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Some Golden Harbor: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 22:48 EDT



Charlestown on Bennaria

    Luff waited outside the entrance of the Council Chamber. Either he'd gone on to give Daniel and Waddell more privacy, or he was simply trying to keep out of the angry Councilor's sight. Regardless, Daniel nodded to the Manco agent and said, "Hogg and I are going to move toward the speaker's stand, Master Luff. Care to join us?"

    Luff hunched himself together reflexively. He grimaced and said, "Yes, if you think it's safe. I suppose I should hear what he says."

    "Oh, I think this assembly should be safe enough," Daniel said. He smiled, thinking, For me at least it's much safer than almost anywhere else on Bennaria. He doubted Waddell would attack the Princess Cecile directly, but other places were all a possibility.

    With Luff in tow and Hogg at his side, Daniel began maneuvering forward. It was a hot day but the haze that seemed to be normal here in Charlestown kept the sun from being the hammer it might otherwise have been. Daniel was in his best set of Grays, not garments he wanted to wear in a brawl but less restrictive than his Whites. He was comfortable enough.

    The plaza was full of civilians, but they grew thicker toward the center like that of stars in a cluster. To Daniel's surprise, Corius had disposed the bulk of his force to protect the crowd from a sudden onslaught by his rivals' massed retainers. He had only fifty or so men around him personally.

    The cordon of guards eyed Daniel grimly as he approached. Corius'd had their two-foot truncheons decorated with tinsel streamers. That wasn't to hide the fact they were weapons, Daniel supposed, but to permit the other Councilors to pretend the troops weren't an armed threat.

    A red-head in his mid-thirties appeared to be in command of the section Daniel approached. He was speaking into a microphone on his wrist; responses would come through his earclip, a larger version of the unit Adele was wearing. His frown cleared, becoming a smile of professional welcome.

    "Sorry sir," he said. "I didn't recognize your uniform. You're very welcome here, but we're not letting in troublemakers wearing livery, you understand?"

    "I do indeed," Daniel said, passing between two of the blue-sleeved guards, but he might as well have saved his breath; they couldn't possibly hear him. Councilor Corius was climbing the steps at the far end of the plaza, sending the crowd into shrieks of rapturous enthusiasm.

    Corius raised both hands high, building the mob's excitement; the air of the plaza reeked of sweat laced with adrenalin. The speaker's stand was still a hundred and fifty yards from Daniel; he resumed working his way forward. There were too many people in the way for that to be easy, but a determined push generally made an opening. People prefer not to be in actual contact with one another; Daniel exploited that instinct to move through them.

    "Fellow citizens of Bennaria!" Corius called. His bodyguards stood two steps below him, so that he could easily see and be seen by everyone in the plaza. "My brothers and sisters!"

    "Bloody hell!" Hogg muttered angrily. "Does he think he's bulletproof? He's an easy shot from any roof around the square here. Any roof."

    "We're not here to talk, Hogg," Daniel said, as quietly as he could and still be heard. With luck, none of the spectators had heard Hogg's comment. It would've sounded like a threat rather than the professional observation it was.

    Hogg wasn't an assassin, but all his life he'd been a hunter. He was scarcely the only one on Bennaria today to view Councilor Corius as potential prey.

    "It's been two generations since you, the people of Bennaria, met in solemn assembly," Corius said. "Now is the time to resume exercising your sacred rights of governance!"

    The crowd had thickened further. Daniel thought he might be able to worm a little closer to the steps, but only a little.

    Being close turned out not to be necessary for him to hear clearly. Not only was Corius using a concealed public address system, the plaza's acoustics were remarkably good. Behind the steps from which he spoke was the Port Administration Offices, the largest government building on the planet. The side facing the square sloped back at a 70o angle. Daniel wasn't sure that made it a better sounding board than a vertical wall would've been, but it was very effective.

    "Our friends and neighbors on Dunbar's World have been attacked by a murderous warlord who plans to turn their planet into a base for pirates," Corius said. "If Nataniel Arruns is allowed to succeed, how long will it be before he or another like him grinds his iron heel on your neck and mine, fellow citizens?"

