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The Way to Glory: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Saturday, February 12, 2005 16:53 EST



Xenos on Cinnabar

    The line of officers signing in at the bar of the General Waiting Room was shorter than usual, even for the present wartime situation that placed a relatively high value on unassigned personnel. The riots had left Daniel in rather better shape than he'd have been otherwise, though. Instead of spending the night bar-hopping along the Strip as he'd intended, he'd wound up drinking very little after leaving his house.

    Daniel still hadn't slept much, but he was used to that. Though as for his uniform, well, it was a good thing he wasn't going to be called to an interview in the personnel department. He hadn't been home to change, and the brawl hadn't helped what'd been marginal before the evening started.

    The overage, overweight captain ahead of Daniel rose from the sign-in sheet with a wheeze. He took a numbered ivory chit from the supercilious civilian at the gate into the open bullpen beyond where the clerks sat. Daniel guessed the captain hadn't seen active service in a decade and must know he never would again. The General Waiting Room merely got him out of his house and into the society of other officers in the only fashion available to him.

    And maybe that wasn't such a minor thing after all.

    Daniel took the stylus and began to sign in. The attendant reading the sheet upside down suddenly stiffened and frowned. "Lieutenant Daniel Leary?" he said.

    Daniel straightened with a flash of anger that he hoped didn't show on his face. Hogg had reattached the sleeves and mended the rip in the tunic, but a replacement saucer hat would have to wait for his return from Chatsworth Minor. Yes, Daniel was technically out of uniform, but it was no business of a civilian to tell him so.

    "I am," Daniel said, his nostrils flaring.

    "Don't bother taking a chit," the attendant said, reaching forward to lift the bar. "Go to desk four immediately."

    "What?" Daniel said. "Why on earth?"

    "Lieutenant," the attendant said with a touch of irritation, "I have absolutely no idea. The memo was waiting for me when I arrived this morning."

    He glowered and added, "It's very unusual!"

    "I see," said Daniel, stepping into the clerical enclosure.

    He felt edgy. To a bureaucrat in the Navy Office, an unusual event meant his routine had been disrupted. That was a terrible thing—to a bureaucrat. To a spacer, however, "unusual" was likely to mean something lethally dangerous.

    Clerk Four—a small plate on the desk's front corner with a stencilled number was the only identification—was a thin, middle-aged woman who looked up with a disapproving expression from the data she was entering when Daniel reached her desk. He guessed disapproval was how she viewed most things; it didn't make him special.

    "I'm Lieutenant Daniel Leary," he said. Without really meaning to—because she was a civilian too—he braced himself to Parade Rest, his feet regulation distance apart and his hands crossed behind his back. "I was told you have orders for me?"

    The clerk sniffed. "Directions, rather," she said. "You're to go at once to the Bellerophon Club and ask for the gentleman in Room 247. One of the guards in the passage—"

    She nodded minusculely toward the doorway at the back of the clerical enclosure. It led to the offices of the RCN's top bureaucrats.

    "—will take you through the building to the back entrance of the Bellerophon and see to it that you're admitted."

    She went back to her data entry.

    "Ah," Daniel said brightly, hoping with the optimism of youth that if he paused for a moment the words would suddenly mean something.

    They didn't.

    The Bellerophon Club stood behind the Navy Office but faced the square on the other side. The chief figures of government, elected and appointed, were members but the club remained resolutely above party politics. Common report—which Daniel knew through his father was true in this case—said the Bellerophon gave enemies a place to bargain without the rhetoric and emotion of the Senate floor.

    It wasn't anywhere a mere lieutenant was ever likely to enter. And if he were invited there, then he needed clothing more formal than Grays that looked like he'd worn them while performing maintenance in the Sissie's power room.

    "Ah?" Daniel repeated, this time with a rising inflexion. "I'll just go back to my quarters and put on my Whites, eh?"

    The clerk looked up again. This time her expression was positively frigid.

