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The Way to Glory: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Friday, February 11, 2005 22:38 EST



Xenos on Cinnabar

    Adele, her back to the panel mounting the public phone, didn't hear the aircar approaching. While she worked with her personal data unit, the locals had circled her like animals watching a campfire. As they scattered they called, "The cops! The cops!" loudly enough to break her concentration.

    She sighed, shutting down the air-projected holographic display and tucking the control wands away into the case. The unit didn't hold all knowledge, not even when it was linked--as it was now--to the enormous database in the Library of Thomas Celsus with all its attendant links, but it held enough to engulf any number of troubles and disappointments. In fact its ocean of knowledge was deep enough to swallow the cold, killing rage which a few minutes ago had filled Adele Mundy's mind.

    She stood, sliding the data unit into its special thigh pocket and dusted the trousers with her palms. For the meeting Adele had worn unobtrusive civilian clothing, in excellent condition but similar in type to the cast-off garments of the residents of the tram stop.

    Adele had a thigh pocket in every outfit she owned, including her 1st Class RCN uniform where it was very much against regulations. She occasionally went out without her pistol because her destination banned weapons and enforced it with detectors; she was never willingly without the personal data unit.

    A covered eight-place aircar set down beside the tram stop. The flanks of the vehicle were marked MILITIA in large letters; searchlights and loudspeaker cones were attached to short posts at the front and rear.

    Mistress Bernis Sand got out. She was a short, heavy-set woman who looked bulkier for being in formal garb: white shirt and white cummerbund, with black trousers and frock coat. Adele wondered fleetingly what excuse the spymaster had made to leave some high-level gathering when Adele called.

    "Do you mind walking with me?" Sand said. She loosened her cummerbund. "Stuffy doesn't begin to describe a Regents' Dinner--the atmosphere, mind, not the Temple Hall."

    "As you like," Adele said, falling in to Sand's left. Up the street in the direction they were going was a construction site. She slanted them toward the middle of the pavement out of long-trained reflex.

    "We're being watched discreetly," the older woman said. "You needn't worry."

    "Mistress, I've lived most of my adult life in districts like this," Adele said in a thin voice. "I'm not worried. I'd just rather not have to shoot some fourteen-year-old sniffing solvent in a culvert, waiting to mug somebody for pocket change."

    "Your pardon, mistress," Sand said, nodding toward Adele to make it more than a formal apology. "I'm upset about your other trouble tonight; for which I also apologize. I assure you I wasn't aware of it, but obviously it wouldn't have happened in the way it did were you not associated with me."

    "The person involved...," Adele said. They were the only pedestrians out on the street, but scuttling from the darkness to either side hinted that scavengers of various kinds were active. "Is a retired admiral named Elric Kahn. He didn't use his own name, but he named his two flunkies. It was easy enough to find them on the Navy List and track their associations back to him."

    "Was it indeed?" Sand said. She barked out a laugh. "For you I dare say it was, Mundy."

    Sobering, she went on, "Being Kahn, he'll have been asking you to infiltrate the radical fringe of the Progressive Party, I suppose. A bloody fool thing to ask you, but I don't blame him for trying. God knows it's a real problem."

    Sand jerked her thumb back toward the aircar, now nearly a block behind them. "There's riots tonight in three districts downtown. We were shot at on our way here, though it must've been a pistol and barely flecked the paint. Over the Slidell acquittal, you know."

    "Is Senator Kearnes behind it?" Adele said, remembering her host's violent rage two weeks before.

    "No, this is at a much lower level," Sand said, turning her hands palms-up as if weighing souls. "It's not about young Kearnes, it's the two common spacers murdered by uncaring aristocrats. But that's nothing to do with you, Mundy; as I would've told Kahn if he'd asked me."

    Sand looked sharply at Adele. Without raising her voice, but in a tone that would've served for pronouncing a death sentence, she said, "Did they use my name?"