    The crowd bellowed agreement, though many of its members must've known the claim was a farrago of nonsense. Pellegrino--unlike Bennaria--didn't trade with pirates. There was no likelihood that Nataniel Arruns planned to turn Dunbar's World into a pirate haven.

    In the unlikely event an outside power conquered Bennaria, Corius and his fellow Councilors would come up short--probably a head short. The common people who made up the bulk of this mob would see little change in their status, though. Like the disenfranchised islanders on Dunbar's World, they had nothing to lose.

    Still, whenever you tell a man that foreigners are dirty swine determined to cheat him, you're likely to get enthusiastic agreement. You're playing to his existing beliefs, after all. Speaker Leary's son had seen those tactics used more than once in the past.

    Daniel smiled. That sort of realization made Adele angry to the point of despair. To him, it was like seeing a rambunctious puppy knock over a table. Puppies and people would be puppies and people, that's all there was to it.

    "Your Council has failed you, fellow citizens!" Corius said. "Not only is the Council unwilling to act in the face of this immediate danger, the other Councilors are unwilling to permit me, acting as a private citizen, to work at my own expense to preserve the honor and safety of Bennaria. Therefore I've come to you. Will you, the people of Bennaria in sacred assembly, send me to Dunbar's World in your name?"

    "Corius!" the blue-sleeved guards began to chant. "Corius! Corius!"

    "Corius!" took up the crowd, twenty thousand strong if there was a man in it. "Corius! Corius!"

    Daniel glanced over his shoulder. Hogg stood stolidly, his fists on his hips and his elbows flared outward to give him a little more room. He wore his usual vacant expression.

    Luff's mouth was open also. His eyes were turned toward the speaker but they didn't seem focused. His right hand was cupped over his ear, shielding it from the noise around him so that he could hear what his in-canal earphone was telling him.

    Corius raised his hands. For a moment the shouts grew even more fevered, but when he first crossed, then lowered them the crowd noise abated.

    "My friends, my brothers!" Corius said. "Do you, the assembled people of Bennaria, authorize me, Yuli Corius, to act on your behalf but at my cost to drive the Pellegrinian invaders from Dunbar's World? If so, signify by--"

    "Yes!" screamed the crowd. The citizens closest to Daniel were red-faced and sweating with excitement. Many pumped their fists in the air. "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

    Daniel looked at Hogg, who nodded. They turned to ease their way back. There was nothing more to learn here, though the excitement would continue for as long as Corius chose to milk it.

    Luff lowered his hand from his ear; he seemed transfixed. Daniel gestured him to turn, but it wasn't until Hogg put his hands on the Manco agent's shoulders and physically rotated him that he started to move.

    Luff looked sour, angry, and very, very frightened.



    "I had Hogg buy the boat for us," said Tovera at the tiller of the taxi. She wore a waterman's garments: baggy shorts, baggy shirt, and a vest with bright red embroidery. Her hat was a flat cone woven from split reeds and shaded her face completely. "He's better at that sort of thing than I am."

    She tittered. "I suppose he bought the boat," she added. "Perhaps he cut the owner's throat instead. Though I could've handled that myself."

    "I'm sure Hogg wouldn't kill anyone unless he thought they really needed it, Tovera," Adele said with a deadpan expression. "Unless we were shorter of money than I believe to be the case at present, of course."

    Elemere wore one of Tovera's pale-gray suits; his blond hair was cropped short under Tovera's usual cap. He looked from Adele to her servant and back again with a horrified expression. His mouth trembled, but he didn't speak.

    "It was a joke," Adele said. "Don't be upset."

    Tovera had made a joke, the sort of thing normal human beings did. Adele felt it was her duty to encourage her sociopathic servant every time she attempted to act human. She didn't suppose Tovera would ever be good at it, but the effort deserved support.

    It wasn't something Adele was very good at herself, after all, but she too kept trying. Being part of the RCN family helped a great deal. Spacers who daily risked death in exotic and horrible fashions were an eccentric lot. They had room for other eccentrics who were good at their jobs. Adele and Tovera qualified on that score.

    The taxi was driven by a power unit clamped to the starboard side; the massive battery pack to port balanced the motor's weight. The vessel purred and slapped down the strait toward the Mazeppa; very slowly, but that was probably a good thing.

