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The Way to Glory: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 03:16 EST



Sinmary Port on Nikitin

    An enlisted spacer flew Lt. Zileri with Adele and Tovera back to the Garnet in the vessel's small aircar. The patrol cruiser was good sized, nominally of three thousand tons displacement--the same as the Hermes, though arranged in a cigar shape rather than the tender's uncommon dumbbell. Even to eyes as inexpert as Adele's, the Garnet looked worn.

    The ship had eight rings of antennas. Each should've had four masts--dorsal and ventral, port and starboard. Starboard Three and Four were missing, and it seemed likely there were other gaps in the Port and Ventral rows which Adele couldn't see from her present angle.

    She thought it was an illusion that the cruiser was riding lower on the starboard side than on the port, but when the aircar settled to the quay she saw it was actually true. Spacers and others who wore the dull blue of ground staff--or at any rate, wore scraps of blue uniforms, mostly cut-off and grease-stained--were at work on the starboard outrigger. A large pump powered by its own fusion bottle waited alongside on a flatbed, though it hadn't been hooked up to the outrigger as yet.

    The aircar landed gently on the quay. Mud which ground vehicles had tracked onto the concrete had dried, so a doughnut of dust lifted from beneath the car and straggled away on the gentle breeze.

    One of the men on the outrigger waved to Zileri, then started toward them across one of several catwalks laid for the purpose. He wore a commo helmet and utilities with the sleeves buttoned short.

    "Say, Captain!" Zileri called over the descending whine as the fans slowed. "We're in luck. This is Signals Officer Mundy who's serving with my friend Danny Leary. She's going to fix the commo suite for us!"

    That's getting a little ahead of yourself, Adele thought. But it was certainly what she intended to do... and judging from past experience, she'd probably succeed.

    Adele found it difficult to be objective about herself, and her tendency not to trust the future was a learned reflex. You could arrive on Bryce, preparing to begin a lifetime of study, and learn in a few days that you were a penniless orphan....

    "Mistress Mundy," Zileri said, turning to make introductions. "This is Captain Andy Toron, as good an officer as you could hope to serve under. Andy, this is the Sparks who figured out what Cluster HQ wouldn't have in another million years."

    "You're just trying to butter me up in hopes I'll leave you on the ground when we head back to Yang in a few days," Toron said. He was a short man--barely taller than Adele's five-feet five-inches--but in extremely good physical condition. It was obviously something he worked at. "No such luck."

    "Aw, don't even joke about that," Zileri said, walking with Adele and the Captain to the boarding ramp just down the quay. Tovera followed behind. "We ought to be able to go two, maybe three months before we're up for that duty again, right?"

    "I wish it was joke," Toron grumbled. "No, it's not. Kwo, the consular agent on Yang, sent a dispatch by freighter just after we left. Seems the government captured a couple hundred mercenaries from Burwood fighting with the rebels. They're Cinnabar citizens, so he wants a naval vessel to free and repatriate them. And you heard they managed to half-sink the Corny landing her?"

    "Yeah, how'd they do that?" Zileri said. They strode up the ramp, Adele between the two officers and Tovera a pace behind. The internal hatches were all open, so the entrance hold echoed with the sound of tools and the calls of those using them.

    "Hell if I know," Toron said. "What matters is that the crews of the Cutlass and Chrissie are fully committed to raising the Corny, so guess who that leaves to take care of the situation on Yang? Again!"

    They entered a companionway and started up. A rainbow-colored animal the length of Adele's hand swooped through the air past her. She started instinctively.

    "Aw, don't let the lizards bother you, mistress," Zileri said. "They keep the cockroaches down, as much as anything can anyhow."

    He muttered a curse and added, "I wish somebody'd downed that bastard Kwo on Yang before he sent that stupid report, though. Who the hell cares if a few wogs from Burwood get whacked on Yang? They took their chances, right?"

    "Look, if you wanted to make citizenship policy for the Republic, you shouldn't have joined the RCN," Toron said wearily. The two officers were letting off steam, not really arguing. "And don't blame Kwo. He did us a favor, tried to anyhow. He probably had that report before we lifted, but he held it a day figuring somebody else would get a turn in the barrel instead of keeping us on Yang."

