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What Distant Deeps: Chapter One

       Last updated: Monday, May 3, 2010 19:18 EDT



The Bantry Estate, Cinnabar

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burned the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

The Tiger
William Blake

    “Come and join, Squire Daniel!” called a dancer as she whirled past. “I’m not partnered!”

    Daniel vaguely recalled the face, but he knew he must be thinking about an older sister. Ten years ago, he’d left Bantry to enter the Republic of Cinnabar Naval Academy. This girl was no more than sixteen, though she was undoubtedly well developed.

    Mind, he didn’t recall the sister’s name either.

    Steen — Old Steen since the death of his father, who’d been tenant-in-chief before him — elbowed Daniel in the ribs and said, “Haw! Not just a dance she’s offering you, Squire! Going to take her up on it? You always did in the old days!”

    Steen’s wife was hovering nearby, though she hadn’t presumed to enter the group of men centered on Daniel and the cask of beer on the seawall. Foiles, the commodore of the fishing fleet, and Higgenson, the manager of the estate’s processing plant, were from Bantry, like Steen, but also present were the owners of three nearby estates who had come to the festivities. Waldmiller of Ponds was over seventy and Broma of Flattler’s Creek wasn’t much younger; but at twenty-five, Peterleigh of Boltway Manor was a year Daniel’s junior.

    Before Daniel could pass off the comment with a grin and a shake of his head, Mistress Steen clipped her husband over the ear with a hand well used to hoeing. Fortunately Steen hadn’t gotten his earthenware mug to his lips, so he merely jerked the last of his ale over his bright purple shirt instead of losing his front teeth.

    “Where’s your manners, you drunken old fool?” Mistress Steen demanded in a voice that started loud and gained volume. “Can’t you see Lady Miranda close enough to spit on? You embarrass yourself and you embarrass the Squire!”

    Daniel caught Mistress Steen’s hands in his own, partly to forestall the full-armed follow-up stroke she was on the verge of delivering. “Now, Roby!” he said. “My Miranda’s a sensible woman who wouldn’t take note of a joke at a celebration, or even –”

    He bussed Mistress Steen on the cheek. It was like kissing a boot.

    “– this!” he concluded, stepping away.

    “Oh, Squire!” Mistress Steen gasped in a mixture of delight and embarrassment. She put her hand to her cheek as though to caress the memory.

    “Oh, you do go on!” she said as she stumped off, seemingly half-dazed. Daniel thought he heard her titter when the piping paused.

    The original piper, gay in a green vest with blue and gold tassels, was snoring in a drunken stupor behind the bench. His son — who couldn’t have been more than twelve — was making a manful effort to replace him. All the will in the world couldn’t increase the boy’s lung capacity.

    Daniel’s eyes touched Miranda, who was with her mother Madeline a good twenty yards away — Roby Steen had been exaggerating. She waved with a merry smile, then went back to describing the stitching of her bodice to more women than Daniel could easily count.

    The wives of the neighboring landowners were there, but Bantry tenants made up most of the not-quite-crush. The tenants observed protocol in who got to drink with Daniel, but their wives and daughters weren’t going to give way to outsiders from other estates at their first chance to meet the Squire’s lady.

    “A pretty one, Leary,” Peterleigh said. “Your fiancée, is she?”

    Daniel cleared his throat. “Ah, Miranda and I have an understanding,” he said, hoping that his embarrassment didn’t show. “There’s nothing formal at this moment, you’ll understand, until, ah, some matters have been worked out.”

    Miranda herself never raised the question. She was an extremely smart woman, smart enough to know that others would prod Daniel regularly.

    “For the gods’ sakes, boy,” Waldmiller said with a scowl at Peterleigh. “If you weren’t raised to have manners, then at least you could show enough sense to avoid poking your nose in Speaker Leary’s affairs, couldn’t you?”

    Peterleigh could probably buy and sell Waldmiller several times over, but seniority and the words themselves jerked the younger man into a brace. “Sorry, Leary, sorry!” he said. “Don’t know what I was thinking, asking about a fellow’s private affairs. Must’ve drunk too much! My apologies!”