    "Yes," Adele said. "They delivered your card with instructions on the back to my doorman."

    She cleared her throat and added, "I destroyed the card immediately."

    "Of course you did!" Sand snapped. "And of course that makes no difference. Mundy, I've been a fool in various fashions over the years, but never such a fool as to imagine that you'd lie to me."

    She snorted another laugh. "You might shoot me; that I can imagine. But not lie."

    "I'd regret shooting you, mistress," Adele said, smiling faintly. It wasn't really a joke, of course.

    Sand sighed. "They shouldn't have used my name," she said. "For the rest, well, I'd say Kahn was a fool but I've always thought that."

    Adele grimaced. "I was angry because I thought the approach had been made by you, mistress," she said. "Since it wasn't--Kahn and his flunkies are scarcely the only fools on Cinnabar. No doubt they meant well."

    Shrugging, she added, "No harm done."

    Sand turned to look at her as they sauntered along the empty street. The pavement was cracked and half the street lights were out, but they weren't in a hurry. "They used my name, Mundy," Sand said in the same flat tone as before. "I will deal with the matter."

    A man shambled from between two buildings, holding out a bottle in his left hand. He kept his right hand close to his body. "Have a drinkie with me, girls!" he called. "Drinkie, drinkie!"

    Adele stepped in front of Sand, pulling the pistol from her pocket. She fired into the pavement between the man's feet. The air at the muzzle fluoresced as the coil gun's magnetic flux ionized the light-metal driving band. The ceramic pellet sparkled like stardust, gouging a narrow trench in the street.

    "God help me!" the man screamed, twitching both arms convulsively. The bottle flew in one direction, a knuckleduster in the other. He ran back toward the alley, moving much more purposefully than he'd approached.

    Adele smiled coldly. Perhaps the fright had sobered him; and perhaps the rattle of trash in the alley was from stray dogs, not a pack of three of four other thugs waiting to rush onto their victims when their front man had grabbed them.

    "The troubles mean we need to get you off Cinnabar, though," Sand said. If she had an opinion about what'd just happened, she kept it to herself. "If matters get much worse, one side or the other will decide you're working for their enemies and target you. Because of your father, you know."

    Sand paused, grimaced, and added, "One side or another. These civil messes aren't limited to two parties."

    Adele held the pistol out to the side to cool. She had eighteen rounds remaining; she hadn't brought extra magazines.

    She laughed.

    "Eh?" said Sand, taking a snuffbox of polished shell from somewhere on her person.

    "I was thinking that Tovera was right today," Adele said.

    Though the words wouldn't have been an explanation for many people, Sand chuckled in understanding. "The trouble with the Toveras of the world...," she replied. "Is that you always know what they're going to say before they open their mouths. And the Kahns too, I'm afraid. It limits the value of their analyses."

    She looked sharply at Adele. "I'm not suggesting you can't take care of yourself, mistress," she said. "But there're a lot of them."

    "It wouldn't be a comfortable way to live," Adele agreed, "even if it were possible."

    For a moment bleak darkness filled her mind. It isn't fair! And then she laughed again, louder than she had in months if ever. Sand glanced at her but this time didn't speak.

    "I'm human," Adele said simply. "I'm not an emotionless, logical machine. I know that because of the extremely foolish thoughts that come into my head."

    "I never imagined you were emotionless, Mundy," Sand said. She cleared her throat. In a more businesslike tone she continued, "I don't have an operation that requires your particular skills at the moment, but you'd be a valuable asset to the Republic wherever you were. Do you have a particular desire?"

    Adele thought through the offer--a quite remarkable offer, given who Mistress Sand was. But the truth was....

    "The two greatest centers of knowledge are the Celsus Library here in Xenos and the Academic Collections on Blythe," she said, apologetic because what she was really saying was that Sand's generosity was of no value to her. "I'm being driven off Cinnabar, and because of the war I can't go back to Blythe. In all likelihood, I'll never be able to go back to Blythe. I'll never be a civilian again in the mind of Guarantor Porra."

