David Drake: When the Tide Rises

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David Drake When the Tide Rises
  • Название:
    When the Tide Rises
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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    Английский
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David Drake


When the Tide Rises

When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,

And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:

But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,

His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

Alice's Recitation(fromAlice in Wonderland)

Lewis Carroll

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.

Vaguelyfamiliar. 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 intohis 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 couldbe 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-whydid 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, Ihavemet 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 womanher age?

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