    Bringing up Daniel’s strained relationship with his father was calling in heavier artillery than Peterleigh deserved, but the young man could have avoided the rebuke by being more polite. Corder Leary was one of the most powerful members of the Senate — and certainly the most feared member. He hadn’t visited Bantry since Daniel’s mother died, and Peterleigh — who was both young and parochial — had obviously forgotten who the estate’s real owner was.

    “Not at all, Peterleigh,” Daniel said, smiling mildly. “But as for drinking, I think it’s time for me to have another mug of our good Bantry ale. It’s what I miss most about Cinnabar when the RCN sends me off to heaven knows where.”

    So speaking, he stepped to the stand beside them where a ceramic cask of ale and a double rank of earthenware mugs waited. He knew his neighbors — Bantry’s neighbors — would be surprised at having to pump their own beer, but Daniel was providing a holiday for all the Leary retainers.

    He’d thought of bringing in outside servants, but city folk would mean trouble. One of them would sneer at a barefoot tenant — and be thrown off the sea wall, into the Western Ocean thirty feet below.

    Daniel was dressed more like a countryman than a country gentleman, but he was wearing shoes today. He generally wouldn’t have been at this time of the year when he was a boy on Bantry.

    A pair of aircars landed in quick succession, drawing the men’s attention. “That’s Hofmann in the blue one,” Broma said. “I don’t recognize the gray car though.”

    “I think that’s . . . ,” Daniel said. “Yes, that’s Tom Sand, the contractor who built the hall. I, ah, invited him to the dedication.”

    Broma squinted at the limousine which was landing a hundred yards away, on the field of rammed gravel laid for the purpose beside the Jerred Hogg Community Hall. “That’s quite a nice car for . . . ,” he began.

    He stopped and turned to Daniel in obvious surmise. “You don’t mean the Honorable Thomas Sand of Archstone Construction?” he said. “By the gods, Leary, you do! Why, they’re one of the biggest contracting firms in the whole Capital Region!”

    “They did a fine job on the Hall,” Daniel said with a faint smile, turning to look at the new building itself. All four sides had been swung onto the roof as they were designed to be, turning the building into a marquee. The drinks — no wines or liquor, but ale without limit — and the food were inside, where Hogg was holding court.

    Hogg had been the young master’s minder when Daniel was a child and his servant in later years. He’d taught Daniel everything there was to know about the wildlife of Bantry which he and his ancestors back to the settlement had poached. He’d taught Daniel many other things as well, much of it information which would have horrified Daniel’s mother, who was delicate and a perfect lady.

    Hogg had a tankard of ale and a girl half his age ready with a pitcher to refill it. His arm was around a similar girl, and as many tenants as could squeeze close were listening to his stories of the wonders he and the young master had seen among the stars. Daniel was probably the only man present who knew that the wildest stories were absolutely true.

    Hogg was royalty in Bantry today. Daniel smiled faintly. That was a small enough payment for the man who’d taught the young master how to be a man.

    Tom Sand walked toward Daniel in the company of half a dozen children including at least one girl. They could claim to be guiding Sand, but they were more concerned with getting a good look at a stranger who was an obvious gentleman. Sand had weather-beaten features and more chest than paunch, but his suit — though gray — shimmered in a way that neither wool nor silk could match. Daniel suspected it had been woven from the tail plumes of Maurician ground doves.

    “You’ll be spending more time in Bantry now that we’re at peace again, Leary?” Waldmiller asked, letting his eyes glance across their surroundings. His tone was neutral and his face impassive, signs that he was controlling an urge to sneer. This was a working estate, not a showplace.

    They stood in the middle of the Bantry Commons, a broad semi-circle with the sea front forming the west side. The shops bounded its south end and the sprawling manor was to the north; tenant housing closed the arc. The dwellings facing directly on the common were older, smaller, and much more desirable than the relatively modern units in the second and third rows. Younger sons and their sons were relegated to the newer housing.

    Instead of turning the manor into a modern palace to reflect the family’s increased wealth and power, Daniel’s grandfather had put his efforts into a luxurious townhouse in Xenos. Corder Leary had visited Bantry only as a duty — and not even that after the death of his children’s mother. The house looked much as it had three centuries ago.

