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CHAPTER 2

Xenos on Cinnabar

"The dashing Lieutenant Leary's buying," Lieutenant Pennyroyal said as she pushed open the door to The Lower Deck, a basement-level tavern three blocks from the Navy Office. There were closer bars, but The Lower Deck catered to lieutenants on half-pay when they adjourned yet again from the General Waiting Room without being summoned to an inner office and granted a place.


"Indeed I will buy," Daniel said cheerfully. "The first round, that is. Gaby?"


The only waitress on duty at this early hour looked up and beamed. She was a friendly brunette twenty years and forty pounds the wrong side of cute.


"A pitcher and four glasses for our booth, if you would," Daniel said, pointing to where Pennyroyal and Ames were already sliding toward the wall end of facing benches. That left Vondrian across from Daniel on the outside—and the natural choice to buy the second pitcher.


The four lieutenants knew one another well enough to be friends in the loose sense of the word. Pennyroyal had been Daniel's classmate at the Academy; Ames and Vondrian had been a couple classes ahead. They'd been thrown together in the General Waiting Room in years past, hoping to be called for a place. When they found themselves again sharing the same bench, it'd been natural to go off for a beer together when the levee ended with the usual lack of result.


Vondrian had family money and an uncle in the Senate. Like Daniel he'd been appointed Lieutenant Commanding—still a lieutenant in pay, but with greater status and a potentially greater share of prize money. The latter didn't apply in the case of Vondrian, captain of a stores ship assigned to the Glover Stars Squadron.


Pennyroyal and Ames had neither wealth nor influence. She'd been the Sixth Lieutenant of the battleship Schelling, returned for refit from the Glover Stars in company with Vondrian's vessel, while Ames had been Third Lieutenant of the heavy cruiser Maspero. Even in the midst of full-scale war with the Alliance, the Navy Board had condemned the cranky, leaky Maspero as uneconomic to repair. Ames and the cruiser's other officers were waiting for transfer to a new vessel fitting out.


Gaby bustled over with the beer immediately, though the fellow at a back table with six empty shot glasses lined up had called for another just as the four lieutenants arrived. "Throws his money around like a drunken spacer," was a cliche with a great deal of solid truth beneath it, but most of the patrons of The Lower Deck didn't have money to throw. Due to captured prizes, Daniel Leary was a striking exception.


Gaby did a half pirouette so that when she bent to set down the tray, her considerable bosom surged toward Daniel. She knew he tipped well any time he could, and she probably guessed that this afternoon he'd be showing off in front of his friends.


Daniel grinned as he slid out the coins. She was right, of course.


"So, what do you think about Slidell's court-martial?" Lieutenant Vondrian said, serving the others from the pitcher. "Are they going to hang him for murder to quiet the Progressives?"


"They can't do that," Ames scoffed. "Why, Slidell's wife is the daughter of Admiral Seens and the niece through her mother's side of Bokely, the Director of Construction. The RCN would never throw one of its own to the mob!"


Daniel sipped his beer, feeling a trifle uncomfortable about the subject. It was the obvious one, though. Everywhere RCN personnel gathered—in the dives fronting Harbor Three as surely as in the most exclusive clubs in Xenos where admirals played cards with members of the Navy Board—they were discussing the same thing.


The problem for Daniel was that he'd chanced to be present two weeks before when Senator and Lady Kearnes were informed of their son's execution. That made the victim to him a young boy with grieving parents instead of a problem in discipline which had been solved in a particular fashion. Death was a normal part of military operations; but execution for mutiny was a very different thing from the accidents, disease, and combat losses that filled the back columns of the Naval Gazette.


"It's time for somebody to take a hard line with the Progressives anyway," Vondrian said, lifting his own glass now that he'd filled the others. "What do you say, Leary? Your father's a politician."


"I wouldn't presume to speak for my father," Daniel said. "He and I have very little in common."


He forced a smile to hide the real weight of the words. Daniel never talked about Speaker Leary, but neither did he care to emphasize the degree to which he'd broken with his father. If they were going to talk about Daniel Leary—and they would; the RCN was like a girls' school with everybody gossiping about everybody else when they weren't present—then let it be for the things he was responsible for: his navigation, his reckless luck, or the swath he cut through women in whatever venue he found himself.


"And you shouldn't talk about him either, Vondrian," Pennyroyal said with a chuckle. "'Speak of the Devil and hear the rustle of leathery wings,' you know."


She glanced at Daniel. "Begging your pardon if I'm speaking out of turn, Leary," she added in embarrassment.


