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In The Stormy Red Sky: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Monday, March 2, 2009 00:10 EST



Port Hegemony, Karst

    “Ma’am?” said a voice.

    Adele was aware of the sound in the same way that she noticed the high-frequency flicker in one bank of the overhead lights. It was a mild irritation at the edge her consciousness, unpleasant but nothing that affected her ability to do her job.

    Her job at present was to observe and record events within the audience hall where Headman Hieronymos was receiving the Cinnabar delegation. She’d decided not to alert Daniel to what she’d just learned from the Merkur’s log. His little epaulet communicator couldn’t handle real encryption, and the risk of the incoming message being intercepted by the locals and/or the Alliance mission outweighed the slight possible gain.

    “Ma’am?” the voice repeated.

    “Barnes, don’t bloody interrupt Officer Mundy when she’s busy!” said Cory.

    The unwonted snap of anger from the diffident midshipman focused Adele on her present surroundings in a fashion that Barnes’ own voice had not. She turned and looked up at the rigger, who stood at parade rest.

    Behind Barnes was an uncomfortable-looking man whom Adele didn’t recognize. The stranger wore the usual shapeless clothing common to all spacers, whether they were currently in the merchant service or naval, but there was a black armband with two red stripes on his left sleeve. That marked him as an engineer’s mate–in the Fleet.

    “Ma’am?” said Barnes, his tone changing now that he really had her attention. “This is Doug Triplett. I had the squad guarding the boarding bridge. He come up to us and I called Chief Woetjans. She said I ought to bring him up to you, so that’s what I did. He’s from the Merkur, you see?”

    “Yes,” said Adele, looking the fellow over. “I did see. You want to desert to us, is that it?”

    She wondered if she ought to take the fellow to a private compartment. At this moment, she had to assume he was a spy pretending to desert in order to get inside the Milton. Perhaps he’d been sent to target her specifically.

    Adele smiled coldly; the self-styled deserter winced. He probably wouldn’t have been reassured if he’d realized that she was thinking that it was a good thing that Tovera and Hogg both were absent, because they’d be unhappy if she ordered them not to kill the fellow. And it really shouldn’t be necessary to kill him.

    “Sir,” said Triplett. He stared at his cap as he twisted it in his fingers. Whatever Barnes had told the fellow was enough to have frightened him badly; he wasn’t reacting to a junior warrant officer. “Look, I’m from the Merkur, sure, but I’m not Alliance. I was born in Xenos–”

    “Where in Xenos?” Adele said, deliberately putting him off balance.

    “Ma’am, Sydenham Ward, my dad worked for a ship chandler and for a couple years he owned a bar on the Strip,” Triplett said. “Ah–I enlisted on the old Charybdis, and fifteen years back I deserted. I admit it, I did, but it was because the engineer thought I was seeing too much of his daughter. He’d of killed me, arranged an accident, I know it! So I jumped ship to a Kostroman freighter.”

    “And later enlisted in the Fleet?” Adele said, her voice as dry as a payroll clerk’s. Her eyes were on her display, pretending to be bored by the whole business. She was actually watching an image of Triplett’s face, though the hologram was focused only from her viewpoint.

    “No sir, really that’s not so!” Triplett said. “I was engineer on a customs boat on New Horizon, the Lyn, only listed as Kostroman because, you know, I’d deserted. When Admiral Petersen landed and the Alliance took over, all of us with ratings got transferred to the Fleet–being told, not asked.”

    He made a face as though he’d swallowed something bitter. “The ships’re all right, I grant you that,” he said. “The Merkur’s brand new and a lot roomier than I’d figured for a destroyer, but the crews, they’re crap! Swept outa the slums half of ‘em, not spacers at all. I could see why they grabbed up ratings like they did.”

    “Woetjans thought that, you know…,” said Barnes. “If you said something to Six, ma’am, maybe he could square things about Triplett being a deserter, you know?”

    I think I can do a great deal better myself, Adele thought, by listing him as an intelligence agent. If I choose to do so….

    Aloud she said, “What was your name in RCN service, Triplett?”

    “Rooksby, sir,” the man said. He’d stopped wringing his hat and his expression was one of worshipful pleading. “Paul Alan Rooksby, enlisted in ‘92 and jumped ship in ‘95, the night before the Charybdis was due to lift from Harbor Three.”

    Adele already had full personnel records from Navy House up on her display. They weren’t classified, exactly, but the Milton was probably the only ship in the RCN which had a set of them. If it came to that, Adele was probably the only signals officer in the RCN who was capable of using them to advantage–as now.


