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What Distant Deeps: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 21:30 EDT



Calvary on Zenobia

    “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Leary,” said Lieutenant Commander von Gleuck at the door to the study of his private quarters in the city. He wore loose trousers and a tunic, both striped in pale blue diagonals on white. It might be a style from Adlersbild; certainly it wasn’t Zenobian. “Podnits, you may turn in. Captain Leary and I can pour our own drinks.”

    The servant who had admitted Daniel was bald, stocky, and dour. He looked doubtful, but he obeyed. Hogg’s demeanor had been very similar when Daniel told him to wait in the van.

    “I’m sorry about the delay admitting you,” von Gleuck said. “I’m afraid Podnits wasn’t convinced that it really was an RCN officer in civilian clothes who was banging on my door.”

    Daniel closed the study door firmly behind him. “I can imagine Hogg having similar doubts,” he said. “I was afraid to call ahead, you see, so I drove here straight from the harbor.”

    He gave von Gleuck a rueful smile. “Trundled from the harbor, I should say. Unfortunately, time is important.”

    Three of the walls were decorated with Zenobian tapestries in which figures in garish costumes hunted across wooded terrain. The wall facing the door, however, was a hologram of a mountain fastness. The scene moved slowly, as though a person standing on a height was turning to his right to view the entire panorama.

    There were four chairs, each with a leather back and cushion on a frame of rhodium-plated steel; the table matched, though the leather top had been treated with a hardener. That wasn’t Daniel’s idea of comfort, but he could appreciate von Gleuck’s determination to recreate the world he’d grown up in.

    The computer console in the far right corner faced the door. It appeared to be a Fleet Standard unit, functionally identical to what Daniel would expect to find on the bridge of Z 46. Or, for that matter, on the Princess Cecile.

    “All right, Captain,” von Gleuck said with a cold smile. “Speak.”

    Daniel opened his left hand palm up, as though offering something to his host. “Look, von Gleuck,” he said, “we’re both officers, and we’re not going to forget that ever. But just for now, Daniel Leary of Bantry would like to talk off the record with his friend, the Honorable Otto von Gleuck. Can we do that?”

    Von Gleuck’s smile broadened minusculely. “We are doing that, Daniel,” he said. “Part of the delay before I admitted you was to make sure all the recording devices in my quarters were switched off. Apart from anything else, Posey’s maid Wood is a member of the 5th Bureau, and it would not surprise me to learn that her duties included reporting on my potentially treasonous contacts.”

    Daniel laughed. “Neither of us will be committing treason,” he said, “but it’s certainly possible that our superiors may decide to hang us as a result of this business if it goes wrong.”

    He smiled again. This would work: von Gleuck was the man he’d seemed to be. They might all die, but they’d die trying.

    “Of course,” Daniel said, “if it goes very wrong, I won’t be around to learn about it. But I’m wasting time. Otto, I need the use of a trustworthy aircar that doesn’t have visible markings. I’m told there’s only one of them on Zenobia. The matter means peace or war between our nations.”

    Von Gleuck pursed his lips. “That,” he said in a musing tone, “isn’t what I expected to hear. I’ll admit that I hadn’t refined the possibilities very far, but from your reputation I thought it might have something to do with a woman.”

    “I’ve had various problems with women,” Daniel admitted. “But no serious ones. That may be because — until recently, at least — I had no serious interactions with women.”

    He cleared his throat. Von Gleuck hadn’t answered the implied question, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t heard it.

    “Otto,” he said, “after this is over, I will give you all the details. I can’t do so now because if I did, you would be honor bound to act on the information. I give you my word as a Leary of Bantry that my proposed solution is the one I believe most likely to lead to a good result for the Alliance and the Republic both.”

    “Yes, all right,” von Gleuck said. “Ah — though the car in question isn’t marked, anyone in Calvary is likely to recognize it, you realize?”

    Daniel nodded. “Except while coming and going . . . ,” he said, “I won’t be anywhere close to Calvary. And I won’t be dealing with Zenobians.”

    He grinned. “Or citizens of the Alliance, either one,” he added.

    “No,” agreed von Gleuck with a similar grin, “you’re leaving that to me. And a good thing you are, since my brother the Count tells me that the levies to pay for the recent war between our nations has created a great deal of unrest on Adlersbild. Further taxes might have unfortunate results.”

    He hadn’t asked why Daniel wasn’t stealing the Resident’s aircar himself, and he wasn’t objecting to the personal risk. There wouldn’t be a war because a Fleet officer stole an Resident’s aircar, but there might very well be a hanging. More accurately, a shot in the back of the neck. That was the technique preferred by the civil authorities of the Alliance.

    Naval officers accepted personal risk as a given of their profession, though that didn’t ordinarily mean a chance of being executed for treason. Still, the most likely result if the wheels came off this business was that Daniel Leary would be buried in an unmarked grave in the wilds of Zenobia. Or possibly vaporized; Gibbs had mentioned mobile plasma cannon, after all, and Daniel knew from the other side of the muzzle what a bolt at short range would do to an aircar.

