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And some are wilder comrades, sworn to seek If any golden harbor be for men In seas of Death and sunless gulfs of Doubt. Alfred, Lord Tennyson Prefatory Sonnet to 'The Nineteenth Century'
"This way, mistress," said the hostess of Pleasaunce Style, dipping slightly at the knees before turning to lead Adele Mundy into the restaurant. "Your luncheon companion is waiting. Ah ...?"
She turned, a look of question if not concern on her perfectly formed face. "Your companion requested a table in the Sky Room where you'll be seen by all. You were aware of that, mistress?"
The hostess was slender and had been tall even before she'd teased her brunette hair up on stiffeners of mauve feathers that matched her dress. The coiffeur formed a curtained cage in which an insect the size of Adele's thumb sat and shrieked. That would've been irritating enough by itself, but all the waitresses were wearing similar hairdos. The insects sang in stridently different keys.
"I didn't know that," Adele said, trying not to sound snappish, "but it doesn't matter."
"Of course, mistress," the hostess said and resumed her smooth progress into the restaurant.
Adele supposed the question had been a criticism of her suit, light gray with a thin blackstripe. Though as expensive as the clothing of the other diners, it was conservatively cut. The hostess might've preferred rags-which could've been a cutting edge fashion statement-to Adele's muted respectability.
Adele smiled thinly, wondering if she might be able to convince the hostess that she was really a trend-setter; that in the past several weeks her severe garments had become the rage on Bryce and Pleasaunce, respectively the intellectual and political centers of the Alliance of Free Stars. She very possibly could-she could ape a Bryce accent flawlessly-but it'd be a pointless thing to do.
Given that life generally appeared to be pointless, though.... She'd see whether the idea continued to appeal to her after she'd met with Maurice Claverhouse.
The hostess led Adele up a sweeping staircase to the mezzanine hanging over the middle of the regular dining area. People on the main floor followed them with their eyes. Under other circumstances that would've irritated her, but this meeting was work. Adele was a Signals Officer in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy and an agent for Mistress Bernis Sand, the Republic's spymaster. Both appointments had put her in situations more uncomfortable than lunching in a trendy restaurant.
"Watch your step," the hostess warned, gesturing toward the flared landing at the top of the stairs. It joined the mezzanine proper on a thin curved line: the Sky Room must rotate. Though the floor had a cloudy presence when viewed from below, it was clear when Adele looked down.
There were only six tables in the Sky Room, arranged to put the diners on display. A reservation here obviously required more than money, making Adele wonder again why Claverhouse had chosen this venue for their meeting. Several of those present were dressed in fashions as extreme as those of the servers, though they didn't have insects in their hair.
Adele permitted herself a minuscule grin. Not deliberately, at any rate, and in this company the likelihood of lice was slight compared to the sort of places in which poverty had forced Adele to eat and sleep for many years.
The Mundys of Chatsworth had been among the wealthiest and most powerful nobles on Cinnabar, but their property'd been confiscated when they were executed for treason during the Three Circles Conspiracy seventeen standard years ago. Adele, then sixteen, had survived because she was on Bryce to continue her education in the Academic Collections there. The Director, Mistress Boileau, had acted as Adele's protector as well as mentor, but she herself wasn't wealthy.
Adele kept a straight face as she glanced past the man at the adjacent table wearing diaphanous garments trimmed with what seemed to be random patches of fur. If it hadn't been for the Three Circles Conspiracy, Adele Mundy'd would've had a circle of acquaintances who'd keep her abreast of current fashions like those. She'd continue to manage to live with her ignorance, however.
The hostess stopped beside a table whose present occupant, a man in what looked at first glance like a uniform in gold braid and puce, rose to greet her. "Little Adele," he said. "Still the studious little girl, I see."
"Good day, Maurice," Adele said. What was proper etiquette in greeting a man who'd been old when you last met him as a child? "I'm still studious, yes. And probably as girlish as I ever was."
Which meant not girlish at all, as people generally defined such things. Adele'd been quiet and serious from as far back as she could remember. Her best friends had always been books and the knowledge books brought her. Her little sister Agatha, though, had liked dolls and people and games. When Agatha was ten years old, two soldiers had identified her as a Mundy and therefore a traitor; and they'd cut her head off with their knives.
The hostess drew a chair out for her. Adele found such displays of empty subservience irritating, but objecting would simply delay matters and might offend the man from whom she hoped to glean current information about the situation on Dunbar's World.
Why had Claverhouse picked a place like this to meet, though? Adele didn't care, but she'd have thought he'd have been more comfortable in Chatsworth Minor, now her townhouse and a familiar resort for Claverhouse in the days when her father, Lucius Mundy, led the Popular Party.