    “Sir, I’ll take my knocks for running, I did it sure enough,” Triplett said desperately toward his cap. “But I won’t fight the RCN, I’ll die first if that’s what it is.”

    Adele looked up at him directly. He was stocky and muscular; the scars she could see–he was missing the little finger of his left hand–and the black grit worked deep into the skin of his callused hands proved he was a real Power Room technician, not a Fifth Bureau agent pretending to be one.

    In theory he could still be a spy, one recruited on the spot by Captain Greathouse. The likelihood that anybody found locally would be so good–Triplett’s speech patterns still had touches of Sydenham, the district to the west of Harbor Three–was much slighter than that the man was exactly what he claimed: a deserter who wanted to come home.

    And even if Triplett were a spy, he’d be willing to offer real information at this stage to win Adele’s trust. She could use some information, so… “You mentioned that the Alliance has taken over New Harmony, Triplett,” she said. “How did that come about?”

    “Well, ah…,” Triplett said. “The way I heard the story–from the engineer of the Rasp that was on orbit duty when it all happened, you see?”

    “Yes,” said Adele. She noticed that the bridge had become crowded. Woetjans and Hogg had arrived from the boat hold, which meant they must have started up the companionways as soon as Barnes had called the bosun to ask about Triplett. Blantyre had entered with the new midshipmen–Else, Barrett, and Fink.

    Besides those officers, the A Level corridor was packed with regular crewmen who hadn’t dared enter the bridge but who wanted to hear about the disaster in the Montserrat Stars. If there was bad news going around, spacers liked to learn it as soon as possible. It gave them a better chance to get clear.

    Rene Cazelet hadn’t left the BDC, nor had Cory risen from his seat. Both men were watching the interrogation through the signals console. If Adele for some reason blocked their access, they’d switch to the command console for almost as good a vantage point.

    She smiled, faintly but with pleasure. She’d trained them well.



    When Adele didn’t react further, Triplett smiled shyly. He seemed proud to have an audience. He continued, “Well sir, it was the locals themselves that did it. Not the government, but some of the young men from the old families. The First Blood, they call themselves on New Harmony. The rich folks, pretty much; but not the ones in the government right now.”

    “Go on,” Adele said. She watched the inset of the Angouleme Palace out of the corner of her eye. Nothing seemed to be happening—which itself was important, albeit bad, news. She didn’t dare focus on the imagery while listening to Triplett, though, because he’d provide more detail if he thought she was interested.

    Which of course she was, though there was suddenly a number of things she was interested in.

    “Well, some of them were running privateers,” Triplett said, “raiding shipping from Isfahan and Valigursky, Alliance worlds that’re close by. It looks now like they were meeting with Petersen and the freighters they were saying were prizes, Petersen was giving them to ‘em. To the First Bloods.”

    “I see,” Adele said. She wondered if Petersen had come up with the plan himself. Reports suggested that there was a large contingent of Fifth Bureau personnel operating with his fleet.

    “Well, anyhow, every time they came back from a raid—and there was half a dozen ships that went out one time or another,” Triplett said, “they stopped by the customs boat before they went down to land. And there was usually something good they brought back for the customs crew, you know? Might be some brandy or, or—”

    He looked a little embarrassed. They had been the customs service after all.

    “Well, you know, something good. And we got used to it, so when a privateer came back in-system and Rasp had the duty, they didn’t think nothing of it. They even told the RCN patrol squadron that there’d be a right fine catch of prizes arriving soonest.”

    “What do you mean by ‘the patrol squadron?’ ” Adele said austerely.

    “Ozawa always kept half his ships in orbit,” Triplett said. “And they’d trade off. I, well, I didn’t get close to the crews when I was off-duty. I, you know, I was afraid somebody’d recognize me even after all those years. I don’t mind telling you, I felt sick when a huge bloody RCN fleet showed up on New Harmony and me a deserter. But I kept low and it was all right, at least as long as it went on.”

    “Go on,” said Adele, not giving anything away with her voice.

    “So Skeeter, Skeeter Morne, he was engineer of Rasp, he says the locals linked a sealed walkway like usual and come across,” Triplett said. He was twisting his cap again. “Only this time the packages had guns inside, and when the El-Tee—that was Goldfarb, an old guy and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But he put his hand on the control panel or they thought he was going to and they shot him, just shot him, poor old Goldfarb. Shot him dead.”