    They came out on A Deck. The main corridor and the bridge just forward of the companionway were much better lighted than the companionways. For an instant, the bulkheads seemed to shiver; then Adele realized she was seeing a wave of large cockroaches scurrying away.

    Another lizard, this one bright yellow, ran a few steps along the bulkhead before launching itself on flaps of translucent membrane stretched by its three pairs of legs. It snapped up a roach on the fly and sailed back to perch on a ventilator grating. The roach's wing covers fluttered to the deck.

    "They make good pets," Zileri said, following Adele's eyes. "Once you get used to them, anyhow."

    "And there's nothing else for the roaches," Toron said. "Venting to vacuum doesn't kill the egg cases, and you can't use poisons when you've got to recycle your air for God knows how long."

    The entered the bridge. The bosun seated at the command console turned and said, "Sir?"

    "Stay where you are, Gorney," the Captain said. "I'm just bringing Sparks from the Hermes to take a look at our commo."

    The only other crew member was a young, intense-looking man with Signals Branch lightning bolts on his lapels. He had a wiring schematic on his display, but from his scowl it wasn't helping him a great deal. At Toron's words, he turned with a look of relief and said, "You think you can fix it? Because I been tearing my hair out since we got back from Jacobean way last year. I can't find a bloody thing wrong!"

    "I'll try," said Adele. "If I can--"

    She hadn't gotten the request out before the signaller, Hernandez she remembered--the name tape on his utilities was too faded to read--jumped from his console. "Please!" he said. "Any bloody thing you want. You want me to dance on the maintop, I'll do it if that'll get the commo suite fixed."

    "I don't think it'll require that," Adele said with a faint smile as she seated herself at the console. She brought out her personal data unit. For most tasks she found it quicker to use the little unit with her wands as a controller coupled to the primary system, rather than to adjust herself to a console set up in an unfamiliar way.

    The display blurred; another yellow lizard--this one with a bright red tail--had sailed through the air-formed hologram, distorting it. Adele was by no means sure that she'd get used to the creatures, though it seemed that she might have to if the Hermes remained here on station for the year or more she expected.

    "Say, you heard we're going back to Yang, didn't you, Lieutenant?" the signaller said to Zileri as Adele completed linking her unit to the console. "D'ye suppose we'll have to fight this rebel cruiser?"

    "Any fighting we do's going to be trading shots on the ground, Hernandez," Captain Toron said. "And our problem's with President Shin's government, anyway. Not that there's much difference I can see."

    "This batch of rebels have an old Alliance post ship, Mundy," Lt. Zileri explained as Adele cascaded the data across her holographic display. The trick was finding the correct directory since you couldn't trust the descriptions which other people had given the information. "They armed her and call her the Beacon of Yang, but long odds she couldn't lift into orbit. It's just bragging."

    "Everything on Yang's just bragging," Toron said in a resigned voice. "Bragging and dirt. Every kind of dirt there is."

    Adele had the navigation directory. The headers were alphanumerical, nonsense groupings so far as she was concerned, but by checking for times of entry she quickly set out the inputs occurring at just over six standard months and just over five. She opened the first.

    "We'd be saving ourselves time if we slagged this Beacon while it's on the ground," Zileri said with a touch of enthusiasm. "If we make a pass over the area, you know they'll shoot at us. Bloody hell, they shoot at refugee ships! We've got a right to shoot back, right?"

    "The trouble is, they've got anti-ship missiles in place around the Beacon," Toron said. "That was in Kwo's report, too. Mind, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd brokered the missiles to the rebels himself. The cruiser, so called, that's no threat to us, but a sheaf of hittiles through our Power Room and it's all over."

    The astrogational data in the file proper meant nothing to Adele, but the format sidebar was clear--and was clearly the problem. She made a series of quick changes then shifted to the next similar input.

    "Maybe we could come in at low level?" Zileri said, not so much hopefully as in the tone of a man toying with a puzzle. "Of course, if we've got to trick them into shooting at us, it doesn't help to take them by surprise so they can't."