    "I'm sure I wouldn't presume to tell a gentleman how to behave," she said with cutting dishonesty. "But my understanding has always been that an RCN officer's duty is to execute his orders, not to waste time in his quarters when he's been given clear direction."

    "Ah," said Daniel. That he understood. Not why, but what; and "why" wasn't a proper question for a junior officer anyway. "Thank you, mistress. I'll see the guard in the passage immediately."

    Daniel walked to the door in the back wall with his back straight, wishing very strongly that he'd worn a better uniform when he went out the night before. He felt that everybody on the benches was watching him.

    They probably weren't. The only feeling he'd had about what happened in the General Waiting Room was occasional momentary envy that somebody else'd been called for an assignment interview and Daniel Leary hadn't.

    The two guards in the hallway on the other side of the clerical enclosure were alert but unconcerned. They were RCN personnel wearing Shore Police armbands, not soldiers from the Land Forces of the Republic.

    Daniel opened his mouth to say, "I was told that—" Before the words reached his tongue, he rephrased them to, "Clerk Four said one of you men would guide me to the back entrance of the Bellerophon Club. I'm Lieutenant Daniel Leary."

    Passive voice was a sign of weakness and fear. Daniel felt weak, and he was afraid; but he'd be damned before he'd advertise the fact.

    The younger guard squeezed a small data cube. An air-projected hologram—merely a blur of light from Daniel's perspective—formed above it briefly. "Yes sir," the guard said, sticking the cube away in its belt pouch. "If you'll come with me, please."

    He opened a door in the opposite wall and preceded Daniel down a flight of stone steps cushioned with red plush. The stairs and the corridor beyond were dry and well-lighted, though they didn't appear to get much traffic. Daniel had passed through the door from the General Waiting Room a number of times in his RCN career but he'd never guessed the existence of this part of the building.

    The guard with Daniel following made a short dog-leg to the right, then another to the left. Two more guards waited at an armored door. They brightened at the sight of company. "Hey, Binnings," one asked Daniel's guide. "This the package for the club?"

    "Right," said the guide. "One of you want to take him over? Melies is supposed to be waiting for him."

    "It ain't Melies at this hour," said the guard who hadn't spoken. "It's Roberto. And you bet I'll take him. It'll be the first sunshine I've seen in four hours."

    Not unless the overcast unexpectedly burned away in the past few minutes, Daniel thought, but he didn't speak. He was being treated like an object—a package—not only by these flunkies but also the unguessed powers above them. He'd keep his mouth shut like a good package until he knew enough to comment intelligently.

    Daniel grinned as the guards unlocked the heavy door. He wished he'd worn a better uniform when he went out last night, yes; but he didn't in the slightest regret not leaving the Grimes townhouse early enough to change clothes at home. The present mysterious business might work out very badly for him; and if so, the last hour and a half with Marta Grimes would be something to savor in bleak times.

    With the guard, obviously disconcerted by Daniel's grin, leading, they stepped out into an alley. Though narrow, it was cleaner than many hotel corridors. Daniel glanced left and right as they crossed. As he by now expected, there were Shore Police at either end.

    The door in the otherwise blank wall of the building opposite opened the instant the guard tapped on it. "Got your package, Roberto," he said to an elderly servant in livery of vertical black and white stripes.

    "Ah," Daniel said. "I'm to see the man in Room two-four-seven."

    "Of course, Lieutenant," the servant said, bowing slightly. "But he's asked that you join him instead in the roof garden. It's been reserved for your use this morning."

    Daniel nodded. He didn't speak because his mouth was dry and anyway, he didn't know what he might've said. What in the name of goodness was going on?

    They went up a circular staircase not unlike the companionways of a warship. You could armor a shaft against flying fragments and even decompression, but it was next to impossible to prevent the stresses of combat from twisting a tube enough to bind an elevator cage. Stairs were a better option.