    Birds screamed overhead. The fish processing plant was shut down for the celebration, and they were upset at missing their usual banquet of offal.



    Daniel grinned. At that, the flock wasn’t much less musical than the piper . . . and there’d been enough ale drunk already that the dancers could probably manage to continue even if the boy on the bagpipe gave up the struggle he was clearly unequal to.

    “It’s true that many ships have been laid up since the Truce of Rheims,” Daniel said, “and that means a number of officers have gone on half pay.”

    In fact almost two-thirds of the Navy List had put on Reserve status. That meant real hardship for junior officers who had been living on hopes already. Those hopes had been dashed, but they were still expected to have a presentable dress uniform to attend the daily levees in Navy House which were their only chance of getting a ship.

    “But I’ve been lucky so far,” Daniel continued. “I’m still on the Active list, though I don’t have an assignment as yet. And anyway, I wasn’t really cut out to be a –”

    He’d started to say “farmer,” but caught himself. Thank the gods he’d drunk a great deal less today than he would have even a few years earlier. Daniel hadn’t become an abstainer, but he’d always known when he shouldn’t be drinking; and the higher he rose — in the RCN and in society generally — the more frequent those occasions were.

    “– a country squire.”

    Sand joined them; the entourage of children dropped behind the way the first touch of an atmosphere strips loose articles from the hull of a descending starship. Miranda was leading Mistress Sand to the house, having shooed away a similar bevy of children.

    Waldmiller opened his mouth to greet Sand. Peterleigh, his face toward the sea, hadn’t noticed the newcomer’s approach. He said, “Well, I think the truce is a bloody shame, Leary. You fellows in the navy had the Alliance on the ropes. Why the Senate should want to let Guarantor Porra off the hook is beyond me!”

    “Well, Peterleigh . . . ,” said Daniel. “You know what they say: never a good war or a bad peace.”

    “And maybe it was a good war for folks who live out here in the Western Region and don’t leave their estates,” boomed Thomas Sand, “but it bloody well wasn’t for anybody trying to make a living in Xenos. Off-planet trade is down by nine parts in ten, so half the factories in the Capital Region have shut and the rest are on short hours.”

    Peterleigh jumped and would have spilled ale if he hadn’t emptied his mug. Waldmiller and Broma masked their amusement — Broma more effectively than his elder colleague. The tenants, Foiles and Higgenson, maintained their frozen silence. They’d been quiet even before Maud Steen had torn a strip off her husband, and that had chilled them further.

    “Didn’t mean to break in unannounced,” Sand said. “I’m Tom Sand and I built the hall there.”

    He nodded in the direction of it.

    “And not a half-bad job, if I do say so myself.”

    “These are my neighbors,” said Daniel. “Waldmiller, Broma, and you’ve already met Peterleigh, so to speak. Have some ale, Sand. We’re setting a good example for the tenants so that none of them bring out the kelp liquor they brew in their sheds.”

    Sand laughed, drawing a mug of ale. “I understand, Leary,” he said. “I have a capping party for the crew on each job, but it’s beer there too. It doesn’t hurt a man to get drunk every once in a while, but I’d as lief give them guns as hard liquor for the chances that they’d all survive the night.”

    He shook his head, then added, “No offense meant about trade being strangled. The RCN did a fine job. But any shipowner who lifted at all got a letter of marque and converted his hull into a privateer. In the neutral worlds, chances are he’s got warrants from both us and the Alliance. That was better business than hauling a load of wheat from Ewer to Cinnabar — and likely being captured by some privateer besides.”

    “No offense taken, Sand,” Daniel said. “Every word you say is true.”

    He swept his neighbors with his eyes. “You see, Peterleigh,” he said, “our tenants work hard and they live bloody hard by city standards. But they never doubt there’ll be food on the table in the evening, even if it’s dried fish and potatoes. The folk in the housing blocks around Xenos don’t know that, and I’m told there were riots already last year.”

    He flashed a broad grin and added, “I wasn’t around to see them, of course.”