    Krychek didn't know they were coming–Adele hadn't radioed ahead for fear of interception–and the last thing she wanted to do was to race toward the armed freighter. Krychek's crew must be as frustrated and depressed as their captain. There was no point in goading somebody who's got a gun with which to let out his anger.

    "No one could possibly mistake me for that woman," Elemere said pettishly, glaring at Tovera on the seat ahead of them. "It's a waste of time to bother!"

    "If they're looking for you, that's true," Adele said. The complaint–the stupid complaint–irritated her, but she understood how nervous the singer must be. Elemere was reacting to fear in an unhelpful fashion, but that's what people generally did. "We're doing this during the popular assembly because it's unlikely that you're at the top of anybody's mind at present, especially Councilor Waddell's."

    The guard manning the impeller on the Mazeppa's boarding ramp watched them, but he hadn't actually trained his big weapon on the puttering taxi. Adele waved. She was wearing the suit in which she'd visited the night before, but she knew it wasn't very distinctive.

    She thought of standing up to make her approach even more obvious and therefore peaceful, but she'd probably tip the boat over if she tried. That would make them look less threatening, but she trusted it wouldn't be necessary.

    "Most likely those we need be concerned about," she continued, in part to keep the singer from flying into hysterics, "are either watching Corius or getting ready to defend themselves if the mob goes on a rampage. There may be observers keeping an eye on the harbor, but they'll be worried about another transport full of troops landing."

    "I should never've come to Bennaria," Elemere muttered, looking at his hands clenched in his lap. Adele didn't see any reason to disagree with him.

    Three more crewmen walked onto the ramp to watch the taxi approach. All three wore horizontally striped shirts and loose, grubby trousers, but the peaked hat of the man in the middle marked him as an officer.

    "Good day, sir!" Adele called as Tovera curved them toward the hanging ladder where they'd landed the night before. Lubricating oil slicked the water iridescently and hung as a miasma in the thick air. "Please tell Landholder Krychek that Lady Mundy wishes an audience with him."

    "The Man's coming down, your ladyship," said the officer. "C'mon aboard. He says you're a friend, and we've bloody few friends on this mudball."

    Tovera in the guise of the boatman lashed the taxi's painter to a recessed eyebolt on the outrigger instead of simply gripping it while the passengers disembarked. The Infantan spacers didn't comment.

    "Go up," Adele muttered to Elemere. Then, peevishly, "Take your case with you!"

    Elemere climbed the swinging ladder gracefully despite the burden in his left hand. The attaché case resembled Tovera's, but of course it wasn't. The contents of hers–the little sub-machine gun and similar pieces of equipment–were concealed under her baggy clothing.

    Adele followed Elemere, but much more awkwardly; he was a dancer as well as singer. As she stepped onto the outrigger with deliberate care, Krychek strode from the hatchway and boomed, "Lady Mundy! A pleasure indeed to see you, an unexpected–"

    He stopped, staring at Elemere. He raised an eyebrow.

    "Go on into the ship, Tovera!" Adele said, then prodded Elemere with an elbow to start him moving. He'd forgotten the name he was using this afternoon; he obviously wasn't a natural conspirator.

    "Let's go into your library, Landholder," Adele said, following close behind the singer to shield him from lenses that might be watching from across the strait. She didn't think anyone on Harbor Island could see them here. "I want to discuss the situation on Bennaria further."

    "But of course, dear lady," said Krychek. To the officer nearby he added in a clipped, harsher, tone, "Keep an eye out. It's possible that these mud-wallowing pigs will think to interrupt us."

    "To the left," Adele said in an undertone when she and Elemere were well into the entrance compartment. "The companionway."

    They entered the helical stairs with Tovera immediately behind them. Krychek banged closed the hatch below, then said, "And now, my dear Mundy–what is all this? I recognize Master Elemere. While he's very welcome, I don't understand him arriving in quite the present costume."

    "When we're in the library, if you will," Adele said over the echoing shoof, shoof, of their soles on the metal stairs. "Where we can talk more easily."

    She stepped ahead of the hesitant Elemere and led the rest of the way to the freighter's uppermost level. Tovera's feet didn't seem to make a sound, which was remarkable but not surprising.

