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What Distant Deeps: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Friday, August 6, 2010 21:37 EDT



Diamond Cay, Zenobia

    “Look at me, snake!” Tovera shouted from midway between the wreck and the base of the crystal tower. “I’m going to steal your eggs and eat them in front of you!”

    Adele smiled minusculy. She had told her servant to shout to call attention to herself. It didn’t matter what the words were or even if they were words. It didn’t surprise her in the least that Tovera was acting as though the seadragon could understand the threats, however.

    “Are we ready, then?” said Daniel. They had circled to approach the tower from the opposite side. He spoke quietly so as not to call the dragon’s attention away from Tovera’s fine performance, but his smile seemed satisfied and genuine.

    He’s really looking forward to this, Adele thought. Of course, he grew up fishing in the ocean — and Hogg was teaching him.

    Adele wasn’t looking forward to the business, though she wasn’t really afraid. If things went wrong she would probably be killed, but she thought Daniel and Hogg would be able to escape. So long as she wasn’t endangering others, the risks didn’t greatly concern her.

    “Ma’am?” Hogg said. He reached into his left pocket and lifted his pistol partly into sight. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like mine?”

    Hogg wore the steel-mesh mittens which he needed to handle his length of fishing line weighted on either end with a deep-sea sinker. The beryllium monocrystal was thin and flexible, but you could lift an aircar with it — if you attached the line to a metal part. It would cut plastic — or flesh — like a knife.

    “Yes,” said Adele. “I’m sure.”

    Though compact, Hogg’s pistol was about twice the size of her own and threw osmium slugs instead of Adele’s light ceramic pellets. It was a better choice if you were trying to knock the target down, but this seadragon was much too big for that to be possible.

    If Hogg had carried a service pistol, Adele might indeed have borrowed it. The combination of high velocity and heavy slug would shatter the creature’s skull; after that they could simply wait for the beast to die. Neither of the available pistols — nor Tovera’s, which was much like Adele’s — were sufficiently powerful, however. Therefore, she had suggested a different plan . . . .

    “I’ll feed your eggs to pigs, snake!” Tovera shouted. She had made a flag by tying her tunic to a sturdy reed. She managed to waggle it in the air by clamping her forearms together with the staff between them. “You’ll have no offspring ever!”

    The seadragon screamed at her. Its nest must be in one of the upper rooms, but it used the top of the tower as a vantage point. So long as Tovera called and capered, the beast was likely to remain where it could see her.

    “Let me get half a circuit ahead,” Adele said quietly. She stepped through the entrance and started up.

    As Hogg had noted before the crash, a helical ramp six feet wide served the tower instead of a staircase. There was no railing nor sign of where one might have been. The central well was more than ten feet in diameter.

    The ramp circled clockwise instead of being counterclockwise like a ship’s companionways. That didn’t matter in the present circumstances, but it felt subtly wrong.

    The seadragon called again. There was a hole in the roof at the ramp’s upper end. If there had ever been a door or other cover, it had vanished in the millennia since the tower was abandoned.

    Hogg led Daniel into the tower, having scrupulously waited till Adele was opposite the entrance and one level higher. The fifty-foot height was divided into eight levels, so the rooms — though spacious — were far too low-ceilinged for a human to find them comfortable. The entrances were arcs almost ten feet broad at the base. As with the roof opening, there were no doors.

    Light wicked through the tower’s walls and flooded its interior, but the refractions and reflections of the crystal created shapes and emptinesses. Their movements kept Adele on edge; but not, she judged, significantly more on edge than she would otherwise have been when approaching a 30-foot reptile with a pocket pistol.

    Adele was wearing RCN boots. They were thin enough to wear inside a vacuum suit, but their soft soles gripped even on the oily deck plates of a starship. That was perfect for the pebbled, gently rising surface of the ramp. It circled four times from the ground-level entrance to the roof.

    On her second circuit, she reached the point where the building had been breached; had been melted away, if Daniel was correct. The room with no outer wall was brighter. By contrast, Adele could see that the light passing through the crystal had a bluish cast.

    She continued at a steady pace. She wasn’t looking directly at the roof opening: the bright light might blur her vision when the seadragon started down. Its body would curtain the hole. When the beast moved above on the roof, she saw it as shadows at the corners of her eyes.

    The floor of the tower was covered with what Adele took for broken pottery when she first risked a glance downward. No, crab shells. She had assumed that the seadragon had chosen the tower simply as a safe place in which to lay its eggs, but the quantity of debris suggested that this was a permanent lair. Its stench was noticeably different from the vegetable miasma rising with every step in the muck of the marshes.