    “Right!” said Sand, turning from the keg with a full mug of ale. To the others in the circle he said, “Captain Leary was chasing the Alliance out of the Montserrat Stars with their tails between their legs. Splendid work, Leary! Makes me proud to be a citizen of Cinnabar.”

    “That’s the Squire for you!” blurted Higgenson, pride freeing his tongue. “Burned them wogs a new one, he did!”

    There was commotion and a loud rattle from the Hall. Hogg and a tenant of roughly his age were dancing with rams’ horns strapped to their feet. The curved horns made an almighty clatter on the concrete floor, but the men with their arms akimbo were impressive as they banged through a measure to the sound of the bagpipe.

    “That’s Hogg himself, isn’t it, Leary?” asked Broma. The hammering dance had drawn all eyes, though the tenants around the Hall limited what Daniel and his fellows could see from the seafront.

    “Aye, and that’s Des Cranbrook who’s got a grain allotment in the northeast district and a prime orchard tract,” said Foiles. Since Higgenson had spoken without being struck by lightning, the fisherman had decided it was safe for him to say something also.

    “Plus the common pasturage, of course,” Daniel said, speaking to Sand; his fellow landowners took that for granted. The dancers — both stout; neither of them young nor likely to have been handsome even in youth — hopped with the majesty of clock movements, slowly pirouetting as they circled one another.

    “Haven’t seen a real horn dance in law! twenty years if it’s been one,” said Higgenson. His social betters were intent on the dancing, which gave him a chance to speak from personal knowledge. “The young folk don’t pick it up, seems like.”

    “That’ll change now,” said Foiles. “The young ones, the ones that didn’t know Hogg before he went away with you, Squire –”

    He dipped his head toward Daniel.

    “– they all think the sun shines out of his asshole. And some of the women as did know him and so ought to know better, they’re near as bad.”

    The dancers collapsed into one another’s arms, then wobbled laughing back to their seats. Girls pushed each other to be the ones unstrapping the rams’ horns. Cranbrook was getting his share of the attention. The lass hugging him and offering a mug of ale might have been his granddaughter, but Daniel was pretty sure that she wasn’t. He grinned.

    “Ah . . . ?” said Higgenson in sudden concern — though he hadn’t been the one who’d actually commented on Hogg’s former reputation. “Not that we meant anything, Squire. You know how folks used to say things, and no truth in them, like as not.”

    “I suspect there was a lot of truth in what was said about Hogg,” Daniel said, thinking back on the past and feeling his smile slip. “And about me, I shouldn’t wonder. It’s probably to Bantry’s benefit as well as the Republic’s that the RCN has found the two of us occupation at a distance from the estate.”

    Georg Hofmann approached the group. He looked older and more stooped than Daniel had remembered him, but that was years since, of course. His estate, Brightness Landing, was well up the coast.

    “I didn’t recognize the woman who got out of the car with Hofmann,” Daniel said in a low voice. She was in her early forties and had been poured into a dress considerably too small and too youthful for her.

    “He remarried, a widow from Xenos,” said Waldmiller with a snort. “Damned if I can see the attraction.”

    “And she brought a son besides,” said Peterleigh. “Chuckie, I believe his name is; Platt, from the first husband. That one might better stay in Xenos, I think.”

    The youth was tall and well set up. He looked twenty from Daniel’s distance, but his size may have given him a year or two more than time had. Accompanied by two servants in pink-and-buff livery — those weren’t Hofmann’s colors, so they may have been Platt’s — he was sauntering toward a group of the younger tenants on the seawall not far from the manor house.

    Daniel’s eyes narrowed. Platt took a pull from a gallon jug as he walked, then handed it to a servant. His other servant held what looked very much like a case of dueling pistols.

    Hofmann joined the group around Daniel. Up close, he looked even more tired than he had at a distance. He exchanged nods with his neighbors, then said, “It’s been years, Leary. Good years for you, from what I hear.”

    “It’s good to see the old place, Hofmann,” Daniel said, “though I don’t really fit here any more, I’m afraid. Hofmann, this is Tom Sand, who built the new hall.”

