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Some Golden Harbor: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Sunday, April 16, 2006 19:36 EDT



Charlestown on Bennaria

    Adele filed and sorted the data cascading across her holographic display. She was alone in the landau's passenger compartment--Luff had simply sent her back in his car--but it wouldn't have mattered if there were five other people present. Given half a chance, Adele focused on work to the exclusion of all else. That'd been her saving grace, the quirk that had made life bearable for so many years when nothing else redeemed her existence.

    "Mistress," said Tovera--on the rear platform again--through the bead receiver in Adele's left ear. "He's not driving back the way we came. There may not be a problem."

    Adele looked up. Though Tovera was so paranoid that she honestly couldn't imagine circumstances where she might not need her sub-machine gun, she wasn't an alarmist. "There may not be a problem," meant that she thought there definitely might be one.

    Traffic, most of it pedestrians and bicyclists, was heavier than it'd been earlier; that in itself might've caused the driver to change their route. There were tenements on both sides of the street, indistinguishable to Adele from those she'd seen earlier, but just ahead was a block of row houses surrounding a central tower. They were of white stone recently sandblasted to a dazzling luster, definitely something she'd have remembered if she'd passed them on the way to Manco House.

    Adele frowned, considering options. Hogg was off with Daniel, looking at the Armed Squadron, so the driver was alone in the front.

    She tapped on the glass; the driver didn't give any sign of hearing her. There was probably a way to release the glass, but she didn't see a catch or button.

    A bronze-finished gate, the only gap in the block of white houses, opened; the landau turned hard and drove down the passage beyond. Adele reached across her body with her right hand and unlatched the door. It hadn't been locked from the front; that was something.

    The landau stopped in a landscaped courtyard facing the white tower. Bronze moldings made the building a subtle work of art, but that was a matter to consider another time.

    Adele stepped to the ground, keeping the open door between her and the two men standing twenty feet away in the tower's entrance. Her left hand was along her thigh. She didn't look behind her--Tovera would handle anything there as well as it could be handled. The driver, obviously bribed, had thrown himself onto the floor of his compartment when he'd seen Adele take the pistol from her pocket.

    She'd been wrong about facing two men. One was a man in his mid thirties who wore a flowing white robe with gold accents. His companion was a humanoid reptile nearly seven feet tall. Its body was as lithe as a snake's.

    "No!" the lizardman said, wrapping its long arms around the man and shifting to put its body between him and Adele. "This is a mistake! We come to talk with you only!"

    The creature was speaking Standard. Its voice was perfectly intelligible, but it had a noticeable plangency as though its vocal cords were metal.

    "What are you doing, Fallert?" the man said, trying to fight clear of the creature holding him. Its gripping arms were too strong. "What's the matter?"

    "Good mistresses, this was a mistake!" the lizardman repeated. Its jaws were longer than a man's and its teeth were triangular. The creature wasn't so much dressed as draped in harnesses; a wallet and equipment hung from them. "My master wishes your friendship only!"

    "You can let him go, then," Adele said. She felt the corner of her mouth lift, though she wasn't sure it was enough to count as a smile. The lizardman's body was too slender to prevent her first shot from killing the human he was trying to shield. If she'd wanted to, of course; most likely she'd have started by killing the creature itself.

    The creature himself. His accouterments weren't intended to conceal his gender, and there was no doubt he was male.

    He set the man back on his feet and stepped to the side, his hands open and slightly raised. He had three fingers and an opposed thumb on each. He was grinning in a fashion that was probably intended to be reassuring despite his pointed teeth.

    "Lady Mundy," the human said, twitching his robes to adjust their hang, "I'm Yuli Corius. I'm sorry to have had to arrange to see you through subterfuge. I'm sure you understand. And I can't imagine what got into--".

    He looked at the lizardman with a combination of astonishment and anger.

    "--Fallert. That's never happened before!"

    "My family were populists, Master Corius," Adele said. "You may call me Mistress Mundy or Officer Mundy. And as for why Master Fallert behaved the way he did--"

    Ordinarily she'd have put the pistol away unseen. To make her present point she closed the door of the landau and stepped away from it. Only then did she slip the weapon back in her pocket.

    "Mistress," said Corius. "I had no idea."

    "Regardless of whether or not I understand the reason for your behavior, Master Corius," Adele said, "it was extremely discourteous. I am Mundy of Chatsworth: do not treat me with discourtesy again."