    Perhaps they — she and Daniel — could collaborate on a scientific paper on the life cycle of the Zenobian seadragon. After the two of them retired. If they lived to retire. And of course assuming that the seadragons were native to Zenobia, though that could be hedged by modifying the title to, “The Colony of Seadragons Found on Zenobia.”

    The whimsy made Adele smile. Anyway the corners of her lips twitched upward.

    She paused, half a circuit short of the tower’s roof. Hogg with Daniel behind him were another half circuit below her. They had reached the entrance to the seventh level. Hogg was spinning a yard of his line out in the tower’s well with his right hand while his left held the remainder in loose loops.

    Daniel was watched her. Adele nodded, then shaded her eyes with her right hand as she looked up at the opening. Hogg whistled, a harsh trill that echoed in the crystal cylinder.

    There was a clacking and scrabbling from the roof. The seadragon, its paddle feet spread to either side of the opening, thrust its head into the interior of the tower.

    Adele’s pistol snapped; the dragon’s bulging right eye burst into silvery droplets. Snapped again and the left eye, the instant before an amber lantern, also splashed into darkness.

    The weight of the dragon’s shriek made Adele flinch backward. The creature lunged toward her. Its jaws were open but the small forelegs were tight against its chest. Its teeth were blunt cones that could crush a human skull as easily as they did crab shells.

    Hogg’s line looped about the seadragon’s neck. The creature took another sliding, hunching step. Hogg drew back with the full strength of his upper body; he’d looped the monofilament around his right glove and gripped the heavy bronze sinker at his end with his left. Daniel had an arm around Hogg’s waist and the other arm reaching through the doorway to lock on the wall of the room beside them.

    The seadragon surged forward. Not even those two strong men could have overcome the infuriated creature’s mass, but they pulled its blind head toward them across the tower.

    The dragon took another step and slipped off the ramp. It screamed like a siren as it plunged toward the crab shells forty feet below.



    Hogg bellowed in agony. The dragon’s cry ended in a hiss and a gout of blood that spattered the roof: Hogg hadn’t been able to release the looped line, but it had decapitated the seadragon before the creature’s weight pulled both men down with it.

    The seadragon smashed to the floor. The body flopped and flailed for nearly a minute, and for longer yet occasional twitches dimpled the ton of flesh.

    Adele knelt, waving her pistol gently to cool the barrel before she put it away. The seadragon’s jaws clopped shut and opened in titanic convulsions.

    Adele didn’t let herself blink. If her eyes closed even for an instant, she would see that great head stretching forward to crush the fine, organized brain of Adele Mundy.



    Daniel didn’t think the seadragon had reached Adele, but the motionless silence in which she knelt on the ramp made him worry as he trotted up to her. Had the tail slapped her as the creature went over the side? He wouldn’t have noticed with all the other things that were going on at the time.

    “Perfect marksmanship, Adele,” he said cheerfully. “As expected, of course. I regret the danger to you, but you were right that there was no better way.”

    Adele put her pistol away and rose. “I wasn’t in danger so long as it was you and Hogg with the line,” she said. She sounded like her usual imperturbable self, but Daniel still had the feeling — it was no more than that — that something had disturbed her. She glanced past him and said, “Hogg? Are you all right?”

    “I won’t be shaking hands any time soon,” Hogg muttered. “Nothing that won’t heal, but it hurts like bloody blue blazes right now.”

    Daniel looked over his shoulder. He’d felt as though the creature’s weight was going to pinch off his right arm against the doorjamb he’d hooked it around. Hogg had shouted at the same time, but that had seemed a natural reaction to his effort in holding on to the line. In his concern for Adele, Daniel hadn’t realized that Hogg was injured.

    He was holding his right hand up — keeping it above his heart. He’d taken the mesh mitten off his left hand and put it back with the coiled monofilament into one of his pockets, but the mitten was still on his right. It looked as stiff as an inflated bladder.

    “It’s my own fault,” Hogg growled. “I didn’t trust to be able to just hold the sinker, so I gave the line a wrap around my hand. I figured the glove’d save me.”

    He smiled ruefully at his raised hand. “And I guess it did,” he said, “but it was a near thing. If the line hadn’t of sawed through the lizard’s neck when it did, I don’t bloody know what was going to happen.”