    The navigational update five-plus months back appeared to be the only one that had changed defaults. Perhaps it'd been compiled at a different location? Though it might be as simple as someone going on vacation and his standard task being handled by a different person.

    "They're on Big Florida Island," Toron said. "We'll just route around them into and out of Heavenly Peace. If they ever do get the Beacon into space, she'll be easy enough to deal with then."

    "All right," said Adele, sliding her wands into their carrying case, then getting up from the console. "I've corrected the problem, I believe. Mister Hernandez, if you and Lt. Zileri will take a look at the file, I'll show you where to make the correction if the problem recurs after a later astrogational update."

    Hernandez slipped into the seat Adele had just vacated. "All right," he muttered. He highlighted the change in the file history without needing Adele to point it out. "All right, yes! Mundy, this is brilliant!"

    "You can test it by setting the computer to run an astrogational problem, anything at all so long as it's running," Adele said to the two commissioned officers. "And use your commo for normal traffic. But I don't think you'll have a problem."

    Captain Toron beamed. "Say, Mundy," he said. "You wouldn't like a transfer to the Garnet, would you? She doesn't look like much, but she's a regular little money-spinner for her crew. We took, retook from pirates I mean, a freighter a couple months ago with a million and a half florins of anti-aging drugs aboard."

    "Thank you," Adele said as she returned her data unit to its pocket. "But I think I'll stay with the Hermes."

    "Anything we can do for you another time, then, mistress," said Toron. "It's hard enough duty here in the Cluster even when we help each other, and you've sure helped us."

    "Yeah," Zileri said. "And I don't want to explain to Danny how we snatched away the magician he's got for a Sparks. Well, that Captain Slidell has, I guess."

    "You were right the first time," Tovera said in a dry voice as she followed Adele toward the companionways.

    A lizard with blue legs and a bright green body sprinted along the corridor ahead of them squeaking, then launched itself and curved through the hatch airborne. The squeaks echoed faintly after the creature itself had disappeared.

    Adele smiled faintly. Yes, Zileri had been right the first time.



    The only thing the Raynham mother and daughter had agreed on was that the other wasn't going to sit beside Lt. Leary, so Daniel rode in the front of the aircar with Buscaigne. The sea breeze was fitful with occasional gusts over the steep edge of the island that made flying tricky, but Buscaigne set the vehicle down with an expert fluff of the fans.

    "Admiral Daudell built this parking area when he opened out the Grand Gallery," Celia said brightly. "It'd become quite overgrown, though, till dear Zita had it and the Gallery too cleaned up for the ball she gave last Republic Day. Zita really takes an interest in our little community, not like some earlier Admirals."

    Admiral Milne was personally wealthy from her eighth of all prizes taken by the Gold Dust Squadron, so she might very well have hired farm laborers or civilian personnel from the port when they were off duty to clean and renovate the gallery and its attendant facilities. If that's what she'd done, Daniel would cheerfully add his praise to Lady Raynham's.

    The chances were, though, that Milne had simply detailed spacers from the ships under her command to do the work. That was what admirals did, after all; and so did other powerful people, including politicians like Speaker Leary. It was the way of the world, and Daniel didn't lose sleep protesting it... but the fact that spacers were prettying up the landscape for a party instead of pulling maintenance on their vessels might have something to do with the failure that left the Cornelwood half-sunk in the harbor.

    Celia Raynham sat directly behind Daniel. Buscaigne hopped out of the car while the fans were still spinning and trotted around the front to get to her before Daniel could.

    "Allow me to hand you out, my dear!" he said firmly. Given that Daniel had no more desire to touch the lady than he wanted to be embraced by one of the giant amoebas from the harbor, he heartily approved of Buscaigne's procedure.

    "And will you be my gallant, Dannie?" Ginny Raynham said, holding her arm out over the side of the aircar in invitation.

    "Yes," said her mother. "Dear Geneva really does need someone to take care of her. She has scarcely a bean of her own, poor thing, just the tiny trust fund Lord Raynham settled on her before he passed. All the rest came to me."

