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The Way to Glory: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2005 19:23 EDT



Fishhead Cove on Yang

    Adele watched the aircar rise vertically, or as close to vertically as Tovera could manage; it listed to port and was drifting downwind--though not badly. The driver finally got her vehicle level and headed toward the island three miles to the northeast.

    Daniel, on the second of the car's four benches, had his arms spread over the seat back and looked completely at ease. He was in his Whites with full medals, but his saucer hat sat upside down on the seat beside him with a dead impeller battery to weight it. The aircar was open-topped, so the hat would certainly blow away if he tried to wear it.

    The bow pointed two points to the right of its course. Hogg, standing beside Adele on the outrigger, spat into the water and muttered, "Anyhow, they don't give points for style."

    He sounded angry, which meant he was worried. Adele wasn't sure she'd ever seen Hogg angry in the normal sense. Where somebody else might've frothed with rage, the plump countryman would smile as he snicked his knife open or aimed a boot where he thought it'd do the most good. Watching the young master go into a dangerous situation without him made Hogg snap and snarl, because he had nothing else to do.

    "I suspect that for Yang, Tovera is an exceptionally good driver," Adele said in a calm voice that she hoped would be soothing. "Do you suppose Daniel is really that relaxed?"

    Hogg grinned approvingly. "Oh, he knows that if you put on the face, the feeling comes along after," he said. He gave Adele a speculative look, adding, "I figured you did the same, mistress. That or you're an ice queen and no mistake. I never seen nothing faze you."

    "Don't confuse calm with resignation, Hogg," Adele said, feeling the corners of her mouth lift in the hint of a smile. "Though I suppose they have the same effect."

    The aircar had disappeared over the spit of land framing Fishhead Cove to the north. The burr of the fans remained faintly audible, unless that was Adele's imagination.

    The cove was black with vegetable matter from the creek feeding it. Dust and pollen formed whorls on the surface, with leaves and occasionally a floating branch to vary the pattern. The banks were six to ten feet high, steep and rocky, and the forest marched to the edge of them on both north and south. A scum of algae floated on the margins and gummed the shore where the tide had lifted it, tying together land and water.

    Though the Mundys had a country estate, Adele had grown up at Chatsworth Minor, the townhouse in Xenos. To her this landscape didn't seem so much wild as it did untidy.

    "Pretty place," murmured Hogg. He was cradling an impeller in the crook of his left arm. With his right hand held out horizontally he indicated the shore of the cove. "See them burrows down at the water? If we was going to be here overnight, I'd run snares and see what it was dug there."

    Adele didn't even see the burrows--or see them for sure, at any rate. She could pick out changes in color and texture, but she wouldn't have thought any of them were holes if Hogg hadn't told her some were present.

    He looked at Adele, his face twisting with pain and disgust. "I wish he'd of took me," he said unhappily. He wasn't changing the subject, just admitting what in his heart the subject had always been. "Look, I'm not saying anything against your Tovera, mistress. She'll take care of the master if anybody could, I don't doubt that. But he's my master."

    Adele shrugged. "Tovera can drive an aircar," she said simply. "You can't. All the force at our disposal couldn't protect Daniel if Generalissimo Ma decided to kill him. His only safety's in looking like a well-born but dim-witted officer and his civilian driver, neither of them armed. They'll be safe so long as they're harmless."

    Unless the rebels decide to kill them for the same reason boys throw rocks through the windows of abandoned buildings, Adele thought. For the sheer delight of destruction.

    "Tovera didn't take a gun?" Hogg said in amazement. "Bloody hell. That must've been hard on her."

    "Guns wouldn't help, Hogg," Adele said gently. "Looking innocent and a little stupid is their best defense."

    Hogg shrugged his big shoulders, loosening them. "Guess I'll go up on top of the rock and find a soft spot to wait and watch where they won't be seeing me back," he said, nodding toward the spit of land. "I can crank up the sights on this thing--"

    He jiggled the impeller.

    "--to plus one-twenty-eight. That's enough to get a good view if I keep it steady."

    Adele frowned. "Big Florida Island is miles away, Hogg," she said. "Can you really hold your sights that steady?"