    Adele nodded crisply. “Thank you, Hogg,” she said. “The Medicomp should be able to take care of the problem as soon as we get you to the Princess Cecile.”

    “I’d do it the same way again, ma’am,” Hogg said with a real grin. “I still don’t trust I wouldn’t let go if I just had the sinker to hold. And Tovera’d shoot me sure as sunrise if I let something happen to you.”

    “It wouldn’t be anything so quick,” said Tovera from the outside door. She still held the flag; Daniel supposed she must have had Hogg tie it to her arms. “But I don’t expect that to happen.”

    “Right,” said Daniel, speaking more sharply than he normally would have. He really wanted to end the discussion. It hadn’t told him anything about Tovera — or Hogg, really — that he hadn’t known before, but it made him uncomfortable to dwell on it. “Let me take a look at your hand, Hogg.”

    “Naw,” said Hogg. “Let’s find the case, bring the Sissie in, and slap me under the Medicomp like Mistress Mundy says. Till then, I keep the glove on, right?”

    Daniel thought about it. “Yes,” he said, “all right.”

    He grinned as he stepped briskly up the remaining short length of the ramp. He’d been afraid he was going to lose his grip so that the seadragon would pull Hogg off the ramp. He had determined that he’d let his arms be torn from their sockets before he let his friend and servant down.

    It shouldn’t have surprised him that Hogg had felt the same way about failing Adele. The four of them functioned less as a team than as a close-knit family whose members would rather die than fail the others.

    It was a good group to be a part of. The best, by heaven!

    The tower roof was very slightly domed, and there was no coping around its edge. Rain would run off it down the smooth crystal sides, splashing on the ground fifty feet below.

    Daniel glanced back. Hogg was still inside, left-handedly cutting Tovera’s arms free, but Adele had followed.

    “I wonder if this place was built by spacers?” he said, grinning.

    She shrugged. “Or by birds,” she said. “At any rate, it doesn’t appear to be designed for human use.”

    Daniel felt his lips purse. “There are eccentric humans,” he said, “but I take your point. Still, that’s a question for the future. What we need now is to find Tovera’s case.”

    Adele unexpectedly sat on the rooftop and took out her personal data unit. She gave his puzzlement a tiny smile. “I was afraid that I might lose the control wands in the crash,” she said. “I didn’t, so I guess this was my lucky day.”

    She isn’t joking, Daniel realized. His smile spread slowly. Of course Adele hadn’t been concerned about being killed. Her troubles were over if that happened.

    He turned quickly to survey the boggy landscape. He didn’t want Adele to see the sudden grim cast of his face. Her problems might be over with her death, but Daniel Leary’s would become much worse. Perhaps insupportably worse.

    A wedge of faint violet lines, a hologram projected by Adele’s data unit, suddenly overlay the terrain before him. Its apex was the wreck of the car. He glanced toward her.

    “The axis of the triangle extends from the line between where the car hit before the last bounce,” Adele said, “to where it lies now. The edges are fifteen degrees to either side.”

    She shrugged. “That was a guess,” she said, “but I thought it might help to refine the search area.”

    Hogg and Tovera came up through the oval opening. Hogg looked pale, but his face was set in lines of glum determination.

    “Yes,” said Daniel with satisfaction. “That will help a great deal, I think.”

    He lowered the visor of his commo helmet. Its optics would give him not only magnification but other viewing options. A sweep in the infrared would make the case stand out if it were even slightly warmer or cooler than –

    “There it is,” Hogg said, pointing with his whole left arm. “Eighty yards out and behind that tussock of sedges. It looks like it’s . . . yeah, it’s floating. There’s a pond or something there, maybe a slough.”

    Daniel blinked. For a moment he felt as though he’d been insulted; then he burst out laughing.

    “What’s the matter, young master?” Hogg said, frowning in surprise. “You see it there, don’t you?”

    Daniel lifted his visor again. “Yes, Hogg,” he said, “I see it now that you’ve pointed it out. Though I’d have found it eventually on my own, I’m sure.”

    “Of course you would’ve,” Hogg said in amazement. “It’s about as bloody obvious as a deacon in a whorehouse, isn’t it?”

    He grimaced. “Want me to go fetch it, then?”

    “One moment,” said Daniel, lowering his visor. A poacher’s experienced eye was a remarkable shortcut if you happened to have one available, but technology still had its place.

    The case was floating with only one corner above the surface of the pond; it looked like a miniature dark-gray iceberg. It was 238 feet from where Daniel stood — Hogg was slightly behind him, of course — and seven feet out from the shore.