    "Nor that of his Fifth Bureau," Sand agreed in a tone of regret. "Because of your association with me."

    "Because of the choices I made," Adele said crisply. "You couldn't have forced me to do anything, mistress. No one could have."

    "I'm aware of where my responsibility stops, Mundy," Sand said with slightly more of an edge. "I'm also aware of my responsibility."

    "Yes," Adele said. She slid the pistol back into her pocket. She didn't notice its weight; rather, its absence was subtly uncomfortable. "Should we turn around now?"

    "Not unless you want to," Sand said. "The car will pick us up when I call it, wherever we are."

    They continued walking. The range of buildings to the right was an industrial concern of some sort, partially lighted now through grime-clouded windows. Adele heard heavy vehicles grunting and squealing from loading docks on the other side of the factory. She restrained her impulse to take out her data unit and determine what the business actually was.

    Smiling at herself Adele said, "What I'd really like to do, since staying here isn't an option, would be to accompany a surveying expedition into regions that haven't been travelled since the Hiatus. There'd be a scientific head, of course, but the vessel itself would require a skilled captain. Lt. Leary would be the best choice for that post since his uncle retired twenty years ago."

    "I intended to be a lecturer in Pre-Hiatus history, Mundy," Mistress Sand said in a tone of wistful amusement. "As an avocation, of course--heaven forefend that a member of the noble house of Caliwell actually work for a living. I think I could still perform valuable services in that fashion if circumstances allowed. I'm rusty on the details, but I've learned how to collect data and even more important, how to analyze it."

    She looked at Adele with a wry smile. "Circumstances don't permit, of course. And in the midst of a full-scale naval war, neither is the Republic going to fit out an expedition for the sole purpose of expanding human knowledge."

    "Though that's a little more probable," Adele said, "than that Daniel would go haring off into the back of beyond when there's a war to fight on our doorstep."

    She laughed. "He isn't a pugnacious man, I wouldn't want you to think that," she said. "Let alone a bloodthirsty one. But he's quite clear on the fact that the RCN's primary duty is to fight the enemies of the Republic."

    Mistress Sand nodded, smiling faintly. "I think we've done what we can here," she said, putting the snuffbox away without having used it. She turned and raised her hand.

    Adele couldn't see the aircar far behind them, but the idling purr of its lift fans built quickly to a whine. The driver switched his red and green sidelights on and started toward them, ten feet above the road's broken surface.

    "The driver and guard have been vetted, of course," Sand said. "But--"

    "Yes, of course," said Adele, mildly irritated that the older woman had said something so unnecessary. They'd gotten out and walked, hadn't they, instead of having their discussion in front of Sand's underlings?

    "We'll put you down at a tram stop east of your townhouse," Sand said, as though she hadn't heard the implicit rebuke. "That'll keep you clear of the trouble downtown."

    "All right," said Adele, facing the oncoming vehicle as she mulled the distant past. Were these riots the beginning of what would end in another round of Proscriptions? Because if they were, she'd leave Cinnabar and never return....

    "Mundy?" Sand said, raising her voice to be heard over the approaching drive fans. "I need to make some inquiries, but I'll meet with you again tomorrow. I'm not forgetting you."

    "I appreciate that," Adele said. Silently as the aircar landed, her mind added, But sometimes I wish I could forget myself--the thing I am, and what made me such a thing.




    "My sister she works in a laundry...," sang Daniel Leary. He'd had a drink or two at home, but liquor was properly a matter for fellowship, not solitude. On a whim he'd decided to visit the Strip outside Harbor Three. "My father, he fiddles for gin."

    The dozen civilians sharing the tram watched him and Hogg with nervous smiles. Their expressions seemed out of place to Daniel. He had money in his pocket and ahead of him the best sort of friends there were: the ones he hadn't met yet.

    And he had a few drinks inside. Only a few, and a few nips from Hogg's flask as they clicked and rattled westward.