    “I heard you were doing that work, Sand,” said Hofmann, extending his hand to shake. Hofmann was the other member of the local gentry who’d been active in national affairs; though not to the extent of Corder Leary, of course. “How did that come to happen, if I may ask. It’s not –”

    He gestured toward the new building.

    “– on your usual scale, I should have said.”



    Daniel heard the low-frequency thrum of the big surface effect transport he’d been expecting and gave a sigh of relief. He’d set the arrival for mid-afternoon. He hadn’t wanted his Sissies to party for the full day and night with the Bantry tenants, but he’d been so long in the company of spacers that the rural society in which he’d been raised had become strange to him.

    “I asked for the job,” said Sand, squaring his broad shoulders. “I wanted a chance to do something for a real hero of the Republic.”

    He gave Daniel a challenging grin and a nod that was almost a bow. “Hear hear!” said Peterleigh, and the others in the group echoed him.

    “Much obliged,” said Daniel in embarrassment. He drew a mug of ale for an excuse to turn away.

    The bid for the Community Hall had seemed fair. Deirdre, Daniel’s older sister, had handled the matter for him; she’d been handling all his business since prize money had made that more complex than finding a few florins to pay a bar tab. Deirdre had followed their father into finance with a ruthless intelligence that would doubtless serve her well in politics also when she chose to enter the Senate.

    The building that appeared wasn’t the simple barn that Daniel had envisaged, though. The wall mechanisms were extremely sophisticated — and solid: Daniel had gone over them with the attention he’d have given the lock mechanisms of a ship he commanded. Only then had he realized that this was more than a commercial proposition for the builder; as, of course, it was for Daniel Leary himself.

    The transport rumbled in from the sea, a great aerofoil with a catamaran hull. It slid up the processing plant’s ramp — which had been extended north to support the starboard outrigger — and settled to a halt.

    The reel dance had broken up for the time being. All eyes were on the big vehicle.

    “This something you were expecting, Leary?” said Waldmiller, frowning. To him such craft were strictly for trade, hauling his estate’s produce to market in the cities of the east.

    The hatches opened. Even before the ramps had fully deployed, spacers were hopping to the ground wearing their liberty suits. Their embroidered patches were bright, and ribbons fluttered from all the seams.

    “Up the Sissie!” someone shouted. The group headed for the Hall and the promised ale with the same quick enthusiasm that they’d have shown in storming Hell if Captain Leary had ordered it.

    “It is indeed, Waldmiller,” Daniel said. “These are the spacers who’ve served with me since before I took command of the Princess Cecile. I invited them and some of my other shipmates to share the fun today.”

    Officers waited for the ramp, not that they couldn’t have jumped if they’d thought the situation required speed rather than decorum. For the most part they wore their 2nd Class uniforms, their Grays, but Mon — a reserve lieutenant, though he’d for several years managed Bergen and Associates Shipyard in Daniel’s name — had made a point of wearing his full-dress Whites.

    The shipyard had been doing very well under Mon’s leadership. That had allowed him to have the uniform let out professionally, since his girth had also expanded notably.

    Two slightly built women were the last people out of the transport. Adele wore an unobtrusively good suit, since she was appearing as Lady Adele Mundy rather than as Signals Officer Mundy of the Princess Cecile. Tovera, her servant, was neat and nondescript, as easy to overlook as a viper in dried leaves.

    “I say, Leary?” said Broma. “Who’s the civilian women there? Your Miranda’s meeting them, I see.”

    Miranda, accompanied by another flock of children — generally girls this time — waited at the bottom of the ramp. Mothers and older sisters were running to grab them when they noticed what was happening.

    “That’s my friend Adele and her aide,” Daniel said with satisfaction. “And I’m very glad to seem them again!”



    The transport had four files of seats running the length of the fuselage, arranged in facing pairs. Only when the exit ramps began to open did Adele shut off her personal data unit and slide it into the pocket which she had added to the right thigh of all her dress clothes. The cargo pocket of RCN utilities worked very well without modification.

    Adele had found over the years that bespoke tailors gave her more trouble when she demanded the PDU pocket on civilian suits than RCN officers did when they saw her out of uniform. On the other hand, even the snootiest tailor gave in eventually for the honor of dressing Mundy of Chatsworth, a member of one of the oldest families of the Republic and a decorated hero besides.