    A hatch facing the strait and Charlestown beyond was open in the foyer; another automatic impeller was mounted there. It hadn't been manned when the taxi approached, but two Infantans were unlocking the mount and switching on the gun's power. They gave Adele a look of appraisal as she entered the library, but they didn't speak to her or to Krychek himself.



    Tovera remained outside with the gunners, exchanging nods with Adele. Krychek closed the door–the hatch–behind them and gestured graciously toward the chairs on the level below. “Please,” he said, “sit and make yourselves comfortable. Mundy, will you have another glass of wine? And Master Elemere–”

    “Elemere,” the singer said sharply. “Just Elemere.”

    “As I am Krychek!” said the captain with boisterous good humor, linking arms with Elemere and leading him down the stairs. “I fear your tastes may be too sophisticated for my poor cellar, but please–will you do me the honor of drinking a tot of Landholder Reserve cognac with me? The run was bottled at my birth.”

    “Why, I…,” Elemere said, allowing himself to be guided to a short loveseat. Krychek opened the cabinet beneath the tantalus and brought out a slender green bottle with fluted sides. “Yes, a brandy would be… I would like a brandy.”

    Krychek poured an ounce of pale yellow liquor into each of two snifters but left them on the cabinet until he’d served Adele another glass of white wine. He seated himself beside Elemere and only then offered him the snifter in his right hand.

    After breathing deeply from his own glass, Krychek looked over the rim of it and said, “Now Mundy. I’m pleased by this visit, very pleased; I saw Elemere perform on Lompac only last year. But there is a story behind it, is there not?”

    “Yes,” said Adele austerely, still standing. She watched the interaction of the two men. It was what she’d hoped, of course, but still it–

    Never mind. “Landholder, you and your crew aren’t the only people on Bennaria who aren’t afraid of Councilor Waddell, but you may well be the only people besides us aboard the Princess Cecile. We’re about to lift for what I may well be combat. We can’t take Elemere with us.”

    “So…,” Krychek said, tilting the snifter till the brandy touched–but only touched–his lips. He turned from Adele to look at the man beside him; his expression of cool appraisal gave way to a broad smile. “So, Elemere. Tell me why it is important that I am not afraid of Councilor Fat Pig Waddell?”

    “He wanted me to go with him,” the singer said, meeting Krychek’s eyes. “He killed my friend when I wouldn’t.”

    The glass in Elemere’s hand trembled. He took a convulsive drink, probably a terrible thing to do to a stellar brandy, but Krychek didn’t protest. He patted Elemere’s knee and looked at Adele again. His smile remained.

    “So,” he repeated. “I understand much, but one thing I do not understand. You Cinnabars are here to help the government of Bennaria, and Waddell–for all that he is fat, and a pig, and utterly disgusting–is the government of Bennaria himself. I have no love for him–he is why I cannot get credit of any sort on this mudball–but it would seem your duty is to hand Elemere over and go on about your business. Not so?”

    “Certainly not,” said Adele without emphasis. “Our chief of mission is a Leary of Bantry; he’s made this a matter of honor. I won’t say Commander Leary’s personal honor would take precedence over his duties to the RCN. Nonetheless, turning the matter over to brave and honorable men like yourselves makes it unnecessary for him to make such a decision.”

    Krychek laughed harshly. He sipped his brandy again; Adele took a drink of her wine. Her lips and tongue were extremely dry.

    “I should help the RCN, that is what you say?” Krychek said musingly. “An interesting thought. Because I am an exile, I must be a traitor, that is what you think, Mundy?”

    Adele set her barely-tasted drink down on the display cabinet beside her. She realized she was standing very straight.

    “Landholder Krychek,” she said. I sound like my mother, she thought. When she was very, very angry. “You pointed out correctly that my actions here and those of Commander Leary verge on being in conflict with our RCN duties.”

    She made a peremptory gesture with her right index finger. “Master Elemere,” she said, “get up. I can’t leave you with a fool.”

    “You can’t call me a fool!” Krychek shouted, lurching to his feet.

