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The Way to Glory: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Saturday, March 19, 2005 14:38 EST



Sinmary Port on Nikitin

    Daniel, whistling What Do You Do With a Drunken Spacer, walked into the Battle Direction Center. The hatch was open. The tech on guard nodded when she saw who was coming down the corridor and went back to her conversation with the trainee who had the signals watch.

    Those two and Adele were the only people in the BDC at the moment. Adele was off duty, but Daniel hadn't been surprised when she'd told him by radio where she was. She didn't look up when he entered, but at least she didn't jump when he said, "It's a pleasant evening, Officer Mundy. Come watch the sunset with me from the outer hull, if you will."

    When Adele turned, Daniel held up a pair of magnetic boots--the light variety for use with an air suit, not rigger's boots which weighed five pounds apiece. "I brought these in case you'd like to slip them on."

    "More than I'd like to slide off the hull into the sea," Adele said dryly as she drew the boots on over her deck shoes. "I'm able to swim, but it'd make conversation difficult."

    The starboard hatch in the corridor just outside the BDC was wide open. If Daniel had been on his own, he'd have pulled gloves on and swarmed up the line that'd been fixed to a bollard below the hatch, but the ladder welded to the spherical hull was a perfectly good alternative.

    Well, maybe it was. "Ah, Adele?" Daniel said, gesturing through the hatch. "Will you be able to, ah, use the ladder?"

    "Yes," Adele said. She stepped onto the hatch coaming, gripped a stringer with one hand, then lurched onto the ladder. "And very shortly we'll know whether I was able to use it successfully."

    Daniel smiled faintly as he followed his friend up the ladder. Adele was in good shape and as physically adept as the next person--so long as there was gravity. By this point he doubted she'd ever learn to move like a spacer in freefall.

    Except if she had to shoot something. That she'd been able to do any time she'd needed to.

    Because the ladder curved from vertical to horizontal, Daniel'd normally have walked upright on the rungs without using his hands. That might've looked like he was mocking Adele, plodding along with all four limbs, though he was sure it wouldn't have bothered her. Even so, it hurt him to follow her as though he hadn't been trained to run the yards in the Matrix the way the riggers did--fast rather than safely, because when all Hell was breaking loose there was no safety except through speed.

    He hoped Woetjans and the other senior riggers weren't watching. He'd be a joke from here to Cinnabar if they were.

    Adele reached the platform at the base of the dorsal mast and stood up. "Here?" she said to Daniel.

    He looked around. A party of riggers were working on Antenna Port C, one of those which'd repeatedly failed to extend properly during the voyage from Cinnabar. They were well out of earshot, and nobody else was on the tender's hull.

    "Yes," Daniel said, smiling. "This will do very well."

    After he and Ginnie Raynham had played Find the Entrance to the point of mutual exhaustion, Daniel'd used his commo helmet to call Hogg in the utility vehicle. Hogg had driven to them, dropped Daniel back at the Cornelwood's slip, and carried Ginnie home to what was apparently called Raynham Tower.

    Daniel had worked the remainder of the watch, calculating buoyancy and reviewing possible cable attachments, then returned with the draft from the Hermes when Hogg came to pick them up. Only when he'd showered and changed into clean utilities did he come aft to see Adele.

    Now she looked westward over the seaweed-covered slip and the forest beyond, frowning slightly. "Surely the sun isn't setting already, is it?" she asked.

    Daniel glanced at the flat chronometer on his wrist. "It won't set for another thirty-one standard minutes," he agreed, "and in these latitudes the sky stays bright enough to read by for another half hour. But it seemed a reasonable thing to say, Adele."

    Adele blinked. She'd already taken out her personal data unit. "Oh," she said. "Yes, I see. For privacy."

    "Yes," Daniel said, sitting on the platform with his back to the antenna. He motioned Adele to settle beside him as he regathered his thoughts. "Adele, what can you learn about Master Mondreaux? He's supposedly a local planter."

    Adele went to work with the data unit resting on her thighs. Daniel watched her for a moment, then looked at avians--they were four-winged, warm-blooded, and feathered--circling low over the harbor to snap up insectoids.

    He wondered if he'd ever know his friend well enough that she couldn't surprise him. She wasn't in the least innocent, but the degree of literalness she applied to the minute details of life was quite amazing. Words weren't just words to Adele Mundy, and she found 'polite fiction' an oxymoron. You had to say exactly what you meant if you expected her to understand you.

    And you could be quite sure that Adele would say exactly what she meant, with no intention of being insulting. Being insulting was just a side-effect.

    "Daedalo Mondreaux, a dealer in art from recently rediscovered worlds," Adele said, squinting as her wands flickered. Her personal unit was coupled to the tender's database, but knowing Adele she also had immediate access to every networked data storage on Nikitin. "Primitive art, you'd probably say."

