Back | Next
Contents


CHAPTER 1: Xenos on Cinnabar

Commander Daniel Leary sipped whiskey from a glass with the Quenzer monogram as he surveyed his fellow guests; he held his lips in a neutral smile. He didn't know any of those present except for Miranda Dorst, his 'plus one', but Sarah Sterret, the brunette wearing a diamond tiara, looked vaguely familiar.


Vaguely familiar. Mistress Sterret wasn't bad looking, but she hadn't seen thirty in a while. Her husband Nathan Sterret, a senior captain who was part of the complement of Navy House, needn't fear that the dashing Commander Leary would stray into his pastures.


Besides, Daniel was with Miranda now.


"Thank you, my good man," Miranda said as she took the faintly fizzy drink she'd ordered from an offered tray. She smiled, every inch the gracious lady.


Daniel swelled with pride. She fitted perfectly into this gathering; fitted better than a country boy like him, truth to tell, for all that the Dorsts, mother and daughter, had made the simple black dress she was wearing. They and Miranda's late brother Timothy had lived in straitened circumstances ever since the early death of Captain Dorst, but class will tell.


The hostess gave a tiny nod; the footman in the doorway tapped the silver bell in his left hand.


"Please join me in the dining room," said Dame Cathleen Quenzer, a tall woman of sixty-odd who made her bulk look imposing rather than soft. "You'll find cards at your places."


Her politeness went no deeper than the words. Daniel had heard warrant-officer trainers at the Academy shout, "Hop it, you miserable worms!" and sound less certain that they'd be obeyed.


"We're all here, then?" said the extremely handsome young man. He seemed to be with Senator Forbes, the chair of the Finance Committee. She was a small woman but birdlike only if you were thinking of hawks. Daniel doubted the relationship was grandmother and grandson, though the age difference made that possible. "It doesn't seem very many. Eight?"


Andrew Cummins glanced back over his shoulder as he entered the dining room. "Cathleen follows the old maxim that guests at a dinner party should number more than the Graces and fewer than the Muses, dear boy," he said.


Smirking he added, "That's three and nine, if you were wondering. I don't suppose you have much experience of the Muses, though your grace is beyond question."


Cummins too was a senator, though not nearly as powerful as Forbes. His fame came from being the most successful criminal advocate in Xenos—and thereby on the hundred and more stars owing allegiance to the Republic of Cinnabar.


Cinnabar citizens didn't like to think of themselves as ruling an empire, but Daniel had studied enough history at the Naval Academy to know that was the reality. The fact didn't concern him, of course. He was an officer of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy, and he'd carry out any orders his superiors in the RCN gave him. If he'd been interested in philosophy, he'd be in another line of work.


Besides, being ruled by the Cinnabar Senate was better by any standard than being being a citizen of the so-called Alliance of Free Stars and living under the thumb of Guarantor Porra. The Alliance wouldn't stop expanding of its own will, but it could be stopped. The RCN had been doing a very good job of that, and the medals on both breasts of Daniel's Dress Whites proved to anyone who saw him that he'd taken an active part of that process.


"Commander?" said a footman obsequiously. "I'll guide you to your seat, if you will."


"Yes, of course," Daniel said. Another servant was murmuring to Miranda; even Cummins, obviously a regular at these dinners, was being escorted.


Daniel found it interesting that the servants wore not the cream-and-russet livery of the late Senator Quenzer but the orange-and-azure of Dame Cathleen's own family, the D'Almeidas. He wasn't interested in Society in the sense that Dame Cathleen was, but he was the son of Corder Leary, once Speaker of the Senate and even now one of the most powerful members of that body. Families and family alliances had been matters of life and death when Speaker Leary crushed the Three Circles Conspiracy seventeen years ago.


The rectangular table wouldn't have seated more than eight diners comfortably, nor would a larger table have fit the room. There was an assembly hall on the second floor—Daniel had attended a rout at Quenzer House two years before when he was an up-and-coming lieutenant—but at the time he couldn't have imagined he'd be invited to one of the intimate dinners for which Dame Cathleen was famous.