    "My deepest apologies," Corius said. He sounded as though he were sincere. He turned to the lizardman and said, "And my apologies to you, Fallert. My bad judgment--"

    He looked at Adele again, bowed, and continued, "My stupidity. It could have led to the most serious results."

    The lizardman also bowed to Adele. The weapons dangling from his harness jingled. "Fallert, Mistress," he said, still grinning. "I am merely Fallert."

    "He's real, mistress," Tovera said unexpectedly. She giggled and added, "He's flashier than I am, but he's real."

    "Yes-s-s...," said Fallert, looking past Adele. To Corius he said, "You did not tell me about this one, master. This one is even more interesting than her mistress."

    Corius cleared his throat, obviously disconcerted by events. He was strikingly handsome, tall and blond with regular features. He smiled. The expression was forced at first, but it spread into real welcome.

    "Please," he said. "Since we've gotten through the preliminaries, however ineptly on my part, allow me to offer you the hospitality of Corius House while we talk. I assure you, mistress, that our getting to know one another is as important to your mission as it is to me."



    Adele looked around for the first time. To her surprise, the balconies overlooking the courtyard on all sides were empty. The four of them were the only ones visible.

    "I requested that my people remain indoors during your visit, mistress," Corius explained. "I regret the appearance of discourtesy in my actions, but I assure you that I was alive to the possibility that you would feel threatened. I minimized that as much as I could."

    "And Fallert?" said Adele, raising an eyebrow.

    "Fallert is my companion," Corius said. "I don't think of him as a threat."

    "Then you're a fool," said Adele. "Or perhaps you think I am. Regardless, I'm willing to talk to you. But not in your house."

    She opened the door of the landau. "In here, I think," she said. "That gives us privacy, and it's reasonably neutral given where it's parked."

    "While you and my master speak, mistress," Fallert said, "I will become acquainted with your attendant."

    He grinned wider. "Do you have a name, attendant?" he said.

    "Yes, of course, mistress," Corius said, walking toward her without hesitation. "I'd offer to have drinks brought out to us, but I'm sure there's a full bar in the vehicle. And I don't require anything myself."

    "We can talk from where we're standing now, Fallert," Tovera said. Adele would've sworn she heard warmth in the sociopath's voice. "I'd like to stay out of claw range since I don't have a set myself, you see. And the name's Tovera."

    Fallert made a sound by sucking air into his throat pouch. It seemed to be his version of laughter.

    Corius got into the landau and slid to the far end of the rear-facing seat. He crossed his hands on his lap, waiting expectantly. Adele seated herself kitty-corner and closed the door.

    "Go ahead," she said as she took out her data unit. "Since you called the meeting."

    "Just so," said Corius. He gave her an engaging smile. Someone less cynical that Adele might've even thought he meant it. "When I heard who Cinnabar had sent in response to the Council's request, I immediately examined the information available on you. On both of you, that is: the dashing young officer and the aide who merely seems to be present at all the victories."

    He leaned against the door cushion and smiled again, this time a triumphant expression. "I'm sure that rural gentlemen from Cinnabar are an estimable group of people, brave and steadfast and all those splendid virtues, but it seems obvious to me that the brain that planned those brilliant coups was that of the scholar at the gentleman's side. Not so?"

    Adele looked at him, uncertain as to how to respond. Anger was her natural reaction, but it was generally her reaction so she'd learned to control it.

    "Master Corius," she said, "you obviously have a good mind and a very complex one. I won't surprise you if I say that your colleagues on the Council didn't have sense enough to research Commander Leary and myself; they simply noted that we weren't a fighting squadron and dismissed us."

    Corius laughed with real humor. "Did they really?" he said. "I don't have a report on the meeting yet, but you're correct to assume that I will before long."

    He pursed his lips and added, "Don't completely discount Waddell and his cabal, though. Especially Waddell himself. He probably felt snubbed and let his ego overrule his intelligence. This happens not infrequently since Waddell's ego is the most distinguishing aspect of his character, but he really does have a good mind. Very nearly the equal of my own."

    Corius laughed again, suggesting that his words were a joke. They weren't, of course; not in his heart of hearts. And perhaps his self-image was correct. She and Daniel had outrun news of their coming, so the fact that he had information about them at hand showed that he took a broader view of the future than most members of the Cinnabar Senate.