    Triplett shook his head. The results of short-range gunfire in weightlessness were beyond the imagination of those who hadn’t seen it happen. Blood went everywhere. That was the thing that had most impressed Adele when all her targets were down and she had time to reflect.

    “And it wasn’t prizes coming in after them,” Triplett said, “it was the whole Alliance fleet. But the duty squadron expected prizes, so they weren’t so quick off the mark as they might’ve been. Even so it might’ve been all right, except when the off-duty squadron started to lift, a harbor defense battery nailed both battleships. With antiship missiles, you know, close enough to spit at. And then it was kitty bar the door.”

    Somebody out in the corridor cried something obscene about backstabbing wogs. The tone of voice was tearful rather than angry; perhaps the speaker had a friend or relative with Admiral Ozawa.

    “Well, the other ships lifting, they got some guns unlimbered quick enough that the First Bloods didn’t have time to reload the launchers of the battery they’d captured.”

    Triplett cleared his throat. “To tell the truth,” he went on, his voice a little quieter, “it got pretty hairy around the harbor for a while. It was just the one battery, you see, but the ships didn’t know that and they shot up most anything till they was too high to do any good. Even the poor old Lyn took one, but it was just four-inch and I’d guess whoever was doing the shooting was half a mile up by then. We could’ve been back in service in a day or two.”

    “And the two battleships in orbit?” Adele said. She’d found that listening closely while the subject told his own story was generally the most effective way to get information, but Triplett seemed to be slipping into a reverie on his days in the New Harmony customs service. It had been a comfortable life and must in the spacer’s current troubles seem a lost Paradise.

    “Yeah, well, when the Heidegger and Hobbes crashed in the harbor, there wasn’t much hope for the ships already aloft,” Triplett said, nodding three times in emphasis. “From what Skeeter says, whoever had the patrol squadron told the light ships to run while the Locke and the Aquinas stayed to fight. Petersen wouldn’t worry about cruisers and little stuff while there was battleships launching at him. They lasted long enough for the rest to get away, most of ‘em. Even the ones lifting off when it all popped.”

    His face scrunched into a worried frown. “On the Merkur I heard people talking like the survivors ran to Cacique,” he said. “But they didn’t know, they was just guessing. Petersen didn’t chase them, he landed enough ships to put things his way on the ground. And he sent the Merkur off to Karst here to tell the new Headman about it. As I guess you figured.”

    “Yes,” said Adele, “I did.”

    Cacique was the main RCN base in the Montserrat Stars, four or five days’ travel from New Harmony. The Alliance spacers might have been guessing, but it was an obvious guess.

    Adele considered. She had a great deal of experience in learning unpleasant facts. This was just another sequence of them. She smiled faintly: it was certainly an impressive sequence, though.

    “Woetjans,” she said, “find a place for Triplett in one of your watches, if you will. When Captain Leary returns, he may make other arrangements.”

    This wasn’t under a signals officer’s purview. Adele wasn’t acting as a signals officer at the moment.

    “Ah, sir?” Triplett said. “I can put my hand to most anything on a ship, sure. But I’ve got a Power Room rating.”

    “Yes,” said Adele, “and very possibly you’ll be transferred to the Power Room at some future point. But not at present.”

    “Oh!” said Triplett, wilting under her icy smile. A saboteur in the Power Room could do a great deal of damage if he waited for the right time. “Yessir, sure. I’m not a spy or anything, but sure, I see.”

    Triplett left the bridge between Woetjans and Barnes. In the corridor, spacers babbled questions about the battle at him.

    Vesey rose to her feet at the navigation console. She nodded to Adele, silent acceptance of her disposition of the deserter. “Back to your duties, the rest of you,” she ordered sharply.

    The order wasn’t directed at Adele, but she’d already returned to her proper business. At the moment, that meant watching what was going on in the Angouleme Palace. Her face, already set in its usual firm lines, became a little more grim.




The Angouleme Palace, Karst

    Daniel stood at parade rest, looking down the audience hall with a faint, friendly smile. The Headman’s court had the gaudy enthusiasm of prism bugs swarming, or perhaps of a peasant wedding. A Cinnabar gentleman didn’t take this sort of thing seriously, of course, but it made an amusing display.

    “Rise, Chieftains Harry Holland and Dennis Little,” said the official standing on the platform of the gilded–or even golden? Adele would know–throne. “Hear the wisdom of his holy majesty Headman Hieronymos.”