Let alone that he'd be seated to the right of his hostess, with Senator Forbes to his own right. Captain Sterret was at the end of the row. Miranda was across the table from him, sitting beside Cummins.


From the way the attorney smirked as he spoke to Miranda in a low voice, he fancied himself a ladies' man. He must be corseted to fit into his coat and dazzling vest, and that made his red face bulge the more. Miranda laughed lightly and avoided eye contact, sipping from the glass she'd brought to the table while looking toward Captain Sterret.


Sarah Sterret—why did she look familiar?—was opposite Daniel. He couldn't read her expression as she watched him, but it was something more than polite curiosity. Mind, he was used to drawing women's attention when he glittered in full dress, but he wasn't at all sure Sterret's look was positive.


The steward at the sideboard beside the doorway began ladling the soup course into bowls. Senator Forbes had brought servants for herself and her pretty boy, but the remaining guests would be served by the household staff.


Hogg had accompanied Daniel and Miranda to the dinner, but he was in the kitchen now . . . or possibly in the butler's pantry, looking over the bottled goods with an eye for kick rather than for delicate bouquet. Daniel wouldn't trade Hogg for a hundred ordinary footmen, but bringing him into this dining room would demolish all his hopes of gaining allies in what he was being forced to view as his battle with Navy House.


"You're recently back on Cinnabar, are you not, Commander?" Dame Cathleen said. "From some sort of hush-hush derring-do, I'm sure?"


Daniel set down his whiskey—well, the last sip of his whiskey—and said, "Oh, nothing whatever romantic, Dame Cathleen. It was an advisory mission to the back of beyond, deep into Ganpat's Reach, if that means anything to you. No reason it should, of course."


"No doubt you gathered some more pretty medals, though, haven't you, Commander?" said Sarah Sterret archly. She glanced around her fellow guests with an icy smile. "Commander Leary seems to have a new medal every time you see him."


She leaned forward slightly to look down the table at Miranda. "Medals and other sorts of trophies, that is."


Oh my God, I have met her! Daniel realized. Though he hadn't paid much attention to her at the time, which was at least part of the problem. Was she married then?


That'd been several years ago when he was just back from a triumph on Kostroma that'd made him a nine-days wonder. It'd been at a ball, not here at Quenzer House but in a similar venue. She was with a cute blonde named Bobbi, Bobbi . . . well, it didn't matter. He and Bobbi hadn't really been on a last-name basis.


Daniel'd known at the time that Mistress Sterret wasn't best pleased by the way he'd ignored her increasingly blatant suggestions, but good heavens! Had she really thought that he'd be interested in a woman her age?


Apparently she had, and here she was across the small table from him. And—he glanced sidelong at Dame Cathleen, who wore an impish smile—his hostess had probably been aware of the fact when she made up the dinner invitations. People often became whimsical when they had considerable power and no proper outlet for it.


Corder Leary had never been whimsical.


"Why no, mistress, I don't believe there'll be any medals," Daniel said easily. The best way he could see to handle the situation was to be polite and a trifle distant; the last thing he needed was to raise the emotional temperature. "Nor is there any call for them. It was just an ordinary advisory mission, the sort of duty that goes to officers who're between ships."


He smiled wider and included the whole table in it.


"As I still am, I'm afraid," he went on. "Though I'm hopeful Navy House will find a way for me to serve the Republic again soon."


Daniel hadn't exactly been a protégé of Admiral Anston, the former Chief of the Navy Board, but Anston had seemed to see in Daniel the sort of cleverness that'd brought him to wealth and the leadership of the RCN.


But Anston had retired abruptly after a heart attack. The new Chief, Admiral Vocaine, viewed as an enemy anyone whom he saw as having been close to his predecessor.


Daniel grinned despite himself. Unfortunately, he wasn't powerful enough to really count as Vocaine's enemy.


The servants set bowls of oxtail soup before the guests with the precision of a drill team. Dame Cathleen was likely as stern as any Land Forces drillmaster. If she didn't herself correct errors with a baton, that was simply because she had senior servants to whip the footmen for her.