    "Sometimes someone who thinks in convolutions can miss the obvious, though," Adele continued, speaking without emphasis but locking his eyes with her own. "In this case, let me assure you that Mister Leary is exactly what common report makes him out to be: an officer who wins battles more by strategy than by luck, but with his share of luck also."

    And by ruthlessness, but Adele didn't say that out loud. Daniel was a friendly, personable man, but she'd never seen him hesitate so much as a heartbeat before doing anything he thought was necessary for success.

    She cleared her throat. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'm sure you had some purpose for bringing me here besides mistakenly flattering me. What is that purpose?"

    "I intend to defeat Nataniel Arruns' attempt on Dunbar's World," Corius said, suddenly sober. He leaned forward slightly. "The rest of the Council resent me. They'd probably even block me if I gave them the opportunity, which I won't. Now: you'll hear things about me. Maybe you already have."

    He raised an eyebrow to draw a response.

    "Go on," Adele said. Her duties didn't include spying for Yuli Corius.

    "Yes," said Corius. "I want you to be very clear that my purpose is to defeat the Pellegrinians on Dunbar's World. I intend to do that and I will do that. You're welcome to believe that this is a ploy to increase my political standing here on Bennaria... and perhaps you'd be correct in that belief. But I will defeat Arruns."

    He chuckled, appearing to relax again. "Since you've been sent here to accomplish the same purpose--you have, haven't you?"

    "That is correct," Adele said. Her words had no overtones of emotion. Well, they usually didn't.

    "And I don't suppose you care about the political situation here on Bennaria one way or the other?" Corius said. He raised an eyebrow in question again.

    "Go on," Adele repeated. The fellow kept pushing. He was probably used to getting a good result from the technique, but it irritated her. She wouldn't let that get in the way of her decision-making processes, however.

    "I would be very appreciative of the support of the Cinnabar mission," Corius said. "In turn I will endeavor to help you and Commander Leary in any fashion that I'm able to."

    He leaned forward. "I know that I'm facing a difficult task," he said. "I'll need allies, and I don't expect to find them on Dunbar's World. It didn't have much of a planetary government at the best of times, and by the time we arrive there may be none at all. I'm hoping, Officer Mundy, that I've found those allies in yourself and Commander Leary."

    "I'll report this conversation to the proper quarters," Adele said. "The decision will be made by persons other than myself. Now--"

    She gestured with her right hand to the door beside Corius.

    "--it's time for me to get back to the Princess Cecile. Since the driver appears to work for you, please direct him to take me to the waterfront by the most expeditious route. If he doesn't--"

    Adele smiled tightly.

    "--he should hope that I will kill him myself. If Tovera takes care of the matter instead, it's likely to be a much longer affair. Do you understand?"

    Corius opened the door and got out. Before he closed it, he bent to meet Adele's eyes. "I understand completely, Mistress," he said. "I understand everything you've told me."

    Shut inside, Adele couldn't hear Corius' conversation with the driver, but she saw the servant's face in profile. It appeared that Corius was passing on her message with enough detail to make sure the fellow believed it.

    Corius might indeed be as smart as he thought he was.




The Squadron Pool on Bennaria

    Nodding toward the driver on the open bench in front of them, Hogg said to Daniel, "Not in a hurry, is he?"

    Councilor Knox' black aircar was certainly older than Daniel and not a great deal younger than Hogg, but the fifteen mile flight from Charlestown had been as smooth as the Sissie in free-fall orbit. The driver was middle-aged and handled his vehicle sedately. Knox obviously didn't set much store by flashiness.

    Though Hogg insisted he could drive an aircar, the few times he'd gotten one into the air had ended in controlled crashes; more often he hadn't managed to lift off. He made up for his failure by complaining about anybody who actually could do the job.

    "Well, we're here now," Daniel said as they dropped from the thousand-foot height at which they'd been cruising. They spiraled down toward the landing ground in the hollow of the U-shaped building on the edge of the water. "And anyway, it gave us a chance to see how the land lies."

    Hogg sniffed. "It lies pretty bloody flat," he said, "and wet. The only thing I've seen yet that isn't marsh is rice paddies, and then the only difference's the green being brighter than what just grew. Though if we're going to be here a while--"

    As the car descended, a flock of birds lifted from the reeds fringing both banks of the river. Their bodies were blackish green, lost in the vegetation, but each had two pairs of wings whose flight feathers were brilliantly white. Their sudden appearance was like watching glass shatter.