    The Enunciator’s voice was piped through a public address system with a good deal of distortion. The hall’s acoustics weren’t impressive, since the pillars and the ceiling coffers muddied the words. Mind, in the present company it would’ve been a surprise if the setting were any better.

    “Chieftain Holland, Chieftain Little!” said Hieronymos. He looked like a child being engulfed by a golden robe and turban, but his voice was clear and as strong as that of his Enunciator. “You may rise to hear my judgment.”

    The throne was on a three-step platform, gold like most of the hall’s other trappings. The Enunciator was immediately below the Headman, while on the wings of the broad bottom stage sat a man and a woman on less ornate, silver-covered, chairs.

    The silver-clad woman had a regal, utterly bored, expression. She was young but not, if Daniel was judging correctly, as young as Hieronymos. The plump, middle-aged man wore garments slashed with black and silver stripes. His lips smiled, and his eyes were as cruel as a cat’s.

    “That arrogant little worm,” hissed Senator Forbes, who stood between Daniel and Lieutenant Commander Robinson at the back of the hall. “If he goes on like this, he may find himself the first man in three hundred years that the Republic has flayed and stuffed with straw!”

    The two petitioners–Daniel didn’t know what the term “Chieftain” implied, and it wouldn’t be practical to ask Adele at present–had been kneeling beneath the throne, both hands on top of their lowered heads. Now they rose to their feet.

    They were wearing what looked like military uniforms, but so was almost everyone else in the audience hall. Given the variety of styles and bright colors, always complemented by metallic braid, this must be civilian fashion on Karst: the Hegemony couldn’t possibly have that many different military organizations.

    Daniel hoped the locals standing nearby hadn’t heard the ambassador’s whispered reference to the execution of the Burghers of Rainham, or anyway hadn’t heard it clearly. Not that there wasn’t justification for her anger: when the Cinnabar delegation entered the hall, an usher had barred their way forward with his gilded staff.

    Daniel’s smile spread a little wider. For a moment, he’d thought Forbes was going to feed the usher his staff by the back way. After that, well, Dress Whites weren’t ideal for a fight and Hogg wasn’t present to watch the young master’s back, but Tovera out in the anteroom would no doubt prove useful if the need arose.

    The need wouldn’t arise. Forbes might be harshly insulting, but she wouldn’t have risen to prominence in the Senate if she’d been in the habit of brawling with servants.

    “Chieftain Holland, you entrusted three thousand tonnes of dried fish to Chieftain Little,” the Headman said, his tone as portentous as that of a man speaking of the world’s coming doom. “Chieftain Little, you shipped the fish to Cameron on a vessel owned by your brother-in-law in accordance with your undertaking to dispose of the fish at your sole cost and expense, with half the profit to accrue to you. The ship never reached Cameron.”

    The chieftains were bobbing their heads in agreement. Little wore a bright green outfit with gold braid on the seams and a fourragere; Holland’s jacket was black, but his kepi and trousers were puce and he had just as much gold ornamentation as his rival. The hall more reminded Daniel of an ill-arranged garden than it did a real courtroom.

    “He’s holding us up to discuss fish,” Forbes hissed. But of course he wasn’t: Hieronymos–or the grinning shark below him–kept the Cinnabar delegates waiting to demonstrate his contempt. He probably thought he was demonstrating power as well, but an RCN officer knew that real power wasn’t a matter of words and precedence.

    “After consultation with my learned advisors…,” the Headman said. The plump scoundrel below the throne smirked to the audience. “I have decided that because Chieftain Little didn’t sell the fish, he has failed in his contract. Chieftain Little must pay the full Karst value of the fish to Chieftain Holland.”

    “This is unjust!” Little cried, raising his fists skyward in a theatrical gesture. He didn’t sound really upset, however. It seemed likely enough that he and his brother-in-law knew more about where the cargo had gone than appeared in the official report. “May the Gods justify me!”

    “In addition,” Hieronymos said, “Chieftain Little forfeits the profit expected had the shipment been sold on Cameron as a fine to the Hegemony, as represented by my august person. The audience is hereby at an end.”

    “What?” said Little. “This is criminal! Scully, you took my money, you slimy bastard!”

    Little lunged toward the greasy courtier. Four attendants converged on him; they wore cloth-of-gold tabards, but their electromotive carbines were quite functional. They tripped the disgruntled chieftain, then beat him silent with their gun butts before dragging him out. The woman in silver turned her expressionless face to follow the bleeding victim.

    It’s always a mistake to underbribe an official, Daniel thought. He continued to smile, but what he’d just seen reminded him of maggots fighting in offal.