    "Aye, I can, mistress," he said with a bearlike grin. "And I trust what you say, that guns won't make the young master safe. But if them wogs start shooting, they're going to learn what real shooting is."

    He crossed the catwalk to the shore. A dozen spacers sat there cooking on a small fire. Adele watched Hogg for a moment, then went back into the cutter to check her equipment. The radio was sending a looped message to Generalissimo Ma, informing him that Lt. Leary was coming to treat for the release of a prisoner; that the lieutenant was unarmed but had the whole weight of the RCN behind him.

    Those were fine words. Adele desperately wished they'd been true.



    Daniel jerked forward suddenly as he saw the construction on the far side of Big Florida Island, then remembered he was supposed to hide the fact he cared about anything but Maria Mondindragiana--and something to drink. He leaned back in his seat again, but he cranked up the magnification of the goggles he wore against the windrush to plus sixteen.

    "They're building a starport, Tovera," he said. "Good God, it's the size of Harbor Three! They're extending those sandspits to the north with concrete pilings to anchor breakwaters!"

    Because no one but Tovera was in the car with him, Daniel had perforce to treat Adele's servant as though she were human or else hold his tongue. This was so unexpected--and important--that he'd have blurted something to the dashboard if he were alone.

    "Sir," said Tovera, an emotionless acknowledgment. "Will the additional laborers affect our plans to retrieve the woman?"

    "I doubt it," Daniel said. "But they're not building this for commercial purposes, not here on Yang. While I don't know the minds of the people in our Navy Office, I'm pretty sure your mistress does. Since she didn't tell me there was a new RCN base going up on Big Florida, I think we can be confident that it's an Alliance project."

    The aircar was fully visible to the rebels. They flew at 30 mph and stayed a hundred feet in the air, holding a straight course. If the guns trained on them opened fire, even with the bad marksmanship to be expected on Yang, they'd almost certainly blast the vehicle out of the sky before Tovera could take evasive action.

    Well, if it happened, it happened.

    A dozen prefab barracks, basically shipping containers with doors and windows cut into the sides, clustered just south of the bay where the construction was going on. The island's earlier structures, a fortified mansion and its outbuildings, were some distance away in the center of the island. They'd been falling to ruin for decades, but they were now being repaired with poles and plastic sheeting.

    The vessel the rebels were converting to a warship was on the north side of the mansion. Half its antennas were missing, but it still had a turret with two plasma cannon on the dorsal bow. A 12-tube rocket launcher had been added astern.

    "Daniel?" said Adele in a tinny voice through the miniature radio she'd clipped to Daniel's epaulette like a fourth rank tab. He'd never have worn such an item with his Whites at a Cinnabar function, but he doubted Generalissimo Ma was an expert on RCN uniforms. "The rebels are hailing you, but they're on FM and your vehicle has only AM radio. I'm patching them through."

    Instantly someone else snarled, "Land that car! Land at once or we'll shoot you down, I don't care if you're the whole Cinnabar Senate!"

    "Roger, Big Florida Base," Daniel said, dropping into proper communications protocol by reflex. "This is RCN aircar 5063--"

    He had no idea what the number painted on the vehicle's bow meant. He needed to identify himself some way, though.

    "--approaching Big Florida for negotiations. We'll land at the entrance to the large stone building, over."

    Tovera glanced at him over her shoulder. He nodded. She slanted the aircar's bow down instead of tilting the fans toward vertical while throttling back as a more skilled driver would've done. Gravity accelerated them into a dive toward the mansion rather than them sloping slowly down for a landing as intended.

    That was almost fatal: they flew into a burst of sub-machine gun fire that'd been aimed to miss them ahead. Three pellets popped on the car's underside. One must've hit a fan blade before it sang away.

    "Land at once!" the rebel shrieked. "Land or we'll kill you!"

    "Tovera," Daniel said, "drop her fast but aim for the mansion still. Break--"

    Not strictly correct, but he had to cue Adele as he went on, "Roger, Big Florida Control. We're landing immediately. Please stop shooting at us. RCN aircar out."