    "--I wouldn't mind snaring a few of that lot." He slid the forward window open. "Hey buddy? You in the funny hat. How do those birds taste, huh?"

    The driver wore a pink-and-black skullcap that hooked under his ears. The colors were those of the Knox family, Daniel supposed, though that was just a guess.

    "I have no idea, sir," he replied. "I suggest you ask some field hands, as low fellows of that sort are the ones who'd consider doing such a thing."

    Hogg guffawed. "Got me that time," he admitted. "Hey, you don't happen to play poker, do you?"

    "Your cards or mine?" said the driver. His tone was just as flat and respectful as it'd been when he first threw Hogg's insult back at him. Hogg guffawed again.

    The LeBlanc River meandered so broadly that Daniel hadn't always been able to see both ends of the loops during the aircar's straight flight from Charlestown. The Squadron Pool was formed by a low concrete dam across the channel proper and by its extension into a quay around the eastern edge of the impoundment. An overgrown chain-link fence closed the perimeter.

    There were destroyers in four of the five slips while the last held a large river barge and several smaller watercraft; two more destroyers were moored against the mud banks. One had been hauled partway into the reeds, presumably to keep it from sinking.

    The car flared to a hover, then settled onto the landing plaza. Puddles flashed briefly into spray before the driver shut his motors down. Faces appeared at several windows of the surrounding building; a moment later the door in the middle of the central section opened and three men came out. They wore blue jackets and white vests, though one man was still buttoning his. Daniel didn't know anything about Bennarian uniforms, but presumably these were something fancier than utilities.

    "Sirs?" said the last man through the door. He was in late middle age and missing the little finger of his left hand.

    "I'm Commander Daniel Leary of the RCN," Daniel said as he and Hogg got out, leaving the driver in the vehicle. "I have authorization from Councilor Waddell to examine your squadron here."

    Hogg stepped forward and gave the handwritten note to the man whose name was either Brast or Grast, depending on how the light struck the pin on his left breast pocket. One of the disadvantages of 1st class uniforms--one of many disadvantages--was that they didn't have pockets; when Daniel was wearing Whites, Hogg carried anything too big to slip into a cummerbund.

    "The RCN?" Grast/Brast said. "Cinnabar? Oh, sir, we're honored to meet you! I'm Basil Brast, the Port Commandant. Oh! Though--"

    His face fell. The two younger men were whispering together behind him; one scurried back into the building.

    "--I'm afraid you won't be very impressed by what we have to show you," Brast went on. "To tell the truth, things have been so quiet hereabouts the past ten years and more that Bennaria might as well not have ships."

    "From the way the appropriation's been going down," said the junior officer who'd remained with Brast, "the Council pretty much thinks that too."

    "That's not our place to say, Tenris!" Brast said sharply.

    "If I can just see the ships, I'd be much obliged," Daniel said. "Starting with the Sibyl, which I understand is operational?"

    "Well, yes-s-s...," Brast said. "But yes, come along, Commander. This is a great pleasure, meeting a Cinnabar officer like yourself!"

    He took Daniel into the administration building and down the central hallway. Men wearing baggy gray uniforms stood in doorways to watch.

    A grizzled old fellow saluted Alliance fashion, fingertips to brow and palm outward. Daniel returned it by reflex, then smiled mentally. At least there's one spacer in the Bennarian Navy who can be expected to know what he's doing.

    "As for being operational," Brast said, "the Sibyl hasn't lifted in the past year. That's longer in Standard, fourteen months I think. We check her regular, I don't mean that, but--

    He pushed open the back door and nodded Daniel through; beyond were the concrete quay and the silent destroyers. Hogg followed them at a respectful two paces. He'd been looking in doorways as he went by with a blank smile.

    Brast gestured to the left, though Daniel already knew from Adele's data that the Sibyl was in the second slip. The Tenerife, the other potentially operational ship, was in the first.

    "But you know...," Brast resumed. "Things go wrong that don't show up till the thrusters fire."

    "Indeed I do," Daniel said, stepping from the concrete to the destroyer's boarding ramp. The familiar springiness beneath his boot brought a happy grin to his face. "To be honest, I'm surprised that the Council isn't more concerned to have the fleet in readiness. The Sailing Directions for Ganpat's Reach mention piracy as a problem."