    “I just did!” Adele said, her left hand in her pocket. “Elemere, get up now or on my oath as a Mundy I’ll shoot you dead! That’ll solve both Daniel’s problem and the RCN’s!”

    The snifter shattered as Krychek’s big hand clenched; blood and brandy sprayed. Elemere keened wordlessly and cupped Krychek’s fist in both hands.

    “Oh you’ve hurt yourself!” Elemere said. “Please, please, there’s been enough pain! Let me bandage that, please!”

    Adele took her hand from her pocket and held it away from her as if it were hot. She felt sick to her stomach from embarrassment; her skin burned as though she’d been buried in hot sand.

    “I apologize,” she said. She forced herself to meet Krychek’s eyes. She was dizzy and afraid she might faint. “This is your ship, your house, and I insulted you in it. If you wish satisfaction, I will of course–”

    “Stop that,” said Elemere fiercely. He’d teased open Krychek’s fist and was picking bits of broken glass from the blood. “Stop that! You’ll not fight a duel, you’ll not do any more stupid things, either one of you. There’s been enough pain.”

    The singer jerked the lace doily out from under the tantalus with a sudden, sharp pull; the stand and decanters rattled against the wood. He wadded it in Krychek’s palm, then poured the rest of his brandy into the lace.

    “Now close your hand again,” he said to Krychek. “This’ll hold it till we get real medical help.”

    “There’s a medicomp on C Deck,” Krychek said. He sounded stunned. “But this is nothing, nothing.”

    “Elemere,” Adele said, “we need to leave while the assembly’s still going on. Landholder, I–”

    “Wait,” said Krychek. “Lady Mundy, the fault was mine. You came to me, a lady to a gentleman, and I acted a spoiled child.”

    He bowed at the waist to her, stepped back, and bowed even more deeply to Elemere. “Mistress,” he said. “You are a great artist, a great artist. It would be an honor to me and my men to shelter you from your enemies. It would be an honor to die if we can shelter you with our very bodies. To die!”

    “I don’t think that will be necessary, gentlemen,” Adele said dryly. She felt a smile twitch the corners of her mouth; in relief, largely, she supposed. “Waddell should believe that Elemere is aboard the Princess Cecile when we lift, and I trust that will be very soon. Tovera is arranging for one of your men to take us back in the boat, wearing the costume she came aboard with; she has her ordinary clothes on under it. Ah, with your permission, that is.”

    Neither of the men was listening to her. Elemere still held Krychek’s fist.

    “Would you help me?” the singer said. “I’m so alone. Lonnie was… Lonnie took care of everything.”

    “It is an honor,” Krychek repeated. He put his free hand on the dancer’s shoulder. “A very great honor.”

    Adele stepped briskly up the staircase. She didn’t look around, but it wasn’t until she’d banged the hatch closed behind her that she let out the breath she’d been holding.



    “I suppose you’re used to this sort of thing,” Luff said bitterly as he started around the Council Hall with Daniel, toward the enclosed parking lot in back. There were clots of spectators at the rear of the plaza, watching but unwilling to be said to have joined the mob. Corius’ voice through the PA system was audible though individual words weren’t always clear. “Because your father’s Speaker Leary, I mean.”

    I wonder who told him that? thought Daniel. He was pretty sure Luff hadn’t known that Daniel was anything more than a young middle-ranking officer when the Princess Cecile landed on Bennaria.

    “I’ve seen other mass gatherings, yes,” Daniel said carefully. He had no reason to be abrupt with the question, but neither did he want to get in a discussion about Corder Leary. “This is quite a polite one, it seems to me. But that has nothing to do with who my father is. I grew up on our country estate, Bantry, not in Xenos. I saw bird migrations and file-fish runs, but not political demonstrations.”

    There’d been political meetings, though. Not this sort of thing, but the discussions which the public never learned about. One man, or three, or on a single occasion twelve, arrived at Bantry separately and separately slipped away again. On the night of the largest meeting began the Proscriptions that crushed the Three Circles Conspiracy.

    They’d reached the steel-scrollwork gates of the parking compound. Luff’s driver was inside talking with three attendants. Daniel pulled at the leaves, but they were locked.