    It was also about six feet to the right of Adele’s fifteen-degree estimate. The bank must be fairly sharp, because the vegetation cut off abruptly at the water’s edge.

    “I might be able to wade to it, I guess,” said Hogg. He knew that Daniel wasn’t going to let him and his injured hand go after the case, but he still lobbied for that solution. “Anyways, it won’t be much of a swim.”

    A seadragon slid under the attaché case and curved out of the field of Daniel’s magnified optics. It was about five feet long and had feathery gills along the sides of its neck.

    “It’s a nursery pool for the dragons, Hogg,” Daniel said as he widened his field of view slightly. The water had an amber tinge from tannin, but it was clear enough to show movement close beneath its surface. “I can see half a dozen of them. They seem to have territories.”

    “Do they come up for air, maybe?” Hogg asked hopefully.

    “No, they’ve got gills,” Daniel said. He lifted his visor and faced his servant directly. “I’ll need your knife.”

    “I could –” Hogg said tentatively, but he was reaching into a pocket. It was on the right side of his trousers, but they were baggy enough to let him tug a handful toward him.

    “No,” said Daniel, “you couldn’t.”

    “Yeah, I figured,” Hogg mumbled, handing over a folding knife with a knuckle-duster grip and a spike on the butt. It should have been clumsy, but Daniel had seen Hogg throw it with perfect accuracy. “Bloody hand.”

    Daniel beamed at the women; they had been waiting patiently. Adele and Tovera were urbanites. They had no idea of what the hunters were discussing, but they knew to hold their tongues when they were ignorant.

    “Now,” said Daniel. “Adele, you’ll guide us from up here while Hogg and I go to fetch the case. And Hogg, little though you like it, you’ll have to wear my commo helmet so that you can listen to Adele’s instructions.”

    “Aww . . . ,” Hogg muttered. “Well, I guess it serves me right for getting hurt.”

    More brightly he added, “Let’s get the Sissie here. Because I’m really looking forward to interviewing an assistant commissioner about what happened to the car’s motors!”



    “The mistress says we’re getting off to the right,” Hogg grumbled. “What I say is that if I didn’t have this bloody pot on my head, I’d be able to find my bloody way around like I have since before I started walking.”

    The ground had seemed solid from the top of the tower, but there were mud-filled swales in which the two men squished knee-deep. So far as Daniel could tell, the vegetation was indistinguishable from that which grew on firmer soil, but the bug-like parasites sucking juices from the stems here were bright orange instead of the yellow with brown speckles that he’d seen close around the tower.

    “I appreciate you wearing the helmet for me,” Daniel said, holding the flag up in his left hand.

    In truth, he and Hogg both knew that it was almost impossible to keep a straight line in a marsh like this, and an unfamiliar marsh besides. The tower was the only high fixed point. Without a second point for triangulation, you could wander miles off course.

    The commo helmet had a compass function, of course, but it wasn’t worth trying to teach Hogg how to use it. He’d always gotten along without equipment, and by this time of his life he wasn’t going to change easily.

    “She says go straight through these reeds,” Hogg said. His pistol was in his left hand. Because he was walking a pace back from Daniel, he kept the muzzle in the air. Unlike Adele, he didn’t shoot equally well with either hand. Until he spent some time connected to the Medicomp, the pistol was less useful than the knife would have been.

    It kept Hogg from feeling useless, though. Tovera would have made a better commo relay person, but for Daniel to have told Hogg to wait in the tower would have been a crushing insult.

    Daniel reached out with the pole to part the reeds; the knife was withdrawn in his right hand to disembowel anything that lunged at the flag. “Right you are, Hogg,” he said cheerfully. “And there’s the case.”

    They had reached the lagoon. The bank was undercut and eighteen inches high. The meandering body of water was forty feet across near where they stood. As best Daniel could tell without falling in, it was five or six feet deep. That range would be the difference between swimming and wading.

    A juvenile dragon curved close to the bank and darted out again. It didn’t come within a foot of the surface, so it would be a waste of time to shoot at it.

    “Little bastard,” Hogg said morosely. “We don’t want to eat your dinner. If you’d just leave us alone, you could grow up to be big and strong.”

    “I’m showing disrespect for it by moving into its territory,” Daniel said. He smiled, but his amusement was tempered by knowledge. “Which isn’t a great deal different from us and the Alliance, is it, after all?”