    Hieronymos murmured in the ear of his Enunciator, who straightened and boomed, “His holy majesty Headman Hieronymos will now hear the worshipful envoys of the Republic of Cinnabar!”

    Senator Forbes strode forward, her arms crossed before her. The usher hopped out of her way a little more quickly than perhaps he’d intended to; that saved his shins a knock from the thick sole of the buskin which, worn beneath Forbes formal robes, added three inches to her modest height.

    Daniel and Lieutenant Robinson stepped off to the Senator’s right and left, keeping a pace behind her out of courtesy. Besides, to catch up they’d have to run, which would still further increase the affair’s resemblance to farce.

    Daniel had never been good at formal drill, but fortunately Robinson was. By matching his step to his First Lieutenant’s thirty-inch strides, they were able to look professional, though the Senator drew noticeably ahead along the fifty yards of aisle to the base of the throne. There she waited, her arms still crossed, while the RCN officers completed the necessary three further paces to flank her again.

    “Headman Hieronymos!” Forbes said. “Your grandfather came down from his seat to meet the representatives of Cinnabar, as befits all who wish to retain the Republic’s good will.”

    Her voice wasn’t being amplified. The officials in front of her would have no difficulty understanding, but the audience in general was going to find her address a muddy hash. Knowing that probably made Forbes tone even more raspingly angry than usual.

    “A great deal has changed since Headman Terl’s day,” said the official in black and silver. “Terl was an old man, perhaps too old to properly hold such a responsible position long before he passed.”

    Forbes turned slightly toward the official, then back to Hieronymos with the precision of a lathe making a cut. “I am here on behalf of my government,” she said, “to speak of the Headman of the Hegemony. Not with some fat flunky!”

    Hieronymos continued to look straight ahead. The Enunciator, obviously briefed for this ahead of time, said, “His holy majesty Headman Hieronymos chooses to speak through the person of his trusted councillor, Chieftain of Chieftains Scully.”

    “His holy majesty Headman Hieronymos conveys his deepest sympathy to you, Mistress Forbes,” Scully said. If his voice were any smoother, there’d have been oil dripping from the corners of his mouth. “He knows that the complete destruction of your republic’s forces in the Montserrat Stars is a tragedy rarely if ever equalled since time immemorial. How your hearts must ache! How your cities will grieve, while your enemies rejoice!”



    Daniel felt a sudden hot buzzing under his skin as though he were about to faint. They wouldn’t say that if there weren’t something behind it.

    Forbes had no such concerns. “Where did you hear this arrant twaddle?” she demanded. Her eyes were riveted on the Headman. “Has your dog here taken leave of his senses, boy?”

    “I take no offense, Mistress…,” said Scully. Despite the easy words, his smirk looked somewhat the worse for wear. “Since I realize you’re ignorant rather than merely boorish. Captain Greathouse, will you and your colleagues come forward and inform these poor folk from Cinnabar?”

    Three men in bright green and gold stepped from a doorway concealed behind the throne. Any one of them would’ve fit in with the crowd of courtiers in the body of the hall, but three together meant they were in uniform; specifically, the dress uniform of officers in the Alliance Fleet.

    “Captain Stewart Greathouse,” said Scully, still grinning at Forbes but gesturing toward the Alliance officers with his right hand. “And his aides, the Lieutenants Chieftain Brian and Melvin Cohen.”

    Greathouse was well over six feet tall and built in proportion to his height. Though bulky, he moved as smoothly as a fighting bull. There was a long purple scar on his right cheek. It continued to the point of his chin, whitening a wedge of his otherwise-black beard. His eyes glanced across Robinson and Forbes, but they lingered for a time on Daniel Leary.

    The slender, blond, Cohen brothers had girlishly pretty features. They were in their mid-twenties, but if the lighting were helpful they could pass for teenagers. They gave the Cinnabar contingent practiced sneers as they followed Captain Greathouse to the front of the throne. All three fell forward, abasing themselves as abjectly as the Hegemony citizens had done earlier.

    “Rise, my brothers from the Alliance!” said the Headman, speaking for himself. “Inform these visitors of how you crushed your enemies in the Montserrat Stars.”

    Greathouse rose with the ponderous grace of a starship lifting. He bowed low to Hieronymos, then turned to face the Cinnabar envoys. His eyes were on Daniel, not on Senator Forbes.