    Adele was in fact the only member of the Mundys of Chatsworth to have survived the Proscriptions which had decapitated the Three Circles Conspiracy nearly twenty years earlier. At the time she was a sixteen-year-old student in the Academic Collections on Blythe, the second world and intellectual capital of the Alliance of Free Stars. Though her family had been extremely wealthy, her personal tastes were simple. That fitted her to survive if not flourish in a poverty too deep to be described as genteel.

    Recently, the prize money that had accrued to her as an RCN warrant officer in the crew of the most successful captain in a generation had allowed Adele to live and dress in a fashion that befit her rank in society. She was amused to reflect that she owed the recovery of her fortunes to the son of Speaker Leary, the man who had directed the execution of every other member of her family.

    She stood; Tovera, with her usual neutral expression, waited in the aisle to precede Adele as soon as she decided to leave the transport. Tovera’s expression sometimes implied that the pale, slender woman was pleased about something. Those “somethings” weren’t the sort of matters that amused most other people, however.

    Adele shared much of her servant’s sense of humor. That, and the fact that Adele was a crack shot whose pistol had killed indeterminate scores of people during her service in the RCN, made her a suitable role model for Tovera. In order to survive in society, a murderous sociopath needs someone to translate the rules of acceptable behavior for her.

    Adele started down the aisle. Lieutenant Cory and Midshipman Cazelet were waiting by the hatch. Tovera gave them a minuscule nod which sent them down the ramp. This wasn’t a social event for Adele; at least not yet.

    The two young officers were her protégés, though she wasn’t sure how that had happened. Rene Cazelet was the grandson of her mentor at the Academic Collections, Mistress Boileau. When the boy’s parents were executed for plotting against Guarantor Porra, Boileau had sent him to Adele.

    That was perfectly reasonable. Adele didn’t understand why, however, after she’d helped Rene get his feet under him on Cinnabar, he’d continued to follow her in the RCN instead of finding a civilian occupation. Adele’s contacts could have opened almost any door for him.

    Cory was even more puzzling. He’d been a barely marginal midshipman when he was assigned to the Princess Cecile. Some of his classmates had blossomed under Daniel’s training, but Cory had remained a thumb-fingered embarrassment . . . until Adele had more or less by accident found that the boy had a talent for communications — and used him. To the amazement of herself and Daniel both, Cory had managed to become a more-than-passable astrogator as well.

    Well and good; Adele was of course pleased. But Cory apparently credited her with his turnaround, whereas Adele would be the first to say that she would be better able to fly by flapping her arms than she would be to astrogate. She didn’t even know how to direct the astrogation computer to find a solution the way many of the senior enlisted personnel could.

    Tovera led the way out of the transport, her hand within the half-open attaché case she carried in all circumstances which didn’t allow her to show weapons openly. There was almost no chance of someone trying to attack Adele here at Bantry, but Tovera would say that no one had ever been murdered because their bodyguard was too careful. Tovera wasn’t going to change her behavior, so it was a matter on which mistress and servant would simply disagree.

    The assorted spacers were already mixing with the crowd of Bantry tenants. Both groups were in their party clothes, but they were as distinct as birds from lizards. The Sissies wore ribbons and patches, while the Bantries were in solid bright colors — generally in combinations that clashed. Muted good taste wasn’t seen as a virtue either by spacers or farmers, it appeared.

    Adele smiled. “Mistress?” said Tovera, who flicked quick glances behind her as well. Presumably she was concerned that the transport’s driver might enter to creep from the cockpit to shoot Lady Mundy in the back.

    “I was wondering . . . ,” Adele said. “How my tailor would react if I asked him to run me up a liberty suit.”

    “Any of the Sissies would be proud to do the work, Mistress,” Tovera said with a straight face and no inflection. “They’d fight each other for the honor.”

    She paused, then added, “Woetjans would win.”

    “Yes,” Adele agreed dryly. “Woetjans would win.”

    A sociopath shouldn’t be able to joke, but Tovera had certainly learned to counterfeit the act. At least the comment was probably meant as a joke.