    Daniel had no difficulty following the servant up the four flights, but he was surprised at just how agile the old man appeared to be. Occasionally there were sounds through the doors they passed at each floor, but these were merely unidentifiable murmurs.

    The servant opened one of three doors at the top of the stairs. Bowing he said, "You'll find refreshments already laid beyond, sir, so you won't be interrupted. I will wait here to escort you back when you're ready."

    By a gentleman's reflex Daniel shook hands with the servant, slipping him the florin he'd palmed as he climbed. The old fellow smiled, the first human expression he'd displayed, and bowed as Daniel stepped past him. Another good memory to have if hard times followed. . . .

    The roof garden was several hundred square feet in extent. Daniel had expected a view over the city—but that, he immediately realized, would've meant others might've observed those holding discussions in the garden. The walls were high, and the trees around the margin were evergreen spray-leaves from the planet of Peltin Major, a screen in any weather.

    Natural history was one of Daniel's wide range of leisure delights. He wondered if the landscaper had placed pools for the climbing fish which pollinated the spray-leaves in their distant home . . . and smiled at the comforting pointlessness of the thought.

    A heavy-set man in Whites sat reading from a stack of hardcopy printouts at a table in one of the garden's trefoil groves. He turned and looked up: he was Admiral Anston.

    "Sit down, Leary," said the most powerful man in the RCN, a highly successful admiral who'd retired rich to become possibly the best President of the Navy Board of all time. He waved to the serving table laid with a truly remarkable range of bottles, some of them new to Daniel. "Have a drink if you need one."

    Without waiting for Daniel to respond, Anston lurched to his feet and lifted a tawny bottle. "Damned if I don't need one myself." He poured three inches, then pointed to the glass. "Rye good enough for you? There's likely mixers somewhere."

    "Straight's fine with me," Daniel said, taking the glass and waiting while the admiral poured a similar slug for himself. Straight was fine under the circumstances; battery acid would've been fine if that's what Admiral Anston was offering. But normally, at least this early in the morning, Daniel would've added water.

    Anston raised his glass, muttered, "Cheers," in the tone of a man responding to a funeral eulogy, and took a healthy gulp. "Sit down, boy. Dammit, sit down!"

    Daniel obeyed, taking a careful drink lest he be snarled at for not doing that too. Anston was angry, and while Daniel couldn't imagine that the admiral was angry at him, he was the closest available target.

    Anston sat down also, glowering at the papers before him. "This is ninety percent bullshit, you know, Leary?" he said, thumping the stack. "Ninety-nine percent! Most of what I do all day is bullshit."

    "Sir," Daniel said, nodding. He didn't know what he was supposed to say or do. This was much worse than being reamed out for the condition of his uniform; that he could've understood.

    "And this next part is bullshit also, but I'm going to do it regardless," Anston said, his voice suddenly firm. "The Republic owes you a good deal, boy. You know that and I know that. Every bloody soul in the RCN knows that."

    "Sir," Daniel repeated. He was holding a full glass of whiskey and he had no desire whatever to take a drink. Bloody hell!

    "But we don't always get what we're owed," Anston said. "You know that too?"

    "Yes sir," said Daniel, his voice calm and his mind suddenly calmer as well. "I know that very well." He paused, considering, then finished his thought aloud: "And often enough, sir, we get more than we really deserve. I have, at any rate."

    "Huh!" Anston said, smiling and tossing off half the remainder of his whiskey. "Well, you won't say that this time, I'm bound."

    He eyed Daniel across the table's patterned marble surface. "You're a good officer, Leary," he said. "A good officer and a lucky one, which can be even better. Your uncle taught me things about astrogation that the Academy never dreamed of, and he taught you more—your record shows that."

    Anston emptied his glass. Because there was a pause and a harmless response available, Daniel said, "Thank you, sir. Uncle Stacey was a good man and a great astrogator. Uniquely skilled."

    The admiral still glowered, but he seemed to have relaxed somewhat. He set his glass down and didn't seem interested in refilling it.