"Speaker Leary's been called worse things," Daniel said mildly. He looked around the tavern. Holograms of famous space battles formed a frieze under the tongue-and-groove ceiling. Several of the projectors were out, leaving patches like mildewed tapestry in the images. "I can't imagine him appearing in The Lower Deck, though."


Among the things Speaker Leary was called after the Three Circles Conspiracy were a conscienceless brute, a ruthless murderer; and the Savior of the Republic. The first two statements were certainly correct. Daniel was neither a politician nor a political historian, but he rather suspected the last was correct also.


"Mark my words," said Ames, raising a finger for emphasis. He had a baby-face, making a comedy routine of his attempt to look portentous. "They finished hearing the evidence yesterday. The court'll come back tomorrow or the next day, clearing Slidell of all charges. And they'll send him off-planet about as quick to quiet down any trouble the mob makes."


"They certainly convened the court without wasting time," Vondrian said, frowning into the last of his beer. He reached for the pitcher, but Pennyroyal already had it; they were all thirsty from their morning spent warming a bench. "Sending Slidell off-planet won't silence the Progressives, though. Or the mob."


"Give them their real name, Vondrian," Ames said. "Radicals. I ask you, what's a captain to do if it's the safety of his ship or the lives of a few mutineers? What would you do if it was you?"


"The thing is . . ." Daniel said, watching the foam on the last inch of his beer. The Lower Deck's draft lager was quite palatable. The house whiskey claimed to be rye but was probably processed from carbohydrate waste with a dash of coloring. It had a kick, though, and the price was moderate. Sometimes that was what you wanted. . . .


"The thing is," Daniel resumed, the eyes of his companions on him, "I've never heard of a mutiny that wasn't over when the ringleaders were in irons. Slidell had arrested young Kearnes and the two crewmen, so why did he decide he had to execute them the next day without a proper court-martial?"


"The Bainbridge is a training sloop, Leary," Ames said. "Slidell didn't have any compartment where he could isolate the prisoners. What if the other mutineers made a rush and freed them?"


"I know how small the Bainbridge is," Daniel said sharply. "She's the same size as the Princess Cecile or next to it; and I'll tell you, spacers, that I can't imagine executing a man out of hand because I was afraid to bring him back to Cinnabar for trial!"


He gulped the rest of his beer. The pitcher was empty, but Vondrian was already signalling for Gaby.


Daniel had spoken more forcefully than he'd intended, but the whole business bothered him. To be sure, discipline was a more valuable asset to the RCN than another squadron of battleships without that discipline; and to be sure, mutiny was properly punishable by death.


If it was mutiny. And that was for a court-martial of five disinterested officers to determine, not for a captain to decide on whim.


"You've always had a picked crew, Leary," Vondrian said, taking a florin from his purse for Gaby. "You're a lucky captain, and so you have your choice. That isn't true of a lot of us, you know. It certainly isn't true for the tub I command."


"Look, I'm not judging Commander Slidell," Daniel said. "I'll leave that for a proper court-martial. All I'm saying is, I wish Slidell'd left it for a court-martial too."


Pennyroyal refilled the glasses. Daniel drank his down by two-thirds in a series of measured gulps, feeling uncomfortable.


He knew he'd been shading the truth when he said he wasn't judging Slidell, but the degree to which he felt the commander was in the wrong hadn't struck him till he heard the words come out of his mouth. A captain who executed spacers without authority was as surely in violation of RCN regulations as a spacer who refused a lawful order.


"I say Slidell did what he had to," Ames maintained, stubbornly but without heat. "We'd all of us done the same in his place."


Daniel looked at his fellow lieutenant. Ames grimaced and said, "Well, maybe we would. Anyway, it's for the court-martial to decide."


"This I'll say," Vondrian said, finishing the second pitcher. "And I don't hold with the Progressives, let alone the mob; you know that. But if Slidell had brought his prisoners home instead of spacing them through an airlock, the RCN and Cinnabar both'd be in a better place now. This is going to mean trouble and maybe bad trouble, depending on what the court decides."


Pennyroyal cleared her throat and very quietly said, "Should I order another round, then?"


Daniel tossed off the last of his beer. "No, no," he said. "I really need to be getting on. Maybe tomorrow will be the day for all of us, eh?"


He stood up. In fact the Princess Cecile would be another month in the yard, not so much from battle damage—though there'd been some—as the strain long voyages put on a small ship. That was fine with Daniel Leary, who had prize money to spend among civilians awed by a chestful of medals. Being on half-pay awaiting the convenience of the Navy Office wasn't a good thing for Pennyroyal, though. The relief in her face suggested she'd have had to walk back to her lodgings for want of tram fare if forced to buy a pitcher.