    The Princess Cecile’s bosun was six-foot-six and rangy rather than heavy. She — Woetjans was biologically female — had always struck Adele as abnormally strong even for her size, and the length of high-pressure tubing she swung in a melee was more effective than a sawed-off shotgun.



    Miranda Dorst had just reached the bottom of the ramp. She waited in the middle of a group of children, smiling up at Adele.

    Daniel had kept company with many women in the years Adele had known him. Most of them had been prettier than Miranda — a healthy girl, but not a raging beauty; and none of them had displayed half Miranda’s intelligence.

    Adele respected Miranda, which permitted her to like the younger woman as well. She hoped that matters went well for her and Daniel, which didn’t — Adele smiled briefly, coldly — necessarily mean that they would marry. But Miranda was adult, quite smart, and certainly knew her own mind.

    Women with floral aprons and contrasting bonnets were descending on Miranda’s gaggle of children like jays on a swarm of termites, whisking them off one at a time by a sleeve or an ear. A boy remained, but a girl of sixteen or so was coming at a run with her eye on him.

    “Adele, I’m so glad to see you,” Miranda said, sounding as though she meant it. “Is this your first visit to Bantry? I’m sure it’s a wonderful place when one learns to appreciate it, but I’ll admit that I’ve always been a city girl.”

    “Lady Mundy Lady Mundy!” squealed the boy. He couldn’t have been more than six.

    “Robbie!” cried the girl running toward him.

    “Are you the Squire’s girlfriend, Lady Mundy?” Robbie demanded. “We all think you are!”

    The girl clouted Robbie over the ear. He yelped; she smothered his outrage in folds of her scarlet apron which overlay the blue/green/yellow checks of her skirt.

    “Your ladyship I’m so sorry!” the girl said. Her cheeks were almost as bright as the fabric. “He’s my brother and it’s my fault, I was supposed to watch him, I’m so sorry! I’m Susie Maynor and I shouldn’t have let it happen!”

    “Thank you, Mistress Maynor,” Adele said. Her voice and expression were emotionless, but she had made the intellectual decision to find the business amusing. That was the proper response, especially with a child; though it wasn’t the direction her thoughts had first turned. “You may assure Master Robbie when he reappears that I am not the Squire’s girlfriend.”

    “Oh your ladyship!” the girl gasped. She strode toward the main gathering with determination, ignoring the muted wails from her apron.

    Adele, grimacing internally, met Miranda’s eyes. As she — and probably both of them — wondered what to say or whether better to ignore the business, Tovera said, “I’ve been in Captain Leary’s company for a number of years now, but no one has made similar assertions about me. If I had human feelings, they would be hurt.”

    Miranda blinked at Tovera, then smothered a giggle with her hand. Adele only grinned slightly, but the expression meant more in her case than it would for most people. Aloud she said, “Would you like a raise, Tovera?”

    Her servant gave her a wintry smile. “What do I need money for, Mistress?” she said. She had closed her attaché case. “You provide my food and lodging, and you point me to plenty of people to kill.”

    Which may be a joke, Adele thought. “Yes,” she said, “but not here.”

    “Daniel asked me to take you to the house,” Miranda said as she turned. She started back along the arc of the commons instead of the chord of the seafront. She cleared her throat, perhaps still embarrassed. She said, “He isn’t really the Squire, you know. His father is, and Deirdre will inherit if, well . . . when . . . .”

    Her voice trailed off.

    “I don’t believe Speaker Leary is immortal either,” Adele said, letting the words rather than her dry tone supply the humor. “But ‘Squire’ is a term of custom rather than law. If the Bantries choose to grant the title to Daniel who grew up with them rather than to his father to whom the estate is merely a muddy asset, then I applaud their judgment.”

    They walked close to the tenant houses. Adele could see that the fronts were decked with swags of foliage and flowers, not bunting as she’d thought from the transport’s hatch. Dogs barked from some of the fenced dooryards.

    Miranda followed Adele’s eyes. With quiet pride she said, “They really love him, don’t they?”

    “Yes,” said Adele. “Just as the Sissies do. The tenants don’t find their lives at considerably greater risk from associating with Daniel, but even so I don’t think a computer could have predicted the depth of feeling.”