    "'Needs of the service' generally means some clerk isn't willing to do his job properly," Anston said. "That or somebody above you has the knife in for whatever reason. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. Only sometimes it means what it says: the needs of the service come before what any individual is owed."

    "Yes sir," Daniel said. He cleared his throat and added, "Sir, I'm a Leary of Bantry and an officer of the RCN. I know that the RCN doesn't exist for my personal benefit."

    "Aye," said Anston, "nor for mine either. But I've made a good thing out of it, I'll tell the world! And you will too, boy—if you keep the course you've charted this morning: doing your duty and keepying your head down."

    He rose to his feet again, grinning. "And if you survive."

    "Yessir," Daniel said, rising also. He drank, a mouthful and another mouthful and a third, emptying the glass. The interview was obviously over. It'd have been discourteous to leave a full glass on the table; and besides, it was very good whisky. "Rye" could mean a lot of things, particularly in a spaceport bar; but this was probably older than Daniel himself was.

    "Pardon all this rigmarole, Leary," the admiral said with a scowl. "I'm not one to complain about politics—where would the RCN be without politics, I ask you? Sucking hind tit behind the generals and every other damned bureaucrat in Xenos, that's where! But sometimes there's hard choices. I wanted you to hear this from me personally."

    He tapped the papers on the table and went on, "I'll tell you truthfully, it'll be my job if the wrong parties learn I've been talking out of school. Even me, boy."

    "I appreciate your trust, sir," Daniel said as he set down the glass. He threw Anston a sharper salute than he—or any of his drill and ceremony instructors at the Academy—would've thought he had in him, then turned and walked back to the door at a measured pace.

    Admiral Anston had just informed him that Lieutenant Leary wasn't going to be promoted as he perhaps deserved for his exploits in the Princess Cecile. Indeed, Daniel knew the betting gave him an outside chance of being jumped to full commander instead of lieutenant commander, the next step.

    But he was smiling nonetheless. That meant he'd remain in command of the Sissie; and he was young enough that command of his handy, lucky corvette was still worth more than the increased pay and rank of a promotion that took him away from her.



    "The Princess Cecile, the corvette you've been assigned to in the past . . ." said Mistress Sand, sitting across from Adele in the back room of O'Brian's Books and Manuscripts. She didn't look at the pre-Hiatus manuscript on the table between them; unlike Adele, Sand was neither a collector nor a compulsive cataloguer. "Is to be taken out of service as beyond economical repair. Your friend Leary will be assigned to a larger vessel to serve under the command of a senior officer."

    Adele took the personal data unit out of her pocket and switched it on, silently considering what she'd just heard. Sand hadn't raised her voice or given the words any rhetorical flourishes, but the fact the spymaster'd opened the meeting with that bald statement proved she'd known exactly what she was saying.

    The data unit's holographic display was its usual welcome pearliness, waiting for Adele to tell it where to start. She had no idea where to start; no idea at all. She shrank the starting display and met Sand's eyes directly.

    "Why in the name of heaven are they doing that?" Adele said as calmly as if she were facing her opponent on a dueling ground . . . as she had done, and had killed him there. The first of uncountably many times she had killed. . . .

    Sand must've understood where her words would send her agent's mind; it was Sand's job to understand, and she did her job very well. She didn't flinch.

    She continued, "The court-martial upheld Commander Slidell's actions because the sitting officers—and those above them—felt that any other decision would seriously corrupt discipline in the middle of a war."

    She shrugged and took out a polished black snuffbox different from the one she'd carried but hadn't used the night before. She must've noticed Adele's flicker of interest, because a wry grin flickered across Sand's stern face.

    "Cannel coal," she explained, placing a pinch of snuff in the hollow between the back of her left hand and thumb. "And as for the court-martial's decision, perhaps it was correct. I don't choose to second-guess naval officers in their own bailiwick. The plan, as I understand it, was to send Commander Slidell on a deployment that would keep him away from Cinnabar for long enough that public feeling would die down."