"Aye, I'll come to the tram stop with you, Leary," Ames said, sliding out of the booth after Daniel. Vondrian stood also, though his glass was still half full.


Lieutenant Aris Choravski came down the stairs from the street and paused, blinking in the tavern's dimmer light. He caught the RCN uniforms and called, "Say, you fellows. Did you hear? The court-martial's come out with a verdict on Slidell!"


Choravski had an appointment in the Personnel section of the Navy Office, so he should've been on duty now. Nobody who knew the man would be surprised that he'd ducked out of his office early to spread the juiciest piece of gossip to touch the RCN in many years.


"Well, what is it, then, man?" Daniel snapped. He was irritated with himself for blurting what he had to his fellow lieutenants—and irritated at the situation for being what it was. His frustration came out in his tone. Well, Choravski didn't deserve any better.


"They've acquitted him!" Choravski crowed, not in the least put off by Daniel's harshness. "Acquitted on all charges!"


"I told you so!" said Ames.


"Aye, so you did," Vondrian agreed. "And I told you that there'd be bad trouble if they did."


Daniel grimaced as he started for the stairs out of the tavern. By personal taste as well as revulsion against his father's life, he didn't think much about politics.


But he was pretty sure Vondrian was right.


* * *

The summons had been by means of a calling card, handed at noon to the doorman of Chatsworth Minor, Adele's townhouse, by a seeming street urchin. He may have been a real urchin; regardless, the doorman said he'd run off immediately.


The printed front of the card read Bernis Sand. On the back was written in pencil: your westbound tram stop at 18:17. There was no date or signature.


At 18:17 Adele stepped out of the townhouse with Tovera at her side. "I'll be going out for a few hours, Tiomka," she said to the doorman on duty.


"Sure you wouldn't like a few of us to come along, mistress?" Tiomka said. He and the other servants at Chatsworth Minor wore the blue-and-silver livery of the Mundys, but strictly speaking they weren't Adele's retainers. They were employed by The Shippers' and Merchants' Treasury, the bank which leased the townhouse from Adele but sublet the property on very favorable terms back to Adele and to Daniel Leary when their RCN duties found them on Cinnabar.


"No thank you," Adele said. "I'm not going anywhere I need to impress people."


The bank had acted through its managing partner, Deirdre Leary. Daniel knew his sister was involved, but he was too much an innocent in the realms of finance to understand how extremely generous the terms of his rental were.


Daniel didn't know that his father owned the controlling interest in The Shippers' and Merchants' Treasury. If he'd had an inkling of that, he'd have left the townhouse in a fury very different from Adele's cold rages but just as dangerous to anyone who tried to get in his way.


Adele had no affection for the man who'd had her family killed; but—possibly because she didn't have close blood relations herself—she was unwilling to prevent Corder Leary from doing what he could to secretly help his son. She wasn't hiding the fact from her friend: he'd never asked, because that sort of question didn't interest him.


And heaven knew, Daniel needed someone to look after his money. Daniel's idea of financial planning was to spend what he had—and a bit more. Annuities from The Shippers' and Merchants' Treasury paid comfortable returns on the prize money he'd earned at the risk of his life. The bank dribbled out enough money to weight Daniel's pockets nicely for as long as he lived; and not coincidentally, the form of the investment prevented him from touching his capital.


"You should take me, you know," Tovera said mildly. Her title was "private secretary." She dressed the part in a severely cut suit and attaché case. "There are people who know who you are. Everywhere you go, you're in danger."


Tovera's suit was fog gray; her complexion was so pale that if she'd worn charcoal, she'd have looked like a mime in white-face. The case held a variety of specialized tools, in particular a sub-machine gun.


"While I doubt that Mistress Sand would do me physical harm if I insulted her by bringing a bodyguard, Tovera," Adele said, "I believe I'd be risking things that are of more importance to me than my life is."


Tovera chuckled. "I understand, mistress," she said. "But your life is important to me. Who else would show me how to act human?"


Adele looked at her. She thought Tovera had just made a joke, but it was difficult to be sure. A servant like Tovera was rather like making a pet of a spider from the pale depths of a cave.


Chatsworth Minor was at the end of a close; the tram stop was on the cross street four doors up. A monorail car was leaving as Adele approached, but it was going east toward the center of the city. Two servants had gotten off, laden with large baskets of produce that they may well have brought from the family's country estate. They bowed politely as they passed Adele.


A westbound car was hissing toward the shunt, shifting the polarity of its magnetic levitators to trail rather than lead that of the support rail. From outside the car seemed to be full to capacity. The doors didn't open as they normally would when the vehicle stopped.