    She grinned. "Actually, you'd probably say 'crap', and from the imagery I'm able to call up I don't know that I'd disagree with you. Though I'm sure my mother would. Would have. Mother was very clear that it was our duty to appreciate the pure merits of the children of savagery while working to return them to the light of civilization and social justice."

    Her wands paused. She glanced sidelong at Daniel with an expression he couldn't read and added, "I don't think mother knew a great deal about savagery. At least until they nailed her head to Speaker's Rock."

    "Mondreaux said he'd watched the salvaging of the Golden Argosy at Port Hagener," Daniel said as his friend resumed her search. He didn't know how to react when Adele talked--joked?--about the massacre of her family, so he didn't react at all. "He didn't use the name. He's not a naval person himself, so I doubt he realized that he was describing a unique event that somebody might be able to identify."

    "That Daniel Leary might be able to identify," Adele said, smiling again as her wands flashed. "Did anyone else catch the reference?"

    Daniel acknowledged the smile. "I'm not sure they did," he admitted or boasted; even he couldn't be sure of the right word.

    "The thing is," Daniel went on, "Port Hagener is a major Alliance naval base. The Golden Argosy was chartered by Fleet Command as a supply ship. And the crash was just over five years ago, while we and the Alliance were at war."

    From the forest west of the harbor an animal called, "Room room room!" It sounded enormous, bigger than any animal in the archipelago was supposed to get, but the trumpet-shaped tree boles would make perfect amplifiers.

    "Mondreaux seems to have spent most of his adult life in the Alliance," Adele said. "I'm going by sales records attributed to him. I don't have census data, but fortunately one of the planters is an art collector and has a very complete auction database."

    She shrugged and continued, "A year and a half ago a relative died, leaving Mondreaux a legacy including a villa on Sinmary. He retired here."

    "Ah," said Daniel. He felt disappointed, though he supposed he should've been glad that there wasn't a spy in Cluster Headquarters after all. "Then it's perfectly reasonable that he'd have seen the Golden Argosy being raised. Well, I'm glad I checked with you before I made a fool of myself by accusing, ah, somebody."

    "I'm glad you checked with me too," Adele said, turning to meet Daniel's eyes directly. "Because it's not at all reasonable that he'd have seen the event if he was an art dealer as he claimed. Certainly there's civilian travel between the Republic and the Alliance even when we're in a state of war, but all Hagener was a closed military reservation at the time. There shouldn't 've been any civilians on the planet, let alone a Cinnabar national."

    "Ah!" said Daniel. "Ah."

    He smiled broadly. "Then let me tell you the other thing I learned," he said, "and we'll see what else you can tell me."



    Adele preferred working in a cubicle to the open air--it was what she was most used to, whether at a library console or the cramped quarters of starship. On the other hand, her surroundings didn't really matter: when she really got into a task, it involved her totally. She suspected she wouldn't notice she was falling into the harbor until the splashing water interfered with her display.

    She glanced up and saw Daniel grinning at her. Does he know what I'm thinking? And just possibly he did, or at least he'd come to the same thought on his own. You learned to know your friends, and you had to accept that they knew you. It was oddly comforting to have friends.

    "So you see...," Daniel was saying. "While I wouldn't trust Buscaigne's word on many things, his judgment that Mondreaux's a professional rival of his has a ring of truth. I don't know whether Lt. Pontefract has family money--"

    "Yes, he does," Adele said. That was one of the first things she'd checked. "He's a second son, though. If money were the only criterion, Lady Raynham would be a much better target. Though of course if Mondreaux himself is gay, then he wouldn't be interested in the widow."

    "I very much doubt Mondreaux has a sexual orientation toward anything except money," Daniel said. "That's certainly what Buscaigne believes, because he's been keeping a much closer watch on Mondreaux than anything but fear for his meal ticket explains. Though watching hasn't gotten him very far."

    "Yes," said Adele. "Well, he didn't have the proper tools. Which we do."

    She'd found what she was sure was the correct directory and now started opening files. Text in that one, she'd go back to it if necessary, but.... Text there too, a mere letter of transmittal from the private contractor who'd carried out the survey ninety years before. And the third file--

    "There," she said. "There! Daniel, take a look at this. It's the sonogram of Sinmary Island, made before the base was constructed."

    She adjusted her display. Ordinarily the air-formed hologram was an image only to her eyes: anyone looking toward the display from a different angle would see a blur of colored light, as meaningless as the heart of an opal.

    The personal data unit had a briefing mode which let anybody see the display, but Adele felt a twinge of discomfort as she switched it on. Somebody on the far shore with magnifying apparatus--even simple binoculars--could see what she was doing.

    And if they did, what would it matter? Even in the unlikely event that the putative watcher understood what the image was? You could live your life viewing everything as a threat until it was proven otherwise; Tovera was proof of that. But Tovera wasn't fully human, and Adele didn't have to look very far down the path paranoia led to see herself as Tovera was. She wouldn't let that happen, or at least she'd fight against it happening.