    He smiled wider. But what a thrill when a plan like this came together! And similar plans had come together in the past, they surely had!

    “Where do you want the vehicle delivered, then, Daniel?” von Gleuck said.

    “Alongside the Sissie,” said Daniel. “Alongside my ship. And ASAP, of course.”

    “Of course,” von Gleuck agreed with a nod. “My people should be able to manage that within an hour. As soon as they do, I think I’m going to call an emergency drill to see how quickly my ships can lift off.”

    “Very wise,” said Daniel. “On a posting like this, crews get bored because nothing happens.”

    Daniel turned toward the hall. Before the door swung closed behind him, he heard von Gleuck bringing his console live.

    Both men were chuckling with excitement.



    A squall drove across Calvary Harbor as a line of foam on the dark water, then spattered the quay. Adele turned her back on it. Her expression didn’t change, but her thoughts were grim.

    She smiled.

    “Adele?” said Daniel in surprise. He had just lowered his head and squinted at the brief gust. She supposed he was used to being out in this sort of weather while hunting. Well, she was used to it too, from poverty; but she didn’t like it any better for the familiarity.

    “I was just thinking that the normal, ah, tenor of my thoughts fitted the weather very well,” Adele said with the smile still twitching around the corners of her mouth. “Which in turn struck me as amusing.”

    “Adele . . . ,” Daniel said with an informality that he usually avoided when they were in public — as they technically were, since Sun as well as Hogg stood with them; Tovera was in the van, watching Gibbs. “I won’t pretend I understood that, but quite a lot of what goes on in your mind is beyond me. It’s a bloody good mind, and I’m glad you’re on our side.”

    Adele’s smile remained a trifle longer. Her RCN utilities were rainproof, though if she’d wanted more protection she could have spread the cape and hood from the collar — they were cut from sailcloth, tough, thin, and next to weightless. She didn’t especially mind getting wet.

    But she couldn’t read in the rain. Paper soaked quickly to uselessness, and though her data unit was sealed against the weather, the droplets — or even worse, fog — disrupted the holographic display. Anything that limited Adele’s ability to receive information aroused her severe dislike.

    She had her ordinary senses, of course. She had long ago come to terms with the fact, however, that she preferred to use technology to filter her contact with the world.



    “Bloody wish they’d come,” muttered Hogg, hunched beneath a poncho of raw wool. There was nothing high-tech about it, but it was warm and the lanolin kept the rain out. “If they’re coming.”

    He looked up at Daniel. “You’re sure about that, young master?”

    “I trust Otto,” said Daniel equably, “and he trusts his crew. The car is coming.”

    “In going over Alliance manning lists, Daniel . . . ,” Adele said. Another splatter of rain raked the water, then the quay. She barely noticed it, because she was now back in her proper element: information. “I found something I perhaps should have mentioned to you sooner.”

    Well, she’d only found the information this evening while reviewing data Cory and Cazelet had marked for her after she left for Diamond Cay. And there had been other, more pressing, matters to deal with.

    “The cruiser Sachsenwelt was stationed on Zenobia,” she continued aloud. “The Z 42 and Z 46 under von Gleuck were sent to join it three years ago.”

    Daniel was frowning slightly. “Sent to replace it, I suspect,” he said. “The Sachsenwelt was over eighty years old and was withdrawn immediately for scrapping on Pleasaunce.”

    “The ship was withdrawn,” said Adele, “but over two hundred of her crew were transferred to the destroyers. In exchange a hundred and ten of the former destroyer personnel returned to Pleasaunce with the Sachsenwelt. I suspect that Lieutenant Commander von Gleuck has more reason to trust his crews than most Alliance captains at this stage of the war.”

    Daniel guffawed and clapped his hands in delight. “So he not only stripped the trained ratings from the junker, he got rid of the slum drafts that Porra’s been using to fill out the Fleet’s crews!” he said. “By heavens, that –”

    He paused to let his grin spread. He said, “You understand, I trusted Otto anyway. But now I know why I was right to trust him.”

    “There’s an aircar coming,” said Sun, looking eastward into the city through the visor of his commo helmet. “Yeah, there’s the lights. Hey, it’s coming fast.”

    Adele looked up, though it was a moment before her unaided eyes caught movement against the lights of the waterfront bars and other establishments catering to spacers. She didn’t like the feel of commo helmets, and the sensory boost they gave experienced users simply didn’t interest her.

    The car was indeed coming fast. When the driver started to slow, the bow rose dangerously before he managed to restore equilibrium. It was the correct vehicle, at least. It made a half turn, putting it broadside to the quay, and then banged down with a graunch from the skids that bounced it into the air again. The driver jerked his steering yoke to the right and screeched to the surface again, finally stopping with half the left skid hanging over the water.

    “If they land like that as a generally thing,” Hogg said musingly, “they better know how to swim.”

    “Yes,” said Daniel. “But my guess is that they don’t fly aircars any more often than Barnes does.”

