly getting the explanation in before his seniors went off on a pointless tangent. “I don’t know whether either is really course data. And the why is that I think one of them was supposed to be encrypted–”

    He gestured toward the colonel.

    “–maybe for the factor on the other end who’d receive it. But whoever did it was sloppy, and part of the other folder’s encrypted also. I can get some of the data out of it, but not the basic parameters. It wouldn’t be garbage, but it wouldn’t be useful anyway.”

    “You can fix it, though?” repeated Stockheim. “Decrypt it?”

    “No sir,” said Cory. He sounded triumphant, and he looked as happy as Daniel had ever seen him. “But Signals Officer Mundy can. She’s on the Milton now.”

    “Ah!” said Daniel brightly. Everyone on the bridge looked at him.



    Daniel was confident that Adele would need only the course pack, but there might be other useful information aboard the Spezza… and besides, it suited Captain Daniel Leary to give the Brotherhood of Amorgos a little lesson in civilized behavior.

    “Yes, I’m sure Officer Mundy will be able to solve this, gentlemen,” Daniel said. “I’m afraid the solution comes at what you will consider a heavy price, Colonel, but sometimes that’s the way. Military men like you and me are used to paying heavy prices, aren’t we?”

    He gave Stockheim a hard smile. “I’ll summon her immediately.”



    The freighter’s boarding ramp loomed before them as they splashed across the harbor. “Hang on tight!” called Dasi, the driver–the coxswain?–of the amphibious truck. Adele gripped her bench, but Barnes, seated inside her, reached around with both arms and clamped his hands on the sidewall.

    “Yee-hah!” the two riggers cried together. The front pair of the vehicle’s six wheels jolted onto the ramp in a spray of water and unidentifiable flotsam. The tires gripped and the truck continued to crawl the rest of the way up. The water-jet in the stern whirred till the middle wheels were clear also.

    “That’s far enough!” Daniel shouted from the entry hatch. He circled his index finger at Dasi before making a chopping gesture.

    Whether or not Dasi heard the words, he knew what his captain had in mind. He swung the truck broadside to the slope and brought it creaking to a halt. The fins of the idling diesel rang like an ill-tuned wind chime.

    “See, safe as houses, ma’am!” Barnes said, beaming as he stood and swung up the half-hatch behind them. “Here, let me get the steps.”

    “I could probably get out without breaking my neck, Barnes,” Adele said with a tinge of irritation, but that wasn’t fair. Probably, yes, but by no means certainly. The crew knew that their captain demanded that Adele certainly not break her neck.

    Since Adele’s earliest days with the RCN, Woetjans had made her safety the responsibility of Barnes and Dasi. There was no question that the common spacers respected Adele, but they also considered her–to quote Daniel, a countryman to the bone–as awkward as a hog on ice.

    She felt herself grin as she dismounted from the vehicle, holding her case of specialized equipment in her left hand. Daniel caught the expression and said, “Officer Mundy?”

    “I was wondering, Captain,” Adele said, “whether I could find imagery of a hog on ice. I wasn’t raised on a farm, you see.”

    “Umm,” said Daniel, deadpan. “I have a trained librarian on my staff, Mundy. I’ll set her to the problem as soon as she’s completed her current tasks. I’m glad to see you made it safely.”

    “So am I,” said Adele. “Though drowning is supposed to be a relatively painless way to die.”

    Tovera got out on the other side. She swung down one-handed, holding her case–which on the outside was deceptively similar to Adele’s–by the other. The vehicle stood high enough on its all-terrain tires. Adele had to admit that the Dasi’s support really was helpful, since she didn’t intend to let her code breaking paraphernalia out of her hand.

    “I noticed that. May I ask, Dasi,” said Daniel, his tone making it clear that he was asking and that he’d have an answer, too, “why the bloody hell you didn’t bring Officer Mundy by the concrete esplanade?”

    “Chief Pasternak said there’s two of these cars on a cruiser’s complement,” Dasi said, grinding his right boot toe onto the ramp. “But nobody’s tried them out on water yet, so Barnes and me thought….”

    Both riggers looked off into the sky at angles.

    “Use better judgment in the future, spacers,” Daniel said quietly. “I know you wouldn’t survive the loss of Officer Mundy, so I won’t offer any pointless threats. But use better judgment.”

    “Sorry, Six,” Dasi muttered to empty air. Barnes scowled and nodded, fiercely in both instances.

    “Come,” said Adele, her tone sharpened by embarrassment. “Let’s get to the matter at hand.”

    With Daniel in the hatchway were Cory, a barbaric-looking spacer, and a very fit older man in battledress. The last wore a large pistol with a fold-down front grip in a belt holster; it was either fully automatic or it threw a much heavier slug than most handguns.

    Adele smiled faintly. If you put most rounds in your target’s eye, you could generally make do with a pocket pistol.

    “My name’s Kelly,” said the spacer, “and the Spezza’s mine–mine and my uncles’. If you can get us on our way, Mundy, there’ll be a bottle of something choice for you.”

    He turned and started across the entrance hold. “And you, Leary,” he added over his shoulder.

    “Wait a minute,” said Stockheim with growing anger. “Leary, what do you mean by this? Both of these persons are female!”

    Daniel and the Hydriote continued walking. Adele had no intention of responding–she was aboard ship by invitation of its captain and by Daniel’s orders. But–

    “Technically you might be correct, Colonel Stockheim,” Tovera said. “But please don’t let your hormones lead you into unprofessional conduct.”