"Hmmph!" snorted Captain Sterret, staring fixedly at his soup as he thrust his spoon into it. "A lot of young officers think the Personnel Bureau should make assignments for their convenience, not the RCN's. Why—"


He raised his eyes and swept the table. His jaw twitched as his gaze passed over Daniel, but he didn't linger to glare.


"—you wouldn't believe the demands some of them make. Demands!"


"Ah, but Commander Leary isn't simply another young officer, is he, Captain?" said Cummins. "Why—"


He was speaking to the whole table, but he shifted his eyes from Sterret to Daniel, who'd been looking toward the ormolu-and-crystal light fixture on the opposite wall. It was a remarkably ornate thing which nonetheless seemed to work as well as a simpler unit at providing diffuse illumination.


There was nothing wrong with looking pretty, of course, so long as it didn't affect function. He'd had the name of his yacht, the Princess Cecile, inlaid in gold on her bow. Anybody who thought the Sissie couldn't see off an opponent of anything close to her tonnage hadn't read the log of her service under Daniel Leary.


"—even as we speak there's a documentary showing at all the best playhouses in Xenos: The Conquest of Dunbar's World. That, Commander, that isn't the sort of thing that happens after an ordinary advisory mission."


The spoon in Daniel's hand jumped. Hogg'd burn him a new one if he slopped soup on his Dress Whites.


"What?" he said. "You're joking!"


"Oh, come, Commander!" said Sarah Sterret. "Do you expect us to believe that you weren't aware of the play? It's been quite the sensation all over Cinnabar. All over the dependent worlds, I shouldn't wonder."


Daniel set down his spoon. "I hope you'll believe me, Madame," he said. "Because it's the truth."


He paused. "On my honor as a Leary of Bantry."


"I think it's just terrible the way the playwrights make things up," said Miranda brightly. "And they put real people's names on what's all lies. Andrew, couldn't there be a law to keep them from doing that?"


She turned to the man beside her and simpered, an expression which Daniel wouldn't have believed she was capable of before he saw it. "Couldn't you propose something? I'm sure the Senate would pass it if you proposed it."


Daniel spooned up more oxtail soup; Dame Cathleen's chef was as skilled as one would expect.


Miranda had just defused what could very easily have led to a duel, for all that by RCN regulation both Daniel and Captain Sterret would have to resign their commissions in order to fight one. Uniquely among the girls with whom Daniel'd kept company, she was very clever.


"I scarcely think I have such influence in the Senate, my dear," Cummins said dryly. "I'm sure Senator Forbes would agree with me there. Besides, there doesn't seem to be any harm done. Even if the play's a complete lie, it's a positive lie, isn't it?"


The soup had been whisked away; the steward leaned in to offer Dame Cathleen the fish. She accepted a slice and he moved down to Daniel.


It was in a cream sauce with chopped greens. The firm yellow flesh was probably that of a saffron hake, a flatfish which sometimes grew to the size of a man. No matter how good the chef was, this wouldn't be able to match the hake sprats Daniel and Hogg had gigged near shore at Bantry and grilled only minutes later . . . .


"Well, I for one don't mind the citizens getting a little good news," said Senator Forbes as the steward served her. "And I don't care if it's true. Though from what I've heard, Leary—"


She looked at him. Her eyes reminded him even more of a hawk's.


"—that business on Dunbar's World wasn't a simple thing at all. According to the Summaries—"


She must mean the Intelligence Summaries, which she'd see as the chair of a Senatorial committee.


"—your very nice piece of work saved the Republic from a future headache." Grimacing she added, "Now, if somebody'd just do the same in the Jewel System."


"I assure you, Senator," Captain Sterret said stiffly, "that the RCN is doing everything possible with the limited resources available. Admiral James is a first-rate fighting spacer. If anybody can break the siege of Diamondia, it's him."