    Twenty or thirty people stood outside the mansion and looked up at them. Most of the spectators were armed. More were sauntering from the building or pushing aside the walls of sheeting to look out.

    The aircar plunged downward. Tovera jerked the yoke toward her, then realized she had to add power fast instead of throttling back as she'd started to do. Rebels bellowed and jumped out of the way, some of them dropping their guns.

    Tovera avoided a smashup, but the aircar pogoed upward again instead of settling. She caught the vehicle twenty feet in the air, achieved wobbly balance, and lowered them to the ground in a series of ratchets. The bow dipped first, then the stern.

    "Thank you, Tovera," Daniel said, rising to his feet before he stepped out of the vehicle. He set his hat on his head and straightened it by feel. "That was more than good enough."

    Which was true. Tovera'd been thrown out of her planned approach by the radioed orders and hadn't managed a smooth transition to the change. Nonetheless they were safely on the ground, which is all that was required. Barnes would likely have landed on the first pass, but in a doughnut of grit and with a bang that'd threaten the frame if he didn't break it.

    Tovera didn't reply. Daniel looked at her. She was white with fury--at herself, apparently. She hadn't met her own standards, even though she'd exceeded his.



    An extremely tall man with pale skin and blond hair ran toward them from the mansion. His uniform was as ornate as Daniel's and a great deal more colorful. He was dressed all in orange, but each garment--tricorne hat, tunic, sash, trousers and dyed leather boots--was a different shade of orange.

    Daniel blinked at the fellow. Hogg would be envious, he thought, but that was a warning as well. Hogg's flamboyant taste didn't make him a harmless buffoon, so the same might be true of this fellow.

    "You Cinnabar goat-fuckers!" the blond screamed. He wasn't a Yang native, obviously. "Didn't you hear me tell you to land at once? By God, you'll know to do what I tell you the next time!"

    He lifted his right hand for what was obviously intended to be a full-armed slap. He was rangy rather than bulky but he was also six-eight or nine, a good foot taller than Daniel.

    "Pardon me, sir," Daniel said in a voice loud enough to be heard. "I'm a Cinnabar gentleman and an RCN officer. Don't presume--"

    The blond swung. Daniel caught his wrist with his right hand and stopped the blow in the air.

    "I say, this behavior isn't--"

    The other rebels were watching, jabbering among themselves more in interest than anger. The blond was obviously a leader of some sort, but he was also a foreigner.

    The fellow drew back a leg to kick. Act harmless and a little stupid, Adele had said. Daniel could see the logic of that, but he was a Leary.

    He still held the blond's wrist. He let go of it. The fellow'd been straining to pull out of Daniel's grip, so he jerked himself off balance. Daniel grabbed the blond's raised boot with both hands and twisted hard. Because of the considerable leverage, the knee popped before the ankle did. He toppled backward, screaming.

    Daniel bent to open the flap of the fellow's cross-draw holster. He grabbed Daniel by the shoulders. That might've been a response to pain rather than from a desire to continue the fight, if you wanted to call it a fight. Daniel backhanded him absently and tossed the fellow's small pistol into the aircar without looking behind him. That motion only looked accidental.

    "There, that's all right, then," Daniel said, straightening to smile brightly at the circle of watching rebels. Bloody hell, he'd burst the left shoulder seam of his tunic. Thank the good fortune of the RCN that the sash of the Order of Novy Sverdlovsk would conceal most of the damage. "Will one of you gentlemen--or ladies, that would be fine--please take me to Generalissimo Ma? We have an appointment."

    A husky male rebel with a rocket launcher stepped to the fallen blond and jabbed bare toes into the injured knee. "What price your pretty clothes now, Platt?" he said over the victim's screams.

    Tovera switched off the aircar's fans. She sat primly with her hands on the steering yoke instead of reaching for the pistol on the seat behind her. She hadn't shut down before: even without scythes, the vehicle was a weapon. Sweeping unexpectedly into the arc of spectators, it could've been a very effective one.

    "Really, can anyone help me?" Daniel said, looking hopeful and innocent. "Then shall I just go in by myself?"