    “What!” said Stockheim. The exclamation was no more a question than that of a man who’s set his hand on a hot burner.

    “Tovera is my assistant, Colonel,” Adele said, following the two captains onto the bridge. “I choose–” she wasn’t going to lie for this purpose and claim Tovera’s presence was necessary “–to have her with me.”

    Stockheim crossed his hands behind his back. He stood as stiffly as if he were before a firing squad, but he met Adele’s eyes. “Captain Leary has already pointed out to me that beggars can’t be choosers,” he said. “And I mean no offense to you personally, Officer Mundy. It’s just that we of the Brotherhood regard women as occasions of sin.”

    Another spacer was seated at the right-hand console. He rose with an ill-natured grunt when Kelly jerked a thumb in his direction, and Adele sat down in his place.



    Adele took a chip from her case and inserted it into a slot beside the one holding the route pack. On her way to the transport she’d been discussing the problem with Cory over an intercom channel, using the Milton herself as a base unit. She had a pretty good idea which key would provide the solution; but if not, she had several hundred alternatives already prepared.

    “You needn’t worry, Colonel,” she said as the console worked. It was slower than a first-line RCN unit, but no computer which could handle astrogation could be called slow. “I assure you that I have no more inclination toward sin, as you put it, than this console does.”

    She patted the fascia plate with her right hand.

    “So you may as well disregard my gender, just as I do.”

    Having finished linking the console to her personal data unit, Adele leaned back and watched its display form. She preferred to use her wands for control; but more important in this instance, she could set the hologram so that it was focused only for her own eyes. She didn’t want the others, particularly Stockheim, to know that she was sweeping up all the information in the Spezza’s system, but neither did she want to seem obviously secretive.

    Stockheim snorted, but he didn’t speak.

    “You travel with twenty-three women, Colonel, Tovera said. Her voice sounded like scales rustling on a slate floor. “They’re in the warehouse with your troops right now. According to the manifest, you left a twenty-fourth woman behind on Brightsky when she broke her leg in a fall.”

    “You hellspawn!” Stockheim said, and everything moved very quickly. Stockheim stepped forward, his right hand rising. He slammed chest to chest into Daniel, who hadn’t been there a moment before, and bounced back.

    Cory grabbed Stockheim’s right arm; Stockheim twitched like a dog shaking and flung the midshipman against a bulkhead. Kelly pricked the back of the colonel’s neck with his dagger and shouted, “Enough! This is my bloody bridge! All of you, enough!”

    Stockheim turned without jerking his head away. The dagger-point nicked his ruddy-brown skin before Kelly drew it back.

    “Your pardon, Captain,” the soldier said in a rusty voice. “You are of course right; this is your bridge.”

    “And the lady’s right about the manifest,” said Kelly, thrusting the dagger back into his sash with a quick enthusiasm that should’ve ripped the fabric if it didn’t split the pelvis besides. “Which is no secret to anybody who wants to look it up at port control. So I don’t see why you’d be flying hot anyhow, eh?”

    Adele slipped the pistol back into her pocket, then picked up the wand she’d dropped onto the floor. She returned to the encrypted data, breathing through her open mouth. With luck no one was paying attention to her.

    Well, no one who didn’t know her already. She always forgot how quick Daniel was until she saw him move again in a crisis.

    Tovera provoked this because she was angry, Adele thought. But she shouldn’t be able to feel anger any more than she could feel love. Could a sociopath really learn to be human?

    “The women, as you put it,” said Stockheim, facing the empty corridor, “are a detachment of Intercessors. Their purpose, their vocation, is to bring the individual Brethren in touch with Godhead as required by our humanity.”

    His eyes swept the others on the bridge; Adele was watching through a pickup in the other console so that she didn’t appear to be involved in the discussion. Stockheim was both angry and defensive, but he’d brought his emotions back under tight rein.

    “The Brothers of Amorgos aren’t saints,” he said. “We’re men as the Gods made all men: sinful. If you want to mock us for being as you are, do so. We’ll continue to do our duty, regardless of laughter and insult.”

    “No one’s mocking, Colonel,” Daniel said, rubbing his chest with the fingers of his left hand. The two men had collided like tree trunks in a windstorm… though it was the soldier who’d recoiled. “We’re here to help you, after all.”

    Adele removed her key and replaced it carefully in the attaché case. She rose from the console, aware that all present were looking at her.

    “I believe that will take care of the problem, Captain Kelly,” she said, bowing slightly. “I’ve recopied the navigational instructions in clear onto the same chip. You’ll be able to access them normally.”

    “And the other folder that your Cory said was on the chip?” the Hydriote said. “What of that?”

    Adele shrugged. “It’s still there,” she said. “The material didn’t appear to involve your vessel, so I left it as it was.”

    “Then I think we’ve accomplished what we set out to do,” Daniel said, giving everyone a broad smile. “Officer Mundy, your vehicle appears to have ample room for me and the midshipmen as well, so I think we’ll all return to the Millie together.”

    “If I may ask a favor, Captain?” Adele said. “There’s a large public garden at the eastern jaw of this harbor; I’d very much like to see it this morning. If you have time, I’d appreciate it if you could give me some pointers from your background in natural history.”

    “I’d be pleased to, Mundy,” Daniel said. “We should have an interesting discussion.”

    His expression hadn’t changed in any identifiable fashion, but something about it now reminded Adele of the touch of her pistol’s grip.

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