Daniel nodded, though cautiously. A senior officer in a bad mood could interpret enthusiastic agreement as an attempt by a junior to sit in judgment on him. Sterret's mood hadn't been good even before Forbes brought up Diamondia.


Daniel could've been honestly enthusiastic, though. James of Kithran, Admiral James, was of aristocratic birth. This hadn't hurt his chances of promotion, but if the RCN'd been a democracy—which thank the Gods it was not!—James might well've won a vote of serving officers to command the defense of the Jewel System.


He and his squadron were nonetheless being asked to make bricks without straw, and it'd take a lot of bricks to save Diamondia from the Alliance forces besieging it. Perhaps an impossible number of bricks.


"One wonders whether Admiral James is getting the support he needs and deserves, though, doesn't one?" said Dame Cathleen in a tone of false concern. She looked at Senator Forbes and raised an eyebrow. "It just seems that a trade nexus as important as Diamondia should have enough ships to defend itself. Still, no doubt the Senate has been following events carefully, haven't you, Beverly?"


"We are, yes," said Forbes. The words were neutral, but the glance she directed toward Captain Sterret at her side was not. "Though of course we can't interfere in the operational control of the navy. That's the responsibility of Navy House, whom we're told are the professionals."


Captain Sterret had only a horseshoe of hair running from ear to ear around the back of his head. When he flushed, his bald pate turned scarlet.


"Look, Senator . . . ," he said. He was a tall man and could probably be imposing in the right setting, but his features and personality both appeared to've had the edges rounded off. "It's all well and good to say James should have more ships, but where are they to come from? And if we had the ships, where would the crews come from? Why, we've stripped the merchant fleet bare to man the ships in commission now!"


"And yet the Alliance doesn't seem to have problems manning its warships," Cummins said. "More warships than the Republic has in service, as I understand?"


The fish plates vanished in their turn. The dish had indeed been hake, and the memories of foggy mornings at Bantry gave Daniel a twinge. Life had been simpler then, and it hadn't been so long ago. He was only 25 now, very young for a full commander.


"Guarantor Porra fills his crews with drafts from the relief rolls, Patron," Daniel said to Cummins. "You're better placed than I to say whether that'd be politically acceptable in the Republic—"


Speaker Leary's son didn't need Cummins to tell him that it'd lead to riots sufficient to level Xenos.


"—but speaking as an RCN officer, I'd very much regret seeing us go that route. The crews are likely to be disaffected and are sure to be inefficient. The Fleet—the naval arm of the Alliance—tries to get around the problem by assigning three crewmen where we'd use two, but that leads to overcrowding even though Fleet vessels are larger for their class. And in many circumstances, most in fact, more unskilled hands mean more confusion."


Servants to right and left offered Daniel tiny cutlets on a bed of rice, or squab with a bright purple root vegetable. Because his hobby was natural history, he was able to identify the "feathers" covering the bird as petals from the hearts of Hussite cardoons. With Hus deep within the Alliance, Dame Cathleen must've paid a fancy price for a product that hadn't been naturalized off its home world.


He took a squab. It'd been expertly boned and was remarkably tender. Force-meat stuffing preserved its shape.


Daniel'd seen Sterret relax noticeably as he spoke. The captain'd been getting even redder as he struggled to find words that wouldn't cost him a reprimand when they got back to the Navy Board. However Admiral Vocaine might feel about the Senate, it was from that body that the RCN's appropriations came. Even Senators who disliked Cummins personally would close ranks if one of their own were insulted by a mere servant from the permanent establishment.


"The Republic will not be drafting spacers, Commander," Senator Forbes said dryly. "There's enough unrest already in Dockside and the Lowlands."


Those were the old working-class districts of Xenos. Daniel suspected that the worst problems would come from the newer tenements ringing the city, however. These housed recent immigrants from the worlds dependent on Cinnabar.


"Oh, the proles are always making trouble, Betty," Forbes's companion said petulantly. Daniel hadn't caught the boy's name, but he doubted that the information would be of future use to him. "Really, I wish somebody would do something about them."