"Go back and wait for me, Tovera," Adele said. She reached for the latchplate, but the door accordianed open before she touched it. There were three figures inside, wearing cloaks over gray 2nd Class RCN uniforms. The rest of the crowd was an illusion caused by patterned film over the windows.


"As the mistress orders," Tovera said politely, but she didn't move until the door had closed and the tram began to whine away.


Personal transportation in Xenos was by foot or—most generally—by the monorail trams which covered all parts of the city and suburbs. The cars seated twelve and held twenty in reasonable comfort, though at rush hours they might carry double that number. They were individually programmed: a rider chose his destination on the touch pad at the stop where he waited. The system's central computer then directed to him the nearest car headed in the correct direction.


The wait for a car was rarely more than twenty minutes except perhaps at the farthest reaches of the line. There was a great circular exchange at the Pentacrest, the physical and administrative center of Xenos, where riders might have to transfer; otherwise the cars took them to their destinations by the least circuitous route possible.


Many wealthy families had private cars which retainers set onto the tramline when the master or mistress had an appointment. Only governmental agencies had aircars, and wheeled transport was limited to delivery vehicles during the hours of darkness. Both prohibitions were enforced not by the police but by other nobles, who wouldn't hesitate to have their guards shoot a rival's aircar into a collander.


"Where's Mistress Sand?" Adele said with scant courtesy. The three officers—all men—in the car were strangers to her. She wasn't worried, but the situation wasn't what she'd expected and she didn't like it.


"She sent us to brief you," said the eldest of the three. "Because of the delicacy of this matter, you're not to contact her directly while the operation is running."


The fellow was in his fifties; he had sunken cheeks and a high forehead. The cloaks covered rank insignia and name tags, but if still on active duty he was at least a captain and possibly an admiral. His two companions were younger: a soft-featured blond in his twenties and a black-haired man of thirty-odd with the build of an athlete who'd let himself go to seed.


Adele glanced at a window; the film that counterfeited a carload of passengers also prevented her from seeing out. The tram was proceeding according to directions these men had programmed into it. There was no way that she could tell where they were going; they might simply be riding in a circle back to where she'd gotten on.


She didn't like this at all. Well, she'd been involved in many things that she didn't like, especially during the fourteen years she'd lived as a penniless orphan.


"There isn't an operation till I've agreed to it," Adele said to the leader. "What are you proposing?"


"If you think—" the blond man began hotly. His superior silenced him with a raised finger, continuing to hold Adele's eyes.


The tram bounced hard at a junction. They were all standing. Adele and the blond man grabbed stanchions; the heavy-set man stumbled backward and had to stick out his hand to keep from falling on a seat. The leader rode the shock with the ease of a man who'd spent much of his life on maneuvering starships.


The jolt had broken the serious edge of tension filling the car. The leader smiled curtly and said without preamble, "The most serious danger to the Republic at the moment, mistress, isn't the Alliance of Free Stars but rather Radical agitation here on Cinnabar. Though of course the Alliance is funding it, you can be sure of that."


"I'm not sure of that," Adele said evenly. "But my duties have nothing to do with Cinnabar politics, so my ignorance is unimportant."


"Your duties are what the Republic says they are, mistress," the heavy-set man growled.


Adele looked at him; she didn't speak. The leader pursed his lips in irritation and said, "I'll handle this, More."


Smoothing his face, he resumed to Adele, "Mistress, you can be certain that the Republic wouldn't call you to this duty were it not important. You lived within the Alliance for many years. You know that the so-called Alliance of Free Stars is really the brutal dictatorship of Guarantor Porra, enforced by military power and a ruthless security apparatus."


"I agree," Adele said, smiling faintly. People tended to think "ruthless" meant "cruel." It didn't: it meant doing what was logically required without factoring in mercy.


She herself wasn't cruel; but she'd shot her way out of a trap on Kostroma, changing 20-round magazines several times. If any of the scores of people she'd shot that night weren't dead, it was simply because the light pellets from her pocket pistol hadn't penetrated their skulls as she'd intended.


She'd been aiming at their eyes because the bone behind the orbits is very thin, so almost all of the pellets would've penetrated.


In the hours before dawn Adele saw those faces and other dead faces more nights than she didn't. Nonetheless she'd do the same thing again if the situation logically required it. She knew what ruthless meant.


"The trouble is, most of the common people, especially in Xenos, don't have your experience," the leader continued. "They're easy marks for Porra's agitators and also for irresponsible Cinnabar politicians who think they'll gain votes by turning the common people against their natural leaders."