    Hogg’d been walking behind Daniel and Luff as they moved away from the crowd. He glanced back once more, then stepped to the gate and rattled it in irritation. “Hey!” he called. “You there! Look alive!”

    The four men muttered uncertainly for a moment. Finally an attendant walked toward them while Luff’s driver got into the black landau. It was the only vehicle still in the lot.

    “They’d better get a move on,” Hogg muttered, resuming his watch on the plaza. In a different voice he went on, “There were people waiting down some of the streets leading to the square, you know, master. They don’t wear their colors, but they’re somebody’s bullies for sure.”

    “Master Luff?” Daniel said. “Do you think the other Councilors will attack Corius today?”

    He wasn’t sure how the Manco agent would respond. He’d remained in sullen silence while the three of them pushed back through the crowd, and the comment about Speaker Leary hadn’t been made in a friendly tone.

    Instead of growling some angry variant on, “How would I know?” though, Luff said, “No, no, they won’t do that. The whole city would be burned down if they did that. Waddell may have observers, but attack? No.”

    He looked over his shoulder at the plaza. “The Councilors’ve all gone to their estates, I’m sure of that. Those who think they have enough retainers may leave a guard on their townhouses, but some won’t even do that.”

    Luff shivered. “What if the city burns anyway?” he asked plaintively. “What will I do? This is a terrible thing, terrible.”

    The driver had turned the car and was moving toward them. The attendant unlocked the gate’s crossbar and slid it sideways. Hogg shoved the leaves fiercely, deliberately making the attendant jump back. The fellow’d delayed them, but Hogg was capable of taking his anger out on anybody who happened to be close.

    Any wog, that is; Daniel didn’t catch his servant’s anger unless he personally was the cause of it. Which was often enough, in all truth.

    “Sir?” said the attendant unexpectedly as he pulled one leaf fully open; Hogg was pushing the other back. “I–”

    The fellow looked back at his fellows, standing against the wall. Each had his hands locked together to keep them from twitching. “I mean we, we were wondering if, you know, we should leave the Council Hall?”

    “Ah,” said Daniel, the syllable replacing, “Why in the world are you asking me?” because as soon as he framed that question mentally, he knew the answer: the attendants were terrified. They feared not only what the mob might do but also equally irrational violence by the Councilors who were their masters.

    “I think you should go home, now,” Daniel said quietly. He was the closest thing to authority the poor fellow had; it was simple human kindness to give him the answer that might save his life. “You want to be with your families in case things get, well, confused later.”

    Luff had gotten into the car. “Come along, for God’s sake,” he said. “We can’t be sure the streets are safe even now!”

    Hogg moved deliberately to put his shapeless bulk between Daniel and the Manco agent. He was looking back at the crowd, whistling Waiting to Grow between his teeth. That’d been Elemere’s signature tune….

    “Even though Councilor Waddell told us to lock the doors and watch the place tonight?” the attendant said. He sounded as desperate as a mother asking a doctor about her child.

    “If the building’s still here in the morning,” Daniel said, “you can come back before Councilor Waddell’s likely to. If it’s not, well, you’re still better off, right?”

    He smiled and clapped the man on the shoulder. Hogg climbed into the open cab with the driver, and Daniel slid into the passenger compartment with Luff. The car was accelerating out of the lot before he got the door fully closed.

    Daniel glanced through the opera window in the back panel. The attendant he’d spoken to was waving to his fellows to join him. Even before they did he’d trotted out into the street, leaving the gates open behind him.



    “Well, you’re off the hook now, at least,” Luff said. He was tight-faced and glared straight ahead, though Daniel doubted that he was looking at anything beyond the sheet of one-way glass between them and the cab. “Are you going to go straight back to Cinnabar?”

    Daniel pursed his lips, wondering how to respond. Before he decided, Luff added, “I wish I could go back with you. I wish I’d never taken this bloody job, but I had no choice!”

    A gang of children, the oldest of them no more than twelve, stood in a side street. They shouted something unintelligible when they saw the car and several threw stones; the driver accelerated. Hogg rose to his feet so that he could shoot over the driver’s head if he had to, but in the event he kept the squat pistol down by his side.