"No doubt someone will if it becomes necessary, dear boy," said Cummins with an unctuous chuckle. "But I'm sure we all hope that it won't be necessary, don't we?"


"What I hope is that the Alliance navy will prove as negligible as the Commander implies," Forbes said. "With respect, Leary—"


She turned and nodded.


"—I must say that neither history nor the present Diamondia situation gives me much reason to agree with you."


"Do diamonds come from Diamondia?" asked the handsome youth. He made a moue. "I'd hate for the Alliance to take all our diamonds."


He toyed with the three-inch rope of little stones hanging from the lobe of his right ear. Senator Forbes hunched as though she'd been struck, but she continued stolidly chewing on a mouthful of cutlet.


"The Jewel system lies near a junction point within the Matrix," said Captain Sterret. "Were we to lose Diamondia, routes from Cinnabar to several of our allied worlds would be lengthened by as much as thirty days."


After the recent exchange, another man might've crowed at Forbes's embarrassment. Sterret—wisely—sounded rather relieved to change the subject to something that didn't bear directly on Navy House.


"Conversely," he went on, "if the Alliance held the system, they'd cut a comparable length of time off voyages from Pleasaunce to the Bagarian Cluster. A rebellion against Guarantor Porra broke out there a few months ago."


He looked up, at Forbes rather than her companion. "The Alliance won't succeed in capturing Diamondia," he said earnestly. "Admiral James won't permit that to happen."


"It's hard to imagine how Admiral James can prevent it, as badly as his fleet is outnumbered," said Dame Cathleen. "Unless you send him reinforcements, Captain?"


"You should send Commander Leary, Sterret," said Cummins. It was obvious to Daniel that he and their hostess entertained themselves with a routine of baiting guests to fight one another. "He only needed thirty men to capture a base held by thousands of troops on Dunbar's World. I'll bet he could do just as well in the Jewel system."


"That . . . ," said the captain in a tone between shout and a snarl. He was looking at Daniel as he spoke between clenched teeth. "Is bollocks!"


"Yes," said Daniel, pleased to notice that he sounded calm. "That's bollocks. There was an initial assault by thirty spacers to disable the anti-starship defenses on the base, but I wasn't within a hundred miles at the time. It was led by one of my officers, and under other circumstances—"


At the time there'd been good reason to fear that the RCN would repudiate the whole business as an act of piracy. It'd seemed best to Daniel not to force Navy House to look closely at what'd happened.


"—medals would certainly have been appropriate. Not for me but for the leader of the assault force. That is, for—"


He paused, wondering what Adele would want him to say.


Adele isn't here. I'll tell the truth and to bloody Hell with what she'd want!


"—my Signals Officer, Adele Mundy."


"Ah, that would be Mundy of Chatsworth, would it not?" Dame Cathleen said. "We should have her at one of these little gatherings, don't you think, Andrew?"


"Lady Mundy, yes," Daniel said thickly. Now that he'd spoken he regretted it. Besides her RCN duties, Adele worked for Mistress Bernis Sand, the Republic's spymaster. Publicity could make that portion of her activities more dangerous.


"You called her your 'signals officer,' Commander?" said Sarah Sterret. "Goodness, I'd never heard that euphemism before. To be honest, I'd expected to see her here tonight, but I see—"


She leaned over the table again to glare at Miranda. Her eyes had a reptilian glitter.


"—that you've already replaced her with this very healthy young person."


Nobody spoke for a moment. Miranda set her fork neatly on the plate so that a servant could clear it for the rib roast which the steward was carving on the sideboard.


"Why my goodness, Sarah," Miranda said sweetly. "Surely you didn't imagine there was anything romantic between Lady Mundy and Daniel? You must not know Daniel very well. Why dear, Lady Mundy is almost as old as you are."


She gave a silvery laugh. Daniel forced his lips tight on the rim of his glass. When everyone else at the table except the two Sterrets began to guffaw, he joined in as well.


A very clever young woman . . . .


* * *

Adele Mundy glared at the mirror, checking the hang of the new gray suit. She didn't care very much about her appearance, but she'd look ridiculous if she'd fitted the closures askew. She did care about not becoming a laughingstock.