    “Gladly, your holy majesty,” Greathouse said. Directional microphones picked up and amplified his voice, but that thunderous bass could’ve filled the hall without support. “The enemy was in force on the world of New Harmony. My friend and superior Admiral Petersen isn’t the sort to dally. He gathered his forces and struck for the enemy’s heart.”

    “We ground them to dust!” cried one of the Cohens. The operator of the parabolic mike picked him up in mid-phrase. “When a battleship explodes, it looks like a star, and there were four of the Cinnabar rascals exploding together. It was like the Feast of the Guarantor’s Birthday on Pleasaunce!”

    “Yes,” said Greathouse, still watching Daniel. He wasn’t gloating, but made his delivery all the more believable. “We caught the Locke and Aquinas in orbit and crushed them. The Heidegger and Hobbes tried to join the action, but they were still climbing out of the gravity well when we destroyed them. They fell into the harbor.”

    Greathouse shrugged. “A few of the smaller RCN ships got away,” he went on, “but that’s temporary; we’re chasing them down now. And of course those few worlds of the cluster who hadn’t already joined the Alliance did so since the victory.”

    That could be a complete fabrication, Daniel thought, but the Veil is too close to the Montserrat Stars for deception to last more than a few days. Unless Petersen has a very short-term objective, the story is basically true.

    “Well, Captain Leary?” jeered the boy on the throne. “What do you have to say to that?”

    “I have nothing to say to that, your majesty,” Daniel said. His words weren’t being miked. Well, he hadn’t thought they would be.

    He turned very deliberately to face the belly of the hall. Hieronymos and his flunkies would still be able to hear him; and if they thought they were being insulted, so much the better.

    “I am an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy!” he boomed. He’d learned to project his voice while calling to shore from a small boat off the coast of Bantry. He might not sound as honey-smooth as a practiced orator, but by thunder! they’d hear him at the back of the hall. “We’re not in the habit of getting our facts from officers of the Alliance, whom we’ve defeated so many times in the past!”

    “Come along, men!” Senator Forbes said. She turned on her heel, crisply but with more vehemence than an Academy drill instructor would’ve approved. “This is no place for Cinnabar nobles who value their reputations.”

    This certainly didn’t work out well, Daniel thought as they strode along. That was nothing new to a spacer, of course. When he was outside the audience chamber, he’d be able to start serious planning; which left the problem of getting outside, of course.

    The central aisle had seemed long when he and Robinson followed the Senator down to the throne. It seemed a great deal longer in the other direction with Daniel’s shoulders prickling against the possibility of a shot.

    Or perhaps rotten fruit. That would be even more embarrassing, though more survivable as well. He didn’t suppose the Headman’s petitioners attended his levees with rotten fruit, though, or that they were permitted to attend with guns. There was still a risk that Hieronymos would order his guards to shoot the Cinnabar envoys, but that was unlikely even for an arrogant, rather stupid, boy.

    Daniel grinned. The usher who’d barred their way to the throne watched them from the doorway. When he saw Daniel’s cheerful expression, he backed aside in growing horror.

    Daniel threw the double doors open for his companions. Still smiling, he tossed the usher a salute as they went out. Generally his salutes looked as though he were trying to learn fly-fishing, but this time it was uncommonly sharp.

    The soldiers, some of them probably guards, in the antechamber were just as bored and relaxed as they’d been when the Cinnabar contingent arrived. They and the civilians–aides, courtiers, and loungers who could afford good enough clothes to enter the palace–watched the envoys leave with the same mild interest that they’d have given dogs walking across the room, and a good deal less than if the dogs had been mating instead. Tovera was almost invisible among the gaily colored rabble.

    “A communicator!” Daniel said, holding out his right palm. Tovera tossed him the standard RCN unit she held ready, then put her hand back inside the attaché case as she fell in behind the envoys.

    They crossed the antechamber. “Signals, this is Six,” Daniel said. He was taking some risk in speaking before they were at least out of the building, but he very much doubted that anybody on Karst would be able to crash whatever encryption Adele and her servant were using. “I need any information you’ve gotten on recent events in the Montserrat Stars, over.”

    “Captain, this is intolerable!” Senator Forbes said in her buzz-saw voice. “We’ll return to Xenos immediately and–”

    To Daniel’s utter amazement, Mister Robinson touched the tips of his left index and middle fingers to the Senator’s mouth. “Aunt Bessie,” he said, “Captain Leary needs to concentrate on the safety of the mission right now.”

    As they exited to the courtyard where the aircar waited, Adele began recounting the disaster at New Harmony with her usual frigid calm.

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