The old man sat back heavily. The years had weighed on him. He wasn't overweight in the usual sense, but flesh seemed to hang in soft masses from the rack of his bones. He wheezed slightly as he said, "Little Adele. I was more surprised than I can say to hear from you as soon as I arrived back on Cinnabar after all these years. I hadn't realized that you-"
He paused, meeting Adele's eyes; his breath caught again and his hand tightened on his glass. He'd been waiting long enough-though Adele was precisely on time-to have gotten a drink layered in liqueurs of differing colors.
"-survived. If you don't mind an old man saying so."
Why don't the layers mix? As the question popped into her mind, Adele reached reflexively for the personal data unit she carried in a pocket specially sewn into the right thigh of every pair of trousers she owned. The little unit probably held the answer. Even if it didn't, she'd coupled it to every major data base here in Xenos-including those whose access was supposedly restricted.
Some people said that knowledge was power. To Adele Mundy, knowledge was life itself.
But the knowledge she'd come to gather had nothing to do with drink preparation, so she managed to restrain her hand. Smiling to herself, she said, "I was off-planet during the Proscriptions. Your assumption would've been correct for the other members of the family, however."
Maybe the smile was the wrong expression under the circumstances. Claverhouse looked stricken and gulped down half the contents of his tall glass.
Adele grimaced, wishing she were better at social interactions. She never seemed to say or do the right thing. For pity's sake, he'd brought the subject up!
"I was surprised to see the name of an old acquaintance-"
Should she have said 'friend'?
"-when I was checking records of recent arrivals from Dunbar's World, Maurice," she said, plowing ahead because she couldn't think of any better way to proceed. "I've been assigned to assist Commander Leary-I'm an RCN officer myself, warrant officer that is-in his mission to Dunbar's World, so I need information on the present situation there. The invasion by Pellegrino, that is."
"You said as much when you asked for a meeting," Claverhouse said heavily. "Among the other surprises that gave me was was learning that Lucius' elder daughter had joined the Navy."
'Navy' was the civilian term for what anyone in the service called the RCN. Adele didn't correct him-the old man was a civilian, after all-but her smile was a touch stiffer than it might otherwise have been. Clavernhouse had reminded her how much she'd had to change because the world into which she'd been born had changed.
The odd thing was, the thing that Adele would never have believed at the moment she learned that the heads of her parents and most of their friends were displayed on the Speaker's Rock in the center of Xenos, was that the change was largely for the better. Better by the terms in which she judged things now. The RCN had become more of a family than her blood relatives would ever have been, and she had a remarkably close friend in Daniel Leary.
Even though his father, Speaker Leary, was the man whose proscriptions had ended the Three Circles Conspiracy and most of the Mundy family.
"Would mistress like a drink before her meal?" asked a waitress. This one's fine blond hair gave Adele a better view of the caged bug. It had six legs, large, clear wings, and a thoroughly unpleasant voice.
Daniel would be interested: he liked both natural history and pretty young blondes. As well as pretty young brunettes, pretty young red-heads, and any other variety of pretty young woman.
"Yes," said Adele, taking the wine list and indicating the first offering under the heading White Wines. She didn't care, not even a little bit, but she'd long since learned that saying, "I don't care," to a waiter would only create more delay. "A glass of that. Thank you."
"And another Volcano for me," said Claverhouse. An amber half inch remained of his drink; he finished it and shoved the glass toward the waitress.
His eyes remained on Adele. When the blond and her insect took themselves away, he said, "Do you suppose that they really do dress like that on Pleasaunce? Or is it an elaborate joke?"
Adele shrugged. "In my experience," she said, "the people who really care about fashion don't have a sense of humor. Yes, I think a certain class of people on Pleasaunce goes about with bugs in its hair ... or did recently, at any rate. I suppose there's some delay in information since war's become open again."
The Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars were the major groupings that'd appeared since the thousand-year Hiatus from star travel. There was always rivalry and often war, but even during war there was a degree of social and artistic intercourse. There was nothing surprising about a restaurant in Xenos, the capital of the Republic, naming and modeling itself on the style of the chief planet of the Alliance; nor was it surprising that Adele Mundy had studied for a decade on Bryce while the RCN battled Alliance squadrons across the whole human galaxy.
"Sometimes it's difficult to keep a sense of humor," Claverhouse said, his eyes unfocused. He cleared his throat and went on more purposefully, "You said, 'the Pellegrinian invasion of Dunbar's World' but that's not precisely what happened. Pellegrino isn't within Ganpat's Reach the way Dunbar's World and Bennaria are; it's just outside. Pellegrino's a significant trade hub, but the Reach itself-and certainly Dunbar's World-was a backwater where an exile could carry on a business without attracting attention."
He smiled at a memory, looking suddenly younger. "Miroslav Krychek had been an Alliance colonel," he went on. "He killed one of Guarantor Porra's favorites in a duel and arrived on Dunbar's World at almost the same time I did following the Proscriptions. I had a considerable amount of cash from liquidating assets that weren't on Cinnabar proper, and Miroslav had two hundred armed retainers. We went into partnership."