There was a tap on the door. Tovera looked at the security monitor. It was fed by optical fibers from microcameras in every room and passage of Chatsworth Minor.


That degree of paranoid concern seemed wildly excessive to Adele. This was not only her home when she was on Cinnabar, it'd been the family's townhouse during the sixteen years before she'd left to finish her education in the Academic Collections on Bryce.


"Mistress, it's Annette," squeaked one of the maids. Adele frequently got the impression that the servants were afraid of her, though they were also enormously proud to be in the service of Mundy of Chatsworth. "There's a young gentleman below asking to see you. His name's Cazelet."


"It's Annette and she's alone," Tovera said. She was keying the security monitor, no doubt trying to find significance in the name Cazelet. Tovera was a competent information technician, but Adele could've done much better if she'd chosen to.


She restrained herself with an effort of will, then sighed. Sometimes even the most extreme paranoia wouldn't be enough, of course. "I'm coming down, Annette," she said. "I'll see him, but I'm going out in a few minutes."


Tovera preceded Adele through the door, holding her attaché case in front of her. Annette was already skipping downstairs. The servants might be afraid of Lady Mundy, but they were—rightly—terrified by Lady Mundy's secretary.


Adele's decision to go to Bryce, the cultural heart of the Alliance, instead of taking further instruction in the Library of Celsus here in Xenos hadn't been whimsical. Even then, nothing the serious elder Mundy girl did was whimsical. She'd made her choice, however, purely on the ground of what facility would at this stage best advance her plan of becoming a skilled archivist.


It hadn't crossed Adele's mind that she'd save her life by going off-planet, but she did. Reports of a coup plot on Cinnabar and its bloody suppression by Corder Leary, the Speaker of the Senate, reached Bryce a few days after she did. Save for Adele's own, the head of every member of the Mundy family was displayed on the Speaker's Rock in the center of Xenos.


Adele's ten-year-old sister Agatha was killed a few days after their parents. Former family friends had turned the little girl away, so she'd wandered in the street until a pair of sergeants in the Land Forces of the Republic had recognized her. They'd cut her head off with their knives.


In the entryway at the base of the stairs, a boy of twenty-four or five waited with the doorman. His black hair was cut short in an unfamiliar style, but his thin features were vaguely familiar.


He nodded acknowledgment as Adele followed Tovera down. His hands had been clasped behind his back; now he brought them into sight and let his arms hang by his sides.


"I'm Adele Mundy," she said without preamble. The boy was wearing a conservative business suit similar to Adele's own, though the base color of his was beige. "I'm going out in two and a half minutes, so please state your business without wasting both our time."


Adele didn't like visitors. They were intrusive, and she much preferred getting information electronically. Her personal data unit rode in a thigh pocket. There were similar pockets in every pair of trousers she owned, even—in defiance of regulation—those of her RCN dress uniforms.


When Adele wielded the unit's control wands, she had an answer to almost any factual question that she could ask. What information the personal unit didn't itself have was available from some other database. Thanks to her skills and the tools which Mistress Sand had provided, there were few electronic repositories from which she was barred.


"Thank you," said Cazelet. He nodded twice as though he were resetting his memory, then continued, "A month ago my father and mother were arrested on Pleasaunce by agents of the Fifth Bureau. They were charged with conduct prejudicial to the good order of the State, which is treason under the War Emergency Powers proclaimed by Guarantor Porra. Their trial was of course secret, but it seems a foregone conclusion that they were executed."


He paused. Adele nodded. "Yes, it does," she said in a neutral tone.


She touched her data unit but she didn't take it out. The Fifth Bureau was the security directorate which reported to Porra personally. Its agents were known to be skilled and ruthless beyond the norm of most secret police organizations.


"I wasn't arrested at the time," Cazelet continued, "because I was with my grandmother. I was studying information storage and retrieval techniques to help me in my duties for Phoenix Starfreight, the shipping line which my father owned. We had twelve vessels, though—again, of course—they'll have been confiscated by the State under the treason regulations. My grandmother has provided full documentation of my personal and family background."