    Daniel set his arm for Ginny to take as she stepped lightly from the vehicle. He didn't imagine Celia thought money was of any real significance to him--certainly not in anything having to do with women. She was just making a point of being nasty, rather as Ginny did about Celia's age. Like mother, like daughter, he supposed; though probably Adele would say something harsher about humanity in general.

    He smiled. And that harsh judgment might be right; but that was Adele, not him. What he felt about the present situation was that Ginny Raynham was a very attractive girl who was determined to get to know him better--for a time.

    Daniel looked about. The island's margin stood ten or twelve feet above the sea here; take two steps southward from the parking area and you'd drop straight into the water. The ground across a gully on the north side of the area sloped upward, though by no means steeply by the standards of most planets. Daniel saw the mouth of a cave not far up the hillside.

    The roof of the rambling Admiral's Mansion was in sight a quarter mile to the east, but the intervening terrain was native forest. A path led along the seafront from the port housing to the parking area. There was probably a spur up to the mansion, but Daniel hadn't noticed it as they flew here from the harbor.

    A metal footpath, this one a full five feet wide, dropped into the gully before rising into the woods. It'd been freshly repaired. Daniel started down it with Ginny clinging to his arm. Behind them he heard Buscaigne and Lady Raynham speaking in low voices; the words were unintelligible but both sounded peevish.

    To Daniel's surprise, the path kinked to the left instead of continuing toward the opening he'd spotted from the parking area. "Isn't it this way?" he said doubtfully, pointing into the woods with his free hand. From this angle he couldn't see the cave, but he thought he could find it easily enough.

    "No, no, follow the path, Leary," Buscaigne called in a tone barely within the bounds of politeness. The mesh flexed with his weight and that of Lady Raynham as they followed the younger couple. "Do you think we're such bumpkins here on Sinmary that we'd build a track off to nowhere?"

    Daniel grinned instead of bristling. The gibe had called to his mind the only circumstances in which he could visualize Buscaigne doing physical work: as part of a prison labor gang, preferably chained to other convicts.

    Ginny leaned her left breast against Daniel's arm as she pointed up the slope. "Those are the Wormholes up there, Dannie," she said. "There's ever so many of them, but they don't really go anywhere. They're like a ball of knotted string."

    "The Grand Gallery wasn't open to the surface until Admiral Daudell opened it," explained her mother as she and Buscaigne joined them. "Such a shame that I couldn't have brought you here for the ball last month, Dannie. With fairy lights glued to the ceiling it was just enchanting!"

    "Come along, Celia," Buscaigne said. His lips smiled, but he was guiding her clear of Daniel with more determination than affection. "I think we'll find the natural light even more romantic than we did that glitter."

    Ginny had been clinging to Daniel's right arm. Now that her mother was in front of them, she tugged his arm around her waist instead. Daniel let his hand rest lightly on her hip, allowing just enough pressure to feel the muscles shift beneath the layer of smooth padding.

    The path made another angled turn--beryllium sheeting had to be laid in straight lines--and ended in an arch cut through the limestone with power saws. Steps led downward into relative darkness. The workmen had made a half-hearted effort to sculpt framing pilasters with the same tools. Decades of weathering had softened the crude outlines into something mildly charming.

    Celia hesitated at the entrance, but Buscaigne applied pressure till she trotted down to keep from overbalancing. Daniel raised an eyebrow to Ginny, but she grinned in response and led him through by the hand.

    There was considerably more light in the Grand Gallery than there'd seemed from the outside. Besides the limited amount that trickled through the shaded entrance, seven tall keyholes were cut in the south-facing wall of the cliff. Daniel's first impulse had been to draw his light-amplifying goggles down, but after a moment he found that the sort of gray half-light the openings cast through the cavern was enough to see by.

    There wasn't a great deal to see, though the vault's very size--it stretched for several hundred yards--was impressive. The arched ceiling was generally more than twenty feet above the cave floor, but icy-looking stalactites reached down to half that distance in some places. A zigzag of lacy stone curtained the back wall midway into the cavern.