    "My mother, she takes in washing...," Daniel warbled, winding up for the big finish.

    He'd attended one gathering or another almost every night since the Princess Cecile landed. His host for dinner tonight, a wealthy ship chandler, had cancelled unexpectedly. Daniel didn't worry about being on his own. He'd always been able to find a party in the past.

    The tram crunched to a shrieking halt: the emergency brakes had reversed polarity in the levitators, sucking them hard against the support railing. The civilians flew forward with no more control than if they'd been dropped from a cliff, but Hogg was holding a stanchion and Daniel stuck his right leg out straight to brace himself against the forward bulkhead.

    He moved without thinking about it. Spacers who thought before acting disappeared into bubble universes in which they were the only life form after their ship moved on to the next bubble of the Matrix.

    Daniel's reflexes didn't prevent an elderly woman and a much younger, much heavier man from slamming into his back. He grunted but didn't fall; that sort of thing happened on starships, too. Just about every sort of unpleasant surprise happened on a starship, one time or another.

    Civilians shouted frightened curses. Daniel turned. The old woman moaned on the tram's floor as the heavy-set man knelt on her.

    "Watch that, my man!" Daniel said. He grabbed the back of the man's collar and jerked some of the weight off the poor woman.

    The fellow swung at Daniel. Hogg clocked him behind the ear with the liquor flask, stainless steel and sturdy enough for a countryman's use. It was certainly sturdy enough to roll the heavy man's eyes up as his body went limp. Daniel slung the burden to the floor beside the woman, then looked out of the car for the first time to see what was going on.

    They were in a plaza, a junction for several monorail lines. They'd halted behind a private tramcar painted pink and violet. Daniel didn't recognize the livery nor the crest, some sort of four-winged bird.

    The three-story buildings around the plaza housed laborers from Harbor Three. Their ground floors were given over to shops serving spacers: restaurants, clothing stores, and a better class of pawn brokers and bars than you'd find sharing the Strip with the brothels a few blocks to the east.

    An angry mob filled the plaza. Men--with a few women, and not whores either--were swinging the private car to either side, trying to rock it off the support rail. In all likelihood they'd succeed very shortly.

    The private car had opera windows, small ovals, to provide privacy for those within. Daniel saw the terrified face of a servant in pink and violet livery looking out the back; then the crowd shouted and flung the car almost sideways. A blond, wide-eyed woman peered from the thrashing chaos within.

    "We'll be getting off here, Hogg," Daniel said, stepping toward the door. He had to push past civilians transfixed by what was going on outside.

    "Right," muttered Hogg. "Just the sort of bloody fool thing I figured we'd be doing."

    Daniel was wearing a 2nd Class uniform, gray with black piping. It satisfied the regulation requiring RCN officers to wear civilian clothes or a dress uniform whenever they were off-duty in public--but it was his third-best set of Grays, which made the word 'best' something of a joke. The elbows and trouser seat were worn, the right sleeve had been sewn back when it started to part from the shirt-front, and you'd notice the oil stain on the tunic if you saw it in good light.

    It was the sort of uniform you wore to go bar-hopping on the Strip. It would do equally well for Daniel's present purpose, though part of him regretted not also having stuck a length of high-pressure tubing through his belt. Still, if it came to a straight fight, matters weren't going to work out well anyway.

    He reached for the door's manual latch. A middle-aged woman shrieked as she saw what he was doing. "Please," she said in a choking voice. "Please, please. Don't let them in."

    Daniel looked around his fellow passengers. They were all ordinary folk, coming home from work or perhaps heading for dinner in a restaurant. They stared at him. Daniel thought of rabbits in the hutch at Bantry, about to be slaughtered for dinner.

    "You'll be all right," he said, raising his voice so everyone in the car could hear over the growl of the mob. "They're not interested in the likes of you."

    "And you won't be all right if you keep in our way," Hogg snarled. "I'm in a bloody poor mood already."