He held out a data chip. Tovera reached past Adele and said, "I'll see to it."


"Why have you come to me?" Adele said quietly.


She knew that Tovera was holding a gun on the boy, but she herself was sure he meant no harm. The disquieting aspect of the business was that from his preamble, he was aware that she was involved with the Republic's intelligence apparatus. Adele's connection with Mistress Sand shouldn't have been so generally known that a refugee from the Alliance would seek her out as his first choice for that purpose.


"My grandmother said that you'd help me," Cazelet said. He twisted off the ring on his left little finger and offered it to her. It was a small ruby signet. Meeting Adele's eyes, he said, "My grandmother is Mistress Boileau."


Tovera reached for the signet. "No," said Adele. She didn't raise her voice, but the syllable was as hard as a shard of glass.


Tovera's face was without expression, but she withdrew her hand. Adele took the ring and turned it to catch the light. The intaglio of the Boileau crest, an armed lion, was too small to really make out, but Adele's wasn't in doubt that it was really Mistress Boileau's signet.


"The Fifth Bureau could've provided him with your friend's eyes as easily as they could her ring," Tovera said. She was a colorless woman with a colorless voice, and she had no conscience at all. That had made her a great asset to the Fifth Bureau when she was part of it. "It proves nothing."


"I recognize his features," Adele said, returning the ring. "He's a Boileau."


She frowned, then added, "We may even have met. Did we?"


Cazelet bobbed his head twice again, but he said, "My mother brought me to Bryce twice to visit Granna, when I was twelve and again when I was fourteen. I saw you both times, but we weren't introduced."


He cleared his throat and added, "Mistress? Granna says you're an artist. She says that no one ever could accomplish what you do with information systems, and that nobody'll ever equal you in the future either."


Adele sniffed. "I was well trained," she said.


The doorman had turned away to watch the street through the door's sidelight. Tovera eyed the youth in cold fury.


"Tovera," Adele said crisply, "there's been a change of plans. Master Cazelet will accompany me to the playhouse. I want you to deliver the data he's brought to those who'll want to see it. When they've digested it, I'll discuss the situation with them."


Mistress Sand would be as angry as Tovera. While she wasn't likely to shoot anyone herself, she had the whole resources of the Republic to command if she wished to.


"Mistress, it doesn't mean anything even if he is her grandson!" Tovera said.


Adele stepped between her servant and Rene Cazelet. Tovera couldn't use the sub-machine gun in her attaché case without shooting her mistress first.


"On the contrary, Tovera," Adele said. "Family obligations mean a great deal to a Mundy of Chatsworth. Now, if you're in my service—carry out your orders! And if you're not, get out of my house and my sight, because I'll shoot you like a snake if I ever see you again."


Tovera closed her case and bowed slightly. Her complexion was ordinarily so pale that only one who knew her well would realize that she'd gone even whiter.


"I'll deliver the chip as you direct, mistress," she said quietly. "Shall I await your return here at Chatsworth Minor?"


"Yes, unless there's a reason for you to do otherwise," Adele said. "I'll leave that to your judgment."


Tovera smiled faintly in acknowledgment of the conciliatory words. "Mistress," she repeated. She went out the door like a wisp of cold air.


Adele shrugged to loosen her muscles. Her left hand had been in the pocket of her tunic, gripping a little pistol. She hadn't expected to shoot it out with her servant, but in times of tension her subconscious took her hands to one machine or the other: the personal data unit or the pistol. She was rarely without both.


"A playhouse, mistress?" Rene Cazelet said. He stood unusually straight; she wondered how much he'd understood of what'd just happened.


"Yes, Master Cazelet," Adele said, crooking a finger toward the doorman. He opened the panel which'd been carved out of wood from the Mundy country estate of Chatsworth Major. "We're going to a play. It's called The Conquest of Dunbar's World, and I'd very much like how it describes that business."


Back | Next
Framed