    Sand shrugged. "After last night," she said, "they've decided that simply hiding Slidell from sight isn't going to be enough to end the immediate problem. Eight square blocks were burned out, and there's reason to expect matters to get worse tonight."

    "Are they planning to bring in the army?" Adele asked. Her tone was much the same as she'd have used if Sand were briefing her about the situation on a distant world. Dispassionate information-gathering followed by dispassionate analysis was the best choice for a person like Adele Mundy.

    Not the only choice, though. A pair of sergeants in the Land Forces of the Republic had used their knives to cut off Agatha's head. If she ever met those men . . .

    "No, not unless it's absolutely necessary," Sand said. "There's concern at the highest levels of government that this might lead to open warfare between soldiers and spacers from the warships in Harbor Three. They're believed to sympathize with the rioters, you see."

    "Ah," said Adele as she brought up the display of her data unit again. "Yes, I do see."

    Sand stopped her left nostril and snorted the snuff into her right. Her face screwed up as she fished a handkerchief from her breast pocket, then sneezed violently into it.

    As she waited for the spymaster to continue, Adele viewed RCN personnel assignments. Slidell was listed as Pending, scarcely a surprise. The next stage was to call up open slots for a commander in the RCN, then refining the sort further for off-Cinnabar deployments. . . .

    "Your friend Leary's a hero," Sand resumed. "To the citizens of Cinnabar, and particularly to the enlisted ranks of the Navy."

    "A captain who goes where it's hottest," Adele said with a mocking lilt in her voice to keep from choking on emotion—on pride and on love. Her mind had already arrived at where the spymaster's words were heading. "A captain who brings his spacers back with money in their pockets and with honor from every soul they meet, just for having served under Mister Leary."

    "Yes," Sand said. She wasn't pleading—Adele didn't imagine that Sand would plead under any circumstances—but for all the spymaster's neutral words and flat delivery, she was asking for Adele's help. "If the Navy can show that Daniel Leary is willing to serve under Commander Slidell, then perhaps Slidell isn't such a villain after all. Then we don't have civil war between the army and navy, or alternatively have to stand by while Xenos burns down around our ears."

    "The ship is to be the Hermes, an anti-pirate tender classed as a light cruiser?" Adele said, her eyes on her display. She held a wand not unlike a single chopstick in either hand. Their angles, both absolute and relative to one another, provided instantaneous control of the data unit without the space requirements of a keyboard, even a virtual one.

    Mistress Sand said nothing for a moment. Her face remained expressionless, but now it had the stiffness of granite rather than flesh. "Yes, mistress," she said, "the Hermes."

    Sand cleared her throat and continued, "Mistress, I wouldn't normally pry into your sources of information, but I had reason to believe that only two people in the human universe had that information until now. If my communications with Admiral Anston aren't secure, then I really must know that."

    Adele didn't know what an anti-pirate tender was, so she cascaded into another data field. The Hermes was dumbbell-shaped, which didn't make sense till she brought up the image of a ship of the class in service. Smaller vessels, cutters, were docked against the central bar in two groups of three, slightly offset from one another.

    Aloud Adele said, "I was simply searching data, mistress. You gave me the parameters when you told me the commanding officer's rank and stated that the purpose was to get him a distance from Cinnabar immediately. When I found that the prospective officers of a new-built ship meeting those parameters had been removed unexpectedly a few hours ago, I formed a hypothesis—"

    Another person might have said, "took a guess." That person would never have gathered the necessary background information.

    "—which I tested by asking you a direct question. It's what you pay me to do."

    "I see," said Sand. For the first time in Adele's association with her, the spymaster looked distinctly uncomfortable.

    Adele set her wands down. "I'm not sure you do, mistress," she said. "I'm extremely angry at what's happening to a friend of mine, probably the only friend I've ever had or ever will have. I embarrassed you deliberately because though it's not your fault, you're party to what's happening."