The waitress brought the drinks with a chirping flourish. The bugs seemed to make the sound with their legs instead of their mouths. Adele firmly believed that there was no useless knowledge, so she'd gotten something out of the experience ... but she certainly wished that Claverhouse had come to Chatsworth Minor instead.
"And then the Pellegrinians invaded," Adele prompted, since her host appeared to be concentrating on the fresh drink. She couldn't imagine how Claverhouse had gotten to his present age if he drank like this as a regular thing; perhaps the shock of being driven from his home again had overwhelmed him.
"Not exactly," said Claverhouse, looking at her shrewdly. "You really are interested in Dunbar's World, aren't you?"
"Yes, of course," Adele said, holding her temper with some difficulty. If he isn't drunk, is he senile? "I'm accompanying Commander Leary to help our ally Bennaria oppose the invasion of their ally, Dunbar's World."
"In the middle of war with the Alliance, the Navy is sending one of its most successful young officers off to the back side of nowhere?" Claverhouse said. "You see, I've done some checking myself. And I'm afraid I don't find your story convincing, Mistress Mundy."
Adele felt her face stiffen. She carried a pistol in her left tunic pocket, its weight as familiar and comforting to her as that of the personal data unit. She'd killed with it in the past, killed more times than she could count. An old man who'd called her a liar would be a slight additional burden to her soul.
Then instead she smiled. "Maurice," she said, "I wouldn't have thought I had to tell you that Cinnabar politics can be harsh. Commander Leary was thought, perhaps with justification, to be a favorite of Admiral Anston, the former Chief of the Navy Board. Anston retired after a heart attack shortly before Commander Leary returned to Cinnabar in a captured prize. The new Chief, Admiral Vocaine, is most definitely not a partisan of Commander Leary. One might surmise that this mission to 'the back side of nowhere' was a Godsend to both men."
Adele paused and licked her lips; they'd gone dry with the rush of adrenalin that had urged her hand toward her pistol. "I tell you that," she continued, "on my honor as a Mundy. I hope you won't question my word, Maurice."
Claverhouse set his drink back on the table and met her eyes. "No, of course not," he said. "My apologies, dear girl. My sincere apologies. As for Dunbar's World-"
Skre-e-ell! "Would you care to hear the specials on today's luncheon menu?"
Claverhouse gave the waitress a look of cold fury and said, "No, we would not. Bill me for two soups and salads and eat them yourself while leaving us alone."
He glanced at Adele. "Unless you, my dear ...?"
"No, quite right," said Adele.
"Then be gone," Claverhouse snapped to the waitress. "And take you vermin with you!"
He cleared his throat and went on, "Yes, Dunbar's World. Chancellor Arruns, the leader of Pellegrino, has a son named Nataniel. Nataniel Arruns is an active, ambitious young man. He's not ideally suited to living quietly at home and waiting to rule Pellegrino when his father dies in the normal course of events. Nataniel has gone to Dunbar's World with ten thousand mercenaries to conquer a base for himself."
"So it's not a Pellegrinian invasion after all?" Adele said, frowning. Mistress Sand hadn't been able to provide much information, but that much at least had seemed certain.
"Technically, no," said Claverhouse. He smiled coldly. "But those mercenaries were until a month or so ago members of the Defense Forces of Pellegrino, and I have suspicions as to where their pay is coming from even now. The fact that it's not legally war between states is useful for all concerned, however. It'd wreck Pellegrino's economy if vessels trading to Ganpat's Reach couldn't stop there as they ordinarily do."
"Ah," said Adele, nodding. This was a legal fiction which, like so many other things that looked like lies, made normal human interactions possible. That was much of the reason that Adele was uncomfortable with human interactions.
She brought out her data unit now-properly, because they'd gotten onto the business of the meeting and she didn't have to worry that she'd offend Claverhouse. What the staff of Pleasaunce Style thought of her was another matter, but she really didn't worry about that.
"Ten thousand troops is a large force to transport even a relatively short interstellar distance ...," she said as the unit's holographic display bloomed in pearly readiness. Daniel had told her Pellegrino was from three to five days from Dunbar's World as a civilian vessel would make the voyage. "But Dunbar's World has a population of half a million according to my information. Is that correct?"
"Close enough," Claverhouse said. "There's no army, there wasn't, I mean, but if everybody'd been behind the govern...."
His voice trailed off as he stared at Adele. "What in God's name are you doing?" he demanded. "Are those chopsticks?"
Excerpted from Some Golden Harbor by David Drake Copyright © 2006 by David Drake. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 15, 2014
Posted June 6, 2009
The RCN series is a combination of deadly drama interspersed with humor and irony. Lt. Leary takes another difficult mission to an outstanding conclusion, bodies scattered in his wake notwithstanding.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 9, 2009
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Posted April 24, 2009
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