    Besides litter on the floor--paper trash, discarded garments, and the frequent wink of broken glassware--there were few signs of human intrusion into this world. Thirty feet from the entrance, movable stands held a plush rope circling a hole in the floor. Two other sinkholes were roped off at roughly equal intervals.

    "Come here, Dannie," called Celia, gesturing to Daniel as she strode toward the nearby sinkhole. Now that she was inside, the hesitation she'd shown before entering the cavern had vanished. She stepped briskly, kicking aside a fist-sized chunk of rock that'd fallen from the roof. "You're interested in animals, aren't you?"

    Indeed Daniel was, though the fact Lady Raynham knew that was more than a little surprising. He walked over to her, smiling deliberately instead of frowning as he'd otherwise have done. Ginny didn't try to hold him back, though she kept a firm grip on his arm as she matched him stride for stride. Buscaigne followed Celia, his eyes on the ground save for a single quick glare of hostility toward Daniel.

    Celia tipped over two of the supports, then squatted on her haunches at the edge of the sinkhole. "Look," she said to Daniel, pointing downward.

    He knelt with his knees on the plush rope instead of squatting. The hole was filled with water to a few feet below the edge; Daniel couldn't quite have touched the surface without bending over at the waist. Micro-organisms gave the sea a milky luminescence, making the cavity brighter than the main cavern above it.

    Tiny shapes slithered in schools; then, with shocking abruptness, a broad ribbon longer than Daniel was tall shimmered through the lesser fish. Teeth flashed. The predator vanished again, leaving behind rags of blood and fragments of the prey it'd savaged.

    Buscaigne had placed himself between Daniel and Lady Raynham, he jumped back when the large fish struck. Celia didn't move and her daughter, standing with a hand on Daniel's shoulder, asked, "Were you frightened, Lars dear?" in mock concern.

    "Is the sinkhole open to the sea?" Daniel asked. From the wildlife survey he'd read during the voyage from Cinnabar, he recognized the predator as a glass shark. They got even larger than this one, but he'd understood they were open-ocean creatures as adults.

    "It connects to the sea on the north side of the island, not this side," Ginny said, pointing toward the openings in the cliff face. "All three of them do. But Admiral Daudell put a mesh over the openings so that only little fish could get in or out. Those that grow can't leave."

    "Umm," Daniel said, rising to his feet. The pool continued to swirl from the strike of the glass shark, but the fingerlings had resumed their dance. How deep was the sinkhole, anyway, and did it...?

    "Are all the pools connected?" he said, pointing to the other roped-off openings. He started toward the next in line, carefully skirting this one. A six-foot glass shark could give a human being a dangerous or even fatal bite, but it probably wouldn't because its normal prey was much smaller.

    Still, mistakes happen. The water was a glowing fog in which a man's flailing arm might look like a separate entity of just the size for dinner.

    "No, they're separate," said Ginny, taking his arm again as she walked alongside. "Do we have a light along? In the last pool there's a rock squid that's just beautiful."

    Daniel checked his equipment belt by reflex, though he already knew the answer. "Yes, I do," he said. "I have my service light, anyway."

    He took out his light, a squat tube the size of four fingers extended together.It threw a bright spot onto the lace curtain he switched it on briefly. Reflection spread the output into a soft glow across the twenty feet ahead of him. "Will this do?"

    Celia hugged him closer in agreement.

    "Admiral Daudell used convicts to open the Gallery," Celia said, following behind them. As best Daniel could tell, she was speaking simply to be noticed. "Convicts from Cinnabar, I mean."

    Daniel nodded. He hadn't heard that but it was certainly possible. A generation or two ago, the Republic had transported criminals to outlying planets to serve a term of hard labor, then remain as colonists. The practice got criminals off Cinnabar, but it'd led to a serious security problem on worlds which the Alliance attacked. The prison gangs provided Alliance troops with a ready-made Fifth Column.



    Daniel glanced into the second pool. To his surprise the water was dark except for rainbow twinkles like the sun lifting fire from the facets of diamonds. Though both were open to the sea, this habitat was completely different from the one a hundred yards closer to the Gallery's entrance.