    She grimaced. "And for that I apologize," she added. "If you want my resignation, you have it. Of course."

    Mistress Sand's cheeks bulged and her sides began to shake. She didn't speak. Adele watched in cold horror, wondering if their exchange had provoked a fit.

    "For God's sake, Mundy!" Sand blurted at last. She staggered to her feet. "For God's sake!"

    She's laughing. Adele's face became very still. She stood up also.

    "Please, please, I wasn't laughing at you," Sand said, sobering instantly. "I was laughing at myself."

    She got her breath, then continued, "Mundy, I've said a number of times that I'd league with demons if they'd aid the Republic against Guarantor Porra and the beasts who work for him. I just realized that I've apparently done that, leagued with a demon. But you're the Republic's demon, and I'm bloody well not going to let you go now that I've found you!"

    That's flattering, in a way, Adele thought. A smile touched her lips. Not least because it's more or less the way I view myself.

    The smile grew broader. And how, I wonder, do Alliance spacers view Lieutenant Daniel Leary? 

    Adele sat down again to make it easier to use her data unit. Whatever you learned brought up additional questions. To the extent there was a reason to continue living, that was the reason.

    "What about a crew for the Hermes?" she asked, her eyes on the holographic display. "Will Daniel bring the Sissies with him?"

    "Yes," Sand said, sitting down as well. Adele was barely aware of the movement. "The new crew combines spacers from the Princess Cecile with those from the Bainbridge."

    "Saving the three whom Commander Slidell executed, one hopes," Adele said as her wands flickered. Sand didn't respond, but a smile touched Adele's lips. It was the sort of joke that only Tovera was likely to think funny . . . but nonetheless it proved Adele Mundy wasn't the humorless machine she'd been called any number of times during her life.

    And come to think, most RCN spacers would chuckle at the thought as well. Adele had been raised to judge "most people" by civilian standards. Spacers knew death too well to let it frighten them unduly.

    "Mistress," Sand said, speaking very carefully again. "I don't ask you to spy on your friends, but I ask you for your opinion as an agent of the Republic: will Lieutenant Leary accept the new appointment, do you think? Because everything is predicated on that."

    "Daniel will do his duty, yes," Adele said, keeping her tone perfectly flat. "Being his father's son, he'll understand the political imperatives behind the assignment."

    She shrank her display to meet Sand's eyes again. "Now," she continued. "I have a request."

    "Make it," Sand said. She didn't add, "Anything you ask will be granted," or the similar nonsense other people might've expected to hear. There were requests Sand wouldn't grant. They both knew that, and to suggest otherwise would mean one or the other party was a fool.

    "Ganse, the First Lieutenant of the Bainbridge, is quite senior," Adele said. "Daniel won't ask this but I will: remove Ganse from the proposed crew for the Hermes and replace him with a lieutenant who's junior to Lieutenant Leary. The purposes of the Republic don't require that Daniel serve as Second Lieutenant under an officer of lesser distinction."

    Sand smiled faintly. "I'll see what can be done," she said simply. She pursed her lips and slid the snuffbox along the edge of the table with her forefinger. Raising her eyes to Adele's she continued, "I operate on the assumption that you wish to accompany Lieutenant Leary wherever he may be assigned, Mundy. If that isn't correct, please inform me."

    "It's quite correct," Adele said. "That's one of the few things that I don't expect to change."

    In part that was true because she could no longer imagine living without the odd dynamic stability that Daniel Leary provided within the greater cocoon of the RCN. It was strange that you could live your life without something but then find it absolutely necessary from the moment of its arrival.

    Sand nodded. "That's useful," she said, "because the Hermes will be posted to the Gold Dust Squadron based on Nikitin. There's information leaking from Nikitin. I'd very much like that leak to be plugged. I know that in the past you haven't been involved in counterintelligence work, but I don't believe there's anyone better suited to the task."