    "Now here...," she said, highlighting a straggle of narrow caves. "These are the Wormholes. And here's the Admiral's Mansion in white, and Squadron House to give you the scale."

    She raised the magnification, focusing down on the block containing the highlighted elements. "You'll note that none of the Wormholes come anywhere near the mansion."

    "Right," said Daniel, his voice calm with concentration. "There's a crack in the island. It's channeling rainwater to eat away the rock around seams lower down."

    "All right," Adele said. She knew nothing about geology; if the explanation satisfied Daniel, that was good enough. "But here--you said you were in the Grand Gallery? Look here."

    Metal belled loudly, breaking even Adele's concentration. There was a loud splash and the hull quivered beneath her. She looked toward the bow section. Something had happened--something had gone wrong, obviously, given the way people were shouting curses--among the party working on a starboard antenna.

    "They were trying to cure the antenna from binding when it extends and retracts," Daniel said, watching the events. He'd apparently guessed that she didn't have any notion of what'd been going on. Well, he did know her. "They managed to drop the upper two telescoping sections into the harbor."

    His lips pursed, Daniel's usual alternative to a frown. "Marbury's in charge, a bosun's mate from the Bainbridge," he went on. "He seems to be a bit on the hasty side. No real harm done this time since the slip's less than twenty feet deep, but I think I'll suggest that Woetjans have a talk with him. If it were my ship, I'd...."

    He smiled cheerfully. "But of course it's not," he said. "And I'm not going to suggest to Captain Slidell to disrate the man till he gets some more seasoning, because it'd be a waste of breath. And probably unfair besides. I suppose I'm prejudiced in favor of my Sissies."

    Adele thought about the statement. "I haven't noticed any prejudice on your part," she said, "except in favor of people who do their jobs well. To some degree I suppose that does benefit the people who served under you on the Princess Cecile, yes."

    She cleared her throat and continued, "I was showing you a sonogram of the Grand Gallery. You mentioned the sinkholes. Here they are--"

    This time she used yellow to highlight the cavities. The initial hue was unpleasantly insistent, so she muted it with a mixture of gray. She rotated the image 90o to demonstrate that the channels into which the floor of the Grand Gallery had fallen ran northward out of the focal block.

    "--but you see the last one isn't the end of the gallery. It continues here for another considerable distance."

    A pigtail void twisted northward from the western end of the Grand Gallery. Daniel leaned forward, his face expressionless. "How high is it?" he asked. "I can't tell at this scale. Is it large enough that a man could get through?"

    "It's no less than five feet high and thirty inches wide at the narrowest point," Adele said. "That's the throat just beyond the sinkhole. It changes direction there too. At the far end, it reaches to within fifty feet of where the foundations of the Admiral's Mansion are now. At the time, of course, nothing had been built."

    "Three days would be plenty of time to cut a fifty foot tunnel through coarse limestone," Daniel said to her, grinning triumphantly. "With stone-cutting saws and experienced workmen, which they'd have been by that point. I think you've found the way Mondreaux is getting into the mansion, Adele."

    He paused. "Though that doesn't prove anything is going on except sex," he admitted. "Which I'm glad to say isn't a crime. And I can't believe Lt. Pontefract is an Alliance spy. I don't know him well, but he was a senior when I entered the Academy, and I just don't believe...."

    "Lt. Pontefract could be innocent of everything except bad judgment in picking bed partners," Adele said, searching in a sidebar while the sonogram filled the main field. "Which, as you say, isn't a crime."

    Did that sound waspish? And of course it wasn't quite what Daniel had said. Adele couldn't understand--or at any rate couldn't allow herself to understand--why the women who interested him had to be not only young and pretty but also complete bubbleheads. She shrugged, as much a comment on what she hadn't verbalized as on what she had.

    "But if Mondreaux is a trained intelligence agent, a spy," she continued, "he'd be able to plant discreet devices in the office portion of the mansion without Pontefract's knowledge. The only practical way to find them would be through their transmissions to the outside. If the spy were able to reenter the office regularly, he could collect the data manually and avoid that risk."

    She cleared her throat, wondering whether to say more. This is my friend Daniel. Perhaps the only friend I've ever had.

    "I think you can take it as a given that information is leaking from the console in Admiral Milne's private office," she said. "Based on console histories."

    "Ah," said Daniel. "Ah."

    He cleared his throat. "I don't suppose it'd do any good to tell Admiral Milne that her Flag Lieutenant might be involved with an Alliance spy," he said. "Not without evidence. But you think Master Mondreaux would be carrying spying equipment when he returned from a meeting with Lt. Pontefract?"

    "I think so, yes," Adele said, meeting Daniel's calm eyes. "It would be the safest way to get information out of the sealed office."

    "Then I think Hogg and I will go hunting tonight," Daniel said. He grinned broadly. "Would you care to come along to identify our bag, Adele?"

    "I'd be very pleased to," Adele said. "Very pleased indeed."

    It was such a strange and wonderful thing, to have a friend....

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