    “I’m not sure what you mean by me being off the hook, Luff,” Daniel said quietly. “My assignment is to help oust the invaders from Dunbar’s World. It would’ve been simpler to do that if the Bennarian government were more forthcoming, but that wasn’t part of the orders I was given at Navy House.”

    Luff stared at him in a mixture of anger and resentment. “Look,” the agent said, “your orders have changed. You’re here to help Bennaria, and the best thing that could happen to Bennaria now would be for Yuli Corius to be killed on Dunbar’s World. If you don’t believe me, just ask any of the Councilors.”

    “With all due respect, Master Luff…,” Daniel said, giving the adjective a slight emphasis to make the insult unmistakable. “I cannot imagine circumstances in which an RCN officer would ask tin-pot foreign politicians to interpret orders given him by his superiors.”

    “You know what I mean!” Luff said angrily. His clenched fists quivered on his knees in an access of frustration. “You’re not here because of the Cinnabar navy or the Cinnabar Senate or the Cinnabar bloody anything! You’re here because the Mancos had you sent here to make their trading partners on Bennaria happy. That’s the Councilors, and I’m telling you–the Councilors don’t want Corius to succeed!”

    Daniel looked out the front window as he considered what Luff had said. They were nearing the harbor; the only people he saw out were those nailing sheets of plywood or structural plastic over the windows of the larger houses of entertainment.

    “Well, Luff…,” he said, keeping his eyes on the buildings rather than facing the man with him. He and Hogg’d come from the Princess Cecile in an ordinary water taxi, but those might no longer be running. Of course the crewmen of the Manco barge were locals also, as apt to be part of Corius’ assembly as the independent watermen were.

    Daniel’d let his voice trail off. He grimaced and said, “Sorry. Yes, you may well be right about the motivation behind my orders, but–”

    He turned and smiled directly at the Manco agent.

    “–you see, the orders themselves don’t say that.”

    The car slowed and turned left down Harbor Street. Hogg stood again, this time to see past the embankment to where boats might be riding on the ebb tide. The Princess Cecile was a low shape among the bulkier freighters in the mist across the strait.

    “You don’t have to be that literal!” Luff said. “You’ve got leeway, I know that. I’ve seen your record, Leary, so don’t pretend you’re some kind of by-the-book robot.”

    “No, I’m not,” Daniel said. “I’ve used my judgment to interpret orders in the past, and I’m doing the same now.”

    He paused, considering how much more he really ought to say. Nothing more was probably the right answer, but he was Daniel Leary.

    “You’re wondering if this is happening because I dislike Councilor Waddell,” Daniel said. “Again, no. I wouldn’t compromise my duty, let alone risk the lives of the crewmen for whom I’m responsible, simply because I feel Councilor Waddell’s best use would be as fish bait.”

    As he spoke, he thought of Waddell bouncing along on a cable behind the Bantry Belle, with Hogg at the controls and himself manning the harpoon gun. The trench eels off the east coast grew to over a hundred feet long.

    The image made him grin broadly; Luff started back.

    “As I say, my personal feelings don’t matter here,” Daniel continued, a lie but a small one. “The Pellegrinians have been developing increasingly close ties with the Alliance, however. I don’t see any benefit to the Republic in letting an Alliance supporter expand its power into Ganpat’s Reach, and I’m confident that my superiors will feel the same way.”

    The car stopped abruptly. Daniel leaned back, compensating with a spacer’s reflex, but Luff rocked forward hard enough to thump the divider with his shoulder. Hogg jumped out and called to someone unseen beyond the seawall.

    “They’ll blame me, you know,” Luff muttered, again to his clenched hands. “Not that you care.”

    “He’ll take us, young master!” Hogg said, gesturing toward the presumed boat and boatman. The closed compartment muffled his voice. “And I won’t mind having the Sissies and a couple plasma cannon around me, I’ll tell you now.”

    Daniel got out of the car. Before he closed the door, though, he leaned back and said, “Master Luff? I’ve told you what I intend to do as an RCN officer, but I should add that if I were a civilian I’d do the same. I prefer to think that any Cinnabar gentleman would put his heritage ahead of the wishes of unpleasant foreigners.”

    As he swung the door to, he added, “It’s something you might keep in mind yourself.”

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