"A cancer," the blond man said, his head turned to the side as though he were addressing the images pasted onto the windows. "A cancer in the heart of the Republic!"


"Your late father is a hero to many of these people, Mistress Mundy," the leader said earnestly. "Because you've been operating away from Cinnabar, they won't realize you've changed sides. You'll be able to infiltrate the traitors' inner circles very easily."


"I haven't changed sides," Adele said, reaching into her left side-pocket.


She wondered what Daniel would've said if some fool had made him a comparable proposition. He'd have been loud, she was certain; but that was Daniel, and she was Adele Mundy who rarely raised her voice.


"I don't have a side, gentlemen," Adele said. "I've never had politics. Politics were my parents' affair, and I fail to see the attraction of what their interest resulted in. Set me out of this car at once, if you please."


"Don't get above yourself, mistress!" the leader said sharply. "This isn't some academic game where you can choose whether or not to play. This is the safety of the Republic!"


Adele brought the little pistol out of her pocket. Lucius Mundy knew that his politics would lead to duels—unless his would-be challengers learned that calling out a Mundy was tantamount to suicide. He'd seen to it that every Mundy practiced long hours in the target ranges both at Chatsworth and the townhouse, Chatsworth Minor. Young Adele had a natural skill with pistols that had stood her in good stead in recent years. . . .


"Say!" said the blond fellow. His voice rose abruptly in the course of that single syllable. "What do you think you're doing with that?"


"Are you willing to kill me, gentlemen?" Adele said mildly. "Because I'm certainly willing to kill you."


She fired into the tram's control panel. The pellet from the little electromotive pistol snap/cracked, the supersonic shock wave blurring into the impact that blew a divot from the plastic panel.


"Bloody Hell!" the heavy-set man squealed, throwing an arm over his eyes. Fragments of projectile or target must've splashed him.


"All right!" the leader said. Then, quieter but with real venom, "All right, we'll put you down. But don't think you've heard the last of this!"


He cuffed the blond man. "You have the key, don't you Dagenham? Well, use it!"


Adele lowered the pistol to her side, keeping the barrel well out from her trousers leg. The flux from even a single shot heated the muzzle enough to char cloth. Her face was as still as those on the film covering the car's windows.


The blond man took a key card from his breast pocket and inserted it into the control slot that allowed specified users to use the pad on the panel to direct the vehicle, overriding the central computer. He met his leader's eyes, got a snarled, "Yes, you bloody fool!" and shunted the tram car onto the next stop.


The doors didn't open. Adele slapped the latchplate with her right hand, then deliberately slipped the pistol into her pocket—it cooled quickly. She turned her back on the men as she stepped out of the car. She had no idea where she was.


The tram hummed off behind her. She'd expected one of the officers to shout some final threat, but they remained silent.


There were a dozen people on the platform, but they appeared to be sheltering here rather than waiting for a tram. The buildings nearby were four- and five-story apartments, probably tenements for the very poor. The spill-over, the poorer yet, was here at the tram stop. A pair of men hunched toward Adele, then stopped when they saw her face, cold as death, in the light over the call plate.


With her left hand in her pocket, Adele walked to the public phone on the other side of the kiosk from the call plate. A woman with an infant was huddled against the panel below it.


"Pardon," Adele said. "I need this."


"Hey, who do you think you are?" the woman said in a shrill whine.


"Shall I have you whipped out of the city?" shouted Mundy of Chatsworth, scion of one of the oldest houses in the Republic. "Get out of my way, you scum, or I'll do that and worse!"


The woman crabbed herself away. Her infant began to complain at increasing volume.


Adele punched a series of numbers into the keypad, hit the pause symbol, and then typed an almost identical sequence on top of the first. Almost instantly a woman's voice, cultured despite the tinny speaker, said, "Yes?"


"This is Mundy," Adele said. "I resign, effective immediately."


"Where are you now?" Mistress Sand said.


"I'm where your damned stooges left me!" Adele said, her voice rising despite herself. She knew she had an audience listening from the darkness around her, and she didn't care. "Somewhere near the outskirts of Xenos, I suppose. The number of the stop is—"


She paused to remember the number in stencilled in black letters above the call plate on the other side.


"Four four seven one, I believe," she added.


"I had nothing to do with whatever happened to you tonight, mistress," Bernis Sand said. "I'll be with you in fifteen minutes, less if I can manage it. Don't leave the spot."


The line went dead. Adele stepped back from the phone and looked around. A dozen pairs of eyes were on her. The platform smelled of spoiled food, human waste and other, sharper odors. So, she realized, did the people staring at her.


Adele began to laugh. At least I'm in better company than I was a few minutes ago, she thought.


 


 


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