    The Sibyl had been built on Pleasaunce only a decade before. The Fleet Dockyard had been accepting foreign commissions to keep its labor force together during an interval of peace between Cinnabar and the Alliance. Indeed, they'd probably been bidding against the construction yard at Harbor Three on Xenos.

    "I can't say to that, sir," said Brast, activating the vessel's main hatch from a faired-over switch plate. "There's some who claim that the Council, some of the Councilors anyhow, have come to other ways of dealing with pirates. But I wouldn't know."

    Tribute to the pirates, in other words, or simply the slave trade which the pirates found too profitable to harm by preying on Bennarian cargoes. As a naval officer Daniel thought that was a bad long-term strategy and as a man he found it a despicable one, but--

    "Well, that's not for me to judge either, Brast." he said aloud, showing to the commandant that they were both judging the matter and agreeing in their distaste for it.

    Ten years could be a long time in the life of a destroyer since they tended to be over-sparred. A hard-charging captain could strain not only the masts but the hull as well. That hadn't--that certainly hadn't--been the case with the Sibyl, but one bad landing could do as much damage as a year of throwing a ship through the Matrix without concern for the gradients between universes.



    The hatch rose without sticking, a quick and nearly certain way to prove the vessel was sound. Destroyers were long in relation to their beam, so any sort of twisting would make the main hatch bind and leak.

    The interior lights were on and the climate control system was running at low cycle. "I'm glad to see you keep her powered up," Daniel said, walking toward a companionway. There were two of the armored stairways here in the main entrance hold, Up and Down, and according to the Sibyl's plans there was another pair astern. Those would primarily serve the Power Room crew.

    All communication between decks was by steps. The stresses when a starship entered or left the Matrix were likely to trap an elevator cage in its shaft, and the shock of a hard landing could do the same. What was true even for a merchant vessel was doubly so for a warship faced with higher acceleration, the recoil of its own weapons, and the impact of hostile ordnance.

    "Well, to tell the truth," Brast said, "we're running the ground facilities from the Sibyl's fusion bottle. The dirtside powerplant went out last year. The lines won't carry enough to run the heavy equipment in the shops, but we haven't had any call for that. We were thinking about taking the bottle out of one of the old ships, maybe the Admiral Kalinin, for a replacement, but we haven't gotten around to it."

    Despite her greater tonnage, the Sibyl was a five-deck ship like the Princess Cecile; the destroyer's additional mass came from having half again the length with a slight increase in beam. She'd be quick as moonlight on the right heading, but a cack-handed captain could tear her in two. Daniel'd never served on a destroyer....

    "Shifting a fusion bottle is a job and no mistake," Daniel said agreeably as he climbed through B Level to A.

    What he really thought was that a maintenance yard like this was equipped and intended to do just that sort of work. As a boy he'd helped Uncle Stacey change a fusion bottle by manpower, pulleys, and a jury-rigged shear legs because another ship was already in the small dry-dock where all Bergen and Associates' power equipment was built.

    He grinned, sobered, and then smiled again as he thought of the gentle old man. He missed him, but so long as Uncle Stacey remained in Daniel's memory a part of him was still alive. Stacey lived in memory and in the skills he'd taught his nephew.

    The light at the top of the companionway was out, as were alternating banks of lights in the Level A corridor. "Oh, dear," Brast murmured when he saw it.

    Daniel strode down the corridor toward the bridge. "It's probably just a dirty contact," he said. "An easy fix, I'm sure."

    It was the first maintenance failure he'd seen on the Sibyl; she was in much better shape than he'd counted on. It really was a trivial matter. He could probably troubleshoot it himself in half an hour with a borrowed electrical kit.

    He grinned broadly. And ideally with borrowed coveralls over my Whites.

    The bridge was similar to that of the Princess Cecile, though it followed the present Alliance fashion of placing the striker's jumpseat and screen to the right of the main display instead of on the same axis. Daniel brought the navigator's console live. The port commandant watched nervously; concerned that it might malfunction, Daniel supposed.

    The console responded quickly and as crisply as you could wish. Instead of pearly radiance the initial display was a bar spectrum, red at the base and shading upward to violet. Seating himself, Daniel rotated through the standard displays--navigation, maintenance, Power Room, Plot-Position Indicator, and finally to an attack board. Everything came up without hesitation.