    "I'll take you to His Nibs," said the man with the rocket launcher. "Say, it was a treat watching you break Platt's leg. You want to break the other one before you go?"

    "I hardly think that'll be necessary," Daniel said, dabbing at his medals as if to dust them. He wanted to suck air through his open mouth, but for the sake of appearances he was forcing himself to breathe normally.

    He followed the rocketeer into the mansion. The rough stone interior walls made it look like a prison, but it must've been a very fancy place in its day. The plaster that'd fallen to litter the floor--nobody'd bothered to sweep it out during the current reoccupation--had been frescoed.

    Light sockets were spiked into cracks in the walls and connected by wire that hung in swags between them. They threw harsh shadows across what would've been ugly enough even with soft lighting.

    Most of the other spectators trooped in behind Daniel and his guide. He was apparently the best entertainment on offer this evening. None of the rooms they passed had doors, but quick glances to either side showed only tangled fabric--clothing, bedding; who knew?--and not infrequently sprawled people.

    The place stank. Most if not all of the hundreds of inhabitants were using the nearest corner as a latrine instead of going outside to void their wastes against the exterior walls as the better classes did on Yang.

    The rear of the original building had been a garden enclosed in a pillared court. It'd been covered with plastic panels and turned into the Generalissimo's headquarters. Fifty or more armed people stood about, while Ma filled a raised stone bench that would've held three men Daniel's size. A woman, striking though she wasn't in her first youth, sat on a stool at the Generalissimo's feet. She had an olive complexion and lustrous, curly hair the color of polished coal.

    In one corner of the garden was a modern communications console. The technician sitting at it looked over her shoulder at Daniel with an unreadable expression. She wore a one-piece beige garment, possibly a uniform though it had no insignia and Daniel didn't recognize the cut. If--as seemed likely--she and Platt had come with the console to handle the rebels' information services, she was going to be working a double shift for the next long time.

    "Why are you here, Cinnabar?" the Generalissimo squeaked. "Go away now! You have no business with the Light of Free Yang movement."

    Daniel had the odd feeling that Ma's rolls of fat were squeezing his voice into a high-pitched chirp. He didn't suppose human physiology worked that way, but the notion had the seductive plausibility of a good urban legend....

    Aloud he said, "Sir, I'm here as representative of my republic. I understand you're detaining one of our citizens, Mistress Maria Mondindragiana. I've come to request her release on behalf of my people."

    The pretty woman at Ma's feet had been watching Daniel in a speculative way that he was familiar with; so familiar, in fact, that he'd been sucking in his gut in what was closer to instinct than reflex. When he spoke, her face went completely blank, as still as a bust stamped onto a coin.

    "My Maria, detained?" Ma giggled. "What a joke! She's with me because I'm six times that man that eunuch Shin was. Maria loves me and loves my loving! Tell him so, Maria."

    That last was beyond any question a command. The woman formed her mouth into a professional smile and said, "Me want to get out of here? What reason could there possibly be that I'd want to get out of here, Mister Cinnabar Officer? The Generalissimo's troops came to my villa, and I never had any thought but to go with them."

    So she really did want to leave, Daniel thought. He hadn't been sure till he heard her carefully worded response. In a way that was a pity, because part of him would much prefer to lift from Yang at once and head straight back to Nikitin with word of what was happening on Big Florida Island.

    "Very well then, Generalissimo," Daniel said. Instead of saluting, one military officer to another, he made a bow so low that it was just short of an obeisance. This was the tricky part. "I'll tell you frankly that from the very beginning I was more than a little doubtful about what President Shin claimed. Between us as soldiers, I'd be doubtful if that fellow walked in the door wet and told me it was raining."

    Ma piped like a teapot at a hard boil. His eyes were closed and waves rippled through his fat from his calves to his swollen jowls. It was only by deduction that Daniel was sure the Generalissimo was laughing: if it'd been having a fit or in a rage, his retainers wouldn't still look bored.

    Mind, Generalissimo Ma could have a fatal stroke while laughing. Although Daniel didn't think the universe in general would be worse for that occurrence, it'd make his own task even more complicated than it already was.