    Adele had already been thinking of the period when Barnes was the closest thing to an aircar driver aboard the Princess Cecile. But Barnes was a very good fellow to have beside you in a fight, and that had been sufficient recommendation enough before Tovera taught herself to drive. She wasn’t very good either, but she was generally a great deal less exciting than Barnes had been.

    Five tough-looking spacers got out of the aircar, each of them rocking the vehicle on its skids. They wore Fleet utilities; the sodium lights on standards along the quay turned the drab green fabric into a brownish purple. Adele thought the one who’d been driving was female, though she wouldn’t have cared to stake anything valuable on that guess.

    Adele was interested to see that they were in uniform rather than nondescript slops: they were making the explicit statement that the Resident’s aircar had been stolen by Fleet spacers. One way or another the events of the next few hours would make the point moot, but they — and von Gleuck, who must have ordered them to wear utilities — were taking that on faith.

    The leader was a warrant officer with a broad black beard and a rigger’s maul thrust through his belt. He was of average height, but the width of his shoulders made him look like a dwarf.

    “You’re Leary?” he said.

    “I am,” said Daniel. He stepped forward, his left thumb pinching a 20-florin coin against his palm. He reached toward the warrant officer. “For your trouble, sir.”

    The big man recoiled. “We’re not doing this for pay!” he said. “The Old Man asked us for a little private favor, so we did it for him!”

    “Nor am I offering to pay you, my good man,” Daniel said. He spoke sharply, but he didn’t withdraw his hand. “I’m hoping that some fellow spacers would have a drink on me the next time they’re in a dram shop.”

    “Don’t get your back up, Porker,” growled the female spacer. “He’s all right even if he is Cinnabar.”

    “And I’d just about murder a drink,” said another man. Then, hastily, “When we stand down, I mean. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Porker, I’m not planning to get blitzed with an alert on.”

    “Hogg here will drive you to your ship,” Daniel said. “And though I realize you didn’t do it for our sake, I assure you that I do appreciate your trouble.”

    Porker palmed the coin, peeked at it in the hollow of his hand, and nodded approvingly. “Thank you, sir, and sorry about getting shirty there. Anyway, it wasn’t much trouble.”

    “Warn’t any trouble a’tall, I say,” said one of his companions, a rangy fellow with a long face and merry eyes. “I could’ve handled both them blowhards myself, and that wouldn’t have been trouble neither.”

    “The Old Man said he’d see us right,” said the woman. It seemed to Adele that her tone was prayerful, albeit that of a believer praying. “He won’t let us down.”

    “Master Daniel?” said Hogg pleadingly. “You know, they could just take the van themself and I could go along with you, you know?”

    “You don’t belong on this mission, Hogg,” Daniel said. “We have to look official. Please — drive our friends here to the Z 46.”

    “Come along, lads and lady,” Hogg said, striding toward the cab of the van. He sounded cheerful again. “I wouldn’t mind hearing just how you pulled this off.”

    Gibbs had gotten out of the van, probably at Tovera’s direction. He looked more miserable than the weather justified. Adele felt contempt for people whose problems were self-inflicted; but then — her hard smile quirked — she felt contempt for most people. And she didn’t like herself very much.

    Daniel watched the Alliance spacers climb into the van. “Right, then,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s go. Tovera, you’re all right with this?”

    “Yes,” Tovera said. She held her arms up and rotated her hands while flexing the fingers, showing that everything worked. There was a thin sheath over either wrist.

    The Medicomp had made Tovera functional, but she wouldn’t be capable of delicate manipulations for some while yet. Fortunately, her driving skills had never risen to delicacy — and Adele was sure that Tovera was still a good enough shot to put down anyone she wanted dead.

    As Tovera got into the cab, she said to the gunner, “Hey, Sun? Keep an eye on our friend Gibbs, will you?”

    “Oh, I say!” Gibbs blurted. “That’s not necessary! I’m on your side now, I assure you.”

    “Sun, ride up front with Tovera if you will,” Daniel said. “Adele and I will keep Master Gibbs company.”

    Adele got into the closed vehicle. The interior was done in black with silver highlights, presenting a slickly unnatural ambiance. She found it comfortable. Daniel followed Gibbs in behind her. “Does your man have to carry that rifle?” Gibbs said, sounding petulant. “Does he plan to shoot his way into the Farm, is that it?”

    Daniel closed the door. Tovera increased power to the fans, but she didn’t try to take off until she had a feel for the controls.

    “Sun would carry an impeller if we were visiting for the purpose we’ll tell Nasrullah we’re there,” Daniel said cheerfully. “He’s seen a good deal of combat, Gibbs. We all have. So we’re going to give Nasrullah and his personnel the sort of people he’ll expect when we identify ourselves.”

    The aircar slid forward and lifted, climbing at a steep angle. Adele suspected that this vehicle was much more powerful than Tovera was used to driving.

    “Because,” Daniel said, “that’s really who we are.”

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