    Adele shrugged; her wands moved with quick precision, as though each had a separate will. Nikitin . . . Gold Dust Cluster, over three hundred stars many with inhabited planets; main export, naturally occurring anti-aging compounds . . . Piracy; volume, cost, suppression, Gold Dust Squadron . . . 

    "It's all information," Adele said as she skimmed her data, mentally ear-marking sections for review at leisure. A quick side-trip brought her to Anti-Pirate Tenders, Under Construction, Hermes . . . She smiled to have doubled back to familiar territory. "It doesn't really matter whether I'm looking for information about Alliance forces or information passing to the Alliance about our forces. It's all the same."

    "You're the expert," Sand said with a smile of satisfaction. "Do you have anything further, mistress?"

    "Perhaps," said Adele, hoping to keep the tremble out of her voice. She was about to meddle in matters which by no stretch of the imagination were the business of a private citizen. She shut down her data unit. "You said the Princess Cecile is being taken out of service. What will happen to her?"

    "I can ask," Sand said. "What do you think should happen to her, mistress?"

    Adele cleared her throat. "Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a naval architect," she said. "I've listened to Daniel and others discuss the construction of the Princess Cecile, but I may have badly misconstrued the actual situation."

    "I accept you're not an expert on naval construction," Mistress Sand said, still smiling. "I'll further postulate that you've assessed other unfamiliar specialties accurately enough to turn the course of battles in favor of the Republic."

    "Yes," said Adele. She allowed herself a smile. "Cinnabar builders favor one-piece construction for starships, creating very stiff, sturdy vessels. Many officers believe this to be the only proper way of building a ship."

    "Go on, mistress," Sand said. She held the snuffbox between the tips of her index fingers, shifting it slightly so that the polished black casing glinted in the indirect light of the viewing room.

    "The Sissie is Kostroman built and therefore has a modular hull," Adele said. She deliberately used the corvette's nickname to emphasize to the spymaster that Adele Mundy was a part of a unique world: the community of those who sailed between the stars in flimsy metal boxes and who fought other, similar communities. "Long voyages loosen the structure in a fashion that wouldn't occur with a unit hull, but they don't actually affect the ship's basic integrity. She just needs to be tightened up."

    "If it were that simple," Sand said, speaking with the care of someone who doesn't intend that a disagreement become a fight, "wouldn't the docks at Harbor Three have done the work instead of recommending the corvette be discarded?"

    "So far as RCN personnel are concerned," Adele said, "a modular ship is by definition uneconomic to repair. They don't have the specialist expertise to do the work properly, and in their hearts they don't believe it ought to be done anyway. A small private dockyard, however, might be able to put the Sissie back in shape very easily."

    "Simply thinking out loud . . ." Sand said. "If the Princess Cecile were sold as scrap to a private dockyard like Bergen and Associates, she might become an asset to the Republic in the form of a privateer or fast transport."

    "Yes," said Adele. Bergen and Associates was a partnership between Daniel Leary, a legacy from his uncle Stacey Bergen, and Corder Leary. "I think she might. And it'd be a better end than rust for a ship which has rendered valuable services to the Republic in the past."

    Sand laughed, but there was more wistfulness than humor in the sound. "Do you think ships have souls, Mundy?" she asked.

    "I don't think human beings have souls, Mistress Sand," Adele said harshly. "But if a ship could have a soul, the Sissie would."

    "I take your point," Sand said. She slipped away her snuffbox and braced her hands on the table, preparatory to rising. "I appreciate your diligence toward the long-term best interests of the Republic, Mundy."

    Adele also stood and put her personal data unit back in its pocket. Another person using the same words would've meant them ironically. Bernis Sand, though, could follow a chain of events through more layers of cause and effect than anyone else Adele had met.

    "I'll drop a word in the right ear," Sand said. She gestured Adele to the door; they would leave the building by different exits and some minutes apart. "It seems to me that the Republic owes a proper reward to a ship which has always given more than duty required."

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