    “Well, we’ve taught the wogs to back off plenty of times,” growled Hogg. “I don’t mind teaching a lizard, though I still think it ought to be me doing it.”

    “Warn me if something comes up, Hogg,” Daniel said instead of bothering to respond directly. He sat on the bank, letting his feet hang in the water. He could swim with his clothing on if he had to — certainly he could swim the few yards necessary here — and the tough cloth of the garments would be some protection. He slid into the lagoon.

    The bottom wasn’t quite as deep as he’d feared, but his boots raised shovelfuls of silt to cloud the water. The attaché case rocked away, but not far.

    A juvenile seadragon banked sharply and arrowed toward the disturbance. It drove itself with its long, flattened tail, keeping its legs close to the body except when it thrust one or more of the paddle feet out as rudders.

    Daniel slapped the flag into the water to his left. The seadragon made a ninety-degree turn as smoothly as water running through a pipe elbow. It rotated onto its side as it struck, ripping the fabric; the teeth were blunt, but the creature’s powerful jaw muscles were intended to crush them through crab shells.

    Daniel flipped his arm sideways, trying to toss the dragon onto the bank. He got it half out of the water; then the pole broke. He ducked as the creature writhed through the air where his head had been an instant previously.

    It slapped the water, tangled and half-blinded by the flag wrapping its head but snapping furiously at whatever was close. Daniel stabbed the creature just in front of its external gills and twisted the knife.

    The seadragon continued to thrash, even after Daniel lifted its torso above the surface. Its jaws snapped three times very quickly; then the eye he could see glazed. The legs and tail were still moving, but they were uncoordinated.

    Using the knife as a gaff, Daniel hurled the creature farther into the lagoon. The motion took a great deal of effort; the short fight had wrung more out of him than he had expected. He waded deeper and caught the handle of the attaché case with the water barely touching his chin; then he slowly forced his way back to the bank and tossed the case onto land.

    “Here you go, young master,” Hogg said, grasping Daniel’s left hand with his own. Daniel braced his right boot as far up the back as he could reach; then, with Hogg as an anchor, he heaved himself up and stood.

    Daniel wiped the blade clean of mud and blood on his pants leg, then closed the knife. “Thank you, Hogg,” he said, offering the weapon in the palm of his hand. .



    Hogg picked up the case instead. “You keep it till we’re back with the mistress,” he said. “I’m bunged up, and it seems like you know how to use it.”

    I had a good teacher, Daniel thought as he followed his servant back to the tower.

    At the end of the day, Hogg had been right: animals, including humans, did fight territorial battles. People like Hogg and Daniel Leary had thus far fought better than any of the rivals they had faced.



    Adele, seated on top of the tower, took the satellite communicator from the attaché case while Tovera watched with an unfamiliar tight expression. Adele realized that she had never seen the case fully open before. Tovera hadn’t exactly hidden the contents, but she was a private person who avoided displaying any aspect of her life.

    The pistol-sized sub-machine gun had pride of place in the center of the lower half of the case, but around it and in separate pockets in the lid were a variety of other miniaturized devices. Adele didn’t recognize all of them. The information specialist in her wanted to begin questioning Tovera, but that would be both a waste of time and an insult to her servant.

    The communicator was obvious, though this one was the smallest that Adele had seen. It was a blunt, flat-based cone the height of her index finger; there were three bumps just below the apex and a dimple above the base. She set it before her on the top of the tower.

    “The base will stick,” Tovera said, leaning slightly forward as though she were about to snatch the unit away from her mistress. “If you –”

    Adele touched the dimple, causing micropores in the cone’s base to exude a quick-setting adhesive. If it was the type she was familiar with, a sharp ninety-degree twist of the cone would break the seal and the adhesive would sublime, but that was a question for later.

    “Yes,” she said, touching the three bumps in turn to release the antenna prongs. “Does the unit require an authorization code?”

    Tovera laughed harshly, a very different sound from her not-infrequent cruel giggle. She said, “No, mistress. It’s just a communicator. I didn’t see any reason to make it more difficult to use than it had to be.”

    She coughed. “And I apologize.”

    Adele paused and looked up at her servant. “I don’t care to have other people poking around in my files, Tovera,” she said. “If I were to break my wrists, I might have to; but I wouldn’t be happy about it.”

    She resumed the process of connecting her data unit with the satellite communicator. Zenobia’s network was rudimentary but sufficient to the planet’s traffic. Shortly after the Sissie landed, Adele had carved a dedicated circuit for RCN use out of the system — just in case. Unless the satellites were destroyed or someone equally capable undid her work, she had access to the entire planet so long as she could connect with the network to begin with.