    Someone was shouting below, the voice drifted unintelligibly up the companionway. Brast trotted to the hatch in the corridor and called back a reply as Daniel continued to examine the Sibyl's electronic heart.

    There were more red pips on the maintenance display than Daniel liked, but a quick, frowning assessment didn't find anything more serious than a leaking hatch seal in the Warrant Officers Day Room. Worst case, they could dog the internal hatch and leave the compartment open to vacuum.

    Now, if the Tenerife were only as in as good shape... or almost as good... or even just good enough to lift off and look threatening. With two destroyers whose crews were leavened by the Sissie's veterans, Daniel would be willing to fight a partly-functional light cruiser manned by Pellegrinians. A bluff would probably be enough, after all.

    In all truth, he'd try it with one destroyer, though he wouldn't do that with any enthusiasm.

    Daniel glanced down the corridor. Brast stood stiffly in the corridor facing the companionway; whatever was happening wasn't good news so far as he was concerned.

    Daniel would deal with that situation when and if he had to. For now he brought up the stores status. Somewhat to his surprise, the food compartments were full or at least listed as full. Cutting corners on the quantity and quality of comestibles was a common fiddle for dishonest pursers and administrators, so it'd take a physical inventory to be sure. Still, there was at least a chance that the vessel had thirty days' rations aboard.

    Munitions, though.... Not so good.

    The magazine holding ammunition for the forward 10-cm turrets was full; the aft magazine was empty. The actual quantity was greater than a maximum load for the Princess Cecile, but it'd take work to shift enough of the charges sternward to enable the Sibyl's full eight-gun battery to fire. There wasn't a conveyor as there might've been on a vessel of greater beam, so it'd mean lines of spacers staggering between magazines with yokes or hand-trucks.

    "Brast, what in Hell's name do you think you're playing at!" bellowed the man who stepped out of the companionway. "And you there! Get off the bridge now or I'll have you arrested as a spy!"

    "Admiral, Councilor Waddell gave him permission," the Port Commandant said. He'd been standing at attention but stepped back when the newcomer shouted in his face.

    Daniel got up from the console, taking only enough time to switch the display back to the initial spectrum. So long as the unit wasn't shut down completely, Adele could enter the system and access all data. Though he'd already seen all he probably needed.

    "Do you think Waddell's the Admiral Commanding the Fleet, Brast?" the newcomer said. "By Hell, do you think you are? I'm in charge and I decide who's allowed aboard my ships!"

    Daniel walked to join the other men. Half a dozen more, junior officers by the look of them, had followed the admiral from the companionway. Daniel stood politely erect in his Whites, but he very deliberately didn't come to attention.

    The plasma cannon were the Sibyl's defensive armament. For attack she had only sixteen missiles in her magazines. They were of the expensive dual-converter style that accelerated twice as fast as what he'd expected to find here in the boondocks, but that still wasn't much to fight a cruiser with.

    "Sir?" said Brast desperately. "He's from Cinnabar."

    "I know he is!" said the admiral turning to stare at Daniel. He was no more than five and a half feet tall, probably trim-looking on normal occasions but now disarrayed from running up three decks. His face was red with exertion and anger. "And Hell take Cinnabar too!"

    "I'm Commander Leary, RCN, sir," Daniel said calmly. "I'm here at the request of the Bennarian Council to advise--"

    "I don't care who you are!" the admiral said. His name tag read WRENN, the name which Councilor Knox had mentioned during the meeting at Manco House. "Nobody has permission to board my ships unless I give it, and Hell take me if I'll give it to some weasel who thinks he can do as he pleases because he's R-bloody-CN!"

    "I assure you, sir--" Daniel said.

    "Don't assure me!" said Wrenn. "Get off my ship! Now!"

    Daniel nodded politely to the Bennarian officers. Wrenn's aides were huddled as closely together as sheep in a storm. Whatever they thought of the RCN, Daniel was pretty sure that they had doubts about denying Councilor Waddell's authority.

    "Good day, gentlemen," Daniel said. The aides jumped to either

    side to let him through the companionway hatch.

    Daniel had considered thanking Brast, but that would just get the fellow into worse trouble. He'd also considered asking about getting missiles from Bennarian stores for the Princess Cecile, but he'd rejected that even more quickly.

    Hogg followed Daniel down the companionway. He was singing Never Wed an Old Man in a low voice, but instead of 'old man' it was coming out 'admiral'.

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