    The woman half-stepped, half-staggered, to the side. She was weeping uncontrollably.

    Daniel opened the door just as the mob managed to swing the private car off the support rail. It hit on its left side with a crash that buckled panels and popped out the rear window. The mob growled deafeningly, drowning the screams of those on whom the car had fallen.

    The crowd'd surged back as the car dropped. Daniel used the disruption to push and elbow his way through the ruck to what had been the underside of the tramcar. He heard the door above him rattle open.

    "Get me a little room, Hogg," Daniel said. He grabbed the car's dismounting step, now seven feet in the air--the width of the car. Hogg growled something lost in the crowd noise. Daniel swung himself onto tram's upturned right side with a hunch of his shoulders. The sleeves of his tunic ripped loose.

    Daniel's rounded features would look soft to a stranger's first glance, but the captain of an RCN starship under way spends much of his time on deck with his riggers. The best way to judge energy gradients was to stand on a masthead and eye the rippling shimmers of Casimir radiation that surrounded the vessel. Daniel had the upper body strength of a professional gymnast.

    He balanced on the quarter panel, looking into the vehicle. Inside were four footmen and the blond girl. She was quite pretty despite the blank, overwhelming fear that forced her eyes open and let her jaw drop....

    The servants were stripping off their tunics, hoping to be safer in their underwear than they would wearing livery. They looked up and saw Daniel's RCN uniform; their expressions changed from terror to unexpected hope.

    "Help me!" a footman screamed, elbowing his mistress aside. He stepped onto an armrest and raised his hand. His three fellows trampled the girl in their haste to join him.

    Daniel wondered if the servants would've been able to organize themselves well enough to lift and pull one another out if he hadn't been here. But he was....

    He bent, gripped the footman by the wrist instead of the hand, and jerked him up by flexing his knees. The motion wasn't very different from the way Daniel would've landed a heavy fish in the sea off Bantry.

    Instead of helping the footman balance on the tram, Daniel deliberately flicked him off the side. The fellow pitched into the crowd with a despairing wail. Daniel bent, grasped the next footman, and repeated the process.

    He didn't feel any particular anger against the servants. They weren't covering themselves with glory, but they'd have probably said they weren't paid to die for their mistress; Daniel more or less agreed with them.

    On the other hand, an RCN officer quickly learned that no solution to a crisis was going to be perfect: you saved what you could. Daniel figured that a petite blond woman needed his help more than four able-bodied men did.

    As Daniel half-pushed, half-threw, the third servant over the side, he noticed that two men from the crowd were trying to pull themselves up by the steps the way he'd done. They were getting in each other's way, so he ignored them.

    The last footman was badly overweight and blind with tears. He waved his arms wildly, but not close enough to grab. Daniel knelt to bring himself a little farther down than he'd been while squatting, then took the chance of grabbing with both hands instead of keeping one braced on the door jamb; he got the fellow by wrist and elbow. He straightened at once, using the footman to counterbalance him. At the top of his lift, Daniel pivoted and dropped his burden after the others.

    He glanced at what was happening in the street for the first time since he'd climbed onto the tram. Two of the servants were crawling away, stark naked and moaning. The crowd was still in the process of stripping off the third man's tights, jeering and punching him. Daniel figured that level of punishment was a cheap price for your life; and probably a lot cheaper than their mistress was going to pay if the mob had its way.

    One of the men who'd been trying to climb had made a stirrup of his hands for the other. Daniel kicked the higher man in the face; he toppled backward with a squawk, falling on the lower man whom Hogg had just punched in the kidneys. Hogg hadn't gotten involved until he needed to. He knew as well as Daniel did that they couldn't fight the whole mob themselves.

    Daniel leaned toward the girl. She was in a sitting position on the now-floor, staring up at him. He wasn't sure her eyes were focusing. The car began to rock. Daniel reached down with both arms and shouted, "Quick! They're going to roll it over again! We've got to get out first!"