    "Since that's the case...," Daniel continued when he thought the squealing laughter had dropped to a point that the Generalissimo could hear him again. "I'll go straight back to the city and give that Shin a piece of my mind. I'll show him that he can't lie to a Cinnabar officer and get away with it! If he doesn't turn over his prisoners to me at once, he'll live to regret it!"

    It was obvious--and inevitable--that the rebels had spies in the Presidential Palace. By telling Ma what he already knew, that Shin had sent him, Daniel could look like a dimwit who blurted secrets--without in fact giving anything away.

    It was very important that he seem to be a dimwit, because any visitor with half a brain must inevitably know too much to be allowed to live. The only reason the rebels had allowed Daniel to approach was that shooting an RCN officer really would bring massive retaliation. Admiral Milne might be delighted with the result, but she wouldn't let it go unpunished; no Cinnabar official would. Since he'd come in unexpectedly high, they might decide they had to shoot him anyway.

    The information would reach Milne regardless, through the data the car's spy suite had already transmitted to Adele aboard Cutter 614. Daniel, giving the Generalissimo a sappy smile, had personal reasons to want to bring it back himself. It was nice to know that he'd be avenged, of course, but that wasn't his first choice of outcomes.

    Ma grew still. He looked around the room. "Where is Platt?" he said in dawning irritation. "Is Platt not here?"

    "Naw, he decided to take a lie-down outside, boss," said the rocketeer who'd brought Daniel in. "You know them stuck-up foreigners."

    The rebels who'd come in with him laughed. Ma's frown turned to puzzlement, then back to anger before blanking again. He fixed Daniel with his eyes. In a falsely jovial voice said, "I wonder, Lieutenant... I'm building a new fort on the north of the island. Did you notice it, perhaps?"

    "Haw!" said Daniel, wondering if he was overdoing it. "I'm not much for architecting, your lordship. I leave that for the other chappies, the Land Forces of the Republic we call them, you know. Mind, I like a spot of hunting and fishing when I'm on leave."

    "Too bad," Ma said. "I'd have been pleased to give you a tour if you wanted one. Well, you'll want to be getting back to that traitor to Yang in Heavenly Peace, won't you? Only one thing, Lieutenant--stay low when you leave here. Very low. As if you were a boat on the water. Otherwise there might be an accident."

    Daniel gave him a goggle-eyed stare. "Ah?" he said. "Right, right, whatever you say, your lordship. The girlie driving me said we should stay high so we didn't look like we were sneaking up on you, you see. Might've known whatever a girl said was wrong, what?"

    He bent over with laughter. Ma squeaked companionably for a moment, then fell silent.

    Daniel turned, called, "Cheerio, then," over his shoulder, and sauntered back down the hall. The rebels standing there made way for him. He thought he heard his guide say, "Remember, break the other one!"

    He walked from the mansion without challenge. Platt had disappeared. A few rebels stood outside, chewing and spitting what was probably a drug. They paid Daniel no attention.

    He got into the car. The pistol wasn't on the seat any more. In a low voice he said, "Head due south, keeping the headquarters building between us and the construction to the north. And stay right on the surface. That's very important."

    Tovera had switched the fans on when Daniel came out of the building. She slid the car forward under power, scraping the underside along the pebbly soil for the first twenty feet. She started slowly, but as they crossed the margin of the island she increased power so that the occasional waves they touched gave the car solid slaps.

    "You succeeded, then?" she said.

    Daniel had been lost in his thoughts. "What?" he said. "Yes, I think I did. Even if the sensors you installed on the vehicle fail, I believe I have enough information to create a workable plan."

    "The sensors won't fail," Tovera said. She glanced back at him and smiled. Daniel had seen bare skulls with more humor on them than this woman's expression.

    "I succeeded too," she said. "I've learned which of those people it was who shot at us on the approach. I'll make it a point to meet him again."

    Tovera laughed. Daniel kept his face blank. She had a right to be angry about being shot at, but he'd rather that she didn't make her intentions so clear in the sound of her cruel laughter.

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