    He shone his light down. Hand-sized invertebrates cruised in slow circles, their gill rings expanding and contracting as they filtered anything that could provide food from the water. When Daniel's beam struck them directly, they collapsed into themselves and sank. A fingernail-sized organ at the end of a long filament flashed nervously behind them.

    "Come and see the last one," Celia said, putting her hand over Daniel's like a child leading her little brother. "It's lovely!"

    "I don't think we need to go so far, Geneva darling," her mother said. Her tone was outwardly warm, but the words had a peevish color when they echoed from the cavern walls. "Perhaps Dannie would like to come back to my house for tea?"

    "He has his duties, Celia," Buscaigne said.

    "You don't have to come, mother," Ginny called, resting her cheek on Daniel's shoulder briefly as they walked along. "In fact, why don't you fly back to the house? Dannie and I can walk to the port. I'll find a ride there when I'm ready to come home."

    Lady Raynham didn't respond, but Daniel heard her footsteps--and those of Buscaigne--pattering determinedly along behind. He turned his lamp off, making do with the indirect light through the windows. The cave had been cleaned recently enough that only a few rocks littered the floor.

    "The convicts didn't only open the Gallery, you know," Lady Raynham continued. "Admiral Daudell used them to bury his treasure--and the rumor is that he had them all murdered then so that no one would know where it was hidden!"

    "Oh, mother," Ginny said. "That's a fairy tale! Things like that don't really happen."

    Daniel blanked his face without speaking. It wasn't completely beyond imagination that an RCN admiral would've murdered prisoners, but it was unlikely. More important, if it had happened, word would've gotten out. That was the sort of story that Uncle Stacey and his former shipmates talked about over a bottle in the office of Bergen and Associates while little Dannie Leary listened entranced in the corner. Besides, what treasure would Daudell, an ineffectual though well-connected man, have amassed?

    "I'm not surprised you say that, Geneva," Celia said in a cool voice, "because family has never meant anything to you. My father, the grandfather you never knew, was Superintendent of Works at Sinmary Port. He was responsible for feeding the convicts while they worked under Admiral Daudell. He said that Daudell continued drawing rations for the gang three full days after work on the Grand Gallery was complete. So there!"

    Daniel cleared his throat. "Is it possible that the Admiral was selling the rations?" he asked. "To landowners to feed their laborers, perhaps?"

    "It is not," Celia said firmly. Then, probably because she knew the statement was nonsense--of course there was a market for RCN rations, and if Daudell was too great a paragon of virtue to line his pockets at the Republic's expense then he was more unusual than an admiral who massacred prisoners--she added, "Not without my father knowing about it, I mean. He said he and his staff themselves distributed the rations to the convicts, not to navy personnel."

    Daniel pursed his lips again. That sounded believable--because it implied that Lady Raynham's father had been concerned to get his share of any graft. He'd probably been as surprised as Daniel was that the delay in releasing the convicts to other projects hadn't been a profitable dodge on Daudell's part.

    "Geneva has no sense of family," Lady Raynham continued in her martyred tone. "I think that might be why my dear Lord Raynham left her only a pittance."

    "It had a great deal more to do with favors which I wasn't willing to provide dear Lord Raynham, mother," Ginnie replied in a tone like glass breaking. "Fortunately I'm not forced to buy companionship. It may be decades before I have to do that."

    "Now what is it I'm to see here, Ginnie?" Daniel said in a louder voice than he'd have used if he weren't trying to break up a cat-fight.

    The last sinkhole was larger than the other two, a perfect circle nearly twenty feet in diameter. It filled the back of the cavern--or almost filled it; when the cave floor collapsed to form the pool, it'd left a narrow rind of stone along the right edge.

    Daniel shone his lamp across, sending shimmers from the wet rock. The cavern's tail kinked off around a corner where the beam couldn't follow.

    "Point your light down," Ginnie said, lowering the line of plush rope as her mother had done the previous ones. "Straight down, all the way to the bottom."