    His only chance was to act immediately. If the rioters tipped it onto its roof so that a dozen of them could reach the girl, it was all over.

    She got up, closed her eyes, and jumped. Daniel grabbed her wrists. She weighed almost nothing compared to the footmen, and his system still blazed with adrenaline. He'd pay for this tomorrow; though he had to survive the next few minutes for that to matter.

    Daniel wrapped his arms around the girl and lifted her, as if they were in a particularly passionate embrace. "Now, milady," he said. "I want you to hold on very tightly no matter what happens, and I apologize in advance for the inconvenience."

    The tramcar Daniel had arrived on was hissing forward again, now that the private car was no longer blocking the support rail. The rioters shifted out of the way, uninterested as Daniel had expected in people more or less like them.

    Daniel jumped down into the space cleared by the accelerating car, taking the shock on his flexed knees. The girl gave a despairing eep! but her arms tightened around Daniel's neck; she even wrapped her legs around his waist. So far, so good.

    There hadn't been time to plan, but you could never plan for all the things that might happen. Daniel'd half thought of climbing onto the mounting step of the tram as it moved off, but there were too many rioters in the way already.

    Across one of the streets entering the plaza near the overturned car was a bar; six spacers wearing the beribboned, heavily embroidered utility uniforms of RCN warrant officers on leave, stood in front of the entrance. Daniel started toward them.

    Five were men, the sixth a woman built like a fireplug. In all likelihood most of the bar's patrons had left as the mob gathered, but these senior warrant officers stuck around. They watched the mob with live and let-live expressions, but from the way they held themselves and the batons of one sort and another in their hands they were ready to defend what was probably a favorite drinking spot.

    "Hey!" shouted a man close behind Daniel. "Here's the uhh--"

    Hogg's rabbit punch was too late, and besides he wouldn't be able to silence everybody as Daniel bumped his way through the crowd. "There she goes!" a woman squealed. "There she goes!"

    "RCN!" Daniel bellowed, breaking into a trot. He took the shocks with his shoulders when he could, but mostly he was using the girl as a battering ram. She grunted each time they knocked a civilian out of the way, but she didn't complain or lose her double grip. "RCN to me!"

    "Bloody officers can find their own holes!" shouted a tall warrant officer with the butt end of a pool cue. A scar led up his forehead into a white streak across his scalp. "Calahan was a bosun, same as me!"

    One of the mutineers Slidell'd put out the airlock of the Bainbridge had been the bosun, Daniel recalled. The bloody fool!

    Somebody grabbed him from behind by the sleeve. He kicked back hard, but the section of the mob still between him and the building was turning to see what was coming their way. Slidell wasn't the only fool, that was clear, but Daniel hadn't argued with Hogg's assessment right at the start of this.

    "I'm Lieutenant Daniel Leary!" he said. A man was braced squarely in front of him. Daniel kicked the fellow in the crotch. The man to the right of the one doubling up grabbed the girl's shoulders and pulled; the man to the left cocked back his fist with a brick to ram into Daniel's face. "By God my Sissie never shipped a spacer afraid of a fight! RCN!"

    Hogg carried a pair of four-ounce sinkers joined by a length of monocrystal sea-fishing line that could cut unprotected flesh like a knifeblade. It was primarily a throwing weapon, of small use in a ruck like this Daniel would've said.

    A sinker on six feet of line made a hissing arc past Daniel's ear. The fellow with the brick fell screaming, his arm dangling from a broken collarbone. He'd been lucky not to have a dished-in forehead--and it was luck, because Hogg didn't pull his punches in a brawl.

    Daniel's right hand caught the man trying to take the girl from him. He lowered his head and jerked the civilian's face into the point of his skull, feeling cartilage crunch. "RCN!" he called, but there were too many of them and--

    "RCN!" other voices shouted. Through the mob's noise Daniel heard a series of cracking, slapping sounds accompanied by high-pitched screams. "Clear a path for the RCN!"