    Tovera coughed diffidently. She said, “I don’t think my wrists are broken, mistress, but thank you. I’ll go sit with Hogg, if you don’t mind.”

    “Not at all,” Adele said without looking up again. Hogg had been wobbling when he stepped out onto the roof with the attaché case; Daniel had instantly ordered him back inside. It was a sign of how much pain Hogg had been in after the climb had raised his blood pressure that he had obeyed without argument.

    Adele got her connection. “Daniel, would you care to . . . ?” she said.

    He shook his head with a grin. “You’re the signals officer, Mundy,” he said.

    Nodding, she said, “Mundy to Princess Cecile. Please reply, Princess Cecile, over.”

    Daniel stood beside her, looking around with a pleasant smile. He appeared to be viewing the landscape in idle curiosity, but Adele noticed from the image on her display that he always watched her out of the corner of his eye.

    Does he think I’m going to fall off this roof? Adele thought in irritation.

    The hard line of her lips relaxed into her version of a smile. Well, yes, Daniel might very well be concerned that she would fall off the roof. The smooth surface, lack of railing, and the fact the top sloped down on all sides made it quite dangerous unless you were — as she had suggested — a bird.

    “Mistress, thank the gods!” said Cazelet’s rushing voice. “Break!”

    There was a pause, about long enough for the acting signals officer to pass the information on. Then Cazelet’s voice resumed, “Mistress, Elspeth — that is, Lieutenant Vesey — says we’re three minutes out. What is your situation please, over?”

    Adele was using her data unit’s speakers, but Daniel would have been able to listen anyway through his commo helmet. He frowned with surprise at the news.

    “We have a couple minor injuries,” Adele said. Hogg and Tovera had reappeared in the roof opening, but they didn’t step out. Tovera was surreptitiously keeping an eye on Hogg to prevent him from overreaching himself. “Princess Cecile, how do you come to be approaching, over?”

    “Mundy, this is Three,” said Vesey, taking over from the midshipman. “When we lost contact with you, Lieutenant Cory brought up recently viewed sites.”

    They shouldn’t be able to recover my viewing history! Not even Cory and Cazelet should be able to break the encryption!

    “He informs me that your history was irrecoverable, but that Six had recently tried to view a site also. By using imagery from ships in Calvary Harbor, Cory was able to pinpoint Six’s coordinates as Diamond Cay in the Green Ocean, the direction in which your aircar was seen leaving this morning. I issued an alarm, and we were able to lift in seventeen minutes. Over.”

    Daniel caught Adele’s eye, then pointed to himself. Adele nodded and switched the control.

    “Lieutenant Vesey, this is Six,” said Daniel, using his commo link instead of speaking directly to the data unit. “We will await your arrival with great pleasure. Land at the base to the crystal structure, if you will; the walls will protect us from the exhaust.”

    He paused without signing off, then continued, “And Vesey? Will you please relay my appreciation to the officers and crew of the Sissie? This was work in the best tradition of the RCN. I have no higher praise to give, over.”

    “Roger, Six,” said Vesey. “Three out.”

    Adele started to pack her equipment, then decided to wait. It wouldn’t take long, and she preferred not to be out of communication just now. She could already hear the rumble of the corvette’s thrusters.

    “You’ve trained some good ones, Adele,” said Daniel, his hands in his tunic pockets as he looked eastward. “And so have I. I used to worry that Vesey was indecisive.”

    He chuckled. “Mind,” he added, “I suspect the ship’s undercrewed, though there’s likely forty drunks stretched out at their action stations.”

    The Princess Cecile was visible now, thundering along just high enough that the iridescent plume of her exhaust didn’t lick steam from the wave tops. The gun turrets were unlocked. The paired cannon were depressed slightly to fire at such ground targets as might present themselves.

    “They didn’t know what they might be getting into,” Adele said. In moments like these, she thought she knew what other people meant by love. “But they came anyway. Of course.”

    “Of course!” agreed Daniel in surprise.

    In the lagoon where Tovera’s case had floated, birds with sharp teeth and clawed forelegs ahead of their two wings were fighting over the corpse of the juvenile seadragon. The thunder of the Sissie’s plasma motors drowned their shrieks.

    Adele smiled faintly, wondering whether Zenobian scavengers found human carrion edible also. Assistant Commissioner Gibbs might give her an opportunity to answer that question.

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