    Daniel leaned forward, sighting along his beam of light. The water here was dark, but the lamp flashed from the sides of fish fluttering like pennants in a breeze. He didn't recognize the species, though he hoped he'd be able to identify them when he got to a natural history database.

    "Just wait a moment," Ginnie said, her hand caressing his shoulder. "Keep the light--"

    The flash came from all around the pool, diamonds winking in a closing net. The water surged, then cleared. The swimming fish vanished out the seaward channel.

    Daniel recognized the rock squid. It was one of the major coastal predators on Nikitin, but the database hadn't suggested they got this big. Normally the creatures lay on the bottom with their hundreds of tentacles spread in living mats. When suitable prey swam overhead, they swept the tentacles inward with hooked claws extending from the inner surface of each one.

    Here in the sinkhole the beast's technique was similar, but instead of stretching its tentacles on the bottom it'd covered the walls with them. They'd slashed inward and down together, ripping the entire school of fish. The squid's maw gaped momentarily, displaying a circuit of crystalline teeth which blazed in the lamplight like a sectioned geode.

    "Beautiful...," Ginnie repeated softly. Daniel continued to look into the pool; he had a feeling he didn't want to see the girl's expression at just this moment.

    The squid slowly spread its arms again like a flower opening to the sun. The tentacles were corpse white while they were extending, but when they reached the sinkhole's walls they shaded into the pitted yellow-grayness of the rock they lay against. The claws had drawn back within the concealing flesh.

    "There's no treasure," Lars Buscaigne said unexpectedly. "Daudell was building a secret entrance to his mansion through one of the Wormholes."

    Daniel switched off his lamp and turned. "How do you know that?" he asked. Buscaigne and Lady Raynham were blurs against the shadows until his eyes readapted, but shining the powerful beam on them would be too aggressive--at least for the moment.

    "How do I know the sky's blue?" Buscaigne snapped. "Because it's obvious. And because I've watched that tramp Mondreaux come this way a dozen times and disappear. There's no place he could be going except into one of the caves, and he wouldn't do that unless it took him to his lover."

    "His lover?" Daniel repeated. He wondered whether he looked as much like a beached fish as he felt. Presumably the bad light covered his gaping stupidity.

    "Yes, Pontefract," Buscaigne said. "Admiral Milne's husband makes sure all her aides-de-camp are gay. Pontefract's having an affair with Mondreaux, slipping him into the Admiral's office where they can be sure nobody will barge in on them. Daudell probably had the tunnel built for a similar reason, to keep his private business away from a nosy wife."

    Ginny Raynham turned. "Do you suppose Lieutenant Pontefract is a spy?" she said. "My, do you suppose Master Mondreaux is?"

    "I wouldn't put it past that one," Buscaigne agreed. "There's more to him than he shows, that I'm sure of."

    Daniel got to his feet, his face carefully blank again. Ginny didn't sound as though she believed that they'd just uncovered an Alliance spy ring, but this latest unexpected information fitted very neatly with what Daniel already suspected.

    "Dannie," Ginnie said with bright certainty. "You and I will go search the Wormholes right now. We'll find the entrance."

    That wasn't the best way to locate a secret entrance to the mansion, but of course the girl didn't really believe there was any such thing. It was a perfectly satisfactory way to get her and Daniel out of Lady Raynham's sight, however.

    "Really, Geneva," her mother said. "I don't think you should be tramping through the muddy forest. Why--"

    "We owe it to the Republic, mother!" Ginnie said. "Dannie, are you coming? We'll take the tarpaulin from the car in case we need to rest."

    "Yes, let them go, Celia darling," Buscaigne said in a soothing voice. "This is a romantic setting, do you not think, my dear?"

    That was rather stretching it, Daniel thought as he let the girl hustle him toward the Gallery's entrance. Still, he appreciated what Buscaigne was trying to do--obviously on his own account, but nonetheless helpful to Daniel's short-term interests.

    He very much wanted to discuss his suspicions with Adele, but that could wait an hour or two. And after all, maybe he and Ginnie would find a back entrance to the Admiral's Mansion.

    That wasn't the first thing on his agenda, though. Nor on Ginnie's, he hoped and believed.

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