    Miranda laughed. She was a cheerful person, a good fit with Daniel in that way. She hadn’t had an easy life, but the troubles didn’t appear to have marked her.

    Whereas Adele — she smiled wanly at herself — hadn’t been particularly happy even when she’d been the heir to one of the wealthiest and most powerful houses of the Republic. She’d often been content, though; as she was generally content now, except the nights that she lay in the darkness, surrounded by dead faces that she’d last seen over the sights of the pistol which even now nestled in her left tunic pocket.

    The piper was taking a break, and at least a dozen men had begun singing The Ring That Has No End without accompaniment. They stumbled up to, ” . . . when you find one who’ll be true,” but by the time they reached, “Change not the old friend for a new,” their voices had blended into a natural richness which Adele found beautiful. Her hand reached for her data unit as it always did when she was really engaged by her surroundings, but she had nothing to look up.

    Her lips twitched, though her expression couldn’t have been called a smile: she reached for her data unit, or she reached for her pistol. Either way, she preferred to keep a mechanical interface between herself and the world.

    “I’m so glad they’re getting along,” Miranda said, also watching the festival. She and Adele walked side by side. Tovera followed at a respectful distance of two paces. “I was afraid there’d be, well, fights between spacers and tenants.”

    “There probably will be,” Adele said. “And fights among spacers and fights among tenants. Most of both groups will be drunk before the night’s out, and those who aren’t falling-down drunk will include some who want to knock other people down. But they all respect Six — or the Squire, depending — too much for it to go beyond fists. And remember, at least a score of the present Sissies were tenants before they enlisted.”

    And anyone who wasn’t sufficiently respectful to begin with would have a proper understanding beaten into him by Woetjans or Hogg, each policing the group they came from. They would certainly be drunk also, but Adele couldn’t imagine them too drunk to do their duty.

    She took that sort of implicit violence for granted now. Her father, knowing that a leading politician was open to many pressures, had seen to it that not only he but his wife and daughters were known to be crack shots who would certainly kill anyone who challenged them to a duel. That hadn’t helped him the night troops arrived with the notice of the Proscriptions, but it had kept Adele alive during her years of slums and squalor.

    This was different, though: this was force applied in the service of order, not chaos. Her mother, who had believed in the innate decency of the Common Man, would have been horrified; her father would have been disgusted.

    Adele, who had lived in very close quarters with the Common Man ever since the Proscriptions, took the same sort of detached view that she had of lice: there were discomforts which you alleviated if you could and bore if you couldn’t. There were no moral questions involved, just practical responses.

    And a crack on the head with plenty of muscle behind it was often a very practical response.

    The double leaves of the manor’s front door were standing open onto the veranda; guns and fishing tackle hung from hooks in the hallway behind. The gear looked well cared for, though there wouldn’t have been anyone living in the building since Daniel had left Bantry to join the RCN.

    Tovera skipped ahead; her right hand was within the attaché case again. The hall and the rooms to either side along the central passageway were empty.

    If Miranda was surprised by Tovera’s behavior, she didn’t comment on the fact. Instead she said, “I’ll take you through to the library, Adele, and then go back to the party.”

    She smiled fondly. “I need to give my mother a bit of a break, I’m afraid,” she said. “When the Bantry women learned we’d both made our own dresses –”

    She touched her skirt. The fabric was sturdy, but the pattern of magenta flames on the white background made it stand out even in these festivities. The lines, though loose enough to be comfortable, flattered what was already quite a good figure.

    “– nothing would help but we had to show them every seam.”

    Miranda knocked on the last door to the right, where the passage jogged into the new wing. “Enter,” called a voice that had become familiar to Adele over the years.

    Tovera reached for the latch; Adele stepped past and said, “No.”

    She opened the door and entered what passed for a library here.

    “Did you have a good trip, Mundy?” asked Bernis Sand, seated at the reading table with a bottle of whiskey, a carafe of water, and two glasses before her.

    “No worse than I expected,” Adele said to the Republic’s spymaster. When the door closed behind her, she went on, “What did you wish to speak to me about, mistress?”

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