    Two warrant officers stood in front of Daniel, the bosun with the pool cue and the woman with a thick-bottomed liqueur bottle in either hand. The green glass was bloodstained. They parted to pass Daniel and his burden between them; their four fellows were holding the flanks.

    "Hogg's with me!" Daniel called as he trotted/stumbled toward the bar's entrance only a few feet away. He didn't dare look behind. Suddenly he had barely enough strength to stay on his feet.

    "Here you go, sir," said the tense-looking barman standing just inside the doorway. He held out the open whiskey bottle in his left hand; in his right was a bung starter. "And will your good lady be having something tonight?"

    "In a moment, perhaps," Daniel wheezed. He cleared his throat and went on, "Miss, we're all right for the moment. I believe you can let go now."

    She unwrapped her legs but continued to hold onto Daniel's neck. Her body was trembling.

    The warrant officers retreated to their previous position in front of the bar; Hogg was with them, Daniel was pleased to see. The mob backed away like surf curling off a beach. The girl was out of their sight, and the cost of coming in after her was obviously going to be high. There were other, less dangerous targets available.

    "Hermy, phone the Shamrock and tell Woetjans her captain's here and could maybe use a hand," the bosun with the pool cue ordered the bartender. He caught Daniel's eye and added, "That's where your Sissies mostly drink, sir. Not that you're not welcome here with us Starchies, but I figured you'd as soon be with your own."

    "I'm much obliged to you, bosun," Daniel said. The other warrant officers were watching sidelong while keeping one eye on the mob just in case something changed. "To all of you."

    "We're sorry, Mister Leary," the woman said with a rueful grin. "We didn't see it was you, you know."

    "I know," Daniel said. "And I understand."

    Hogg still wore the mesh-armored right glove which permitted him to handle his weighted line without losing fingers. He'd emptied his flask and was prudently refilling it from the bottle the bartender had offered Daniel a moment before.

    Daniel looked at the girl he'd saved; she eased back slightly. Well, saved from a bad time. A--he grinned to himself--worse time, anyway; she'd just about lost her tunic as it was.

    "Mistress?" Daniel said. "My name's Daniel Leary, Lieutenant Leary, that is. Friends of mine should be arriving shortly. May we escort you to someplace you'll be safe?"

    "I'm Marta Grimes," the girl said. She was no longer clinging to Daniel's neck, but she hadn't moved far away. She didn't seem inordinately concerned that she was wearing nothing but a gauzy bandeau above the waist. "My father's Grimes of Octagon though he's off-planet now. Our townhouse is only two blocks away, but it won't be safe. The servants couldn't...."

    Her voice broke. She stared into Daniel's eyes, suddenly trembling again. "You saw what happened, Lieutenant Leary!"

    "Indeed I did," Daniel said, putting his arm around the girl's shoulders. She squeezed herself to him as though she hoped he'd pick her up again. "May I ask if your father has liquor in the house? Quantity is more important than quality, for this purpose."

    In the near distance he heard voices shouting, "Outa the way for the Princess Cecile!" The sound came from at least twenty throats, led by the rasping alto of Woetjans, the Sissie's bosun.

    "Purpose?" Marta repeated in puzzlement. "But yes, Lieutenant. Dad's cellar is famous."

    "Then if you don't mind expending some of it in a good cause," Daniel said, "I think we can keep you and your townhouse safe for the duration and make some of my shipmates very happy at the same time."

    He looked at the warrant officers who'd rescued him. "You all are welcome too, I believe."

    "Thanks, but Hermy's made us the same offer," the bosun of the battleship Aristarchus said. "I know Woetjans. You won't have no trouble."

    "And what can I do to thank you, Lieutenant?" the girl said.

    "For a start, you can call me--" Daniel began.

    But that wasn't where the girl wanted to start, apparently, because her lips closed his before he finished the sentence.

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